Random stuff I’m thinking about

  • Thesis: Sherlock is primarily about the community Sherlock lives in, which is centered on his friendship with John Watson, but the show works better when that’s left to run in the background, instead of being explicitly spelled out for the audience.
  • I don’t want to let politics take over my mental and emotional life, but dang it, that is hard to do in these days. But here’s the thing: I am finding that the actions of our current administration, while important to me, are still very much abstract. I don’t know any refugees (although I do know and work with quite a few immigrants and people arriving here under less than great circumstances). I know one Muslim guy, and he’s from a country that’s not on the travel ban list. I didn’t go to public school after fifth grade. I am, as usual, praying for a more open and hospitable life that lets in actual people, not just ideas.
  • And I want that to be true of all kinds of people, including ones that might not necessarily let me in, either. That’s the work we have.
  • This may seem obvious, but it is just now becoming obvious to me that God’s promises are true for me now, even in my flawed and sinful state. So, for example, my body is the Holy Spirit’s temple now; He is not waiting to indwell me until my body looks a certain way or until I get my act together, and also, His presence ought to make a difference in how I treat this body and how I use it.
  • And the same is true for us, the Church, collectively–so, for example, the same Spirit that is at work in me is at work in you, too, and somehow through Him working we are representing Jesus to one another. That is a weird and wonderful mystery.
  • I mean, that’s all pretty basic Christianity, but I’m just now getting it, like a light got turned on.
Random stuff I’m thinking about

When the good gets in the way

I started working for my church in September 2013, back when I was also still working retail. The extra cash was nice, but I also had the idea that I wanted to be involved in ministry somehow in the future, and I figured being behind the scenes at my church would be a good way to dip my toe into those waters.

Fast forward to February 2015, when the church got shaken up in a pretty major way, and everyone was hurt and shocked and sad and angry, including me. And I don’t know about anyone else, but it opened up a lot of things for me. I’ve had two different counselors describe the way I’ve dealt with it as post-traumatic stress–I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression my whole life, but something about this situation broke it open in a way I’ve never really experienced before. I had panic attacks and breakdowns; I was so afraid that our church was going to fall apart.

And I kept working. I took on a lot of work so other people wouldn’t have to do it, and I kept thinking, I have to do this or else. Or else what, I wonder. I was afraid of other people burning out or leaving; I was afraid that if I quit it would mean I was a failure or a disappointment–all variations on themes that have played themselves out in my life since I was a kid. I’m afraid of people leaving or being hurt and that when they do it’s because of me. I know that’s irrational, and I know the gospel says that even if everyone else left I would still have Jesus, but that’s a hard fear to get untangled from around your heart.

So it kept going and going and I kept doing the work not out of love or service for God and His people, but out of anxiety. It became more evident that the gifts God’s given me weren’t really suited for the work I was doing, and vice versa. And I kept drifting farther away from God Himself–prayer got more difficult. So did reading the Bible. My Christianity became something I was good at, at least when people were looking. And that’s kind of a terrible place to do ministry from.

Finally, I hit the wall. Or maybe God crashed me into the wall so I’d finally pay attention. And after talking with some wise people, I don’t work for my church anymore.

It feels weird to write that the work of ministry got in the way of my relationship with God, but it’s true, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. So now the work looks like trying to remember who I am in Jesus and finding my hope and trust in Him, and trying to figure out what my gifts are and how they can be used to serve and encourage people in my local congregation.

I’m writing this not as some kind of confessional, but maybe in hopes that someone will benefit from reading it. Maybe you’re burned out, or you think that you have to be some kind of super-Christian all the time for God to be pleased with you. But know that the Church will not stand or fall because of you; know that you are already loved and known and accepted by God. And maybe you shouldn’t be doing the ministry you’re doing, or at least not for the reasons you’re doing them. But don’t let yourself get to a bad place before you understand that. Get good counsel and surround yourself with wise people.

When the good gets in the way

rest.

Hi. WordPress tells me that I wrote all of four posts in 2016. Time to fix that, maybe.

The past month or so I’ve been thinking through a lot of stuff in my life, and I’ve realized that I’m really bad at rest–I’m good at sitting around reading the Internet, which isn’t really the same as rest. I feel like I have to be on all the time, because there’s always something to be done, some more information to be discovered, some other book or article or whatever to be read, some other project I have to get done. And as a result, I’m always anxious or stressed out.

This is a problem, and it’s one with deep roots in my soul. I could unpack all the reasons I feel like this, but what it comes down to is that I do not trust God to care for me, and I do not trust that I will be okay if I do not have my crap together. I don’t think that I’m alone in this.

So yes, there’s all kinds of stuff I need to do–I need to work well and keep my life in some kind of order and take care of myself physically and mentally, to be a good steward of the things God has given to me. But I also need to rest in the grace and work of Christ, because that’s where my acceptance and approval comes from. God does not love me because I have my crap together. Quite the contrary, actually. He loves me at my messiest, He loves me in my sin, and He loved me enough to put me back together.

So that’s the theme I’m going to try to go with this year: Rest in the unconditional love of God that He has set on me–on me specifically–and to trust His goodness instead of trying to fix my own life. Ironically, this will probably help me get my crap together better because I won’t be anxious about stuff all the time, but that’s just a side effect. A really nice side effect, but it’s not the end goal here.

What about you, readers? What’s the theme you’re setting for this year?

rest.

2016 book list

If you’ve been around a while, you know how this goes, but for any new people, this is my list of books completed this year. An asterisk means it’s a reread. Stats are at the end, along with a handful of other stuff.

January 13: Robert Kirkman, Outcast, Volume 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him
January 18: Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy
January 20: Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger, Creature of the Word
February 1: Colin Atrophy Hagendorf, Slice Harvester
February 4: Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought
February 8: Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
February 13: Erik Larson, The Devil In the White City
February 17: Kent Haruf, Our Souls At Night
February 24: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
March 4: James Dashner, The Maze Runner
March 24: James Dashner, The Scorch Trials
March 30: Trillia Newbell, United
March 30: Neil Gaiman, Coraline
*April 5: Sigmund Brouwer, The Weeping Chamber
April 14: Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, Hamilton: The Revolution
April 16: Alex Bledsoe, The Hum and the Shiver
April 17: Shusako Endo, Silence
May 5: Alex Bledsoe, Wisp of a Thing
May 10: Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
May 21: Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow
May 22: Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before
June 1: Enda Walsh, Once
June 4: Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
June 7: James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love
June 20: Matt Chandler and Jared C. Wilson, The Mingling of Souls
*June 23: Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath
June 25: Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology
July 18: Neil Gaiman, American Gods
July 28: Bryan Lee O’Malley, Lost at Sea
*July 31: Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb
*August 8: Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word
August 13: Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things
August 17: Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
*August 20: C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
*August 25: C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian
September 3: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, March, Book Three
*September 8: C.S Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
*September 8: Ray Ortlund, The Gospel
September 24: J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy
September 24: Noelle Stevenson, Nimona
October 2: Cara Nicoletti, Voracious
October 17: Gretchen Rubin, Happier At Home
October 21: Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness
*October 30: C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
*November 4: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods
*November 12: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy
November 18: Jan Karon, Light From Heaven
November 30: Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin
December 11: Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, The Road Back to You
*December 22: Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
December 31: Elyse Fitzpatrick, Found In Him
total read: 51
fiction: 19
non-fiction: 25
graphic novels/plays: 7
library books: 39
e-books: 11
rereads: 12
books by women: 16
books by people of color: 7

top 10:

A trilogy of books about missionaries–Silence, The Sparrow, and The Book of Strange New Things. The first takes place in Japan (and is the basis for that Martin Scorsese movie that’s out), and the other two take place in space, on alien planets. They’re three very different books, but the threads they share in common are people going to share the gospel in foreign contexts, and the question of whether or not those foreign contexts can receive the gospel–and the crises of faith that happen when the protagonists grapple with that question. They’re unsettling, but in a year when I was wrestling with my own faith they were also surprisingly helpful.

Better Than Before and You Are What You Love. I have a thing about books about habits. As a liturgical creature, what I believe is tied to what I love, and what I love is tied to what I do. So says James K.A. Smith in You Are What You Love, a distilled version of his two previous, more academic books (Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom), and I want to form more habits that stir my affection for Jesus. Better Than Before is a secular book, and its author Gretchen Rubin offers no thoughts on spirituality, but it contains some great principles for forming new habits that I think I’ll take with me into the new year.

Between the World and Me and Hillbilly Elegy. Two books for our times, on race, class, and culture, and understanding the Other. But also, the writing’s really good.

Hamilton: The Revolution. If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know about this one, it’s the libretto to, commentary on, and background for a little Broadway show called Hamilton that won a bajillion awards this year. This lives on my coffee table and I’ll pick it up once in a while to look at the photos and cry at the chapter on the song “It’s Quiet Uptown.”

American Gods. Imagine if every mythical god were real, but every country had its own version of said god; imagine if new gods were being formed depending on what the culture worshiped. You’d get one of the best road trip novels ever, an exercise in thinking about myth and religion and idolatry, and a good book to read before the TV show comes out in 2017.

Voracious. Autobiographical essays about books the author has loved all through her life, and recipes inspired by those books. For example, she follows a chapter on Moby-Dick with a recipe for clam chowder. It made me want to read and cook, and maybe pay more attention to the way writers write about food. (I wrote a paper in college on how domesticity and piety are tied together in literature, especially in regard to women; this feels like a book my 22-year-old English major self would have appreciated while writing that paper.)

2016 book list

light.

“At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple…” (John 10:22-23)

Tonight is Christmas Eve. Tonight, as occasionally happens, is also the first night of Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication. The Jewish people celebrate the temple being rebuilt after the Maccabees defeated their Greek conquerors, and the lights in the temple staying miraculously lit for eight days while they waited for supplies in the winter. In the dark and cold, they, like so many others around the world, celebrate light and heat.

And Jesus, as an observant Jew, went down to Jerusalem to observe that feast as well, even though it’s not actually required in the Torah. But He went anyway, and it’s on that occasion that He’s asked by the religious leaders, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” And He almost gets killed by them because He declares His oneness with the Father. The Light that came into the world didn’t get snuffed out, not then. But He eventually would, not long after.

But He still burns, and He still shines. He would not stay in darkness for long, and while He was there He defeated the enemies of God’s people, the true enemies.

The world is still dark. The powers of this world still rage on. But the True Light has come, and He shines on us.

Amen.

light.

the living room recommends.

*dusts off the blog*

United by Trillia Newbell and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Two books on race, from very different perspectives–Mr. Coates writes for the Atlantic and is an atheist; Mrs. Newbell works for the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Both are brief, very important reads for anyone who is working through the tangles of race and culture in America.

Pass the Mic and Code Switch
Like the above books, but podcasts instead. Pass the Mic’s run by the Reformed African American Network, Code Switch is produced by NPR.

Onward by Russell Moore
Important for the American church as we’re losing political capitol, which Dr. Moore and I both argue is not really a bad thing.

Christ and Pop Culture
I will hammer on about this website until the day I die or it dies. Home to some of the best writing on faith and culture on the Internet.

Quick to Listen and The Calling
Two podcasts produced by Christianity Today. Quick to Listen is about hot topics in the news; The Calling is interviews with people who lead in the Church and sometimes their church.

Surprisingly Awesome
A podcast recommended to me by my friend Chris which takes seemingly boring topics and shows you how interesting and mind-blowing they are. The episode that hooked me is about the Chumbawumba song “Tubthumping.”

Not having “It’s Quiet Uptown” stuck in your head
I’ve had this song stuck in my head all week and I’ve been low-key sad as a result.

You Are What You Love
James K.A. Smith wrote these two really excellent books called Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom that are about how we’re formed by our habits and practices, and what Christian educators and churches can do to counteract the ways the world tries to shape us. The only thing is, those books are super-dense and pretty academic (he makes a lot of references to Kant and Wittgenstein, for example), so he wrote a more accessible, more application-heavy version called You Are What You Love and it’s so, so good.

the living room recommends.

Songs in ordinary time: Trinity Sunday.

All along the watchtowers of the walls around
The city of man, the jokers and thieves shout
The songs of their sacred temples
And we all muse that there must be some way out of here

And the Dancer still dances His threefold dance
While we are only specks in the eye of the universe
That He forms into one new Man and fills with His breath
Paradox, mystery, unexplainable ineffable light

One and one and one make one
While the rebels shatter and scatter like Babel

Songs in ordinary time: Trinity Sunday.