typewriter

Stories Can Heal. Stories Can Harm. {Deeper Story Post}

I’m over at Deeper Story today, writing a bit about how the way we share stories (especially about our kids) can be hurtful. I hope you’ll join the conversation.

“The other day I saw yet another story by yet another blogger that co-opted the story of a child in order to prove a larger point. It included pictures that were, to say the least, unflattering of the child involved.

It all sort of hit me at once:

What happens when one day that child grows up and discovers the permanence of the internet?

What happens when they see all of the jokes made at their expense?

What happens to all of the lessons about respect and consent and agency when that child realized that their lived experience was reduced to a series of jokes or rants in order to validate their parent?

What then?”

Click through to read the rest.

tantrum

Imperfect and Unprepared: The Story of Every Parent Ever

I’m over at A Deeper Family today, having a little fun and giving everyone, parents and kids alike, permission to not be perfect.

We came home from the hospital with an 8 pound rage factory who hated the world unless he was nursing or in the bath. No book or class or conversation can prepare you for the sleep-deprived madness of a colicky baby. Similarly, nothing can really prepare you for the first time they fall out of a chair, or burn their hand, or drink the rotten milk from the bottle you accidentally left in their crib in your sleep-deprived stupor.

And if you tell me you were prepared the first time your son asked you a question about vaginas in a public place with his trademark disregard for the rules governing volume levels and inside voices, I’m calling you a liar right to your lying face.

Perhaps what we’re least ready for as parents though, is being confronted with how imperfect we really are.

Head over to A Deeper Family to read the rest.

 

Featured image by Melanie Cook is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Silence

When Moving the Conversation Forward Means Shutting Your Mouth

I’ve been gone from the Internets for a while. There was a house and a vacation with an unhealthy amount of time spent in cars. But I’m still alive, so here goes:

There comes a point in any conversation that is being dominated by one side or the other when the only way to move the conversation forward is for the dominant party to shut the hole in their face for a minute and listen. This is especially true when hurtful words have been used or when the arguments that have been presented have been twisted and distorted to justify all sorts of abuse.

There happens to be a conversation happening right now in my little corner of the Internet where I think this point has long since been reached. It’s the conversation about modesty, and honestly, to all the bros, the dudes, the fellas, then men, and the boys it might be time to take a step back and shut the mouth for just a minute.

You may remember that I wrote about this once before here. And while there has been a lot of positive dialogue surrounding that post and posts that followed, I’m noticing a ugly theme starting to emerge from the male side of the conversation. It goes a little something like this.

“I’m sorry that we [insert example of archaic, oppressive theology of bodies and sexuality that dis-empowers and objectifies women], I really am,

BUT  <——-

And here is where you lose me, guys.
And here is where you lose credibility.
And most importantly, here is where your apology gets invalidated by everything that follows the “but.”

When we say, “I’m sorry, but…” it’s just another way of saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” which we all know isn’t really an apology at all, but really, it’s just another way of saying,

“You’re still wrong.”

We’re called to be peacemakers, and that means in our homes and relationships as well, but we can’t do that if we’re so busy proving how right we are that we can’t take a moment to see the incredible damage that being so wrong for so long has done. If we want to make peace, the kind of shalom that we’re called to in this Kingdom of God that we pay lip service to, then we have to start in our own homes and our own relationships, with our mothers and our daughters and our wives and sisters and friends whose hearts and minds bear the scars of being told their whole lives:

“It’s your fault that I am a sinner.”

It’s not her fault that you can not control yourself, it’s yours. It’s not her fault that you cheated, emotionally or physically, it’s yours. It’s not her fault that you can’t separate a healthy biological response to physical attraction from a desire to control and possess. It is yours.

It’s not her fault that you are weak, and blaming her doesn’t make you strong.

It makes you a coward.

That may seem harsh, and I would say, “I’m sorry, but…” but that would kind of invalidate everything I’ve written so far, so I’ll just say this:

There is great courage in admitting our mistakes, but our horribly distorted notions of masculinity don’t really leave any room for such humility, but if we’re ever going to move this conversation forward, our side needs to look something like this:

I am sorry.

There are many ways we can say this, but they’re all variations on the same theme.

I’m sorry that I’ve reduced you to the various parts of your body.
I’m sorry that I’ve used distortions of scripture as an excuse to subjugate and control you.
I’m sorry that I’ve taken part in trying to load the entirety of human frailty onto your shoulders.
I’m sorry that I’ve treated use as less than a person.
I’m sorry that I haven’t tried harder to listen and understand your point of view.
I’m sorry that I’ve dominated the conversation for so long that you may have given up trying to speak.
I’m sorry that you’ve been hurt, and I’m sorry that I haven’t done anything to bring healing.
I’m sorry that I’ve been more concerned with making a point than making peace.

I’m sorry. The end.

And then, we listen.

 

Featured image credit: “Silence” by Sean MacEntee is licensed under CC BY 2.0

pancakes

A Tale of Two Meals

Hello friends.

I know, it has been a while. I hope you’ll forgive me. I’ve been immersed in buying a house/moving/renovating for the last couple of months, and it hasn’t left me with much time to write.

However, when Preston Yancey announced his series about the intersections of faith and food, I knew I had to participate. Hospitality is a big part of our family’s history, and I wanted to share a little bit about how the table affected us, so I’m over at his place today sharing “A Tale of Two Meals”:

It was ten years, 2 kids, and a lifetime later, and it was a meal of considerably less fanfare than that first one. It was a simple breakfast of pancakes smothered in fruit compote and homemade whipped cream with some bacon on the side. It was their Saturday tradition.

But it was more like a sacrament.  

Absurdly, he found meaning in the flour, peace in the whir of the mixer, and hope in the eyes of the two little ones as they licked fresh whipped cream off of the beaters. And every time he sat down at that table, he rediscovered another piece of the humanity he’d lost and found the presence of the God he’d cursed in that bitter darkness.

I hope you’ll click through to read the rest, and I hope you read some of the other wonderful stories in this series.

gasp

Let’s Talk About (The Way We Talk About) SEX.

Jill and I are teaming up again, this time over at a Deeper Family, and this time we’re talking about sex. Should be…fun? Come on over and join the conversation!

We recently came to a conclusion: there was something very wrong with the way we were talking (or more appropriately, not talking) about sex with our kids.

I (Luke) was 12 (strike one) when my mom (strike two) first told me about sex using a cartoon book (strike three). I had learned more about sex from discarded magazines and those analog cable channels that we watched between the squiggly lines than I learned in that conversation, but God bless her, she soldiered through the awkwardness and marched on. But that embarrassment we both felt said something in itself: that sex was shameful, dirty, and not something we really talk about.

I (Jill) was 6 when a neighbor girl told me that sex was when someone “kisses you all over every part of your body and you make a baby.” As we walked down the street pulling the wagon with our dolls in it, trying to imagine how the baby gets from the inside to the outside of the mommy, I couldn’t wait to get home to ask my mom if it was true. My mom, however, was not nearly as interested as I was in having the conversation. “You’re not old enough to know about that,” she said. So from that moment, sex was a secret, something to be hidden, maybe even something to be feared.

And our experiences, we’ve found, are not unique. I mean, let’s be honest, positivity and openness about sex aren’t exactly common in the US period, and in the church?

Forget about it. 

A lot (and I mean a lot) of us grew up with some pretty distorted and destructive views of sexuality, and like most parents, we’re just hoping that we can provide our kids something better than what we had.

So, now we have two boys (granted, they’re only not quite 4 and not quite 2) and we’re already wondering how and when we’re going to have to start talking about these sorts of things.

Are we jumping the gun here?

Click through to A Deeper Family to read the rest!

 

Featured image credit: “Gasp” by jcgoforth is licensed under CC BY 2.0

megaphone

Old Voices and the Power of Newness (Reflections on Brueggemann’s Prophetic Imagination, Part Deux)

This is the second half of a post that started over at Kelly Nikondeha’s place on Wednesday. It is a personal reflection on Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination. This piece (and especially some of the language and terminology I use in it) might make more sense if you read that one first. Also, there are four other absolutely brilliant posts on her site (here, here, here, and here) that you should definitely check out as well.

Photo Credit

Those old voices don’t always scream. Most of the time, they don’t have to. They whisper empty assurances and counterfeit hope into ears that are burning for songs of justice.

We hear what we want to hear, what we need to hear, what we think we hope to hear.

This is what makes the royal consciousness so insidious. It teaches us that meeting our own needs is paramount, and then teaches us what our needs are and meets them.

It is a closed system.

There is simply no room for external inputs. It is nothing if not beautifully and terribly efficient.

So we move throughout our lives oblivious to the privileges we enjoy being on the “right” side of Empire. The murmur of a thousand old voices drowns out the lonely cries for justice and lulls us into numbness saying,

“This is just the way it is.”

“Be grateful for what you have.”

“Everything is alright, as it should be.”

This is the Great Lie.

As Brueggemann puts it, “as long as the empire can keep the pretense alive that things are all right, there will be no real grieving and no serious criticism.” We don’t engage in serious criticism when we don’t see serious problems. We don’t grieve where there is no suffering. As long as the empire can keep us convinced that things are just fine, then the persistence of the imperial system – in the economic, political and religious spheres – is all but assured its survival.

And those old voices just keep whispering.

But once in a while, something happens. The closed system is disrupted and an external input finds its way in. Something or someone breaks in and forces us to confront the reality we’ve been shielded from our entire lives by the din of those old voices:

Things are very much not OK.

 

For me, this wasn’t just an intellectual or emotional realization. It wasn’t even a particularly religious experience. It was an existential one. My entire concept of reality was shaken to the core. I lost my grounding. My entire identity had been shaped by the whispers of the old voices. My truth had been dictated by the static wisdom of the royal consciousness. It’s main components – the politics of oppression, the economics of affluence, and the religion of immanence – were the three legs of the stool that I stood on to see the world around me. Suddenly they were all ripped out from underneath me, and I was in freefall.

The old voices taught me that feeling anything was wrong, but suddenly feeling nothing was replaced by feeling everything. When I dared to voice it, it was amazing how the timbre of those old voices changed. The hushed whispers became raised voices. The previously soothing tones suddenly became shrill and unforgiving. Nowhere is the terrifying efficiency of the royal consciousness as evident as when there is a hole in the façade of certainty, exposing the sheer emptiness that lay behind it.

Brueggemann highlights the impetus for such this response: “…this regime could not tolerate promises, for they question the present oppressive ordering and threaten the very foundations of current self-serving.” Even the possibility of something other than what we have, here and now, is a threat to those old voices, and they know it instinctively. Questions of inequality and promises of justice and freedom are dangerous, and hope is a kind of weapon.

But questions aren’t enough. Grief isn’t enough. Promises aren’t enough. Hope isn’t even enough.

When defining the critical task of the prophet, Brueggmann highlights what he sees as the crux of the prophetic imagination, “The royal consciousness leads people to despair about the power to move toward new life. It is the task of prophetic imagination and ministry to bring people to engage the promise of newness that is at work in our history with God.”

Newness. Redemption. Resurrection. The Beauty of the Kingdom of God from the ashes of empire.

This is where our hope ultimately lies, in the promise and power of newness and regeneration. If we don’t believe that there really can, here and now, be an alternative to what is and what always has been, then we’re still buying into the Great Lie. But if we truly believe, as Brueggeman says, that “It is the marvel of prophetic faith that both imperial religion and imperial politics could be broken,” then we become powerful symbols of that newness as we rest in the hope of a free and loving God. Our own dynamism becomes an affront to the static lethargy of the old way. This promise of newness, of something better, erodes the ability of the old voices to lie to us and tell us, “This is the best there is.”

“The royal consciousness means to overcome history and therefore by design the future loses its vitality and authority. The present ordering, and by derivation the present regime, claims to be the full and final ordering. That claim means there can be no future that either calls the present into question or promises a way out of it.”

But those old voices cannot contain a future bursting with the promise of redemption, so we sing boldly our songs of the hope of newness.

We let grief and passion motivate and energize us and we speak truth to the power of those old voices, but tearing down the old is not enough. “More than dismantling, the purpose of the alternative community is to enable a new human beginning to be made.” So we speak up and speak out, but we “speak neither in rage nor with cheap grace, but with the candor born of anguish and passion.”

I’m terrible at this. I like to think I’m learning, but I still get angry. I’m still constantly overwhelmed with grief. I feel helpless most days, and on the days I don’t feel helpless I feel at best ineffectual. But even when I’m at my darkest, I can still find the hope of newness. The pain of grief, while never pleasant, is a constant reminder that I’m not numb anymore, that transformation has happened and is happening in me, that this person that I am today is different because of that power of newness that comes from a God of extravagant love and utter freedom. I have done terrible things at the behest of the old voices, and those things will always inform who I am, but those things are not the end of the story.

The redemption of God could no more be bound by my past than the love of God could be held by the cross or the grave.

The transformation that comes from the violent in-breaking of this radical love and the dismantling of our identities and priorities that comes along with it is perhaps the most powerful symbol we could present to a culture that has forgotten how to hope.

That’s the power of newness. That’s our hope. But we have to walk in it.

 

Featured image credit: “Death of a Megaphone” by yoz is licensed under CC BY 2.0

hope

A Profound Grief and an Absurd Hope: Reflections on Walter Brueggemann’s "Prophetic Imagination"

So, I’ve been reading along with my friend Kelley Nikondeha as a part of her “Transit Lounge” reading club (see the big badge on the right?), but you might not know that, because as of yet, I haven’t actually succeeded in writing about any of the books we’ve read because [insert littany of excuses here].

This month, however, we’re reading The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann, a book we both love by an author we both deeply appreciate, so Kelley wasn’t taking “no” for an answer, and she invited me over to her space to write a reflection on the book. Of course I said yes, but as it turns out I have quite a bit to say on the topic, so I’m posting this in two parts. The first is hosted today over at Kelley’s place, and the second will be here later this week [edit – here’s part two]. I do hope you’ll stick around for both.

Here’s an excerpt from my piece over at Kelley’s place today:

In the text, Brueggemann is concerned with the role of the prophet, both in the Scriptures and in the context of our modern culture. His thesis is that the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture [or "royal consciousness"] around us.The first task of the prophet then, is to shake us from the “numbness” that the royal consciousness lulls us into. He says in the introduction to the second edition “numbness robs us of our capability for humanity.” Unfortunately, that numbness is something with which I am intimately familiar, but I’ll get to that a bit later.

Now, the nature of the royal consciousness is that it is the end result of a process of enculturation. So all of us, to one degree or another, participate in the perpetuation of the royal consciousness, whether we do so wittingly or unwittingly. It is the context within which we conceptualize our entire world. It is then, perhaps unsurprisingly, difficult to shake loose the bondage of this royal consciousness and the crushing numbness it carries with it. Brueggemann’s answer – typified in the witness of the weeping prophet Jeremiah, Second Isaiah and Christ – lies in grieving. He writes, It is the task of prophetic ministry and imagination to bring people to engage their experiences of suffering and death. For some, that may seem like a somewhat jarring statement, but essentially Brueggemann’s point is that we are, in fact, dead already, that we have allowed the royal consciousness to bind us so tightly that we have lost the ability to feel anything real. Only a confrontation with the horror of the oppression, injustice and death that are the result of the power of the royal consciousness is sufficient to dislodge us from out apathy, and it is the prophet’s role, according to Brueggemann, to give voice to that confrontation.

Ultimately, the story I’m trying to tell here is about that confrontation in my own life, my own ongoing and ever-unfolding journey from numbness, to grief, to an absurd-and-ever-so-fragile hope. It’s a story that I’ve been trying to tell for a long time, but I simply haven’t had the frame of reference to even understand it, let alone the words to tell it. I’ve even read Prophetic Imagination before (twice!), but for some reason, this time through it resonated with me in a way it never has before. And when I say “resonated,” I don’t mean like a tuning fork or a violin string, I mean it more like how the seismic waves of earthquakes can resonate with the oscillations of particular buildings and shake them into dust, leaving nothing standing.

I hope you’ll click through and read the rest. And look for part two here in the next couple of days.

 

Featured image: “Hope” by DeeMo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Tattoo artist

Today is the Day to Make Peace (A Tattoo Story)

Kelley Nikondeha is over at Deeper Story hosting a link-up on “Embodied Stories“ where she invites us all to sit around the table and tell stories about our tattoos. I thought it would be fun, so I’m telling the story of one of mine and linking-up (a day late, which has become kind of my thing as of late).

I was out of the military and just really beginning to process much of what I’d gone through, and I wanted something to mark the occasion by. If you know me at all, you know that the traditional bald-eagle-American-flag collage wasn’t really an option, nor was the classic violence-glorifying gun-worshipping sort of thing that also seems to be standard issue among vets (no offense if you’ve got one of those, it’s just really not my thing).

There was a lot going on at the time. My whole worldview was slowly being picked apart, piece by agonizing and terrifying piece. All of the rationalizations seemed absurd, the excuses so silly and empty.

The other day, E was at “school” (which basically consists of 2 hours of structured play, because, you know, HE’S ONLY THREE) and he had worked hard to build a castle out of those fake cardboard bricks, only to have a bully come over and knock the whole thing down.

That’s kind of what my faith looked like at the time. I had worked so hard to build it, meticulously placing each brick in its proper place and marvelling as the whole thing took shape. Then, it was confronted by the bully of cold, hard reality.
_____

I had the most incredible English teacher in both junior high and my freshmen year of high school named Mrs. Brandenburg. She was passionate about her job and relentless in trying to get us to step out of our middle school awkwardness and actually express ourselves. She was a constant encouragement (like when I first started writing really bad poetry as a tween) and an inspiration to all of us who were lucky enough to have been in class with her. She was the first one to ever encourage me to write something down (I’ll let you be the judge of whether or not that was a good idea).

Anyway, Mrs. Brandenburg had a saying that she lived by (and I can’t help but think a certain stellar performance by Robin Williams had something to do with this): Carpe Diem. Seize the day. It has always stuck with me for some reason (perhaps as a counterweight to my accursed penchant for egregious procrastination), and it serves as a constant reminder to take advantage of the gift of time we’re given.
_____

So there I was, looking at the wreckage and ruin of everything that not-so-long-ago I thought I was certain of. I was looking for peace, but all I could find was a vague promise in an old book:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

So I have this saying, Carpe Diem, a saying that has been so often used as justification for all kinds of mindless, self-serving nonsense (I mean, let’s be honest, YOLO is just the text-message abbreviation) and hedonistic indulgence. I thought, maybe it would be kind of cool to take it and apply it to something totally counter-cultural, like peacemaking. So I needed some universal symbols of peace that would be easy to recognize.

First, the dove. Duh.

I was raised Pentecostal. The image of the dove as a representation of a certain kind of spiritual peace is a foundational piece of Pentecostal symbology. Pretty sure that one was non-negotiable.

The olive branch is significant as well, from its roots in Roman usage as a symbol of peace. Also, I love the connotations of cultivation that come along with olive branch. To get good olives, you have to work the soil, tend the grove, and pay painstaking attention to the needs of the trees. It takes work, in other words. The two taken together are often seen as a symbol of peace as well, from the conclusion of the flood story to modern appropriations like the symbol of Vets for Peace (a personal favorite of mine).

The process itself ended up with me answering my own question. I was looking for peace, asking “how do I find it?” when all along, the answer was right there in front of me.

In this life, we don’t find peace. We have to make it.

So I guess if you ask me what my tattoo means, the short answer is this:

Today is the day to pro-actively make peace.

With ourselves, our pasts, our families, our enemies, our cities, our world.

Wherever we can. Today is the day. Make Peace.

 

Featured image: “Gonzalo y Jone – Last Port Tattoo Studio“ by IpUrBeLtZ is licensed under CC BY 2.0

faithfulparenting

Faithful Parenting?

Today is fun for two reasons.

1.  I have the distinct pleasure of both getting to share the page (though I guess it’s not really a page…more of a screen) with the wonderful, the beautiful, the talented Mrs. Jill Harms (who tells her own beautiful stories here).

2. We’re guest-posting over on the Parenting Wild Things blog, a project of one Jessica Bowman of the always funny and insightful Bohemian Bowmans.

We’re talking about faithful parenting, and what that looks like for our family:

For us, I think that’s where we begin our discussions of parenting: at the end. We ask ourselves what we want them to get out of this whole process (as opposed to asking what we want to get out of it) and we wonder aloud what the real purpose of discipline is in our family. Is it to teach or to ensure compliance? Is it to correct, or is it to prove to them that we’re correct? Is it to make them better, or is it to make our lives easier?

Now, if we’re being honest, on any given day of the week, the honest answers to these questions might be radically different, which is why we have conversations in the quiet spaces, during the lull of the battle when they’re resting and we’re still awake and alert enough to actually form coherent thoughts. The hope is that if we can give some serious thought to these questions at some point before the moment at which the hitting/snatching/yelling/not listening takes place, perhaps we will be better prepared to handle those situations gracefully, with a certain amount of perspective.

 But best laid plans, and all that. This is hard stuff.

Click through to read the rest and join the conversation!

seedling

Resurrection For Thee, But Not For Me

You wouldn’t even have asked this question a year ago,” she said.

And I think to myself,

Maybe that’s what Resurrection is, for me.
_____

There haven’t been a lot of “revolutionary” moments in my life. I didn’t have a dramatic conversion experience, no booming voices or bright lights. I don’t generally do 180-degree turns. I’m more inclined toward wide, sweeping arcs that eventually get me headed in the right direction. Now don’t get me wrong, there certainly has been change, but it has been evolutionary, a slow slog toward…something?

For the last few years I’ve been unsure what exactly that something was. We use words like salvation and resurrection, but most times I don’t think we’re really even sure of what those things mean. They’re like placeholders for concepts that are too big and too scary for us to really wrap our brains around, abstractions that leave us grasping desperately for something concrete to really grab on to.

And now it’s Eastertide, that time when we’re supposed to be celebrating Resurrection while anticipating the Gift of Pentecost, but again, I’m left wondering what that word – Resurrection – even means, and how I can find some way to connect to it.

Because if I’m being honest, if Resurrection is the sort of thing that I’ve been taught my whole life, then it’s not something I feel that I have a right to connect to at all.
_____

When you have blood on your hands, it’s hard to accept forgiveness.

It’s hard to feel like you deserve closure or peace. Part of me, the biggest part in fact, feels like carrying around guilt for the innocent people whose lives came to an end based on your work is somehow the right thing to do, like I should be profoundly affected by these memories, like carrying them around with me somehow keeps that person that I was back then from coming back.

And I’ve heard all the rationalizations.

“You were just following orders.”
 
“You thought it was the right thing to do.”
 
“You were influenced by a broken, fallen system.”

All of that is true, but none of that really matters.

I was that person who followed those orders, thought those things, and allowed that system to influence me without questioning it.

But what’s more, I was that person who took joy in his job. I was that person who was filled with vengeful satisfaction as he watched the dealing of death without mercy play out in front of him. I was that person who delighted in hunting and killing human beings, and who was wholly unmoved by the death of innocents caught in the crossfire.

I did those things. I was that person. How could I possibly be worthy of this thing we call Resurrection?

Can things really be made new?

Those people will still be dead.
I will still be that person.

Yet all around, I see Resurrection. I see light and life breaking in and breaking out where only death and darkness existed before.

Around me. About me. Above and below, in front of and behind me.

But never in me.

I believe in the power of Resurrection, and I strive to see that power manifest in the people, the systems, and the culture I’m immersed in.

But never in me.
_____

So there we were, leaning over the kitchen island in a precious moment of peace, talking about life and change and love.

I ask a question. It seems so simple, so fundamental to the way that a marriage should work and yet, it feels as if it is altogether something new.

“You wouldn’t even have asked this question a year ago,” she said.

And that most unfamiliar of feeling begins to creep into the margins of my Spirit:

Hope.

And I think to myself,

Maybe that’s what Resurrection is, for me.

I can’t ever give those people their lives back, but maybe that’s not what being made new means. Maybe it means that their deaths get turned into something meaningful as the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through me. Maybe it means that change might not happen in 3 days or 3 months or even 3 years, but maybe it’s not supposed to or maybe it doesn’t have to.

Maybe.

To be sure, there still isn’t much for me to grab on to here, but whatever it is that I’m reaching for, or that’s reaching out for me, I know that I can say something that I haven’t been able to say in a long time:

I hope.

 

Featured image: “Sprout“ by DixieRoadRash is licensed under CC BY 2.0