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.

“Yeah, no,” I said. “That isn’t what I’m talking about. At all.”

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.

///

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?

What I’m Into March (with Recipe Hive, Registered Runaway and Girl at the End of the World)

March for me was as messy and wild as the season itself. A storm one day and a blissful spring breeze the next. My husband was home some. He was gone some. I had car trouble again. I’m not going to get into it. Crazy, crazy, spring.

But it was a good month for my writing. I had posts up at Deeper Story, SheLoves Magazine and Addie Zierman (One Small Change). Those are some seriously awesome opportunities, right there, you guys. I am so appreciative.

And I did an interview. This was my first interview, post-theatre-days, so that was really cool. If you liked Unleash Your Wild, you’ll like this. Women on Writing: Esther Emery

And I went to my first writer’s conference! I met a bunch of people. I networked, as they say. And I met a literary agent face to face.

I don’t have any particular news regarding my book manuscript. Believe me, you will know when I do. But what happened at that conference was pretty different from 13 rejections. I think it is fair to say that where there was once a blank and unreceptive wall there is now a conversation. There is a lot of responsibility on me right now, as an artist, to decide what my work is and where it’s going.

Ahhhh!!!

So let’s not talk about that anymore. Here’s the good stuff…

WHAT I’M INTO – BOOKS

Virginie Despentes: King Kong Theory — A LOT OF MY READERS SHOULD HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS BOOK. If you read it, and you hate it, don’t blame me. I warned you. It is a completely unchecked and unrestrained feminist rant. And as such: it is powerful. I will not tell you that I agree with everything she says. But I will tell you that I feel free in a wide open field with her, where her experiences are her own and her voice is her own, and my voice also can be my own. I don’t recommend that you pick up this book hoping for someone to think what you think. I do recommend that you pick it up to (a) enjoy the rare beauty of a truly independent mind and/or (b) be challenged by a radical viewpoint to sharpen and refine your own.

Hope Edelman: The Possibility of Everything — Ho-hum compared to the one above. But this one is good company for restful reading among the pillows or with a cup of tea. It is a memoir, written by someone both spiritual and smart. A little Anne-Lammott-ish but less Christian. Lefty, secular middle-class moms will identify with it the most. I sometimes find her a bit spoiled, but that’s probably because I’ve been hanging out with post-fundamentalists like…

Elizabeth Esther: Girl at the End of the World — I actually know Elizabeth Esther. Which is giving me a proximal fame rush right now, because her book is doing really well. Now this is interesting: this book is working on a couple of levels. On the one hand it has a crucial function as a whistleblowing account of an abusive fundamentalist cult. (And that is crucial. There are religious organizations very much like this abusing people and children right now. No blinders. No excuses.) You might think that first function would make the story hard reading, and that is sort of true. I have some images in my head I’d like to shake. But also this book is sordid true-life darkness. And you know what sordid true-life darkness does? It sells memoirs! I guess this will be a little perk for us as we fight our way out of the darkness of Christian patriarchy: we all get to read shocking books about ALL THE CRAZY. So there you go. Good for you, Elizabeth.

WHAT I’M INTO – BLOGS

Ben Moberg. I have been reading Ben for a long time, way back since he was Registered Runaway: anonymous, Christian and gay. But now he uses his real name. Don’t bother looking to Ben for animosity or cynicism in this fight, y’all. He is really, really into the grace-filled gospel. And we are really into him, (his readers, I mean), but we are also really into his adorable supportive mom. On World Vision: When Evangelicals Turn Against Children to Spite Me

D.L. Mayfield. I’ve been reading D.L. for a long time, too. I so frequently use the term upside-down kingdom, which is right out of her blog tag line, that I don’t even think to credit her for it anymore. I particularly love this series she’s doing right now. By Alissa BC: Upside-Down Art: Bakerwoman God

Black Girl Dangerous. This is a platform for queer and trans people of color. It’s not such a comfy space for me as the two above, less because of our differences than — truly — because of our similarities. These folks are TRUTH TELLERS. And they wield swords for justice. It is helpful. It is so helpful. Here’s Ngọc Loan Trần with Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable.

What I’m into – deliciousness

Recipe Hive. I know the programmer who made this cool site for foodies! It’s a recipe organizer, recipe sharer, and community. It will even make you a shopping list. Dude. Bourbon-Glazed ShrimpChocolate and Coffee Dusted Lamb Ribs With Stout Glaze? WHAT.

And, finally, in my neighborhood…

Around here there has been a fiery fall-apart, with shrapnel. But apparently my readers didn’t mind. My most popular post of the month was…The Sword and the Chain: When Jesus Comes to Divide.

My personal favorite was a little more mellow… A Love Letter to All the Girls I’ve Ever Been.

My FB writer’s page is here, and, hey, those “likes” keep coming! So thank you for that. Not that it is really a measure of anything, but it is genuinely helpful to me in my quest to get my book published. So thank you. And I’m here on Twitter, as always.

And my oldest has a gap-toothed grin.

We survived. We survived March! The Ides came and went and we’re still here!!! {{Deep breath of gratitude.}}

Now, what are you into? Click the button to join Leigh Kramer’s link-up and/or to read the rest of the entries.

Church in the Canyon (I’m up at SheLoves Magazine!)

I’m over at SheLoves Magazine today, telling a story about one day at church several months ago. I have a vulnerability hangover already, from telling this story, although not nearly as much of one as I had after that one day in church several months ago. It starts like this. 

It was months ago now, that I first drove up the steep and winding driveway to the church on the edge of the mesa. I fought with myself the whole way up. I said, “Girl, what are you thinking? You’ve got a bumper sticker that says, “Homophobia kills.They’ve got a little trailer in the Idaho mountains and the turn is marked by a painting of the rapture. This is nuts.”

But I went anyway. I walked right in, with only Abraham for my letter of introduction. I walked right in with my baby on my hip, and my baseball cap that says “New York,” and dirty feet.

Blue girl in a red church.

Ask and ye shall receive. Believe it, if you don’t already. I wanted so much to be the prodigal. I wanted to be welcomed home, even to the red churches I left years ago with my screaming music and my shaved head and all my anger.

Not a week later I’m eating peach cobbler in somebody’s kitchen, and my kids have new friends, and first things first, somebody offered us use of their shower and they wanted to know what we have to cook on and if we need a trailer to stay in when the snow comes.

I dug right in. I had a little personal revival. I was singing hymns right there in my yurt while I rolled out the egg noodles…

The rest is here. Come on over.

For I Know the Taste of Charity (Spirit of the Poor)

My eating disorder took hold in the days when we were going to the food bank. There was one particularly difficult summer, just before the publication of the 8th edition of my mother’s book, through which she would will herself into a comeback. We were living in someone’s basement, near Seattle. Her name was Alice. She didn’t treat Carla’s children with any particular care, and I don’t know why she would have. But I remember one day that my mother called a paramedic, and Alice was maybe afraid that our mom was actually dying and she was going to be left with these teenagers on her hands. She wanted to know what our plan was. I told her to get out of my face I could take care of myself.

I was fourteen. My brother had just dropped out of high school. He was depressive and angry. It was my job to get him out of bed. For me — his little sister — usually, he would get out of bed. I had started my period, but it had stopped again. We were hungry. Jacob hated the food bank. Of course I hated it, too. But I put on my torn overalls and my thrift store combat boots — my way of making poverty look like a choice – and I went with my mother to stand in that line, to bring home food that I and my brother could eat. Fruit cocktail. Soup. Boxed dinner and pasta in plastic sleeves. And always a whole long table covered in day old pastries.

The taste of charity.

The pastries were more plentiful than anything else. At the food bank they couldn’t provide us with much in the way of meat or vegetables. Although I believe they really tried. But we could have plenty of stale donuts.

I ate the entire box. And I taught myself to throw them up.

//

I’ve been the recipient of lots of charity, before and since then. Sometimes, although rarely, I offer it to someone else. When we lived in Boston, our upstairs neighbor struggled to make it: gas and groceries. One day I offered help. She cried. And I cried, too.

For I know the taste of charity.

I know the exchanges that are made to look like they are not exchanges. I know the power surge that is felt by the giver, the way in which being “the one who can give” is profoundly satisfying. And I know what it costs the recipient, too. The price of self-respect. The price of your full humanity.

I know how we make a hobby of giving. A hobby of philanthropy. A habit and hobby of having things so they can give them to people who need them. And I know how our culture and church culture says that you’re supposed to do this. You’re supposed to give. It must be a good thing, because look how it makes you feel good. Look how it offsets the guilt and the anxiety.

But I challenge it.

We give stuff in much greater quantity than we give respect. And what are we affirming then? What are we worshiping? The humanity of those in need? Or the capacities of the giver?

I have tried to reframe this. Again and again. I believe in community in which we share our bread. In which we lean hard. In which we share. But this world reframes it right back at me. Because how can I call what I do sharing? What do I have to give in return? The bitter taste of a sword? The feel of the wind in your ears? A scrawny chicken?

I don’t have much to give, by the standards of the world. Except perhaps the taste of freedom, and who really wants that? I have struggled to make community. To make relationship. And again and again I have found the taste of charity.

//

I beg you, do, please, give. Give, and teach me to give, and teach me to give more generously. But also receive.

And question what you worship. The image of God in whom? In yourself? In your capacity to give, which is your wealth? Or in those to whom you give? Can you see them, not as “the least of these” but as the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Your teachers?

This is counterculture. This is spiritual healing. This is a shot at actually changing things. To receive — especially story and truth and wisdom, especially the very spirit of God — from the tongues of the poor. To receive that which tips the pyramid on its head: to be evangelized by those who are greatest in the kingdom of heaven. To go to Africa, not to teach but to learn, to accept the bread of God from the wise heart of a hungry five-year-old.

As a teenager I rejected my dependency. Pastries that are too old and too sweet. Things I didn’t ask for.

But in this season it is my journey and my call to face it head on. I come around again and around again, back to this place of disruption in my own soul. And what can I say? That will help? What can I say that isn’t going to be understood as ingratitude? Or a bad teenager who never learned to stay quietly in her place…who made herself throw up the gifts of day old pastries?

I will say this. I have been the dehumanized poor. And I know what it feels like, to have nothing to give. And I know what it feels like, too, to have everything. To have my love for a river rock washed smooth and the call of the loon and a little nest with three blue eggs. I know what it is, to make a value shift, from the material to the spiritual.

I know about finding life, on the other side of poverty.

And I stumble on. Making my circle, round and round. There is still a rip in me, where I have tasted charity, and I felt it as an act of violence against my humanity. There is still an open place in the fabric there. May it be the disruption that leads me into the upside-down kingdom. May it be the wrinkle that diverts me away from the values of materialism, security and numbness. May it lead me into Life.

Teach me this, Lord: to pour myself out completely. Teach me to pour out my gifts and to know the holy emptiness. To trust you as the lilies of the field trust you. Teach me to question what I worship when I give. And to worship you in spirit and in truth. And let me know the taste of you, in the bitter and the sweet. In humility and grace. 

I am linked up today with #spiritofthepoor. Go see the rest of the posts here! And link up your own! Also…I have mentioned this before, but as a reminder: if there is somebody who wants to contribute something to the link-up that is too long for a comment but doesn’t have a blog of their own, email it to me and I’ll post it! The link-up is open for a week. Thanks for reading and joining the conversation.