The Borders of God’s Country


I heard on the radio this morning that our president is doing something “illegal.” Also, I read a post just now…but I won’t link to it. I don’t want to give the devil legs.

Suffice it to say, I see people of faith across the United States of America claiming today that God’s law would secure our borders. I see people of faith claiming that these borders, these concrete walls in sand, are expressions of God’s will for humanity.

I disagree.

I am a person of faith. I am a Jesus follower. I do not support the conflation of US laws with God’s laws. I do not support the mixing and crossing of the identity of a North American country with “God’s country.” I do not support the notion that Jesus himself would deport the brown-skinned people, or call it good that they should live in daily fear of being chased back to their origin countries.

I take this moment to invite people of faith to seek out the true borders of God’s country. 

Where are the laws that are drawn in rock and not in sand?

Are we charged by our God to defend our wealth and our privilege? Or to give it up? And as we consider criminality, and wrongness…as we seek out injustice, where do we find it? Is it in the family that crosses the border for work, or in the hearts of Americans who reject and despise them, and form legal restrictions by which to justify our spite?

Our president is granting two years of freedom from deportation to a certain group of people living and working inside the borders of the United States of America. This is something. It isn’t nothing. But it isn’t such a thing as it is made to be, either. It certainly isn’t a transformation of the system, by any means. His action is dangerous for quite another reason.

The shock we hear today, from our president’s dramatic executive action, which his political opponents describe as “overstepping his authority,” is simply the sound of everyone realizing that these laws are made up in the first place.

Uh oh. 

I mean, if you can just go around changing these laws…? If you can just go around granting freedom from deportation…? Then how do we justify the whole darn thing? How do you justify claiming that this group of people are “criminal” or somehow else “less than” if the rules they break are so easily changed? The borders so easily shifted?

You have to ask yourself, do these rules really exist at all? Or did we just make them up?  

Did we just make up these laws by which human beings are controlled and “othered” by the fear of deportation? Is it simply the capricious will of those who have the power to locate others on the wrong side of the law?

President Obama spoke last night of our immigration system as “broken.” I think we’ll hear of this brokenness in political discourse for the next two years, and possibly beyond. I invite people of faith to take this language with a grain of salt, observing that the “brokenness” of our immigration system is advantageous to the maintenance of a system of inequality.

As long as the immigration system is “broken,” we are able to think of the people who have traveled here to work, especially from the Global South, as “criminals” on the run. We are able to terrorize these darker-skinned people, threatening them with random searches, keeping them in constant fear of disciplinary action, and withholding rights to organization and services. And we are able to do all this without actually sending them away, and doing without the crucial services they provide.

It is my cynical expectation that the US immigration system will remain “broken” for some time. It works so well.

But I don’t live in my cynicism. I live in my faith. 

People of faith, we know about brokenness. Don’t we? We know all about this. We know about corporate, or collective, sin. We know about getting it all wrong, and yet having a living God that speaks righteousness into our broken places. We know about turning back to God, over and over again, away from our idols. We know about raising the Kingdom, in which there is an overturning of the earthly hierarchy. We know that it is a constant, daily work, to turn from our mistakes and towards righteousness.

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16

Let us not claim God’s will as a baptism for the existence of our borders in the first place, let alone the particulars of our border enforcement. Let us seek instead for the borders of God’s country, where justice replaces inequality, where the stranger is welcomed, and where the leaders speak faith instead of fear.

Let us open the borders in our own hearts.

The Black Sheep Gospel (at Deeper Story)


Hold the presses. Deeper Story has let the likes of me onto their Church page!


That is actually a joke. There hasn’t been any obstacle to my writing for the Church channel of the three-channeled site over at Deeper Story. I just didn’t write this piece until I wrote it. But it is funny to me that this day on which I write my strong truth, about how it isn’t a mistake that I stand on the fringes, is also the day that I am welcomed into a kind of main stream.

May it always be so. 

Anyway, here’s a teaser.

I know that sometimes people think it’s just an attitude thing about me, that I am such a black sheep Christian. I’m so rebellious; I don’t ever properly submit to leadership; I don’t ever give in to pressure to conform. In so many ways I even fail to claim full membership.

And yet, I won’t leave either. It’s like I’m standing in the door.

I know that sometimes people think it’s just my darkness that keeps me on the outskirts. Sometimes even the very best, most loving people think that I’ll grow up into the ability to walk forward into the midst of the circle, that I’ll eventually mature into letting that door fall shut behind me, and then I’ll have my chance to feel all bright and warm and beautiful in the light of the altar.

But that isn’t the way it is for me. For me, the closest to Christ Jesus I can ever get is when I am cutting all the locks on all the doors.

The closest to truth I ever get is the black sheep gospel, which says, “unto you a child is born, and I mean you. You with your outsider’s complex, you with your snark, you with your countercultural calling and your revolution and your heart on your sleeve. You’re in if you want to be in. That’s all it takes.”

Come on over. The rest is here.

The Bitter Chill of Winter (Church in the Woods)

new moonYour blood could freeze in cold like this. But hush. Death is close enough, in winter in the woods, without calling it down on all our heads. We’re fighting the good fight. I’m mainlining Rescue Remedy and administering steam treatments to everyone but the dog. Also I am hearing this, what the fierce cold preaches to me at the dawn of winter…and it isn’t a welcome message.

Go inside.

Oh…! But I’m not ready!

Go inside.

I don’t want to. I have so many things to do… I’m not done.

Go inside.

But…{sigh} There’s nothing for it. Shut the door, sit down…and so the winter begins.

This is the preaching of the cold. This is the spiritual arc of ice and wind. Let us journey inward; into small and close, quiet and fierce…discipline and magic.

Go inside.

Inside the house, inside the heart. To a single candle, a single cup of tea. Let your blood slow, like sap, like patience, like the King of Time.

Oh, but I can’t! I can’t yet. Not so early. I haven’t begun the Advent calendar, haven’t gotten organized, haven’t managed my Christmas list. It’s much too early to slow down, to enter into rest. I don’t have it all done!

And yet, the cold is now. Go inside.

I worry. Will there be enough? (Starting so early!) Will there be enough stores of heat and fire and food, not to mention self-love and ritual and ceremony? Can I possibly have enough reserves to make it through these months…in close company with the inside of my self?

But this is the winter church. Patience. Silence. Rest. Obedience. And faith to trust that the light will be birthed again.

The light will, yes, be birthed again. And from within.

Where there is discipline, there are miracles. And whatever is here, even in my small house and my small heart, it will be worthy of a blessing. It will.

It is enough. Even this much is enough.

Deep breath. Close eyes. Sink down, and trust. And go inside. Light a single candle…and bless the small, the fierce, the magic and the night.

The winter is come, though early, and the dark is dark.

What Faith Really Has To Do With Art

snowy treesIt is approximately a biannual occurrence for me that I quit blogging. Usually I announce this to my best friends, those tall trees that always encircle me…sometimes in a very loud voice.


You guys, when getting to a wifi signal requires sliding down a very steep and snowy hill…? SERIOUSLY. And no, we do not have these new-fangled concrete barrier things like they have on the highway. Not here. What we have here is a canyon. One side up. The other side down. Blogging is the first thing to go. Any sane person would agree.

Yet, here I am.

Why? Sanity not being of my strong points, agreed…still, why?

God knows, I’ve asked. As most of you know I lost my thread a bit this summer. I lost my voice, because I lost the center from which my voice emanates. It is very unclear, in my journey, which thing it is that throws me off my game. Too much attention, or too little? Answer: both and neither. It is any scenario in which I write for the response instead for the impulse. It is any scenario in which I get my threads crossed, and try to make the energy flow the other way.

Someone said of me recently, it’s too bad she’s so angry, because otherwise her writing is really beautiful. I’m not going to tell you that hearing things like that doesn’t make me feel something. I’m not going to tell you that hearing that doesn’t make me startle, and feel scared, just like the icy edge of the canyon flashing in my peripheral vision on the right side of the car.

I feel like maybe I’m risking everything. And how is that worth it?


All my life as a storyteller and an artist (and I ran off to join the (theater) circus when I was just 18 years old, you guys, so this really is my whole life) there has been only one thing that makes the ones that work. It is always the same one thing, and I can’t control it. It’s simply a matter of which ones are true. I don’t control what is true. I can open the door to truth, or I can close it, but I can’t control what ice or fire comes through.

This is life. The beauty and the anger. The joy and the suffering. The rightness and the wrongness. The love and the truth. This is the canyon, one side up and the other side down.

All I want is to live this life alive.

I can’t split them apart. I want so much for everyone who reads here to feel beauty. I want you all to smell and drink beauty. I want you to swim in beauty. But it doesn’t come without the other stuff, too. To feel our sisterhood with the trees is to weep for their destruction. To feel our sisterhood among the nations is to weep for centuries of brutality, acts of selfishness, lives destroyed for others’ gain. It is all the same ugly/beautiful world.

I can open the door to truth, or I can close it, but I can’t control what wild voice pours through.

And, no, I’m not quitting. There are moments, when a voice like mine is heard. There are moments of shared electricity, moments of deep faith, moments of nourishment. Always, even when it seems dry or quiet, or desert…always, there are moments.

I have tried and tried to squish myself into all the boxes. I have tried to be more appealing, and prettier. It only makes us all a little poorer.

I’m too old.

I will give what gifts I have to give. I will speak with the voice that I am given. I will lean into this faith, which is this art, which is the best that I can do…such as it is. This is what is asked of us, walking through these lives, with our consciousness, with our intelligence. To make this art. To make this faith.


This is what is asked of us: To open our hearts like doors, awake the tastebuds underneath our tongues, to feel this world. To feel how fragile, how impermanent, how stunningly beautiful, how cruel.

May it wake our hearts to one another,
may it wake our hearts to courage,
may it wake our hearts.  

Another Newsy Letter From the Yurt (Second Fall)

Milo on the swing

Dear Yurt Friends,

We’re eighteen months in. Can you believe it? It was eighteen months ago that I stayed up all night and joined LinkedIn at 3 o’clock in the morning out of nervousness because the next day I was moving…off the grid.

Our first year was such an adventure. It was right about at the one year mark that I most felt like giving up. I’m a conqueror, you know? I wasn’t made the patient type. Or the staying-put type. But I managed to stick it all the same.

We’re into deep fall now. BAM. One day the hill is burst in flames, all colored foliage; the next, bare branches. All it takes is one hard freeze. Our water lines froze two days ago, which means we are just entering the second season of carrying water. I need to learn some prayers for carrying water. We’ve had hot water in the sink and the shower for months, and that’s really hard to give up. Also, it’s harder to face the second winter, just because it isn’t the grand adventure of beginning anymore. It’s a whole lot more like, this is my life. 

There is a great thing, though, too, about the second fall. We don’t worry that we won’t make it. We will. We don’t worry that we can’t do it. We can. And that frees up a bit of energy and attention for other things. Like planning. 

As you may have noticed, we made the classic rookie mistake in our first year of doing too much too fast. It was fun that way; I’m not sure I could honestly advise others to be more restrained. But it sure broke my heart when we lost our ducks. And I do think that wouldn’t have happened (at least it wouldn’t have happened in the same way) if we had been slower and more careful about acquiring animals in the first place. That’s why we’re taking this entire winter and early spring to prepare for the goats.

Our new goats will come from a neighbor. We’ll know the mama goat right though her pregnancy, then take them as newborns (usually there are two) and bottle feed them. It’s only for a few weeks — goats grow more rapidly than human babies — but it will be for a bit very much like being a new mama again. Honestly, I very much like the idea of having a gangly baby with hooves and would-be horns. I think it will suit me well.

And we’ll have the whole winter to draw up a goat house and paddock, which will go right where the woodshed is now, right across from the yurt.

Our own babies are growing pretty fast, too. Sadie will be the only one at home now for a few years, which means she is ferociously spoiled, both for my weakness and for my convenience. As his beloved hillside grows colder, Milo is shifting into reading more, and wearing out markers drawing his constant, eternally evolving personal comic strip. Stella is a blossoming reader herself, although nothing has yet shaken her love of making things. She reads only long enough to have an idea to make something of her own. (Just like her father.)

Nick has milled all but the last few logs from the 23 trees that came down a year ago March. We have stacks and stacks of drying lumber and beams in the site for the cabin. But limited capital to move that project forward. We carry constant stress because we are our own bosses in everything. We have to decide how much time to put into each thing. We have divided Nick’s many, many responsibilities into three sections, just so we can keep those three sections balanced: (1) maintaining the homestead (current quality of life), (2) building the next phase (working into a future of stability and sustainability), and (3) earning just enough money to balance out the first two, which usually involves going somewhere.

We are living pretty lean.

But that’s where my gifts come in. I am good at living pretty lean. And it suits me.

In the category of sustainability, we are attacking batteries and cord wood. By our third winter we plan to have enough of a solar pack to power a computer and a winter reading/homework light. And Nick will learn enough of ceramics (a new building material for him!) to build us a rocket stove with which we can heat our small space with much more efficiency and less pollution. We also continue to work our way into food producing, in increments. A few trees at a time, one garden bed at a time, one newly learned skill at a time.

I’m still writing, of course (as you know.) But also I really like making videos. Perhaps this is obvious to some, but it reminds me of directing plays, and I loved directing plays! We’re going to get just a few more useful-skill-type videos in our set, including what we’ve learned about cooking without electricity (which is a lot) as well as tips for building a yurt, and living in one, too. But once we have a good packet of content we’ll start promoting those videos to permaculture and off-grid sites. I’m looking forward to finding new relationships and community relationships that way.

See…there’s no keeping me from wandering. Even if I do plant my feet in this mountain soil, I can’t resist composing some kind of new adventure. Here’s to the voyage…!!!

Anyway. Thanks for hanging out with us these eighteen months, friends. And if you’re new around here, thanks for stopping by. We have relied heavily on the emotional support and encouragement we’ve received through these channels. (Not to mention some material support.) We see you. You are appreciated. You are a real, tangible force helping us hold the line in our own lives — helping us to hold mental freedom and integrity against the press of competition and scarcity.

Thank you so much.Nick and Esther

With Love,
Esther and family

Since the Homestead Diary fell off, I am doing these letters about once a quarter. Here’s the one from the summer. X

King of the Wild (In Which the Church In The Woods Continues!)

tree in fall

My daughter asked me, “How does God tell the trees what to do?” Her question gave me the shivers.

“God puts it right in them,” I said. “The trees are made with the code right in them. So nobody ever has to tell them what to do.”

She tilted her head to the side, still holding her paintbrush. Scattered on the table in front of her were several pages of wild, sloppy watercolor trees in blue and pink.

“I think I’d like to be a tree,” she said. I nodded. I might have laughed, except I myself have always wished that I could be a dragon. I’m pretty sure for exactly the same reason.

It would be good, wouldn’t it, to be strong and useful? It would be good to fly, or soar, or reach up to the clouds. It would be good to root fearlessly into one place, believing that all in the world you need will come to you.

What else is faith?

When the tall tree takes the pulpit, she speaks of patience. Silence. Waiting.

She speaks of hospitality (and codependency!) how she waits for the little animals to shake down her cones, how she feeds them, how the fat-cheeked chipmunks carry away her seeds. She knows how it feels to be strong and useful.

She does not mention that she has been made too tall. Or too wide. She does not mention that her skin is too rough, or her hands too bent and curled by the wind. She does not hide.

She is tall and short. She is spiky and smooth. She is bent and she is supple. She is what she is. She makes no apologies.

When the tall tree takes the pulpit, she speaks of a God who has made her to be what she is made. She bows her tall head ever so slightly to a King who has entrusted her to be the holder of her own code. She remembers Eden.

My daughter paints pictures of her all day long.

Too Much Peacemaking? (At SheLoves Magazine)


My editor at SheLoves Magazine said, “You can write whatever you have on your heart.” I calculated. I questioned. I wrote from the heart. This is what happened.

We have set our stock in peace, haven’t we, women of Christ? We have lifted this up, what we know of peace. It is gentleness and compromise. It is meekness and humility. It is the ever-lauded ability to be nice, and to give grace to those who wound.

But sisters, this is what I need to say. When we hold these values high, we contribute to a culture that cannot tolerate anger. We build a town square that cannot receive the righteous complaint. We justify dehumanization of those who are hurt and dare to tell about it. We justify the invisibility of those who cry out in anguish and are not heard.

The rest is here. Come see!

Milo’s Bear Story (VIDEO)

If you aren’t on my Facebook or Twitter, you may not have seen this wonderful video interview with my son Milo. Seriously. I can’t even. Wise and prone to embellishment, like all your favorite authors.

The Church That Doesn’t Close

photo-19Well, here we are. November. See us trying to open our hands to the things November brings. Deep fall and daylight savings. Frost. Election Day.

Here, November brings low smoke hanging over the creek as neighbors burn their slash. And on my hill, one of the moms driving down to meet the school bus with a five point bull elk head strapped to the top of her car.

It was on her own tag, longworked for and appreciated; she’s been watching the elk patterns for a month. We gathered around the severed head and squealed like school girls.

Otherwise, to tell the truth, I’ve been in a bad mood. What November brings for me is the end of my #31days project. A scheduled program change, the shift out of the “Church in the Woods” and back to “normal.”

The magic bubble closes.

I did just the tiniest bit of what you might call self-promotion. At least I woke up my sleepy Facebook page. And I did just the tiniest bit of what you might call “blogging the issues.” (That piece will go up at SheLoves on Thursday, and I have a vulnerability hangover already.)

It wasn’t actually very much, but still it made me ferociously grumpy. It made me feel suddenly insecure and unsupported. I went to bed early, with a headache. The church in the woods had only been closed for two days and already I felt miserable.

I went out this morning to heat up water for my coffee, and the sky was pink. The air was pink. The whole darned glowing world was pink. Of course, this happens in the city, too, as in Richard Greenburg’s critically acclaimed play, “The Violet Hour.” But it can be a bit harder to see in the city. In the city you might miss it entirely, if you didn’t happen to be a genius playwright. But outside, in the woods, any old dummy can see it. If you make your coffee in a room that is all open windows, it doesn’t matter if you have intelligence or spiritual intelligence or spiritual anything. It doesn’t matter. The beauty will come for you.

I thought, what a glorious thing this is. What a triumph. What a piece of fortune. That I have a God who comes for me, comes seeking me, comes to dig me out of my self-centeredness, my fear, my insecurity, my day of grumpiness. I have a God who comes and pulls me right out of the muck, with no power less or greater than refracted light.

That’s when I realized that the church in the woods actually isn’t over. At all. It wasn’t just a chapter, or a phase, or a literary device. It’s actually my church. And what does it mean if I don’t show up (turn back?) and give praise for this, even daily? It means I’m not showing up to church.

This means November may be a bit more interesting than I thought.

What I do next, of course, is what all real three-dimensional people have to do, as stunningly and shockingly impossible as it is. I have to take my dance and weave it in. Even when my dance is not in time, or my song not in the dominant key, still I have to weave it in. I have to put my head down and stay with the music and the movement, but also I have to weave it in.

I have been disappointed in myself — how stumbly I get — in contact with a loud or persistent rhythm that isn’t mine. I’m disappointed how I can take on sounds and symbols that aren’t what I meant, aren’t what I intended. I’m disappointed that I’m not strong enough to hold the line.

But these are the disappointments I feel when I imagine myself singular, in some way the single point of resistance. Which is, of course, ridiculous. As if, even failing to catch hands with revolutionary humans across the globe, I couldn’t step out my door and meet a whole nation of squirrels and bears and pasture mice dancing, too, and dancing wild. As if there isn’t a whole world of wild that breaks like surf against the sands of the consumer/destroyer culture.

I am not alone.

I am in community, right here, and I must be. And to know that well and deeply through I will have to accept my pastoral counseling from the grasses. And yes, I will show up to the wider Church as well, although I do not promise to sit inside the church with walls. Yes, I will try to be in community. Yes, I will speak with my voice, and I will listen. But I will be enough in my church in the woods to keep ink in my pen and warm blood in my heart.

The practical sum of all this is that I’ll do church in the woods posts once a week, as long as I can keep it up. On Tuesdays. And, in the meantime, thanks to all of you who have read, commented, sent personal messages and emails. And thanks to all of you who have loved this dance, and who are fed by this dance, and who will be sustained in your own dance by the church that never closes.

May we hold our hands open to what November brings.

#31 Days of “Church in the Woods”


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


-The Praying Mantis Pastor-

-The Professor of Lichen-

-The Theology of Hunting-


-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-


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

-Another Rest Day (Rilke)-

-Monkey Skull-

-The Runaway-


-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)-



Just in case you’re still hungry,

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