I used to think _________, and now I think ________.

looking into the distance

I used to think in black and white.

There was nothing in the dark to be redeemed, nothing to be recognized, not even a smattering of stars to show me my own spindly hand in front of my face.

And in the white and bright and hot, I was always squinting and burning without realizing it. There was too much gauze and glare to illuminate anything of substance.

I sat in brown chairs on Sunday mornings, wearing dresses and facing a man in a suit. I memorized Bible verses word-perfect and dared to speak them aloud if it might earn me a ribbon. I wore a white gown and was dunked underwater, my ticket to start sipping grape juice from those little cups. I wrote down all the right answers in my terrible handwriting and spouted them to friends.

I had my private miseries, my looming darkness, but God was a wall of bricks, each one unmoving and painted just so and hardly attended to.

I don’t remember when the bricks started to come loose and lose their color. It happened so gradually at first, and for a while I was too sidetracked by the words I could never say and the boys who never liked me back. Then, I was too lost in a depression I could not name and fears I could not overcome.

I am 26 years old, and now I think in gray.

I read the Bible and I am confused. I wonder if we’ve been pushing the text to fit an all-encompassing Divine mold it was never meant to occupy. I wonder what Paul would think of his letters being considered Holy Scripture. And yet I still find many of these ancient words to be truth and life.

I listen to stories and I am awoken. Stories from real live people, stories told and written and photographed and adapted. Stories that break my heart and open my eyes. Stories that aren’t cleaned up or brushed off or tied up with a nice, neat bow. No longer can one narrative fit every face standing here, no longer is it “us and them,” no longer is there an implicit threat in his sexuality, in her culture. I do not know what it is like to be gay, to be poor, to be a person of color, to flee for my life. But give me ears to hear and eyes to see and a heart to understand.

I pray and I am uncertain. What – if anything – is changing because I whispered “please” and “help” into the wind? Are the words carried back to me on the breeze from God or from my subconscious? What is rumbling in the depths beyond the synapses that fire and the blood that travels through my body? I know there must be Something.

I go to a bar and see glimmers of beauty and redemption in ordinary conversations.

I hear the phrase “relationship with God” and I’m not afraid to ask, “How?”

I sit in church and sometimes I feel nothing. I stand in church to participate in the bread and wine – the Eucharist – and I usually feel something.

They speak of Jesus, and I doubt and hope and can never quite leave.

Mostly, I am in the middle and on the margins and engulfed in never-ending mystery, my old assumptions of what is dead and what is alive turned on their heads.

But in this gray, I am searching and being found in ways I never was when I lived my life in black and white. I am more alive here.

I am a boat in the middle of the ocean; I am standing in the rain without an umbrella; I am trying to make out the contours of home through the fog. But every so often, I see a rainbow start to form in the darkest cloud, and it beckons me to follow.

*****

This blog post is a part of author Sarah Bessey‘s synchroblog based around the prompt “I used to think ______, and now I think ______”. Click here to read others’ responses. In the same vein, be sure to check out Sarah’s wonderful new book, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith (you can read my review – and possibly win a copy of the book – here).

The Spiritual Practice of Reading Sarah Bessey {a book review & giveaway}

faith isn't certaintyI read the last half of Sarah Bessey’s newest book, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, while lounging in my messy bed in my messy room. It seemed fitting.

You see, she starts her book with the analogy of a rummage sale — of laying out everything we’ve believed and inherited and carried with us, and deciding what should stay and what should go. So is what needs to happen when we reach that “out of sorts” place. And it doesn’t just happen once.

Through her writing, Sarah has been a constant companion of mine for more than two years. I’ve fallen in love with what she writes and how she writes it. And most importantly, I trust her.

Whether it’s a book or a service or a meme, it doesn’t take much for something Christian to put me on my guard. I am overly critical and overly sensitive and overly scarred, so it’s no surprise that I fold my arms across my chest more often than not, the words catching on something or bouncing off or just scratching the surface.

Not so with Sarah’s words.

Out of Sorts is, in part, her own story. It’s a tale of “happy-clappy churches” and “getting religion,” of unanswered questions and ill-fitting places, of Jesus and burnout and sorrow and hope. But woven into and over and around it are deep, thought-provoking explorations of the issues themselves that most often unravel us: the Bible, the Church, signs and wonders, and suffering, to name a few.

Sarah’s book isn’t the first I’ve read to honestly (and excellently) explore the hard questions. Some spiritual memoirs throb with the very real pain of loneliness, lies, and wounds from those who meant well … and those who didn’t. Others dig deep into my skin, putting a finger on the very nerve of my own spiritual angst. Out of Sorts does both of these things, while also — one might say first and foremost — being a book of relentless hope.

And then there’s the beauty. The gift of Sarah’s writing — in Out of Sorts as well as elsewhere — isn’t just in what she writes, but also in how she writes it. It is pictures and poetry and music wrapped up in prose. It is grace and peace. It is an invitation, and not just to those on the margins who are questioning everything. This book is for all who hunger and thirst, whether they be on the outside looking in, or the inside looking out, or somewhere in between.

If you are like me, though, you may sometimes wonder how anyone can really love Jesus. You may look into the eyes of the flesh-and-blood people standing before you, the ones who have your heart, and find that the invisible Divine is so hard to know and understand, let alone love. But if there’s one person I believe loves Jesus as much as she says she does, it’s Sarah Bessey. Her words give me hope that maybe, someday, I will too.

*****

Out of Sorts makes its way into the world on November 3 — that’s tomorrow! You can order it on Amazon here, or wherever you buy books. I received an advance copy of this book in order to review it, and I would like to give away that copy to one of you! To be entered in the giveaway, simply post a comment below (making sure to include your email address so I can contact you), and I will randomly choose one winner on Friday, November 6, to receive this book. U.S. and Canadian addresses only.

Sarah Bessey writes from Abbotsford, British Columbia, where she lives with her husband and four tinies. Her first book, Jesus Feminist, is also excellent. You can find out more about Sarah Bessey on her website.

Explore, recover delight, wrestle with the story

11 Things I Learned in November

After a hiatus last month due to 31 Days in the Word, I’m back with a hodgepodge assortment of what I’ve learned this month. For the fourth time, I’m linking up with Emily Freeman and other bloggers to give you a recap of November’s fun and memorable discoveries. Enjoy!

1. We finished our fall Share-a-thon at KVIP radio a few weeks ago, and I learned (again) that I’m exceptionally and increasingly comfortable on live radio, almost unnaturally so for my level of introversion. Of course, a lot of it has to do with it being this radio station and these co-workers/co-hosts and those listeners, but it still boggles my mind sometimes.

2. For my birthday dinner at Olive Garden, I tried wine for the first time. I’m not a fan. At least, not of the particular white wine I sampled.

3. Speaking of alcohol, intoxication in this country is defined as having a blood alcohol content level that is at or greater than 0.08%. When I went in to retake a portion of the written test as part of renewing my driver’s license, I realized I had no idea what the legal limit was. Luckily, I’m a good guesser (on that and a couple other questions), or else my trip to the DMV might not have been so quick.

4. I am a Jesus Feminist: “I have always accepted the basic complementarian understanding of gender roles without giving it much thought: Women are to submit to their husbands, and preaching is for men. … Now, I’m starting to question it. I’m finding strict complementarians and those who take Paul’s words on submission to their literal extremes. I’m learning to walk in the freedom and love of Christ. And for the first time, I’m asking questions. Why can’t a woman preach? I wonder. For the first time, it’s bothering me.”

It was a big step to write about something so controversial (or potentially controversial) here, but I desire authenticity, and for me authenticity means allowing myself to wrestle and ask hard questions outside of the safety of my own head and home. And I’m glad I did.

5. Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the best film adaptation I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a great movie in its own right as well. I look forward to seeing it again.

6. November 3rd was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. I learned which countries have the most extreme persecution. China isn’t as high on the list as I expected it to be. Also, I found out about Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is currently imprisoned in Iran for his faith. Read his story and sign the petition here.

7. Not every American makes pumpkin pie from a can. I’d always assumed that was the norm, since it’s what we’ve always done — in fact, if it hadn’t been for a pumpkin carving activity in high school, I might’ve never, in all my 25 years, interacted with the insides of that gargantuan vegetable (or fruit?). Granted, I don’t know what percentage of Americans opt for the can over pureeing the pumpkin themselves, but I can no longer hold my can with the same pride and joy that I did before.

8. It’s worthwhile to enter book giveaways. Though I am biased, seeing as how I’ve won four much-desired books in the last month or so.

Lizzie and her books
I’ve won four out of five of these books in giveaways. (from left to right: When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman, Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman, and The In-Between and Wrecked by Jeff Goins)

9. I love Advent. Last December was my first year of truly observing this pre-Christmas season of waiting and expectancy, and now I’ve taken things to the next level by bringing the celebration to my radio show. Of course, one of the consequences of doing so — particularly this Christmas — is that I’m already halfway through Advent on my program while in the real world Advent hasn’t even started yet. But I don’t mind this head start. In fact, I’m interested in the Christian year even beyond Advent, so I purchased the book Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross.

10. I’ve never owned a dog (and never really cared to own one), but after taking care of a couple’s border collie/Australian shepherd for three weeks while they were on vacation, I realized there’s more to dogs than loud barking, slobbery licks, and poop. Dogs are very affectionate, and I loved being welcomed home from work by my canine companion, Ozzie.

11. I’m not a Whovian (yet?), but after watching “The Day of the Doctor” (the 50th-anniversary special for the beloved British TV show, Doctor Who) I understood why people love it so much, why this is a big deal. I was also confused a lot of the time, but that’s to be expected for someone like me who’s only seen a dozen Doctor Who episodes in total.

I might be a feminist

church in NorwayPart of me doesn’t want to write this, not yet. Part of me wants to wait until I have everything decided and sorted out and settled upon, until I am ready to perfectly articulate and defend it all. Then it would be less scary.

I’m not ready, but I have decided to come forward anyway.

Reading what women like Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, and many others here and there and in between have written is changing me.

Love is becoming more important. Grace is becoming more important. Justice is becoming more important. I am open to your stories and your viewpoints; I am ready to wrestle out in the open and be challenged.

And I might be a feminist.

I have always accepted the basic complementarian understanding of gender roles without giving it much thought: Women are to submit to their husbands, and preaching is for men. In this blog post, I’ll be focusing mostly on the second one.

It was never a big issue for anyone around me growing up. It was what it was, and people accepted it, and it seemed normal and uncontroversial. After all, I never wanted to preach, nor did I know any woman who did. It didn’t affect my life as far as I could tell.

Now, I’m starting to question it. I’m finding strict complementarians and those who take Paul’s words on submission to their literal extremes. I’m learning to walk in the freedom and love of Christ. And for the first time, I’m asking questions.

Why can’t a woman preach? I wonder. For the first time, it’s bothering me. Women can do this, but not that or that. Did you know that Wayne Grudem, cofounder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, came up with an 83-item list detailing what women can and cannot do in the church? Why do so many people refuse to accept that a woman might have the gift of preaching (or try to find a way around it by calling it “teaching”)? Why is it considered okay for a woman to preach as a missionary in a developing country, but not here in American churches? Why are so many afraid of her sermons and her leadership and her voice? Why do they say his words are approved by God and hers are not, simply because she is a woman?

Why can’t a woman preach? She is just as much of a person as the man in that pulpit is. Her insights and understanding and voice are just as valid as his. Men and women are co-conspirators in sin … and co-heirs in grace. We have an equal measure of both.

I know many people could come up with Bible verses to “prove” there is no room for questions like these, that Scripture is plain and clear on the subject. Why can’t a woman do that? Well, because the Bible says she can’t, that’s why!

For example, I could say, along with Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” but then you could counter me with this other statement of Paul’s: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

But I think there is room to question, to wrestle, to allow ourselves to consider the possibility that, maybe, the interpretations many of us have grown up with, in one form or another, may not be the right ones.

In her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans showed me that there are strong, biblically based arguments for mutuality … egalitarianism … whatever you want to call it. Other people have also challenged my old assumptions.

One of those people is Sarah Bessey, whose book Jesus Feminist was released one week ago today. In this interview, she defines feminism as “the simple belief that women are people, too. At the core, feminism simply means that we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women. That’s it.”

Her book is called Jesus Feminist because she became a feminist because of Jesus: “I learned about the Kingdom of God, I learned to look at my life and even the world through the lens of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings,” she says in the same interview. “And as I became more active in women’s issues, I began to see specifically how Jesus interacted with women in the Gospels. It was revolutionary. It was profound. It was just plain normal. And I loved it. Jesus thought women were people, too, and at that point, I decided that I wanted to be a feminist in the way that Jesus would be a feminist.”

This is still so new to me. I don’t know all the right definitions and terminologies, let alone how to argue for one side or the other. But maybe it’s not about sides. Maybe it’s okay to be right where I am, right now, with my wondering, questioning heart and my hands empty of weapons and tactics and “all the right answers.” Maybe that’s the best way.

I always want to be open. Even when I reach a read-and-researched-and-thought-and-prayed-through conclusion, I want to be open to the fact that that might change someday. That knowing Jesus might change me in radical ways. And I always want to save room to listen and learn from your story, your interpretation, your relationship with Jesus. I need your voice.

Interested in reading more on this subject? This blog post is one of many in a synchroblog about being a “Jesus feminist.” You can read more about the book Jesus Feminist here. I’m really looking forward to reading it; I hope you check it out too!

Quote from Jesus Feminist

Day 31: Here, at the End of This Thing

31 Days in the Word

One month ago, I spontaneously decided to join with hundreds of other bloggers and accept the challenge to post a blog every single day of October. My series would be called 31 Days in the Word, and it would be a way to hold myself accountable to reading the Bible daily.

Well, I have blogged every single day, but it didn’t take long before “31 Days in the Word” turned into more of a “31 Days of Whatever-the-Heck-I-Can-Think-Of.” What with working almost full-time, as well as juggling multiple other commitments this month, blogging daily became a major consumer of my time, and, if I’m honest, a burden. I’m a slow writer, especially at the end of long days.

Perhaps inevitably, this blogging experiment often turned Bible-reading into a pressure-filled, obligatory chore. Whenever I would read the Bible before writing a blog post, I couldn’t focus on Scripture without thinking, What am I going to pull out of this to write about today? That’s part of the reason why my blogs, for the most part, became less about what I was reading in the Bible, and more about what was going on in my life and mind and heart at the time. Sometimes it was Bible-related, sometimes it wasn’t, but being real was more important to me than fitting into a mold.

And I wrote many real words that flowed from my life and mind and heart, and that maybe wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t been blogging so often.

As the month went along, however, I found that my writing and my life were becoming a bit disproportional. This quote from Sarah Bessey that I shared last week sums this up excellently:

Sometimes, I find if I’m writing too much and not living my life enough I have nothing to write about. Writer’s block and that place where I’m feeling stuck and where I feel I have nothing to say, it’s usually because I have nothing that I’m living and nothing I’m experiencing and nothing I’m taking in. You can’t really write out of an empty well. … I can’t write about church and community when I’m not making time for church and community in my life.

Will I ever do a 31-day series again? Right now, it seems very unlikely, but if I ever do it will not be a decision made without serious consideration regarding both subject matter specifically, and whether or not I am up for such high-frequency writing.

Thanks for joining me on this journey! To give both you and me a break, I’ll be resting from blogging this Friday, but will resume my pre-October Tuesday/Friday blogging schedule on Tuesday, November 5.

If you missed some of this month’s posts, you can find a full list of them here. These are a few (okay, eleven) of my favorites:

Day 24: When November 1st Can’t Come Soon Enough

Christmassy socks
Yes, these are the very socks I mention, in this photo taken just for this blog post.

I woke up an hour early this morning. I’m still in my pajamas, wearing a hoodie and thick Christmassy socks even though the warmth outside will reach the mid 80s by the time the sun has finished its work for the day.

I know it’s not the end of the month, not the final entry of 31 Days in the Word, but I need to reflect on this whole thing a bit. I hope you don’t mind.

Yesterday, I knew that I had long since reached a point where I needed to be in the Word, needed to pursue community, needed to put ideals and plans and goals into real-life action instead of just writing about them.

In an interview about writing, Sarah Bessey said, “Sometimes, I find if I’m writing too much and not living my life enough I have nothing to write about. Writer’s block and  that place where I’m feeling stuck and where I feel I have nothing to say, it’s usually because I have nothing that I’m living and nothing I’m experiencing and nothing I’m taking in. You can’t really write out of an empty well. … I can’t write about church and community when I’m not making time for church and community in my life.”

I very much resonated with this. I am a slow writer, often. Especially after spending seven or eight hours at work before trying to pull words out and meet the daily quota.

How glad I will be when there no longer is a daily quota!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did this experiment, and I’ve written many things that I’m proud of, many things I probably wouldn’t have written otherwise. But I will be glad when November arrives and I can settle back into my twice-a-week postings and “living my life” won’t have to feverishly try in vain to stay ahead of — or at least neck-and-neck with — my writing.

Last night, I was tired and sitting bleary-eyed in front of my computer, wondering what I would write about, and then I thought, You know what? I’m just going to spend some time with God and go to bed.

Best decision ever.