The Fallacy of the Fog Machine Gospel


I have been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I’m not sure I have ever needed a book more at the moment that it found me. It’s the story of a guilty, angry, oh-so-certain, baptist preacher who drags his wife and four daughters into Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in the 1960’s.

I carry it to Starbucks during my lunch breaks and allow it to swallow me, emerging 40 minutes later into a world that makes little sense.

It’s pulling, again, at the threads of wealth and poverty, war and power, the gospel of Jesus and the gospel of the Moral Majority.


“Bingo Bango Bongo. That is the story of Congo they are telling now in America: a tale of cannibals. I know about this kind of story-the lonely look down upon the hungry; the hungry look down upon the starving. The guilty blame the damaged. Those of doubtful righteousness speak of cannibals, the unquestionably vile, the sinners and the damned.

It makes everyone feel so much better.”


I close my book reluctantly. My hour is nearly up; the blinking clock and an office-full of expectation calls me back to work.

As I leave, I sip my coffee – or cinnamon, soy latte if we’re being honest – from a re-usable plastic cup, 10 cents off and BPA free. This, one of my little choices that is supposed to help save the world.

I wonder, again, about the men and women who have drug my coffee up from the earth; have sorted through the uncooperative berries to find those ripe for the picking; have shelled, roasted,  and packaged them. I wonder about the hours of human labor that I have bought with $4.29. I don’t know if I have supported workers in a country that desperately needs jobs, or offered another contribution to the gods of power and human enslavement.

I am complicit, an active player in the injustices of the world, and I don’t even know the breadth or depth of it.


“Maybe I’ll never get over my grappling for balance, never stop believing life is going to be fair, the minute we can clear up all these mistakes of the temporarily misguided…Just when I start to feel jaded to life as it is, I’ll suddenly wake up in a fever, look out at the world, and gasp at how much has gone wrong that I need to fix.”


HEB sells exactly one variety of fair trade chocolate chips. They are milk chocolate. So every time I decide to make cookies, I choose between buying fair trade and buying the dark chocolate that I prefer.

I buy the dark chocolate about half the time.

That choice is so utterly inadequate.

I feel swallowed by a problem that I can’t even comprehend.

Like my freshman year of college, when I tried to give up Nestle and Cocoa-Cola products after finding them both on a list of top human rights violators. After a couple months of trying to remember which energy drinks Cocoa-Cola owned and attempting to unwind the web of corporate entanglements, I gave up.

It didn’t seem possible to exonerate myself.


“We have in this story the ignorant, but no real innocents.”


Sometimes, I feel so tainted by my wealth and my citizenship, by the atrocities committed before I was born. I realize that those were not my decisions, that no one asked me, just as no one asked the children of the Congo.

Yet I have benefited from them, innumerable odds stacked in my favor before I ever learned to walk. And still today, I buy Oreos, knowing full well that I just paid for the children harvesting cocoa in the Ivory Coast.

I am not innocent.

The reality sneaks up on me again, and I don’t know what to do with it.

Because I have no honorable way to justify it.


“Father, forgive me wherever you are, but this world has brought one vile abomination after another down on the heads of the gentle, and I’ll not live to see the meek inherit anything.”


Then, I read an article yesterday that claims young people are leaving the Churches of Christ because the churches aren’t experiential enough, because there aren’t enough videos or stadium seating.

As though all young people are so distracted by sparkling objects and fog machines that we are destined to follow the shiny veneer wherever it may go.

But in reality, I see a church that will get up in arms and coordinate support when Chick-Fil-A declares its support of “traditional marriage”, but couldn’t care less about that company’s contract with Cocoa-Cola* or the implications of that bed-fellow.

At least a quarter of the children in this city go hungry, and yesterday we received the third straight week of elder selection sermons, this one entitled: Men with Experience.

Young Americans are not leaving the church because you lack a “three projection screen set-up”. They are, in my experience, leaving because your gospel is hollow and self-serving.


“It came as a strange letdown, to see how the game always went to those who knew the rules without understanding the lesson.”


In the book, this preacher comes to Africa bound and determined to baptize every last child in the Kwali River, never mind that several children had been eaten by crocodiles in that river the year before.

He is determined to stand by his principles, to never give-in, to never-not for one moment-admit that he might be wrong.

In the end he baptizes not a single person. And in the process he loses every one of his children, who see only his arrogance and his portrayal of a distant, careless God.


I love the bible. I really do, for all its mess. And in spite of her failures, I love the church. It was, and is, the church who taught me to care for the world.

But I wonder if the American Church isn’t portraying its own distant, careless God. Only this one isn’t screaming in the jungle; it’s singing “post-worship” music on a well-lit stage, broadcasting the same empty from message from every wall of the auditorium.

It’s so frustrating, that they would watch a mass exodus and think “I know what we need: more YouTube videos. That’s what young people care about, right?”

Because the gospel that my church taught (with just the one projector) allows me to hope that I might live in a world where everyone has enough to eat, on earth as it is in heaven. It gives me grace for all the ways I fail, and conviction to keep trying.

I hope that won’t be lost in the production. Because showmanship and crowds and experiences are not the gospel. They are a distraction. The gospel is better than that.


“So what do you do now? You get to find your own way to dig out a heart and shake it off and hold it up to the light again….

I rock back and forth on my chair like a child, craving so many impossible things: justice, forgiveness, redemption. I crave to stop bearing all the wounds of this place on my own narrow body. But I also want to be a person who stays, who goes on feeling anguish where anguish is due. I want to belong somewhere, damnit.”






* I will not even pretend that I understand contracts between restaurants and beverage companies, nor do I necessarily understand the implications of those arrangements. I’m just saying that this company has purportedly done a lot of evil in the world, and no one seems to care.


We can be Christians and ____ : a defense of ACU’s Optimist

This afternoon, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to the website of ACU’s student newspaper. The article featured was an editorial response to comments the newspaper had received after endorsing President Obama for a second term. If you would like some additional context for this piece, I encourage you to read that article, the endorsement, and the comments.


Before I’d finished the response, I had to close the window. I spun out of my chair and walked back along the hallway toward the copy room, to make some coffee, clean the table…something.

The fist behind my ribcage quickened, and I could feel the blood pounding red, agitating my limbs, wanting action. But why? What’s another internet fight between Christians? It’s the daily routine: offense, anger, pride and biting speech filling up the comment boxes.

But these are my Christians. This is my school. Just a few months ago, I would have waited with my friends after chapel as the lines thinned, slid my card, stepped, haltingly, down the stairs under section K and grabbed my own copy of the Optimist.

So I went back to the computer, read the editorial, read the comments, readied my own response, rallying myself in support of the college students being virtually berated by 40 year old alumni.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…

And then this comment:

Tell me “How can one be a Christian and a Democrat [?]”

that saved a wretch like me…

It’s a phrase thrown out so easily, repeated too often: how can you be a Christian and…

And call yourself a republican?
And align yourself with the democrats?
And spend billions on the weapons?
And support the rights of gays to marry?
And encourage women in roles that contradict scripture?
And cling to a broken hierarchy?

I once was lost, but now I’m found…

Can’t you just hear the condemnation, the indignation dripping off those words? You can’t live out two contradictory identities simultaneously. So surrender your faith or admit defeat. Because you cannot possibly be a true disciple of Christ and ….

Because I am a Christian. I know what God wants. So how can we both claim the same God?

was blind, but now I see…

Because when we teach an inerrant, get-it-right-or-you’re-going-to-hell theology, we end up with Christians devoid of humility, unable to admit uncertainty lest they condemn themselves.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear…

And when we preach a God born in 1776, tied irrevocably to the Manifest Destiny stretched between Washington and Washington, we end up with Christians who worship political parties, terrified that the wrong vote will oust God himself, banish him forever from these shores, like a deposed king.

and grace my fears relieved…

It is not enough to rail against the vitriol and the hatred. It is not enough to plead niceness. We need a better theology, a theology that can handle our disagreement.

How precious did that grace appear…

So we can be Christians and…

Because I believe in a God who is not threatened or empowered by political parties or policy makers. I believe in a God who does not need the President of the United States of America to be on his side. I believe in a God who existed long before Jefferson made his declaration and will continue to exist long after North America has devolved into the Hunger Games.

the hour I first believed.

Because I believe in a love that will not be weakened by my inadequacies. I believe in a deep, incomprehensible love for this mess of a planet that will not be thwarted by my endorsement or my vote or my ideology.

And because I believe that if I give everything I have to walk beside my God, to love with mercy, and to seek justice, that God’s grace is sufficient for the rest. Even if I get it wrong every single time.

I am not threatened by our disagreements. I am not frightened by Fox News or The Optimist’s endorsement. I am not afraid of admitting that I might be wrong. Because I believe in a grace that will cover the insufficiencies of our reasoning and a God that will not be stopped by them.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.




But I do know him

We are officially less than two months away from our wedding. Oh boy.

I’ve joked to David that this marriage better work out, because I don’t ever want to plan another wedding.

I’m only half joking.

If, God forbid, David dies in a tragic accident and I re-marry after the appropriate 30 year grieving period, I’m eloping. In jeans.

But kidding aside, I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage, and about God. And about “the bride of Christ” – that mysterious metaphor, God as the bridegroom, marrying his people, binding himself to them, again and again.


I remember “asking Jesus into my heart” at four years old. It’s my first memory of prayer. My mom sat down beside me on my Minnie Mouse comforter, and there, surrounded by pink and white polka dots, I plunged into faith with a four-year-old’s naivete, a four-year-old’s trust, a four-year-old’s image of a white-robed Santa Clause rising out of the clouds.

I had no concept of suffering, of redemption, of sacrifice. I had never heard of the crusades or the Reformation or the Moral Majority. I didn’t know that before the year was over, my dad’s partner (a fellow member of our church) would cheat him out of his practice and send us scrambling back to Texas. I couldn’t imagine how that move would tear into the foundation of our little family.

But I knew that after church on Sunday, Megan would come find me, give me a piece of bubble-iscious gum, pick me up and spin me in laughing circles around the atrium. I knew that when my daddy got down on his knees, looked me in the eye, and asked me to forgive him, it had something to do with Jesus, with flannel graphs and Easter and grace. I knew that I was loved.


Seven years later I decided that I wanted to be baptized. I don’t know why that choice took root when it did. There was no impassioned speaker making the altar call at a youth rally, no hyper emotional, “can he still feel the nails” worship experience at church camp. Maybe I was just tired of not getting to enjoy the crackers and juice.

One day, it was some thing that would happen someday, and the next day, I didn’t see any reason to put it off. I believed in God, without question or qualification. I believed in church, in the bible, in the Nazarene who walked around the Middle East 2,002 years ago.

I was twelve. I had very few friends. I played the violin (badly) and I loved school. I was pro-reading, pro-life, pro-french, pro-George Bush. I was anti-gay, anti-terrorism, anti-swearing, anti-drinking, anti-Texas History class. My position on evolution was evolving.

I thought I knew who God was and what he wanted.

This may not quite be twelve. There aren’t many pictures from middle school because I tore them all into tiny pieces and threw them away.  I even went looking for pictures on my myspace page, which, let me tell you, is embarrassing. But apparently I didn’t start the social networking until high school. How far I’ve come.

I couldn’t foresee how a Wednesday night series studying other religions would eviscerate my certainty, force me to wrestle, hard, with the idea of an omnipotent God who would deliver babies into the middle east, into Muslim families, into belief systems as strong and confused and loving as my own, then condemn them to an eternity of suffering.

I wouldn’t have guessed that my first foray into doubt would bring me face to face with a God more wildly loving and forgiving than I had ever imagined, years before Love Wins would spark controversy into the heart of every LifeWay Christian Store.

I didn’t anticipate an almost forgettable conversation with my cousin, four years younger, that challenged all the lines I’d memorized about gay marriage and “the homosexual agenda”. I didn’t realize that would be my first significant break from my parents’ theology*.

At the time that my dad immersed me in that unexpectedly warm water, I would have sworn to the moon and back that I would never attend Abilene Christian University. I had no idea how much my soul needed that place.

My parents bought me a new dress from Limited, Too. It was black, and it sparkled. My grandparents came to celebrate, and I was granted the all important Sunday lunch decision. I chose Joe’s Crab Shack.

I barely knew God. But oh, I knew him. Something deep in my bones, stitched into the fabric of my skin – he wasn’t going anywhere and neither was I. I grew. I changed. My entire belief system got turned inside out and left me naked, without answers.

But always, somehow, I found myself growing into him, even on the days when I wasn’t sure there was such a thing as God. 


David and I are twenty-two. I have many friends already married, but still, we are young. At least five years below the average. Some people say it’s too young: you can’t know the other, you barely know yourself, you don’t know what you’ll want in five years, you will change so much.

They’re right. Of course, they’re right. And maybe I should be more afraid of marriage, of this choosing at a fork in the road, a decision that cannot be undone, a life stretching out into the wilds of an unknowable future.

Maybe I should be more cynical, less naive, less certain of the hands I hold. There is so much future waiting ahead of us – most of our assumptions are probably wrong and four years is nothing like fifty – we barely know each other.

I’m sure we will look back, years from now, and wonder at ourselves, at how we could leap so blindly into a covenant we only barely understood.

I have no idea what awaits us. I don’t know where we’ll live. I don’t know that we’ll always be able to find work. I don’t know how parenthood will change us or how long our parents will be around to offer their love and advice. I don’t know what it will look like when death takes someone loved, when we are finally forced to encounter that reality.

But I know that even though David hates spicy food, he still ate the pasta when I accidentally went a little crazy with the Cayenne. I know that I stayed up till one helping him study after he talked with me for two hours about gender and the bible and the church. I know that we keep choosing each other, over and over.


So my parents bought me another new dress, white this time.

And on another December day, I’ll make another life-long commitment. And maybe it doesn’t matter that I can’t know what’s waiting beyond the next ridge, that I can’t foresee how it will change us. I know the one I’m choosing.





*I don’t meant to speak for my parents; they’re beliefs are more nuanced than I understood them to be when I was twelve. But that was how it felt at the time.

How to Find a New Church in 10 Weeks

The other day, Rachel Held Evans wrote a insightful and intelligent post about ambition and women and the “Top 200 Church Blogs“. You should read it. I’ll wait.

Near the end of point 5, I came across this line: “Do more “list” posts. Do more “how to” posts.” According to indomitable Rachel Held Evans, this is what the internet desires.

So, internet, is this true? Do you like How-To Lists? Well, I’m here to give the people what they want.


How To (Not) Find A New Church in 10 Weeks:

Week 1: Sleep in. Moving is exhausting. Wake up late and make muffins. Read backlogs of Rachel’s blog and unpack most of your boxes* instead.

*Be sure to leave at least one box, in the corner, packed. Make it your nemesis. Add it to the top of every to-do list. Wake up every day with the determination to finish unpacking it. Glare at it every night as you crawl into bed. Leave it there for at least six months until you finally decide to donate it to charity since you obviously don’t need it.

Week 2: Set your alarm early. Be determined. But wake up late anyway and decide that if you can’t do your hair properly, you shouldn’t go. First impressions and appearances are very important in church hunting.

Week 3: Since you bought a new dress, this is a good week to try out your first church. Go to the big one, since it’s the only one you’ve heard of. But don’t go to class. Too much community all at once can be overwhelming. Plus it’s probably boring and you really want to like them. Make sure you stop by the visitor’s stand. They’ll usually give you free bread, and since it’s made by church ladies, it’s probably good.

Week 4: Last week was hard, and you deserve a week off. Sleep in again. On Monday, download your preacher’s sermon from your last church. Be sure to do this at work, so that there a plenty of people to see you cry when you realize how much you miss them.*

* Don’t really cry at work. You will be accused of emotional instability and no one will invite you to parties.

Week 5: Revisit the first church again. Even though it didn’t really fit, you don’t know where else to go. Plus, maybe it will be better this week. Optimism. Optimism. Optimism.

Week 6: Screw Optimism. Get upset about all the little things you don’t like, especially when they “make-up” a wonky second verse to your favorite song. This will hide the fact that you feel a deep theological rift with the people around you. Scribble furious notes about injustice and cynicism and egalitarianism. Don’t let anyone see them. Smile a lot. Hope it gets better.

Week 7: Do not under any circumstances try a different church. You filled out a visitor’s card; this practically makes you your fiance an elder. Go to class. Make sure you come in prepared to be offended.* Get frustrated. Write a blog about how frustrated you are.

*Later that week, read this beautiful post by Sarah Bessey. Feel very convicted.

Week 8: Give up on church. Go to Olive Garden and decide to start a house church with your fiance and another friend. Tell the only man that he will obviously have to be the minister, song leader, communion distributor, teacher, and prayer. Get “mad” when he “won’t let you” be an elder. Have a church split within the first half hour. Start your own church-of-one where you can be right. Community as God intended it.

Week 9: After realizing that a church-of-one is very lonely (and also not very biblical), try out a “young couples small group”. Wonder why young couples aren’t allowed to be in a “small group” with single people…or old people…or teenagers. Be late because you’re scared of being early*. In a discussion of Old Testament “parables” mention that many scholars believe the book of Jonah may be a Hebrew parable. You will be met with silence before the leader changes the subject. Say very little else in the discussion.

 *also because you’re bad with directions

Week 10: Go out of town, so you don’t have to decide what to do next. Listen to old summit lectures and sermon podcasts. Read lots of blogs by Christian authors who make you feel less alone. Micha Boyett, Richard Beck, and Addie Zierman are all good. Have arguments with yourself about how much you need to agree with a church’s theology in order to worship with them. Pray a lot.

See? It’s easy. Just ten weeks to a new church home. Good luck and let me know how it goes!


My How-To background: In 3rd grade we went through a How-To writing section. We were each asked to pick an everyday process, and write step-by-step instructions. I chose baking chocolate chip cookies. Also known as a recipe. But Mrs. Hasson let it slide. I credit Mrs. Hasson with this blog post accordingly.

Maybe it’s enough.

I did this at work today.

Because the chaotic, spilling, hodgepodge of sweeteners had been bothering me since I started this job.

I pulled out the top tray and dumped it out over the table, sending aspartame packets skidding across white plastic. I gathered them up again, methodically aligning each one, letting my hands do easy, careful work.


Last Thursday I got an email from an acquaintance of mine. The email contained a reflection written by a woman living in a “war-torn region”. And she told about what it means to be a refugee, to be a woman carrying your children across the desert, running from death and starvation.

She described the woman she met, the one who realized half-way between war and an over-crowded camp that she couldn’t save all her children. So this woman had to leave one of her babies beneath a tree, on the side of the road, so that they wouldn’t all starve.

And the email said:

She walked away and somehow, my world did not so much as shudder. I didn’t know to stop chopping or sleeping or washing, to fall on my face on the floor and weep for her. For all of us.

And as I sat in my car, at a red light, in the pouring rain, I couldn’t hold back my own tears. I just kept thinking of the babies I’ve held, the weight of them, their helplessness. And I don’t understand this world. I want do something. I want to do more than weep over a choice I can hardly fathom.


But I parse out the blue packets, placing them one, two at a time into their tray. Then I start on the white. And little by little crinkling paper and sifting granules come to rest in a neat line.


And across the world, the dam is breaking, anger and resentment rush out, rolling over cities and countries, leaving nothing but destruction. And I try to open my heart enough to take in these, too. But it all feels so senseless – the violence and the rioting. I’m left with this desire to grasp the world by the shoulders and scream sense into her, “Killing an innocent man isn’t helping!” 

But the world doesn’t need any more screaming voices.

And my heart breaks for the distance, because there’s so much more than geography between us.


So I replace that tray and grab another, fingers separating, gathering, replacing. A cathartic, repetitive movement, drawing order out of chaos.


And on television our politicians are railing, condemning apologies and humility. ‘Because we are better than them and we shouldn’t have to apologize’. It’s the lie we’ve been told our whole lives: we are the greatest, the wisest, the most just.

And in our fear we listen to them. Believing that if we can just elect the “right” official, blame the appropriate person, draft the perfect safety manual, we can stop the hemorrhaging, staunch the blood pouring from a wound as old as humanity and as deep as our souls.

But it is vanity, a chasing after the wind. 


My organizing has left an extra tray, just enough room for the pizza topping packets. So I line them up, front to back, right way up, filling the empty space.


And on Sunday we listened to a sermon that David paraphrased as “an ‘inspirational’ presentation on the benefits of friendship”. I sit there, and I feel like the only one spectator at the parade who can see that the emperor is naked.

The world is breaking and what good are we if the best we can offer is affirmation of ourselves and our football loving friends? Is that not the definition of salt that should be thrown in the garbage?


And I step back to admire my handiwork, try to find a purpose.

Because I haven’t quite figured out how to be part of this world, how to be honest but not cynical, how to be convicted but not proud. I haven’t really figured out what to do with the mess.

But I know we are asked to enter into it, to let our hearts break when a mother is forced to leave her baby alone to die. We are told to offer grace to those who might hurt us, to see the humanity in a desperation that leads to fire and murder. We are told to love.

We are commanded to surrender power at every turn, not to legislate the world into submission. We are supposed to be the very flavor of humanity, not just nice people with nice friends.

We are commanded to be light and peace.

And sometimes that doesn’t seem like very much. But maybe it’s enough. Maybe slow and patient, tiny acts can draw the new order of the kingdom out of the aching turmoil.


Mountain Air

This morning there was a Colorado chill in the air. The kind that awakens the soul, but still hints at the warmth of the day to follow.

It reminds me of all my summer mornings in the Rockies. It fills me with a desperation to pull on crinkly hiking shorts and an old t-shirt, then to grab my Northface pullover as I’m walking out the cabin door, an extra layer that will come off almost as soon as I start moving, but that feels so right when I step out into that brisk moment of evaporating dawn.

Almost every summer of my childhood, my family took a trip to Estes Park when the YMCA of the Rockies hosted a Continuing Education course for Family Practitioners. The morning of our trips my mother would canvas the house, cleaning dishes and making beds, while my father stuffed the entirety of REI’s camping section into the car-top carrier. Five hours after our intended departure, we would pull out of the driveway and head west toward the mountains, our hearts lightening each mile, returning home.

Occasionally, my dad would let me sit in on a lecture with him. But usually, my sister and I spent our days at camp: hiking, rock climbing, and horse back riding with other kids whose familial ties to medicine and the mountains had brought them to this place. Then each afternoon, we’d sit with our new friends on the wide deck of the lodge, drinking hot chocolate and watching the rain that came to cleanse the earth.

But my favorite day, every year, was the day my dad would skip his classes and take us on our “big hike”. He’d help Anna and me pack our backpacks the night before, reminding us to fill our water bottles and dress with layers. We’d rise, bleary-eyed, before sunrise, and drive up into the park, never talking, just listening to John Denver, and the silence. I’d stare out the window as the sunrise broke over the jagged peaks and dissipated the mists swirling through the evergreens.

We trekked all day, across switchbacks and beyond the tree-line, sustained by breathtaking views and handfuls of my dad’s sunflower seeds. Sometimes we’d make the summit, other times an on-coming storm or a late start or our too-tired legs forced us back. Mostly I didn’t care. I loved following my dad up those mountains, listening to the stories he would tell us, sharing his childhood or reforming his favorite books into narratives his daughters could understand.

Some mornings especially I long for that place.

Church has been unusually difficult for me recently. I imagine this is partly due to the fact that I don’t know anyone yet. I’m dealing with all the frustrations of church without any of the community. And that will take time, I know. But it seems there’s something more than that.

Yesterday in class, in a lesson about Elijah and the prophets of Baal, the teacher said something about how God asks us to choose a side, or something like that. And a man in the class said, “No, God demands that we choose.”

And when it comes to the thing we will serve, to the God or concepts or political parties that get our allegiance, I suppose he’s right. But something about his harshness, his certainty jarred me.

What about when I don’t know what to choose? Where’s the ambiguity? The humility? The room to question, and wrestle with all the so many things that aren’t so black and white?

We sit around a room and share what feel like empty platitudes. We recycle and reiterate the same hollow phrases I’ve heard my whole life, but they don’t offer any comfort anymore. And I feel so alone in my unease, in my frustration.

Someone goes on a rant about “East Coast Tolerance“, that dirty word. And everyone nods along. But I don’t want to; I want to leave. Because it festers with superiority, it inflames an us-versus-them mentality. Maybe they don’t have it right either, but don’t you see what they’re reacting against? Don’t you hear the pride, the condescension, the closed door? No, I don’t believe everyone can design their own truth, I don’t believe every idea is equally valid.

But that doesn’t mean we are the sole arbiters of truth. That doesn’t mean we can’t be wrong.

I sat through service, listening some and mostly trying to translate Hebrews, because I wanted to connect myself again to something ancient and holy.

So after church, after a sermon with almost as many references to politics and A&M football as Jesus, and not one mention of the people living outside these walls, I just want to tighten up my hiking boots and walk away, up into the mountains. I want to feel the dirt packing beneath my soles and the burning in my legs as I move higher and higher into the clouds, beyond the trees. I want to connect myself to the earth, and walk with people who love the land and respect the need for silence.

I want to climb so high that there’s nothing, but rocks and sky and me and God. I want to sit and I don’t want to hear a single human voice. I just want to listen to God. I want to observe the heart-breaking beauty of this world and I want him to tell me his stories, the ones that will fight off this encroaching cynicism.

Though I wouldn’t mind some company. And anyone who wants to come and climb and listen with me is welcome.

Today, I would like to thank Dr. Beck

Last week, Dr. Richard Beck, a psychology professor at ACU made a public announcement on his blog, experimental theology. In it, he explained that he has chosen not to participate in any part of his church’s worship service in which women are not also welcomed to take part. At Highland that pretty much means preaching, leading worship, and acting as an elder. At most of the other churches I have attended that list is much longer. I would like to take a moment to thank him. And here’s why:

One Monday afternoon last fall, while I was standing at a lab bench, vainly trying to correctly purify a protein I can no longer remember, our advisor came into the biochemistry lab and asked a few of my classmates to help fill the usual roles in the upcoming departmental chapel: teaching a lesson, leading a few songs, offering a closing prayer. The usual.

Most agreed with little hesitation, but one student said that he would really rather not pray publicly. His reasons were his own, and I don’t know what they were, but she obviously needed someone. So in an attempt to help her, and relieve my friend of the pressure to do something he obviously didn’t want to do, I turned around and volunteered to lead the prayer.

And everyone was just kind of silent for a moment. She put her hand on my arm, and looking a bit uncomfortable, said something like, “I’m sorry, but…”

To which I finished, “I’m not allowed to pray in chapel, am I?”

And she shook her head slightly.

A bit of polite discussion was had about the topic. A few of the boys standing around expressed mild bewilderment, and I think someone made an equally mild defense of the policy.

I just turned back to my experiment. I didn’t want them to see how angry and hurt I was. If I’m completely honest with myself, I was a little worried I might start crying if I invested myself in a discussion about the topic.

Our advisor resumed trying to find a male student who would agree to pray.

Now, I want to make it very clear that this is not an attack on our advisor, who is spectacular both as an advisor and as a person. She was doing her job. Nor do I want to attack any of the professors in the my department at ACU, who are some of the kindest, most loving, most intelligent people I know.

But I find this unbelievably frustrating.

It didn’t matter that I was a senior member of our student body or that I spent almost two years as a bible major (where, incidentally, woman are allowed to participate in chapel). It didn’t matter that I spent a summer working as a counselor at a Christian camp and another summer working on a church ministry staff. It certainly didn’t matter that I love prayer and find our daily chapel to be something that is significant and valuable.

I was a woman. And, therefore, my prayer was somehow unwanted or inferior. Period. And I’ve fought with myself about how to say this, because I don’t want to be melodramatic or inflammatory, but I don’t know how else to interpret that message.

I do not understand how a university that claims to see woman as equal to men, who claims to value our intelligence and input in areas of academic pursuit, who will confer upon men and the women the same degree, even in ministry, can simultaneously tell it’s female students that they are not allowed to pray publicly for their faculty and fellow students in chapel.

It is painful and it is confusing.

And I try very hard to see both sides of the issue. I recognize that these are rational, intelligent, generally kind people who make and enforce these rules. I can usually play devil’s advocate; I can argue both sides.

But not about this. I do not get it.

I do not understand why a man’s ability to lead would be threatened by his sister praying in front of their congregation.

I do not understand why women are encouraged, and sometimes expected, to serve the bread and pour the drinks at every meal except the most important.

And I do not understand their belief in a God who would be saddened or angered or anything but overjoyed by one of his daughters standing in a classroom or an auditorium and sharing with her fellow believers what she has learned or seen or experienced about God and his desires for his people.

David and I were having a tangential conversation on a recent drive back from Abilene, and he made the comment that people fighting for their own rights will never be as powerful as those with the power choosing to lay it down for the sake of someone else.

I brought up the issue of prayer, and he told me that he wished all the guys at ACU would stop agreeing to pray in chapel until women were allowed to pray, too. And then said, “Man, I wish I’d thought of that while I was still at school.”

Because he’s right. And while that might not have worked for a number of reasons, that would be heard; it would have to be acknowledged.

Because slaves demanding their right to freedom will be a much more difficult battle than slave masters deciding that they no longer want to participate in the exploitation of their fellow human beings.

And neighborhoods, full of poverty, pleading for better schools and communities, will be much more easily ignored than a group of wealthy families giving up their privilege, and moving into those communities, and investing their resources there.

Like it or not, we live in a world ruled by power, and it is rare to see someone surrender their position or their voice. The greatest tool we have for changing ingrained dichotomies and institutional hierarchies will come from those who choose to lay down their power, who refuse to live in an economy of scarcity*, who recognize that women don’t have to be silenced in order for men to be heard.

And I realize that this is one act, by one man, in one congregation.

But it means a lot to me.

So thank you, Dr. Beck.



*This is a phrase that I actually first header from Dr. Beck when he was teaching a class at Highland. I believe he may have gotten it from a book, but I don’t know which one.