Archives For Love

* This article first appeared on Patheos on November 9, 2016.  

“This isn’t middle school anymore,” one of my ninth grade teachers used to say whenever someone complained about homework, “it’s not a bunch of warm fuzzies.” Neither is forgiveness, and for many of us the holidays can feel more like forgiveness boot camp than walking in a winter wonderland. 

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As our families disappoint once us again, old hurts flare up, and holiday shopping ends in shouting matches, forgiveness can like an assault to our humanity. Could God really ask us to stoop that low, to forgive that person Continue Reading…

Last week I posted about the imaginary critics and how, thanks to them, I found myself shelling out my hard earned cash for a subscription to Eharmony.com. And it was all true, but it was only part of the story. God, as he likes to do, had his hand in the mix too. Thankfully, while I was spiting the world and spending my money to prove the imaginary critics wrong, God wasn’t critiquing my lack of faith or my failure to ask his opinion before I signed-up for online dating again. Instead, he was concocting a new dose of grace.  

 

About a month into my Eharmony subscription I met a man who has turned out to be one of the best things to ever happen to me. A man who, when reading my article on the imaginary critics, pointed out how I failed to mention the end of the story, the part about meeting the love of my life.

 

This is one of the challenges of being a writer. You pick out one aspect of life and hold it under the microscope to get a really good look at it, to try to crack it open and see why exactly you let things like imaginary critics influence you. You can’t always tell the whole story, it would distract from the point you’re trying to make. I told this to my man, Jay-Michael from Colorado, but I’m not sure I convinced him. 

 

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Over this past week, though, it did seemed like I ought to tell you the other half of the story, if only for practical reasons. Since meeting Jay-Michael, the days have unravelled into a wonderful mess of months in which I find that having a love life is rather unproductive. My perfectly manicured schedule, with just enough time to see a day’s worth of patients at the office, finish my eschatology homework, and go for a run, has gotten all hob-jobbled by late night conversations, daydreaming, and spending more time than I like to admit looking at pictures of our last weekend together Continue Reading…

My roommate walked in the door as I finished typing an email. As she asked me a question, my fingers went into autopilot. I clicked a few words, hit send, and started to answer her when it broke onto my consciousness that I’d tacked “Love you, Shannon” onto an email to one of my professors, a man in his fifties who also attends my church.

“Oh crap!” I burst into the middle of my roommate’s sentence, “I just typed ‘Love you’ to Dr. Zhivago.”¹

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While her diaphragm nearly seized up with laugher, I typed a hasty apology explaining how my roommate came in right as I was finishing the email and how my fingers went into autopilot and how I always sign emails to my family that way. I hit send again and, rubbing my face in disbelief, turned around to finish the conversation.

A shocking response

My roommate and I were still standing in the kitchen, my laptop doing penance on the counter, when his response popped onto the screen.

“Oh my word,” I said to her, “listen to this Continue Reading…

“So, you’re here today about your blood pressure,” I said, my words trotting out. The key to a successful morning at a doctor’s office is to keep up the tempo. Fall behind schedule before 9 a.m. and you’ll have a morning full of grumpy patients waiting for you. I dropped onto the swivel chair and opened my laptop.

 

“Blood pressure looks great. How long have you been off the pills?” A couple weeks. She’d waited till after surgery like we’d discussed.

 

“Any new problems?” No, she felt great. Surgery had gone well. No other concerns. 

 

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Photo courtesy of Megan Au via flickr.com (CC BY-ND-NC 2.0)

 

I closed my laptop and slid the stethoscope into my ears. I couldn’t believe my luck, this was going to be the quickest first-appointment-of-the-day ever.

 

“Sounds good. Hope you have a great week!” I stuffed the stethoscope into my pocket and headed for the door.

 

“One more thing…” she said Continue Reading…

This month, two black men were killed by cops, but that’s old news. ISIS also exploded a truck bomb in Bagdadkilling nearly three hundred, snipers in Dallas and Baton Rouge murdered eight cops. Then a truck barreled through the streets of Nice. Another eighty four dead. Why write about a couple of police-encounters-gone-wrong when the world’s got bigger problems? 

 

Over the last several years, questions like that one let me sidestep the news about Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, or Rekia Boyd that fell across my path. I’d squint at the headlines from a distance and, like the Levite in the story of the good samaritan, cross the street and hurry past.

 

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Starting to Care

 

All that changed, though, when my coworker, Sham, showed me a video of cops manhandling black teens at a pool party. Something shifted. I started reading the articles I never saw about Trayvon Martin. I starting asking Sham about her experience as a black woman and mother of black boys. I began to see that the amount of melanin in my skin might have more to do with my experience as an American than I’d realized Continue Reading…

My friend felt guilty. A grad student and barely able to pay rent, he didn’t have enough money to tithe and worried that he was disappointing God. As I listened to the strain in his voice, it struck me that Jesus never taught about tithing.

 

Jesus’ silence on the subject is startling considering that money was one of his favorite topics. His voice fills the gospels with financial advice, stories about bosses, investors, and trust fund babies gone wrong. He admonished a rich businessman, commended a poor widow, and sent Peter to find their tax money in the mouth of a fish.

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In the church’s current fascination with tithing, it seems we’ve lost the breadth of God’s interest in our money. We’ve settled for an Old Testament rule, adding it to our checklist of ways to please God; but, by drawing a line around a part of our income and packing it off to the church, an orphanage in Africa, or the homeless shelter downtown, we’ve restricted the scope God’s interest in our money and, as a result, shrunk our relationship with of him Continue Reading…

When Tameshia Williams, a classmate and fellow foodie, told me about how she encounters God through travel, I loved her perspective–so much so that I asked her to guest post here on Faith the Other Five Senses. 

 

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Some people call travel a luxury, but for me it’s a sacred experience. When I travel, God shows me his beauty–dramatic mountain ranges and oceans vibrant with blue. He also reveals the beauty of his image, refracting off the faces of strangers.

 

I’ve encountered all sorts of people in my last few years of travel: the man who returned my passport wallet when I dropped it in the baggage claim, the guys who shared a bag of pistachios with me on the train, and a group of pre-teen schoolgirls who rescued me from a European bathroom stall with a faulty lock. Yeah…that happened. While some of these adventures left me laughing, others affected me deeply. 

 

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Strangers, or friends waiting to happen

 

A writing festival brought a friend and I, budget-conscious students, to a west Michigan city. We stayed with distant acquaintances to one of our writing professors, Dan and Nancy, who shared their spare bedrooms and meals with us. The more we got to know each other, polite chuckles gave way to bellyaching guffaws. Our small talk snowballed into passionate discussions about race, women in ministry, and art. Now, a year later, we still keep in touch with life updates and prayer requests Continue Reading…

Growing up in church, I wanted the truth of God to burn in my chest, but too often it sat shelved in my brain, collecting dust. In youth group, I learned about this disease. I had a breakdown between my head and my heart. Other people had it, too. In fact, everyone seemed to be talking about it, but while they diagnosed the problem in sermons, Bible studies, and at my Christian college, no one seemed to have a cure. 

 

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You can’t cure a nagging cough without treating the underlying pneumonia, but that’s what many Christians were trying to do. The gulf between our brains and our hearts wasn’t the problem, it was only a symptom of an underlying disease, an infection that started with Modernity. 

 

The real infection was the belief that truth is ultimately a package of facts Continue Reading…

I don’t fit the Christian norm. I’m thirty-four, single, and working on my fourth degree. Not exactly a Proverbs 31 woman. Life took a different route than I’d planned and sometimes, especially in Christian circles, I feel out of place. I’m not the only one, though. I have a gay friend who’s chosen celibacy and two others who’ve opted for heterosexual marriage. Then there’s the single mom, the childless couple, and the guy who’s unemployed. 

 

Most conservative churches have a definition of “normal” that my friends and I can’t live up it up. It can leave us feeling confused and isolated, because most of us didn’t choose our unorthodox demographics, we just found our lives playing out on the single, gay, childless, artistic, or job-wandering stage.

 

Tattoo guy stairsPhoto courtesy of Michael Furtig via unsplash.com

 

So, how do we navigate life in the church when we don’t quite fit in? During the last decade, I discovered four secrets to thriving in the church even when I’m misunderstood Continue Reading…

When I first saw The Tortured Christby Brazilian sculptor Guido Rocha, it didn’t ask my permission, it just went ahead and seared itself into my subconscious. Every couple of months since then, The Tortured Christ pops up, uninvited. All of the sudden he’s there, blood splattering on the carpet of my brain and his screams ricocheting off the walls. It’s rather uncomfortable. 


I’d prefer a visit from the placid Jesus–the one who’s taking his torture like a champ, the Jesus that dangles on the end of necklaces, Jesus-asleep-on-the-cross. But, this Jesus keeps showing up–skin retracting between his ribs, muscles seizing in agony–and, honestly, when he stops by, I don’t start humming worship songs or try to gaze deeply into his eyes. I want to look away.

 

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The truth is, there’s a lot of things I’d rather look away from–not just Rocha’s Christ–11.4 million Syrians who have been displaced from their homes. Four and half million of them eke out an existence on the border of other countries, without heat in the winter or basic health care, relying on UN food coupons to keep them just beyond the grip of starvation.   

 

I’d rather not notice the man who holds a plastic cup at the intersection several blocks from my house. It gets complicated to think about the addictions that might be driving him to the streets, the shattered family he represents, or the burden of what it means for me to get involved Continue Reading…