Mute gospel

Party aftermath. #tulips #maidenhairfern

We are going to see Gran this weekend, and Kelsey and Alex are coming to meet us here for the trek to Ohio. We will be in the car more than we will be out of it, but I am trying to see this as a positive thing. When else will we have so much uninterrupted time to talk with the Grays?

“What is a farm but a mute gospel?”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

Due to various reasons (Dylan Farrow, various other reports and anecdotes about rape, among them), I have been thinking about the rape culture that we live in. And how it is impressed on you, even as a little girl, that you are never truly safe. My default mode of thinking, even now, is to assume that all unknown men are evil (or mostly evil). And that’s how you keep yourself safe. You are always on guard, never trusting, always keeping them at arm’s length or further. Yes, it’s a sad way to live. Yes, I wish that wasn’t my mindset. But it is.

This is why, whenever I hear people say that we don’t need feminism, that the sexes are equal enough, I cannot hold my tongue (or my rage). Are we equal? Ask a man when he last felt afraid to walk to his car in a parking lot at night. Ask a man if he’s ever felt frightened to take a walk by himself. Ask a man when he was last nervous to walk on a heavily trafficked street or by a construction site or by an idling truck, waiting for a barrage of sexual obscenities to be screamed at him. Ask a man when he last had to fear sexual harassment from a boss, a coworker, an authority figure.

Yes, men experience rape, harassment, and violence, too, but I’d wager that it is not a reality that’s constantly lurking in the back of their minds — as it is for women. So tell me: If we were equal, would this be the case? Would rape kits go untested? Would victims of sexual violence be blamed for their actions? Would 1 in 5 women report having been raped in their lifetimes?

I don’t have a conclusion for this rant. I just had to put it somewhere, to file it in a long list of grievances at the state of the world.

It is not pleasant to live in fear. Ask Pyrrha; she knows.

Portrait of a lady. #germanshepherd #vscocam

My heart swells when I think about how far she has come. Come May, she’ll have been with us for two years. And what a different dog she is now! She is still afraid of many things, and she always will be, but this gentle, daily work of teaching her that she is safe and loved has been therapeutic — to both of us, I think. Even when the progress seems infinitesimal. Progress is still progress.

Evangelizing

Winston-Salem
Source: Flickr, user jbtuohy

I remember being forced to evangelize on the streets of downtown Winston-Salem with a bunch of other teens from the apologetics summer camp. After sitting through a few lectures on the right questions to ask, the right answers to give, we were split up into small groups and set loose by the bus station. Our minds were swimming with fear and scripture-based acronyms. My group started wandering around aimlessly, passing people and trying to decide when to make a move.

I was the first person from our group to have the guts to go up to someone. I walked up to an older white woman in a suit, standing in a courtyard. “Excuse me, ma’am? Can I ask you a question?” She nodded, and, as instructed, I asked her what she thought would happen to her when she died. Her face suddenly registered rage. She drew back and screamed in my face. “How DARE you! How dare you ask me that? I don’t want to be preached at! Leave me alone!” I was startled and scared. Tears welled in my eyes but did not fall; adults never screamed at me. We backed away quietly and piously said amongst ourselves that we would pray for her.

After another hour passed, we stopped a young black woman on the street. She was the first person who listened to us long enough to hear our full gospel plea. One of the guys asked her if she’d like to pray to accept Jesus. She said yes and, thrilled, we all prayed the Jesus prayer with her. We went back to camp feeling victorious, glad that it wasn’t a total waste, that we could brag to our other friends that we’d been “successful.” Looking back, I think the woman said yes so we would just leave her alone.

When I got back in my room that night, I remember climbing up in my bunk bed and thinking to myself, “If this is how you’re supposed to tell people about Jesus, I don’t think I want to do it ever again. Surely there’s a better way.”

Family love: Sam

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my (immediate) family. This is the final installment. You can read the other posts here. All wedding photographs courtesy of the incomparable Meredith Perdue.

Sam, Sammy, Samantha, Lil Bro Peep

When Samuel Chase was born, it was, collectively, the best thing that had ever happened to us three girls. He was our living doll, our breathing plaything. And he was a BOY! We had never seen one of those before. He was also the most adorable baby ever created. I wish I had photos of him as an infant to share here; these pictures would make you weep, overwhelmed by the unbelievable CUTENESS of this child. It was unreal.

We fed him, stuffed him in doll strollers, changed his diapers, bathed him, spoke for him. Mom likes to say that he didn’t learn to walk until he was three because Kelsey carried him everywhere and that he’s still a reticent talker because he’s used to the family women, his four mothers, speaking for him. Poor boy.

329/366By the misfortune of his birth order, he was forced to play with us girls. He was always a good sport, though, and tolerated our dressing him up in Grace‘s endless treasure trunk of costumes. One memorable evening, when he was about four, we put him in Grace’s beloved Queen of Hearts satin dress, outfitted him with a blonde Dolly Parton-esque wig, and called him Samantha. This proved to be immensely entertaining… until Father came home and saw his only son prancing around in a dress. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY SON??” he bellowed at us when he walked in the door. We all burst into tears–Sam most of all, because he didn’t understand what he’d done wrong. Again, the poor child. How he suffered for us.

He got shafted a lot, as the youngest. The family travel rule was that whoever was lowest to the ground had to check under all the beds before we left a hotel. This thankless task consistently fell to Sam, although he has now surpassed all of us women in height. (Grace would now be the Lowest to the Ground.) He’s always been Mom’s favorite, which was natural and unsurprising to us all, but he was never given any special privileges. He was an occasionally dramatic child (often having “the worst day of [his] life,” multiple times, before the age of eight), but probably for good reason. Dad was always intent on cultivating manliness in him, and soon Sam took over all of the yardwork and mechanical maintenance tasks that we girls once had to perform. He was expected to be good, strong, and capable. Luckily for all of us, Sam is all of those things.

Over the past few years, however, Sam has developed a wickedly good sense of humor, a softened blend of my father’s cutting sarcasm and Sam’s own gentle wittiness. I think it surprised us, to learn that Sam was funny. He spoke so rarely that we often had no idea what was going on in there. He is delightful company at any moment. And he will almost always make you laugh.

the ones that got away: maySam is known as having the best heart in our family. We tease Mom about saying this so often, but she only does because it is true: The man has a tender heart. I don’t know how it happened. By all accounts, he should have wound up bitter and confused at life, at his unfortunate birth order. Instead, he is deeply compassionate to all people, understanding beyond his years, and emotionally profound.

The story Mom tells about Sam’s exposure to Jesus always gets me, even though I’ve heard it a hundred times. Sam was about three and Mom told him the basic outline of the Gospel: God sent Jesus to earth for you; he loved lots of people while he was here; he extends love to us even though we don’t deserve it; and then he died on a cross for us. At this last point–the crucifixion–little Sam burst into tears. Mom was surprised. “Sam,” she asked, concerned, “why are you crying?” “Mommy,” Sam said, “why would Jesus die for ME?” It is a simple question, and the truest expression of humility that I know.

I can’t even tell you about Sam’s speech to me and Guion at our rehearsal dinner without wanting to break down and sob. I didn’t cry during our entire wedding weekend–except for Sam’s toast. It was simple and pure and unrehearsed. At its most basic element, Sam just wanted to make sure that I knew how much he loved me. I certainly did, and I always have. He is a good brother–the best, in fact–and my life would be profoundly empty without him. I need to do a better job of telling him that, in the manner that he told me: Simple, pure, unrehearsed.

I knew I was not magnificent

Source: Flickr user lovebrowne

Part I. On Not Writing about Jesus

When I was a young blogger, I wrote more freely about my faith. At that time, I assumed that all of my readers were also like-minded Christians. This was a fair assumption, since I think my mom, my grandparents, and my sisters were my only readers. But over the past two years or so, I’ve more or less stopped writing about my faith and I regret that. The gospel is important to me, but you’d never get that impression by reading this blog. I write about all of the other things that are important to me–Guion, friends, family, books, dogs–but not about Jesus.

Why not?

Here’s my best guess as to why I stopped doing this. I have followed the tendency of many bloggers to whitewash my life. The one thing you learn about blogging for a few years is that you can’t express an opinion about anything without offending someone. Because of this, I have tried to avoid topics that are inherently personal and offensive, like religion and politics. While most casual readers could probably divine my political leanings (it is evident that I am not a Sarah Palin or FOX news fan), it would be trickier to actually figure out what I believe about God.

Lately, I’ve tended to keep my thoughts about God closer to my chest. I have many friends who are not Christians. I am hesitant to write about my many religiously oriented thoughts and concerns for fear of alienating people. Even I don’t like to read long-winded and highly emotional posts about religion. It’s not often enjoyable and it is often hard to relate to; faith is, by definition, such an intensely personal thing. Even more than puppies and books. It’s generally more enjoyable to read a post about someone’s kitchen makeover than it is to read a post about their internal turmoil over transubstantiation. Intensely personal things are not always blog (aka, The Entire Internet Can Read This) material.

However. All of this to say: I think there are appropriate and considerate ways to write about one’s faith on the Interwebs. I am going to try to do this with more frequency, but I think I’ll also spend some time studying good examples. Mrs. Pinckney and Betsey come to mind as people I know who blog gracefully and fluidly about the intersection between Jesus and life. I hold them up as valuable examples.

So, here’s a short attempt:

Part II. I Knew I Was Not Magnificent

No one enjoys receiving criticism. But when you don’t hear it for a while, you start to think that you’re pretty awesome. Boy, there’s nothing wrong with me! I am the best.

If we’re lucky, however, we have people in our lives who are able and willing to tell us that this is not the case. After a few months of believing that I was super, I’ve received a lot of criticism from important people in my life over the past few weeks. As these people pointed out, I am grumpy, judgmental, and anxious. I am an energetic young curmudgeon most of the time. I am fundamentally cynical about most things. I am an obsessive planner because I tend to expect worst possible outcomes and because I thrive on a high degree of responsibility.

As these people kindly pointed out, these aren’t the best personality traits. I had more or less forgotten about these unfortunate aspects of myself until I heard these reminders. To be pushed back to God, to a place of humility–it is a necessary chore. I think God speaks to us through other people sometimes. Often, through our closest friends and loved family–and sometimes, through a much-lauded hipster musician.

We were listening to Bon Iver’s new album on our drive to North Carolina this weekend. The gorgeous song “Holocene” came on and we talked briefly about the chorus.

we smoked the screen to make it what it was to be
now to know it in my memory:

… and at once I knew I was not magnificent
high above the highway aisle
(jagged vacancy, thick with ice)
I could see for miles, miles, miles…

“I knew I was not magnificent.” What a simple and perfect expression. It’s that place of humility that we all have to reach with ourselves at some point or another. Acknowledging that I am not magnificent was a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Difficult, but essential.

Can you stand to be forgiven?

The Corrections

The gospel, as perhaps unintentionally portrayed in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections.

(Back story: Chip owes his sister, Denise, $25,000, which he has borrowed over the course of a few years.)

His sister turned and raised her face to him. Her eyes were bloodshot, her forehead as red as a newborn’s. “I said I forgive the debt. You owe me nothing.”
“Appreciate it,” he said quickly, looking away. “But I’m going to pay you anyway.”
“No,” she said. “I’m not going to take your money. I forgive the debt. Do you know what ‘forgive’ means?”
In her peculiar mood, with her unexpected words, she was making Chip anxious. He pulled on the rivet and said, “Denise, come on. Please. At least show me the respect of letting me pay you back. I realize I’ve been a shit. But I don’t want to be a shit all my life.”
“I want to forgive that debt,” she said.
“Really. Come on.” Chip smiled desperately. “You’ve got to let me pay you.”
“Can you stand to be forgiven?”
“No,” he said. “Basically, no. I can’t.”