Original Sin—Original Blessing—Blessedly Sinful & Original

I was raised by a liberal, seminary-educated mother in a liberal United Methodist congregation, and both blanketed me with a theology of a warm, loving God. But the chill of original sin snuck under the covers regardless. How? It’s hard to say. Through the Adam and Eve of popular culture? Through my mother’s foundational guilt and insecurity? Through the Sunday morning stress of getting out the door on time, as though our lives depended on showing up for worship with clean hair and ironed clothes? Regardless, I understood myself to be fundamentally wrong, and faith was the antidote. Every time I screwed up, deliberately hurting my boyfriend, turning my back on a stranger in need, lying to my parents, my “sin” was a guilt-soaked reminder of my hidden, awful nature. (more…)

Mystic or Bust

“The Christian of the future will either be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or she will cease to be anything at all.” –Karl Rahner

Morality, ritual, and blind belief: contemporary Christianity is known for these. If you’re Christian, you adhere to certain moral standards (although these vary vastly between denominations and individuals); you go to church, and you “believe in Jesus Christ,” whatever that means. As best as I can tell, this is how Christianity is perceived by popular culture. For the most part, this is how Christianity is experienced by Christians.

Dig deep enough, however, and I suspect you’d find that many Christians have “experienced something.” For that matter, people of other faiths have, too, and those who calls themselves “spiritual but not religious.” As have artists, nature-lovers, scientists, community organizers, and anyone who volunteers their time to help others. You might call the “something” God or art or nature or love or truth, but regardless, you experience a mysterious happening that brings you alive and gives life meaning. You glimpse a source beyond the scope of human consciousness. You know a beauty that vibrates in your very cells. You sense significance that encompasses even tragedy, even rampant injustice, even death. (more…)

For Behold

As light as a feather, free as a bird.

“Fear not, for behold: I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” I’ve listened to these words, sung them, shouted them from a church basement, and read them hundreds of times. They are the great refrain of Christmas. This year they strike me differently, though, because this year I am afraid.

I’m afraid because my mother’s no longer here, which is just sad on most days but then sometimes feels like the ground under me has heaved and is no longer trustworthy. I’m afraid because, walking to work last week in below-zero temperatures, I passed through a happy flock of robins—the climate is changing, what used to be predictable is no longer, and we’ve elected a government that will likely aggravate the problem. (more…)

Entering Shadowland

pokahoesunset16-04Cancer does this: Shake you out of the status quo and drop you into a different realm, one where your everyday priorities are rearranged and suddenly small talk, the cleanliness of the house, even your job ambitions seem ridiculous. Instead you give yourself over to what really matters: Being present to one another. Doing everything possible to tend to health and well-being. Emily and I call this place of intensity Cancerland. Life-threatening illness does a marvelous job of helping you reprioritize.

But so do other things, like the death of a loved one or losing a home or experiencing trauma. The last time our country did a collective gasp and had to reprioritize was 9/11. The recent election shocked some of us into a new way of seeing the world. Our national shadows—the parts of us that fear the Other, that wants to eradicate whatever seems to threaten our wellbeing—are now out in the open. They’ve been there all along, as people of color and immigrants and trans folks have been trying to tell us. But now we’re all plunged into a new reality: Shadowland, a country where democratic processes are scorned and fear has taken the reigns. (more…)

Liberating Stories

bknecklaceFirst thing in the morning I make my tea, sit in the red chair, and read the early Christian mystics. Then Gwyn wakes, curls in my lap, and we read Greek myths. I bustle off to work where I write stories, read emerging writers’ stories, review published stories, and teach others how to create effective stories. I return home to Gwyn listening to an audio book. I read magazines on the toilet. I listen to Gwyn read her homework. I tell her a bedtime story. Finally, exhausted, I curl up with a good novel.

I’m steeped in stories.

When I take the stuff of my life and make it into a story, I feel myself and my world transformed. I come alive. I participate in ongoing creation. One of my greatest delights is that I get to support others in this work. When I teach writing, I help others know the “aliveness” that, as Ann Belford Ulanov says, “springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us.”

Is it any wonder, then, that my most intimate name for God is Story? (more…)