“Remember You Are Dust”

I still feel in my soul that Lent of 2020 never ended. And as communities of the world cry out afresh at injustice and violence and oppression, my heart aches in the heaviness at the brokenness of humanity.

“Remember you are dust.”

As we usher in this liturgical season of silence, pairing away distraction to look at the truth of ourselves, of our need, of our own grievous fault, I will not pretend there is not relief in acknowledging my smallness. My insignificance. There is a brutal release in recognizing that I cannot strive to be whole—it will never come from me. And yet, the gnawing sense that this is all absolutely not as it is to be does not let me rest. Our brokenness does not let us rest. Seeing the horrors that wreak terror on a large scale should not give us peac

“Remember you are dust.”

In the past week, I can only take in the world’s events and shake my head, muttering “Lord, have mercy,” and try to keep going about my day. Heartbroken at what we are all bearing witness to, certainly, but also the laundry still needs to be done, the marketing plans still need to be written, meals still need to be made. The mundane futility of our days still needs to be tended to. This is part of living in a world where order is not yet once-and-for-all.

“Remember you are dust.”

Once-and-for-all is coming. This I hold to. But in order for the impact of Easter, I must acknowledge that that is beyond my frailty, my temporality, my deep brokenness. Today we acknowledge that we do not have answers. That we cannot bring hope. That we are dust. And we lament that.

Blessings on your Ash Wednesday

All Space is Sacred Space

When I thought about having a tag line for my site, I knew I didn’t want it be be the basic three. (Serious author-site pet peeve for me: “Author, Writer, Speaker;” “Writer, pastor, father;” “Writer, interloper, ping pong enthusiast.” I don’t care what your three things are—you’ve got to tell me more than just ascribing three nouns. You’re a writer for heaven’s sake!) Rant over. Here’s what I came up with:

All space is sacred space.

As I thought through what I wanted to communicate through my research work, it was this. We in habit the digital realm just as much as we do any of our physical contexts. In the last year an a half, more of our relating with our broader circle has taken place in digital spaces as opposed to the cafe, the break room, or the church lobby. We cannot deny that these spaces are integral to the general way of being in the world regardless of if we appreciate that fact or not.

And yet, we downplay the importance of these interactions. But how often have you read a post in the past year and a half and been incensed? (I read a post this morning from a former client that said they were “anti-[name of a specific government official]” and I vented to my flatmate, “you can’t be pro-life and anti-a-person! It’s a logical fallacy!“) I think we have such a strong reaction to these statements not because we don’t agree with them (though, on a level, yes, that’s why) but because we do not feel seen as a fellow human by such statements. We perhaps feel cut off from communion with that individual.

There is something sacred about sharing relationship with a fellow image-bearer. Where two or more are gathered, there Christ is among us. All space is sacred space. Even this space.

As I enter into writing my final dissertation chapter this week, I pray I can convey this well. If we are sharing the Word in our digital spaces, we hold a pastoral role. We shepherd the Church in a fashion and that is a deep honor and great responsibility.

May we tread this virtual ground as holy ground. Because it is. And may we recognize those we serve, especially those who may think or believe differently than us, also bear God’s image and therefore deserve our genuine love and care.

On Cultivating Digital Spaces

What sort of space are you cultivating?

Anytime someone begins to describe the goals for their digital platform to me, I most likely will interrupt with this question. I mean, not like out of no where—usually with some context. That context being this:

Any time we invite someone to spend time with us, we’re inviting them into a context—a space with a pathos and purpose. We’re cultivating a space in which to build something.

So before you get too far down the road with what your goal may be in your digital spaces, I want to ask you what sort of space are you seeking to cultivate?

How are you welcoming them? Are they made to feel comfortable? What are you hoping they walk away from your spaces with

I’ve coached writers for years that your written work is like a meal you’ve prepared to be shared. So what sort of setting have you cultivated in order to serve it to them.

It’s not about how many people you’ve got around the table, but how you care for those who have accepted the invitation.

All space is sacred space if we recognize the gift it is to host those who bear the divine image.

Side note, this is a shot of Abbotsford, where Sir Walter Scott lived. He certainly cultivated a splendid literal space readers now visit. This photo is of the garden.

The Caring for Souls in Digital Spaces

A message for each writers and readers:

To Writers

As I write about internet ethics and platform building, here is what I pray you may understand: that follower number, subscriber number, video-views number—it’s not actually a number. Those are individual persons. Each of the numerals that make up that total you’re chasing after represent souls that woke up this morning and entered into the broken and beautiful fray of their lives and come to the spaces you cultivate with their own hurts, longings, desires, and hopes.

What a privilege it is to get to honor and care for each of those souls.

May that not be forgotten. These are not metrics in a pretend audience to applaud your accomplishments or laud your glories. These are people who bear both glory and brokenness themselves.

May we tread carefully and prayerfully into these spaces, knowing that the people who read them matter. May this drive us to our knees and deeper into the word and prayer as the stewardship of such group is, in fact, a form of pastoral care.

May those given audiences to steward recognize the responsibility and the gift it is to offer our loaves and fishes in the form of words and messages. We are not able to make them feed a crowd—that is only Christ. May we honor the miracle and privilege that is.

To Readers

May you recognize when you are being treated as just a number and walk away from the discounting of your humanity. May you instead find writers, storytellers, and speakers who recognize the wonder that it is to get to care for you. May you read words in these spaces that build you up, free you, awaken you to the reality of kingdom life, and make you more fit to steward the care of souls to which you yourself have been called.

I’m honored that you are here and I pray we are challenged to see and love the souls that lie at the other end of these photos and comments, likes and follows. Thank you for bringing yourself to these spaces and seeing me here too.

Experiencing the Church after Church Hurt

I was a blindsided this week by some unexpectedly painful stuff. Nothing earth shattering, or really even that profound—just something that knocked me off balance for a couple days.

While sharing this burden with a friend, she began to speak truth over me and bless what I’ve been given to steward. She dropped her Friday afternoon for a moment to remind me that I specifically am deeply loved and being invited more intimately into belonging with the one who loves more deeply than we can handle.

I live in a city filled with beautiful churches of various ages—quite remarkable for a town this small. And while walking among these buildings, it was a physical reminder of what I had tasted that afternoon on the phone with my friend: the Church.

You stick around the Church long enough, and you’re going to get hurt. It’s a side-effect of broken people trying to do unbroken things of their own accord—it doesn’t pan out well. Wait five minutes, and another example will drop on twitter—trust me. And this isn’t to negate those stories of deep hurt and abuse and oppression and sorrow. Not at all. I see you and I drink deeply in that communion with you. But also, that is not what the Church is to be,

The Church is a body of people committed to the love of Christ. The sacramental collection of the last, little, least, lost and dead to borrow words from my dear Robert Farrar Capon. And in this communion of the redeemed, we get to find a belonging. This was the beautiful and necessary reminder my friend got to speak into me. This is the sanctuary she got to pitch for me in the wilderness.

I pray you find Church in the sense that you find people to remind you to whom you belong—both in the depth of Christ and the breadth of his body. It is a great honor we get to remind one another of this. It’s a great honor to get to be reminded.

On Poop, Suffering, and the Incarnate

Last week I turned in an essay on children’s stories, poop, and suffering. (Hang with me, I know. This was a theological reflection on Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad is Untrue.)

Essentially, what I was getting at was that in a world of brokenness, left to our own devices, there is not much we can produce that is not just a regurgitation of the brokenness we have taken in. But a redeemed life illustrates something different. The sheer magnitude of our suffering does not need to produce an equal brokenness in our lives, but can instead produce a remarkable fruit of hope, perseverance, and faithfulness. But this only comes in embracing the truth of the identity to whom we belong—the God who sees and suffers alongside us.

Jen Pollock Michel is a contemporary theologian whose writing has been a great gift to me over the years, especially in the past couple weeks when thinking through the material nature of what we take in and what we produce with our lives. I thought I’d share her words with you:

“We will need something more than contemplative souls, something more than cerebral agility, something more than big theological words. We will need bodies. We will need lettuce leaves. We will need leaky breasts and someone to tell us to taste and see that the Lord is good.
“We are tempted to look for God in the invisible, in the intangible, in the ethereal—and the God of Spirit is invisible, intangible, and ethereal. But the incarnation is also the death of abstraction. Salvation came through a body, redemption came through a man. An unbounded, incorporeal God of Spirit clothed himself with flesh and entered the world of matter, never fearing that the act would sully his holiness.”
Surprised by Paradox

A Practice of Mediocrity

Talking with a dear friend last week, she expressed that mediocrity is a practice. We can horde our work trying to perfect it in our minds, or we can faithfully show up and put out okay things, working to make them better for those we create.

I’m still working my way up that 13,000 word mountain and have been actively practicing mediocrity.

Each morning after breakfast, I sit at my desk and light a candle before a quick prayer. Sometimes that looks like the Liturgy for Students and Scholars from Every Moment Holy or a breath prayer to thank the Spirit for his presence and to request clarity of thought.

There is nothing magic happening, just an acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness in this season of my life and an acceptance of the invitation into participation I have been granted. My work is not suddenly better, but it is getting done because it is what I have been called to steward. The writing is not easier, but the burden is shared and so I enter into the challenge without fear.

This weekend I’ll be writing about how creative impulse mirrors divine encounter. Ultimately, I believe my conclusion is creative work needs to look like spiritual practice: we show up, surrendered and open-handed to see what the Spirit has for us that day. Some days, for me at least, this will look just as much like slapping at a keyboard as it does me lamenting brokenness without relief. But some days, both look like dancing with the divine.

It has been invaluable this last week to approach my desk as a sacred space—a space to meet the divine in this practice of mediocrity.

What practice might you be called to?

A Cranky Ash Wednesday

Being 100% honest: Lent has me cranky this year.

Usually I find Ash Wednesday to be such a vital time of reflection and repentance, but if I’m fully transparent, we’ve been living Lent for over a year now. It didn’t end. We’re still fasting out here in the desert.

But really, we’ve been in the wilderness since we left Eden. And it is because we chose the wilderness that Christ entered in after us. Yes, we gave up much, but he then knowingly gave up more.

And so, after a year that has stripped away all and left us with mostly just ourselves and our coping mechanisms, we offer up a coping mechanism. We set it aside to take up communion with our companion in suffering who has set a table before us in the wilderness. And we sit at it and take up his company, he who will not grant us coping, but instead a way to flourishing.

Do I want to give up one more thing? Not at all. I’m still salty about it. But I have also tasted that which is mine to freely gain, and for that, I’d give up everything.

(But still, let’s be honest, Lent of 2021 is compounded upon Lent of 2020, and I didn’t get paçzi before either. I appreciate your condolences at this time and offer mine to you.

Trapped and Yet

Yesterday as yet another round of lockdown restrictions were announced, I had the overwhelming realization that I had been dropped off in this small UK town at the end of August and I have absolutely no way or means of getting anywhere else now or in the foreseeable future.

And being trapped in a small European town may sound romantic and idyllic, but it completely glosses over the verb. So it’s been a bit of a mental-health rollercoaster over here.

I’m grateful for a household that is willing to talk me off the ledge. And also thankful they are willing to let me experiment with dinner as we try to process all that is happening (and not happening) here. It was a comfort to crank up the music in the kitchen and set to work with no recipe—merely what I had in the fridge. How humanizing to dwell at the table last night and mourn and laugh simultaneously alongside the two other women I am sharing this season with.

It was a comfort today for the clouds to part, and the sun to warm the countryside, and for a friend to say yes to a spontaneous invitation to walk the fields just out of town.

So yes, I am trapped in a small island town. And yes, the indefinite and ever-increasing restrictions here make it feel a little bit like a nightmare at times. But that doesn’t mean there are not ways for joy to creep in. For small reminders that we are human and beloved.

For when we don’t know how to hold hope

“It’s hard to know how to hope in healthy ways.”

I wrote this to a sweet friend who was checking in and had asked if there is a light at the end of the tunnel over here. And I can only think, “yes, maybe…?” And I think we’re all feeling this in heavy and hard ways.

Last week has knocked us back. Hopefully in ways that aren’t surprising because evil is as evil does, but it’s still disheartening and disorienting when it carelessly wreaks its brand of havoc. And after so many disappointments and loses, and the hard knocks of this very heavy time, one more thing may feel like too much.

And you don’t deserve a trite, “well, buck up, buttercup!” Instead, I offer the fact that this is too much. We’re carrying too much grief and our broader culture has not given us a language for lament.

And I really don’t know how to hold hope in healthy and helpful ways right now. But I do know how to grieve. And it’s messy, and hard, and painful. But a wordless groan of prayer is an invitation for the Spirit to carry the too much with us. To invite the man of sorrows to hold what is too heavy for us gives us a chance to process and dwell where we are and steward the burdens we have been given.

Know that I join you in crying “Kyrie Eleison,” and know that though you may not have hope to hold for tomorrow, we have hope to hold in eternity because we have a companion in suffering. May the Spirit fill you with the hope of eternity in the midst of your lament as well as the strength to pursue justice on earth as it is in Heaven.