Holy Week for Doubters

'wilted roses for you' photo (c) 2009, Bill S - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

It will bother you off and on, like a rock in your shoe, 

Or it will startle you, like the first crash of thunder in a summer storm, 

Or it will lodge itself beneath your skin like a splinter, 

Or it will show up again—the uninvited guest whose heavy footsteps you’d recognize anywhere, appearing at your front door with a suitcase in hand at the worst. possible. time. 

Or it will pull you farther out to sea like rip tide, 

Or hold your head under as you drown— 

Triggered by an image, a question, something the pastor said, something that doesn’t add up, the unlikelihood of it all, the too-good-to-be-trueness of it, the way the lady in the thick perfume behind you sings “Up from the grave he arose!” with more confidence in the single line of a song than you’ve managed to muster in the past two years. 

And you’ll be sitting there in the dress you pulled out from the back of your closet, swallowing down the bread and wine, not believing a word of it. 

Not. A. Word. 

So you’ll fumble through those back pocket prayers—“help me in my unbelief!”—while everyone around you moves on to verse two, verse three, verse four without you. 

You will feel their eyes on you, and you will recognize the concern behind their cheery greetings: “We haven’t seen you here in a while! So good to have you back.” 

And you will know they are thinking exactly what you used to think about Easter Sunday Christians: 

Nominal. 

Lukewarm. 

Indifferent. 

But you won’t know how to explain that there is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about standing in this hurricane of questions every day and staring each one down until you’ve mustered all the bravery and fortitude and trust it takes to whisper just one of them out loud on the car ride home: 

“What if we made this up because we’re afraid of death?” 

And you won’t know how to explain why, in that moment when the whisper rose out of your mouth like Jesus from the grave, you felt more alive and awake and resurrected than you have in ages because at least it was out, at least it was said, at least it wasn’t buried in your chest anymore, clawing for freedom. 

And, if you’re lucky, someone in the car will recognize the bravery of the act. If you’re lucky, there will be a moment of holy silence before someone wonders out loud if such a question might put a damper on Easter brunch. 

But if you’re not—if the question gets answered too quickly or if the silence goes on too long—please know you are not alone. 

There are other people signing words to hymns they’re not sure they believe today, other people digging out dresses from the backs of their closets today, other people ruining Easter brunch today, other people just showing up today. 

And sometimes, just showing up -  burial spices in hand -  is all it takes to witness a miracle. 

 

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Scattered thoughts on my life in the Christian “industry”

'Wren sat on reed screen, Leighton Moss RSPB, May 2009' photo (c) 2009, Gidzy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

A lot of churches have green rooms these days.

And I’m not sure how I feel about that. 

I sit in the green room, fidgeting with my water bottle and trying not to make eye contact with the famous preacher whose pictures line the walls. I wonder if they’re expecting someone like him today, and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to speak in front of a room full of people without getting pee-in-my-pants nervous about it, without feeling out-of-place.

Afterwards, people will have questions.  

Questions I don’t have the answers to. 

And I’ll watch the disappointment spread across their faces when they realize that I’m just as frightened and confused as they are about this thing we call faith, that I’m not the authority figure they think that they need. 

There are microphones and there are lights, and sometimes it feels like a big performance. I wish Lady Gaga would show up and do it instead. 

I fit in best with those who don’t fit in. 

A group of 200 people, half of whom identify as LGBT, laughs at all the right spots, waits patiently through the hiccups, embraces me like a sister. 

There is bread and there is wine, and sometimes it feels like heaven come to earth. And I am grateful in a way I’ve never known before. 

A man comes up to me afterwards and says it was the first time in fifteen years he felt brave enough to take communion. We were brave together, I think. 

But I soon forget the conversation because I’m too busy arguing with my publisher. They won’t let me use the word “vagina” in my book because we have to sell it to Christian bookstores, which apparently have a thing against vaginas. I make a big scene about it and say that if Christian bookstores stuck to their own ridiculous standards, they wouldn’t be able carry the freaking Bible.

I tell everyone that I’m going to fight it out of principle, but I cave within a few days because I want Christian bookstores to carry the sanitized version of my book because I want to make a lot of money, because we’ve needed a new roof on our house for four years now, and because I really want a Mac so I can fit in at the mega-churches. 

I feel like such a fraud. 

And then a reader bakes me cookies. And then I get an email of encouragement from Australia. And then I share a meal with fellow searchers. And then I sit next to the cutest little girl on the flight home, and she reminds me of the true marvel that is soaring above the clouds. 

And I want to do well by these good people. 

And then my inbox gets a bit too full. And then a commenter calls me a whore. And then Mark Driscoll gets interviewed by Piers Morgan.  And then I am warned not to tell anyone about the "gay church." And then I start to worry about my "brand." And then I’ve gone weeks without seeing my real-life friends and neighbors because I’m too busy traveling the country telling other people to love their friends and neighbors. 

And I get overwhelmed and angry and tired in a way I’ve never been tired before. 

Can this...industry...be good for the soul? 

***

I pull into the driveway after a long trip, and witness a miracle.  

Pip, the gray wren who shows up every spring, is rebuilding her nest in the corner of our carport again. I thought for sure that she had kicked the can last year, when she suddenly disappeared, leaving a baby bird behind. Yet here she is again! She has pushed the baby bird's bones out of the nest and lined her house with fresh twigs.  (We have witnessed a lot of life and death in our carport through the years.)

At the sight of her silhouette in my headlights, I put my head on the steering wheel and cry. 

Maybe it’s because I’m overtired. 

Maybe it’s because I’m just glad to be home. 

Or maybe it’s because the first story I ever wrote was about a bird and a nest. 

It was third grade, and I wrote the story to read out loud at the annual third grade talent show. It was called “A Helping Wing,” and it told of a little robin who broke her wing and needed help building her nest. A troupe of local mockingbirds and cardinals, sparrows and owls brought pieces of their own nests to add to hers, and they all lived happily ever after. 

After the talent show, the mother of another student came up to me and said that my story made her cry... in a good way.

And that was when I knew I wanted to be a writer. 

Now I’m crying into the steering wheel because it’s been harder than I thought to stay the course, harder than I thought to remember why I’m doing all of this in the first place. 

But Pip has just reminded me:  

I’m here to write about how a little gray wren builds her nest in our carport every year and to wonder what this might say about God. 

It’s that simple. 

It's that hard. 

It's that wonderful. 

But a lot of churches have green rooms these days.

And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

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I wish I strove to live the way I strive to write

forgiving myself for crappy first drafts,
allowing trusted experts to make edits,
eliminating all but what is essential,

paying attention to sight, sound, taste, and touch,
choosing the right words,
showing rather than telling, 

learning from those I admire while staying true to my own voice,
running into my fears rather than running away from them,
searching for the universal in the particular, 

telling a good story,
counting goof-ups as  “material,”
venturing down rabbit holes 

stepping back to consider the big picture,
keeping characters dynamic and multidimensional,
giving up on deus ex machine,

making art out of imperfection 

I wish I strove to live the way I strive to write

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The Sign

The Sign

You will find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes
Wrapped in flesh
Wrapped in blood
Wrapped in bone
Wrapped in the calloused hands of a carpenter’s son
Wrapped in scandal
Wrapped in genocide
Wrapped in poverty
You will find Him

You will find Him lying in a manger
Lying in stench
Lying in sweat
Lying in forgotten places 
Lying in a disheveled heap on the street corner
Lying in newspapers
Lying in garbage
Lying in urine
You will find Him

You will find Him
Wrapped in swollen bellies
Aching for food
Wrapped in wrinkled hands
Clinging to subway seats 
Wrapped in dimpled skin
Shivering, exposed
Wrapped in flesh
Wrapped in blood
Wrapped in bone

And this will be a sign to you
You will find Him

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.