Summer Blog Sabbatical: Friday Morning Coffee #69

I started this blog nearly three years ago. I'd gone to a writing conference with a friend and came back with my brain swirling and inspired with advice about "building a platform" and "practicing my craft." Start blogging, they all said. So I did. 

As I eased my way out of seminary classes, I devoted more time to this blog. For over two years, I've written and posted here almost every week - sometimes up to four times a week! And I've loved it. It keeps me accountable and attentive. It gives me space to practice writing and share the ideas I can't get out of my head. It's opened up doors to correspond with some of you.

But as we've had several big things collide in our world, and as I look forward to summers trips and events, I've decided it's time to take a little break. I've been finding lately that I've been doing too many things. I need a little space for my mind and creativity to recharge. This is why I am taking a blogging sabbatical for the rest of the summer. 

Have no fear - I'll be back at the beginning of September! Until then, I'll be devoting myself to New England's fresh summer air and to my research for my forthcoming book. I will continue to send out my monthly newsletter updates, so if you haven't subscribed yet, do that here.

Do you need a break, my friend? Is there a way for you to unplug a bit this summer as well? I'd invite you to join me. Unplug from your phone or from social media. Take some time to refresh your mind, your spirit, and your body. Spend time with your loved ones and friends - or, if you're an introvert, by yourself. Give yourself permission to stop doing, stop juggling...and rest. 

"Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength. … In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less." - Charles Spurgeon

How Books Can Change Your Life

This post originally appeared at the Mudroom, as "The Books that Helps Us Story Well."


“You see these spots?” my dad would ask, pointing at my nose. “They aren’t freckles. They’re print that’s rubbed off from having your nose stuck in a book.”

He wasn’t far from the truth. I read voraciously as a child. I took a book along with me everywhere—just in case. Just in case I got bored, just in case I wanted to slip away and retreat back into its pages.

“You need to socialize,” my parents would say, forcing me to put down my latest book and talk to people. But I was deeply engrossed in another world, and it was hard to pull myself away. The characters became my friends, and their stories fueled my imagination. Worlds and times otherwise inaccessible to me became my mind’s playground.

As I got older, the books became thicker, the stories more complex. I learned to be less of a social recluse, but I sometimes read late into the night, “just one more chapter” stretching into five or ten.

Now, my eyes scan the names of titles and authors emblazoned on the spines stacked and standing on my shelves. I remember the worlds they beckoned me into, the lessons they taught.

The golden-haired scrawny girl I was learned something along the way, in between the creases and typescript: I did not want to use books to retreat from my own story. Vicarious escape and distraction at the expense of the plot and characters in my own life was a false promise. My own story was an adventure and worth fully inhabiting.

I held onto the delight of getting lost in a story—but learned not to stay there indefinitely. I learned to come back to my own story with more vigor and insight. I returned from my imaginative escapades with pictures of love and courage, sorrow and redemption. Instead of escape, I found the stories shaping me.

pexels-photo-373465.jpeg

I remember the time I first came to Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. I was a sophomore in my undergrad English program, and we were studying a segment of Russian literature. I wish I remembered more of the class, the professor, my classmates. Instead what I remember is a story.

One of the Karamazov brothers, Ivan, tells the story of the Grand Inquisitor. It has haunted me from the first time I read it. In it, Jesus returns during the time of the Inquisition. He is arrested by order of the Grand Inquisitor who visits him in secret.  The Inquisitor tells Jesus to leave, for the church doesn’t need him anymore. He claims Jesus got things wrong; clearly he didn’t know what the people wanted. They didn’t want freedom—freedom is too much for them. They preferred ignorance; they preferred being told what to do. The Church had fixed Jesus’ mistake, though, and Jesus must leave before he spoils her work.

Because of this tale, I think often of what we would tell Christ if he returned. Would we repeat the words of the Grand Inquisitor? Would we claim Jesus got things wrong and we need to correct him? Would we say the freedom he offers is too much? Do we say this implicitly through our actions?

This story shaped me. It shaped my thinking and my vision, influencing the way I see the world, my faith, the church.  It offers a warning to the tendency I see in my own heart to turn freedom and grace into rule and law. It gives me the language to grasp and explain my world.

All the best stories, I think, do this. They put a slice of our humanity on the page, reflecting our human condition in the broken beauty of the world. They are powerful not because they are factual but because they are true to the human experience.  We see characters not so different from us at heart, and say, “Ah yes, me too.”

For good or ill, the stories I absorb affect the story I’m living. The best stories invite me in, only to release me back to the real-life story I find myself in. The power of these books isn’t in overt morals or in heartwarming endings. The power is in the story—for the story itself shapes us.

These are the stories I’ll keep reading, and the ones my grandchildren will find someday on my dusty bookshelves. These will be the books that have changed my life.

To Those Grieving For the Children: Friday Morning Coffee #68

I have seen many of you concerned over these last few weeks about immigrant children separated from their families at our southern border. My heart has grieved as I’ve seen the stories and reports flooding in. I have been encouraged by the overwhelming response from Christians and Christian leaders in support of these children who are surely dear to God’s heart.

[If you'd like an eloquent piece on the Christian concern over the family separation, read this one from Tish Harrison Warren.]

I have also seen a lot of helplessness, that continual question “What can I do to help?” I was talking to a local pastor this week who has been bombarded with this question from parishioners. I have asked this question, filled with grief, seemingly powerless in the face of political decisions outside of my control. 

Though the President’s executive order on Wednesday ended the policy of separating families, we still have a long way to go. Thousands of children need to be reunited with their parents. Many advocates and legal experts have questioned the legality of detaining children (even with their parents) indefinitely, which is the case under the executive order. We’re taking baby steps, but this situation is far from resolved. 

Because of the concern I have seen, I want to share today a few ways I have found to help. If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear about them. 

Give 

There are some great organizations doing work with migrants and refugees. Here are a few to consider: 

KIND - Kids in Need of Defense supports immigrant children by providing legal services and advocacy. They provide pro-bono legal support so that immigrant children do not appear before immigration court without a high quality legal representative. 

World Relief - This fund, in honor of World Refugee Day, specifically sets aside funds for immigration legal services.

Kino Border Initiative - This Catholic organization provides humanitarian relief, education, and advocacy for immigrants deported to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico and those who pass through on their way to the U.S. 

Advocate 

One of the freedoms we have in our democracy is to write to and call our representatives to advocate for particular issues. World Relief has made it incredibly easy to contact your representatives in Congress about this situation. Do so here

Learn 

Read stories and reports from those on the ground. KIND has a lot of information on their site, as does the Kino Border Initiative. Read from a variety of sources, not only your pet news source of choice, to avoid strong bias or misinformation. Look for sources that are backed by credible sources and/or from eyewitness workers. 

Pray

Prayer is not a last resort. If we believe God is active and that He cares, then we must believe our prayers have power. Pray for the children. Pray for immigrant and refugee families. Pray for those who are on the ground serving them. Pray for our government leaders. 

You Have Never Met A Mere Mortal

I've been concerned lately about the way we treat our fellow human beings. We could analyze this culturally or historically. But today, I'm specifically thinking of this as a Christian, about how those who claim the name of Christ treat their fellow human beings.

I believe that one of the fundamental principles of the Christian faith is that human beings - both men and women - are created in the image of God. We read of creation being God's handiwork and declaring his glory, yes. But it is only us who are made in his image. We, in some astonishing way, reflect more of what God is like than the most colorful sunset, the richest landscape, the most intricate flora and fauna. Out of all of this, out of all of the beauty of creation, we are the created thing that bears his likeness. 

This bestows an inherent dignity and glory to each human being. It (should) prohibit us from denigrating and dehumanizing each other. It (should) cause us to seek the flourishing and well being of every person on this planet, regardless of the language they speak, the color of their skin, their religion, their political views, their abilities, their lifestyle, because deeper than all of these things is the basic, dignifying image of God stamped on their being. 

aroni-738305_1280.jpg
poor-1775239_1280.jpg

When we see poverty, we should grieve, for these are humans made in God's image. When we see bloodshed and violence - in any corner of the globe - we should grieve, for these are humans made in God's image. When we see evil, we should grieve both for the victim and the perpetrator, for these are humans made in God's image. 

When we can put people into a category of "other," people we can hate or slander or vilify or overlook, we have forgotten. When we think we have found someone who is no longer worthy of our compassion or of grace, we have forgotten. When we are no longer disturbed by lives lost, by people suffering, by exploitation and displacement and abuse, when we can claim that a particular group of people "deserved" what was coming to them (or, God forbid, rejoice in their pain), we have forgotten. 

We have forgotten the image of God stamped on each human being who breathes. We have forgotten that Jesus has called us to love - our neighbor, the stranger, even those we consider our enemy. C.S. Lewis would say we've forgotten that "your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses." 

And we forget so often. So often we fall short in this, through our actions and inactions, through our words and attitudes, through overt and subtle means. It’s something I have to continually call myself back to. Our denial of the image of God in our fellow humans calls us to repentance. It draws us back to our desperate need of grace. It brings us to God, begging for his vision and his love for the world. 

I will leave you with some famous words from C.S. Lewis: 

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

- C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

That Could Be Me: Friday Morning Coffee #67

I was standing in the driveway talking to our neighbor. He’d been outside when I returned from running errands and the spring warmth provided a pleasant space to catch up on the progress of their home renovations. 

That’s when I saw her coming. She plodded up our hill with an uneven gait, her body sharply bent forward to push her cart. She wore a bright yellow vest, as she always did. It was the flimsy sort worn by crossing guards. Plastic bags peeked over the edge of her boots and clung to her leggings. She pushed bunches of hair from her face. It was thick and dark and slightly curly.  

I saw her walking a few times a week. I had no idea where she came from, where her circuit started or ended. Once, I saw her in the grocery store, nearly two and a half miles away. She was rifling through the bin of recycled plastic bags. 

I wondered what her name was. I wondered what she looked like when she smiled. 

I always wanted to talk to her, but I never seemed to be outside when she passed. Once, I was and said hello. Her chin sharply angled away as she said hello in return. It was as if I’d startled her. 

My neighbor knew her by name and called out to her. “How’s your day going?” he asked. 

“It’s good,” she said. Her voice was low. She continued walking, continued pushing the cart. 

We watched her back as she progressed up the hill. My neighbor turned back to me. He shook his head, pursed his lips, raised his eyebrows. I was expecting a snarky comment as he jerked his chin in her direction.

“That could be me,” he said. “Really. Just a few different life events, slightly different luck.” He looked me in the eyes, his own eyes spread wide in emphasis. “That could be me.”