shall we strike with a sword?

Shall we strike with a sword?
Shall we crucify, terrify, vilify, war?
Shall we wound with our words?
Shall we seethe?
Shall we shame?

Shall we strike with a sword
or a fist
or a palm?
Shall we make them submit to our rule?
Shall we reign?

Shall we strike with a sword?
Shall we live by it,
die by it,
crown it our god?

Shall we bow? Shall we break
the bows that we've made?
Shall we love a more excellent way?

Compellingly uncoerced,
casting out fear, lay down arms,
forge new tools in the fire that consumes
every dross and illumines strange paths.
Plowshares strike only soil: till my heart,
may the verdant grow wild.


wherever i'm with you

In high school I joined a Baptist youth group. My Presbyterian self rolled a bit differently, but I barely realized it ’til years later (when I told my youth pastor, “I followed in your footsteps!” and his eyes widened, confused). Back then we all just loved Jesus and U2 and each other. They were my skiing, singing shelter from the adolescent storms...
...I’m increasingly convinced that belonging is more about nurturing creative space together than finding a “tribe” of people Just Like Us. Belonging is cultivated in the fertile soil of hospitality, kindness, and grace, not doctrinal, political, or cultural conformity. 
(Anyone who tells you differently is probably selling something, and it’s not the gospel, which is surely not for sale.)

I'm back at Deeper Church this month weaving recollections of community, home, and resurrection. Like we do. Come by and say hello.


in defense of evangelicalism

Labels are a strange beast. As a word-lover, I appreciate their precision, but plenty of people eschew them altogether, perhaps not wanting to be categorized, pinned down, or boxed in.

There is power in naming, which I suspect relates on both counts. Label lovers use them to demonstrate certain understandings of the world or to proclaim integral components of personal identity. Label haters, on the other hand, refuse to allow themselves to be controlled by something so limiting and inadequate.

"Evangelical" is something of a contentious badge these days. The media made it synonymous with the Religious Right of the 1980s onward, and plenty of Christian culture warriors were (and remain) happy to play along, but Evangelicalism's hallmarks are not conservative politics but belief in the authority of Scripture, the Lordship of Christ, his saving work on the cross, and a commitment to conversion and evangelism.

I grew up evangelical, asking Jesus into my heart when I was five. I am well-acquainted with flannel board Bible lessons and Psalty praise tapes. Every summer at camp, I re-dedicated my life to Jesus with my back against pine and tears in my eyes. I signed a True Love Waits pledge and fasted for the 30-Hour Famine with my Baptist youth group. I kept quiet times, prayer journals, and well-marked Bibles. I skanked to the beat with the Supertones and camped the Creation Music Festival. I dragged my longsuffering Jewish friend to a volleyball tournament that included a gospel presentation. To this day, I can't hear "Total Eclipse of the Heart" without flashbacks of mimes falling prey to addiction and gossip. I know my way around Young Life, InterVarsity, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and non-denominational worship. I crushed on Mac Powell of Third Day and sat through dozens of iterations of a that "I Am a Thief" skit where Jesus is crucified, and you're supposed to feel sad, but it's also confusing because camp's cutest counselor is playing Jesus, and he's not wearing a shirt.

I also technically grew up in the Mainline, but my twenty-odd years in the Presbyterian PC(USA) church were thoroughly evangelical. (I didn't actually meet a bona fide Mainline liberal until I got involved in anti-poverty and peace organizing as an adult.) I didn't feel stifled there as a woman. My gifts for ministry were nurtured and largely affirmed, and I worked as a youth minister my first job out of college.

I still believe in the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus, but I believe that Jesus is the Word of God to a greater degree than the Bible is, and I have a few more questions than I used to. I seek to understand the Bible in community through the witness of Jesus, historical context, and the arc of the biblical narrative as a whole. My esteem for Scripture is just as strong, but when Truth is understood as a Person, the Bible becomes something more than a textbook. There's more room for mystery, tension, and beauty.

I still believe in Christ's saving work on the cross, but I believe his birth, ministry, and resurrection were significant, too. Jesus wasn't just "born to die"--he lived to reveal God's shalom and set right the ill sin wrought. Put to death by religious and political authorities, Christ's resurrection disarmed their violent power, revealing a better kind that makes all things new in humility and love, without coercion.

I still believe in conversion, but less as a once-and-done event. Repentance is an ongoing work, and salvation is not merely for individual hearts or heaven: it's also the liberating, reconciling inauguration of God's reign here, "on earth as it is in heaven."

I still believe in evangelism, but not like I used to when I alienated more than one friend trying to get them to come to Christian events. The gospel of come-to-church-stuff (or go-to-heaven-when-you-die for that matter) isn't the most compelling good news we've got, and honestly, it betrays a certain heresy about where God works and dwells. These days, evangelism looks more like attempting to reveal what Jesus is like and acknowledging the ordinary sorts of places where I see God at work. It's a lot more like regular life.

When we moved here nine years ago (for Jim to work at the evangelical camp where we met and I grew up), we found ourselves most at home at the little country Episcopal church full of elderly folks and empty-nesters. I suppose that means I'm not properly an evangelical anymore, but not because I outgrew it or was pushed away. Evangelicalism was good to me. It showed me Jesus. It still does.

I know a lot of people's stories are different. Many stories involve great pain and loss, feeling chased out or condemned, and those stories need our hearing. They are valid, 100%.

Mine is, too.


Some fundamentalists are evangelical, but all evangelicals are not fundamentalist by any stretch of the imagination. Fundamentalism has a unique history and identity, and its emphases on separatism, authority and control, literalism, doctrinal purity, and rigidly enforced boundaries delineating In from Out set it apart from its far less inhibited cousin.

Having grown up and ministered in bigger tents with a considerably more generous orthodoxy, that's not the Evangelicalism--or honestly, the Jesus--I recognize. Since their faith doesn't particularly read like Good News, I'm not sure why the fundamentalists should be allowed to renegotiate the bounds of Evangelicalism.

"Fundamentalist" was originally a self-chosen label, but as it's taken on a pejorative connotation culturally, there is a vested interest in re-branding fundamentalism as evangelical, but any dogged policing of the gates betrays the tell-tale mark of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists are free to assume the evangelical label, but when self-appointed emperors aren't wearing any clothes, we don't have to pretend otherwise or acquiesce to their determination of who's Out.

I don't presume to know if God would have you stay or go. Since denominations, local congregations, personal experiences, and tipping points vary tremendously, there will be few universal answers for the faithful navigating the minefield that is Evangelical Christianity in this post-modern age. The Spirit may make it clear to you, or She may feel a million miles away, but I trust you'll know your next steps better than any random blogger on the interwebs. But if the gatekeepers can't kick us out, the leavers can't drag us out either. Go or stay; there are a million ways to be faithful.

Here's what I do know: Christ has but one Church, and for better or worse, we're family. Fundamentalist, Evangelical, liberal, Catholic, missional, Mainline, conservative, charismatic, Anabaptist, Orthodox, Reformed: we're sisters and brothers. We can disagree, drop, and pick up new labels and traditions, but as long as we're following Jesus, there's no escaping the fact that we're keeper and kindred, meant to live and bear the Good News together. We belong to one another.

At the end of the day, these labels matter little. It is by love we're called to be known, and we've got a world of work to do.


a way in the wilderness

This is my Body, broken:
pierced and bleeding, shrouded
in darkness and alone

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?

Father-forsaken, the Light recedes.  
Rocks cry out, the curtain tears,
brave women do not flee.

This is my Body, broken:
my radiant Church lies 
pierced and bleeding, wounded 
by friendly-fire burn

This sickness shall not end in death

The dead are raised, the blind will see and 
you, love, shall be healed (only say the Word).
You are No Longer Deserted, re-created, 
the very image of God

See, I am making a way in the wilderness,
streams in the wasteland

Hephzibah, my delight: rend your heart 
and not your garments. Rend your heart 
and not your brother. Every blood
soaked strand is fuel for the fire

Take off the grave clothes

Put on the new self and arise. Only
love will bind my Church in perfect unity.
Bind up the brokenhearted and return 
to me, the Spirit poured-out-still.

There is one Body and one Spirit; to 
one hope were you called. At 
one table we celebrate your redemption

As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you

I Am the Word, calling 
life from formless void.
I Am the Truth, revealing
the invisible God is Love.

Unbound, embody your blessing:
light up the darkness, Beloved.

Do this in remembrance of me

Reworked from the archives, for weary hearts. Image: purolipan

to one hope She presses

I believed for you when your heart was fearful. You believed for me when my foot slipped. We steady the knees that give way; we speak and believe. 
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. 
We recite the Creed every Sunday, even when the diocese schismed and hearts rent. It was a divorce from which our community has yet to fully recover. 
But there were streams amid desert as saints kept their watch. The men’s Bible study never stopped gathering at the Christian camp for coffee and prayer. The generous buoyed the struggling, as always, and we celebrated, grieved, and served together, because there’s always been more that unites us than that which divides. Christ’s diasporic Church is catholic still.

My monthly Deeper Story post is up at the Deeper Church channel today, with a reflection on creeds, community, and what it means to be one Church amid schism and disagreement. Come by and read the rest.


and the beat got sicka

On my nightstand:

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance: A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. This book is incredible, and I'm only a few chapters in. A painful (and potentially triggering) read, certainly, but it tells a crucial side to the civil rights movement that is largely missing from popular history, illuminating many of the activists, newspapers, and organizations that fought tirelessly against sexualized violence and for racial justice. Many thanks to Austin Channing Brown who tweeted the NPR piece on Parks' activism that led me to track it down.

The Fault in Our Stars undid me. I can't recall sobbing at a novel like that since Bridge to Terabithia when I was ten. It's a good one, particularly if you have a fondness for catharsis or YA fiction.

We've also been reading lots of kids' lit. Our library is always such a treasure, but when the weather's this terrible, it's a lifeline for which I am tremendously grateful.

On TV:

My favorite show right now, hands down, is Pretty Little Liars. Make of that what you will, but if you've never seen it, I'm jealous that you have four seasons on which to potentially binge, while I have to wait a whole week for one measly hour. It's a soapy teen mystery set where I grew up, everyone has glorious hair, and it's pretty much the best.

I'm so glad Scandal returned, but I wish the Gladiators would get back to working cases, cuz I'm not here for President Fitz's White House woes. Or Quinn. She may even be worse than Fitz.

Jessica and I've been watching Veronica Mars, swooning over Logan, and getting pumped to see THE! MOVIE! that Kickstarter built. Yasssss.

In my ears:

Mostly Beyoncé and entirely too many pre-school singalong renditions of Let It Go. Live Decemberists in the car. Rinse. Repeat.

On the interwebs:

On the blog:

We celebrated six years here. (What.) I wrote about baptized abuse apology and the dawn of something better. And I had posts up at A Deeper Story (Out of Ash) and one at Missio Alliance for their Christianity & Violence Series (Christians, Stop Shooting Our Wounded).

[I did pick party favor winners and will be notifying/mailing shortly: Sarah H, Diana, Christina, and Alyssa. Thanks, everyone!]

On the home front:

Dylan is six, and James is four. We seem to be growing out of some of the eating battles and power struggles and discovering a happy new normal, and it's a beautiful thing. Also, they are now both old enough to go to the YMCA's monthly babysitting night and our friend's weekly youth club, which means that Jim and I have gone out more in the past few weeks that we have in the entire first few years of parenting. Having big-little kids is a game-changer, man. Love.

We booked a house with friends on the Jersey Shore for August. Dreaming of bay view balconies and warm sand beaches and remembering it won't be snowy and sub-zero forever.

Fifteen chirping baby chicks camped out in our bathroom 'til the weather warms:

On the horizon:

Spriiiiiiiing. (Let it be, Lord.) Lent. Mah birthday! Tapping trees. Reading Micha Boyett's Found. Seeing Arcade Fire--with tickets I won:) It's gonna be a good March.

What are YOU looking forward to? Did you watch the Oscars last night? I thought it was a really fun show, even though I've barely seen any of the recognized movies. What was your favorite film/dress/speech/anything? What are you reading, watching, or smitten with of late?

What I'm Into  
{image: ModernGrandma on Etsy}

now we are six {with party favors}

The Smitten Word, like our firstborn, is a kindergartner. Seven hundred seventy six posts (with a little help from my friends) was never something I fathomed when I began writing here on a whim six years ago, but this remains a favorite space to flex my creative muscles and connect with you. The early years had more parenting and natural living, but we've always wrestled together with embodied faith, poetry, feminism, media literacy, peacemaking, justice, and what it looks like to be the Church.

I'm grateful to everyone who's been along for the ride. You make it fun, and to say thanks, I've got a few party favors up for grabs. Leave a comment, and I'll pick a few winners at random on Thursday at midnight. Happy Monday, friends.

hard copy of The Fault in Our Stars
12 oz coffee, porch-roasted by Jim
1/2 pint maple syrup, tapped in our yard


out of ash

Even Type Bs have their breaking point, somewhere between la vie boheme and utter chaos, and I found mine after the furnace broke and the vomiting started.

I've got the tiniest meditation up at the family channel of A Deeper Story today on setting fires and raising something new. Come say hi.

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