Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Proximity > Politics

Last night, somewhere around eleven o'clock, Cory and I paused the show we were watching. I don't remember why. It might have had something to do with a snack. Maybe one of the kids needed a drink. Maybe the extra little one sleeping upstairs was thrashing around as she does sometimes, screaming, "No! No! Stop it!" in her sleep. Take your pick.

I checked my phone before we resumed, me at one end of the couch and Cory at the other, my feet resting on his lap. Before I knew it, we were ankle-deep in our newest favorite argument. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's either about trash day or an existential crisis. These discussions flame as quickly as they dampen. The truth is, I love fiery debates. (A friend of mine recently asked me what my Enneagram number is. I don't know much about this business at all, but I know I'm an 8. When I told her she smiled. "Ah, 8's build intimacy through anger." Zing! I now take the blame for all these "heated talks.")

Cliff's Notes version: Cory says Christians probably shouldn't be political at all, though this isn't what comes naturally to him. He says it's a distraction from the real brokenness we face. I say it has to be both. It's people and systems. Oppressed people might not feel our withness if we aren't actively fighting the broken, unjust systems that grind their faces in the dirt. It has to be both.


"Mmmmm, I don't know," he responds, much too calm for my liking. "I think if we would fix this at a heart level, if we would truly stand with the people Jesus stood with, change would come."

In all fairness, the man spent over a decade in federal politics. He saw enough grandstanding and empty promises, whiplash-inducing election cycles and power-grabbing to earn himself a lifetime supply of Congressional skepticism.

In some ways, I see his point. But it sounds eerily similar to all the Christians I've known who claw for an excuse to stay fresh and keep their world tidy. Also, isn't it more than a little too optimistic?


Last week after Sunday lunch, a man came by and asked if he could mow our lawn for $20. "I noticed your yard looks different from your neighbors yards." (This is the most diplomatic way of saying, "Y'all, CUT YOUR GRASS!" I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.) It was awkward, just sitting there on the patio while a near-stranger in baggy jeans pushed our mower around, but we have learned a few things along the way. Dignity often requires discomfort.

Fifteen minutes after he went on his way, a different man approached us. He had some steaks in his freezer, some really good meat, would we want to buy it for twenty bucks? We recognized him from the pawn shop, where he waves to passersby now and then for minimum wage. He said his dad had just died, and he was trying to get to the funeral.

I spent time with a kiddo who had just watched his mom get beaten bloody. "She lost her purse, her glasses, and one shoe." He said without expression.

I sat with a mom who pushed an envelop across the table, asking if I could help her understand why her middle schooler was being called in on deliquency charges after he'd worked all year to live by the letter of the law. There was no case number. No explanation. Just a command to show up at court in a couple of weeks. But first, she'll need to make sure she can get the day off at her minimum wage job. First, she'll need to find someone who can give her a ride. Various white people, smartly dressed, keep telling her her boys are "trouble." It is patently untrue, but she keeps lapsing into believing them. Just last week she took them for their annual physicals and the pediatrician looked one of the boys in the eye, in front of his mother, and said, "You're a mess. I don't know how your mom does it." For context, this is the boy who brought me a candy bar tonight just because and hugged me for the very first time. When his brother asked why he gave it to me he said, "I just can't stand to see people suffer!" He's the one who helped me pick blackberries. He's the one who found a plastic rosary on the street and asked Cory to pray with him, his mama isn't feeling well tonight. "Be with all of the people who don't have as much as we do," he prayed.

This weekend, at a birthday party for one of Ruby's friends, I met a guy who explained in detail why he served eight months in jail and spent over twenty thousand dollars in order to avoid prison after getting caught selling two hundred dollars worth of drugs. His bail alone cost him nearly ten grand he didn't have. His mom mortgaged her house to pay for an attorney so that he could be around to care for his family. Across the shelter, his wife smoothed their daughter's hair and smiled often. She'd made her niece's cupcakes, they all take care of each other. Like family. When we left, the friend's mom thanked me, "This was the first year we let her invite friends but Ruby is the only one who came."

All of this, in the span of just a few days.

Tonight, minutes before I sat down to write this, Cory's phone rang. Am I allowed a small exaggeration, to say our phones almost never stop ringing? Can I go ahead and say it that way, since that's how it feels? (Can I also tell you that as I typed the last sentence a text popped up, "I really need to talk to you," and that this sometimes overwhelms me to my core?) Tonight, Cory's call was a friend fresh out of prison. His bike had a flat tire. He was stuck at the grocery store one town over with his whole life stuffed into a backpack and two trash bags, on his way to stay with another former inmate who understood his position. Could he please come and give him a ride?

Cory mouthed the words to me, "Can I go get him?" Of course. Of course. Go.

And that's the precise moment some understanding clicked into place. My husband is right, or at least for the most part.

Twitter is a constant hotbed of controversy and outrage and I slurp it up like a spicy bowl of pho. I find intimacy in anger, along with taco memes and literature, apparently. The past year has been a rush of information, uncovering the layers both over and under the broken systems of race, education, immigration, poverty, and incarceration. Our words and our thoughts don't cost us nearly enough.

As a follower of the weird way of Jesus, I am uniquely and specifically called to fight for the things God cares about. I am invited to believe my neighbors deserve the same life I think I'm entitled to, then do whatever I can to let it be so.

These are not strictly political issues.
These systems form the rubble around us no matter who is in office.

Sign petitions and retweet popular columnists if you want to. Get out the vote. Show up at meetings with a holy fire in your gut. Burst into tears after yet another fruitless meeting, then go back in for more.

Just remember, my friends are selling frozen steaks for cash.

My friends' days are numbered. If they don't find a place to live and a job, they'll go back to jail.

My friends have grown used to being ignored because they suffer bad teeth, DIY tattoos, and the stains of generational poverty.

My friends have learned to let others talk for them, even and especially when those "others" seek to harm them.

My friends hope the phone will buzz with an invitation to be included in almost anything.

My friend lost a purse, eyeglasses, and one shoe, and their pre-schooler lived to tell.

My friends have grown nearsighted in their search for Jesus. They do it alone, at close range, because no one else wants to stand in their line of vision and be the real Jesus, who existed in and for and because of community. No one wants to be near enough to see that same Jesus reflected in them - we can't bear the humility required.

It's almost midnight, and I honestly think Cory would just like more people to field these calls. He knows what an honor it is. He goes because he wants to. He can. (And sometimes, he can't.) Our friend circle primarily consists of hard-life people drained from trying to prove themselves to the power class dangling the carrot. We're protective of them, because they are among the greatest treasures we've ever known.

But we are also vastly outnumbered.

As for all of our competing political inclinations, whatever. My thoughts and opinions are many, but until we get this settled, I really don't care.

We answer only to Jesus, and we are missing the mark.
We are not getting low enough.
The fall will cost us dearly, and that is exactly the point.

Do you want to know what will begin to truly change this devastating world? Living as a neighbor, wherever you happen to be.

Take a look around and search for the hidden corners you'd rather avoid. Listen to different people. Dare to believe your life isn't half as chaotic as it's supposed to be.

May our words and our ideologies be few.
May we end this race good and sweaty for the sake of the kingdom right in our midst.


Jesus Untangled by Keith Giles is one of the books that really got us talking after hearing about it on a podcast. I haven't read it yet, but I'm eager to.
I Twitter-met Michelle Ferrigno Warren, the author of The Power of Proximity, earlier today and bought her new book immediately. She speaks my language. 
Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne is another one on my list. (I have loved several of his other books.)
Falling Free is the book I wrote, which recounts our fall from political jobs, comfort, and safe faith to everything I shared tonight.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Extreme Summering, Roadkill Edition

This has been a Summer of extremes, and as such, I'm not quite sure where to begin.

One minute it was May and we were making our plans. Then I fell into a rabbit hole of terror wherein my life revolved around taking Calvin and Ruby (she's playing the cello!) to and from orchestra practice across town at different times of the day, navigating the maddening Labyrinth of Emotional Dysregulation the city of Goshen has become. (And that was before the fair started...)

Throw in two conferences, my birthday (or, my "unbirthday," as it was,) a vacation, and Calvin's illness doing it's typical summertime ramp-up, and you might expect to find me hiding in a corner somewhere under a therapeutic weighted blanket.

But, no. I'm just here, sitting on my bed in my pajamas at 1:03 pm on a Saturday, writing my first blog post in almost two months.

Oh, how far I have fallen. I remember thinking it was so weird when bloggers would take the summer off, and even weirder when they would warn their readers that they were taking a break. I was all, What's the big deal? and What's so hard about blogging in the summer?

Ho, ho, ho! (That's my sardonic laugh.)
Now I know. Now I know what it's like when life just completely takes over and priorities shift a little bit. Now I'm fielding comments where people are asking if I'm still alive, and if I plan to ever blog again. Now I'm thinking about re-entry.

The hard truth is that my kids return to school in less than two weeks. From the marrow of my skinny bones, I do not understand how we possibly lived eight weeks. I have loved every inch of them. Work and rest, sadness and hope, laughter and sticky marshmallows and interrupted plans.

We've found a groove around here, and it's not always easy and it's not always fun. But it's growth and it's goodness and I'll take it. I will miss this time and I'll miss these kids.

So, I mean, it's TIME for me to miss them. If you know what I mean.

This is a whole 'nother story, and I'm not sure what all to say about it, so I'll do what I am wont to do in times like these, and illustrate it with an exceedingly strange, seemingly unrelated story.

Last week, I spent 4 days speaking to a group of pastors in Ohio. I have stewed and sweated and prayed about this since December. It was intimidating, okay? Throw into the mix the fact that I distinctly knew I was supposed to share my feelings about church on my closing night. To a roomful of seasoned, long-haul pastors. Who did God think I was??? 

It went really well. I love speaking. I love the feeling of the Holy Spirit rushing through me until I'm ready to fall off of the stage by the end. It's emotionally exhausting and epically humbling and I love it.

After my last session Thursday night, I decided to drive the four hours home when I was done, rather than waiting until Friday morning. It made sense for a lot of reasons, and I'm a night owl. Simple enough, right?

Here's what ended up happening.

Try though I did to avoid the toll road option on my map, I ended up on it. (Don't ask.) Feeling like there was no other option at that point, I grabbed my ticket and drove. Within fifteen minutes I was suffering a mild panic attack of unknown origins. I keep getting more and more squeamish about the toll road as I get older. I DON'T UNDERSTAND IT, EITHER. Whatever. I tried to be brave. I prayed. I used some positive self-talk. But semi trucks were passing me on both sides (major speeding ticket anxiety has also thrust me into granny-driving territory of late,) construction cones and lights and those really narrow lanes were everywhere and I couldn't escape the sense that something terrible was about to happen.

I finally called Cory and he found me an alternative route. But my map didn't like his route and re-routed the re-route. I turned around, a ball of jitters somewhere around midnight, out in the middle of no where, vaguely aware that I was Michael Scott in the flesh, driving straight into a pond because my map told me to, but fundamentally incapable of doing anything else.

And then a wild turkey flew into my windshield. Or maybe an eagle or a chicken. A goose? It was white. Lots of feathers. It sounded like a sack of flour falling on my windshield - startling, but leaving no trace. A second later, I wasn't sure if it even happened. I had no witnesses.

I then realized the map was taking me back to the toll-road. So I cried.

I drove an additional thirty minutes out of my way, then Cory patiently told me to go back to the route he gave me. "Ignore your map!"

I had to pee. I was so hungry. I was tired.

I turned around, back into the pitch-darkness of sinister back roads, map be danged. I drove straight into a gaze of raccoons, hitting one, which seemed to yelp up from my driver side door area.

My life had gone from the thrill of accomplishing a major task and feeling quite good about it, to a real-time Edgar Allen Poe poem. I was certain every car following me was about to intentionally rear-end me then do something unspeakable, out there in the middle of no where.


This went on for hours untold. On the one hand, I knew I was being irrational and way out of character. On the other hand, I drove over a large roadkill of unknown origin and I believed (you guys, I really believed) I had lost my mind. "That was the night Shannan went South. That was when we knew something had snapped."

I was honestly too tired to drive, but it felt ominously dangerous to pull over anywhere.
I queued up the recent episode of "Up and Vanished" to take my mind off things. IT DIDN'T HELP.

I obsessed about my life. I decided to quit writing all together, nevermind that I love it and need it and am under an actual contract to do the opposite of quitting. I decided to leave social media, nevermind that I feel no pressure from it 99% of the time and I thoroughly enjoy it. I decided to never speak publicly again, and especially not to pastors, even though it was deeply satisfying work and they were more encouraging that I could have imagined.

In the end, I made it home just a slim two hours behind schedule, at 3:30 a.m., though not before hitting an overweight groundhog. A few miles from home, a pack of wild youths emerged from the shadows, quite drunk, and one of them almost ran straight into my path. I swerved to keep from hitting him, and they all screamed for me to come back. I have no idea why.

Yesterday, I did laundry. Got groceries. Went to the library. Washed sheets and swept floors. I watered my flowers and read a magazine on the patio. I stayed very close to my people and my place.

My summer has been two solid months of intensity, boomeranging into the delicious liesure that happens best on this particular plot of earth. It has filled me straight up.

I don't know what to make of Thursday night or why I'm telling you any of it, other than the fact that it's strangely funny to me now and entirely surreal.

Just this morning Silas woke me up from a dream where I was driving down a highway with a herd of stampeding elephants. (Thank you, Silas!)

Here's my best Dream Doctor guess - I have work to do, and it feels a little scary right now. (It also feels pretty needy and dramatic to refer to writing a book as "scary," but I killed three wild animals in one night without even trying. This world is much bigger than me and I control very little of it.)

My excuses are almost long gone. I have work to do, and it's crunch time. I don't know exactly where I'm going with all of it yet. I'm driving in the dark. I'm afraid to fly up the road at seventy miles an hour. My van has a terrible suspension system and one door that doesn't shut all the way. I feel unequipped, small, and a little tired.

The glitter is settling on Summer, 2017. I have to keep reminding myself there's still plenty of time to enjoy the patio, pick blueberries off the vines, can pickles, wear flip flops, take bike rides, and eat ice cream. But between all those perks of the season, I'll be head-down, laser focused, beating back the lies Satan tries to whisper when he senses our weakness.

I'll be doing the work, working up quite an emotional and spiritual sweat, because what's the point of living life in the dark? Right now, I'm choosing to trust that the Lord will see all of this to completion, and that I can just ignore the map and drive, arriving exhausted but alive in the end.

Whatever you're facing, I'd love to be near you in spirit.
Whatever you're tackling, just remember, wherever you're standing is the land of the living. You can be sure of God's goodness there.


PS - I have grand intentions of sharing some of my truly true, real-life summer favorites with you soon. (When I do these posts, I'm never promoting anything other than what I'm really loving, so expect some randoms!) In the meantime, have you susbscribed to my Super Scoop? It's a personal email from me to you, where I share things I don't share anywhere else. In my next email, I'm sending out a fun surprise. :)

You can also always find me on my fave, Instagram, as well as Facebook and Twitter.