Archives For Theology

I dug into my brownie Sunday as I asked him to catch me up on the last fourteen years. Jeremiah and I had lost touch after college and only recently reconnected via Facebook. Despite more than a decade of silence, we fell back easily into friendship. We’d both lived overseas, survived faith crises, never married, and felt our lives to be on the verge of something new. Neither of us expected our stories to turn out this way. Our other college friends got married, had kids, and lived in the cities they’d planned on with the jobs they’d hoped for. But not us. God doesn’t have us on the group plan. 

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I know Jeremiah and I aren’t the only ones who can feel like we’ve missed open registration for God’s group plan. Most of us tend to compare our personal slice of adversity to everyone else’s plenty. If the doctor diagnoses us with a chronic disease, every one on Facebook just glows with health. While we scrimp on groceries to pay the rent, everyone around us drops twenties at Olive Garden like it’s no big deal. When another month passes and our hopes for children get dashed all over again, another five couples at church announce their pregnancies Continue Reading…

I almost hate to admit it, but every time I pick up a new book by C. S. Lewis, after the first chapter, I check the cover to make sure Amazon mailed me the right book. By the end of the second, I’m questioning the cultish love that Evangelicals hold for Lewis when his writing style is so vague and drab. By chapter three, I’m hanging on for dear life, just based on the principle of the thing—I mean, I love Narnia after all. Fifty pages more and I’m confessing my disappointment to a friend like it’s some sin. As the pages keep turning, I nearly give up hope. But then it happens: the one line that changes everything.

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I last suffered through this emotional roller coaster while reading, for the first time, Till We Have Faces. As I plodded, then dragged, myself through the book, I began to lose faith in Lewis all over again. But, then, in the final chapter, at the end of the first paragraph, in a single sentence, his genius overwhelmed me again. With a handful of words, Lewis turned a disappointing bedtime read into a life-transforming, leave-me-gasping-and-flipping-back-to-read-it-again book. That one sentence made all the difference. 


Life is like a Lewis book


It strikes me that life often works like a Lewis book. We’re trudging through some page in our story, disappointed. The writing feels dull. The plot seems to be going nowhere. The tragedies break our hearts 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…

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…

Lord, 

We acknowledge that our lives in this country have differed from those of our black brothers and sisters. While we’ve experienced the common pain and grief of life, our skin color has usually exempted us from the cold looks, stinging slurs, and hasty gavels of discrimination.

We have, sometimes without even knowing it, repeated racial stereotypes in our hearts. We have at time, in our churches, failed to acknowledge injustice when it didn’t touch us personally. We have been inconsistent. We’ve prayed against the industry that rips fetuses from pregnant wombs. We’ve prayed against the beheading of Christians in other countries. We’ve prayed for villages ruptured by earthquakes and cities devastated by bombs. But we’ve ignored the injustice grinding down on the people who live in our own neighborhoods and cities. 

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We have failed to see. And failing to see, we’ve failed to care. And failing to care, we have failed to act. But as the list grows, of black civilians killed by individuals who’ve abused their power, we acknowledge that something is wrong. 

Help us face a problem that we would prefer to ignore. Help us to remember that, as your children, you hold us responsible to care for our neighbors. Help us feel in the bowels of our faith your heart for the powerless, your anger at their oppression, and how you sacrificed your own comfort to bring them peace. Help us to face the heat of your justice and our own failure in neglecting it Continue Reading…

Lessons from the book Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior

 

As kids, we believed that we could change the world. We wanted to fly to the moon, write novels, and save people from burning houses, but then we grew up and discovered just how much time living takes. No one told us about the hours involved in keeping the boss happy, the bills paid, and the pile of dirty shirts washed. 

 

Even if we could free up some hours every week to change the world, its problems are overwhelming — sex trafficking, ISIS, the twenty-five million North Koreans cut off from the gospel. We can start to doubt whether our lives will actually make a difference and, when that happens, we need to meet Hannah More.

 

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Since Hannah died in 1833, our best venue for meeting her is Karen Swallow Prior’s book, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, which introduces us to the unlikely woman who helped end the slave trade in Great Britain. Not only that, Hannah fought for female education, lobbied against animal cruelty, and taught a nation to read. 

 

How did Hannah, a single woman without wealth, family status, or access to Parliament leave her mark on the British Isles? She believed in a God who cared about the world and worked through his children to change it. 

 

Hannah’s life reveals five facts about God that we need to grasp if we want to make a difference in our world 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…

Do you ever feel like your life is stuck on mile 20 of a marathon? You just want to crumple on the asphalt and take a nap, but the mountain of Xray reports (or diapers or bills) refuses to budge. So, you push yourself on for another week, only to find yourself still at mile 20 and the finish line nowhere in sight. 

 

Life is busy for everyone I know, and for most of us it’s hard too. In different ways and for different reasons, we find ourselves in the middle of a marathon, physically or emotionally tired, spiritually drained as we sprint past Jesus to meet the next deadline or never-ending-day of mind-numbing sameness. Sometimes, we sense Jesus running alongside, offering us gatorade and telling us to pace ourselves, but we’ve been running for a long time and we’re exhausted. Maybe it’s time for a rest. 

 

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God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. This is one of the first things the Bible teaches us about God, the God in whose image we’re made. But, we don’t have time to rest like God, we’ve got too much to do. This intoxication with busyness, though, wasn’t always the norm for God’s people Continue Reading…

This piece of flash fiction first ran in Warden Magazine, February 2016.


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Drops of rain gather on the sill, like peasants on a feast day, then tumble down the wall. The rivulets remind me of things long ago—the tall Scots pines at the river where Mamm used to scrub our clothes, the maidens’ ribbons at Beltane festival.

 

I watch the trickle find the ground and then trace its way along the wall towards the shadow in the corner. Slowly, a faint aroma, but rich and earthy, mingles with the familiar dank of stone and clay. Perhaps tomorrow, before Eucharist, the clouds will tire of our burgh and allow the sun to illume the greenness of that clump of moss.

 

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A shock of light outlines the window with its overhanging sign. When they asked me what to etch on it, I said “His Alone.”

 

Two years now I have spent behind these walls—these soldiers of my soul. They bind my body to this square of dirt, away from the plague of gluttony, the temptation of the minstrel’s song, and the lesser loves of ploughmen and bairns. I refuse to be this world’s chattle, harnessed to it like a ploughing ox. No, I will soar, like the goshawks in the sky beyond my window Continue Reading…