Why I Will Not Leave the Evangelical Church Today

victory

It has been messy in the territory of my heart these last few weeks. Maybe longer than that. Maybe months. For months it has been messy in the territory of my heart.

Related to situations both personal and public, I have come to believe that the evangelical aspect of American Christianity, as expressed in the cultural movements of our day, is deeply incompatible with my own beliefs. I have come to believe this, even as I am a full and willing participant in the evangelical aspect of American Christianity.

This is a schism. This is a cognitive dissonance. I am one of the club. And yet I despise the club. I am on the inside. And I am firmly on the outside. I am standing in the door.

Over the last few months I have considered the possibility of resolving this dissonance in the simplest way possible: by leaving the church.

In this I struggle I am decidedly not alone. It seems all the stories I hear lately are people walking away, people getting out, people healing wounds. If you got your news from the generation that is sometimes called millennials, you might come to think the evangelical movement of the Christian church is a walking shell, held up by power and money but emptied from the inside out, spilling younger membership like blood.

And yet I hold out hope for reconciliation. I stand in the very same psychological space in which I have been made to feel unwelcome — and in some ways continue to be made to feel unwelcome — and hold out hope that I am doing this for some reason that is good. I hold out hope that I am sticking around for some good thing.

It seems more and more like a choice between two deaths. Either I stay, and become molded to a cultural standard that is inauthentic to my core beliefs. Or I leave. And either of these choices is a violence. For weeks (months?) I have been standing at this crossroads, sifting these bad options through my hands. Anger rising. Bile rising. Frustration rising.

But suddenly, sometimes, the struggle lurches angrily forward into a kind of peace. I surprised myself by remembering a teaching I had learned years ago, studying meditation with Tibetan Buddhists.

The teaching was this. “Remember the instructions.” A student of meditation sits down to meditate, and shortly forgets what she sat down to do. This is universal. The human creature drifts from the spiritual path. This is universal. I realized that I had drifted. I had forgotten the instructions.

My instruction was to love, not to stamp passports or to determine viability. My instruction was to love, not to draw boundaries between groups of people or to determine who is or is not worthy of membership.

My instruction was to love.

And then it was suddenly clear that (those concerned parties were quite right) I had indeed taken too strong a dose of politically conservative evangelical culture. I had picked up this pathology — this trademark pathology which makes my hardly sweet-voiced secular husband refer to some church or another as “The Country Club for Jesus” — this pathology in which the primary function of a church is to increase the membership of itself.

In this model of church — which we have come by quite honestly via our colonizing ancestors, for whom religion was a tool for converting enemies into slaves – both exclusivity and inclusivity serve equally to draw a firm line around the camp of Christians. We, the saved. They, the damned. In the Country Club for Jesus, even words of radical welcome are potentially coercive and manipulative. The pathology sets up these two choices, the very same two choices I faced in despair: 1) conform or  2) be located outside the walls.

But these are not my instructions. This may be my deep cultural history. But these are not my instructions.

I am remembering my instructions. 

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ And ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

I will not draw a line around the evangelical Christian church. Not as the solely holy saved, but also not as the untouchables. Certainly not as the dead zone in which the failing power of redemptive grace makes change impossible.

This Idaho back country is where I live. And these are my neighbors. This is the religious language of my heritage. And these are the songs I like to sing. I will not leave. 

But neither will I be frozen and stuck and let myself feel that I am out of options. 

I will skip church sometimes — maybe even more than I have — to commune with tall trees and sky in the sanctuary of the wild. But I will not declare myself an outsider or a nonparticipant.

I will drive in sometimes — maybe more than I have — to hear Marci preach at the PC(USA) church in town. But I will not declare that the PC(USA) is the only true denomination, or that lady pastors are the only ones that understand.

I will state fearlessly and unequivocally that I believe in the full inclusion of persons who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or gender queer in all aspects of church life, including mission work and leadership, and furthermore, that I believe I am led to this conviction by the movement of the Holy Spirit.

But I will not seek for the devil when I could be seeking for the face of God.

I will seek wholeness, and not division. I will seek the blurry edges and the blending. I will be strong enough to stand on the border as if the border didn’t exist: grounded in the religious tradition of my childhood, and yet, also, redeemed and free.

“Because this is the only way to change.
To want. To ask.
To be an unlocked house
in a neighborhood of robbers.
Palms open. Arms extended. Voice unshaking.
Broadening yourself like a target to say
“Aim. Shoot. I am ready. 
I invite hope in
I know failure may follow.””
— Clementine von Radics

Because this is the only way to change. To want. To ask… This is why I will not leave the evangelical church today. 

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*Note: I rarely do disclaimers. But this one calls for a disclaimer. Please do not take this story as a recommendation that anyone should stay in a church environment where you are being hurt, or silenced, or experiencing abuse. I believe that the hard line between In and Out is a construction. But that doesn’t mean it has no power to harm. If you ask me, I will tell you to follow your joy, fearlessly and without shame, knowing that some consequences will come from that. Imagine what you hope for, and move towards that. And if that leads many seekers out of the church in this generation, so be it. God can handle it.

This is Kind of an Amazing Story (And a BIG Announcement!)

brown butterfly - Version 2Once upon a time, I decided that I should write a book. That was almost five years ago. Which means this is kind of a long story…as well as an amazing one. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Almost five years ago, I decided that I should write a book. I had no idea what I was getting into. I thought writing a book would be like writing a blog post except longer. HA HA HA HA HA << This is me laughing hysterically. Just imagine, please.

There are books and there are books.

What happened to me was that my book wasn’t just a book. It was a kind of a wild spirit that passed through me and left behind a deep, inarticulate print of itself all over my insides.

I didn’t write a book so much as I was written by a book.

Does that mean it was really good? Mmm….no. Not really. The first time the book spirit ripped through me I only barely got it down on the page. I had experienced it, but it wasn’t fully articulate. I was working with a literary agent named Kit Ward, and she said I had to write it again.

WHAT. << This is me saying, “Write it AGAIN? I’m supposed to go through that AGAIN?”

I knew at that moment I couldn’t do any better than I had already done. Instead I had another baby and moved with my husband to a yurt in the woods.

For a while I gave up. But it didn’t last.

In the dark, almost by accident, I practiced writing. I practiced being in control of what I meant to say, while not being not in control of the power that moved me to say it. I practiced the art of struggle simultaneous with surrender. I practiced being accountable, and awake. I practiced telling the whole story. And being seen.

Then one day in the spring I cut about 20,000 words from the old manuscript. Slash. And one day in the summer I started to rewrite it. Again I opened the channel and again the spirit whipped through me and again it left behind a deep, inarticulate print of itself.

But this time I knew it was clearer. I wrote to Kit to tell her I finally did it and that’s when I found out she had died. Pancreatic cancer.

It stunned me. She wasn’t aged; she was a woman in the prime of her life. What are the chances? But Kit was an angel to me twice: once when she believed in me, and once when she told me my work wasn’t done. I bless her life and I bless her critical eye, and I bless her for not letting me settle for half of what I was capable of. Selah.

Because of Kit I didn’t give up. I wrote a bunch of query letters, to other literary agents. Thirteen of them, to be exact. But whatever the literary world was looking for, I wasn’t it. All thirteen overtures received rejections or non-responses.

Then I faltered. And then I really did give up again, for a while. But again it didn’t last.

Figuring that no great numbers of people were watching me anyway – and the ones that were watching me were my friends – I kept practicing. I practiced telling people I was a professional writer. I practiced the skill of self-promotion. I practiced sharing, courageously, even in the mess. Even in the midst of struggle and emotion and confusion, I practiced making deadlines.

One day in the winter I wrote an e-book in the middle of the night and I cried because I knew I was going to give it away, on my own terms, and after that nobody could tell me whether I was or wasn’t a real writer.

And then I went to a Christian writer’s conference, mostly because Natalie Trust thought I should, and I handed my manuscript over to a literary agent and he contacted me less than a week later and said, “This is really, really good.”

WHAT.

It took me two months to sign a contract. Try to understand. This is because of THE WHOLE THING.

My revised manuscript has only been read in its entirety by SIX PEOPLE. Two of them in chapters as I wrote/rewrote it. Three people I didn’t know very well that I called “beta-readers.” And after that, one friend, because she asked.

Every time it has been read, the experience has been deep and personal. Deep connections made by a deep spirit. People don’t say about this story, “Oh, that’s nice.” They say, “It wrecked me.” “It haunted me.” They tell me, “I’m still thinking about it.”

This isn’t entirely comfortable for me.

In anticipation of a potential expansion of this feeling (read: quaking in my boots) I spent a month or so sitting on my hands.

Finally, one day in the spring, I had a contract in my hand and I signed it. Which means, you guys, that not only do I have a book. Now I have a book AND I have an advocate to the publishing industry on my behalf.

Next steps? I spend a month or so creating a supporting document called a proposal, for the purpose of selling this work and selling myself as an author. And when I finish that document, I hand it over to my literary agent and…TRUST. I see what happens. I try to keep the channel open: choose faith, not fear.

Will you be there with me? The ones of you who are usually here? That core group that has been my sounding board and my inspiration this whole time? Will you be there?

I’m terrified. I’m also braver than I’ve ever been. I think my book is amazing. I think it’s a piece of crap. I think it really doesn’t matter. I am in the hands of this calling, which is also a gift, which is also a responsibility. I am surrendered to this truth: that I opened a channel and the Spirit whipped through me and left a trail.

SEE? This is kind of an amazing story, THAT ISN’T OVER YET. Thank you so much for being part of it with me. I can’t wait to see what happens next… 

A Love Letter to the Boston Marathon

This is a re-post of what I wrote on this day exactly a year ago…  All my love to you Boston! I wish you all a great weekend and a great April vacation… It’s nice out here in the woods, but you know sometimes I miss you. 

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In 2012, I took my two children to see the Boston Marathon. They were two and four years old and I was pregnant. The scariest thing about it was the traffic on the turnpike.

I wasn’t there, last year, when the bombs exploded at the finish line. Last year I was putting up a yurt frame on a mountainside in Idaho, completely out of communication – our cellphones don’t work up there – and I heard about it on the radio on the way down the hill.

I could tell you how lucky I am that it worked out this way, that I got my property in the near-wilderness of the rural inland Northwest, that I’m getting out of the craziness, that I’m taking my children out of the scary places where people plant bombs.

But the truth is, I love Boston in the spring.

The next night there was an explosion in a fertilizer plant in Texas. Sirens and screaming, all over again. Exhaustion. Grieving. Sorrow. Someone on my Twitter feed found an explosion in Oklahoma City, too, and there was speculation, and panic, and somebody else said, “there is something hella strange goin’ on.”

But the truth is, there is nothing strange about fear.

Somebody gets hurt somebody dies somebody kills somebody plants a bomb somebody runs to save another person’s life somebody hurts somebody heals somebody drives the ambulance somebody runs to save another person’s life.

I wasn’t there, when the bombs went off at the finish line. But if I still lived in Boston I would have been. And if I lived in Boston this year, I would be there. I would be there if the bombs were planted by a lone wolf, and I would be there if the bombs were planted by a terrorist organization with cells in every major US city. I would go a hundred thousand times to see hope do its awesome thing.

I love you, Boston Marathon.

I love Patriots’ Day. I love that Boston basically has its own holiday, just because, and just for another day to celebrate. I love the bunting — I mean, seriously, who else does bunting? — and the cookouts, and the free balloons. I love the cops on every corner.

I love the spectators, all along the route, in their lawn chairs, with their picnics. I love it that the city rallies around the race. I love that people pour out of everywhere, to cheer for those who run.

And of course I love it when the lead runners go by. They are so beautiful. There — right there — is God’s hand on humankind: the image of nobility and grace, unsullied. And we are not so far fallen that we can’t participate in this, the majesty of God’s creation, sheer beauty of life: power: sinew, breath and bone.

But I love it even more when the ordinary runners go by. I love the woman who is beet red and panting. I love the man who staggers on the hill. I love the whole team in matching t-shirts who pushes the guy with cerebral palsy. I love the old guy on wheels who waves and blows kisses to everybody who claps for him, and of course everybody claps for him.

I love the ones who barely finish. I love the ones who don’t finish at all, but try.

And I love Marathon Sunday, at my church in the Back Bay, two long blocks from the finish line. I love it when the person preaching says, those who are running the marathon tomorrow stand up, and they do stand up, and on that day pride in what we are is not a sin. We pray for pride. We pray for perseverance. We pray for strangers, running. We pray to be an icon for hope.

If that’s where evil attacks, so be it. There is nothing new about fear.

And fear will not win the day. 

Somebody gets hurt somebody dies somebody kills somebody plants a bomb somebody runs to save another person’s life somebody hurts somebody heals somebody drives the ambulance somebody runs to save another person’s hope.

You are an icon for hope, Boston Marathon. And hope is worth standing for. This is worth standing for.

I wish I could tell you why people do wrong things. I can’t tell you why that eight-year-old had to die. But I can tell you this. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Thanks for holding the light, Boston Marathon.

I love you. 

Two Kinds of Justice (And When Streams Run Uphill)

Milo at the waterfall

I don’t remember why I was talking about God’s justice. But I was talking about it the way I do. All starry eyed and hopeful, an acolyte and student of the kingdom coming: a kingdom in which kings are brought low and the innocents rise.

She said, “That isn’t what I think of when I hear the word justice. We always heard about justice like it was God’s punishment for the wicked.”

I made the kind of sound you make when you’re having an emotional response to something but your words haven’t caught up with you yet.

She went on, “Like AIDS for homosexuals. Like Sodom and Gomorrah. The way God punishes people who don’t obey.”

I made the same sound again, except WAY LOUDER.

She said, “Tell me about the other kind of justice.”

I said, “Justice is how we raise up the oppressed. Justice is full humanity for the marginalized. It’s the rights of the widow and the orphan. The promise of liberation. It’s the counterculture we’re all supposed to stand for.”

She said, “Is that in the Bible?”

I said, “YES.”

I would have cracked it open right then and there, except I was driving. I would have had some gospel revolution preaching going on STAT, except somebody had to find the address of where we going.

I forgot all about it, until just the other day I was reading Mihee Kim-Kort on streams that run uphill (I haven’t read the book yet, but I just ordered it) and I remembered how much I love that image…of streams running uphill. How it reverses the energy of conquered and conquering.

There’s nothing this world needs more than a little reversal in the energy of conquered and conquering.

The day before that I was in a conversation about anger and the American evangelical Christian church, in which conversation I might have gotten a little, ahem, angry

Because, you guys, FEELINGS.

I haven’t said a word about it here since the World Vision thing caused my evangelicalism to TOTALLY LOSE CREDIBILITY among the very last of my secular progressive friends who trusted me. I haven’t written about it, because WHAT CAN I SAY to this level of hypocrisy? When 10,000 children are punished because Christians gotta have somebody to crucify? What can I offer but lament?

If I live in the canyon – and I do – the canyon has never been so wide. Which means for me: lonely. So yeah, I might have been running a little hot, I’ll be the first to admit. I have skin in this game.

And I have had it up to here with Christian moralizing from a position of power.

I’m ready for us to moralize up the pyramid. Not down. I’m ready for us to preach from our weakness. Not our strength. I AM SO TIRED of guilt offerings by the powerful, trying to somehow restrain or check our power. I’m ready for us to be singing We Shall Overcome.

I’m ready for those streams that run uphill.

I am TIRED of the patriarch standing at the pulpit saying “Jesus came to tell us that even though we can hit our kids we shouldn’t hit them very hard.” I am ready for the kid to stand at the pulpit and say, “Jesus came to tell me I am a person.”

I am DONE with the white man standing at the pulpit saying, “This is the great gift I hereby give out of my strength to the weaker and more ignorant peoples.” I’m ready for the black (wo)man standing at the pulpit saying, “THE DAY OF OUR REDEMPTION IS COME. OUR LIBERATION IS NOW.”

And aren’t we all exhausted by a moral code that reeks of privilege? Restrain your anger! Restrict your selfishness! Stop being such a jerk and give your ten percent! As if the people sitting in our padded folding chairs aren’t nearly DEAD for a tiny crumb of freedom?

What this body needs is a resurrection, not a lecture.

We need nothing less than a reversal of death. And what will that take? The miracle of streams that run uphill. And justice rising.

Don’t think I’m saying, here, that we sit on our hands and leave all the work to the voices of the fringe. I am all about raising up speakers and clergy that are female, non-white, not-famous, not-familiar, LGBT, and all the combinations thereof. (This book of Mihee Kim-Kort’s that sparked this, that I haven’t read yet but absolutely recommend anyway, because I know her, is all conversations with young clergywomen of color…) But y’all, THE MOVEMENT OF LIBERATION DOESN’T LOCK ANYBODY OUT.

Even the straight white men I bumped into in that conversation about anger are in the pyramid somewhere. We’re all in the pyramid somewhere. There is nobody who has never known the feeling of a chain.

Any one of us can turn our preaching up the hill. Any one of us can speak truth to power instead of morality tales to the suffering. Any one of us can learn to preach the other kind of justice.

Any one of us could. And I wish that EVERY one of us would. Stand on a street corner, reclaiming this as the fabric of the Christian religion: a warp of freedom and a woof of overcoming.

Welcome instead of terror. Dancing instead of shame. And wisdom found not in our articulate guilt, but in our willingness to rise.

And then…then, maybe, we evangelicals could claim to be doing something other than justifying ourselves, as ourselves. Maybe, we could claim to be doing something other than drawing lines around our camps in ink.

(It’s no wonder that the American evangelical church has so little credibility with those we’re supposedly here to save.)

But if only streams could run uphill

I believe they can. I believe there is Someone who can. I believe. That streams will run uphill. And I will preach this, unashamed, that I know to be true – that where the God of Justice rules, there is freedom.

Homestead Diary (The Energy of the Universe is Moving)

girls at the chicken coop

I didn’t intend to be writing a Homestead Diary this morning. Not since we made our “Special Announcement” a few months ago. I had thought we would survive, maintain, be still, vision the future, stabilize our finances. Basically, I thought I’d be chillaxing this spring, not hauling rock.

There’s some kind of power in the spring. There’s some kind of power in the spring in the woods.

Let me just say I’m glad I’m not a teenager, because as it is my feet are barely on the ground.

I stopped my car in the middle of the road yesterday. Because my friend Thomas was standing in the ditch, watching a rock pile. (I understood later that he was selecting rocks to make a garden border on his own off-grid property not far from ours.) I said, “Thomas. This weather.” He said, “The energy of the universe is moving.”

Yes, yes. That’s it. Exactly. The energy of the universe is moving. 

See? It really isn’t me. I’m as lazy as ever. But it’s spring. And I can’t help it. The current has caught me up.

WHAT THE HOMESTEADERS DID THIS WEEK…or…THE ENERGY OF THE UNIVERSE IS MOVING

rock on the road

Hauling rock. Our road turned from deep squishy grab-your-tires mud into hard dirt overnight. Literally, overnight. We hauled some rock and dropped some rock into the mud. But it was already no longer mud, so now we mostly have rock on top of dirt. But friends, something had to be done about our road. (And we’ll do more work on it yet this year.) I can’t go through another spring of living at the end of a goat trail.

Clearing brush. Last year we cleared a 30′ perimeter around the yurt. For fire safety and for everything else. This year there is not as much to do. We are keeping the perimeter clear, and also we finished clearing the area we intend to cultivate. We aren’t doing a garden at all this spring, since we’ll be in Colorado for the wet month and the first hot month. But we intend to do some soil improvement on this level and possibly plant a cover crop before we leave.

brush clearing

The play structure. You know how Nick is a sucker for building materials, like, he can’t turn down building materials, even if he doesn’t really need them? I’m that way about swings. ONE CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY SWINGS. We inherited this play set from relatives who moved away. And it’s absolutely magnificent.

playset full view

Milo swinging

MIRACLE OF THE WEEK: The kids are playing outside! Miracle! Miracle! Here’s Stella riding her trike down the hill.

Stella on the trike

WHIMSY OF THE WEEK: Everybody around here loves the 4-wheeler. (Except for me. I drove it into the bushes last summer and we haven’t gotten along since.) But for everyone else, it is difficult to tell if the 4-wheeler is a tool for work or everybody’s favorite toy. Judging by how much time Sadie spends with it…?

Sadie on the 4wheeler

OBSTACLE OF THE WEEK: Now we get to know about being weekend homesteaders. Most rural people know this well. Going into town to work on weekdays, taking care of the land only on the weekends. Projects take a long time and are constantly being pruned. If only we had all the time in the world…!

NEXT: Our soil amendment plan is a bit up for grabs. One of us is the school of tilling the soil. The other one of us is the school of sheet mulching. What do you think? 

The rest of the Homestead Diary series is here. Thanks for hanging in with us, friends! And wherever you are, I hope you’re caught up in the current, too. 

Why I’m Done With Letting Critics Tell Me Who I Am

MiloThe first time I got a really bad review I was 22 years old. I had travelled to Seattle with a couple of friends and our brand new theatre degrees and all the money we could scrape up. We were trying to start a theatre company from scratch. Every conversation was a mess of big dreams and passion and energy and unanswered questions. We had no idea what we were doing. But it was a labor of love. We worked around the clock, into the night and against the odds: working to make a piece of art where before there was only an empty stage.

After the opening night I went to the newspaper with trembling hands. The review was absolutely scathing. In an entertaining and sort of clever way — a ruthless attitude of criticism to which I would later become accustomed — we were named, condescended to and dismissed. The headline was “Sloppy Apocalypse.”

I tried to smile at my friends. I tried to stay the fearless 22-year-old, large and in charge, who was brazen enough to start up a theatre company from scratch in the first place. But I kept thinking. This is what happens when I follow my ambition. This is what happens when I unleash my dreams. I lead these people astray. I create, but what do I create? 

A sloppy apocalypse.

I headed home. I abandoned the theatre company. I knocked down that dream. I withdrew my portion of the passion, and the labor and the funds.

Was it an awful show? Probably. It was ambitious. I was ambitious even then. And every single person involved was under the age of 25. Was it an awful show? Probably it was.

But I still wonder what my life would have been like, if I hadn’t listened to that critic. I wonder what my life would have been like, if I hadn’t read the bad review at all.

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What I did next was unquestionably the wise career move. It was so mature of me! So reasonable! So clearly the right thing to do! I went home and built a career as a stage manager. For the next four years I sat at the table next to the director’s table. I notated stage directions, made schedules, made lists of props. I watched. And I listened.

I sat down, shut up, and learned my craft. Also, I made a lot of coffee.

After that I got lots of reviews. Lots of good reviews, mostly. Mostly I was called “lyrical” and “intelligent.” Mostly they said I directed plays with “a sure hand” or “a delicate touch.”

Mostly they were nice to me. And I was nice to them.

When I was 28 years old I took a bigger risk. Past directing plays, I decided to write one. I wrote a lesbian romantic comedy called “How to Play With a Rollergirl.” And it got produced.

I wore glasses for the newspaper photographer, and my hair up. At that point I had become accustomed to doing occasional newspaper interviews, but for this one I wanted a new look. I had always wanted to be a writer, and today I was going to look like one.

I explained to the reporter that a lesbian romance is not a personal or autobiographical story for me. Although I have more experience with same-sex romance than you might assume, my passions and struggles and sense of self are essentially heterosexual.

I told the interviewer that I was working with the genre of romantic comedy from a feminist perspective. I wanted to study the archetypes, and the verbs of the romantic comedy: to chase, to get, to catch, to surrender. I wanted to work with the energy of conflict turned into sexual energy — which is what the romantic comedy genre is; if you don’t believe me, go watch one right now — but I wanted to do so outside of traditional gender roles. I wanted to look at the battle of love when it wasn’t the battle of the sexes.

The actors were amazing. The design team was all my friends. The rollergirl skated in circles and made everybody laugh. The passive, traditionally feminine character flirted and resisted and gave in. My talented husband made a rain curtain so the girls could kiss in the rain.

I guess it wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea.

I was totally exposed. And nervous. And trying to believe that I was doing the right thing. And this is when it happened, a second time, that I let a critic tell me who I am. He criticized the simplicity of the archetypes: the one who chases, and the one who is chased. And then he wrote this, which became emblazoned on my brain: “Emery isn’t as much of a feminist as she thinks she is.”

The timing was bad, you could say. I was four months into raising my first child and leaking milk. Shortly after that I was nursing my baby and accidentally gave up the steering of another show to a charismatic male colleague. That show ran aground between his vision and mine. And then the whole thing started to unravel.

I made mistake after mistake — big mistakes, you guys — and behind my desperation and self-seeking was that voice, like a drumbeat.

She isn’t as much of a feminist as she thinks she is.

She isn’t who she thinks she is. 

That was years ago now. Six, seven years, maybe? And I’m grateful for the wild run I’ve had in those six years. Hitting bottom was the best thing that ever happened to me, for all the grace I found in it. But of course I wonder what it would have been like if I had never read that bad review at all.

///

I have a lot of friends now who are writers. And my old friends who still make plays. But this message isn’t just for them. This is for everybody. Everybody with a voice, which is everybody. And I mean everybody.

PLEASE. DON’T LET THEM TELL YOU WHO YOU ARE.

Don’t be defined by the critics. Not by listening to them. And not by fighting against them. Not by positioning yourself to be more appealing to them. And not by begging them to change their minds.

You. You. YOU have a voice. And it is uniquely yours. But it comes through a glass darkly. It isn’t always going to land the way you wanted it to land. Sometimes the problem is craft, sure. You can always get better at making yourself visible. You can always peel off one more layer, making it all that much easier to see the pure and naked soul within.

But that isn’t going to lose the critics.

Just as likely the resistance is in the recipient. Possibly inside. Deep within. And it could happen that the resistance is a lifeline for another soul — protecting them from something they can’t hear or can’t deal with. It could be ALL about them, and not at all about you.

This is advanced, y’all, but necessary: we have to respect that resistance in one another, without being defined by it. We recognize it as the truth of autonomy and personhood. And keep on being true to ourselves. This is how we make space for one another. This is how we become a fully voiced community.

You. You. YOU have a voice. And it is uniquely yours. But where it lands you can’t control. Speak for the ones who need you, and not the ones who don’t.

Make space for that mystery. Choose faith instead of fear. 

It’s been thirteen years since I was first shut down by a scathing review. And I have been shut down. I have had my times of being tongue-tied. But I have never lost it — my unique voice, or my authentic self. I have never lost it. And it has never lost its intrinsic worth.

This is how I will do art. This is how I will do life. I will be fully who I am. I will make no apologies. I will make space for myself, even my full, authentic self. Space to make messes. Spaces to go on deep seeking journeys. Space to make mistakes — even the big ones.

I will not let the critics tell me who I am. 

Wednesday Wrestling

I’m over at Karissa Knox Sorrell’s place today, talking about how I wrestle with faith and ego and rebellion. Join us? Here’s how it starts. 

Doesn’t everybody dream of being called into greatness? God shows up and says, “Hey YOU, with the freckled nose, or YOU with the hooded sweatshirt, or YOU with the platform shoes…I want you to lead my people out of Egypt.”

Don’t try to tell me I’m the only one who dreams of this. I’ll just know you’re lying. But I also have a pretty good idea of WHY you’re lying.

I know what it costs, to say I want a calling from the big boss. And I know what it costs to get that kind of calling. And I know what it costs to make this announcement to everybody else.

“I’m sorry mom, I can’t wash the car today. God wants me to lead his people out of Egypt.”

Right here I wrestle: in this place I wound my hip…

…Come on over! The rest is here.

How to Get Esther Something Nice For Her Birthday (a crowd source campaign)

It’s my birthday this month. April 18. And for my birthday I’m putting a “Donate” button in my sidebar.

You can also sing to me, of course. I never turn down a song. But this year I’m asking for what I really want for my birthday. And what I really want is a website that is sleeker, prettier and higher functioning.

Our goal is to raise $500, by April 18. Here’s what it buys us:

1)   A more image-based look! I’m partnering with the super-talented photographer Jennifer Upton. She’s the one who worked with me on this heart-tugging video. And she took the photo of that flower. She’s going to dress the place up with her soft vision and sense of beauty.

2)   Social networking plug-ins and back end workings that work! And work better! So I don’t tear my hair out quite so much over clunky things.

3)   And better organization! I am sort of three bloggers in one. I write about Jesus and justice. I write about the creative process and motivation and encouragement. And I write about homesteading off the grid. Most of my readers are more interested in one of these things than the others. I have always wanted to organize things so it is easier for YOU to find what you’re looking for. This is my chance.

Now, to get this moving.

If you are one of the first 10 people to donate $10, I’ll give you…a thank you note (of course) AND a piece of original artwork created by one of my children. This means: either a messy, modernistic acrylic on paper (and she may be better than you think) OR a detailed marker sketch of a scene out of Star Wars.

If you are one of the first ten people to donate $25, I’ll give you…a thank you note (of course) AND an original poem. (WHAT? It’s a good thing I’m so fearless lately… I kind of can’t believe I just promised that.)

Is it possible to give more than $25? Of course. But you all know this about me, I am no high roller. I believe in building culture in which you don’t have to be rich to be extravagant. So, around here? If you are giving $25, you shine those spats and press that lapel. Baby, you are a BIG SPENDER.

Now, here’s the donate button. It’s in the sidebar, too.

 

I’ll post an update on my birthday, letting you all know how we did. (And reminding you to sing to me.)

Thank you, thank you thank you. For your support. And for being here. Since the beginning…for being eyes and encouragement and community. This whole thing wouldn’t be here without you. And I am so grateful. 

On Following Your Dreams, You Guys {For Reals}

When my husband left me here in the yurt to go off and be in the Bahamas for a month, I tweeted, “I am going to appreciate this. Afterwards.”

That’s today. Today is afterwards. And I have come here to tell you how I appreciate it. I do. I do. I so do. I can’t even tell you.

There’s no boot camp could have done for me what these weeks have done: all this heavy real-life work of hauling my kids up and down the hill, and meals three times a day on the wood stove, and the water from the spring in five gallon jugs. And tromping through the slushy, icy snow, and mud, and having car trouble THREE TIMES (all three times out of cell phone range), and all the way through making those writing deadlines. Bam. Bam. Bam.

Plus I showered outside, right through March.

You guys. This. Is what I am capable of.

I had no idea.

And now my husband has been back for ten days and yesterday I relaxed so fully, sinking into a new book I liked and a whole pan of cinnamon rolls and all the restfulness that I had craved so badly. I had a moment to think about it all. And I felt like shouting it in the streets. THIS. Is what I am capable of. THIS. THIS. THIS.

So take that, fear.

You know how I feel about fear anyway. I think fear is a thing on the way to most everything that is worth doing. Making art. Making a marriage. Making a real friend. Making any track in the world that says YOU WERE HERE. Making a leap. And now…this, too.

This mountain life without male protection. Singing sisterhood with the dark woods under a new moon. By myself: wise (enough) and strong (enough) and unafraid.

This is what I feel like shouting in the streets. THIS. Is what I am capable of. THIS. THIS. THIS.

I didn’t mean for it to go down quite like this. I assumed that I would lean into the power grid: of the city, of relationships, of normal people. I assumed I would swap my dependency on my husband with an equal but alternate dependency on others.

And I tried. Really, I tried. I did. But for whatever reason it absolutely didn’t work. Towards the end I stopped leaning into anybody at all. And grew instead.

(I’ve always been a bit afraid of fully unleashing my craving for independence. Where independence = rebellion. And I’ve heard a whisper that a woman who doesn’t need a man is something less than a woman. Maybe I heard it long ago, but a whisper like that can stick in, somewhere, deep. It says: don’t be capable of making it alone, or alone is very likely what you’ll be. And that’s a prison.)

In this story, though, I don’t stay in that prison.

My husband is sitting across from me right now, click-clicking on his keyboard as I do on mine; he’s costing out somebody’s fence. And he is not afraid of me. He is not afraid of a woman who will walk outside alone in the dark. He is not afraid of a woman who can lay a fire in the stove in 60 seconds flat while holding the baby and playing Who Am I (Star Wars Edition) with her bright-eyed brother.

He is not afraid of a woman who chooses HIM out of choice and not dependency.

I feel like shouting it in the streets. THIS. Is what I am capable of. THIS. THIS. THIS.

My friend Marvia (who always, always leads me a bit closer to freedom) just shared this poem by Marianne Williamson.

Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

—Marianne Williamson

May you be liberated from a shred of fear this weekend, my friends. Make manifest the glory. As tall as the trees and bright as the morning.

THIS is what you are capable of.

THIS. THIS. THIS.

Why I [Might] Have Changed My Mind About Insider Clubs On the Internet

So this is a thing about the Internet. Agree or disagree? You get buddies, who think alike. You agree with each other. And you settle in.

It’s amazing, really, that we can find each other. People who use words the same way, speak the same way, think the same way: our uniformity of belief like a soft wrapping around our tender hearts, a safe space.

Everybody needs this, right? A safe space to pray?

I used to be really down on this phenomenon. I said, “This is not dialogue. We’re not talking to each other. We just go into our echo chambers and enjoy the comfort of our shared opinions, our already-made-up minds!”

I thought it was the worst thing about the Internet. How it allows us to split off into little forts of mutuality and lob our criticisms of one another like grenades over the wall.

That’s what I said. And in those days, that’s exactly what I was doing. I was hiding and lobbing grenades. And I was wondering, if we don’t ever speak to each other, how will the wounds ever be healed?

But that was a long time ago. That was an eon ago…in Internet years.

I have changed my mind about pockets of similarity on the Internet. I have changed my mind about a club, or a group, of people who are alike, tossing their words and thoughts around among themselves. Yes, sometimes it amplifies voices of hatred. But also it amplifies the voices of resistance. And for me…it gives me the strength to come to dialogue with my spine intact.

I tell this story all the time, about the caterpillar and the butterfly, and how the imaginal cells grow up in a soup of caterpillar, and the caterpillar immune system attacks them. The new cells are recognized as foreign bodies. Until they gather in numbers, grow, connect to one another. And become. Then these same cells are the butterfly. They are the destiny. They are the future, emergent.

I think of that story whenever I see a post that draws resistance. (As so many feminist posts do.) And I don’t know, but it feels to me like the trolls are getting milder. It’s almost like those immune system responses are weakening. At least, in the circles I travel now, there is a lot less profanity and open cruelty in comments. (Even if there is still plenty of prooftexting and open letters to Rachel Held Evans.) I remember Jessica Valenti in the early days of Feministing. Or Melissa McEwan at Shakesville. They would share their hate mail, and the vitriol would just turn your stomach.

It is a real thing that there is misogyny. It is a real thing that there is a compulsion to punish women (and others) who break certain rules, and sometimes a person with a keyboard is really overtaken by this compulsion. It’s all very unspoken and unclear and sometimes you think you could be imagining it all…until you have a blocked comment sitting like a weight on your own dashboard.

Then you know you weren’t making it up. Then you know that there is still cruelty to those who speak publicly towards the dismantling of privilege. And that is a relief, because the shadow has shown itself. But also it is a terrible sorrow.

And then what?

I’ve had a sort of pattern in my life, of swinging between extremes. One: trying to dig into the conflict, seeking reparations, starting fights. Two: trying to avoid the conflict, stopping my mouth for the sake of peace and silence, hiding. Reverse. Repeat.

Both of these options are reactive.

I’m ready to be proactive. I’m ready to be the one with agency.

First: say what I think. First: do what I do. First: tell the truth. First: wear my own skin instead of the paint of ingratiation or the paint of war.

But to make this transition, often I need to occupy a safe space. And I have found safe spaces like that, time and time again, on the Internet.

Wait, am I writing a love letter to the Internet? Really? I, who took a whole year away from the Internet and still claim that I was changed by it?

I don’t think so, no.

I am writing a love letter, in the context of the Internet, to bearing testimony.

This is a love letter to how the truth really does set us free. How in a life cycle or a transformation we go through these stages: four legs to two legs, and then to three again. At first we need a lot of help, to speak truth into the broken places. It’s really hard. But it helps to practice.

And then we walk on two legs. And there are some big ones, like Rachel Held Evans or Jessica Valenti. Or like Elizabeth Esther with her bestselling book. Or like my friend Osheta, who is becoming one of these big ones right before my eyes.

But all of us, whatever size or place, who bear testimony and create community around it — all of us! — are doing this work. It is the work of making a current. Making it easier to push against the resistance, to risk the violence of the immune system response, to make change where there needs to be a change.

Sometimes so desperately there needs to be a change. I’ve come to think it’s worth it.

//

What do you think? Do you see areas/communities of ideological uniformity on the Internet? Does it threaten you? Reassure you? Give you hope?