wild and beautiful

One of my neighbors has an immaculate lawn. His attention to it is constant and uncompromising. The groundskeepers at Augusta would be thrilled to have him on their staff. I look across the street in admiration. There is never a blade of grass out of place.

My lawn looks nothing like his, but I love mine no less. Over the past couple of years, I have been diversifying my yard, adding clover and wildflowers where I can. I would estimate that most of my lawn has at least some clover in it now, and some sections are almost entirely clover. The backyard needs work; I think that’s why my dogs keep digging holes, but we keep at it–adding flowers and trees here and there. Over time, the plants mingle. I find lilies of the valley crossing the border into the lawn. Dandelions stand proudly next to the fescue.

To be sure, some of the plants try to overwhelm, the others, and I uproot them or trim them back, but to my eyes, the diversity brings beauty.

and bees.

the beauty of generosity

My Son quickly dealt with their words, saying, “Why are you trying to cause trouble for this woman? What she did to me is lavish and beautiful, flowing from a heart of love. There will always be poor and needy people among you, and even if you have all the money in the world and give it all away, you will still come up short. Mary loved me right in the present moment, and trusting what I said about my impending death, she was getting a head start preparing me for burial. Wherever the good news is shared, people will hear about her because she is such a good example of other-centered love.”

Many believers are suspicious of extravagance and beauty because it seems to be an unwise use of resources. Child, you saw evidence of these conflicted attitudes after the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned. Some generous donors came forward, offering hundreds of millions of dollars to help the rebuilding efforts. Still, people were quick to criticize, saying, “They could use that money to feed the poor.” Beloved, I care about each image-bearer and every church, but do not begrudge the generosity of others. There is far too little charity in the world, and there is far too little beauty. Together, beauty and charity give you a glimpse of my generosity.

Matthew 26:11-13, Letters to the Beloved

listening to my life

A few days ago, I shared this on Twitter:

I spent several years training for the culture wars. The Christians I was learning from were clear that secular culture was the enemy. So I trained in logic, apologetics, and worldview studies. I learned the answers to confront the evil out there. Over the past five years, it has become clearer that “my team” also harbored considerable evil. Several of my faith heroes were credibly accused of gross misconduct, which they uniformly denied. I witnessed friends defend evil to protect the church. I profoundly harmed and shunned others on behalf of the church. In 2018, my eyes were opened to my complicity and I couldn’t stay. I wish I could say all has been clear since then, but I remain disoriented. I have been in good churches since then, but the confusion and internal disintegration have continued to have profound effects. I want to be involved in a faith community. And I don’t. What is true is that the evil that I naively believed was “out there” was inside as well. That is partly why I am less interested in the us vs. them approach. The church isn’t exempt. I am not exempt. We’ve all been wrong. So for now, I am trying to do my own work uncertain where it will lead.

To be clear, I know too many outstanding Christians to name. I have seen churches and Christian organizations pull together to do amazing things. For example, my friend Perry is a pastor of a small congregation and also the founder of Touched Twice United, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. My friend Peggy is the founder of Teamwork Africa, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Both of these are amazing organizations. Countless believers have done and continue to do miraculous things around the world. I am grateful for every one of them.

However, over the years, I came to accept ideas that were not necessarily accurate, which were cultivated in the soil of an us versus them mentality. It is hard to say how much my thinking was shaped by those I was listening to and how much was shaped by my own mental life, but the fruit was division and arrogance. If I am honest, I believed Christians were better than non-Christians. The blogs and people I was reading suggested that if gays, liberals, atheists, or Muslims did something that benefitted the greater good, it was inconsistent with their own worldview. I even recall one blogger asking whether someone who was not a Christian could genuinely love others. The culture war mentality prepares soldiers to fight evil, and enemies are required, even if we have to create them.

At the same time my confidence in faith heroes was growing,[1] evidence was accumulating of abusive behaviors among more than a handful of them. I still do not believe that the majority of Christians or Christian leaders are abusive. I do not think that most churches are evil. Still, it became increasingly apparent that many of the thought-leaders who shaped my thinking, both nearer to home and afar, could be harmful. Once I became willing to listen to stories of hurt, I also began to pay attention to my own story and listen to my own questions. I actively started to look for things like goodness, beauty, and peace wherever I could find them. I have also been sensitive to hatred, violence, and divisiveness[2]– in the world, in the church, and in myself. And here’s the thing: the common divisions that many of us accept tend not to be particularly good predictors of goodness or evil, beauty or ugliness, peace or violence.

Having written all of that, I remain confident that many people who love me are concerned about the state of my soul or doubt whether I am a true Christian.[3] The 2011 me would certainly have questioned the eternal security of 2021 me. Still, a large part of my own spiritual journey has involved coming to a place where I am comfortable in my own skin and believe that God’s love is far more expansive than the divisions and categories I previously believed.

I am currently filled with both confusion and clarity. I have wondered if I am experiencing a dark night of the soul. I don’t know my destination, but I am trying to pay attention to where the Spirit leads.


[1] Some will point out that as Christians, we should not have faith heroes, but in truth all of us have learned about Jesus from someone. Even the apostle Paul said “follow me as I follow Christ.”  

[2] People will point out that I have often been critical of certain ideas and people. Granted. In some cases, I have acted in the very ways that I have tried to dispute. At the same time, I believe one of our tasks as humans is to speak out against divisiveness and hatred, which perhaps is divisive in and of itself.  

[3] Yes, please pray for me, but also sincerely pray that if your understanding is wrong that the Spirit may reveal truth to you. 

is it too much to ask?

Larger Story’s book of the month is  Becoming a True Spiritual Community, my favorite Larry Crabb book and the one I have probably read most often. His honest wrestling was one of my favorite things about Larry. In BTSC, he wrestled with what genuine spiritual connection looks like.

One of the traits I share with Larry is that of a restless spirit. He was rarely satisfied with accepting the status quo when it came to Christianity, a truism that resounds through his books. He pressed into his challenging questions, always from a desire to know the true God more completely.

I, too, have wrestled for a long time with seeking to know God better. The battle has intensified in the last few years. I am dissatisfied with the church in America. If I am honest, I don’t want to go to “church.” In many cases, we Christians don’t represent Jesus very well. I have no doubt some consider me a bitter cynic, maybe even an apostate. You may be right. God knows.

Here’s the thing: We talk about the importance of church attendance, but can we honestly say that our church rhythms model those things that Jesus valued? We gather in groups of tens or hundreds or thousands, all facing forward to listen to an “expert” in the Bible tell us what we need to know, which leaves little room to listen for God’s Spirit or share what is happening in us. Numbers of bodies, volunteer hours, and dollars determine success. Nevertheless, not a week goes by without another story of how some pastor or religious group has abused power.

I long for something more profound, but I find myself in the unfamiliar place of not knowing precisely how to put words to my longings. Still, here are some fragments:

I want to gather with people who are trying to understand and live an integrated life. A few years ago, I was involved in a weekly “integration” meeting. People from multiple backgrounds would gather for lunch and have lively conversations that mattered. Sadly, they are no longer scheduled when I can attend, and it is a considerable loss. I want to hear from people who think as I do and those who do not about how we live in a world that feels increasingly fragmented. What does it mean to live whole and holy lives?

I want to know and be known by the God of steadfast love, the one who is reconciling all broken things. I want to hear from others how they experience God and to know where they meet God. I want to share my doubt and confusion with others who are willing to share in return. I am not interested in neatly packaged answers but in acknowledging that the world is a muddled mess and that God is still bigger.

I want a community that fosters self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. Too often, well-meaning Christians reject these ideas, but healthy spirituality does not neglect loving ourselves. I want to be reminded that there is a God who loves me “without condition or reservation,” as Brennan Manning would say.

I want a community that practices love for others, especially those who are often on the fringes or even outside neatly labeled biblical boxes. I want them to know, as I want myself to know, that God loves them and to demonstrate that truth not only in word but in deed. I long for a place of radical welcome and acceptance. I want to feast around a table where people of different worldviews and mindsets aren’t trying to fix or convert one another but celebrate their shared humanity and belovedness.

I want to honor and celebrate all of God’s good creation, to look for and celebrate beauty and goodness wherever it may be found: in late-blooming flowers and early falling leaves, in gently falling snow and torrential rains, in the warmth of the sun in a blue sky and the cool of a cloudless night. God called creation very good, but sometimes I think we’ve lost sight of that truth. God invited us to be creation’s caretakers, but we have instead abused it for our own ends.

I long for wholeness. I desire goodness, truth, and beauty. I want to honor each person’s unique journey and remember that we, the human race, are traveling together, and every one of us brings something needed by the whole group. I long for fellowship with those who long for integration, wholeness, and reconciliation.

Is that too much to ask? 

A Prescription for Wholeness

Spread kindness like wildfire. Ask questions. Cross bridges. Pick up a piece of trash. Say hello. Say thank you, to God and others. Go for a walk. Make eye contact. Consider the lilies. Mend fences. Plant wildflowers. Sit in the grass and watch a bumblebee—it will teach you there is no need to rush. Pay for someone’s coffee. Bake two loaves of bread. Give one away. Pray for those who belittle you. Be kind to yourself. Shed tears when you are sad. Sing show tunes, preferably with someone else. Draw a tree; even a stick tree will do. Savor an orange. When you are angry, breathe deeply and exhale mercy. Listen to “the gift of a thistle” by James Horner. Visit somewhere new. Light a candle; in fact, light three, or a hundred. Play with a toddler. Drink a cup of tea. Read a poem by Mary Oliver, or perhaps Rumi. Write a letter to someone, with real paper and ink. Send it through the mail. Look for goodness. Celebrate beauty—it is everywhere. Listen with curiosity. Sing loudly in your car. Hold someone’s hand. Pet a dog. Bike to work. Buy original art, anyone local will do. Always stop at a lemonade stand and always overpay. Breathe. Do it again. Do you realize what a miracle it is that you are alive?

Birdsong

I leave my window open
just a crack
just enough to hear
the birds singing in the day.

Their chorus begins in the dark.
Like me,
the sun loves their song
and rises to listen.

Too soon, their melodies
will be silenced
by discordant tones
as the rest of the world gets up
beginning not in song,
but getting their daily briefing
on what to be mad about
who to fear and
who’s to blame.

The birds’ midday silence
makes me sad.
It seems they know my sadness;
they feel it too.

At dusk, as another day closes
the gay melodies
that woke the sun
are quiet.
I hear only
a lone dove mourning
yet another day
when fear and hate prevailed.

Tomorrow
Tomorrow we will do it again,
for we choose not to live
as those who have no hope.