God, Creation, Evolution, Nuance, and Hubris

I have a confession to make. Going to the Natural History Museum totally stresses me out.

When I was growing up, I considered going to a museum or a science class a test of my faith. When my biology teacher told us in the 9th grade that we were descended from apes, I looked at her and said, “Well, maybe YOU were.” You know. For Jesus. (Mrs. Butts, I doubt you’ll read this. But if you do, I’m really, really sorry.)*

The thing I remember most about the natural history museum was walking past all the signs that said things like “5 million years ago” and thinking yeah frikkin’ right. Morons. Everyone knows that the Bible is Very Clear about how long we’ve been here.

But then, at some point, it occurred to me that a lot of people say things like “5 million years ago”. And that some of them are probably actually really smart. So things started to feel a little less clear.

And then I started to meet other Christians who believed things like “5 million years ago”. What the what?! Don’t you know that if you don’t take the first three chapters of Genesis absolutely literally, your faith has no basis? Poetry? Prose? No, no, the New American Standard Bible doesn’t bother with that nuance. Nuance is how the devil gets you.

Still, it kept getting harder and harder to disregard All of the People as morons. Especially as people I consider to be heroes of my faith were “outed” as not-necessarily-seven-day-creationists. Very notably C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien; these two men, between them, constructed the backdrop of most of my childhood imagination. It is very hard to pin down what they actually believed about evolution, and maybe there is a lesson to be learned from that in and of itself in this day and age when we are all reduced to either “Tea-baggers” or “libtards”.

Watching Ken Hamm and Bill Nye debate each other last night made my stomach hurt. On one hand, I had all this nostalgic defensiveness about the dogmatic positions of my youth. Well, yeah, sea fossils on mountain tops. What’s that about? It was also painful to watch the audience clap and cheer for Ken Hamm and stare in stony silence at Bill Nye. Don’t you guys know? He’s the Science Guy! He’s saying something charming and being funny! You’re allowed to laugh at the fact that the big bang would have been silent. It doesn’t mean you’re becoming an atheist.

Sometimes I miss the comfort of being Very Sure of All the Things. But mostly I am very glad for the loss of my hubris.*  I am able to have conversations with people now and actually learn from them. I remember in college once I spewed the four spiritual laws all over a poor fellow undergrad just because she had offered up that she thought she understood something about who God is because of her relationship with her husband. What she offered me was real and experience-based. What I offered her was memorized out of a pamphlet. I was presuming to claim status as an eye-witness about something that I hadn’t even taken the time to internalize yet. I wish I could say this is the only cringe-worthy moment I had in college (wouldn’t it be nice if we could all reduce that pile to one?). But if you know me at all, you know it wasn’t.

All I can say about that now is that I am very glad for the relative anonymity of not being famous so that I can work this out without being skewered publicly by thousands of commenters every step of the way like some of my famous Christian brothers and sisters who say stupid things and then come under fire for them. Anyone who knows anything about the science of education will tell you that is a very, very unproductive way to learn anything. As I thought about writing this out I could hear in my head derision from my right for compromising and allowing the World instead of God to direct my footsteps. And from my left, I could hear derision for not being progressive enough. The pressure is further intensified by the fact that I am now responsible for the cognitive development of two people who, if the internet is to be believed, will either turn out to be amoral heathens or bigotted bumpkins if I make the wrong choice about which museum to go to over Thanksgiving (The Creation Museum is close to my hometown, as is the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History). Why do I have to be either Godless Bill Nye, or Anti-scientist Ken Hamm? Why can’t I be something in between? Oh, wait, I can. Just maybe not on Facebook. 

I suppose this post will end the way this conversation usually ends for me these days. That is to say, I don’t know. It’s a cop-out, I get that. But it’s the best I’ve got right now. At the end of the day, whatever happened at the beginning of the world thous…wait…mill…wait…bill…well, a very long time ago, anyway…has very little bearing on whether I should be kind, generous, and loving. I’ll take comfort and direction from the words of George McDonald (another hero of my faith, someone who was alive when Darwin was, and who was thoughtfully and intentionally silent about this entire debate). “I have enough to do in trying to faithfully practice what is beyond dispute.”

*Please don’t take my explanations of my experiences growing up as descriptive of Creationist Doctrine as a whole. I can not and would not claim to represent that. My experiences, thoughts, and pride are my own and no one else’s. Christian teaching, including Creationist Christian teaching, says that we should be humble (which by extension means to not assume that people are morons) and the hubris of which I spoke, while certainly not rare, is certainly not an inherent trait of Evangelicalism, Creationism, or Christianity any more than angry atheism is a necessary part of accepting evolutionary theory.

Additional reading:

A middle ground? Some wouldn’t think so. Thanks, JE, for sharing this.

Bill Nye’s motivation for debating

Ken Ham’s motivation for debating

Taking medicine, sharing gummy bears, and locked doors.

Sometimes things happen that remind me, in heartbreaking ways, that one (and only one) of three things is true:

God doesn’t exist.
God exists, but is horrible.
God exists and loves us more than we can possibly begin to understand.

I have my own conclusions about this which inform my thoughts about our sufferings as humans, although I understand why people come to a different conclusion.

I suppose I think suffering is for the shaking off of everything that is shakeable (note: people themselves are never “shakeable” or expendable. God loves us, our friends, our spouses, our parents and our babies even more and better than we do).
The thing that is so hard and confusing is that we only see small bits of what is true. Like when my toddler thinks it’s the end of the world or that I’m torturing him on purpose when I have to give him medicine because he’s sick. If we can, out of love for our children, do things they don’t understand for their own good, I don’t think it’s impossible that God could do things like that with us.
Apparently, I can accept this for myself much more easily than for people I care about. It is a hard thing for me to trust God with someone else’s crisis or tragedy when I so little understand all that is happening in the world.
One day I offered E. some gummy bears during S.’s nap and she declined because she didn’t want to enjoy them without her brother. What I feel is a little like that.
Sometimes I wish I was still the kind of person who had easy answers for every problem.

C.S. Lewis on this topic, just after his wife’s death:

“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask–half our great theological and metaphysical problems–are like that.”

A princess worth mentioning: Rosamond


This is an excerpt from my favorite book, The Lost Princess (also titled “The Wise Woman: A Double Story”), by George MacDonald. I don’t think it needs much more explanation than that.


All at once she jumped to her feet, and ran at full speed down the hill and into the wood. She heard howlings and yellings on all sides of her, but she ran straight on, as near as she could judge. Her spirits rose as she ran. Suddenly she saw before her, in the dusk of the thick wood, a group of some dozen wolves and hyenas, standing all together right in her way, with their green eyes fixed upon her staring.

She faltered one step, then bethought her of what the wise woman had promised, and keeping straight on, dashed right into the middle of them. They fled howling, as if she had struck them with fire. She was no more afraid after that, and ere the sun was up she was out of the wood and upon the heath, which no bad thing could step upon and live. With the first peep of the sun above the horizon, she saw the little cottage before her, and ran as fast as she could run towards it, When she came near it, she saw that the door was open, and ran straight into the outstretched arms of the wise woman.

The wise woman kissed her and stroked her hair, set her down by the fire, and gave her a bowl of bread and milk.

When she had eaten it she drew her before her where she sat, and spoke to her thus:– “Rosamond, if you would be a blessed creature instead of a mere wretch, you must submit to be tried.”

“Is that something terrible?” asked the princess, turning white.

“No, my child; but it is something very difficult to come well out of. Nobody who has not been tried knows how difficult it is; but whoever has come well out of it, and those who do not overcome never do come out of it, always looks back with horror, not on what she has come through, but on the very idea of the possibility of having failed, and being still the same miserable creature as before.”

“You will tell me what it is before it begins?” said the princess.

“I will not tell you exactly. But I will tell you some things to help you. One great danger is that perhaps you will think you are in it before it has really begun, and say to yourself, ‘Oh! this is really nothing to me. It may be a trial to some, but for me I am sure it is not worth mentioning.’ And then, before you know, it will be upon you, and you will fail utterly and shamefully.”

“I will be very, very careful,” said the princess. “Only don’t let me be frightened.”

“You shall not be frightened, except it be your own doing. You are already a brave girl, and there is no occasion to try you more that way. I saw how you rushed into the middle of the ugly creatures; and as they ran from you, so will all kinds of evil things, as long as you keep them outside of you, and do not open the cottage of your heart to let them in. I will tell you something more about what you will have to go through.

“Nobody can be a real princess–do not imagine you have yet been any thing more than a mock one–until she is a princess over herself, that is, until, when she finds herself unwilling to do the thing that is right, she makes herself do it. So long as any mood she is in makes her do the thing she will be sorry for when that mood is over, she is a slave, and no princess. A princess is able to do what is right even should she unhappily be in a mood that would make another unable to do it. For instance, if you should be cross and angry, you are not a whit the less bound to be just, yes, kind even–a thing most difficult in such a mood–though ease itself in a good mood, loving and sweet. Whoever does what she is bound to do, be she the dirtiest little girl in the street, is a princess, worshipful, honorable. Nay, more; her might goes farther than she could send it, for if she act so, the evil mood will wither and die, and leave her loving and clean.–Do you understand me, dear Rosamond?”

As she spoke, the wise woman laid her hand on her head and looked–oh, so lovingly!–into her eyes.

“I am not sure,” said the princess, humbly.

“Perhaps you will understand me better if I say it just comes to this, that you must NOT DO what is wrong, however much you are inclined to do it, and you must DO what is right, however much you are disinclined to do it.”

“I understand that,” said the princess.

September was long. It took most of October, too.

I haven’t really written for a long time. It feels like my brain is constipated. That will be funnier….well nevermind. That analogy won’t be funnier later, but it might make more sense if you keep reading.

In which I talk a lot about my husband’s butt…but not in the fun way.

A little over two and a half years ago J. had surgery to correct a perianal fistula. In layman’s terms, infection from inside his colon caused a hole to form and, um, burrowed its way out. It was bad. Like, we know our marriage is secure because I have shaved my husband’s butt when he needed it kind of bad. And that was a fairly short fistula that was easily repaired, comparatively speaking. So a couple of months ago when he started complaining of a little pain in that area again, we both knew where it was headed. After a couple of weeks it started to get worse (it didn’t help that we attempted to night wean S. because SLEEP), so on September 13th we went to see Doctor Whatever. (In retrospect, sometimes it is worth waiting for someone who doesn’t always have an appointment open in their schedule…) Dr. Whatever did an exam and found a 1 cm opening on the side of his rectal wall, confirming what we suspected. A fistula was forming, or had formed. We weren’t sure which. Dr. Whatever scheduled J. for a surgical consult and mentioned casually that he should probably see a GI doctor at some point because it seemed like he had “Crohn’s Disease or Something”.

We elected to cancel with the surgeons in favor of finding out if there was an underlying issue before just cutting with abandon through his gluteal muscles.

Through a wise friend we found Doctor Calm Down. He came with the highest recommendations which also meant that he didn’t have an appointment available until end of September. During that time I did a bunch of online research on “Crohn’s Disease or Something” to see if there was anything we could do that would help my husband without the risk of lifelong fecal incontinence. A lot of times the course of treatment for an abscess is trying antibiotics before surgery; the idea behind a fistula and an abscess both is that there is infection trying to find its way out of the body. So sometimes if you clear up the infection, the abscess can heal. J started taking Oil of Wild Oregano supplements (an antibiotic, although Dr. Calm Down did not recognize it as such when we saw him. He said, “I don’t care about that but it probably didn’t hurt”), turmeric tincture, and a soluble fiber supplement. We decided to make his food very easy to digest and eliminate anything that could possibly be a trigger for inflammation in his body. No fruits with peels on or dried fruits, no raw or crunchy vegetables with peels (except carrots), no whole grains, no seeds, no fried food, no spicy food, no cheese or dairy of any kind, no alcohol, very little coffee, no soda, no red meat. Luckily this was a very temporary arrangement, just to see if it would help. Night weaning also went by the wayside. Sounds crazy, right? We didn’t go to many dinner parties during that time.

We didn’t talk a whole lot about it publicly. Because we don’t attend services anywhere, there wasn’t a “prayer chain” or anything like that, though he did end up on one at my parents’ church, I think. I called some friends who I specifically wanted praying for us, and left it at that.

We ended up with a colonoscopy (referred to euphemistically as “the diagnostic procedure” on Facebook) scheduled for October 9th. At that time, when they did the scope, Dr. Calm Down diagnosed my husband with a “completely normal colon.” Not IBS. Not Crohn’s. Not colon cancer (I couldn’t even bring myself to say that during the whole time we were waiting to find out, though it was a possibility). A month after being told he needed surgery and possibly had a serious disease he was, and is, completely fine.

The closest we can figure is that Dr. Whatever drained the abscess enough that it was able to heal because we were treating it with diet and natural remedies. In less than a month, which Dr. Calm Down and all of the nurses working with him found very surprising. At this point, we are still being super careful with food (Thanksgiving, the butteriest day of the year in our family, should be interesting). We’re pretty sure he can’t have dairy, which is ok because S. seems to also have a dairy protein allergy. Now that we’ve cut out dairy the little guy has started to sleep through the night and almost completely resolved a weird diaper rash which our pediatrician misinterpreted as herpes. The cold sore kind, not the sexy kind…still, there’s nothing quite like spending a few days waiting to hear back from the lab about a herpes culture for your two year old–did I mention September was LONG?

In which I am in kind of a weird place, but it’s ok.

Ten years ago Katie would have jumped up and down and proclaimed loudly to everyone who would listen (and at a few people who wouldn’t) that all of this happened because of the goodness of God. Jesus healed my husband because of Romans 8 and because “every good and perfect thing comes from the Father of Lights.”

While I do feel glad (not cancer is, in my experience, better than cancer) unchecked jubilation doesn’t quite fit me right now. It feels wrong, somehow. Not false, just….wrong. I know and love too many people who are still torturously suspended in mid-air. They hang on fiercely even though their hands are cut and bleeding; waiting to see if the threads will be snapped above where they can reach. If I think God is good to me because my life has good things in it, then what is God to them? What about the next time something bad happens to me? What is God to me then?

The other morning, we discussed All Saints Day. It’s where our Unschooling took us naturally from Halloween. Elizabeth took all of her wooden train set people and set them around a platter, then brought it over to tell me it was her decoration for All Saints Day. I said I liked it because the people look lots of different ways and that’s good because a Saint can look like anybody.

She spun it around; we both watched it slow and stop. “Mama, I like it because you can spin it around, and each time it lands on a different person. That’s like All Saints day because when people die, each time it’s a different person too.” Sometimes I am out of my theological depth with that girl. I just wanted to make some pancakes and talk about her Great Aunt Fran.

There is this part of me that is afraid sometimes that the spinning platter is really how it is. We’re all just waiting to find out what God is going to do to us. Ten years ago Katie would put me on the prayer chain for having Serious Doubts.

Ten years ago Katie would be wrong. Not unlike smug new married couples who dole out relationship advice for challenges they have not yet faced. Or when people who don’t have kids yet blithely pass judgment on other people’s children. It’s not intentional, but that doesn’t make it helpful, either. I have reached the place in my marriage where questioning is ok; we’re not afraid of disagreeing sometimes, or of asking each other for some space when we need it. I think the idea that we should only focus on and express good feelings about God is unrealistic in the same way as the idea that a healthy marriage has to be one where no one ever expresses bad feelings. The same could be said of true friendship. If the underlying relationship is strong, then it can and should be able to handle all of our imperfections, quirks, and misgivings. A faith that we’re unwilling or unable to question may be, in reality, no faith at all. 

So I submit that there is a kind of doubt that is truer than some kinds of faith. Whatever is going on, whatever questions I have, I feel a freedom to ask them which I have never really felt before. My friend C. said that once when she was going through a really hard time, she just felt really angry at God and that the thing that got her through it was the idea that God can take it. That idea comes back to me, often when the platter seems to be spinning and I am somehow able to look beyond it.

This season of my life, I think, is about not clinging so much to my ideas about God to the point of saying heartless things to suffering people. True things and false things and true things so wrapped up in Christianese as to be indigestible, disagreeable, and even harmful to most people. Things like, “This is happening to you for a reason.” Even if the suffering person in question is asking things I used to be so sure I had easy answers to. Even if the person in question is me.

Spinning Platter of Saints

How I Witness to People in a Crisis

I know a lot of people who seem to be going through crises right now. I mean real, life or death (or sometimes even just death) crises. And because so much of how people share information is visual (Facebook and blogs), I’m seeing a very wide range of reactions. Some of them are very lovely and make people’s love and care palpable even through the internet. Some of them make me actually swipe my finger across my phone repeatedly as if I could erase the awful thing they said myself.

I see a lot of my fellow Christians focusing a great deal of energy on the ‘go and tell’ verses in the Bible. And don’t get me wrong. We should definitely do that. But that doesn’t mean it always has to look precisely the way it has looked in the American church for the last few decades. In my own family we tend to also pay attention to the part that says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (I Peter 3:15). Note: Someone expressing honest doubts and frustrations is not necessarily asking you to to give an answer. Asking usually involves people saying something like, “What do YOU think about that?”

Going through a crisis is confusing. Processing your pain with words is like showing your work on a very complicated equation. So people coming along and scribbling the answers to the equation they are working on all over your paper is, well, unhelpful at best. If I don’t have the relational equity to have discussed God with someone before they are in a crisis, I certainly don’t have the right to bring God up as the Wizard of Oz who will fix all their problems if they just go see him.

Living as a Christian, to me, means living the life of Jesus in the world, all the time. As much as possible. There are a lot of times when this looks quite different from talking about living the life of Jesus in the world. Because telling someone that they need food is not the same as bringing them dinner. If someone has no relationship with God, that means interacting with me can potentially be one way they experience who God is, even if that isn’t how it’s received or understood in the moment. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:17) If I can only communicate one thing to someone in a crisis, it’s definitely not going to be “God’s in charge of what is happening to you.” It’s going to be, “God cares what is happening to you.” If someone doesn’t believe in God, the closest I can get is, “I care what is happening.” And that is not nothing.

Here are some practical ways I try to communicate that idea:

I don’t elevate my need to say something wise or prescriptive above their need to feel their feelings.

I don’t say something, anything to end their grief-filled words just because I (like many Americans) am completely uncomfortable with grief and other negative and/or vulnerable expressions of emotion.

I give them the space to want to punch God in the throat. Because God can take it.

I try to be careful not to say things that make God sound like someone who should be punched in the throat.

I offer them bacon. Unless they are a vegan. Because bacon is not comforting to vegans.

If peaches are in season, apparently I can several dozen quarts of peaches and pray for them the whole time. Well, at least when this is all over I can bring these over and say, “I spent hours praying for you and keeping my hands busy with these. But that’s probably not what you’re tasting…I added a little extra cinnamon, too…”

I find ways to feel solidarity with them. Sometimes this means preparing their favorite meal and eating it to remind myself of them. Sometimes this means wearing matching socks (I have worn mismatched socks since high school. It’s kind of a thing. Wearing matching socks makes me feel uncomfortable, and is a form of fasting. That may sound weird, but it’s very effective for me).

If I am honored enough to get to share time with them, and I am feeling eloquent, I pray, God, please help me to listen well and to hear what you are saying to them, so I can say it too. Help me not to get in the way of what you are doing with my own limited ideas of what you might be speaking into their life at this moment.

If I am honored enough to get to share time with them, and I am not feeling eloquent, I pray, Dear Jesus. Please help me not to say anything stupid. Amen.


On fighting the Gay Agenda

So, Rachel Held Evans posted this about the current state of discourse.

And I really liked it.

Because sometimes, I think we are going about this all wrong.

I spent a lot of time being against things when I was younger. I engaged in the culture war between evangelicalism and, well, almost everyone else, with that particular zeal that can only come from being a teenaged extrovert in the Bible belt who has no clue what other people’s facial expressions mean.

When we go to take on the role of someone else’s conscience we need to have a care. It is so easy to get in the way of the Holy Spirit’s work (Holy Spirit is a fancy Christianese way of saying that God is still in the world with us and is still capable of leading each of us into truth–there’s quite a bit more to it than that, but that will do for now). When we take on the role of Sole Provider of Truth for others, we forget that they can have a direct line to God also. For example, if my neighbor is learning that God is loving and kind, and then I come in and proclaim my limited understanding of truth in her face as though it’s the only thing that matters, I dishonor the image of God in her person, set her back, or even send her off the wrong way if I am not very careful.

I think about it this way:

God created all of us to be one big, beautiful reflection of the Divine nature. But, as the Bible or even the most casual observation tells us, the world is not a perfect place. The world is broken, the reflection shattered. We all carry a shard of truth-reflection inside of us, and it’s beautiful. Sometimes we find others whose edges match with ours for a second, and we can get a little bigger picture of who God is from that. It’s a wonderful thing. And sometimes, when we are not careful, our jagged edges run across our brothers and sisters, cutting them and making it harder for them to glimpse what they were reflecting before we came along. I think that the redemptive work of God is to lovingly fit the whole thing back together, one piece at a time.

We are not always mindful of our jagged edges. There are moments when we are careful; when we are trying very hard. Like this, this, and more personally for me, this. But it is a long process and we need to keep going.Yes, Jesus sometimes gave lifestyle ultimatums. No, I don’t think that means we are required to do so in every situation, especially if we are going to do it without paying close attention to the way in which he did it (I’ll give you a hint: it didn’t involve protest signs or self-righteous internet posts, but it did involve getting rid of all the stone-throwers before having any sort of conversation). Yes, we should seek vigorously after what is true. No, we should not be dismissing every passage we don’t like in the Bible as a failure of interpretation. The thing that’s at issue here for me is not the actual “final” decision about whether or not homosexuality is sinful. I really and truly trust God to be in conversation with individual people about that in a more effective way than anything I could ever write on a sign, or a blog, or my own heart. As we seek to live out the Truth in word and deed we can and should still respect other people’s free will and ability to connect with God directly about their own sin. If we can’t have a conversation with someone while keeping those things in mind, then it’s possible we are not ready to have the conversation at all.

Other People’s Feelings

When I was younger, everyone thought I was really brave. People thought this, I am told, because I would say things that no one else would. I was unapologetically and uncompromisingly myself almost every minute of every day. I was unafraid to speak out truth even if it would not be well received.

But is it really brave to walk along the edge of a cliff if you don’t know what falling is? Looking back I would say I was just entirely clueless. I mean really, hopelessly clueless. And not in a cute, Alicia Silverstone sort of way (if you weren’t a teenager in the 90s, nevermind about that reference).

A lot of factors contributed to my learning of Other People’s Feelings. First, my senior year of college I lived with three really amazing girls and at some point they kindly, gently, and lovingly pulled me aside and said, “You know, you’re kind of a jerk sometimes.”

I said, “Really?! I had no idea! Can you help me try not to be one?” They tried. I think it worked sometimes. I made a lot of progress that year. Being married has been a HUGE catalyst for change in many ways, but especially in the Other People’s Feelings area. My husband will say things to me like, “When this person makes this face {example expression}, it means you should be careful. And when they make this face {other example expression}, it means you need to stop talking right away.” Seriously, that man deserves a medal. 

Parenting also helped me realize this, but in a less positive way. If/when you have kids (well, maybe not when YOU have kids…maybe you’ll live in a perfect bubble of non-judgment and sleepful nights. Ahem.), lots of people have lots of feelings about what you do with them. And for some reason, a lot of people are really comfortable sharing all of their feelings with you while you are in the very vulnerable space of learning to be utterly responsible for a tiny human. It’s odd, but it’s a thing.

So I get it. Other people have feelings. But now, the question becomes how to deal with it. At this point I have to figure out how much of other people’s stuff belongs to me. And it’s safe to say that some of it does. I spent the first part of my life thinking none of it did, and there are relationships I missed out on because of that.

And yet, I am simply not able to keep my mouth shut and disengage entirely. There are moments when this does seem tempting; as an extrovert I crave positive interaction and in moments full of negativity I do want to hide from everyone because it feels like I’ll never be able to sort out everyone’s emotions. The hardest and most freeing thing about that statement is that it’s entirely true. I’ll never, ever be able to make everything ok for everyone. I’m not God. And I don’t have to be.

The most confusing thing for me right now is when other people tell me that their feelings belong to me. Sometimes this is partially true. If I’ve been a jerk, for instance, I need to earnestly apologize (thank you, college roommates). But it’s not up to me for them to accept my apology. It’s not my job to do whatever will make someone happy instead of mad at me; especially if it pricks my conscience. I already wrote about that another time. You can read that if you want to. It’s confusing, but it’s work worth doing. Because I want to learn to live at peace (shalom, ‘the way it’s really supposed to be’ kind of peace, not just lack of overt conflict) with myself and with others.

To put it in movie terms: The beginning of my life swirled about me in a lovely way, like The Matrix swirled brilliantly around Keanu Reeves even though he is a terrible actor. But after he was supposed to play something other than a dumb-guy-newly-turned-hero, his lack of talent could no longer be overshadowed and the other movies were terrible. I’m trying to avoid that. I’m looking to be Gandalf, not Neo. Hither by Thy help I’m come. And I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.

I apologize too much. Sorry about that.

I think it comes of not having apologized enough in the first 20 or 25 years of my life. With a naturally aggressive personality, I was unapologetically myself. And that sounds great, in a novel. In real life, where actions have consequences, sometimes we end up owing someone an apology even if we didn’t mean to cause them any badness. 

That is fairly new information for me. The idea that maybe I bear some of the responsibility for things I don’t intend is really difficult to get my mind around in a productive way. In the past few years I have begun to be made aware of the way other people react to things that I say and do. I blame my husband for this. J is always saying things like, “If your dad is making this face, you should probably stop talking right away.” And you know what? It’s EXHAUSTING. I never understood when I was younger why everyone thought it was so “brave” or whatever when I spoke my mind. Now I do. Speaking your mind when you have a clue about what it might do to other people is often terrifying. Sometimes I have even wished I was able to live my life without being outspoken.

Where I am right now is the place of apologizing all the time. When I’m late. When I’m early. When I’m on time. When I bring food. When I don’t bring food. When I say something and it’s awkward. When I say something in a really thoughtful way, and it’s still awkward. When it’s not awkward (I over-think things until I apologize just in case and then, well, it’s awkward).

Where I am going, I believe, is where I can be really clear about how much of a situation belongs to me. Maybe I’ll figure out which things are mine to apologize for, and which things just are what they are. One rule of thumb once I get to that place will be not to apologize if no one is upset, annoyed or even inconvenienced. What not to say:I’m sorry I want to make this meal instead of that other meal I suggested, even though you didn’t seem to care either way…will you still eat it?” 

I will think a lot about moments when other people are having their Big Feelings and while I will certainly own and apologize for things that are mine, I will not clumsily attempt to carry the blame for something that does not belong to me.  I will remember how much that can be like grabbing at the shadow of someone else’s baggage. Because if I do that, probably I’ll just trip and fall on my face, I won’t actually help them, and then they’ll still have their baggage just like before. In the end (okay, in the middle…), I’m finding that too much apologizing is no better than not enough.

Shadow Baggage


An Open Letter of Apology

Dear Curtis,

We haven’t spoken in a while. I see your posts on Facebook sometimes and it makes me smile to remember some of the things we did…remember falling asleep on top of our music history books and then hoping some of the information had seeped into our brains by osmosis? Sneaking out of aural training class because the thought of MacGamut was almost painful compared to the idea of Chipotle on the Oval….you were one of my favorite friends in college.

But there were other things going on, too. When you came out to me, I felt like you were sharing this very vulnerable, scary thing for you, and I didn’t have a clue how to handle it. There are a lot of things that I wish I’d said differently to you. The only thing I can say is that I was doing the best I could with what I knew. But still, I am so sorry, my friend.

When you told me, my first reaction was to look for someone else who had some experience dealing with this. I heard about an anonymous group of guys that met to talk about “that stuff” (I still don’t know what they actually talked about, but I asked around my local church without using any names for “a friend” and was told to suggest you seek them out, and like a good little soldier I passed along the message). When I told you, you said, “Yeah, R said his mom tried to send him to a group like that. It didn’t help him.” I honestly don’t know that I wanted them to “fix” you or “pray away the gay” or anything like that, but I knew I didn’t have anything wise or helpful to say. I was terrified that this thing I’d always been taught was wrong was happening to you. I’m saying it happened to you because I don’t think you chose it. But you were becoming one of Them.

Suddenly abstract positional statements like, “Homosexuality is wrong” had a very dear face associated and I kind of freaked out. What does this mean for me? How do I react to this? How do I love my friend after something like this?” It fills me with shame to admit that this was my reaction. Even now it brings me to tears to think about it. I wish I could go back and shake myself and say, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU!! Your friend is going through something really hard and confusing and you’re worried that, what, you might have to take a stand against him? How selfish are you?”

Luckily those initial freak-outs were not the end of the story. The sweeping judgments were not able to stand up under the light of true friendship. I had a lot to learn (I still do) but I was clear enough to at least know that I would not stop being your friend because of this.

Then later (gulp), I invited you to my local church…you and K came one week because they had made an announcement: “Some College Preacher will be talking about Homosexuality. Bring a friend.” Well, this may help our conversation. Someone more qualified than me will address this issue. At the end of the meeting, K stood up and said, “I gotta get the HELL out of here.” I was shocked by that, as SCP had been outlining rhetoric I’d heard my entire life. Like a good little evangelical, I followed up with her the next day and she said a bit tersely (I don’t blame her), “Thank you for inviting me to your lecture.” I am sad about having put her in that position, but that conversation permanently altered the way I think about the Church, what it is, and what it is not. I am so grateful to her for that. But that’s another letter.

When you told me that you were researching what the Bible says about homosexuality, and that you thought the Bible was very clear, I agreed without really giving it much thought. I didn’t really dig into the words with you, because I assumed I already knew what they meant. I wish I hadn’t. Whether I reached the same conclusion as before or not, I should’ve looked into it more. I was afraid and selfish and I’m sorry.

Still, after all that, you stayed my friend. You even took me to my first gay bar…I have to say, it wasn’t the seedy den of iniquity I had expected. Not to perpetuate a stereotype, but it was super clean and people were generally very well dressed. And you know what? A girl can enjoy a drink and clever conversation without skeazy guys hitting on her. It was tremendous. But one thing you said to me then has really stuck with me. You said that I was better at being a Christian than you were.  At the time, (knowing myself) I knew that was absurd, but I wasn’t sure what to say, so I said nothing. Maybe a little part of me was afraid it was true, in which case I knew a lot of people who I considered to be better at a lot of things than me so we would both be screwed. You were just reflecting back what the culture taught; that good christians aren’t gay.

If I could go back and change one thing, I think that moment would probably be it.  Maybe this is the part where I’d shake you. Maybe I’d even laugh. “Have you met me? Sometimes I’m the worst. I’m definitely NOT better at  being a Christian than you.” I’d say matter-of-factly. I wish I had been able to encourage you to just seek God and trust that God could take care of what you needed to know. Why did I feel like I needed to stand in between and make sure you matched up to my list of qualifications for relationship with the Maker of both of us? Why did I think it was necessary to decide what I thought about your life? You are my friend and I love you. I have to think that God is better able to sort out what you need a talking-to about than I am.

A couple of closing thoughts: Even if the Bible is as clear about condemning gayness as I believed growing up (before I knew any actual gay people), even if it is actually a sin, so what? What does it help to continually point it out and take a stance on it? There are a lot of other things roundly condemned in scripture. Where are the protest signs that read “God hates Gossips” or “Impatient people will BURNNNN”?

I have come to believe that the Bible was not meant to be a weapon against my neighbors, and I am sorry for the way I publicly participated in it being used as such against you. And so, with fear and trembling, I hope you will accept my public confession and apology.

Your friend,


A Little More About Muslims and Angry Mobs: The Longform Sign

So, a few days ago, in the wake of what happened in Libya, I came across this article:

I don’t know any of those people, and I don’t know that they’ll ever see them, but we posted these pictures in response.

J and I posted them as our profile pictures on Facebook, and there were some…well, some reactions. A lot of people liked them. Some people didn’t. That’s okay. We don’t have to be everyone’s best friend.

But there seemed to be some misunderstanding about what was meant.

Here are some of the comments:

“The picture is suggesting that americans hate muslims… which is not true for the most part. It is true that many americans are incredibly misinformed about islam and couldn’t tell you one thing about it, but the small percent of muslims that hate america do so for what I would consider a very good reason.”

“tiny percentage of muslims mainly in the middle east that have directly been impacted by western imperialism and wish to avenge all the awful things the american government has done to your countries,
I do hate you, and I hope you rot in hell for all the bombings, shootings and terrorizing of innocent people that you have done. I would not care if you were shot dead, but I would prefer it if you were simply incarcerated. You give your religion a bad name and with it, an awful stereotype that ignorant, uneducated Americans are willing to believe simply because they are to stupid to realize that Islam is not a terrorist organization. You assisted in ruining an entire region and causing numerous wars and global conflicts. You caused the demise of several of your own countries, and increased a global hatred towards your race. to the other 99 percent of muslims, you should try as hard as possible to make sure that these few people do not define your religion as a whole.”

“and hes (referencing the above commenter) right. If she is infact trying to talk to the “muslims” who i think she means the ones who are extremists and rioting then we all should hate them. How is that wrong hate people who have terrorized Americans and others for years and years”

“I don’t hate muslims, nor do I blame all muslims for what happened. Unlike those criminals, I know words or actions of one man should not be used as the death warrant of another. Maybe they don’t teach “sticks and stones…” there, but they should.”

Here is my response to that:

“Dear Muslim brothers and sisters (as we are all human beings and therefore related in some really important way), I am saddened by the violence taking place in the name of Allah, and the backlash being associated, wrongly, with living the life of Jesus in the world. I can’t speak for your religion, but I can tell you that Jesus is in no way honored by unexamined hatred of an entire people group. As angry mobs of rioters do not represent every Muslim person, neither am I represented by a despicable movie designed only to ignite more violence. Most Americans don’t hate most Muslims, and vice versa. I don’t want to hold on to hatred of anyone, as I don’t think that helps anyone. It does not bring back the murdered, and it does not even really do anything to the murderer. If I hate, the worst damage is to my own soul. To turn back hatred we need stronger stuff. Oil doesn’t clean itself off the kitchen counter…you must flush it with lots of water. Sometimes very hot, sometimes with soap, but just adding more oil will never, ever make there be less oil.” 

Would have been hard to fit on a sign.

Here are the rules I try to follow for myself when reading the news:

1. Avoid sweeping generalizations. Something that is true of one person may not be true of another single person, let alone a whole people group. “Muslims, I don’t hate you,” is not a bad sweeping generalization because even though I was very general in whom I addressed, I was stating something that should be true anyway. We, as Christians, are commanded not to hate people (whatever we think about their actions) because they are created in the image of God. I have been given the gift of understanding how to not hate them (I wonder occasionally if I was related to Chris Stevens whether I would still understand and still be able to forgive. I hope so, but that is not what my life is).

2. Reserve judgment about what someone is thinking, or why they are acting in a certain way. The person writing the article may not be completely objective, or have all the information.

3. If the thing I am about to say starts with, “Over there,”  “Those people,” or something like that (especially about a place I have never been and know very little about culturally),  then it is often not worth saying.

4. Ignorant and bigoted people usually don’t know that they are ignorant or bigoted, and will make fun of other people for being what they are. I have noticed this a few times with hardcore fundamentalist christians who condemn the rest of the world for not meeting standards that they can’t meet either, as well as with angry atheists who assume that any kind of faith makes you weak-minded and are so blind to the way that they generalize “Those Morons in Churches” that they will make ridiculous declarative statements without even thinking them through all the way. Use caution when engaging in debate in this setting. If someone is more interested in belittling what they don’t understand, it is very hard to get past that to actual productive conversation. I have made copious use of the “hide” and “unsubsubscribe” buttons so I don’t get sucked into circular arguments or end up saying like J does in these circumstances, “I have to go! Someone was wrong on the internet!”

5. React emotionally, but realize that is what is happening and then try to think critically about it.

I find myself, sometimes, falling into the “silent majority.” The lack of exclamation points, Caps Lock, and words that are more inflammatory than substantive does not mean there is a lack of thought, passion, or meaning. I don’t always feel like screaming helps, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to say.