It’s been kind of quiet around this blog recently, folks! You know why?
I wrote a book.
To be more accurate, I registered for the 2016 Festival of Faith and Writing, blindly pitched into a Submittable portal, was floored to have an editor from Upper Room Books contact me, was even more floored when that blossomed into a book contract, and then spent a year writing in agonizing fits and starts and frenetic bursts over weekends.
Then my wonderful editor, Joanna, and a few others waded into the messy product with me to rework it into something that might serve.
I’ve been saved by books before. I’ve been found by books before. And all I can hope for this work is that it might provide some small safety, some small place of being found, for those who choose to spend some of their time sitting with my story.
It’s a story about bodies and blood and babies and boobs and Jesus and what happens when we start to listen to women, and to the new ways God is moving in the world.
This is My Body: Embracing the Messiness of Faith & Motherhoodwill launch May 1, 2018 and is available for pre-order now through your favorite online seller.
I’m thankful today for Evangelicals for Social Action and the chance to raise my voice. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
“Some of us have forgotten the story, or perhaps we never heard it. In Exodus 1:15-2:10, Pharaoh ordered that Hebrew boy-children should be slaughtered by the midwives at their birth.
Before we go any further, let us get one thing crystal clear: Pharaoh didn’t give this decree because he categorically hated baby boys. He gave this decree because he loved his life, his wealth, his power, his privilege so much that he would do anything to preserve it—and extend it. Pharaoh’s family and colleagues loved their lifestyle, wealth, power and privilege so much that they were willing to ignore what was being done in their name in order to maintain it.
The Egyptians in Exodus didn’t hate babies—they just loved their lives. And Pharaoh wanted his legacy and his children to be secure. He regarded the Hebrew slaves’ lives as worth less than those he loved. So, in this equation, genocide isn’t a deterrent. It’s an investment in the future prosperity of a nation.
…Except our Scriptures tell us that this is not the prevailing story. The women say, “No.”
For all God’s children on the US side of the border, we must name ourselves among Moses’ deliverers. We must take our cues from Shiphrah, Puah, and Pharaoh’s daughter. The story of Moses and Pharaoh is unfolding before us. Before Moses was the Deliverer, he was Moses the Delivered—before he faced Pharaoh, he was rescued from him.”
Like all works, This is My Body owes a great debt to a ton of works and writers who have come before.
And though this little work is rather thin and approachable (I hope) – it is born from a LOT of reading over about two and a half years. Some of that work made it into the notes section, but most of it didn’t. Instead, the works made their way into my heart. In this way, they wove me while I did the work of weaving poetry, scripture, church history, and my personal story together in the book.
We are fortunate to inherit a rich body of work – on bodies, church history, feminism/womanism, theology, and imaginative works interpreting scripture. Without these titles – and many more – my book would not exist.
If you’re interested, be sure to check them out! I have linked the link-able below, while others will require access to an academic search engine. To which I say – get thee to your nearest librarian! Librarians are the best of us, anyway.
Incarnation, Sr. Irene Zimmerman.
Sister Irene’s poetry was a catalyzing point for my entire work. (Her poem, “Liturgy,” appears at the beginning of my book). Over the course of obtaining permissions for the poem, we’ve struck up a bit of a correspondence and I’m deeply grateful for her encouragement, openness, and friendship.
Gloryland, Anne Marie Macari.
This beautiful collection is body focused and revels in some beautiful, corpulent (I love that word, sorrynotsorry) imagery. I use several of these poems as meditations through the Christian year now.
A Thousand Vessels, Tania Runyan.
A new favorite that I keep loaning out at every turn. I’m especially taken with “After the Annunciation” and love how the whole work is structured by the stories of women in scripture.
She Who Is, Elizabeth A. Johnson.
Basically, Chernow is to Hamilton what Johnson is to #ThisIsMyBody.
Mary and the Carnal Maternal Genealogy: Towards a Mariology of the Body, Maria Mar Perez-Gil.
I know there’s a lot of $20 words in that title, but this is an incredible work chock full of wisdom that hits like a sledgehammer.
Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey.
I love the way Sarah writes. And one of her talks at the 2016 Festival of Faith & Writing gave me permission to do theology, even as an “outsider.”
A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans.
Rachel’s work proves, as always, that it’s possible to take scripture seriously, be silly, have a ton of fun in the process, and be moved and surprised by God.
Our Mother Saint Paul, Beverly Roberts Gaventa.
As a lover of the OT, this resource was a life saver when it comes to diving into some of the curious examples in the NT when Paul repeatedly describes himself as a mother or in other maternal roles.
Jesus As Mother, Caroline Walker Bynum.
This resource is so full of amazing stuff from the 11-13th c, when monastic and church leaders looked to the examples of women and mothers to model their leadership after. Plus, awesome images of Jesus with breasts, Mary with a beard…the Church historic was not nearly so rigid in their expectations as we are, it seems.
The Forgotten Desert Mothers, Laura Swan.
You know that whole period of Church history studies referred to as “Patristics?”
Yeah. That’s a problem.
Laura and the Ammas here set the record straight. (Sidenote: Laura and the Ammas would make a great band name).
It’s not often that you’ll find an artist who speaks deeply to her experience as a woman, who raps as fast as your brain can fire, and casually drops references to Aquinas, scripture, theology, and Greek mythology. But Dessa‘s work folds in on itself and then out again, and speaks with all the power that comes from someone naming things that are true. I leaned particularly hard on Skeleton Key, but have moved on to her brand new album, Chime.
Sa-Roc is a revelation who kept me going, dropping Bell Hooks and Maya Angelou and so much else. Dense lyrics with a beat that kept me up and going even on my hardest days. I highly recommend “I am Her.”
The Mountain Goats have been a constant companion for years, but it happens that I finally saw them live at the Festival of Faith and Writing 2016 when this project took off. The theological imagination present throughout their work is a treasured gift, but I was especially pushed by their album The Life of the World To Come.
I’m so thankful for all the folks out there putting their art into the world. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
I don’t know why the industry has come up with that. It’s not a plane, or a rocket, and this little book is *definitely* not rocket science.
But launch it is, and launch puts me in a headspace of wondering where this will land. I can’t begin to predict where, but I’m hoping that it will land in the hands of someone who’s feeling disconnected from their body.
I’m hoping it will land on nightstands in nurseries, where weary parents are trying to figure out how to do the hard work of caring for a child while holding on to themselves.
I’m hoping it will land in the hands of curious guys who aren’t sure whether this is meant for them.
I hope it lands with grace, for all the things I got wrong, all the things I missed or left out, all the people who still don’t find themselves within its pages. I hope it can land with an invitation, when that’s the case, to pick up a pen and keep writing until we can all find our way to each other.
I hope when it lands it effectively provides people a permission slip to be whoever they are when they know they are deeply loved, and that their experience matters and tells us something of God and each other.
And I hope it can land in all the places that I’m not big enough or wise enough to imagine.
If you know of a place where this book needs to land – where we need to take time thinking about the wonder of God, or take time to name the places where we’ve been asked to shrink in order to fit the church’s definition of “mother” or “person” or “pastor” or “child of God,” or
find new and challenging ways to think about the work of the Church and our call in communion – I hope you’ll help this book land there.
“Things never happen the same way twice, dear one.”
– Aslan to Lucy Pevensie, Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis
To tell my truest Festival story, we have to jump back a bit.
2016 My first festival. A wholly unwritten story. I had no idea what to expect. I knew exactly one person at the entire shindig, I wasn’t sure that I was a writer, and I wasn’t entirely sure why I was there at all. I attended a session in every time slot and drifted from place to place in a dreamlike state. I was overwhelmed. It felt like coming home to a family I’d never met, but always known. I shared a spare room in a couple’s apartment, which I hardly ever saw. I was early for everything, and stayed as long as I could. It was like I’d finally gotten my letter to Hogwarts. And. And the woman who would become my editor contacted me and asked for a chat after fishing my book proposal out of the Submittable portal associated with the festival. She asked after my book, said she was interested, and we parted with some tentative next steps. (My full festival recap from 2016 is available here)
2018 I highlighted all the sessions I wanted to go to 10 days in advance. I was unable to trust that the book I’d started working on after the last festival was about to be in my hands for the first time, and be sold, at this one. I had a game plan. I knew what to expect.
[Insert Ron Howard voiceover] She did not, in fact, know what to expect.
My schedule seemed to disintegrate the moment I stepped off the plane. Any level of chill I had was gone the second I saw my book in print. Day 1 was more raw than I was ready for, Day 2 more official than I felt, and Day 3 too fast for my liking (because I never wanted it to end). But I did manage to hold to a few rules, and I would pass them on to any future Festival goer:
If you have split interests between a session led by White folks or a Person/People of Color, choose the latter.
If you have to choose between a celebrity writer voice you already know and an intriguing panel by people you don’t know, choose the latter.
For every work you buy written by a White/centered culture author, buy another work by an author of Color/marginalized culture.
These experiences were rich, challenging, joyful, and unlike any I could get from a guest series at my White Protestant Christian points of access. In my spaces, I’m likely to see a number of headliners come through my city or University again. By intentionally leaning out of my knee-jerk preferences, I got a much wider and more nourishing experience than if I had stuck to my script from 2016 – and a much wider list of beautiful smelling, spine-cracking new books.
They will forever be the starry points of light in this story.
But the river that swept me along under that starry sky was a wild one that tossed me into the lap of person after beautiful person who buoyed me through meals, conversation, check-ins. My gracious hosts for the weekend and longtime friends, Kristy and Amber, who housed me in their apartment and laugh-cringed with me through memories of high school youth group events that culminated in contrived tears every night.
My first writer-friend, Shea, who was the first to say “you need to pitch this” and then one of the first to hold the finished work in her hands.
My new author family at Upper Room, J. Dana Trent and Whitney Simpson, whose meditations let me keep finding space in myself despite the overwhelm of the Festival, and who called me to their table with grace and welcome. And our team, Ann and Joanna, who make heavy work light and possible.
A brand new collection of faithful women writers who added me to their gaggle following the conference, where we broke bread in gratitude and shared moments that were simultaneously hilarious, holy, irreverent and beautiful.
A brunch for the books with another friend from home, Amanda, who braved the ice and other humans to come for a wide-ranging chat over crepes.
And now, a new adventure: A night in a convent with one of those lovely women who pulled me into their circle. A waystation for this snowed in traveler drowning in joy.
A Festival experience with just the starry lights would’ve been enough. A Festival experience with just the wild current of writing community & soul friends would’ve been enough. An impromptu adventure to a Dominican Sisters’ Mother House would’ve been enough. A visit with just one of the many friends I’ve been with here would’ve been enough. An experience without a published work would’ve been enough. Doing this festival exactly like 2016 would’ve been enough.
But this was more, is more, will be more. It demands more of me, and calls me to pull more people whose voices were not heard at this Festival into the work and demand they be heard in the future.
Thank God nothing ever happens the same way twice. See you in 2020, friends. May we recognize each other then as the ones we are becoming now.
*Credit to Dayenu and my beloved friends in the Jewish tradition for the last bit of this work.
“Send the shoulders down the back body and release.”
This gently spoken command from my at-home yoga companion, Adriene Mishler, always serves to remind me that I tend to move through life with my shoulder tips pressed almost all the way up to my ears. And every time I remember to let go, I find space I didn’t know existed.
Writing seems to be the same way – I am a word hoarder. I write notes rather than paragraphs, paragraphs rather than posts. Somewhere I seem to believe that the vein I’m mining will run dry, so I must only tap into it sporadically. But I know, intellectually, that the opposite is true: the well doesn’t run dry, there’s always more, the work is enough, and we never stop belonging to each other.
Releasing the tension & fear, releasing some words to the world, all require me to act on a truth I’m not ready to believe:
There will always be enough.
So release, release, release. We’re not going to run out of room. The well keeps running. There’s more space than we think, and we’re allowed to stretch into it.
Five Minute Friday is a great writing community! Follow along, find the prompts, and jump into the party at #fmfparty on Twitter.
Before we begin, let me offer a disclaimer. You’re allowed to like the song Mary Did You Know. I’m not saying you can’t like it, or sing it, or use it in worship in your churches. I am not here to pry Mary Did You Know from your ever loving hands. I am not here to rain on the warm or profound Christmas moments and memories you may have attached to this song.
But I also need to be very honest with you:
I cannot “Mary Did you Know?” and #MeToo at the same time.
While this particular song’s lyrics have troubled me for some time, they’ve troubled me for reasons that the songwriter couldn’t really control. After all, it’s not Mark Lowry’s fault that people have repeatedly and habitually assumed that I am clueless about things I am an expert in.
It’s not Mark Lowry’s fault that men have silenced me when I am trying to advocate for myself, because they feel they speak for me better than I can speak for myself.
It’s not Mark Lowry’s fault that I’m used to people doubting me when I tell them important things, especially about important things that I see or experience because I move through the world and the church in a woman’s body.
And it’s not Mark Lowery’s fault that, this Advent, we are living through a great reckoning as our culture finally begins to grapple with the all-encompassing scope of sexual harassment, abuse, and oppression of women at all tiers of employment and in all halls of power.
I’m not laying the problems of sexism and patriarchy at Mark Lowry’s feet.
But I can’t listen to this song without listening through those problems, either.
For thousands of years, the church has taught the wisdom of Mary as captured in our Gospels.
Mary is on record, in black and white, right there in the bible that we American churches hold so dear. She is brave and bossy, revolutionary and strong. Her voice tells us that she knew the stories of her foremothers. In her mouth we hear the echoes of the songs of Miriam, Deborah, and Hannah. She is too self-assured, too wise, too powerful for a young teen woman living in occupied Israel. But her voice in scripture tells us that she knew.
So when we, in our worship spaces, turn around and ask “Mary Did You Know?” without pausing for the answer, or worse yet, smugly assuming that we know better than her – it feels like choosing ignorance over wrestling. It feels like taking the easy way out. And it feels like just another instance of what too many women have come to expect out of their churches: You do not want our answers. You do not want our voice. You only want to pretend like you do.
And I’ll be honest, in this moment of #MeToo, it is demoralizing to me. If we the faithful can’t or won’t even listen to the mother of God Incarnate, straight from scripture, how can I ever believe that you will hear me? Or any other woman? Or any other person who we’ve grown accustomed to projecting onto and talking over?
So in this season (and in all Advent moments), I would invite us to spend time remembering some of what Mary did know. And this will require the unthinkable:
We have to listen to a woman and let her be the authority on her own experiences.
Deep breaths. We can do this. It’s good practice, I promise.
Mary knew pregnancy and childbirth were dangerous and women did not always survive. When the angel visited, she was promised that her son would be Most High. (Luke 1:32) She was not promised that she would survive that birth.
When we are unwilling to risk ourselves and our lives in order to help God’s world to be birthed – we should remind ourselves of what Mary knew.
Mary knew her life, reputation, and all else would be at risk. She was engaged. Her engagement (and her stability and safety in the world) were reliant on her status as a virgin. She was defined by the men in her life – her father, and her fiancéee. A pregnancy was a disgrace to both and a great risk to her. In a move of great trust, and knowing her whole identity to her community and her world would shift around her, she said a triumphant Yes. “Let it be unto me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38).
When we turn away from the hard work that God calls us to because our identity is more closely tied to patriarchy than to God’s calling – we should remind ourselves of what Mary knew.
Mary knew the little baby boy she was carrying would live life as a Jewish man in an occupied territory. She knew that as he grew, he could be compelled by Roman officers and soldiers to carry their burdens for a mile on a moment’s notice – where he would be out of her reach and protection. (If you don’t believe me, recall her son’s words about going the extra mile).
When we want to turn away from the harm that our systems of culture and government perpetuate on minority people – we should remind ourselves of what Mary knew.
Mary knew what God was about – a total inversion of how our world normally works. A revolution where the mighty are brought low and the lowly lifted up, where the poor are filled with good things but the rich are sent away empty. She proclaims, in a Roman occupied territory, the sovereignty of God and the nation of Israel.
When we worry about the political repercussions of proclaiming the difference between God’s kingdom and our own government – we should remind ourselves what Mary knew.
Mary knew the God she trusted with her life and body and future, as much as any of us can. Mary knew that nothing about being a God-bearer guaranteed her safety – in fact, it greatly jeopardized it.
When we choose safety over pursuing God’s works of justice, when we ask for peace without being willing to lose everything in order to achieve it – we should remind ourselves of what Mary knew.
If the four minute performance of Mary Did You Know? Is the total time that the church spends thinking about, and learning from Mary – we are robbing ourselves of some of the most profound theology of the season and substituting it with a poor, thin replica. Something that is all shine on the surface, but of little substance. A candy theology that, without balance, will cause decay.
So in closing – remember. Yes, you are allowed to like the song. And even sing it. Loudly, and emotionally.
But if we’re going to ask Mary loud and emotional questions, we must listen to her answers. We must treat her like a person.
When you do, I promise she will deliver, with greater power than we’re ready for. She will answer loudly and emotionally. In all her raw and revolutionary power. She will give you permission to break out of your boxes, deny those who would belittle you, and put wild hope and trust in the God we strive to serve.
And, after all, it’s great practice for listening to women and treating them like people, too.