#31 Days of “Church in the Woods”

new-church-in-the-woods

Here is the gathered heap of my October 2014 #31days. Enjoy!

-Introduction-

-The Praying Mantis Pastor-

-The Professor of Lichen-

-The Theology of Hunting-

-Witness-

-That Tricky Moon-

-The Dream Has Wings-

-The Gathering-

-Who Told Me?-

-The Colors of the Jay-

-Theology of Hunting, Part II-

-Rest Day (Annie Dillard)-

-The Voice of the Wind-

-Chicken Apple Farm-

-Patience-

-My Soul and the Infinite Internet (at Deeper Story)-

-Another Rest Day (Rilke)-

-Monkey Skull-

-The Runaway-

-Resurrection-

-Lodur’s Gift-

-Another Poem (Nanao Sakaki)-

-The Heart of a Predator-

-This is Possible-

-Thank You, Thank You, Thank You-

-Off Grid Kids (Fouchomatic Video)-

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And,

Just in case you’re still hungry,

last year’s #31days project, “31 Days of Wilderness” is here.

Off Grid Kids (Fouchomatic Off Grid VIDEO)

Here’s the something fun! I know that you all won’t love this video quite as much as I do. It isn’t possible, because I love it so.much. But they are my children and there’s something biological about that.

Even if you aren’t related to them, I think you will still enjoy it. Maybe it will give you a plan for creating your own Sarlacc for Halloween.

(Oh, and there’s a typo at the end. Stella is actually five, not six. When you have a five OR six year old child I think you’ve earned the right to occasionally mess up things like that.)

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You (Church of the Woods, Closing)

Stella with flowersThis is the last post, really, the conclusion of the #31days. Tomorrow is something fun, and then on Friday I’ll post a front page that links to everything. Already I have spent a half a day on Facebook, which is like being a senior in high school and graduating before you’re graduated. I am not really done with my month of focus and concentration in the woods, but I am acting like it. I feel so healthy, it’s hard not to just jump up and play.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is in the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus heals ten lepers and one of them comes back to say thank you. Jesus asks where the other ones are, you know, just to make the point, and the narrator says, “Beats me.” And then to that one healed leper Jesus says, “Arise and go your way. Your faith has made you whole.”

This is the kind of story I need on repeat. I need it playing in my car, and next to my computer, and next to my books. I need it between my ears. When they invent the implantable microchip, this is what I will do with it. I never get tired of hearing that the best part of the story isn’t when the good thing happens, it’s when you turn back and look at it. It’s when you bring it into meaning, into alignment, and into praise.

Now…I’ll admit sometimes interpretation of this passage gets a little icky, because it’s all like, “I didn’t do it, God did!” or “I never take credit for anything in my life because it’s all God’s work!” Which is all very well and good as long as you aren’t thanking God for letting you make yourself small and hide beneath a mushroom; or, worse, thanking God for letting you enjoy a bunch of things that you have stolen.

That’s why it matters that it was a healing. This story isn’t about thanking God for your gold pieces, or your marriage, or your home, or for letting you get away with things. It’s about thanking God for making the broken things better.

When I was converted the first time, I thought that was it. I thought, for sure, this is it. I’m done now, I’m going to be all better, for the duration.

HA. HA. HA.

I was barely done writing down that I had been converted before I had to go through it all again. The evangelical church betrayed me in much the same ways that the secular world had betrayed me: by thinking too much of itself, building walls that kept the Holy Spirit out, locking doors.

Still. There is redemption. On either side of the wall. In every turn of the circle there is a victory of faith over fear. If you can spot it, and catch the ride, there is a victory of love over selfishness.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been around the circle now, into the brokenness and out again, into the burst of healing and out again. It’s like a calendar year, except that I haven’t the wisdom to write myself an almanac. But I do know this much, I have been around the circle enough times to know this much, the story doesn’t advance unless I remember to say, “Thank you.”

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you for that which I cannot create myself, but need to live. Thank you for breath, and blood, and feeling. Thank you for resurrection. Thank you for grace. Thank you that my talent for building walls around myself and my fragile faith is just the slightest bit less than my talent for breaking them down again.

Thank you for hope.

Thank you for the woods, and all they have to teach. Thank you for church without walls.

Thank you that when I call, you answer.

Thank you. 

This Is Possible (Church in the Woods, Day 28)

the cost of living

My husband the mountain man showed me a Facebook ad that popped up on his feed, for a t-shirt sporting this captivating slogan.

“the only thing I care about is my chainsaw
and like three people,
and beer”

I didn’t laugh, although I’m pretty sure Nick had hoped I would. It’s always like that.

We had heard a segment on the radio not long before, which was to feature a mountain man’s view on money. Nick and I made a point to listen, even asking our singing toddler to go inside so we could hear better, because we are very interested in alternative views on money. But either they made the character out to be a freak, or they picked somebody who really who was a freak. The way the segment was cut, there was no path whatsoever drawn between the law of the woods and the law of consumer capitalism. There was no attempt at it, really. There was only a man speaking like a foreigner, not making sense.

It made me want to shout at the radio, “This is possible!”

Culture change is possible. Incremental but relentless action toward accountability is possible. Downward mobility is possible. Rest is possible. Living happily with wayyyyyy less stuff than the TV commercials make it look like you ought to have, even with joy, even with a kind of satisfaction that lives not as far as you might think from ecstasy? This. Is. Possible.

The trouble is, the radio and TV are so blinking sure this story belongs only to freaks, I have to shut it all off to remember. I feel like I’m the only one, sometimes, standing at the bridge point between radical and practical. The radical part gets you a radio show. But it is the practical part that changes the way you live.

The practical part, I confess, can be insanely boring. This is the part where you decide to send your kids to public school on the bus because you need to feel more like a normal family and less like you’re running a compound. This is the part where you negotiate how much you want to work, and at which jobs, and which bridges to burn because no matter how much you might want to, you can’t burn them all. It’s the part where you take these huge goals – energy self-sufficiency, edible landscaping, some kind of desirable product you can barter – and you break them down into reasonable, human-sized chunks. And then you start doing them, one at a time.

Yawn.

I’m telling you. It’s no good for TV. You have to be reasonable about what your talents actually are, and honest, too. You have to accept that it takes years to develop most of the skills you need, and you constantly have to ask for help from old people. You have to accept donations, take handouts, pick up free stuff on the side of the road. You are basically a scavenger, and still, you run out of things, and get scared. You try stuff that doesn’t work and then try new stuff that doesn’t work and you get discouraged. You conquer your fear and raise your spirits and keep going anyway.

Or you don’t.

There are so many temptations. You are tempted by scarcity. You are tempted to think that you don’t have enough and you ought to have more, and you deserve better, and your life is miserable and the real good stuff is somewhere else. You are tempted by a thing you call a need, which maybe wouldn’t look so much like a need if you had lived with people who live their lives without it. But probably you haven’t. You are tempted by a sense of competition. You are tempted by your laziness, your selfishness, your deep desire to win.

This is normal.

The reward for integrity will never come from the world of consumer capitalism. This seems so obvious, and yet nobody can remember it; it needs constantly to be said. A heart of gold will never get you rich. A life of pursuing integrity will never get you the winner’s medallion. All that it will get you is a life of pursuing integrity. A life of pursuing integrity will get you a life of pursuing integrity. And that is something.

It is a miracle of mind over culture, but it is possible. It is only sometimes thrilling, often supremely boring, but it is possible. It is fumbling and confusing and there is no map for sale, but it is possible.

Isn’t this just the way life is anyway? I mean, tell the truth, once you get over thinking you’re going to be famous, isn’t your life going to be one huge mess of small joys and confusion anyway? Why shouldn’t you try to do the best you can to bring your actions in line with your beliefs? Why shouldn’t you define success in real and incremental challenges? Why shouldn’t you live a life that leaves a little less destruction in its wake?

This is possible. 

Or doesn’t that slogan sell enough t-shirts?

The Heart of a Predator (Church in the Woods, Day 27)

Milo in the brush at duskWe lost a chicken this weekend. Many predators would enjoy a chicken for midnight snack, but only one has taken one of ours, and that’s our neighbor’s dog.

Nick and I disagreed later about what I should have done, when I found the gorgeous young Husky inside a crate with a chicken in his mouth. But neither of us would do what many other neighbors of ours would do, which is shoot him.

The dog’s owner is on disability. Breeding and selling purebred Husky puppies is his sweet money, his good things money. Nick did a little work on his roof last fall and he paid us in moonshine. It was his female dog, the dam of the whole operation, who last winter killed one of our ducks.

We’re lucky, though, to have moved into his vicinity at this time, during the Husky operation. Before that he bred wolves. He had to shoot a family of six of them, which he was at the time training to pull a sled, after they eviscerated someone’s German Shepherd.

Better a German Shepherd than a child. But, still. I can see the appeal. A broad and deep seeking for the spectacular in nature leads each of us by the yearning of our own heart. Some, to waterfalls, and some to wolves.

Dare we ask why? Dare we observe that a dog-eat-dog culture offers opportunities for predation at every turn, but let’s face it, not so much for the poor? Men without money are the ones I most hear making love to the violence of the woods. What is masculinity? When you have less than nothing and hardly anybody to walk on? Where is your honor and power? When you can’t provide like a boss? Why shouldn’t you go bear hunting, or trap a wolf?

It’s easy enough for city folk to look down on it. But what is the violence that is loved in town? This is the simple violence of wealth, of striving to be a winner in a world of losers. An ignorance as cruel as the misuse of the wild animal, surely. Surely this is a cruelty as pervasive and uniformly accepted as feed lot beef and combustion engines.

It takes tremendous effort to imagine that things could be any other way. It takes a fierce act of will to imagine that anything has gone wrong here, even with our whole model of competition, scarcity and kingship. If I do for a moment succeed in capturing an older story than what we call “civilization,” it boggles the mind. I go against the grain.

But the church of the woods calls me to remember. Remember…by the wolf, by the bear skins, and by the hunted wild. Remember the heart of the predator, which beats no less fiercely in my chest than it does on Wall Street, or in the breast of my neighbor who breeds wolves.

These are the containers in which the heart of the predator is trapped and fed: the need for affluence, for accomplishment; the praise of masculinity and dominance and power; the desperate fear and shame when these milestones of a dominator’s life are missed; the sense of falling short.

The hunger.

May we see in all these thoughts the strings that pull us too fast and too desperate through this glowing world. May we see in these cycles and patterns the dominion of principalities which are not of Heaven. May we hesitate, breed faith instead of fear, and loose these chains.

Another Poem (Church in the Woods, Day 25)

beautiful green leaves

It’s another day of not very spiritual things. My family is sick the way only a family with kids can get sick. If you know where God is in all that, feel free to tell me. Here’s a poem that I didn’t write, that I love.

Soil for legs
Axe for hands
Flower for eyes
Bird for ears
Mushroom for nose
Smile for mouth
Songs for lungs
Sweat for skin
Wind for mind
Just enough
–Nanao Sakaki

Lodur’s Gift (Church in the Woods, Day 24)

Lodur's gift

To get what I want from the woods, I have to lose my skin. All the habits, the defenses, the infrastructure; I have to lose that whole armor of self-protection that I believe I need to live.

It is not our fault that we defend ourselves from the world. It hurts. This has always been true. And in defending ourselves from the potential hurt we defend ourselves from the potential joys. This is universal.

But this morning I am thinking of how it is true in the particular, true of my time and my place. Our life in pixels requires that we develop some armor. Where else have you seen people saying such obnoxious things? Here we are constantly tossing off unprepared address, performing our dress rehearsals, making criticisms of all kinds: the legitimate and searching as well as the wantonly destructive, and in 140 characters, what is the difference? Some of the most harmful misunderstandings in my life to date have emerged from a careless email. I know that the cruelest thing I have ever said was via text.

In this digital age, the skin grows thick. In art, too, and entertainment, I have heard the voices getting louder. I have seen the increase in expectation for shock and shift and bounce: the sheer emotional volume we require in order to feel. We want our thrill as deep and wild as possible. We want a monologue written before a suicide. (A real one, please.) We want sudden, and bursts. Death, wearing lipstick. Something to break through all the numbness, and the noise.

The cost, as well as the cause: a thicker skin.

In Norse mythology, it is said that it took three gods together to create humankind. Odin gave us souls. Hoenir gave us the will to think and move. Lodur gave us feeling and warm blood. It is that last gift, Lodur’s gift, that we keep trying to give back.

Resurrection (Church in the Woods, Day 23)

photo-16

My seven year old son came to me crying yesterday. “The raspberries,” he said. “They’re dead.”

I said, “Of course they’re not.”

He said, “They are. I just looked at them. They’re all brown and dead.”

I was busy, of course. You know, the way parents get. Dinner on the stove, and a two-year-old on my hip. I said, “Please stop screaming at me. The raspberries are not dead.”

He wailed then in earnest. “They are! I saw them. We won’t have any more raspberries!” His face was red with panic, his mouth turned upside down from grimacing.

I set the baby down and looked at him. It was the 22nd of October.

In July of this same year he was making pilgrimages daily to that very patch, and the raspberries weren’t dead then. Was July really that long ago? Back in July he had that patch to himself. His sisters and I preferred a different spot, with a more satisfying crop and a much more treacherous approach. He had a magic place, all his own. And it was summertime, and summer seemed like it would last forever.

Now, October. Just a few months have passed, but in those months he did so much growing up. He took a big kid trip all the way to New York City with his cousins. He made new friends, he started school, he learned to read big kid books. The summer didn’t end so much as it disappeared.

Where does childhood go, anyway?

I don’t blame him for searching. I’m still looking for mine. I pushed the dinner off to the side of the stove and marched across the garden. “Look,” I said, “Milo. Look at the green ones. Look at all these green canes. They’ll bear raspberries next year.” I could tell he didn’t believe me. I’m not sure that I was all that convincing.

If the raspberry cane could take the pulpit, would it speak to us of our inability to believe? Why we suffer these terrible losses, like the loss of childhood, when all we have to do is wipe our tears and see: the beloved rising here, again, so close and so beautiful, in dew-dressed green.

If the raspberry cane could do pastoral counseling, it would bring me back my lost childhood, my lost innocence. It would resurrect time. It would teach me to stop crying for baubles that are not lost, and dreams that never failed me.

It would promise my son that summer comes again.

Book Review: Disquiet Time

Sometimes people wonder if there are any perks to being personal friends with approximately 250 writers. I tell them I don’t know about that, but it is true that I get a lot of free books.

I try to pay it forward; the whole point of publishers letting authors give free books to their friends is that it creates the ground level of word-of-mouth publicity. When I get a free book I make sure to Instagram it, or tweet about it, or write it up in one of my “What I’m Into” posts. A nearby church has three of them in their library, gathering dust I’m afraid, but you never know when someone will suddenly crave a bit of challenging reading material.

What I don’t usually do with my free books is write whole blog posts on them. Today, though, I’m making an exception. There are a few reasons for this, one is that it is an essay collection, which means my personal connections to it are several; also just that I loved it.

[Enter: Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book, by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels]

grantfalsani_disquiettime_hc-2-1

What it is: An essay collection. I’ll admit I have a thing for essay collections, possibly because I am a self-identified millennial and that means I have the attention span of a millennial and that means I’m just about to start calling myself a “mil” because it takes too long to say millennial.

Translation: These are short, fun essays about pithy things.

Who should read it:

  1. Those of you who feel like you ought to be reading the Bible, but actually can’t, possibly because you secretly hate it. A fellow spiritual writer who recently set down the Good Book after discovering scores of instances of abusive father imagery comes to mind.
  1. Those who really ought to have no interest in reading the Bible, but actually for some reason do.
  1. Anyone who thinks religion would be better off if it didn’t take itself quite so seriously.
  1. All those in need of a thoroughly researched scholarly opinion on whether or not seraphim have genitalia.

Ahem. I think this book review is over. Here’s where you can order it: Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels

No, wait, there’s one more thing I have to say. Nothing has ever killed God quite so quickly as too much reverence. A God who is too much of a stuffed duck to endure our laughter, and too fragile to meet our most incisive questioning is no God of this world’s people, and no God of the Israelites, either.

I think it is a mistake to think that making fun of the Bible and being guided and nourished by the Bible are contradictory paths. The fact is, even the most faithful experience some kind of doubt. And even the most cynical are drawn at times to the rich tapestry of our culture’s foundational religious narrative.

Disquiet Time is a kind of raucous dinner party held at the intersection of those lines. The prayer may not be clean, or tidy, or exactly reverential; certainly it isn’t quiet. But oh, it is a prayer to a God who lives.

Girls Who Don’t Wear Dresses (at SheLoves Magazine)

I have announcements today! One, I have been invited to participate in the SheLoves Magazine series, “We Are The Other,” sharing about an aspect of my history and identity that is likely not entirely known to those who read here. I have made a decision to be more clear about this moving forward, although it does come with some personal risk…or maybe just some trembly fingers.

{{Deep breath.}}

The post is called, “The Song of the Girls Who Don’t Wear Dresses.” And it is right here, or you can click on this image.

O_Esther

Also, even cooler news. SheLoves Magazine has invited me to be a monthly contributor moving forward! This is even more special to me than it sounds. Because, I’ll tell you the truth, when you’ve got a magazine actively targeting a readership of Christian women, I have some defense mechanisms that fly up. I think, This is probably not a place for me. But Idelette McVicker is simply, undeniably fierce…as an editor and an activist. I am honored to join with her, as she and her global team are learning, teaching, singing true songs, and LISTENING.

(If the name Idelette is familiar, but you’re not a reader at SheLoves, you may be remembering her guest post for me on women and money. Check it out here if you missed it.)

Now, here’s a teaser for the post I have up today at SheLoves…

I come from the tribe of girls who don’t wear dresses.

It’s subtle now. These days, you might not even notice. But in college I shaved my head clean, wore extra weight on my hips, fought my body for its insistent femininity. When I went to a pizza joint, at 18 years old in my usual get up, I made the pretty girls whisper and stare. I know this because one of them told me about it later.

I know how it seemed. I have been told. To one person like I was trying to act out, that it was all about getting attention, as if it were my heart’s desire to make people turn and stare in grocery stores. To another that I was perversely expressing some kind of ugliness, putting myself in service to the enemy of light and peace. To another that my life choices were a threat to her Christian values. She covered her children’s eyes.

The rest is here.