A Lenten Confession

Here on Ash Wednesday, I’d like to share a liturgy I wrote (oh so long ago!) in 2008.


Forty Days, Forty Sins

In observance of the Lenten season and its forty days of reflection, this is my confession:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

1. I have not loved you with my whole heart.

2. I have not loved my neighbor as myself.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

3. I have secrets.

4. Yet, I claimed to be honest.

5. I have lied with pride to save face,

6. and in self-deprecation to appear humble.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

7. I have cursed you silently

8. and openly.

9. I have laughed with those who mock you

10. And tolerated those who hate you.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

11. I have not loved your Church.

12. I have avoided your people for the sake of my own comfort,

13. for the sake of my dogma,

14. for the sake of my preferences.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

15. I have not been faithful with all you have given me.

16. I have claimed a right to your blessings

17. and have hoarded them.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

18. I have not thanked you enough privately

19. nor publicly.

20. I have accepted the credit for your work.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

21. I have not loved those whom you have brought closest to me:

22. my family;

23. my friends;

24. the strangers on the street.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

25. I have not proclaimed your name to the nations,

26. nor to my own city.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

27. I have quenched your Spirit out of fear

28. and embarrassment.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

29. I have delighted in my sin.

30. And in the memory of my sin.

31. And in anticipation of my sin.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

32. I have believed you would abandon me

33. and I have acted in fear.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

34. I have not spoken enough about the joy of knowing you,

35. nor the thrill of a life with you,

36. nor the peace found in you,

36. nor the magnitude of my pain without you.

37. I have left too much unsaid.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

38. I have been impatient with you

39. and with others.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

40. I have not preached the resurrection.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Amen.

When God Doesn’t Pick You

My most common refrain these days is, “I just don’t get it.”

And I truly don’t.

At a friend’s house a few weeks ago we were discussing the parable of the sower from Matthew 13. And, while I’ve heard the parable a million times in my life, there was something new in the story for me this time.

It felt sad.
Cruel, even.

Because I don’t understand how, in a good God’s economy, He could invite you to serve and watch you labor doing all the right things–even doing them with joy–but never allow you to see the fruit of your labor.

Why would God ask us to glorify Him in our failures when He could just as easily give us great success?

Why would God ask us to be satisfied with itty bitty seedlings when we know He could have grown the whole damn fruit tree right here before our eyes if He wanted to?

Last summer, my husband and I walked away from a church where he’d been serving as the pastor.

My husband and I have always shared a dream to serve a church in our neighborhood. We thought God opened a door for us at this church but, after four years of laboring, God did not bless our ministry.

We did not find favor with the members.
We did not see the Gospel take root.
We did not see the church renewed.

At least that’s the way it appears from this side of the situation.

(And there is, obviously, so much more to this story…)

We walked away from a really big dream. And it hurt really bad.

And while I don’t feel traumatized or bitter by what happened, I really don’t get it.

You see, this most recent failure has not been our only failure, alone or together. We’ve got a lot of unfulfilled dreams between us. And nothing good we’ve done together has come easily.

We both seem to have a habit of taking uphill climbs that end in nothing but cloudy views, proverbially speaking.

In middle school, I had a particularly heinous homeroom teacher who tortured the class with stopwatch speed drills and disciplinary times tables. She never liked me. And there is one conversation between us that has haunted me since.

“You could be so much more,” she said.

I was probably about twelve years old. And she probably meant it as a motivational exhortation toward excellence. But, instead, I heard it as condemnation and felt the immense pressure to be more, to do more, to achieve more.

For most of my life, I think I’ve been living in the shadow of my potential.

I could be more.

I think most of us find ourselves caught in comparison at some point in our lives.

Sometimes we’re comparing ourselves to other people, perhaps those who have been given the good things we thought God was going to give us.

This comparison game is dangerous, of course. And indulgent. Because everyone has unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. There are things that God has allowed me to have–children, for example–that other people are never given.

Yes, this comparison game gets us nowhere helpful. I think most of us know that. But, maybe the real heartbreaking game we play isn’t when we compare ourselves to someone else, but when we compare our real self to our “could’ve been” self.

Identity crisis. Midlife crisis. Whatever you want to call it.

Most (honest) people will tell you that you can be 100% satisfied—in an immediate, existential sense—with the life you’ve been given while still wondering at the life you could have had instead. Or wondering at the series of circumstances that brought you do where you are rather than where you intended to be.

What would my life look like if I’d gone to the that other college? If I’d never moved to Cincinnati? If we’d waited longer to have kids? If I’d pursued a career? If we’d bought a different house?

Maybe you’ve been there, too. My sense is that this is a pretty universal experience at some level.

When you believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, you have to reckon with not only the providence of God in giving you good things, but also His benevolence in withholding things from you.

That’s really hard.

Who’s to blame for the ”missed trains” or disappointments or unfulfilled dreams in my life?

I vacillate pretty frequently between alternately blaming myself, then God, then back again, for my failures. I can spiral quickly from confusion and dissatisfaction into self-loathing and hopelessness. I can feel trapped in my circumstance, incapacitated by personal weaknesses and bad decisions.

“Why didn’t God pick me to do that thing that He put in my heart to do?” I ask.

“Because there’s something wrong with me.”

Obviously.

I’ve had this internal dialogue a lot this year as I watched our last big failure fizzle out. It’s been a lot to process. I feel pretty disappointed and humbled and insecure.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this. I’m not really looking for comfort or reassurance. And I’m not ”struggling” in any urgent sense that I need an intervention from my six loyal readers. (Ha!)

Maybe I’m just banking on the fact that you (Unnamed Mysterious Reader Somewhere) feel the same way.

And if you feel left out, like you missed the train, like you’re caught on the outside looking in to the only party you’ve ever wanted to be invited to—

You’re not alone.

I know how it feels.

It’s like you got an invitation to the game. You practiced real hard. You put on the uniform and showed up and smiled and were really eager but you didn’t get picked for the team.

God didn’t pick you.

You’re right. It’s hard and confusing.

I just don’t get it.

2021: the expanse

When I logged in and saw that my last post was in March, I freaked out a little bit.

I guess it’s been a while since I published anything here, huh?

There are posts I’ve begun these past few months and never finished. Posts about homeschooling. Posts about ministry. Posts about the politics of maternity leave or vaccinations.

There are posts I’ve dreamt up in my head, rehearsed in the shower or on a long drive. I’ve even recorded a few on a voice memo on my phone, thinking I could transcribe the best of my thoughts at a later time, when I felt like writing it all out.

But I don’t feel like writing. Not really. I simply don’t care as much about my own opinions as I did a year ago.

Possibly related–
For the first half of 2021, I forced myself into a literature fast.

Even though I’d recently accumulated a good dozen nonfiction books I was eager to read, I decided I’d read only fiction for at least six months. It was an effort to extract my mind a from the world of problems and solutions and embed it more deeply in human experience.

What resulted from this experiment was a sense of ideological ambivalence that I’ve rarely experienced in my life before. I’m maybe taking myself and the world a little less seriously these days. Or at least feeling a little less responsibility to have a strong opinion about it as I go about my business.

So, what’s new in my life?

In 2020, even in the midst of a pandemic, our family life remained fairly stable and unchanged. My husband kept working. We were already homeschooling. We stayed healthy. Etc.

2021, on the other hand, has brought our family a lot of changes.

First, in June, my husband resigned from his pastor position at a local church. There was no scandal or anything like that. It just didn’t work out.

We invested more than three years in a hard place. We wanted it to succeed. We fought hard. But, we lost. The church didn’t really want us and disagreed about what it needed. So we walked away.

To most of the people who watched it all happen, his resignation was not a surprise. Maybe it wasn’t even a surprise to us. But it was still hard and confusing and there’s probably more I’ll say about that at some point.

Then, a month ago, my husband resigned from his “day job.”

After 13 years working at a nonprofit affordable housing ministry, he’s now working for himself full-time. This is very exciting for our family. It’s something we’ve discussed on and off for a few years and finally felt it was the right time. But, as he’s the sole provider for our family, this is also a huge transition and a significant step of faith for all of us.

These big occupational and vocational changes have been upsetting. I don’t mean they make me angry or depressed or “upset” in the colloquial sense, but that they have rattled me a little bit. Shaken me up. Made me question where we should be and what we should be doing.

Maybe my husband’s work is only the tip of the iceberg.
Maybe it’s time for everything to change.

In some ways, here in 2021, our future as a family feels like a vast expanse of opportunity. We could go anywhere from here. But, the things I’m longing for most seem the most elusive–quiet and peaceful spaces, work I can be proud of, a slower pace, and the comforts of community.

Lately, when I feel like chasing a rabbit hole, I’ve been doing some research into my family history.

I’m tracing the roots of my family tree into old, distant places like Bohemia, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the West Midlands. I’m looking for photos and searching property and census records, scanning immigration and military records, and searching through Holocaust victim records (what?) to find out who I really am.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m suddenly interested in my ancestry. So much of our life is in transition that I’m feeling untethered.

I want to know where I belong.
I want to know who my people are.

Who are my people?

Theres’s probably a season of every person’s life when they start to ask these questions–whence have I come and to where shall I go?

And, even more so, what am I supposed to be doing along the journey?

Maybe there’s something about my 40th year that makes the questions more poignant. At this stage in life, it doesn’t seem to too late to make a change. But I get the sense the tipping point is approaching and the urgency is rising.

When I think about a new season for me and for my family, I think about buying a farm or a defunct Bible camp or a historic estate in the middle of nowhere, as if a few acres and some honeybees will give me the space I need to find “my work” and as if getting a dog will cure my children’s loneliness.

Dogs are easier than friends, I think.
And keeping honeybees could be more fruitful than songwriting.

But the thought of digging up roots, starting over again, building something from nothing, is terrifying. And I don’t want to do it.

I don’t want to have to walk away and move on to find a new place. I wanted this to be my place. I wanted to find my people here.

But I haven’t found them yet.

I’m very distracted these days. I try to focus on the task at hand. I try to be present with my kids, with my husband, with my friends. But my mind is somewhere else, trying to peek around the corner, into the expanse, to see what comes next.

I still can’t see it.

I wonder if I’ll ever get to write a book. Release a new album. Go back to school. Hike that big, long trail.

I wonder who my friends are. Whether people want me around. Who I could call at 4am if I needed them.

I wonder whether my kids are learning enough. Whether they’ll resent the way we’re raising them. If they’ll remember me at my best or at my worst.

I wonder if I’ll ever be any good at being married.

The whole point of this post, I guess, is to say I don’t really have anything important to say right now.

And to say that, yes, I’m still here. But I’m busy with a new family business. And I’m distracted by life’s biggest questions. And, while I do have opinions to share and stories to tell, I’d rather offer them in real time, in real life, with real people.

I’m just trying to quiet my heart, keep my head down, and walk faithfully in one direction until I’m pointed elsewhere.

Why We Care So Much About The “Why”

What makes a good man turn bad?

That’s an excellent question.

This week, a young white man in Georgia murdered eight people. He was raised in a Baptist church and had professed the Christian faith. His victims worked at massage parlors known to offer sexual services and most of them were of Asian descent.

The internet (and my social media feeds) are full of opinions about how and why this man did such a horrendous thing.

His own immediate confession notes his struggles with sexual addiction and a desire to remove the object of his lust. So, early headlines painted him as either some sort of religious fanatic or a racist terrorist.

Follow-up news stories have illuminated more of his story, noting that–though he’d been raised in a Christian home and had professed to faith years ago–he was a troubled young man who had recently been kicked out of his house, his sexual behavior had ruined a romantic relationship, he’d sought Bible-based behavioral therapy (that didn’t work), he was out of work due to the pandemic, and he’d frequented the types of massage parlors where he committed these acts of violence.

Some of my friends were quick to blame his murderous acts on the Southern Baptist Church, purity culture, and the Christian patriarchy. Some blamed it on the anti-Asian rhetoric of Donald Trump and white supremacy. I’ve seen a lot of hot takes that blend all these environmental factors together to paint the picture of a pressure cooker of a young man who was an anti-Asian, anti-woman, sexually-repressed, gun-toting, Bible-thumping ticking time bomb.

And maybe he was.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked hard to curb the compulsion to offer my own “hot take” on every current event. It’s almost impossible to know the truth of a situation at the start. I don’t want to perpetuate lies by opining on things I honestly know nothing about. What good does it do, after all, to throw fuel on a fire of false assumptions and half-truths?

What I do know, about this particular situation, is that what this man did was absolutely reprehensible and unjustifiable, regardless of his reasons.

But we still want to know “why,” don’t we?
And I think I know why the “way” matters so much.

A few days ago, I said this online:

“The news media of the 1980’s convinced Americans that all young black men were drug-dealing baby-daddy hoodlums. Let’s not now be misled into thinking all white men are women-hating racist terrorists. The world is full of decent men who will never make the news.”

What I meant by “decent,” of course, was not “good” in an ontological sense but decent in the sense that they could live peaceably with other men, that they would still do things like help a stranger change a tire or buy a neighbor’s girl scout cookies. You know, the kind of men who, while they might believe that sex work or infidelity or porn use is sinful, they will never shoot up a massage parlor because of it.

“Not all ideological errors,” I continued, “lead to inhumane behavior.” And I meant it.

When I was growing up, there was an implicit expectation that it was possible to establish a temporary truce, of sorts, among people with ideological differences. This is why my two grandfathers, who disagreed vastly on issues of religion and politics, could gather their families together for Thanksgiving and share a meal and watch a football game and enjoy each other’s company. They may have never become best friends. They would never solve the great problems of the world. But they could find pleasure in sharing space for a few hours on a few days a year without killing each other.

I don’t why this isn’t possible anymore. But it doesn’t feel possible anymore.

Without getting too theological here–because I don’t have the authority or the qualifications to do so–my sense is that there are a few fundamental and foundational Christian beliefs about the nature of man that we no longer believe. The most basic among these is the belief in “original sin.”

It’s the paradigm shift from the Puritan “self is sin” to the postmodern “self is Good.” It’s the shift from “Jesus as savior of the world” to “Jesus as moral example and self-help guru.” It’s what I (not jokingly) refer to as the “Glennon Doyle-ing” of American Christianity. And it’s not just progressive Liberal circles. It happens even among Conservative churches.

In my experience, this is evident anywhere we see secondary theological issues becoming primary issues. The most basic, primary message of the Gospel takes a back seat to the secondary issues of sexual ethics, social justice, racial issues, family structures, liturgical traditions, etc. Then, we subconciously bastardize the daily expressions of our faith from disciplines of simple dependence on Christ to public fidelity to secondary gospels.

We begin to believe that we are not the true Believers unless, for example, we’ve done enough for racial justice or enough to protect the traditional family or to fights for victims of abuse. The hyper-Patriarch, then, is just as obsessed with his own performative, acts-based, self-justification as is the progressive social justice warrior that he sees as his ideological enemy. Both have made the system of his faith his savior, and hold it up as the savior of the world.

When terrible things happen, the reason we become so obsessed with knowing the “why,” is because we believe that the error in men lies in his incorrect or unjust systems, not within the man himself.

We believe the lie that a correct system will create a good people.
And we want to preemptively absolve ourselves and our systems of producing the same evil men.

But we cannot.
The Bible doesn’t let us absolve ourselves in this way.

To be sure–
Believing in the sinful nature of man does not excuse our unrighteous or un-godly systems. And it doesn’t stop us from mourning and lamenting the injustice we see around us.

The Bible does–absolutely, beyond a doubt–demand more just, equitable, Godly systems of church, family, and government. And it also demands justice for the oppressed, protection for the vulnerable, love for neighbor, mercy for the broken, and personal piety.

But these good things only happen, naturally, as the fruit of a people who have already been changed from within.

Righteous systems–whether political or ideological–do not make a man clean from within. They can protect us from harming ourselves. They can protect us from harming each other. They can keep peace between us and make us decent. But only the savior of the world can change us.

This is an uncomfortable position to take in response to the evil of the world. It does not satisfy our desire for a scapegoat–whether it’s the Southern Baptist Church or pornography–and it does not offer the empty promise that “this will never happen again.”

And I’m sorry for that.

Sometimes I wish I could just co-sign with my friends and proclaim that “Yes! If we would just rid the world of White Supremacy, wars and murder and racism would all disappear.” But I know better. I think most of us know better.

We want to know the “why” because we want a guarantee that–if we can design a better political or ideological or religious system– this will never happen again. But, instead, by seeking the savior of the world in a better man-made system, we are doomed to repeat this over and over again.

Unless we are changed from within, our only hope in this life is to try and keep from killing each other. And that’s not much hope at all.

What a Third Party Vote Does (and does not) Accomplish

No one likes a third party voter.
I know this is true because I am one.

Historically speaking, I tend to vote Republican but I’ve never voted a straight GOP ticket. My approach to politics is pretty moderate. I lean fiscally conservative, environmentally conscious, socially conservative-libertarian, and prefer local over state or federal control on issues like social services, education and economic development. I am often willing to vote in favor of the more progressive local initiatives that legitimately address local problems. And, for the past three presidential general elections, I’ve voted for a third party presidential candidate.

But voting for a third party candidate, especially in a battleground state like Ohio, is not a very popular decision.

I’ve heard all the arguments–I’m throwing my vote away. I’m helping “the other guy” win. Or, worse, I’m betraying every person who is directly affected by the election results and abusing my privilege by doing it.

I’d argue that none of these arguments respects the true power of an individual vote, nor the distinctive power of a third party vote. But, the Electoral College being what it is, I also know my candidate will never actually receive my vote.

So why do it?

A few quick things to consider, for those of you who have been told that you absolutely must vote within the “GOP vs DEM” paradigm, even if both options make you queasy or betray your conscience–

First, every vote is counted. That means that your vote actually speaks. It speaks about what you want to happen, about the platform you can get behind, and about the people you want in office making decisions for you. And if you vote for something that you don’t actually want because you’re playing some sort of political poker game, you are communicating something false.

Because the election results do not communicate nuance. The men and women in a conference room in Washington D.C. tracking votes here in Cincinnati, Ohio don’t see the reason you cast your vote for This Guy or That Guy. They can’t possibly know that you only voted for Guy 1 because Guy 2 is a jerk, for example. Or that you don’t really stand behind the platform of Guy 2, but it’s not quite as troublesome as that of Guy 1. (They don’t read your Instagram stories *ahem* and most of us will not be interviewed as we exit the polls and be given a chance to explain our vote.)

The only thing those vote-counters know is that you voted for Guy 1. Because your vote–your actual vote–says, plainly, “I vote for Guy 1.”

So, what does a vote for Guy 3 say?
In a political system where nearly every voter has always voted for a Guy 1 or Guy 2, voting third party says, “I vote for Guy 3 instead.”

And, when your third party vote is a vote that actually reflects what you want instead of Guy 1 or Guy 2, it also tells them why they lost you to Guy 3. Every vote represents wishes and desires because every person running for office has a platform. And you have communicated which platform you support—a third option.

What else does a third party vote accomplish?

It strengthens bipartisanship by challenging the “this or that” narrative of our two-party system. It presents other options as valid options and proves we–voters–are interested in exploring them.

It strengthens the backbone of politicians by proving there are voters and constituents who are interested in issues more than major party affiliation and who will support them when they cross the party line or take more moderate positions.

It strengthens the platform of future third party candidates by showing what voters actually support. And, with every new election that has increased third party voting, we move further away from a two-party trap.

And, call me crazy, but it could actually change the Republican and Democratic party today. If a large number of constituents (speaking through the numbers themselves) leave the party and vote for a third party, it calls the party platforms into question in a way that might actually be addressed.

“Oh! I guess voters really do care about environmental issues.”
“Oh, geez. Americans are way more interested in healthcare issues than we thought!”
“Yikes. I guess this immigration thing really struck a chord with people.”

“If we want to get those voters back,” they may think, “maybe we need to listen.”

Crazy, right?
(Heck, crazier things have happened.)

But–here’s the bad news.
What does a third party vote NOT accomplish?

It doesn’t win the presidency.
At least not in 2020.

To vote third party in good conscience in 2020, you have to have a fairly conservative view of the presidential office. You have to trust the design of our federal government, the separation of powers, and depend on the limits of executive power. (You cannot believe that the winner of the Oval Office takes all.)

You have to do your homework and pay close attention to other candidates, offices, and positions of authority. And you have to take your local vote and community engagement seriously.

You have to trust that the American people–not their government–hold the power to make our country great.

You have to have a sense of the sovereignty of the Creator of the universe over all of us and trust that the fate of the world does not rest on us choosing “the right person.”

And, honestly, here is where the real acts of citizenship and civic duty come into play: to vote this way, you have to commit to not only voting your conscience but also acting in accordance with your conscience, regardless of who ends up in the White House.

Decently loving your neighbor every day is worth 1,000 “virtuous,” anonymous votes on Election Day.

At the end of your life, you will be accountable for your actions, your words, your spending, your service, and your choices.

Our votes are important, but they’re not primary. This is how we change the world: by how we live our lives.

I don’t need your approval for my third party vote.
But, if you think it’s your best option, we welcome yours.

Tongues of Fire and the City is Burning

I can hear the crackling outside my window.
Between the police sirens and helicopters’ beating and distant voices yelling, I hear it spreading through the cracks in the pavement.

Fire.

It’s the fire that grows from pain and frustration bubbling over into anger and chaos and it demands to be heard.

Well, I hear it.
And I understand where it comes from. I always have.

(I’m serious. Please believe me.)

The racism. The injustice.
Yes, I see it.

It’s one of the reasons I’m here.

I loved you and I wanted to do something to help.
I prayed to be a blessing.
I asked for the Spirit of God.

Maybe not enough.

For what it’s worth, you should know that I almost joined you yesterday, early, before the sun went down. Before things got crazy. Before the cops pulled out the body armor and shields.

But I was too tired. And too concerned with right and wrong and “the appropriate way to solve the problem.”

So I stayed home.

Now it’s 2am and there are sirens nearby.
I am not afraid because I am not the victim here.

But now I know that I am also no help.
And I have no answers.

Today is Pentecost.
We should be on Fire.
Instead, the city is burning.