Thursday, August 1, 2019


The first time I heard the term “helpmeet” was during a career development conversation with the vice-president of my department at my corporate job. After college, my husband and I had worked hard to establish careers and our family. My performance was stellar, and I was good at my job. I was expressing to my vice-president how I knew I could do more for the company, contribute in a bigger way than my current role asked or expected of me. In a very polite way, I was telling him that I was bored. He looked at me, kind and fatherly, and said, “Lauren, just get your work done. Then go home and take care of your kids. Be a good helpmeet to your husband.” 

(Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash)

When my grandmother graduated from grade school, she moved, alone, to a new town, rented a room in a boarding house and took a job as a teacher. One of her suitors wouldn’t take her to a dance she wanted to attend, so she asked another young man to be her escort. My grandfather never let that happen again. Once they were married, my grandmother went on to have three children while working a full-time job and getting a master’s degree from the Florida College for Women. My mother, not a passive woman herself, worked full-time during most of my childhood. She took me to church when she could, always alone. There were no limits set to my reading, and I had read the Bible twice through before attending any kind of Bible study of substance in high school. This sense of freedom and the encouragement to learn deserves most of the credit for my spiritual formation. I have never related to the term helpmeet or the trope of “submissive biblical womanhood.” 

As a woman living in the South and trying to integrate my family into church culture, I wrestled with the notion of feminine submission until I came across theologians such as Carolyn Custis-James, Sarah Bessey, and Rachel Held Evans among others. These women, my sisters of faith, have helped me reclaim the full Imago Dei

Custis James was the first one to reframe the notion of helpmeet and reclaim the Eve archetype. In her book, Lost Women of the Bible, Custis James points out that the term ezer, the descriptor given to Eve, was first translated “helpmeet,” but has been more recently translated as “strong helper,” a term also used to refer to God as Israel’s helper in times of trouble. Custis James goes on to describe a Blessed Alliance, a calling for women and men to stand together in stewardship of the earth. 

In her book, Jesus Feminist, Bessey expands on the notion of the ezer saying:

In the Old Testament, the word ezer appears twenty-one times in three different contexts: the creation of woman, when Israel applied for military aid, and in reference to God as Israel’s helper for military purposes (in this context, ezer appears sixteen times).

Bessey explains that ezer is a “powerful Hebrew military word” that connotes a warrior strength. As a strong independent woman raised by strong independent women, finally, this was something I could relate to. 
As biblical scholarship continues to evolve and more women participate in education and in the workplace, shifts in thinking are inevitable. We are in a cultural watershed moment for women. According to the US Department of Education, more women than men are enrolling and graduating from college and the gap will continue to grow. With more access to education, the call for equal pay, the demand for accountability against sexual predation, women are making major headway into a historical first – true equality. This phenomenon is happening in fits and starts all over the world, but it is happening. We can rail against the demons of technology and information for that fact, or we can give our thanks to God for the inevitable social evolution that has brought us to this point and take our place as the ezer, the strong helper, to our communities. It is no surprise that women would wonder why they are not also standing next to their brothers as leaders in the church. 
I read all the time about women trying to get permission to preach, to teach. Our family has had its own trauma trying to help the elder board at our former church understand the intrinsic value and contribution of women. But here is the thing – pretty soon these same women are, en masse, going to realize they do not need anyone’s permission to do what God has called each woman to do.
Many of the women in the Bible did not wait for permission to go where God called them. 
Deborah led a nation. Then when the leader of the army would not go to war without her, she assured him that the credit for their victory would fall to a woman.
Esther went unsummoned before a king, risking her own death to advocate for her people.
Lydia heard the message of God and, being a wealthy merchant, opened her home and helped start a church. 
Mary defied the mandates of her family and culture and agreed to carry the son of God as an unwed teenage mother. 
Mary Magdalene used a vessel of oil valued at a year’s wages, what some scholars believe was her dowry, to anoint the feet of Jesus.
None of these women waited for permission. 

Not getting permission in your church to preach? You can leave. No one is making you stay. 

The rise of the second half of the Church is a ground swell that has built slowly over decades. Social media, technology, and simple access to information has made it the modern movement it is. Women are waking up and realizing there are no locks on the gates, no walls keeping us in or out. God has torn down every wall. Or maybe God is opening our eyes, like scales falling on the Damascus road, to show us there have never been any walls. If our sisters in the Bible show us anything, it is that we need not wait for permission. 
If you are called to speak to crowds, go speak. 
If you are called to teach, go teach. 
And if you are called to preach to the nations, by all means, go preach. 
If the powers and authorities in some institution try to tell you no, then that is perhaps not your institution. Perhaps God is trying to expand the Kingdom by sending you out of the institution. God has never been good about staying in manmade boxes anyway. But you can rest in this truth—You are sacred. Your message is sacred. Go and tell the people.

This article is also printed in Redbud Post. Please visit The Post for other articles related to women in ministry. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Eulogies and Legacies

My name is Lauren McGuire. I am Jean Wright’s granddaughter. 

On behalf of my father, Dan, our family would like to thank you for coming today to honor my grandmother’s life. When I was a baby, Jean tried to get me to call her Nana. Nina is what I came back with, and she has been Nina ever since. I was in high school before I knew that Nina was a proper name and not another name for the office of grandmother. 

My Nina wasn’t what you would call a religious person. Nevertheless, as I was holding Nina’s hand the other day, I thought about a story from the Bible that made me think of her. 

In the bible, the disciple Matthew tells about a time when Jesus was being questioned by the Pharisees. Pharisees were the religious big shots. They didn’t care for Jesus, and they were forever giving Jesus a hard time. In Matthew chapter 22 we read, 

35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
When I think of the life of Jesus and the example of Jesus, I always think of this verse. What Jesus calls us to in this life, what Jesus invites us to, his command, was love. And my Nina did that. 

My Nina was born on December 20, 1924. She was a child when her mother died in a drowning accident at the beach. Miraculously, Nina always loved the water. Her father, a logger I think, sent her to live with her grandmother, a woman who referred to the kids collectively as “those nasty chillin.” Nina said her grandmother loved her and that people in those days didn’t hug or kiss or say I love you. I remember kind of looking at her sideways when she told me that. My Nina hugged and kissed and made over us to the point of silliness. In my mind, that’s what grandmothers did. Nina went on to be more or less raised by her Aunt Dora. In 1942, she met a handsome Naval airman and just shy of graduating high school, decided it would be best to elope with him. 

Jean and Bob’s adventures took them all over the country from Florida to Texas, California to Alaska, New Jersey to Mississippi where they settled and raised my dad. Along with my Pawpaw, Nina collected friends like coins keeping them tucked in her pocket to remind her of their presence. She fed them a steady diet of stories and cakes, cocktails and jokes, building another family out of time and place. Some of her friends came to her door hungry for laughter and a good time. Some came thirsty for my Nina’s brand of grown up mother love. No matter who showed up, Nina threw the door open wide and always said the same thing, “Come in this house!”

Seeing her life through my own adult eyes, I can see why Nina would collect friends and stitch them together into a quilt of friends and family to pull around her and keep her warm and safe. It didn’t much matter if your square was super close to her heart or further away, there was always room for you under that blanket. By the time she got to be an older woman, that blanket was not easily discarded. In the last ten years, we have tried everything to get her to move closer to us. We have begged, bribed, and bargained. There were no sacred cows in this game. I personally used any and every chip I had including my children. Always an incredibly tenacious person, Nina resisted our every temptation. She wanted to live life on her own terms and she did. That’s not a bad legacy to leave behind. But really, I don’t think she could bear to leave her friend family here in Meridian. And therein lies the other legacy she leaves us with love your people, whoever they are, and love them well. 

I am an especially private person, and grief is not an easily accessible emotion for me. Grief and I have an understanding. I allow the emotion free reign, but generally only when I am alone. When we arrived in Mississippi to say goodbye, her room was full of people. Those people, friends who had been very much family, had come to say goodbye and grieve in their own ways, and in the face of their grief, I felt my own grief abandoning me. But then those gracious folks gave me a few private moments with my Nina. 

I held her hand, and because I couldn’t stomach yelling, I got close to her ear and talked to her. I remembered being a young child on a dock, bugs playing across the water. My Nina held out a worm, showed me how to set the hook and then helped me cast my line into the water. I caught catfish and little brim which my Nina proudly cooked for dinner.  So, I told her, “Thank you for teaching me how to fish.”

I remembered going to the coast when we were little. We stayed in this sweet townhouse where we spilled onto the beach all hours of day and night to play. Nina taught me how to body surf. She and Pawpaw showed us how to catch sand flees and generally drug us around the gulf for the better part of a week. So, I told her, “Thank you for taking me to the beach when we were kids.”  

Then the memories started coming in earnest. Near daily phone calls for years. Visits when we were children and then when I was a young adult, then newly married, then a mother with children of my own. Every time that back door would swing open and she would holler, “Come in this house!” Biscuits and gravy breakfasts. Pound cakes and chocolate chip cookies. So I told her, “Thank you for loving me well.” 

Love is a gift, no matter how it is served up, and based on the amount of people who ate at her table, Nina showed me that there is always room for more love. One thing I learned from watching her – it is interesting to see who life sets down beside you and invites you to love. 

I looked at that woman who had loved me so well and I told her, “We are going to be just fine. You are free to go. Pawpaw is waiting for you. And so is Jesus, and he absolutely delights in you.” Later, I was able to hold Nina’s hand while she walked through the doorway of this life to the next. It was a holy space. Sacred. We stand at that threshold only two times in life – at birth, and then again at death. I was glad to be with her. I imagined a heavenly house with a screen door swinging wide open and big voice, full of love, shouting at her. “Come in this house!” 

Lately I am convinced that The Church is not a building or place. It is people. It is us. We are the hands and feet of Christ, God with us, to each other. It is our charge to love well. Jean Wright, my Nina, did that. She loved us well, and we will miss her. We will lament and cry and sit in much sadness at the loss of her in our everyday lives. That grief is right and good and what God made our bodies to do. Over time the tears will come less often. We will remember her, and there will be joy. Because where there is love, there is also joy. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Against the Grain

When I got the email, it felt like a slap in the face. A cold, disembodied feeling stole over me. All I could say was, “Oh.” 

My husband and I had recently been embroiled in a debate with our church over the role of women in leadership. With his full support and blessing, I penned an impassioned letter to our elder board after a beautiful unity service in partnership with a local black church asking the board to reconsider our church’s position on women in leadership. Unfortunately, the debate over women in leadership quickly devolved from the roleof women into the valueof women. Thus, began our journey into the choppy waters of advocacy where we got a front row seat to all the bad stereotypes of “Christian culture.” I was condescended to, deeply disrespected, and eventually silenced. The elders kicked me off the committee they previously said “God had appointed me to” several months prior. In a way I found strangely emasculating, my husband was completely ignored. 

Conversation about culture is not emotionally neutral in our day and time. When folks talk about culture, it has become a rather subjective topic. I live in a small southern town with an extraordinarily high church-to-household ratio. There is a widely held assumption that you not only attend church, you attend a certain kind of church. This attendance magically translates into voting a certain kind of way and for a certain brand of people. In every sense of the word, my hometown culture is very specifically a “Christian culture.”

In the last two years, however, our (now former) church has not looked much different than many other non-Christian institutions: a pastor caught in an affair with a subordinate, an elder board at odds with each other and scrambling to protect their power and influence, a staff battling the pull of income over mission, people forced out of the church when they raised concerns. The last two years of the church read like any second page news story about any corporation. This church body wasn’t living counter culturally. Sadly, it was living out a cliché. 

In the last two years I have been reading widely about the intersection of culture and the Christian faith. Even though the often-quoted statistics of church hemorrhaging don’t seemto apply to my small town, they still do.  In his book Irresistible, pastor Andy Stanley talks about living in a post-Christian culture. He quotes National Review editor John O’Sullivan’s definition of post-Christian culture as “a society rooted in the history, culture, and practices of Christianity but in which the religious beliefs of Christianity have been either rejected or, worse, forgotten.”  Stanley goes on to say that “in a post-Christian society, the majority have been exposed to Christianity (in our case, for generations) but are opting out for a different worldview—a different narrative through which to make sense of the world.” 

It is interesting that the Old Testament patriarchs leaned on just that—patriarchy. And slavery. And owning their women and children. They leaned on hierarchy and power attributing all they sought to following a God of the same nature. But when Jesus came on the scene, he was the very epitome of counter-culture. He espoused love over dominance, equality over hierarchy, service over power, assembly over nation states. Jesus challenged the establishment and its leaders, openly invited women to learn at his feet, went to the margins and dregs to heal and help, and admonished his followers to be like children. Jesus was completely counter-cultural. The problem was he was countering not just the Greco-Roman house-holding culture of the time, but he was also countering the thousand-year-old Judaic culture. He was countering his own religious culture. 

Photo by Christopher Jolly on Unsplash

During our rough introduction into advocacy, a fellow congregant got my attention when she started to describe her work in a local ministry supported by, but not affiliated with, our church. The I58 Mission operates in our little community to meet the physical needs of its clients. They have a food pantry and do other things like connect people who need dryers with people who are getting rid of dryers. In their retirement my friend and her husband have found purpose and family in their work through that ministry. They feel fed and filled while pouring out from a place of fullness and love. As I listened to her talk, her community at I58 sounded a lot like church. Or church as it should be. It made me think about the struggles of our particular church and of The Church. 

While The Church has shown a steady decline over the last 50 years with millennials walking away from faith in droves, we see no shortage of cultural movements, post-Christian cultural movements, toward equality: Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, the migrant crisis, and even the abuse scandals in the Catholic and Southern Baptist churches. While these movements share the space of being highly controversial and conversations about these movements should be thorough and nuanced, it’s hard to argue they reflect a lot more of what Jesus taught than what we see coming from some of our churches. Jesus didn’t spend his time worrying about empire, Rome’s, Jerusalem’s, or otherwise. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s. Jesus talked about loving our neighbor, giving to the poor, taking care of the disenfranchised. He was much more concerned about God’s Kingdom than he was about building a nation state for Jerusalem. 

Last year, before our turmoil with the church, I read a remarkable book called The Ministry of Ordinary Placesby Shannan Martin. In the introduction she writes, “As Christ-followers, we are called to be long-haul neighbors committed to authenticity and willing to take some risks. Our vocation is to invest deeply in the lives of those around us, devoted to one another, physically close to each other as we breath the same air and walk the same blocks. Our purpose is not so mysterious after all. We get to love and be deeply loved right where we are planted, by whomever happens to be near; we’ll find our very lives in this calling, to be among people as Jesus was, and it will change everything.” 

In this season of somewhat failed advocacy, all of God’s people in my house have said, “I’m tired.” We are taking a sabbatical, not from Jesus, but from The Church. A sabbatical from the church building, the cultural institution of it. Over the last two years, the folks who were the hands and feet of Christ to us did not worship under that roof. Some have a church home under more than one roof. One friend freely visits and worships with friends and loved ones in other denominations though she loves her tiny corner of Christendom. And some, like my friend who has found a faith community in I58, have no roof at all. I am certain we will return to a church building and a culturally traditional church body because we believe in the body of Christ. In the meantime, we coach soccer, we take meals, we sit with and pray for loved ones suffering through divorce, we help friends prepare for a move. We teach our kids more than the details of the Bible stories. We teach them the truth beyond the story and challenge them to apply that truth to their everyday lives, hoping to help them develop a faith that will stand up to the rigors of real life. 

This feels countercultural. Because I live in a hyper-evangelical conservative culture with strict rules about what a Christian should look like. But Jesus didn’t have a lot of rules. The Pharisees did, but not Jesus. Jesus said, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Turns out, “one another” is bigger than the church, The Church, or even all Christians. Life is vocational ministry, and our mission field is not limited by those traditional places and addresses. “One another” is everyone. 

This piece also appears in April's Redbud PostClick through for more on the topic of counter-cultural living. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Taken For a Ride

When I woke up that morning I felt better than I had in several days. A cloud of fatigue and deep body tired finally lifting. Life had been heavy these last few weeks. Little did I know of the great disruption lurking for me at the most unlikely place. 

She was there as I walked into my grocery's Starbucks. Me texting away on my phone, capturing a pithy thought to share with my sister in law who had just joined me for yoga. The mantra in yoga being one of listening to and trusting your gut. I didn't see her at first, so focused on my correspondence.  I looked up from my phone and there she was, eyes darting, downcast and afraid to meet my own, but walking right at me. I knew what was coming and mentally went over the contents of my purse. No cash. I braced myself.

"Ma'am, will you give me a ride?" 

Her voice was quiet, childlike. Her request knocked me sideways. 

"What?" I said. Then recovered. "Where do you need to go?" 

"5 Below?" She said it like a question, then repeated herself in a whisper. "5 Below." 

In one of those weird moments where an hours worth of thoughts fly through your head instantly, I calculated the time in the car and back, analyzed the risk to my safety, and picked up and discarded one hundred more questions. The woman was dressed in canvas shoes, no socks. I took in her thin cotton pants and baggy short sleeve shirt. It was 40" outside and the temperature was dropping. Her skin was red and chapped from exposure. 

"Sure." I said. "Let's go" I held out my hand and said "My name is Lauren." She took three of my fingers in a pressure-less grip and answered, "I am Sh...Ashely."

We got in my car still warm from the drive. I shrugged off my coat and put it over her lap. She just sat there. Murmured thank you. She still had goose bumps all over her bare arms. I cranked up the heat. 

As I drove her to the 5 Below in my town, I asked her a few questions: Where did she live? Did she live outdoors? Was she safe? Did she need help? Her mumbled responses were hard to follow. 

I offered help. Gave her my number and the numbers of two places in our affluent community that could help her come off the street. I told her she was loved, that there was help, that she wasn't alone. She sat in my passenger seat, her hair matted, grasping at fingers that were cracked and yellow, saying very little. What little she did say was barely comprehensible. We got to 5 Below, and I offered to buy her something to eat. In the line to buy her some coffee she told me she needed to go to the next town over, another 10 miles down the road...

When I asked about having children she gave a little laugh. It was twitchy, unhinged. She wouldn’t look at me, much less meet my eyes. I asked her if that was funny. Her response was the twitchy chuckle but no words. 

In that thirty minute drive I tried more questions. I found out she was from Tennessee. She walked to Georgia. She had a grandmother who was dead. It would be too much trouble to call someone. She lived in a camp. She was meeting Mike at 5 Below and oh yes, Mike was very nice. She gave the twitchy laugh, flashing teeth grey with rot. I saw her wipe her eyes.  

Looking at her I realized with a sinking heart that sometimes we cannot let go of the thing that’s killing us. It may be the darkest part of the human condition to be unable to distance ourselves from our greatest corruptor. 

When she got out of the car I told her to take the coat. Now, lest someone try to deify me as an angel or label me an attention grabbing humble bragger, I have three more coats at home. This was a coat I bought on clearance for a very specific purpose. Yes, I didn’t have to give her my coat, but I can go into any store I want and buy a coat. Most people I know can. It was literally the very least I could do for her. And there was absolutely no satisfaction in it. 

I watched her for a few minutes as she walked to the sidewalk and rearrange herself. She shrugged into my coat, pulled the hood up and walked away. The only thing I felt was sad. 

I knew "Ashley" for 30 minutes and she left me with hard questions. What do we do in the face of such disparity? How do we as a people, as a culture, as a first world country address the triple threat that is mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness? How do we help others who do not want to be helped? Tonight it would be 35'. Ashley would sleep in a camp. Dirty. With Mike. Because that is what she chose. 

I wrapped my sweater around me and drove away. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Books Read - 2018

Here is a quick list of books I read last year. Honestly I had no intention of reading so much, but the number 1 rule of writing is to read.

Reading saved my life this year. Reading great writing, and some not so great writing, made me a better writer. Reading saved my faith; I am not alone in my spiritual journey, and this journey is filled with more beauty and mystery than one life can comfortably hold. Reading drew me closer to my fellow humans.

The first book I read was one of the best books I have ever read and will be a reread for 2019. The last book was the most instructional. I only abandoned one book this year, though I wanted to abandon at least one more.

All The Crooked Saints - Maggie Stiefvater
The Bridge - Jill Cox
The Road Back To You - Cron & Stabile
Commonwealth - Ann Patchett
The Shadow Of What Was Lost - James Islington (693 pgs)
Sleeping Giants - Sylvain Neuval
At Home In The World - Tsh Oxenreider
Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk - Kathleen Rooney
Lost Women of the Bible - Carolyn Custis James
Before We Were Yours - Lisa Wingate
Age of Swords - Michael J Sullivan
The Sacred Enneagram - Christopher Hueretz
The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater
The Illuminae 1 - Kaufman & Kristoff
Waking Gods - Sylvain Neuvel
Bigfoot CSI - K Osborne Sullivan
A Study In Charlotte - Brittany Cavallaro
A Darker Shade of Magic - V E Schwab
I Thought It Was Just Me - Brene Brown
The Day The Angels Fell - Shawn Smucker
The Dream Thieves - Maggie Stiefvater
The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater
Blue Lily, Lily Blue - Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven King - Maggie Stiefvater
The Path Between Us - Suzanne Stabile
Cinnamon & Gunpowder - Eli Brown
Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
Gemina - Kaufman & Kristoff
Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng
Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult
Bel Canto - Ann Patchett
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
What Happened - Hillary Clinton
Out of Sorts - Sarah Bessey
The Bible Tells Me So - Peter Enns
Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott
The Evolution of Adam - Peter Enns
The Great Emergence - Phyllis Tickle
Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan
An Echo of Things to Come - James Islington (716 pages)
The Jesus Heist - C. Andrew Doyle
Times Convert - Deborah Harkness
The Long Walk - Jill Cox
The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin
Girl Wash Your Face - Rachel Hollis
Boundaries - Cloud & Townsend
The Almost Sisters - Joshilyn Jackson
The Ministry of Ordinary Things - Shannan Martin
A Secret History of Witches - Louisa Morgan
Best Sci Fi & Fantasy 2018 - NK Jemison
Books abandoned
The Women In The Castle - Jessica Shattuck (pg 137 of 354...too dark)

Did you read any of these books? If you did, who was your favorite? What are you reading this year? Find me on Goodreads and lets connect!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Using the Side Door

A while ago, my mentor challenged me to think about what might happen after I die. More specifically, what might heaven look like. At middle age, I realized I never felt invited to ponder this mystery before. When I was young, I saw myself as indestructible, protected by the solid shell of my own energy and the strength of naivete. Now I have lived long enough that I have real experience with death, the sadness of loss, the grief of being the one left behind. In the funerals I have attended the message is always the same; the person who has died has gone on to a better place. The implication, for me, has been that death itself is simply a transformation, a doorway to pass through on the way to becoming something new. 

Recently my best friend Beth observed the one-year anniversary of her stepfather Gary’s death. In watching my dear friend and her family walk the treacherous path of grief, I was reminded of my own uneasy relationship with death. Then, on Gary’s birthday Beth’s stepbrother called their mom with the news that he and his wife were pregnant with their first child. One year ago, Gary walked through a doorway from this world into another. In a few short months, another life will walk through that same doorway from that other mysterious world into this one. For a moment, or for eternity, Gary and that baby will hold the same holy space. They will both live on the same side of the threshold and both have crossed the same doorway. I pray the thought will bring Beth and her family comfort. 

I have been to Gary and Carol’s house only a couple of times. Each time I entered like family. Rather than standing at the front door, arranging myself and knocking, I walked in through the side door. Walking into Gary and Carol’s house, not head on like a person selling fancy vacuums or newspaper subscriptions, but from the side door, through the messy, dusty, less image-conscious living areas made me think of approaching the topic of death and dying the same way. For me, it has been too intimidating, too formal, too big to use the front door. It has been more comfortable to come in through the side. 

Western culture is not well versed in dealing with the cycle of life in its entirety. Few places in our culture, inside or outside of the church, welcome or initiate a conversation about death, loss, or the transition from life. As a result, death is fearsome, this force with dark destructive power. Like most topics where there is a lack of information, where there is mystery, there is fear. While death is often only given a cursory glance or ignored all together, culture has done a serviceable job describing life through the lenses of birth and growth. We love a good growth metaphor, like spring time planting and the growing of gardens. But even in these beautiful images, there is a death. The seed dies so the plant can grow upward and outward, stretching its arms toward heaven’s light. 

Seeds are an often-used biblical theme. It is striking how an analogy relevant to agricultural society two thousand years ago is still, remarkably, relevant today. The mustard seed, the tiniest seed, grows into a large tree. Scattered seeds are mixed into the ground in a variety of ways and left to grow. In all the teachings, there is something profound about the seed; all the stories explore a potential for growth. The seed does not avoid growth. It submits to the loss of itself as doorway to greater potential, the fullness of itself. Jesus even used the seed metaphor to predict his own transformation through the process of death when, in John 12, he said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.”

We are no longer an agricultural society ruled by the movement of sun across the sky and rain across our fields; however, our lives are not so different from a seed’s. We can stay a seed with all our potential stored inside ourselves, dormant and forever waiting, or we can submit to the cracking and breaking of our hard-outer shells. We can let the water and light reach into the deep, dark spaces and change us. We can stretch our own arms towards heaven’s light and let the potential that lives there be transformed and made new. 

As with the seed, something old must yield its space to make room for something new. Moving through my own seasons of growth, I have experienced this profoundly in two ways: pregnancy and marriage. 

Any woman who has ever carried a child has shared this experience: One day she is alone. Then, miraculously, there is another person there sharing space in her body. That symbiotic relationship grows and grows until there is no longer room for both. Mother and child are ready to transition to the next phase.The simple truth is that in order for someone to live, a kind of death must be endured. For a baby to be born, a pregnancy must end. In this transition full of so much gain, there is also a loss. 

Another place I experience this strange dichotomy of gain and loss is in marriage. For spouses to enjoy the rich blessing of a long-term marriage, the new love and all its feelings must fall away in favor of time. That butterfly in the stomach feeling, that anxiety to see if she will text or he will call must slowly be replaced with the surety that the other person is committed to growing through the cyclical seasons of life. Falling in love dies, yielding its space to building a life-long love. Death is a reality we cannot escape. But again, what seems like loss is really a doorway to the greater, richer, fuller life. 

Giving myself to the practice of imagining heaven, what it might be like to no longer be separated from God, from love, by the thin veil of this world, I must confess that I still do not know what heaven might look like. I have some thoughts that are like seeds themselves; undeveloped, small, but rich with potential. Endings always precede beginnings, especially when you have hope in a lives-forever-outside-of-time God. If this is the case, what is death if not a doorway to new life? The more I give myself to holy imagining, to seeing the possibilities of what life after death may bring, the potential of life beyondthis one, the less I am afraid of walking through that door. I can hold my life in the white-knuckle grip of my own fear. Or I can let that fear die and hold my life with open hands and a sense of adventure in all life’s mysterious forms and phases. 

This piece is published in its entirety on the wonderful Redbud Post, a monthly publication of the Redbud Writers Guild. Please follow the jump to see what other writing my fellow Redbuds are sharing...

Friday, August 17, 2018

Am I Alone?

I see myself in this impossibly small boat, pushed far away from shore. Behind me, land is a thin strip, disappeared in haze, a memory. Before me is wide open water, blue and deep and full of mystery.

There are no waves in this part of the ocean. My boat rises and falls on swells of water that started low low low and carry me up, down. Out here, there are no crashing waves. The crashing has already happened. I watched from land for a long time as the waves, violent and strong, broke over the shore.

The waves are homophobia, Black Lives Matter, systemic sexism, racism, white supremacy, rape culture, power structures, patriarchy.

The island was my faith and the waves were these big, hard to ignore inconsistencies crashing hard and persistent against delicate sands, eroding away a shore line, bringing back no deposits from the sea. Because the island was not an island. It was a sandbar. 

The months leading up to the presidential election in 2016 were for me what a drunk calls a "moment of clarity." I hadn't considered myself evangelical or fundamentalist. In my southern tradition, or at least this neck of the woods, I have always been a little bit fringe. I thought I had made my peace with that. I love Jesus. With him there is no bone to pick. I could bear with the body through these waves. Then I watched 78% of the evangelical vote go for the most un-Christlike man and herald him as the savior of "christian ideals."

It was unnerving to watch. And heartbreaking.

I asked God to help me have eyes to see and ears to hear. Eyes to see the world as God does. Ears to hear what God would speak to me. In my experience, this is a dangerous proposition. Proceed with caution.

I began by referencing the Bible, maybe I had missed something. I reread what the Bible said about foreigners, the poor, the downcast of society. It didn't line up with what I saw the Church, supposedly the body of Christ, doing. I broke out of my reading circles and read more broadly. I broke away from all my circles. I listened to podcasts about racism, bigotry, sexism, homophobia. 

I began to see Jesus differently, an advocate for equality. But not just creating equal power structures. More like doing away with the power structure. Subverting the Greco-Roman and tribalistic patriarchy that we are still squirming under.

Now I see it, the insidious power structures that keep certain people, specifically white men, in the highest positions of power. White women may be allowed too, as long as they realize their position of power as a favor from the white men. Our entire culture is built on such power structures. The architecture of our culture, the bones of our society are literally made from this patriarchal hierarchy. The Church has leaned on the clever use of pronouns and a tribalistic or Greco-Roman translation of language to weaponize scripture in order to suppress entire groups of fellow humans. It's gross.

Like anything formed on a bed of brittle materials, the foundation is starting to crumble. This is happening culturally, politically, in the Church and in my faith. And the builders of the city are scrambling trying to shore up the failing foundation. 

This is incredibly painful to see. It calls into question everything I have ever believed.  I am out in a boat in the deep deep waters of faith watching the weather roll in. Hearing I told you so right now would not be helpful. What would be helpful would be to know if there are others like me here in my community. Or am I alone?