Category Archives: bloggy

the new “uncategorized,” basically. these are posts that don’t serve much of a real purpose other than to be personal ramblings in a public place.

Jesus, the Bleeding Woman, and Amateur Theology

One of the things that’s hard for me to wrap my brain around theologically is Jesus’s full humanity coexisting with his full divinity. Half and half would make a little more sense to me (like Achilles, for example, in Greek mythology), but fully human and fully God just seems paradoxical. For instance, if Jesus had truly been fully divine, he could’ve gotten himself out of a lot of hard situations (not least the crucifixion)—yet he didn’t. And if he had truly been fully human, he could’ve fallen prey to lots of temptations (especially the ones the devil offered him in the wilderness)—yet he didn’t.

On the other hand, perhaps these two states of being coexisting within one person are exactly why things happened the way they did: maybe full divinity allowed him to resist the kinds of temptations the rest of humanity might succumb to, and maybe full humanity prevented him from using a divine get-out-of-jail-free card to wriggle out of tough situations. It’s still a bit of a brain bender, though, and it’s one of those things we’re sorta just supposed to accept as Christians: Jesus was fully God and fully human. End of story, no questions, please.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I identify a lot with the disciple Thomas, who needs a little more explanation sometimes before he can get all the way on board with something that’s weird and theologically confusing. I’m like that too, and one of the biblical passages that clearly illustrates to me the fullness of both Jesus’s humanity and divinity (even though I’ve never heard it preached this way) is the story of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. There’s a version of this story in each Synoptic Gospel. Mark 5:21–42 and Luke 8:40–56 contain the details that manifest the character of Jesus that I want to discuss here. Matthew 9:18–26 has the story too, but its details are far fewer.

To summarize the story, Jesus is walking along the road, lots of people are around, he is preoccupied with a request to heal someone else—and then this chronically hemorrhaging woman somehow makes her way to the center of the throng, grabs the edge of his cloak, and is herself instantly healed.

The fact that she is immediately healed is something to notice right away. Certainly Jesus does a lot of healing in the Gospels, but usually it’s in cases where he’s been specifically asked to do it, and he willfully makes the choice to proceed. The fact that he has a choice in these other instances indicates full humanity by way of free will. He can choose to tap into his divine powers and heal someone, or he can choose to exercise his human free will and go on his way. I don’t know if I recall an instance when Jesus actually chooses not to heal someone who has asked for it, but choice is an important factor in other scenarios. For instance, people who are trying to trick, trap, or bait Jesus into performing “signs and wonders”—either as a condition of their own belief, for personal entertainment, or for diabolical purposes—are often disappointed when Jesus tells them parables or other confusing riddles instead.

Here with the bleeding woman, though, the fact that he doesn’t actively participate in her healing indicates his full divinity coexisting alongside his full humanity. Mark 5:30 tells us, “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him.” It doesn’t say that Jesus sends out power from himself or that Jesus chooses to heal this woman. It says “power had gone out from him,” implying that Jesus has no choice in the matter. To me, this result is proof that Jesus is truly sent from the Father in heaven, who has the power to will and to act through Jesus in situations when Jesus is—say, I don’t know—busy participating in activities that are more fully human, like being pressed by a crowd, walking along a dirt road, heading toward someone else’s home to perform a different (though equally divine) act of healing.

This woman’s desperation has driven her to some extremes, as I understand the story. In biblical Jewish culture, bleeding of any kind is considered impure, and anyone who does bleed (including, I think, women whose bodies simply menstruate on a regular basis, as God created them to do) is supposed to sequester, or quarantine, themselves until the bleeding stops; and, once it does stop, they then have to perform certain rituals, wait a certain amount of time, and get a priest to declare them pure again before they can re-enter public society. At least, that’s my rudimentary and incomplete understanding of ancient Jewish law, but I’m sure it’s not 100% accurate. However, assuming I got more details right than wrong, that would mean this woman has spent more time out of public life than in it over the last twelve years. It would also mean she is taking a huge risk by going out in this enormous crowd to try to get close to Jesus. With the people pressing in as much as the Gospel accounts tell us they are, not only would it be difficult to get near him at all, it would also require her to touch a lot of other people on her way through—probably a pretty big no-no. But this woman is desperate. Mark and Luke both tell us that “many” have tried to heal her to no avail, and Mark even indicates she’s made herself destitute just to pay for the many different treatments she has sought (5:26; Luke 8:43).

Imagine the desperation this woman must be feeling: a desperation that leads her to flout not only social norms but also religious law, a desperation that has driven her to the extreme—and, frankly, somewhat nonsense—notion that merely touching the edge of the cloak of this random itinerant preacher guy will make her well. But she’s been sick for twelve years. She’s tried everything. She’s seen every doctor, every herbalist, every quack peddling sugar water and placebo pills, she’s signed up for every experimental drug trial, she’s spent every last penny she has trying to rid herself of this illness that has plagued her for twelve long years. She’s ready to believe anything at this point, even if it’s some crackpot theory about touching the clothes of a carpenter-turned-rabbi who happens to be passing through town.

This woman’s absolute desperation is why the Father in heaven apparently decides to take part in this healing story. This woman’s insane belief—which Jesus names as “faith” in all three Gospel narratives—causes the Father to look down with compassion and send power out from his Son to heal this wretched illness and free her from her misery. None of the Gospels explicitly state the Father’s involvement in this story, but the implicit hallmarks of his presence are there. After all, Jesus has been clear throughout his entire ministry that he has been sent from the Father, that he is doing the Father’s work in the world, and that he will eventually return to the Father. And so, while Jesus is engaged in other matters, by other people, perhaps the Father sees an opportunity to reward one woman’s desperate faith by using Jesus as a conduit for healing. She believes Jesus can heal her even if she only manages to touch his clothing—and so, that is exactly what happens. Not because Jesus chooses to do it. Not because Jesus feels sorry for her. But because she believes. Because she has nothing to lose. Because she isn’t trying to prove anything, or trap Jesus, or trick him, or catch him in a lie, or get him killed. Because she is simply a woman who has reached the end of her rope, who has nowhere else to turn. And so she turns to Jesus. And is rewarded.

Yet, as we continue, we see more of Jesus’s full humanity on display in the fact that he doesn’t even know what happened. According to Mark and Luke, he can tell that power has gone out from him, but that’s where his humanity takes over from his divinity: he doesn’t know who touched him (Mark 5:30; Luke 8:45). The crowd’s response is kinda funny to me. They seem to answer Jesus a bit mockingly when he asks who touched him. What do you MEAN who touched you?! Do you see this crowd? EVERYONE is touching you! (see Mark 5:31 and Luke 8:45). But Jesus felt the power go out from him. He knows that someone specific touched him, that they did it in search of healing, and that they were rewarded: the power of divinity. Yet he doesn’t know who did it, nor did he specifically choose to send out that healing power from himself: the limitations of humanity.

Divinity and humanity coexisting in one person becomes a far more accessible concept in this weird little story that doesn’t even get its own passage. It’s bookended by what would be viewed as the more important story, the one about the religious leader’s daughter who also needs healing. To all who were there that day, healing the daughter of a synagogue leader—of someone who has presumably adhered to Jewish custom, tradition, and law all his life, who probably can quote the prophets, the Hebrew scriptures, and the entire law of Moses—should certainly be Jesus’s priority. It would be right, in their eyes, for Jesus to reward the faithful, the religious, those of his own “tribe,” those who are at the top of the hierarchical structure of their religion. But, as usual, Jesus turns things on their head and, together with the assistance of the Father, offers a living demonstration of “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” But it’s important to note, too, that Jesus does still choose to heal the daughter of the religious leader, even after she dies and they think it’s too late—again exercising his fully human free will to divinely heal someone deemed unhealable.

Most of our stories about Jesus highlight one aspect or the other: humanity or divinity. Divinity in his ability to resist the devil’s temptations in the wilderness. Humanity in cursing a fig tree for not offering him nourishment; humanity that he even feels hungry in the first place! Divinity in his miracles like turning water into wine, feeding thousands of people from just a couple of loaves of bread, calming storms, walking on water. Humanity in losing his temper and overturning tables in church. Divinity at his baptism in the Jordan River, when the Spirit of God alights on him like a dove and the very voice of God proclaims and affirms his divine identity from the heavens. Humanity when he gets annoyed with his disciples for repeatedly misunderstanding him, his stories, and his mission. Divinity when he offers forgiveness to the unforgivable. Humanity in the garden of Gethsemane, when he literally begs the Father to find some way other than crucifixion to bring about salvation for the world.

I guess that’s why I’m drawn to this story about the bleeding woman and how she’s healed just by touching the edge of Jesus’s cloak—because, for just a second, I get a glimpse of both his humanity and his divinity, shimmering and present in the same body, in the same person, at the same time. And, for that quick second, I feel a small spark of understanding, perhaps like Thomas when he saw and felt the scars in Jesus’s hands after the resurrection. I’m grateful for a gracious God whose Spirit teaches me through Scripture, and I’m grateful to be saved by the kind of God who is willing to save all of us, whether we have a lot or a little, whether we’re as desperate as the bleeding woman or as comfortable as the synagogue leader. God deems all of us worthy of God’s saving grace. Thanks be to God.


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Filed under bloggy, theology

How I’m Feeling about My Upcoming Hysterectomy

When people find out that I—a childless woman in my early thirties—will be having a hysterectomy, the first question they inevitably ask is, “How are you feeling about that?”


And I will be honest with you, after attempting to be diplomatic, after trying to come up with the “short version” for acquaintances and patiently articulating the long version for those closest to me, I have this to say: STOP ASKING ME HOW I’M FEELING (please). I’m so sick of being asked this question—because the answer is not what everyone asking this question wants or expects to hear. People want me to be broken up about it. People expect me to be devastated. And I think it offends some of them that I’m not sad about it. Of course, all of these expectations are rooted, however loosely, in the ancient belief that childbearing is the only thing women exist to do in this life. And I guess if I had that perception of myself and my life’s purpose, then sure, maybe I’d be heartbroken over this development. But dealing with the realities of my pending surgery has been loads easier than trying to walk on the eggshells of people’s expectations of my devastation and their devastation on my behalf.


Only a few people knew this before now, but I’ve always suspected I would never be able to have my own children. I could never explain exactly why or how this was the case, but from the time I was seventeen, I just somehow knew that my womb wouldn’t grow children. I told one person back then—and it’s doubtful she remembers such a prediction because it would’ve sounded ridiculous. And yet here we are. Because of this instinct of mine, I acclimated many, many years ago to the idea of expanding my future family through adoption. And so this fork in the road isn’t some great tragedy for me. It is a newer adjustment for my husband, and he is probably and understandably a little sadder about it than I am. But overall, we are fine. And I am fine.


But I’ll tell you about a time when I was not fine. I won’t recount the details of 2010—2015, from the time the fibroids were discovered to the time of my first surgery to remove them while leaving my uterus intact—a period during which I was also less than fine. But I’ve recounted at least some of those details elsewhere.


What I want to tell you about is what happened after that first surgery. I had been married all of eight months when I had surgery in November 2015. I had broached the subject of a hysterectomy multiple times with my doctor, both while I was still single and after I was newly married. I somehow knew all along, in my gut, that it would eventually come to that, and I wanted to feel better, sooner. I wanted to get it over with, sooner. I was ready long ago to embrace the idea of potential, someday adoption.


I was not ready to pull the trigger on pregnancy during my first year of marriage. And yet my doctor was adamant about a hysterectomy not being solely “my” decision (even when I was single!). She was adamant about preserving my uterus and my ability to bear children, even after I got married and even after David and I, together, expressed that we would rather do a hysterectomy than risk a surgery that might not solve the problem. She was adamant that we not rush into making that decision, and even though I disagreed then and it has now come to what it has, I don’t resent her. She’s seen a lot more than I have, experienced a lot more than I have, and she’s the medical expert. I respect her expertise, and I appreciate her objective in looking out for regrets I might have later. I did, once, try to explain to her my “feeling” that I might not be able to get pregnant anyway, once I was ready to begin trying. As a practitioner of science and medicine, it is her job to dismiss anything that has no tangible, explicable basis, and she did just that: “Why would you think that? There is absolutely no reason to believe that you cannot get pregnant.” And I let the conversation end there.


So, fast forward to after my first surgery. I recovered, I went back to work, and six months later, I went for the follow-up ultrasound the doctor insisted I receive. The goal was to find out whether my uterus was still uninhabited. I expected the fibroids to be back, and they were—with a vengeance. At the time of surgery, the doctor removed six and left four. Six months after that, the ultrasound showed too many fibroids to count. Too many to count. A literal invasion. For those last six months, I had also been on a contraceptive that was injectable. Its aim, beyond keeping me from getting pregnant, was to shrink fibroids. It had been unsuccessful.


My next birth control injection appointment was scheduled sometime in July 2016, but after the less-than-desirable results of the ultrasound, David and I had a decision to make. According to the doctor, it was now or never. “If you’re going to use your uterus to have children, you’ve gotta do it now. I don’t know how long your uterus will remain a safe environment for a fetus. The fibroids that are in there now are small—but they’re numerous. And there’s no telling how fast they’ll grow. The clock is ticking. Not to mention, you’re about to be 32. You just don’t have time to lollygag about this.”


So here we were, now sixteen months wed, and forced to decide whether we were ready for me to be pregnant. Our original plan, upon marrying, included an adjustment period of about five years before we started talking children. So, in short, no. I was not ready to be pregnant. We both had low-paying jobs with no improvement in sight. I’m still paying on a student loan. Our house is really too small to build a family that includes more than one child, especially if they’re of different genders. We only have one bedroom besides our own. And we didn’t want to have an only child. One thing we agree on is that, if we expand our family through children, we want it to be multiple.


So I went off birth control. We didn’t tell a lot of people about this development because it was fraught with pressure, with anxiety, with fear, with uncertainty. The people we did tell used a term I hate: trying. I preferred to go a different linguistic direction and told people, “We’re not preventing.” But those were the months, as opposed to now, when I needed to be asked and to articulate how I was feeling.


Earlier in this post, I used the word invasion to describe what the fibroids have done to my uterus. In early January of this year, I went out for dessert with a close friend, just after making the decision to have a hysterectomy, and when she asked how I was feeling about it, I described to her my thoughts about needing an emotional outlet six months ago rather than now. In that conversation, I said that “my uterus was drafted into service,” partly without my consent. Near the end of January 2017, in a text conversation with a different friend who was, again, asking how I felt about it, I had this to say: “I feel great about it. I’m tired of being at war with my reproductive system. I’m a pacifist!”


I was half-joking, but it wasn’t until I used the word invasion in this blog post that I remembered my phrases “drafted into service” and “I’m a pacifist” and realized that, all along, I’ve been subconsciously using war-themed language to describe my difficult, emotionally wrought, and long-suffering experience with the childbearing parts of my body. And it shouldn’t have to be that way. My body is supposed to work for me, not against me. Or, if not for me, at least with me. Biologically speaking, my uterus is supposed to sit relatively quietly until I’m ready for it to serve its designed purpose. It’s not supposed to wage war, bring its own army of soldiers too numerous to count, and wreak havoc inside me.


And so, during the months between ultrasounds (July—December 2016), when I went off birth control and we started “trying,” I was constantly on edge. I was excited about the possibility of having a baby by that time next year (summerish 2017), but I was also terrified, which I think is pretty normal. We started to sketch out plans: Okay, suppose I get pregnant by this date, at the earliest. That would give us this many months before we really NEED to start thinking about a new living situation. We tentatively imagined how we would make an announcement. In our church parking lot, there are a couple of reserved spaces for “new and expecting parents,” and we casually joked about an announcement that included a picture of the reserved sign with accompanying text that said something like, “We are eligible to park in this space now!”


We told both sets of our parents that we had stopped preventing, which just added a new level of tension every time we had something to talk to them about. When we got our kitten, Zuri, we had to spit out the news immediately because we knew that if we dragged out the “we have something to tell you” part, they would all four jump to conclusions and inevitably be disappointed. Living in that constant tension was difficult for me. I don’t want to be a disappointment to either my parents or my husband’s parents. Inevitably, I feel like one anyway. Once parents get to a certain age, and once their children are married off, it seems like their only dreams are of grandchildren. And, if my parents are any indication, it only gets worse once they get their first taste of it. Grandparents always want more grandchildren. It’s difficult to be a harbinger of bad news in that respect. It is not fun to crush a loved one’s dreams in that way.


My doctor, for her part, talked as if she fully expected us to be nearing the end of the first trimester by the time of my next scheduled ultrasound in December 2016, and we left her office in July with instructions on what to do—call and schedule an appointment immediately—were I to find myself missing a period or showing a positive on a home pregnancy test. I knew that was unlikely. And yet, every month when I did get my period, I experienced a legitimately mixed reaction of disappointment and relief. It was exhausting having that much emotion tied to a spot of blood in my underwear.


The worst, most difficult emotion I worked through during those months between ultrasounds was a feeling of failure. I have never been pregnant and I’ve never been someone’s legal guardian, but nonetheless I felt like I had failed as a mother—simply because I could not guarantee that my body would be a safe place for an embryo to grow into a fetus to grow into a human being. I think it was natural for me to feel this way because, even if childbearing isn’t a woman’s only purpose in life, it is a biological purpose that is designed into a woman’s cells and DNA. And to realize that I cannot participate in that basic, natural facet of “being a woman” did make me feel like I had failed in some way. Thankfully, that place of despair isn’t where my emotions ended.


At the end of 2016, I had another ultrasound that showed worse results than the previous one, which I had been expecting. And I was so relieved—more than any other competing emotion—when I finally heard my doctor say, “It’s time to consider a hysterectomy.” As disappointing as it is in the minds of some people not to be able to create life on your own, disappointment was not really in the pantheon of emotions I felt that day and during the following week as David and I discussed our options and a plan for moving forward.


Let me tell you, since so many of you have asked so many times, what I was feeling: Relief, that my reproductive nightmare was finally going to end. Hope, that David and I could decide to expand our family when we truly wanted to and were ready, rather than being pushed into it too soon. Joy, at the idea that if we do someday decide to adopt, we will have the opportunity to offer love to a child in need. Excitement, wondering what God has planned for us and where our adventure will take us next.


I fully recognize that I may feel differently about all this later, after it’s all over. Hopefully how I feel post-surgery won’t change a lot from how I feel now, though. They’re leaving all my hormone producers in, so I shouldn’t experience anything too drastically different. But I’m prepared to feel a sense of loss that I can’t quite imagine at this time. I hope, in that event, that I will grieve appropriately and move on, just as we do with any other loss we experience in life.


Some people have said to me that, when they try to imagine putting themselves in my situation, losing the ability to choose is the worst part of it. To an extent, yes, that is difficult. I will never be able to choose to be pregnant and carry a child to term in my womb. But on the other hand, I am choosing to go forward with a hysterectomy. That is my choice. Certainly it’s a choice that is a result of other factors, but it’s still a choice, and it is one I feel good about.


So if you’ve asked me recently how I’m feeling, this pretty much sums it up. Please don’t feel sorry for me—because then I feel obligated to feel sad just so that your sorrow feels appropriate. But I’m not sad. And your sorrow for me, in this situation, is not appropriate. I will, however, gladly accept your prayers and well wishes for a successful surgery and a smooth recovery!


The journey is ever changing, and I’m just grateful to be on it.


Filed under bloggy, feminisim, marriage, sentimental

A Poetry Interlude

I never know how much context to provide preceding a piece of poetry, but here is all the context I’ll give you for this one. This poem was inspired by a friend who loves poetry and is herself a prolific poet. I myself do not do much dabbling in poetry, whether reading or writing, but I sent this poem to the friend whose post inspired it, and she compared it to an ee cummings poem, and that made my day. So here it is; I hope you enjoy it.

Safety First

Facebook tantalizes me with temptation: “Check out your memories!”
No warning label. Proceed without caution of any kind.

What is in my memories?
Sometimes pure, nostalgic fun
Tendrils and wisps of a more innocent, more slim, more confident, past self
Less weathered.
Less care worn.
Less filtered.
Less experienced.
Less empathetic.
Less everything, it sometimes seems.

Most often, though
the things that crop up are not things at all, but people.
Former friends. In the comments.

I went through a phase, you see,
in my younger days, when I realized
that Jennyfromthesecondgrade
didn’t really need
to see my every thought, picture, fear, or confession.

Facebook tantalized me back then too.
Unfriend, it whispered.
Annoying? Unfriend!
Over-Emotional? Unfriend!
Too Republican? Unfriend!
Too girly? Too sexist? Too liberal? Too Christian? Too atheist? Too cryptic? Too verbose? Too serious? Too silly?

 I created the perfect echo chamber,
full of those wonderful creatures who only think the way I do,
and now my feed is clear, concise,
. . . somewhat empty, and . . .
a little redundant.

My old friends show up faithfully, but only in my memories, and
Facebook tantalizes me still:
“Add friend!”

Oh, but Facebook. That’s one temptation to which
I won’t succumb. I’d choke
trying to swallow that much pride.

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Filed under bloggy, experimental, irreverent, writing exercises

Goodbye, Sweet Soren

Today I said goodbye to Soren, certified Good Dog. It was a hard day. It’s been a hard month.


Soren was just six weeks old the day I got him. Even though we were just supposed to be going to “look,” I made my decision within about five seconds of meeting him. Of course, I’d been dreaming about him for years—ever since I left home to go to college, I’d been dreaming of the day when I’d be finished with dorm living and could get my very own dog. I named my future dog while sitting in Intro to Philosophy one day during my sophomore year of college. We briefly studied a pretty well-known existentialist philosopher named Søren Kierkegaard, and the first time I read that name in my textbook, I thought, Soren would make a great name for a dog. And then for the next two years I talked to everyone I knew about the future dog (breed as yet undetermined) that I would get after I finished school and got my own place, and whom I would name Soren—without a line through the o.

As soon as I found the apartment I would live in, I went dog-searching. At that time I was still living in the campus dorms, but I was spending a lot of time with a family who lived close to campus. I was dating their son, and I convinced him that the purchase of my dog should be his financial responsibility. I did this by pointing out that December of that year (2006) was going to be a loaded one for him. After all, we would be celebrating our second dating anniversary that December, and I would be graduating college. And then of course there would be Christmas. All three of those events were major gift-giving holidays, I warned him. And then I dropped the deal: “I would accept just one present to cover all three of those events—if it’s the right present.” I eventually persuaded him that getting me a puppy for our anniversary, my graduation, and Christmas was the best thing to do. Somewhere in there I also made it clear that the dog would be mine and only mine and that if things went south between us, the dog would continue to be mine and only mine. There were to be absolutely no custody disputes. Amazingly, he agreed to my proposition.

Once we got the terms worked out, I was free to hunt through the newspaper listings. I had in mind that I wanted a dachshund because I’d had a dachshund (mix) as a small child, and I had very fond memories of that dog. I found a dachshund litter in the paper, but it was a couple hours away, and they weren’t available to be seen that day. The next listing down was a litter of cocker spaniels, much closer to town and available to be seen that day. I had my heart set on seeing a puppy that day even if I didn’t come home with one, so I said, “Let’s just go see this puppy; I won’t decide for sure until I see the dachshunds tomorrow.”

We arranged to meet this lady and her dog and her dog’s puppy—the very last of the litter—in a grocery store parking lot. When the lady got out of her car, she reached in and grabbed the tiniest bundle—three pounds!—of black furry puppy and placed him in my hand. My heart melted instantly, and I couldn’t bring myself to give him back. The lady said he was purebred, but without papers. I didn’t care about papers, but I thought I was getting a pretty good deal for the price I was getting this purebred dog. The lady said he came from a long line of pure cockers. Knowing nothing about breeding or puppy mills or anything, that sounded good enough to me. Little did I know it was a huge red flag (more on that later).

Soren and I had plenty of adventures together—mainly, ushering each other into adulthood. I was twenty-one when I got Soren. He moved into my first apartment with me (and then my second). He moved with me from Oklahoma City to Kansas City. He moved with me from the first house I rented into the first house I bought. He was there when I graduated college and through the many years I was miserable at my jobs. He was there when I was losing my job to company closure and when I was rehired because they changed their minds. He was there when I got married. Every time I left town, he was there when I got back. (And I left him to go out of town a lot.)


Soren never needed a leash because the only thing he ever wanted out of life was to be by my side. He had one love that surpassed everything in this world except for me, and that was balls. It didn’t matter what kind, and we’ve had all of them over the years. Once, deeming it not chaseable, he even tore the cover off a baseball. As long as it was round and it rolled, Soren wanted it. Fetch was his absolute favorite game, and I often used to regret teaching it to him because he never got tired of chasing the ball. A friend of mine taught him how to catch the ball in the air, and sometimes he was a pretty impressive catcher, but over and above all he preferred to have the ball thrown a decent distance so he could run after it.

I once taught him the difference between two kinds of balls, a tennis ball and a racquetball. The racquetball was simply “the ball,” and the tennis ball was “the tennis.” I’d make Soren sit and wait while I threw both balls, sometimes in the same direction and sometimes in opposite directions. Sometimes his sit was more like a dance-in-place as he waited eagerly to get the command to fetch. Then I’d tell him which ball to go get—the ball, or the tennis. And he brought back the right one almost every time. This was our most impressive parlor trick for guests.

Soren enjoyed the dog park, especially the one we went to in Oklahoma. We never found its equal in Kansas City, in fact. The dog park we frequented in Oklahoma had a little pond, and it was Soren’s favorite activity to go swimming. He’d find a stick and bring it to me to throw. I’d throw it into the water, and he’d swim out and get it. Sometimes his retrieval determination scared me—like the time he found a root underwater and tried to pull it up, not realizing it was firmly attached. He dunked under water over and over trying to pull up this root, coming up coughing and spluttering every time but no worse for the wear. One time he stayed under so long I was sure my heart stopped. But then he came back up, coughing and disappointed in his failure.

Or the time we tried the swim-and-fetch game after moving to Kansas City. Except the only dog park with a place to swim was actually part of a larger people park, and the doggie swimming area was just a little part of a much larger lake (Shawnee Mission Lake, for those who know the area). There was no boundary between the dog lake and the big lake. One time Soren swam past the stick I threw, never seeing it, and he just kept on going right into the big expanse of the open water. He went out so far and got so turned around he couldn’t figure out where my voice calling him back to shore was coming from. A couple of guys in a little metal fishing boat saw him go paddling by and got the funniest, most bewildered looks on their faces. If Soren hadn’t finally turned in the right direction right about then and started coming back, I do believe I either would’ve enlisted the help of those boat guys or just jumped right in myself.

Then there was Soren’s tendency to mark. Not by peeing, though. Soren was well trained when it came to peeing inside. He never lifted his leg (got neutered too soon for that, I guess), but he still liked to mark places he went in the world, so instead of peeing on them he pooped instead. This was his most embarrassing tendency, and it was the reason I stopped taking him places with me—even the dog-friendly places like the pet store. I don’t think, to this day, he’s ever visited a PetSmart without pooping inside. It happened at friends’ houses too, and I’d be all, “I SWEAR he’s housebroken . . .” The most embarrassing instance of Soren’s pooping proclivity was in the middle of a marathon course in Kansas City once. He stopped to squat as we were crossing the street to find a place to spectate, and I said, “NO, Soren!” I had to drag him across the street to the curb, and he pooped the entire way, so there were plops of poop I had to go back and pick up. We crossed during a lull (obviously), but I wasn’t able to get all the poops picked up before the next wave of runners came. One of them hurtled over me, and my friend Joy, who was with me, stood on the curb holding Soren’s leash and hollering to the runners going by, “WATCH OUT FOR THE POOP!” Definitely one of the most embarrassing dog-mama moments of my life.

As a pet owner, like with having kids, you sign on at the beginning to take the good with the bad because you hope and assume the good will outweigh the bad. With Soren, the good outweighed the bad overall, but in the end, the reverse started to become true, which was what finally led to the decision to have him put down. Although, thanks to his purebred (more like inbred) status, he struggled with his health from the very beginning. He had chronic allergies that our beloved vet in Oklahoma couldn’t find an adequate treatment for. He also suffered from what’s called cherry eye, which is when the third eyelid (the red part) gets swollen and sticks out. He had surgery for this condition twice. He had chronic ear infections and couldn’t stand to have his ears touched by anyone. Because of his allergies, his feet and ears itched constantly; therefore, he scratched his ears and chewed on his feet constantly. Sometimes he scratched so hard he hurt himself and yelped. When he was still just a puppy (and still allowed to go everywhere with me), he once got so excited to stick his head out the window that he lunged and fell out of my car, which was going about 40mph down a four-lane road in Oklahoma City. I didn’t see him fall out, but I sure heard his yelp when he hit the pavement. It’s a wonder I didn’t cause an accident pulling over to go back and get him.

When he was five years old, he developed a herniated disc, and I almost lost him then. He lost his ability to control his back legs, and eventually they became paralyzed. He had surgery for this condition and made a full recovery, though at least twice we had to go back to the vet to get muscle relaxers because the discs swelled up again. (At least I think they were muscle relaxers, but who really knows. That dog probably had more prescriptions over the course of his 10 years than I have in 32. Muscle relaxers, sedatives, painkillers, antibiotics, topical treatments, steroids, etc.) His most recent medical issue was to develop little cysts all over his poor, battered body—mostly on his legs and feet but some on his back and belly as well. His long hair hid them well from the naked eye, but he knew they were there, and they bothered him, and he chewed them. We had the first one removed, but it was costly, so we opted not to do that with future ones that appeared. First we dealt with his desire to chew on them by getting little boots for him to wear, which helped a lot, but eventually he just had too many and in places the boots didn’t cover, so he had to transition to wearing the cone collar full time. Also in the last couple of years he started having nightmares while he slept, during which he woke us up in the middle of the night howling and crying bloody murder. Unfortunately, the howling and crying didn’t wake him up, and we had to shake him awake, which was sometimes difficult, and then of course I had to cuddle him until he whimpered away his fear and was able to fall back asleep. This probably happened at least three times a week.


The ability to decide when your pet will go is both a gift and a curse. It’s very, very difficult to pull that trigger (not literally, thankfully; this isn’t Old Yeller!). But, I made the decision to put my little buddy to sleep about three weeks ago, which means that we had plenty of time to cherish and spoil him leading up to today. We became lax on table scraps (only with him, though; not with the other two dogs); he got extra treats and extra privileges and car rides. On his very last day we went to the dog park and played fetch one final time, and he got a piece of three-week-old, moldy chocolate cake that I had been saving for him.

I had a really good day today, all the way up to the very end, and I hope Soren did too. I’d never before taken a pet to be euthanized, so that process was new and a little disturbing to me. The sedative they gave Soren made him drool excessively. He was in my lap, so my pant leg got pretty soaked. It was the first time in living memory that I didn’t care about having someone’s slobber all over me. I held him and stroked him and kissed him and told him how much I loved him and what a good dog he was right up to the very end. I felt him take his last breath, and his tongue slipped out of his mouth to lie flat on the table. The doctor left us alone and I stroked his head a while longer. Then I kissed him goodbye, shut his eyes, and went home with his leash.

Soren was a newspaper dog, not a rescue dog, but maybe I rescued him anyway. Maybe I loved him better than someone else would have, I don’t know. I just hope he was happy. We had a great decade together, and I miss him terribly already, but I’m comforted knowing that he’s finally at peace. No more pain, no more itching, no more nightmares. He was a Good Dog.

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Christianity Makes Me a Better Person, but Feminism Makes Me a Better Christian

One day a few months ago I came across an old blog post I published to this site. It was a review I wrote of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I hunted it down on purpose with the intent of showing it to someone on Twitter who had asked for people’s thoughts on Hemingway. For a lark, I read through it again myself and laughed out loud upon reading a line that said, “I’m no feminist, to be sure.”

Quickly I checked the date of the post. Wow, it’s already been five years since I wrote that? And then, on the heels of my astonishment, some surprise: I actually sound kind of proud to be claiming not to be a feminist. A curious realization, considering how sharply my views have changed since then.

The cherry on top, of course, is the part where, at the beginning of the book review, I claim not to be a feminist and then spend the rest of the review lambasting Ernest Hemingway for his blatant misogyny. So it seems that, even though five-years-ago Audra may have been resisting feminism on a conscious level, its deep moral truths had already woven themselves into, at the very least, my subconscious. How I couldn’t see that for myself at the time, I don’t know. If I were a prouder woman, I would delete that post and try to erase all memory of ever having been such a contradictory yet transparent writer. But I’m not all that proud, and besides, that post is part of my journey. So I’ll leave it on my blog. I just won’t link to it.

So now we’ve arrived at the main topic of this post: feminism. At first, I’ll admit, I did resist outwardly identifying as a feminist, although only because I didn’t understand it. Back then, I found it easy to believe that “reverse sexism” was actually a thing. I am aware that I only fell into the same trap that all young people fall into–erroneously believing that they’ve magically figured out the mystery of life by the time they’re twenty-three, and that all the opinions they hold at that age are going to be their opinions for the next sixty years too. But even allowing for the ignorance of youth, I still find myself embarrassed by some of the things I used to believe, and steadfastly. The older I get, the more I realize how much I’ve never known and how much more I never will know.

But feminism has changed my entire life, and I say that non-ironically and completely in earnest. As a younger woman, I measured my own self-worth only in proportion to how much I was valued by my male friends and family members. I did this because society taught me to do it. I was termed (both by myself and others) as “boy-crazy,” as extremely “flirtatious,” as a “tease,” and as a “heartbreaker.” I wore these sexist and demeaning labels proudly, like Girl Scout badges. I sought the company of the opposite sex at every opportunity and shunned the company of other girls and young women almost exclusively.

In part, society trained and encouraged me to behave this way. In part also, I felt more comfortable in the company of the opposite sex because I never quite grew into the feminine persona that I was told all women “should” be. Since I was raised in a Christian environment, my preference for the company of boys was viewed especially harshly. One male youth worker warned a guy who was actually dating me to “stay away from her; she’s a bad influence.” The boy repeated that warning to my face, I guess because he thought it was funny. But I wasn’t a bad influence. I wasn’t sexually promiscuous, although I did enjoy kissing and cuddling and making out. (What teenager doesn’t, though?)

But there was another reason I didn’t like other girls. Sure, I didn’t feel I could relate to a lot of them; I wasn’t fashionable, I couldn’t do my hair, I was awful at applying makeup, and dressing up was a chore reserved for Sundays rather than an elective treat. But that wasn’t all of it. Other girls were my competition. Or, at least, that’s what society said. Plus, I found out quickly and early that if I made fun of my fellow female adolescents for behaving in ways that perpetuated stereotypes, I gained more favor with the guys. So I made fun of gigglers, of bathroom posses, of hair-dyers, of manicures–you name it; if another girl did it, I made fun of it.

But this behavior didn’t really yield positive results for me. What happened instead was that other girls started talking behind my back about what a nasty person I was. What happened instead was that, when the guys whose company I preferred decided they were ready to date the girls I myself had ostracized, I found myself alone and almost friendless. I noticed the negative results of my behavior when I was in college, and I attempted a corrective action in the form of a New Year’s resolution that I sarcastically called Operation: Be Nice to Girls. But it took me many years to figure out how to engage other women in my life in genuine friendship. It took me far longer than I’d like to admit before I stopped viewing other women as competition for male attention (single or otherwise) and started viewing other women as true potential friends and allies in a world where power has been derived from keeping women down.

It’s easy to look at this behavior and judge it as wrong. For those who have never struggled with this, it might be doubly easy to judge. For myself, looking at it in hindsight, it tempts me to feel shame over the person I used to be. But, as a former pastor and fantastic friend once taught me, shame is not productive or constructive. Shame has no positive side effects, and shame has no place in any life, but especially not in the life of a Christian. (Nota bene: Shame and remorse are not the same thing.) But more than that, my behavior was a form of internalized sexism. A sexist world taught me to believe that all women (except myself, of course) were somehow bad.

Other forms of internalized sexism have manifested in the way women have been conditioned to be perpetually dissatisfied with our bodies; we’ve been conditioned to shame women who don’t act in ways that society deems appropriate for a woman; we’ve been conditioned to see beauty only in what we’re told is beautiful (like thinness or tan skin), rather than what we ourselves might find naturally beautiful if we were never influenced by outside factors; we’ve been conditioned to blame other women for making the problem of sexism worse. To linger on that last point for just a second before moving on: Calling out sexism as the primary role player in these issues does not absolve anyone of responsibility for resolution, but blaming women for perpetuating sexism is as vile, inaccurate, and ultimately unproductive as blaming black people for racism or rape victims for their clothing.

But feminism has opened my eyes to the realities I’ve described here. Feminism has taught me that women are not inherently bad, and they are not automatically the opposition. Feminism has taught me that femininity is not about wearing the right makeup and always crossing one’s legs and making sure to be polite and never using swear words. Femininity is not about being a good housekeeper or a good cook or a tolerant/easygoing wife. Feminism has taught me that I am a woman because that is my physical biology. Not to digress too far, but in that same vein, intersectional feminism has taught me that I am a woman because I feel like I’m a woman. Luckily for me, these two things coincide. I was born with a vagina, making me biologically female, and I also identify in my heart and mind with what biology tells me I am. But we don’t need to argue the merits, the reality, or the morality of transgenderism here. The point is, I don’t have to conform to societal expectations in order to be a woman. I am a woman even though I hate pedicures, don’t brush my hair, don’t love to go shopping, and hate wearing heels. I am not less of a woman for not liking the kinds of activities that society has assigned as girly.

Honestly, that conclusion wasn’t the hard part for me. The hard part was the piece feminism taught me after that: Other women are not less valuable just because they do like activities that society has deemed girly. Women who enjoy shopping, who love having their nails done, their hair dyed, and walking in six-inch heels are just as validly women as I myself am. I’ve fought so hard to be accepted as a woman even though I don’t want to be traditionally feminine, so it only makes sense that I would extend back to women who want to be traditionally feminine the exact same grace and acceptance I have demanded for myself. People are people, and they are complex. Women are women, and they are complex. Women can enjoy rom-coms, chocolate, and pink. Women can also enjoy sports, science, and technology. Women can be any combination of these things or none of these things and still be women. The beauty of a free life is that we get to choose who we want to be.

For me, figuring out that I didn’t have to be like other women in order to like other women was one of the biggest and most important epiphanies of my life. And, strangely enough, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve turned back to some traditionally girly practices in my life. I like dressing up and looking nice (sometimes). I enjoy wearing heels (if they’re wedges). I’ve even been known to enjoy a craft on occasion (if it’s not too complicated)! Once feminism liberated me from the bonds of feeling like I had to prove that femininity could look like nontraditionally feminine activities and interests, I felt free to turn around and start re-exploring some of the activities and interests that are traditionally feminine.

Feminism has helped me become more open, more loving, more accepting, and more encouraging as a person. Feminism has helped me view other people in the most positive light I can. I used to look for the negative in other women. Now I try my darndest to find the things we have in common, and if we truly have no common ground, I do my best to listen to them and learn about their interests so that maybe I can find a new interest myself or, at the very least, I can understand them a little better. Because understanding leads to love. And love is what I am called as a Christian to do. Maybe not everyone needs feminism in order to be a better Christian. But it has worked for me.

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Not Everything Is Sexism

A lot of people are tired of sexism coming up in conversations. You’re not alone. (Many of you are so tired of the conversation that you already stopped reading this post.) But, before you dismiss the conversation with “not everything is sexism,” consider this:

No, not everything is sexism. But yes, a lot of things truly are. And the more we talk about it and learn about it and point it out when we see it, the more often we are going to see it in the everyday world around us, even in the seemingly harmless ways we engage in personal conversations with our friends and family or inside our own thoughts. Sexism is a huge part of the world, and it sucks to have to acknowledge that because, once we do, we must change. And changing is hard. And it might mean sharing power, and if people feel like they aren’t starting out with a lot of power to begin with, then the idea of sharing it (even with someone who has less power) is not appealing because we erroneously view power like we view the world’s resources: as both finite and scarce. Further, if we ourselves haven’t been socially responsible with the power we were born into, we tend to imagine the worst about other people’s potential to wield power.

The conversation on sexism is changing. It’s like in a game where you reach a certain level of achievement, so the game becomes harder. Well, world, Achievement Unlocked: Noticing Blatant Sexism and Misogyny. So now the conversation is getting harder because now it’s about pointing out the subtle infrastructures our society has in place that not only allow sexism to thrive but also allow it to lurk below the surface and masquerade as not-sexism. Making excuses for sexism or denying that sexism exists in a given conversation are both part of allowing sexism to live on. We all have sexism ingrained in us because we were all born into a sexist world. Even those who fight to dismantle sexism must continually examine the subtleties of their own sexist thoughts and behavior—regardless of their own gender, and especially regardless of their intent.

Intent is a huge roadblock to people thinking critically about sexism. Haven’t you heard the adage about the road to hell and how it’s paved? Intent is ultimately meaningless in any -ism conversation. Intent exists to make us feel better about our own mistakes. But good intentions are not our get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s not tacit permission to ignore the actual ramifications of our actions. Have you ever felt completely satisfied after getting your feelings hurt by someone saying, “I didn’t mean to” and leaving it at that? I know I haven’t. We didn’t mean to [insert bad action here]? Okay. But that’s not very productive toward reconciliation. “I didn’t mean to” has become a poor substitute for an apology, but it doesn’t take responsibility for what actually happened. We’re still responsible for reconciliation. We can’t resolve or change what happened by saying we didn’t mean for it to happen.

Personal experience seems to hinder the sexism conversation just as much as, if not more than, intent. Men look at the women in their lives whom they love—their wives, their mothers, their sisters, their daughters—and draw the inaccurate conclusion that, because they like those women, it must be impossible for them to ever participate in any actions that are sexist or misogynist or hurtful toward women as a whole. In the same way, women who don’t want to engage the conversation on sexism look at the nice ways their own husbands treat them and incorrectly conclude that, just because they don’t experience the oppression of sexism in their own lives, sexism must be a myth invented by someone with a political agenda. Using one’s own positive personal experience as a way to deny someone else’s negative personal experience has become a powerful weapon of privileged classes. It has never happened to me, and I’ve never seen it happen to anyone else; therefore, it doesn’t exist. To digress for a short second, this is a common defense of the privileged classes in the racism conversation. A white person may find it easy to think, I’ve never seen anyone be rude to a black person; therefore, racism doesn’t exist. Sadly, personal experience can also be weaponized in the exact opposite way. People who have had negative experiences use those experiences to form simple generalizations about complex issues. A woman was rude to me once; therefore, all women are rude, which makes it okay for me to be preemptively rude to all women I encounter, or to dismiss any ideas a woman puts forth.

I know there are people in my life who roll their eyes every time I bring up sexism as a possible factor in a given scenario. I’ve literally watched them do it. But I refuse to feel bad about making you uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable too. Imagine how tired I am of talking about the role sexism plays in everyday life! I promise you, I would love to stop starting this conversation as much as you would love to stop hearing about it—probably more! But we don’t quit just because we’re tired. That just isn’t how change works.

In conclusion, if your knee-jerk reaction to someone bringing up sexism is to deny or to argue? Maybe just pause and think before responding. Think about why you want to deny or argue or disagree. Could it be because that’s easier? Could it be because, if you acknowledge that sexism is a main character hiding in the wings just offstage of our lives, you might have to change something about yourself? Sexism is truly everywhere. And maybe it’s just a supporting role. And sometimes just naming it and noticing it without harping on it will go a long way toward finding a sufficient resolution. But we owe it to ourselves as a society to at least consider the role sexism might be playing. We must keep talking about it, no matter how weary we get.


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The Blood of Christ

Communion has always been a favorite element of Christian tradition for me. I grew up in a church that only served communion on a quarterly basis, so it was a special, occasional treat in that context. And the church I grew up in had an extra-special version of the Communion cracker that I’ve never encountered anywhere else since moving on from that congregation. I don’t know how to describe it, and I don’t know where they got it or how it was made, but it was a really tiny square, and it was extremely crispy. It had this dry crunchiness to it that was very satisfying to a little girl who already loved bread and was usually hungry in Sunday service. One Sunday, I remember my mother chastising me for actually saying, “YUM!” out loud after partaking of the Communion cracker.

Over the years, I’ve experienced different methods of serving Communion–courtesy of my sampling of various faith traditions. I have come to really enjoy the method that allows pastors to serve it from the front of the sanctuary while parishioners walk up and physically receive it. There’s something to be said for the interaction, however slight, of the pastor blessing the parishioner who receives the elements.

The words are not complicated. “The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, poured out for you.” And yet this simple script accompanies a very intimate act, and I often wonder what exactly I’m supposed to do in response. Obviously consuming the elements is the main response. But there is always something in me that wants to make eye contact with the person offering the elements, something in me that wants to express gratitude for this person’s role in bringing Jesus directly to me. But the interaction is so short, so quick, and “thanks” seems so inadequate, that I never manage anything. I simply hope that they read the appreciation in my eyes.

This morning, I served Communion to my fellow church members for the first time in my life. Recently, on Easter, my husband and I became official members of Keystone United Methodist Church, where we have been attending since August of 2015. We are involved enough to feel a true part of the church. We attend weekly service, we have a Sunday school class, and we even have a small group. We tithe, and we participate in the extra events when we can. We feel very much connected to this church. Last month, however, we became connected in a new way in that we were asked to assume “hosting” responsibilities. At Keystone, a host not only hands out the bulletins and greets servicegoers, but a host also facilitates the offering and assists in serving Communion, things my husband and I have never done–until this morning.

It’s not complicated. Our lead and associate pastors always serve the bread, and the hosts serve the cup. We weren’t really given any instructions either, although we were told that we didn’t have to say anything if we didn’t want to, and not everyone who serves in the hosting role does say something to those who partake. However, for me, being told that I’m partaking of the body of Christ, broken for me, and the blood of Christ, shed for me, is (as my husband put it) a very sacred part of churchgoing and church participation. So I decided that I would say, “The blood of Christ, poured out for you” to those who came through my line as I held out the cup.

I was entirely unprepared, however, for the deep way in which I would be blessed by this simple action of holding out a cup of grape juice and saying a few words over and over again. A few times I had tears welling in my eyes as I repeated this phrase I’ve heard for years and years and years, having grown up in the church–and yet which I’ve never said to anyone.

It is customary for those assisting with Communion to receive the elements beforehand, from the pastor, in a quick little ritual that takes place before we get in position to serve. But my reception of Communion today occurred not in having the elements offered to me but in offering the blood of Christ to others. I was so deeply moved by the idea of how humbling and yet how powerful it felt to offer the salvation, the forgiveness, the grace, the very blood of our Savior, to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Who am I? I am no one. I’m not ordained, I’m not called to pastoral ministry, I’m not equipped to explain everything I believe and why I believe it. But I was allowed to participate in extending the grace of God today. I got to experience the beautiful and sacrosanct gift of offering the hope of Jesus Christ our Lord to those who need him. And I was simply in awe.

And I received something else as I stood there and held out the cup to my friends and fellow churchgoers. Almost everyone, after being told, “this is the body of Christ, broken for you” by the pastor and, “this is the blood of Christ, poured out for you” by me, said in response, “Amen.”

What a small word, and yet what other, more genuine, more true response is there for that moment? And now I understand what I can say when I am back in the line, receiving the elements once again with everyone else.

The body of Christ, broken for you. AMEN.
The blood of Christ, poured out for you. AMEN.

Amen, indeed.

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Why Do Christians Get So Judgy?

The more open our country becomes toward people who fall outside the traditional norms we’ve grown comfortable with, the more I watch in awe and sorrow as people who identify as Christ followers become more hateful and look less like the Jesus I know. Although, perhaps not surprisingly, these people do look eerily similar to the Pharisees Jesus repeatedly rebuked and chastised.

In the Bible, being a Christian means letting in “the other”—those previously seen as not included in the blessing promised to Abraham. In the Bible, these are Gentiles, people who aren’t Jewish—in other words, they are the people most non-Jewish Christians alive today are descended from at some point along the line.

In 2016 in some parts of America, being a Christian seems to mean judging the behavior of others, being close-minded, and barring the gates of heaven to anyone who does something that is really hard to understand.

Is it really very surprising that, 2,000+ years removed from the life and death of Christ Jesus, we’re screwing up his message? Anyone who’s ever played a game of Telephone can tell you that ain’t much of a shock.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t sad. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mourn the perversion of the gospel—which is love first and foremost, and then grace, and then mercy. Not bigotry. Not racism. Not class distinction. Not homophobia. Not transphobia. Not conditional acceptance. And not fiery Facebook status updates that proclaim all sorts of things we’d never say to a person’s face and that, above all, tend to prove our own ignorance, our own inexperience, our own lack of empathy.

Aside from the obvious answer—the Telephone explanation—I’ve been thinking about why mainstream Christian culture has become this way. Of course I cannot answer for how others think and act, but I certainly can examine my own life and the times I have failed to represent the love of Christ—almost always because I’ve failed to understand the love of Christ.

I was raised in a Christian home. I grew up going to church and memorizing Bible verses and learning about “the right way to live.” I claim Jesus as my Savior even today—but only because I’ve recognized and tried to shed some of the harmful habits Christianity can enculturate, whether intentionally or inadvertently, and because I finally realized in my mid-twenties that it wasn’t God I was mad at; it was the church.

The main thing I’ve struggled with throughout my life as a Christian is judgment. At church, we use euphemisms that give us permission to judge others—terms like accountability, looking out for the souls of others, and moral behavior. Often, being a good Christian gets reduced to a set of right and wrong behaviors that include perfect church attendance and exclude using tobacco or saying fuck. And quickly, very quickly, we find ourselves trying to follow an arbitrary list of do’s and don’ts that’s longer and more complex than the unwritten rules of baseball.

For me, grace (receiving something that was not earned) and mercy (being granted clemency from deserved punishment) were not concepts I understood as a child. Which is weird because I definitely received both on a more than regular basis.

My parents gave me a weekly allowance that I was supposed to earn by doing chores throughout the week like making my bed, taking out the trash, feeding the dogs, washing the windows, and dusting. More often than not, when Saturday came, I held out my hand, expecting my allowance, with no thought to whether I had actually performed my chores that week (and most of the time I hadn’t). I didn’t earn my allowance. But it was given to me anyway. It’s too bad the lesson of grace didn’t accompany it.

Mercy was even harder. Kids are familiar with discipline and punishment, and I was no exception. I got grounded, I got privileges taken away, I received punishments that my parents thought were proportionate to whatever wrong I had committed. As such, I felt deep in my soul the unfairness of others breaking rules and not being punished, and I styled myself as a mini-vigilante (known in some circles as a snitch, a narc, or a tattletale), pointing out rule breakers left and right, making sure that, since I had suffered for breaking the rules, everyone who broke the rules would suffer in the same way. That was my concept of justice: If I suffer, everyone suffers. Strangely, the reverse didn’t translate. If I was shown mercy—if I was let off from receiving a punishment I justly deserved—I saw no reason to let others off for the same offense. My reprieve should be the exception, not the norm—lest the fabric of society be rent at its very seams!

So when I think about how this applies to the question of why some Christians find it so important to police the way others behave, I really think it’s as simple and immature as my childhood mentality. Since there is such a strong expectation of right behavior in Christian culture, many Christians get caught up in making sure they’re toeing the line. And, by golly, if they’ve gotta toe the line, then so should everyone else! These types of Christians are afraid to confront the possibility that they could do everything that’s “right,” and live their lives as straight-laced as possible, and still not get into heaven. Or perhaps they’re angered by the perceived injustice of the idea that someone else could not live the straight-laced way they’ve done and still slide into heaven alongside them (or, even worse, instead of them?).

This mentality has certainly been a struggle at different points in my faith journey, mostly because, in claiming salvation and inviting Jesus into my heart as a young child, I missed the key to the whole thing, which is grace. I don’t deserve salvation. I’ve done absolutely nothing in my life to earn it, and in fact, I’ve done quite a few things in my life to warrant losing it. But I have learned that it doesn’t really work that way (although I’m far from a once-saved-always-saved apologist). On the other hand, receiving the gift of the grace of salvation is meaningless if I don’t learn how to recognize that same grace working in the lives of others; if I don’t learn how to extend to others my flawed, imperfect, human version of the perfect grace of Jesus.

In my long and slow journey toward understanding the grace that Jesus has extended to me, and accepting my responsibility to extend it to others, I’ve been convicted multiple times by three parables in the New Testament. Some of Jesus’s parables go in one ear and out the other because—let’s face it—they can be weird and confusing. But three have acted repeatedly as agents of conviction in my own life: The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21–35); The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1–16); and The Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11–32). All three contain characters who have been recipients of grace or mercy and fail to understand the true magnitude of these gifts (hint: For once, the Prodigal Son is not the one at fault from this perspective!).

Some people in this world may only ever know the version of Jesus we ourselves translate (usually poorly or inaccurately). With that daunting thought in mind, I’ve become less worried about whether the people around me are going to hell or whether they receive the punishments they deserve, and I’ve grown much more concerned with whether they, in interacting with me, ever experience glimpses of unconditional love, unearned grace, and undeserved mercy.

Jesus said, “Go into the world and make disciples of all peoples” (paraphrase of Matthew 28:19). And he said, “Do not judge, lest you be judged” (paraphrase of Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37).

He did not say, “Go forth and tell those you perceive as sinners that they’re going to hell.”

He did not say, “Go forth and refuse certain people the right to get married.”

He did not say, “Go forth and act like you’re better than everyone who hasn’t read the Bible.”

And he did not say, “Go forth and punish those who don’t engage in ‘moral’ or ‘right’ behavior just because you’re mad that you’ve done it and they haven’t.”

Some Christians in America in 2016 act like salvation is an exclusive club that anyone can get kicked out of at any moment. But that vision is a warped, garbled, Telephone-scrambled misunderstanding of the truth. Salvation and the gospel of Jesus are wildly, scandalously inclusive.

And thank God, or I would’ve been eliminated from contention years ago.


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The 2015 Kansas City Royals: Destroying the Narrative

I hate journalism. Most especially, I hate sports journalism.

You know what? Let me start over.


Apologies for burying the lede.

My team, the team that has played in this city since 1969, the team I’ve been geographically connected to since birth, the team that has not won a World Series title since I was 14 months old, is the best baseball team in the best baseball league in the world. Several hours after it became reality, I’m still struggling with so many aspects of comprehension. I’ve fired off many half-thought-out tweets partially dissecting my attempts to grapple with this new and strange reality. I’ve written and deleted many more.

The 2013 Royals were good. They missed the postseason by inches. The 2014 Royals were good. They made the postseason by the skin of their teeth then inexplicably barreled through to the World Series, steamrolling the two other (also very good) teams that cowered in their path. Then they took the World Series to Game 7 against a team that, just two years prior, had swept a very good Detroit Tigers team in the Fall Classic. The Royals were not out of the 2014 World Series until that final out.

The 2015 Royals, though. They weren’t just good. They weren’t just great. They were special. They had no trouble at all clinching the AL Central division title and cruising into a legitimate postseason appearance rather than a one-game, last-chance, scrapper-takes-all spot. They met two very difficult teams on the way to the World Series. The Royals struggled during the regular season with both the Astros and the Blue Jays. Many, many fans preferred the Royals to face the Yankees and the Rangers instead of the Astros and the Blue Jays, although they struggled against the Yankees this year too.

Lots of people asked me, before ALDS Game 1, how excited I was about the Royals returning to the postseason for a second consecutive year, and I was modest, even stingy, with my response. “It’s hard to see how they can make it more exciting than last year. They set the bar so high last year, not only with making it all the way to the World Series, not only with taking it all the way to Game 7, all the way to the last out in the 9th inning, but with sweeping their way there. The only way they can possibly top the drama of last year is to go all the way back this year and win this time—and we all know the odds of that. So it’s hard to be over the moon right now.”

I’m not ashamed of my reserved excitement. Any fan who has claimed the Royals at any point between the years of 1986 and 2014 will tell you that going all in on this team emotionally is difficult. It has, historically, led to disappointment and heartbreak. The reservations are understandable.

At the same time, though, there was a small, quiet—but insistently faithful—part of me that felt like this year was the year. Last year felt magical, to be sure, but this year felt like something more solid and less fickle than magic. Last year seemed to depend on superstitions and narratives and a certain South Korean’s juju.

This year seemed to depend more on the sheer talent of the Royals themselves. Yeah, they got some calls from umpires that went their way. Yeah, they got lucky with BABIP, at times. But they also displayed some extreme skill that just hasn’t been part of this team—at least not all at one time, from every single player—for the last thirty years. The defensive plays from Zobrist, Escobar, Cain, etc., made us gasp. The clutch hits from Perez, Hosmer, and Gordon made us scream.

Chris Young, Mike Moustakas, and Edinson Volquez all lost parents this year. All three, despite these deep heartaches, put up impressive years nobody expected from them and came through for their team in huge ways (regular season and beyond) while wrestling with the deepest anguish any of them has probably ever known. Alex Gordon and Greg Holland both left the team at critical periods. Both players were considered backbone players before injuries took them out. The team won without them anyway.

Guys who are lucky don’t do that. Teams riding so-called devil magic to success don’t do that. Fluke teams don’t do that.

Last year the narratives abounded with the mystical. This year, the Royals themselves stripped away the veil of mysticism and showed us how talented, how deep, they actually are—from position 1 all the way to 9.

Except… That is not the story reflected in the media outside of Kansas City, by non-local writers. The story being told nationally is about the Astros, Blue Jays, and Mets all choking. The story being told is about those three teams falling short. Why? If the victors write history, then why haven’t the Royals been able to change the national narrative? Why are people so reluctant to admit that the reason the Astros, Blue Jays, and Mets all failed is not because they messed up but because the Royals are actually unbeatable?

Matt Harvey, David Price, Dallas Keuchel, and Jeurys Familia did not screw up. They gave everything they had. They pitched incredibly well, and they pitched well enough to beat every team in MLB. Except one. That doesn’t make them the failures. It makes the Royals the unstoppable winners. Those teams were all fantastic. They didn’t drop the ball (no pun intended) when it counted most. The Royals never gave them the ball to begin with.

Sure, it looked like these teams had a chance. The Astros looked to have it locked up. The Blue Jays looked scrappy enough to force a Game 6 and advance. The Mets had enough aces in their pocket to go all in and take everything. These teams did not screw up. These teams gave everything they had and played their hearts out. And it wasn’t enough.

Not because they gave up. Not because they made errors. Not because they have historically bad postseason numbers.

But because the Royals are good. Because, when it counts, the Royals can’t be beat. Because, when their backs are against the wall, the Royals will destroy that wall and stand on top of it and pummel those who try to follow.

Because the Royals wanted it more.

The national narrative underestimated the Royals at every turn, going all the way back to spring training. Did their postseason opponents make the same mistake? Did the scouts and coaches all underestimate the ability of the Royals to win the whole thing? Maybe. But the moral of this story is not about how the Astros, the Blue Jays, and the Mets couldn’t get it together, couldn’t measure up, couldn’t perform when it mattered.

The moral of this story is that the 2015 Kansas City Royals are the very best team that Major League Baseball has to offer. The end.

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On the Reality of Life, Death, and the Ocean

In the span of the last eighteen hours, I have arrived home from my honeymoon and attended a memorial service for a friend.

That sentence sums up the paradox I’ve been struggling to understand for the last several days, beginning even before I knew my friend’s life was in jeopardy.

David and I got married in March and delayed our honeymoon so we could, essentially, have a baseball honeymoon. We planned a two-week trip that spanned four cities, an entire coastline, six baseball games, and one amusement park. It was, to say the least, epic. At least in theory.

In practice, it began with a small disaster. To sum up, American Airlines lost our luggage on our first day of travel. And, not to spoil the end for you or anything, but: We never got that luggage back. Even still, 15 days later and home, we are missing a big ol’ suitcase full of almost all the clothes I owned before we left. And I cried about it during the first couple of days. And then we bought new stuff and moved on with our vacation.

And it was a great one. A large chunk of it involved the ocean. We spent two hours on a cruise in Seattle that started in Lake Union and ended in the Puget Sound. We ferried across the bay from San Francisco to Oakland. We spent almost fourteen hours driving down Highway 1, perhaps better known as the Pacific Coast Highway, from San Francisco to Los Angeles. We stopped off at turnoffs and cliffs and beaches along the way and breathed deeply of the salty air every chance we got.

And all this ocean-y fanfare (plus the other fun stuff we did along the way) represented a way for us to honor our marriage. To celebrate our wedding, three months past. To mark the symbol of our new journey and life together from this day forward.

At one point along the Pacific Coast Highway, when more than a week had passed since the last time we saw the suitcase we checked in Kansas City, we stood along the coastline together. The surf crashed loudly in, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. We ran forward after the water pulled away from the edge of the beach, and laughingly retreated as it came rushing toward us again, squealing if it touched our toes because we didn’t want to soak our shoes and socks. We watched surfers try and fail to catch waves over and over again.

And I was suddenly struck with the immensity of it all. This ocean in front of me – of which I could see only a fraction – was so powerful and so vast and so alive. And I wanted to be part of it.

A couple hours later, a little farther south on that same highway, that same coastline, we stood on a rocky bluff, on top of a cliff, at the edge of the water. This time we looked down on the water, and even though I was above it, I still felt smaller than I’ve ever felt. And, inexplicably, I again felt that pull to be part of it. For the first time in my life, I think I finally unraveled at least a little bit of what the appeal of surfing must be. Surfing is not about conquering, or at least it shouldn’t be. It should be about being part of something so much bigger than yourself.

Which is what we all want and chase after in some way or other. It’s why we join organizations for causes or for religious beliefs. It’s why we participate in the live-tweeting of big events, whether it’s sporting events, conferences, or award shows. It’s why we run after any number of thrills and rushes in this life. To connect, and feel connected, not only with the people around us, but with the living world itself.

It’s why I got married. It’s why I had the wedding that led to the honeymoon that brought me to the ocean’s edge. To be part of. To connect. To understand a fragment of life. To learn, grow, weep, mourn, sacrifice, rejoice, and be victorious. To be in harmony.

While we made that picturesque drive down the coast of California, I got word via text that a friend of mine back in Kansas City, back at home, had taken suddenly ill and wasn’t expected to survive the day. He was sedated and on a ventilator. He was unresponsive and unconscious, as far as I know. I couldn’t even say goodbye to him.

The last time I saw Ryland was last summer. We were doing what we usually did when we got together – watching baseball at Kauffman Stadium. He spent most of that night expressing his disbelief at my sudden engagement and pending wedding, for which I can’t blame him; at that point, I still couldn’t quite believe it myself.

The last time I spoke to Ryland was in May of this year. He hadn’t been able to attend my wedding, but I knew just the same that my friendship was important to him. The last conversation we had, he initiated by asking when we could get to a Royals game. With the craziness of newlywed life fully upon me, I intended to contact him to set up a baseball outing after we got back from our honeymoon; I put off a lot of social engagements until after our honeymoon, at which time I thought I’d be able to get a better handle on my new life and schedule. Unfortunately, this particular social engagement will now never be scheduled.

As we drove down the PCH and I began to share with David all my memories of Ryland and the time we spent together, I started to feel guilty. Many of my friends were back in Kansas City, standing around a hospital bed and grieving. One particular friend of mine was lying in that hospital bed and dying. And here I was, daring to enjoy myself, celebrating life, reveling in the simplicity and the reality of my aliveness.

It was so unfair. I couldn’t comprehend the juxtaposition of the two. Honeymoon and death do not go together. The sunny, chilly beach and the sterile, dank hospital bedside should not be invited to the same party.

Life, death, joy, suffering, celebration, mourning.

How could I do both? How could I be experiencing both?

And yet I was. I saw some of the most beautiful parts of the world I’ll ever see in my life, and I saw them through tear-filled eyes.

And then I thought about how silly it was that I had been crying about my lost luggage just nine or ten days before. But if you think about it, there’s a paradox in there too. We are told not to sweat the small stuff, to see the forest rather than the trees, to look ahead, to remember what really matters. On the other hand, we’re told not to cast away any moment, no matter how small it seems, to stop and smell the roses, to appreciate the little things, to live every day as if it were our last.

Of course, this isn’t really a paradox. The message, when you situate both paradigms right next to each other, is that the little moments are important because they form the mosaic of the big picture. The trick is to distinguish which moments are worth our tears, our attention, and our awe; and which moments can be forgotten.

My luggage can be forgotten, certainly. And it mostly has been. The crashing ocean waves will never be forgotten. And neither will my marriage. And neither will my friend.

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