Lizzie Bennett, Pride, and Me

IMG_6590

When did I first meet you, Lizzie Bennet? My guess is senior english; I wish it had been sooner.

Dear Lizzie, I thought I was a wit, too. And a piano player. At least you knew your limits on the latter.

I could have used you senior recital day, some months after I must have met you. So I can’t even beg the excuse that your cautionary tale hadn’t been told to me.

Exhibit A:

My best friend emceed the concert evening, made up of all of us going to meet our ignominy at music contest festival. Playing before a judge would be sufficient terror for me, but playing before an auditorium full of kids, many of whom had never particularly liked me, and their parents? Would that be something akin to how you felt having to play and sing for Miss Bingley? Lady Catherine?

Probably not. You appear to be an extrovert, at least, and that could have saved you. At least, your bravado would have. We introverts do not comprehend that level of nonchalance.

But my friend and I were at odds just then. We were not comrades on that stage, he with the microphone and I with the sheet music. He introduced me as playing Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, joking into the mic a hope that my playing would be far from pathetic. I muttered on my way across the stage, which seemed enormous, “You’re pathetic.”

As witty comebacks go, well, it shouldn’t have gone.

nahir-giorgio-405383-unsplash
Photo by Nahir Giorgio on Unsplash

The playing was, in fact, fairly pathetic, as I always bit off more than I could chew, musically and otherwise. My 17-year-old Red-Bullesque emotions, hurt and anger from our rift, didn’t enhance the non-virtuoso performance.

We Know Now

Lizzie, you didn’t hate Mr. Darcy for his pride so much as for yours. Oh, I get that now.

When he hurled those accusations of poor family connections, vulgar behavior on the part of your relations, and less-than-stellar paternal judgment, you didn’t hate him.

You hated that it was true.

See, Lizzie, I know how that goes. I spent my teen years hating other people first so that they would not get close  enough to see that it was all true.

We were misfits, my family and I. I was a loser, behind the straight-A facade. I didn’t grasp all the social cues that made it all so effortless for the Misses Darcy and Bingley of McHenry High.

I could dance a superb jitterbug or disco, in fact, but the Dancing Through Life concept was beyond me. I didn’t ever glide where turf was smooth.

david-charles-schuett-363769-unsplash
Photo by David Charles Schuett on Unsplash

My favorite activity was debate team, where I could make someone else look small and me brilliant, and I got points for doing it. I excelled at debate team.

Drama worked too, because I could be someone else on stage, and I liked being someone else. Anyone else.

Years later, I’d hear phrases like “imposter syndrome” and I would come to realize that pretty much everyone in high school feels like a loser, but that was many years later.

Jane Austen, I Salute You

I am still in awe of your creator that she managed to write a book where everyone, including you, assumed it was his pride and your prejudice that caused all the issues, when really—Ms. Austen was laughing politely into her palm all the time—it was quite the other way around.

P1050506

Pride is an expert at camouflage. I assumed it couldn’t endanger me so long as I thought so little of myself. I didn’t grasp the deep drive underneath my words, like “you’re pathetic,” that propelled me to be better, smarter, more talented, whatever.

I needed my pride because I was so afraid it was all true.

Exhibit B:

I stopped my Old Testament prof near the registration desk. “I don’t understand why I got this score. What was wrong with the short answers?”

He looked at me quizzically. “I don’t understand what you’re asking.”

“I think I deserved an A.”

“You got an A-.”

Me. Still standing there. Looking at him.

“You are actually arguing over an A- on an OT mid-term?”

I should have gotten a clue by his face, really.

It wasn’t the superior, “I don’t even give A’s, so why are you wasting my holy time?” sort of look. I had one prof like that. 

It was more a look of, “This should not bother a person who wants to be a pastor, and I’m trying to find a nice way of saying that, AND BTW, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

Something clicked into place. I didn’t want to be the pastor who spent her life checking her stats on “Rate My Pastor.” (Please tell me no such site exists. Please.)

I wanted to stop fighting for a spot on a pedestal. Heights make me dizzy, anyway. 

jake-ingle-83428-unsplash
Photo by Jake Ingle on Unsplash

It was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice . . . In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?’ The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride. CS Lewis

I do hate being patronized. So much. I know you did, Lizzie. I fidget in my seat, too, whenever I read the dialog (monologue) between you and Lady Catherine. I bite my tongue, too. She’s so interfering. So controlling. So . . . prideful. So much like I probably could be, and so could you, if we didn’t have a good sense of humor.

Are you, too, an Enneagram 5, Lizzie? Pride is the dark side of those of us who fall into the 5 range. I never understood it better than when I learned this was my core personality—my core need.

Enneagram 5:

  • Basic Fear: Being useless, helpless, or incapable
  • Basic Desire: To be capable and competent

So competent I could not handle an A-.

“Pride leads to every other vice . . .” And yet it is such a vise itself. It grips us so tightly we have to work to keep the handle supple, yielding in its turn. We must consciously turn it back, dial it in, remind ourselves that backward is sometimes the best way to turn when we’re hurtling forward into our own self-interest.

Backward reminds us to let out the throttle of pride, before it sends us careening toward destruction.

Thank You, Lizzie Bennet

Lizzie, I need you right now more than ever. Right now, when I’m teetering on the 5 edge because injury and circumstances tell me the lies that I am useless, helpless, incapable. The lies become the stories we tell ourselves, as Brene Brown would say.

Laugh with me, Lizzie. Remind me how small I really am, and how helpless we all are in the eye of the One who gives us our daily breath. When we 5’s recognize that smallness, Lizzie, it’s freeing. You’d think it would be the opposite, but we both know better.

Remind me that we spend too much time heeding the lies about who we are and too little enjoying others for who they are.

Lizzie Bennet, you are a masterpiece, and I’m grateful for having to read characters who change us, often by being like us.

A Day in the Life, Lady Preacher Style

IMG_0088

Day in the Life posts, videos, instas, etc look like so much fun. I’ve always wanted in on it. Who wouldn’t want to wittily record their day, with all its pratfalls and pitfalls? Every one of the joys and brilliant flashes of inspiration?

When I actually try to video a day in my life, however, two things happen.

  1. I realize I do not video well. At all. I’m just better in person, guys.
  2. I discover that a day in my life isn’t all that riveting.
  3. I forget about twelve minutes after I begin and don’t ever get back to it.

So, no day in my life has been recorded for posterity. Yet.

Yet, if I practice what I preach, I also realize that “not riveting” describes mot of us, and that, too, is a valid way to spend our hours. “Not riveting” doesn’t mean pointless. Most of us, if we tell the truth, find that pursuing our dreams and passions is a fair mix of riveting and tedium, things that must be done for the rivet to happen.

JRR Tolkien

Riveting Is Overrated

The mix tends more toward reliable trudging most days. That’s what makes up the moments that earn us the ten minutes of riveting. I’m learning to be OK with that. I’m learning, with Bilbo Baggins, to celebrate a simple life, and to be grateful and ready for the adventure.

It’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and.

But do you have any curiosity about a day in the life of a pastor? Most likely, my day is different than other pastors’ days. I can assure you, it’s different from male pastors.

Just a Liiiiittle Different

I remember sitting in my spiritual formation class in seminary, where the professor had just handed out a worksheet on time management. Next to each blank, we future/current pastors were supposed to record how much time we spent on each item.

Study. Check.

Sermon prep. Check.

Administrative duties. Check.

. . . .

I looked all the way down the sheet and raised my hand.

“Where are the blanks for child care? Housekeeping? Running errands? Cooking dinner? I don’t see any of those.”

My prof looked confused for a moment. Uncomfortable. Then slightly rebuked. “I guess it’s an old worksheet. Maybe it’s time I get a new one.” (I liked that man.)

I think times have changed somewhat, and I want to give male pastors their due when they share the household load equally. Still, I wonder how much has changed.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2c44
I searched my usual site for photos of female pastors. There were none. So here I am, in protest mode, because that’s wrong, too.

So, instead of a video, here are a few random moments in the life of a (female) pastor.

A Day in the Life, Sort of

6am— Wake up. Shower. Write in gratitude journal, pray, ice my pain-filled feet, and color pictures on my phone. Whatever it takes to stay awake.

7am—Take middle child to train station to catch her train to work. Find Pokemon Go stops on the way home because, hey, life is short.

8am—Breakfast, facebook, email, grocery order. All the administrative things.

9am—Chores for the day: laundry, dishes, bathroom. Pick up endless errant stuff lying around like some really nerdy people had a rager. Feed cats before they eat my face. The usual.

9:23—Remember the three administrative tasks I forgot to do, pledge to do them as soon as I sit down again, and promptly forget them seconds later. (This is what Flylady calls mental clutter. I have a LOT of it.)

9:30—Start work for real. Sermon prep. Blog posts. Article writing.

9:35—Get distracted by birds at the feeder. The blue jays are bullying. The Orioles are gorging. The grey catbird is also eating jelly—who knew? And I’m afraid my beloved Grosbeaks have flown farther north after their usual May stay.

9:45—Get back to work. Get lost in a rabbit hole while researching marathon racing. Don’t return to task for twenty minutes.

Speaking of rabbit holes . . . 

I bet you think pastors know/learn about the Bible and not much else. Ah, how much you don’t know. How much I didn’t know until I started doing research for sermons. In just the past sermon series I have learned:

  • What a Mercalli Intensity Scale is and that earthquake shocks can travel at 8300 miles per hour. This is way faster than my new car, even when I push the “Sports mode” button.
  • That the Battle of Bunker Hill did not take place on Bunker Hill. I feel greatly deceived and will check this out on my next visit to the Freedom Trail.
  • That there are people who have nothing better to do with their time than to rank angels in order and determine all their possible permutations, even though to say that is extra-biblical knowledge is to greatly understate things.
  • That there were still people living in the South believing they were slaves in 1963. Actually, I already knew that, but now I have a name and a story to put to it.
  • That 12 million Americans believe there are reptilian beings taking over human bodies, intent on dominating the world. I, too, find it hard to believe that 12 million Americans are that stupid imaginative, but there it is.

This is merely in the past month. It says nothing of my research into building skyscrapers, ancient shepherding practices, Greek oratory, or the lost head of King Henry the 4th. For a person whose highest Strengthsfinders indicator is Input, this is the Best. Job. Ever.

Also, in church during this series, we have built gingerbread houses, simulated earthquakes, blown bubbles, and other shenanigans, so it’s safe to say some other people are having as much fun as I am.

janko-ferlic-174927-unsplash
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Afternoon

12:00—Lunch, which I might be blessed to have with friends, colleagues, or church members, but which usually happens at home. If it’s at home, it’s highly likely to be cheese on top of some starch item consumed in my chair while I keep working.

Yes, I need healthier options. Feel free to bring lunch.

Btw, said work chair, next to the bird feeder, is a chair bought specifically for my back issues, which was a great green leather until Pippin the furniture shredder got hold of it. It needs a little TLC. And reupholstery.

IMG_2259

12:30—Sit and stare at social media wondering if I’ll ever concentrate on my work again and also if I have any idea what’s for dinner.

1:00—Maybe I’ll putter in the garden; maybe I’ll do housework. Maybe I’ll look over the 123 things I have to get done before my daughter’s wedding and do, or contemplate doing, one or two of them. It’s a toss up, Maybe I’ll keep staring at Facebook. Post-lunch concentration is hard, people.

2:00—Back to work. Very possibly this will take place in a local library, because said concentration level at home is just done. I am acquainted with every library, and every Starbucks, within fifteen miles. If anyone needs to know the comfiest chairs in DuPage, Kendall, or Kane County, I can tell you. (Actually, my favorites are in Cook County, because the Elgin Library reading area is AWESOME.)

Possibly this means:

Monday:

  • Complete outline of sermon.
  • Write blog post or two or three for me or one of the outlets I work with.
  • Read articles I left from the morning’s email because ain’t nobody got time for that in the morning.
  • Work on church programs that need to be finished this month.

Tuesday:

  • Finish sermons details.
  • Create graphics for the main points.
  • Create graphics and choose pictures for blogs and social media. These are fun. They aren’t work.

Wednesday:

  • Research next week’s sermon.
  • Work on an article.

Thursday:

  • Plot out next week’s sermon.
  • Work on a speaking engagement.

Friday: Go to the zoo. Scrapbook. Read. Work on some of those 123 things to do for the wedding. Garden. Fly to Paris. Whatever I want. It’s my day off.

aaron-burden-759770-unsplash
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

5:30—Finish any social media posting/marketing that needs to be done.

6:20—Return to train station to pick up child. Remember I never got anything out for dinner. Or folded the last load of laundry. Finish above. Binge watch Great British Baking Show or Dr. Who. Sleep. Repeat.

What’s your day look like?

Best Books of 2018

sharon-mccutcheon-532782-unsplash
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Since we’ve been talking about books that changed us, it seems appropriate to do a book wrap up blog—not an unheard of thing in the blogging world, and you’ve probably read a few already.

Usually, when I consider writing about the books I’ve read in the past year, I think, no one on earth except the nineteen other people in your doctorate class care about the books you read all year. And maybe not even them.

Truth, most of my reading is tuned to the thesis-writing channel these days. That might be over this year. It might not. Professional reading is fun to me, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I do a lot of it. It’s a blessing to love to read about what you do.

Nevertheless, here are some reads from this year I’ll pass on. I think you’ll find something you like. Maybe we can talk about it!

Screen Shot 2019-01-03 at 11.24.47 AM

The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis, Patrick  Kingsley

Yes, it’s heartbreaking to read. I’ve had it on my list for a while. The author takes us on the journey of one refugee, while bringing together the tales of other men, women, and families, as well as facts about the refugee crisis. It’s riveting, horrible, and hopeful, all at once. It’s also the sort of book I’m working on right now, so stay tuned.

Screen Shot 2019-01-03 at 11.25.06 AM

All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way, Patrice Gopo

I heard Patrice at Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference and knew from the first night I would like her. When I listened to her teach about memoir, I had already picked up her book the night before. It’s a treasure of one woman’s learning how to navigate growing up, race, marriage, family, and not belonging anywhere yet finding grace. It’s beautifully written and relatable. I loved meeting her and hearing her heart. Also, that cover.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown.

What can I tell you about this one you probably don’t know? I read it on a plane in a few hours. It was painful, arresting, and true. There are so many things I don’t know about being someone I’ve never been. It is so helpful to read about others’ experience so we can open our eyes wider at the world and our space in it. There is no fear in knowledge—especially if it makes us better able to love our neighbor as ourselves. There is never anything lost by hearing another story.

Screen Shot 2019-01-03 at 11.25.46 AM

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans

I got to be on Rachel’s launch team for this book, so I got to read it before the world! There is poetry, drama, logical analysis, theology, and story, all woven together in this ode to scripture and our use or misuse of it. If you want to look at Scripture with fresh eyes and maybe see it in ways you haven’t, check out Rachel’s writing and her way of bringing love of the Bible to reading of it.

Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity, Frank Viola

Why do I seem to like unsettling books? There is a trend here. I love a willingness to deconstruct church and its practices and not fear imagining something else. Not everything he suggests might work, but the candor to say it is refreshing. Viola offers a model for church that pulls us away from American cultural church and toward its roots. He dares to say that what we practice might be closer to our own preferences and heritage than to Jesus. It will make you think, and that’s the goal of all good books.

30740015_10212177189570383_2944212637456203901_n

Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People, Bob Goff

I wanted to preview this book because Bob raises a question I struggle with—how do we really love people who try their hardest to be unlovable in today’s political and religious climate? Bob manages to open eyes to not only how we do that but, of course, how we sometimes are those unlovable people to someone else. His striking humility and hands-on personal testimony about how this works are enough to sell his authority.

One of my favorite quotes right off was: “I’m trying to resist the bait that darkness offers me every day to trade kindness for rightness.” Knowing it’s many of our struggle, not just mine, was a great start. It’s a daily thing, not a one and done. We have to resist that bait every single day it’s offered. And believe me, it’s offered a lot. Needless to say, I bought the whole book after being on the preview team, because I needed the rest of the story.

29792091_10156165752118398_3957281367766031701_n

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin.

Full disclosure—this is my second read of this book. I love Rubin. She is a soul mate in some ways. Her work here on how we form good habits is perfect because it takes into account the many different people we are and that what works for one utterly fails for another. A great choice if you want to create better habits for 2019. I’m eagerly awaiting her next book.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, Ian Cron, Susan Stabile.

OK, I’m late the the party on this one, but it was so helpful. Learning I am an enneagram 5 is a life-changer. I understand my motivational forces so much better, as well as the poor directions they could take me if allowed. Knowing why I have to feel so capable has led me to be able to put down some of those burdens and let myself be questioned and taught. I also understand my loved ones’ motivations and needs so much better. We have two 5’s, two 6’s, and one 4 in the family. It’s fun.

Books I am looking forward to in 2019:

Dare To Lead, Brene Brown. Enough said. It’s Brene. Also, I just got this one for Christmas, so maybe I’d better finally read it first.

IMG_2236

Outer Order, Inner Calm. Gretchen Rubin. Same. If it’s hers, I’ll read it. Also, that title. Who doesn’t need that?

Can We Trust the Gospels, Peter Williams. Just found this today, and I think it will be a valuable resource as a pastor. I like to discuss the hard questions with the congregation, especially the younger members, and this promises to be easy to understand and interact with.

Screen Shot 2019-01-03 at 11.08.01 AM

The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom, Helen Thorpe. How did I not know about this one? It’s recommended by Malcolm Gladwell, and that’s enough for me. Also, I volunteer with refuge high school students, so this is needed reading for me. Can’t wait.

IMG_2235

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. This beauty. It came to me on my birthday . . . I cannot wait to be unbusy with doctorate stuff long enough to dive in. The illustrations alone are stunning enough to buy the book, if you’re a Tolkien fan (um, fan might not be strong enough a word) like me.

IMG_0987

Small Church Essentials, Karl Vaters. I read his blog very day because I need all the wise info on how to lead a small church and love it. Another Christmas present I need to find the time for soon.

What about you? What was your favorite read of 2018? The one you most look forward to in 2019?

Learning to Believe

IMG_0797

Apologetics was fashionable in the 80’s, and I was nothing if not fashionable. OK, I was never fashionable. Not one day of my college career, most likely. But when you’re surrounded by Izods and boat shoes, and you’re a Laura Ashley kind of girl, it’s just never going to happen.

Trained as a high school debater, I found my psychological home in apologetics. I soaked in the books handed to me by InterVarsity leaders like Know What You Believe and it’s younger brother, Know Why You Believe.

But One Remained

The one that caught and kept me, though, could only have come from the pen of CS Lewis. Mere Christianity.

Two years ago, I bought a copy of it, older than the one I still had from college, at an Antiquarian Book Sale. It’s eggshell cover, sheathed in plastic so that it did not become as brittle as shell, bore no modern photoshop or multi-color printing, only blue pin-striping and a title. It was austere. Plain. Speaking to me of a faith that Lewis didn’t embellish either but embraced for its straightforward truth to him, not its smoke and mirrors.

IMG_0802
Magdalen College, Oxford

I didn’t know what I had subscribed to when I walked that church aisle two years prior. Lewis told me. Logically. Honestly. The way I liked to be told things that mattered.

My new faith could coexist with my intellect. One of the greatest minds of the century knew this, so why should I doubt it? I devoured Lewis’ arguments for belief, digesting them like the meat Paul says our souls were made to crave.

You Can Be Smart and Still Believe

Lewis confronted me with the honest reality of my willfulness and the stunning equal reality of God’s intent for me.

“..fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”

“God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature.”

He wrestled with me over the ways my culture told me the horrible truth about humans could be “fixed.”

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”

He explained Jesus in a way that appeared utterly sensible to my logic-craving mind.

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.”

He told me of the yearning I thought only I knew, the ache to belong somewhere I had never known.

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

IMG_1023
The pulpit from which Lewis preached “The Weight of Glory” in Oxford.

And There Were Others

It wouldn’t be the only time Lewis challenged my assumptions. The Great Divorce forced new thoughts on hell and heaven and all that might fall in the grey space in between. If God’s time isn’t linear, perhaps Lewis’ notions of busses and second chances between the afterlife zones wasn’t so far-fetched.

Of course it was story, meant to convince us to make the right decision, get on the right bus so to speak, now. Yet his imaginary exploration did something for me that would be invaluable later in life. It made me understand that sometimes, I could be wrong.

_There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it._

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a book I didn’t open until after college, eclipsed the other Chronicles for me. I know, the first book is the favorite. But the story of Eustace, with its greatest of first lines in literature, taught me the value of perseverance and the beauty of a King who would adore me so much he would come tear off my dragon scales.

I may have been young, but I knew there were many dragon scales. Those layers of defensive, self-protecting coarse skin don’t slough off easily. They’re still coming, I think.

The Screwtape Letters would give me one of my favorite quotes of all time:

Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

In my darkest of days, and there have been some, I would turn back to Wormwood and declare that his master would never win, no matter the lonely universe.

IMG_0915

And Now

Years later, I stand around on Sunday and Tuesday nights, directing a cast of twenty in an assuredly non-professional version of The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. The other night, one of the children pondered Aslan’s death and coming back to life as we worried about how to create a stone table that would hold a grown man on a tiny stage and a tinier budget.

“It’s like Jesus!” he exclaimed in a moment of relative quiet.

Another generation finds the great lion, and a great author, still unfolding the Author of All, in ways only he can.

Books Have Helped

laura-kapfer-429073-unsplash
Photo by Laura Kapfer on Unsplash

In the beginning, the baby bird’s cries sounded not so much plaintive as curious. “Are you my mother?” He didn’t know, as he ran from one being to the next, dog, cow, boat, plane, asking his question. Nearer the end, I’d hear the increasingly frightened baby, fearful of being alone in a giant world of snorting cranes and belching barges.

The turquoise cover with the sparsely-drawn little hatchling always closed on a happy ending, and I didn’t know if it was his safe return to his mother or his adventures in the great wide world I loved the best as a little girl.

Favorite Friends

I can still see my favorite book covers that I pulled open over and over as a tiny girl. Are You My Mother? sat on the shelf near the white polka-dotted Put Me in the Zoo and the Old World deep red of Ferdinand the Bull. They all fell open easily, their bindings creased with jelly-butter hands and little girl adoration.

Now that I review the past, it shouldn’t amaze me that all three have a protagonist who feels mismatched with the world he experiences.

Those are the stories that spoke to a little girl, the last of seven, the one no one in that family of nine quite understood, except perhaps my sister Marilyn who stayed home with me all day, because her wheelchair didn’t allow her the freedom to explore the world as she would have liked. My smallness didn’t, either.

janko-ferlic-174927-unsplash
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

More Old Friends

stanislav-kondratiev-729880-unsplash
Photo by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash

By eight, I rode my hand-me-down teal green bike to the McHenry Library once a week. We lived outside of town, over the one-lane metal Old Bridge, so it felt like riding to the next county. My mother told me it was only a mile—google maps now tells me two. Mom didn’t have google.

At least a couple times a year, I strained high and took a blue book off the shelves in the “big people” section. I knew exactly where it resided on that shelf, a biography of Helen Keller the name of which I don’t remember but the content I don’t forget.

The cover felt worn, partially because I had worn it but mostly because it was old, the blue fabric wearing into strands rough on my small fingers rather than a smooth linen. 

Helen, too, felt alone. Helen, too, had dreams of leaving her confined world. Helen, too, was, as my mother described her last offspring, “stubborn as a mule.” I liked Helen. I loved that she won. I struggled with her every time I read her story, and I read it a lot.

I didn’t know as a little one that my firm standing as an INFJ and a female Enneagram 5 would always ensure I felt not quite “in” anything. Such knowledge comes much later, if at all, and we’re left to navigate the whys of feeling in this world but not of it on our own when we’re small.

I only knew books helped.

It wasn’t even hard to feel countercultural when I became a Christian near the end of high school. I already was.

The hard part was taking “me” out of the center of it all, a struggle I continue every morning when the alarm wails at me.

Books have continued to help.

New Friends

michael-d-beckwith-609520-unsplash
Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

When I stood beneath the venerable tan archway of Wash U as a new student, looking alternately up at the looming arch and down at the bronzed, scuffed circle beneath me that honored our equally venerable founder, William Greenleaf Eliot, I knew the next four years would involve a lot of books.

I planned a major in political science. Economics stood in the second-place slot, at least until I discovered how much calculus it involved. Third, in what the horses races call “show,” was English. Somehow, by the beginning of sophomore year, that third horse pulled around the outside corner to become the winner, surprising no one but me.

Four years later, with a black flat cap, gold cords, and a three-hundred degree graduation ceremony out in the quad (English majors know the proper use of hyperbole), I held a degree that led me to teach high school literature, not sit at a table learning of amicus curiae, habeas corpus, torts, and writs.

Thank you, Jesus.

Always Friends

Books saved me as a child. They told me there were others out there like me. No one could be completely alone if stories brought into my bedroom nearly-orphaned little birds, not-quite-dogs whose spots led them to seek acceptance in a zoo, or bulls who sniffed flowers and imagined a world in which they didn’t have to be who they weren’t.

Books opened my confined world as a teenager. Sometimes, the discovery left scars, because the world I didn’t know could be brutal, even more than the one I did. That was Of Mice and Men and The Pearl. Darn Steinbeck. 

Sometimes, they left yearning, like half-breaths I didn’t know I was breathing, catching in my throat. That was Anne of Green Gables, Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time—books I didn’t even read until I was twenty-two, but that doesn’t matter.

sharon-mccutcheon-532782-unsplash
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Books have formed me as an adult. I’ve turned from fiction to theology, sociology, biography, history. Non-fiction, well done, still drives the imagination, and that it drives mine toward a better me, a better church, and a better world resonates with me more than fiction these years.

With the tribute to Eugene Peterson last week, I thought perhaps I would continue in a series of books that changed me, in some way, spiritually. In a positive way, that is. We’ve got way too much negative swimming around already.

What works have stuck with me, making me a better version of the small child who wondered if anyone else out there understood what life felt like, real life, the kind that feels everything and wants to know the limits and go beyond them. That child is still there. I hope, believe, she’s less her, more Jesus by now.

Books have helped.

2017 Round Up

2017

It’s round up time. Well, it’s a little late for round up time, but that’s how I roll. SO here is my list of favorite things from 2017. I would love to hear some of yours in the comments.

Reading

It always feels a bit odd to write a list of my favorite books. I mean, I am a self-professed theology and lit nerd. I’m also in school. So most of my reading material is not general public interest. Nevertheless, I think this is a good list.

Favorite books of 2017 (in no particular order):

  1. Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance. Made me understand my own family of origin better. It’s also a fascinating and personal look at what’s contributing to national divides and crises.
  2. The Day the Revolution Began, N.T. Wright. A big book. But it will rock your theology in all the best ways.
  3. Of Mess and Moxie, Jen Hatmaker. All the fun Jen usually is and all the serious we need to hear. Very favorite quote:

    “God has not given us a spirit of fear, nor has he saddled us with a spirit of defeat. We live because Jesus lives, because he is real and present and moving and working and he will not have us conquered. This is not hoodoo; it is a powerful reality. Flatten your feet, because nothing in your life is too bad for resurrection. It can be worse than you think and more crushing than you imagined. And even then, we live.”

    20707999_10101407152542282_6377504837618516477_n

  4.  Welcoming the Stranger, Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate. Matthew Soerens and Hwang Yang. No work is so packed with the truth on this issue. The authors go through the history, struggles, and realities of this difficult human problem.
  5. Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice, Dallas Willard and Jan Johnson. The best devotional I’ve ever read. I read it twice in a row.
  6. Phenomenal, A Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World, Leigh Ann Henion. I enjoy travel books, and I liked her narratives of going places I would love to go. Now the Serengeti is definitely on my list. (The monarchs always have been.) Not that fond of her conclusions about life, but the travelogue is beautiful.
  7. Emboldened: A Vision for Empowering Women in Ministry, Tara Beth Leech. Buy this for your pastor or church leader. Now. Male or female. A powerful story of her own wrestling with the call to ministry and how we can work together to unleash all of God’s people into the kingdom.
  8. Teams that Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership, Ryan Hartwig and Warren Bird. OK, this was a textbook for class. And probably only a church leadership nerd will read it. But it is an excellent resource for those who want to make their teams more “team” than followers. I’m going to use it with my board in the coming year.
  9. Good Faith, Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme, David Kinnaman. I read virtually everything this man writes. This wasn’t my favorite of his, but it is full of good info on what the rest of the world thinks about Christians and how we can help change that picture.
  10. Being Church, Doing Life: Creating Gospel Communities Where Life Happens, Michael Moynagh. Hands down the best book on where the church is going, and has to go, and how to get there that I have read. I also got to meet the author in Oxford, which was the biggest thrill. Just as you would expect a British teacher to be.

22552608_10155768830523582_1591349305807289254_n 2

Watching

Again, I don’t even own a TV, so you know how much of it I watch. But we have broken down and gotten Netflix (solely because of the advent of the Gilmore Girls reboot), so there is that.

Favorite shows of 2017:

  1. The Crown. I am loving this completely. Also, I want her wardrobe. And the waist that can wear it.
  2. Dr. Who. Well, I would be loving this if I could get us together to watch it. We have a solemn pact between me and my younger two daughters that we will not watch this apart from one another. This was made much more difficult in 2017 as one spent 3/4 of the year in West Virginia and one in southern Illinois. I am hopeful for the remainder of Christmas break. I love the actual theology here. Surprising, for supposedly atheist writers. How can you not love speeches like this:

 “I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind! It’s just that… Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point to any of this at all. But it’s the best I can do. So I’m going to do it. And I’m going to stand here doing it until it kills me. And you’re going to die too! Some day… And how will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.” — The Doctor

3. Murdoch Mysteries. I know, a Canadian outlier. It takes a while, but then it’s fun and addicting. Also, I think George is the best.

4. Anne with an E. I’ve decided I’m on the side that likes this one. It’s real and honest about what her life was probably like as well as being the beginning of a loving family. However, if they mess up peoples’ lives in the next season, I won’t be so easy on them. I did not like the end of season one.

5. British house shows. Especially Hidden Houses of Wales. But all the ones I’ve watched. British house shows are better than American. Americans are all drama and going Kardashian if they don’t have double sinks or the right paint color. Brits just nod and politely say, “That’s still nice. We can work with that.” It’s refreshing. Also, they’re both creative and respectful of history. We just don’t seem to have that.

It occurs to me that all of these are British or Canadian. Make of that what you will.

Favorite Movies of 2017:

  1. Wonder Woman
  2. Hidden Figures

Seriously, I only went to about four movies this year, so . . . But these two were amazing. I bought a Wonder Woman mug. I preach with it.

What’s saving my life right now:

IMG_7010

  1. Volunteering with Homework Club for World Relief. Refugee teenagers are a joy. And as frustrating sometimes as any teen. Which is the truth, really. We’re all the same inside.
  2. My Christmas tree. It’s still up. The lights are all on still. I am all about Christmas and I love it all. Also, I can see my Cubs World Series ornament from here.
  3. Almond Cookie Tea. Sereneteaz. Yes, it does taste a bit like the cookies you get with Chinese takeout. And it’s wonderful!
  4. My new date book. Nothing says new year, new plans, new places to write all the things than a new datebook. I am a list nerd, too. I love my lists. I love my organization. I love the entire concept of a new date book.
  5. Scrapbooking weekends. I found a meetup group that spends entire weekends doing this. They are hard core. These ladies bring luggage racks full of stuff. I’m not (I show up with three bags), but it’s been great to catch up on all the vacation albums this year. In two weekends, I’ve finished Spain, the UK, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and some miscellaneous Christmas. I am almost done! Which means–a new vacation!

What’s saving your life? What are you reading? Watching? I’d love to know.