Long, Slow Road to an Open Heart

Has anybody noticed anything missing from my blog lately?

No, don’t search the sidebar. I mean, in my words.

It’s God.


I stopped writing about God.

I decided, with the New Year, to stop writing in this space about my Christian faith. I decided to do that sort of thing in other places, and in this place to just be secular. You know, secular. Like my ebook, Unleash Your Wild. Right?

Don’t you think I look good secular? It’s sort of appealing. It’s like an old, familiar look. I’ve been trying it on like a dress from the back of my closet.

Can you blame me?

I am so done with living in this stupid canyon, seeking to tie the bits of string together. I’m so done with trying to justify why I call myself a Christian when I am consistently resistant and challenging and rebellious. I’m so done with defending the way I speak for change and justice and authenticity and the way I tear down walls.

I’m done with getting funny looks and feeling like Jeremiah and drawing fire. 

I got all overexcited one day when I thought it was working. I thought I was home and it was real, and belonging had finally come for me. But then I lost the thread. (Various things. Unbloggable things. Personal things.) I took the note from some voice — which voice was it, anyway? — and I pulled back. I decided that part of going “pro” for me was going to be breaking this habit of writing all the time about Jesus.


My brother, whom I adore, who happens to be a Marxist and a literature professor, calls it the “J” word. He likes my writing, of course, I mean, why wouldn’t he? But like many intelligent and highly educated people, he’s just not that into the “J” word.

Well, fine. Maybe I’m not either.

And then there’s this book manuscript. I’m trying to get people to read my story, and although it is a BIG GOD story, what it isn’t is a CHRISTIAN BOOKSTORE story. I am not capital-C Christian enough for the Christians, and I am way too Jesus-y for everybody else.

So, here I am, again.

Can you see me?

Stretched across this gap, between Christian culture, which is, like, so not me,  and the gospel, which is everything I am, and everything I long to be.

It happened again, like it sometimes does. I was trying to navigate this canyon, and I fell in. 

I think this is a long way of telling you that this choice, to not write about Jesus here on my blog…was maybe not the right choice.

I keep crawling my way along this road. This long slow road through the canyon.

That image first came to me the night before I was baptized, when I had a dream that the youth group of a big red-state evangelical megachurch showed up to beat up the youth group at my radical social-justice-loving city church. A girl who had two moms was hiding in the bathtub.

I wrote my pastor a letter after that, saying that now that I was baptized, I didn’t feel like I could stay on my side of the battle anymore. I figured that if you were going to get the lion and the kid to lie down together you have to tell them each different things. And I figured if we were going to live this gospel thing, for real, we were going to have to step out, carrying our white flags, into the open ground between the camps.

That was four years ago.

For four years this is the pattern I have lived. Step out. And fall. And let somebody pick me up again. Step out and fall. And let somebody pick me up again.

It feels so lonely… all the sin in this world, and the disappointment. YOU know. But every time I fall, somebody picks me up. I swear. Always. It works. I went for a year without the Internet and proved that there were real people, in real life, who would hold me up. And now I live in the woods and blog a lot and my spiritual life is mostly based in pixels. It’s ironic maybe, or maybe just the truth of it, but these days usually the people who pick me up are people I’ve never met.

Whatever. It works. Ask, and you shall receive. In spades. An arm on either side, and the road keeps coming up beneath you, even when you can’t see it for the dark.

I guess this is a long way of telling you that I’m going to write about faith again, even though it sucks and  some of you don’t like it. So, I guess…Brace yourselves?

This is my road to walk. And I can’t find the ground beneath my feet unless I walk it. Long, slow road to an open heart.

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  1. Diane Lauber says:

    Can’t wait babe. Bring it on.

  2. wnhen@aol.com says:

    Esther, I am embarrased to say I hadn’t noticed. I’m not sure what that says about you or about me. But I’m glad you are facing the direction you want to face and using your full vocabluary. I don’t imagine it will be any more gentle than before, or less pointed. I really am curious to see what gets unleashed with this decision. Your patterns often mirror my own, so I wonder how those might change as well. We’ll see.

    • wnhen@aol.com says:

      Sorry I started the “didn’t notice” strand. I read everything you write wherever it is and don’t pay attention to what is where.

  3. smoothstones says:

    I hadn’t noticed, but I’m glad you’ve decided to not NOT write about anything b/c I think authenticity is writing all the parts of yourself…or maybe that’s just what I like to believe b/c it’s what I do (note that it’s working for me in the smallest of non-professional, me ways). I want to say to you that I am often lonely b/c I feel like I’m in the middle of everyone else, like I don’t fit in w/ Christians or non or anyone on any political line. But Jesus is here and I think you are, too, Esther. Have you cell phone service in the yurt?

    • Esther Emery says:

      I have no cell phone service. And no cell phone. It’s ironic since I went for a year without the Internet, that the internet is how I meet most of my people these days. i feel connected to you this way.

  4. Kristina says:

    I hadn’t noticed either. But it’s ok, it’s your blog and you should write about what ever you want. FWIW, my favorite posts are about your homesteading life and how you are (and aren’t) making it work. The other stuff, well, it’s not my thing, but I certainly appreciate your struggles to mix feminism with faith.

    • Esther Emery says:

      I think you’re representative of a number of readers of this blog. Someday when I rule the Internet, I’ll do a separate subscription and feed just for homesteading posts.

  5. rachel lee says:

    you’re an inspiration to me. you write the things I feel with such grace and such…candor. you know, that book of Esther in the Bible doesn’t mention God’s name once, but He is there through the threads. and that’s what I see with you, because I completely understand: all that justifying is exhausting.

    love you so much, dear one. you’re so brave and so wild.

  6. Shana Norris says:

    As a person with very conflicted feelings about faith and most certainly about religion, I enjoyed reading this.

  7. eygamal says:

    Dear Esther. I did notice. And wonder, but I do understand that you are finding your place and voice.

    The first time I heard about your mother was on Sharon Astyk’s blog around five or six years ago. I have since listened to this http://www.onbeing.org/program/poetry-creatures/117 and this http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.htmlamong many, many other things. And cried. And still keep eating too much processed food and spending too many hours online. No, not talking about waistline, talking about carbon footprint.

    I live in Copenhagen. I go to a city church, the “loose” kind that wants its doors to be open and its style to be modern. The thing is, while there is some reaching out and social activism, there is no talk of environment. No talk of climate change or sustainability. Nothing really on our truly materialistic mindset. Not that people are cold or indifferent, I just think it’s obliviousness. There is no connecting the dots on this matter and it makes me feel paranoid to keep worrying about it. Can you write about this? For people that live in city apartments too?

    Sorry I haven’t commented before, but I really like tagging along on your wild writing adventure (and I shouldn’t be telling you what to write about.) But just thanks for having the courage to live like you do and write like you do.

  8. pastordt says:

    Love it, love it. I’ll read whatever you put here, Esther, but I’ll be very glad to find Jesus-y again.

  9. When I see you next month, I’m going to give you a hug for this post. I feel the wrestling within me of a story for all, but not marketable to all. I like learning how to have courage with you; we’re in this together.

    • Esther Emery says:

      It’s so key to call out that word “marketable…” Some days I really do think money is the root of all evil. If I didn’t have to worry about selling my words, I wouldn’t twist and turn them so,

  10. Jamie says:

    You don’t ever have to fit inside a mold. Not even the one you selected and lovingly hand-crafted for a good purpose. There is plenty of grace for a third “on the other hand…” You can write whatever you want, because it is your heart we truly love and all the words that flow out from it. And not even just the ones we want to hear. ALL of them. I have been challenged and encouraged by your writing. You may not always speak the “J” word but the same love is evident in your posts.

    • Esther Emery says:

      Thanks, Jamie. I think that is the meat of this post, actually. That artificial restrictions and “I won’t talk about such-and-such” is not the way of the long, true road.

  11. Susan Schiller says:

    I didn’t notice, actually, Esther. Whether you use one of the names people give him or not, I feel God’s breath in your words. What is “secular” anyway and what is “sacred”? Isn’t all of life sacred. As a historical figure, God entered humanity and was given a man’s name. But before that, and since then, what name has he? I’ve often wondered, because the J-name is one that doesn’t sound quite right on my lips anymore. It’s been sullied, belittled, and shrunk to a man-sized image. I know I’ll be given a new name one day… and maybe he’s gotten his new one, too. I know when that Name is sung out, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord from the highest heavens to the lowest, deepest hell. I wouldn’t worry… we can all feel His presence in your love poured out here, Esther.

  12. Kate Schell says:

    Truth looks good in religious language or not. Write what you need to, and we’ll be here to listen.

  13. Rachael says:

    Do what you need. Jesus seeps from you.

  14. Bryn says:

    My god, woman. (You write so well. Gripping. Honest.) My god woman. (You serve as god-woman in my life, one connection to the holy, one who is sucking out the juices I guzzled until I choked.) If you are back to using the J-word to pull yourself thru the canyon, perhaps you use it for people like me who laid it down and have chosen to engage the wholeness of life without waving a flag so soiled by religion. Blaze on, fellow canyon-walker. I’ve had to learn how to see through the flag waving, to listen to the words beyond the words in order to keep in touch with others who, like me, are walking the trail and whose life experiences have equipped with terms, and phrases that carry a whip’s edge to them. I like listening to dragons, but what comes out of their mouths can sometimes scorch me. It’s the price of living, of listening. I say by god, woman, blaze on.

    • Esther Emery says:

      You’re quite the writer yourself, Bryn. I am inspired and encouraged when I hear of those who have felt the whip’s edge of religion and yet still walk the authentic path and grow into their own soft hearts. It is a source of hope. And true religion.

  15. thelifeartist says:

    esther, i don’t want to discourage you from using the name of jesus if you are feeling the tug (you probably already know how much those five letters – and the person behind them – mean to me), but i do want to encourage you to ask the question of: “where do i begin and where do i end?” because it might be that your particular readership/sphere of influence/audience comes to you for the very way you nuance truth. your truth does not come packaged in christian language and doesn’t always spell j.e.s.u.s. or h.o.l.y. s.p.i.r.i.t, but they are SO present nonetheless. all truth is God’s truth, no matter what words you use. and the reason i didn’t sense any absence of God in your posts is because he and she WEREN’T absent. i think you carry a gift for seamless, non-dualistic spirituality. in other words: you are very naturally supernatural. what a gift. keep being just YOU. <3

    • Esther Emery says:

      This is encouraging. And challenging. I have a hunch I will be more effortlessly universalist in my spirituality (if you want to call it that) — I mean, I will struggle less — when my own Jesus-church wounds are a little better healed. Or I’ve gone a few steps further on the that path anyway. Can I just say I am so honored to have your encouragement and friendship? I mean, wow. This is a good day. And a good work of Jesus/God/holy spirit/Love.

  16. Guest says:


  17. Beth says:

    I love your words and you no matter what you write (or don’t write) about.

  18. Gayl Wright says:

    Esther, I love how you write. You are always so honest even with your struggles. I think many people can identify with you because you do speak truth. I think sometimes we all feel alone and get tired of the struggle, but as you said, there is always someone there to pick us up every time we fall. I could say more, but I’ll let what Jamie said go for me, too. :)

  19. sher says:

    “I am not capital-C Christian enough for the Christians, and I am way too Jesus-y for everybody else.” WOW!!!!! Are you ever the woman in my mirror. Loved your words today. So glad someone led the way to receive them. It is lonely isn’t it? Christians look at me and tilt their heads. Really. I wonder … isn’t God REAL to them? Isn’t Jesus transfigured but living in their living room? Doesn’t he send them flowers? I hear static when I’m around them. Do they hear that static? When it’s just me and HIM, I hear amazing things. But not static. When you’re walking in the gloom and doom laid out for you by the righteous reich and the holy hypos, yes the path is soooo dark. But sometimes, just sometimes, instead of the road actually coming up to meet you … I bet you float. God pour out a blessing on you today that rolls off and onto those who hear and read your precious words, in Jesus name I pray. Amen.

  20. Anne-Marie says:

    Oh Esther, this is so raw and beautiful and funny and you wink at yourself while being right out there in the open. Amazing. Many of us are in the canyon with you, and sometimes even being there draws potshots. I made myself very unpopular in a big University poetry program by refusing to take pot shots at red-state conservative Christians because, well, they are supposed to be my sisters and brothers and it’s oh-so-easy as a Seattle liberal believer to want to fit in by crucifying those I can’t relate to who also wear this badge – oh goodness yes. I wear that badge with you too – the reluctant who can’t help but admit to being a Christian. Seems a bit Jesusy to walk this canyon path. :) Blessings and thank you for trusting Sheloves with your raw and hopeful words.

  21. Bunny says:

    I adore you. I adore your writing. I adore talking to you. I adore your viewpoints and your respect for others.

    What you write about is what you write about. And eventually I get around to reading it, and it always strikes me.

    The end.

  22. oddznns says:

    You are brave and strong for trying. I haven’t ever once mentioned the J word in my blog yet. Lots of spirit, lots of love … but the J word… oh no!

  23. oddznns says:

    I’ll be teetering along in your footsteps. There are of course a lot more constraints about having to maintain religious harmony where I live, so it’s really really skirting the canyons.

  24. Yekai says:

    Hi Esther.
    Thanks for writing this blog post. I’ve stopped listening to Christian songs that say the word God or Jesus. Because I feel they’re never authentic enough; they answer the tough questions too quickly with a single word. They make faith out to be a statement, not a daily, living, breathing reality.
    And I know they’re true, that Jesus is the answer to everything. But what about everything else in between: my sin and rebellion, learning to hear my heart, learning to discern and relate with other people, trying to understand the two different cultures in which I’ve grown up in, Christian culture,…basically, all the mess that comes with living out the Christian faith.

    Not too sure what the solution is. Sometimes I think I’m ashamed of Christ because He’s too forgiving. This grace business is too scandalous. But I suppose, if not Jesus, then where do I go?

    • Esther says:

      Hi, Yekai. I don’t think you have to be sure what the solution is. Sometimes the journey is coming around and you don’t have to know exactly how. I think this is the key difference, actually, between the inauthentic, easy faith we reject and the “daily, living, breathing reality” you’re looking for. It’s that we rest without answers, accept what we don’t know, appreciate the mystery. All that beautiful mess. But a whole life is made up of that beautiful mess. It’s worth it, I think, to live those questions.


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    Long, Slow Road to an Open Heart

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