Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stuff I've Been Reading

Soak it up today, ladies and gentlemen, because this is your last "Stuff I've Been Reading" for a month! I may post an open question on Sundays for you to list anything that you've read of interest, but I'm not 100% sure about that. Regardless, I won't be hunting down good links for your reading enjoyment through August. However, if you follow me on Twitter, I'm sure I'll retweet stuff during the month that catches my eye. Anyway, onward we go!

  • Elizabeth Esther is one of the World Vision bloggers in Bolivia this week. She wrote a lovely piece about her puking daughter, just a few days before heading out (she has five kids, so she's leaving a bunch behind for this week!). This is a great reminder to all of us to live in the moment.
  • My brother in law Justin wrote a response to my piece about the Christ-centered marriage. He offers a more thorough look at it, and I appreciate his thoughts on the matter, both as a close relative (he's my sister's husband AND my husband's brother - we do live in WV, after all!) and as a pastor.
  • Jen Luitwieler examines the difference between "I need a break" and "I can't" in this post. One of the things that running is teaching me is to examine the "I can't" mentality a lot more. This post was really helpful in examining that.
  • Ed Cyzewski asks what if Jesus isn't as reasonable as we are. Some tough questions there - lots of food for thought!
  • Mason Slater wrote an essay over at A Deeper Story asking us to extend grace to people that aren't the at the same place as us. I always (!) need to hear this kind of message.
  • Yesterday the group of bloggers set off on their trip to Bolivia with World Vision. You can follow their posts here. If you pray, I'd ask you to pray for their safety and for their ability to share the stories of what they see with honesty and dignity. These are some of my favorite writers (and I consider several of them friends, even if we've not met IRL yet), so this project is close to my heart. If you're interested in sponsoring a child in Bolivia, you can go here to see how to do that.
On a personal note, I just want to pre-thank all of the folks who have written posts for the upcoming month. You'll see a few familiar faces and a few new folks. I'm so grateful to everyone for their generosity in writing quality posts so I can take this month off. If you're a regular reader here, you'll want to tune in. I'll see you all in a month!

What did you read/write/watch/listen to this week that moved you? Please leave a link in the comments so we can enjoy what you've enjoyed!


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Friday, July 29, 2011

Guest Post at The Whole Dang Thing

One blog that I've discovered this year that I enjoy reading is The Whole Dang Thing by JBen Emerson. He's blogging the whole Bible, one chapter at a time. He's funny and informative and thoughtful and you will not be disappointed by the good stuff that he puts forth, even if sometimes he blogs the Bible slightly out of order so a guest poster doesn't have to post something on the first day of her one month sabbatical.

Anyway, I'm blogging about Exodus 26 today over at JBen's place. Here's a glimpse:
I asked Ben if I could guest post about this chapter a few weeks ago. He agreed to let me give it a go and I started writing that day. Then I didn’t like the way the piece was going and I discarded it and started over. Then I didn’t like the way that piece was going and I deleted it and started over again. No lie, I have written this a minimum of six times. I can’t decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing that our gracious host was out of town so I had more time to obsess over work on this.
You can head over here to read the rest (where I actually talk about the passage, not just my neurotic writing process). And be sure to read more of Ben's site. Lots of good stuff there!

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When Contentment and Hope Throwdown

'S.F. Wrestling World Championships' photo (c) 2008, Tsutomu Takasu - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Last week I was reading this post by my dear friend Tamara about her husband's move to faith, a few thoughts went through my head. First, I was impressed with the beauty with which she writes. Then I was struck by how hard it is for me to know how to respond to those kinds of posts.

My first response is happiness. Anything that draws a couple closer together is A Good Thing (TM). And I love knowing that another person has found joy in the Christian faith. That make me all smiley and gooey.

Then the conflict starts. 

I am primarily content with our interfaith marriage. Mostly because my husband is still one of my most favorite people to hang around and because he makes me laugh more than anyone else. When I look at my full-featured friend post, he is all of those things. I am content because I am content.

I am also content because I choose to be content. Even as we close in on two years of this being our normal, there are still times when it catches me off guard and my response isn't immediate satisfaction. In those moments, I need to check my emotions and make a choice to be at ease.

In a corner of my heart, there is a part of me that is hopeful. Hopeful that we'll come to a place of sharing faith again. As much as I want to rebel against that because I feel like it's disrespectful to him and his journey, I have to be honest that it's still there.

I don't like seeing hope as a negative thing, but in this particular situation, I feel like it is. I tend to live in a place that is flush with contentment, where hope is relegated to the back of the bus. Hope is allowed, but it's not really welcome.

So when I see a post like Tamara's, my contentment side and my hope side want to have a throwdown. Their precarious coexistence is thrust into turmoil. My brain sits by the sidelines, shouting out taunts.

"Disrespectful!"

"Faithless!"

"Intolerant!"

The two parts of my heart war with one another, battling for control. Until the referee steps in and declares a winner.

Not contentment. Not hope.

Love is what wins.

Some days love will be expressed through contentment and acceptance. Some days love will be expressed through hope and longing. Regardless of how it's shown, if love is at the center, my relationship and my heart are the victors.


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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Living So We Can Learn

You live and learn. At any rate, you live.
~Douglas Adams

One of my favorite things about my husband is that he is a constant source of information. He reads anything with words and he remembers everything that he reads (I'm thinking I maybe need to write an essay about which hamper holds which kind of clothes so he can remember that as well.). As someone who reads primarily for entertainment rather than knowledge, it's reassuring to me to have someone around all the time who knows something about everything. I love that he refuses to simply get by with things that he already knows, but is always looking for ways to learn more.

Next week, I'm committing to read not just for entertainment, but also to learn. A group of bloggers is heading to Bolivia with World Vision in just a few days to write the stories of those who, day after day, must survive without things that anyone reading this blog almost certainly takes for granted. Clean water. Adequate food. Shoes. Access to education. For many around the world, even the mere act of living is one that is a challenge.

I admire these folks. They're leaving sick kids, loving spouses, and new babies behind to go into places that most of us don't even like to think about. And they are going with their hearts wide open so that they can tell the stories of children in ways that move more of us to action. They're sharing stories so we can step outside of our own existence and see what lies beyond the safety of our homes and churches.

They are sharing stories so we can learn. And in our learning, we can help others to live.


My heart is in Bolivia with the World Vision Bloggers

What is something that you've learned recently? How has it helped you to live more fully?

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Winning Baby Dedication

This is a piece I wrote a few months ago after the baby dedication service at our church, but never ended up publishing. We can file this under the "I thought it was funny" category. I hope you get a giggle out of it as well!

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'baby bentrup' photo (c) 2007, christina rutz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
I know that parenting is a competitive sport to some, though it usually doesn’t start until the child is old enough to walk, talk or kick a soccer ball in any direction other than toward an unsuspecting window.  However, I recently saw this same competitive nature applied to the Baby Dedication. At our church when all of the parents and babies are up on stage, a microphone is passed among them and the parents have a chance to introduce themselves and their progeny. At a recent baby dedication, one of the fathers introduced his wife and his beautiful child. A little further down the line, a father introduced himself, his lovely wife and his beautiful daughter. Later, another father introduced his wonderful wife and his beautiful child who was only 17 days old.

Fortunately, the one-upmanship seemed to be limited to things like how amazing the family members are and how young the baby was. But then I started thinking about ways that parents might push the envelope a little too far.

Winning: The father waxes poetic about how charming his wife and child are.
Bi-winning: The father waxes poetic about how charming his wife and child are, and then throws the mic at the next set of parents, a la Eminem at the end of 8 Mile.

Winning: The mother schedules an induction the day before the baby dedication.
Bi-winning: The mother schedules a water birth in the church baptismal during the service.

Winning: The baby wears her great-grandmother’s antique christening gown.
Bi-winning: The baby wears a wig, full make up, and a sequined gown with 15 layers of tulle. At least, we’re pretty sure there’s a baby in there somewhere.

Winning: The parents sit in the front row so they can get a prime spot in the middle of the stage.
Bi-winning: The parents sit in the back of the church and ride a Segway to the front while Europe’s “The Final Countdown” plays.

Winning: The father mentions how strong his wife was during her long, difficult labor.
Bi-winning: The dad brings the birth video on stage to further illustrate his point.

Winning: The parents bring all of their children up on stage to share in the moment.
Bi-winning: The parents hire all of the Duggar children to go up on stage to share in the moment.

Winning: The parents keep the child quiet during the dedication using a pacifier.
Bi-winning: The parents keep the child quiet during the dedication using a taser.


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Have you ever seen parents compete during baby dedication? What is your favorite baby dedication story?

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Stuff I've Been Reading

Happy Sunday! Time for some of my favorites from the week. I hope you find something worth checking out here.
  • In the "if you read nothing else, read this" category for this week, I highly recommend checking out this piece about how we're all members of Westboro Baptist by Caleb Wilde over at Relevant.com. He absolutely knocks it out of the park with this one. 
  • Tamara wrote a stunningly beautiful piece about light out of darkness. She mostly makes me laugh, but I love her redemption stories as well. This is lovely.
  • Kristin Tennant wrote a wonderful essay about our kids' safety. As I'm just a week away from sending my oldest off to high school band camp even though she's only in eighth grade, this was a great read for me.
  • You will note that nearly all of the photos that I use here on the blog come are attributed and formatted and come from my favorite place to find pics, Wylio. It is the easiest service in the world to use and I. Love. It. I recently upgraded my account to Premium because I really support what they're doing, and because of that, it means that I also have been upgraded to Pro for a bit. Check out their promotion and consider it!
  • My most favorite band of all time released their latest album this week. You can pick up a copy of Join Us by They Might Be Giants for just $7.99 on Amazon. It's very fun and I highly recommend it. (affiliate link)
  • I absolutely love the Reluctant Runners site because it is me. Another friend of the blog, Knox McCoy guest posted over there this week. Even though I'm pretty sure this applies to men more than women, I got a giggle out of his post about peeing when running. And Katie's first comment is about the most shocking thing ever.
  • Speaking of running, Misty Chaffins posted this up on Facebook this week. I want to go to there. How can this NOT be my first 5k? I'm thinking I may be requesting an early Christmas present of an expensive entrance fee and hotel room and beer money. Because adding zombies and beer to a 5k makes it like, the best thing ever, right?
What did you read/write/watch/listen to this week that moved you? I'd love it if you'd share your writing with me!

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Guest Post at A Wondering Spirit

I met Holli on the Twitter a few months ago. She is a delightful writer and on Wednesday, she transforms into The Great Askini and she answers your questions. She is doing a summer series on the topic, "What I Wonder About" and she asked me to participate. I have a hard time saying no to someone called "The Great" anything, so I agreed. Here's a glimpse of what I sent her:
There are so many unanswerable questions out there. 
What is the sound of one hand clapping? 
What was the best thing before sliced bread?
Where do all of those socks go?
Why did J.K. Rowling write that epilogue?
You can head over to her site to read the rest. As always, thank you so much for your support here and wherever I end up sharing my writing.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Stuck Like Glue

'glue army' photo (c) 2009, Chelsea Oakes - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
I was commenting to Shawn Smucker about how one of his posts was one of my top most stuck in my brain posts of all time and our mutual friend David asked me for a list. Understand, I suck at "favorite" lists because for me they tend to be pretty fluid and I don't use the word "favorite" the way it's supposed to be used, but these posts tend to jump to my brain when I hear certain topics being discussed. The following are not in any particular order other than the order that I put them in. But don't assign any special meaning to that.
  • What's Wrong With John 3:16? by Shawn Smucker - Truly, every time someone quotes that passage, I think about this post. So I think about it often. I probably link to it on Twitter about every couple of months because it has just so changed the way I approach the idea of the gospel. Shawn turns out consistently good content, but this one challenged me in a way that is very profound and I'm so thankful for these words.
  • Thinking You're Naked by Jon Acuff - I actually missed this on his blog the first time around and heard it when I was listening to the Stuff Christians Like audio book in my car. I had to pull over to the side of the road because I was crying so hard. At a time when I was really trying hard to face some old, deep fears, this was something that I desperately needed to hear. I re-read this post fairly often. Its message is one that I need to hear over and over again.
  • Coping With Disappointment When Calvinists Refuse to be Jerks by David Nilsen - I know it's probably not cool to link to something that was published on your own blog, but since I didn't write it, I'm bending the rules a bit. Seriously, this is an inspired piece about remembering that just because we expect to disagree with someone doesn't mean that A) we actually WILL disagree or B) they'll be jerks about it if we do. Get ready - David has another absolutely fantastic piece coming up next month.
  • Better Conversations About "Biblical Womanhood" (Part 2) by Rachel Held Evans - Honestly, it's hard for me to pick a favorite piece by Rachel because everything she writes is just so dang good. But her thoughts here about using "biblical" as a modifier are just fantastic. I sincerely hope that some day I get to buy her a coffee (or whatever she's drinking now that she's not doing caffeine) in person because I seriously admire her (in a hopefully non-stalkerish way).
  • Depression, Hope and Travis Tritt by Matt Cannon (SeekingPastor) - If you read Matt's blog, he doesn't come across as the kind of guy who would struggle with depression. But in this incredibly poignant and honest piece, Matt shares his struggles and reminds me to never assume that a person is outside of the grasp of depression. His story is beautiful and through many stories of depression that I've read over the past year, his is one that still stands out to me. 
Honestly, I've been moved by a lot of posts that I've read. Your words have changed me and challenged me and, I hope, left me a better person. 

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What is something that someone else has written that has changed you or stuck with you? 


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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Run For the Flies

'Gnats' photo (c) 2007, Thomas Claveirole - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
This is my sixth week of running the Couch to 5K program. Granted, I'm only in the fourth week of the actual program, but progress is being made. My beautiful running shoes actually have a little bit of dirt on them from running out in public, off of the track a few times. I've found at least three places around town where I can go if the track is closed. The air was thick with no-see-ums today, so I've even eaten my first bug while running. My friend Jen tells me that I'm just one run in the rain away from being a full-fledged real runner. She wrote:


I think that means she's buying me a satin robe after I run in the rain, but maybe I misunderstood.

Anyway, it's been quite an adventure. Most days it's been good. Some days have been not as good. Some days have been downright bad. When it's a good day, I just want to dance around the house doing fist pumps. On my worst day, I came home and sobbed on my bed for about 20 minutes. I don't think you get satin robes on those days. 

What has been most surprising to me in these past six weeks is just how much support I've received from friends and family with this whole running thing. Three times a week I send out a tweet and a Facebook status update with my running info and three times a week, people faithfully comment on and like those tweets and updates. I keep thinking to myself, "Today is the day when no one will care," but in six weeks, I have not had a single time when someone hasn't added a bit of encouragement. 

One of my all-time favorite passages of Scripture is:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9, NIV)
A lot of mornings I think this to myself when I'm getting ready to go out. I don't know if running is exactly the "doing good" that Paul was talking about, but I think that the principle is still sound. But as I've been doing this and continue to get props every day, I've been thinking that it also applies to the amazing folks who have been encouraging me. I know that it can be tedious to see the same thing over and over and to keep supporting anyway. I tend to get easily bored with telling people that they're doing a good job. Once I've said it, I figure they already know it, so what good does it do to say it again? I'm so glad that others have a less selfish perspective!

Today my running harvest was a mouthful of flies. Your harvest was a blog post thanking you for your continued encouragement. Hopefully soon one of us will get a satin robe we can show off.

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What is something you're doing that you're proud of? Let us have an opportunity to give you a metaphorical satin robe!


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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Repost: Full-Featured Friends

Was thinking recently about how good it is to have really close friends. I posted this a little over a year ago and I still think these qualities pretty much sum up a full-featured friend. And I STILL think it's one of the best phrases ever!


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Best friends!photo © 2009 Jolante van Hemert | more info (via: Wylio)The other day Rich and I were texting about a goofy conversation we had shared over the weekend about meat (seriously, it was just goofy -- I can no longer hear that word without giggling). As most conversations between us go, it veered wildly into discussions about anemones and clown fish and Brahms and eventually settled into something normal about his family heading out of town for a bit of time early next month. I suggested that while we could in no way make up for his family, we should absolutely get together while they were gone to ease the lonely. The conversation wrapped up with the following:
Rich: Thanks for quasi-adopting me while they're away.
Me: Well, keeping people sane is just one of the features I offer.
Rich: True. You're quite the full-featured friend. :-)
I. Love. It.

Seriously. Full-featured friend? That could be the best phrase I've ever heard with regard to friendship.


So I started thinking about what kind of features I want in a friend. Here's my list.
  1. They make me laugh -- Maybe it's totally shallow, but honestly, that is one of the top features I look for in a friend. Life is unbearably funny. I want a friend who understands and exploits that. And who helps me find the funny when I'm having a hard time seeing it (because seriously, just about everything is funny).
  2. They make me think -- As much as I love to be entertained, I also need to be challenged. I love it when someone gives me something to chew on mentally. I can't express how many blog posts have come from conversations I've had with friends who challenge the way I think.
  3. I can be honest with them -- Very little endears me to someone more than the ability for me to be honest. If someone asks me a question, I appreciate it when I can answer unedited. It's good to know that a relationship can withstand "wrong" answers. That's a pretty rare thing.
  4. They are willing to be honest with me -- Even though it's not necessarily easy to hear, I want my friends to be honest with me. If I'm being a jerk, I want someone to tell me. A constant that I find among my closest friends is that they are able to deliver the truth to me in a way that lifts me up, even if it's a criticism.
  5. They know how to hug -- Not that side hug stuff -- real hugs. No matter what my mood is, a full embrace will improve it. When words can't cut it, a hug will. 
  6. They play -- This one is big to me because this is is an area where I am lacking. I don't have an innate ability to play, so I rely on my friends to help me access my need to be a kid once in a while.
  7. They are characterized by love -- When they evaluate a situation, a full-featured friend will choose to be loving. I've seen some close to me be in situations where the loving choice was not the easy choice and have made it anyway. That speaks volumes to me about their character.
  8. They have unbridled passion -- Watching or listening to someone fully immerse themselves into something that they love is intoxicating. They don't have to mirror my own passions (though that's always a plus), but I do love to see my friends engaged in what moves them. It's truly beautiful.
So there you have it. I can't think of someone genuinely close to me that doesn't have every one of those features. I have friends that may not be full-featured, which is totally okay! But those truly close (my bffs, as it were) have it all. I am crazy lucky to have a couple of full-featured friends.

What kinds of things do you look for in a full-featured friend? And no kidding, am I wrong, or is that not just the best phrase ever?



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Monday, July 18, 2011

Repost: Can We Worship Through Grief?

This is an old one from my previous blog. I updated it a little bit, but the bulk is still the same. Last week, Shawn Smucker posted about the next Christian boycott. In it, there was a discussion about secular things. It kind of reminded me of this post and why I find that I'm drawn to a lot of "non-Christian" art. This post was originally inspired by a similar conversation.


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I think the first thing that we need to do is to define worship. Looking at dictionary.com, the definition that caught my eye was this:
to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing).
I really love the idea of "adoring reverence." The picture I see in that definition is one that resonates with me deeply. So that leads me to the question, can we worship through lamentation?

I think that we can. I look at how I feel about my husband. I love him all the time. My mood doesn't really change that I love him. And honestly, sometimes I love him even more when I'm going through a difficult or painful situation. When people on the outside hurt me, it's good to know that I can turn to him for acceptance and love. Which, in turn, makes me love him all the more. And that tends to draw us closer to one another.

I don't think it should be any different in the church context. We hurt. We're hurt by others, we're hurt by circumstances, we're hurt by our own bad choices. And in the midst of that hurt, we should know that we can turn to God. Sadly, modern worship music hasn't offered much in the way of tools to express that hurt in a corporate setting. I think we're sometimes a bit afraid to offer that part of ourselves up. We hear folks talk about depression with a "just snap out of it" attitude and as a result, we're afraid to share our own pain with one another. Unfortunately, this can leave us feeling even more isolated and cut off, both from one another, but ultimately from God.

In my opinion, any tools, whether they be in the Church or outside of it, that we can use to express the full range of human emotion can only increase our ability to be authentic with one another and with God. And I believe that is a good thing.

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What ways have you found that the Church helps you express grief? Do you find more inspiration in those seasons from Christian or secular sources? If you're a person of faith, do you find that secular sources can offer a measure of comfort? If you're not, do you ever draw comfort from spiritual teachings?

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Stuff I've Been Reading

My weekly collection of things that I've found to be interesting around the webernets. I hope that you find something that intrigues you!
  • Lost in the uproar about a woman daring to correct a man, Rachel wrote a lovely piece about being kind to ourselves. I hope that she took this advice to heart this week, especially with the harshness of some of the criticism she received. 
  • In another week of Driscoll related posts, I really appreciated this one from Preston Yancey. He takes a look at some biblical men and suggests that perhaps mannerisms aren't the real issue
  • Karen Swallow Prior wrote a lovely piece about the It Gets Better project and the reaction of much of the Church to it. 
  • In a "get out of my brain" moment, Matthew Paul Turner writes a confession detailing what he believes and what he knows. I'm so thankful for folks who can articulate these things so much better than I can!
  • I loved the lessons that Mason Slater learned from Severus Snape. If you haven't watched the movie/read the books, then shame on you (and probably more importantly, his post contains some big time spoilers, so be aware).
  • And in the Harry Potter vein, I was howling at this review of the last movie over at Slate from two people who had never seen any of the movies or read any of the books. A must read for fan boys and girls.
What did you read/write/watch/listen to this week that moved you? Please share your work, I love to see what you're doing!

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Guest Post at Expect the Exceptional

I met Tony on the Twitter not all that long ago, and hit it off with him immediately. He's funny, encouraging, thoughtful, and all kinds of other great adjectives. I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of months ago and he is just as nice in person as he is on the internets, which is always a major plus. I love reading what he has to say about dreams, identity and exceptional living and I am challenged and inspired by what he writes.

A while ago he put out a solicitation for guest posts and he graciously accepted my offer to write for him. Here's a snippet.
One of the Rules Of Blogging ™ is that you’re supposed to have a focused blog. Pick a topic that you’re passionate about and write about it. Pictures of cats with unique spelling of words, family pictures gone awry, how to have a successful blog – these are the kinds of things that drive traffic to your site and make people say that you’re an uber blogger (well, dorky people like me who use words like “uber blogger” without thinking it seems strange).
Head on over to Tony's site to read the rest. Thanks!

ETA: And speaking of guest posts, I'm still looking for folks for next month! Thanks!


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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Farewell, Harry Potter

Tonight I'm taking my oldest and her bff to the midnight showing of the final Harry Potter movie. She's got her costume all ready and even dyed her hair red so she could be a more authentic Ginny Weasley. And while I'm not dressing up for this event, I've got to admit, I'm absolutely looking forward to attending this movie.

There's also a level of sadness at the franchise coming to an end. Well, kind of an end. I mean, it came to an end four years ago when The Deathly Hallows was released. And it will come to an end again when the movie is released on DVD/Blu-Ray. And it will come to an end again-again when they release the super-extended-never-before-seen-packed-full-of-awesome-collector-set-edition in a couple of years. But you know. It's the last time I'll be sitting out in the middle of the night waiting to see a Harry Potter movie.

In preparation for this event, I've been thinking about some of the lessons I have learned from Harry and the gang at Hogwarts.

  • We can't vanquish enemies alone. Harry tries, over and over, to beat Voldemort on his own. He can't. Being "The Chosen One" doesn't mean that he can accomplish his task without the help of his friends.
  • Our little accomplishments can make an amazing story. In The Order of the Phoenix, there's a scene where people are talking about all of the incredible things that Harry has accomplished so far. Harry stops them and says that he just had help and luck and that it just sounds impressive all strung together. 
  • We're better off not knowing the future. The epilogue sucks. We would have been better off not knowing about Albus Severus Potter.
  • Families can heal. This is a major point of contention for me with the films - the total removal of the Percy Weasley story-line. Percy basically disowns his family for several years. You can see in later books that he wants to return, but pride keeps him from doing so until the final battle. And while the Weasley family loses a child in the final scene, another son returns. 
  • Good and evil aren't as clearly delineated as we might think. This is probably my biggest take-away from the books/movies. I love that the heroes and villains almost all have moments of being something else. With very few exceptions (there's not much good I can find in Voldemort and Bellatrix), most characters go beyond simply being all good or all bad. We see Narcissa Malfoy lie to the person she is following to save her child. We see James Potter participate in the bullying of Severus Snape. Harry is quick to assign "good guy" and "bad guy" labels, but over and over, those are shown to be false, even within himself.
I love the story that J.K. Rowling weaved through her books and I love the way the cast of the films brought her story to life. The lessons may not be unique, but she told them in a unique way and there's no doubt that I'll shed a tear as I say farewell.

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Are you going to see the last movie? Are you a fan of the books? What lessons have you gleaned from the series?

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why I Wrote a Letter to Mark Driscoll

DSCN4917 - Paul Bunyanphoto © 2006 Dennis Jarvis | more info (via: Wylio)
There has been a bit of push-back to a Facebook status that Pastor Mark Driscoll posted last Friday, asking folks to tell a story "about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader (they've) ever personally witnessed." While not stated explicitly, it was implicit in the note (and from Pastor Mark's overall demeanor) that these would probably not be primarily positive stories.

I've read a number of posts about this. On Monday, Rachel Held Evans invited her readers to consider writing a letter to the leadership at Mars Hill Church, asking them to address the issue of bullying. I had a moment of hesitation in writing a letter because I don't know Pastor Mark and I don't really know any effeminate worship leaders (some metro guys for certain, but no one that I would consider to be effeminate).

And then I read a post from Tyler L. Clark that compelled me to write a letter. In his piece, Tyler wrote, "When you put out a call on Facebook for people verbally attack “effeminate anatomically male” men, I find myself back in high school—shoved against a locker, with the bullies calling me a faggot."

Reading that, I knew I had to write.

You see, there's a really good chance that's going to be my son. He is a funny, creative, smart, good-looking kid. But he's not the most masculine boy you're going to meet. He's more likely to play Super Mario Brothers than to play football. He collects Pokemon cards, not baseball cards. He invented the game "hug 'o war" at our house. He says "I love you" to people he's just met.

This kid wears his emotions out there and as a result, he gets teased by his peers at school or at day camp. Most of the time we're able to talk about it and he's able to blow it off. And honestly, most of the teasing isn't too bad yet. He's still mostly a little boy, so things haven't turned really nasty. But I can see it, looming. He's getting older and expectations of "manliness" are going to start to become more and more persistent. And odds are good that some day, my son is going to tell me or his dad or some other trusted adult a story similar to the one that Tyler referenced above.

There's one place where he should be absolutely free to be who he is, and that's the Church. He should never have to fear that he's going to be verbally assaulted or mocked or torn down or gossiped about when he steps through the doors of the church. Instead, it should be a place where he can go to have wounds healed. A place where he can be encouraged. A place where he can have his talents nurtured and used.

Pastor Mark's call for stories about effeminate males was a call for stories about someone's son or brother or friend. The post dehumanized a group of people by reducing them to a single trait. Of course, if I look at Pastor Mark as just a bully, I risk doing the same. He becomes a caricature instead of a person.

So I wrote my letter. Because I don't want Pastor Mark to be reduced to the part of villain. And I don't want my son to be reduced to the part of anatomically correct male. They are both so much more than any single negative trait. When we choose stand up for one person, we are standing up for all of them.


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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hell (and Heaven) with the Atheists

Sign from Hellphoto © 2009 Danielle Walquist Lynch | more info (via: Wylio)

I've been meaning to attend a meeting of the local atheist group with Jason for a while now, but I've been unable to make it work due to conflicting schedules. When he told me that the group was going to be discussing heaven and hell this week and in light of some of the reading I've been doing recently, I thought it would be interesting to go and see what these folks had to say (the 99 degree temperature in the church where we met was cause for much mirth throughout the evening!).

The conversation was primarily about different religions' views regarding the hereafter. It was fascinating to see similarities and differences among various faith traditions regarding where one ends up when they die. I'd heard a number of them before, but some were new to me or explained in more detail. It was also interesting to see how geographic location factored into versions of heaven and hell (i.e., if the climate was hot and dry, hell was more likely to be even more hot, whereas if you lived in a cold climate, hell was seen as even more cold and barren).

There was a history professor from WVU at the meeting as well, and he was able to share a bit about how different religions used heaven and hell as a means to have more clear class delineations. Most are familiar with the caste system in Hinduism, but he also shared how something like election in the Christian faith was used as a means of separating the wealthy and the poor, particularly in the 16th century. Those who were wealthy were that way because they were among God's elect, and those who were poor were that way because they were not, therefore the elect had no reason to help those who were bound for hell anyway. These views of heaven and hell became a means for carrying out that very thing here on earth (and sometimes still does, though less directly, in the health and wealth circles).

Within the Christian tradition (which, for obvious reasons, interested me the most), we discussed the Roman Catholic idea of heaven, hell and purgatory. We also talked a bit about how the idea of hell has changed through Christian history from a place of punishment and torture to more of an idea of separation from God and what that might mean. There was also some discussion of when the idea of a punishing kind of hell originated within Christianity, since the Old Testament seems only to refer to Sheol which isn't really a hell at all.

Overall, the tone of the meeting was respectful of the various religions, even while rejecting them. Certainly people were respectful toward me personally. While I'm used to holding differing views from a number of my Christian friends, we still agree on things like the existence of God, so it's very different to be the only person of faith in the room. When we went to Panera after the meeting, I was disappointed that we had to leave pretty quickly because I would have loved to have more time to converse with the folks there. Talking about my own complicated views about eternity and bouncing thoughts off of a completely different set of folks was fascinating and I'm glad I had the opportunity to attend the meeting.

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Have you studied other afterlife traditions? Are there any that stand out to you? Are there any books or resources that you would recommend for further study on the issue of heaven and hell in Christian context?



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Monday, July 11, 2011

What Makes a Good Gig

Our gangsta look
We've entered the busy season for our band. Weddings, parties, decks - the next few months have us busy more weekends than not. It can be exhausting. We do our own sound, so we have to pick up the gear, drive to the venue, set up, play, tear down, drive back, unload gear, and then get home. A 12 hour day is not unusual for us and, depending on the location of the gig, it can definitely be longer. And even though we "the band" get paid pretty well for most performances, as individuals, let me just say that it's best not to think in terms of hourly wages when we get our paychecks.

When we're done setting up, I am usually absolutely spent. At that point, I've already pulled the heavy seats out of my minivan, lugged gear up into it and then lugged it back out to set up. The past two gigs we've played have been outdoors, so we've also had heat to deal with while setting up. And as I've mentioned, I'm not the best person when I'm hot.

What's amazing to me though, is that once we start playing, despite the fact that I'm tired from driving and lifting and setting up, I can become fully energized. And one of the biggest factors in keeping this energy up for a full show is the crowd.

We've played a fair bit and it always kind of amazes me how much the crowd participation plays into our performance. When things are slow, we may start with lots of energy, but as it continues, we start to droop a bit. The hours before (and the threat of hours ahead) tend to weigh us down quite a bit and we can all feel it. What may have started as somewhat effortless all of a sudden becomes much more work.

But when the crowd is into it? Those gigs are fantastic. We tend to interact with one another a lot more, we have better interaction with the dancers, everything just goes much more smoothly. Don't get me wrong, it's still exhausting to rock it out for 3 or 4 hours, but the more positive feedback we get, the easier it is to keep going. We're there to provide the entertainment and to do our job, but when we have a good crowd, it is much for fun for all of us. We feed off of each other.
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. (Romans 1:11-12, NIV)
I think this passage shows that the same holds true for our faith. We need to encourage one another in our faith as well. It's really easy to point out areas where we think someone is lacking. This person isn't as kind as they should be. This person has questionable theology. This person should be serving more. And I'm not saying that we should automatically let those things go.

But we also need to be in the business of building one another up. We need to regularly encourage one another. What I love about this particular verse is that it seems that when we offer encouragement, our own faith is built up. When we offer encouragement to one another, we all benefit.

Encouragement. It can make for a good gig.
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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Stuff I've Been Reading

Thanks for stopping by again this Sunday for another compilation of the best as determined by me. I hope there's something here that you and if there's something that I missed, let me know in the comments!
  • I absolutely adored this post by Michael Gungor about God being love. This was probably the best thing I read all week.
  • JBen Emerson is blogging the Bible. He's in Exodus right now, and I loved his post about Miriam's song
  • There were a number of responses to the Casey Anthony verdict, but Shawn Smucker's knee-jerk reaction was my favorite. 
  • And in another "lots of people wrote about this and I'm picking one" event, I really liked Joy Bennett's response to Mark Driscoll's Facebook question about effeminate worship leaders.
  • My close, personal friends Tony Alicea & Katie McNemar are engaged! Katie shares the story of Tony popping the question over on her blog. Awwwww!
  • Jen Luitwieler wrote about trying to photograph her lake and failing. 
  • And on the off chance that you have yet to pick up Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars yet, it's available for just $5 this month at Amazon. Do yourself a favor and go pick it up. (affiliate link)
What did you read/write/watch/listen to this week that moved you? Please, share links to your own stuff so we can check it out!

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Podcast with Something Beautiful

Last week I got to spend a bit of time chatting with Travis Mamone for the Something Beautiful podcast. We talked about my religious upbringing, my experiences with depression, the Not Alone book, and a bit about being in an interfaith marriage.

You can head over here to check out the podcast and you can go subscribe over at iTunes (I promise, they interview people far more interesting than me!).



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Friday, July 8, 2011

The Guest Post Extravaganza!

Extravaganzaphoto © 2007 jaqian | more info (via: Wylio)
Things are coming together for the August Guest Post Extravaganza here at the blog, but there's still plenty of room for more voices in the crowd!

For anyone who missed it, I'm wanting to take the month of August off from blogging, but I don't want my blog to go dark for a month. I also really love hosting other writers over here. Plus, guest posting can be a good way to increase your readership, so I'm hoping that it's a win for all of us (though I know that the main reason that you want to guest post for me is just out of love in your heart and for no selfish reasons at all, because you folks are all awesome like that).

I'm looking primarily for posts about unexpected friendships/relationships that you have. Or alternatively, you could write something about significance or self-worth. Or maybe some other third thing. If you're going outside of those two areas, bounce the idea off of me first so I can let you know if I think it will work. For more details on what I'd like in a guest post, you can check out my guidelines.

I would love for posts to be submitted by July 20. That gives me time to read, edit, format, schedule and all of that stuff so I really don't have to do much in August. Of course, if you can't quite make the July 20 deadline, I can probably cut you some slack (read: definitely can). Just let me know if you're still interested and get it in to me before August (less slack will be cut after August 1). My email is always open.

I'm really stoked about the stories I already have in. I'm super lucky to know a ton of talented writers and I can't wait to introduce you to one another.

Looking forward to seeing more submissions come in. Thanks so much for helping me out!



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