The Phantom Tollbooth and Redeeming the Power of Words

My dad calls me Bear. He and my mom came up with the nickname when I was a little girl. I slept hard, they tell me, like a hibernating cub.

I still sleep like it’s wintertime in the forest. Even now, when my parents see me early in the morning during a vacation or visit, they smile in that way only parents can, their faces bearing witness to a decades-long relationship with me.

“Hey, Bear. Want some coffee?”

“That would be great.”

“Here ya go. Your sleepy eyes look just like they did when you were two.”


As the eldest daughter of a word-loving father and homeschooling mother, I grew up surrounded by books. I remember once walking down the staircase with my nose in a book, carelessly risking a misplaced step or stubbed toe. Surely a fall would not be as calamitous as taking my eyes off the page for the 10-second trip to the first floor. The story I refused to set aside was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, a children’s fantasy novel featuring a young, bored boy named Milo.

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

(Art by Seth T. Hahne)

The Post‘s Most Important Contribution Isn’t about Freedom of the Press

“Kate throws a great party, but she’s only here because her husband died.”

Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford) uses these words at the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s new film The Post to describe his boss, Katharine Graham. It’s true, of course, that Graham (Meryl Streep), owner and publisher of The Washington Post, only inherited her position after her husband’s death. Yet, Parsons’s perspective carries with it a deeper subtext. No one would think of murmuring this way about Katharine’s late husband, who only assumed his publisher duties because his father-in-law left the company to him. Or even Katharine’s father, who held the paper’s reins by virtue of having the money to buy it.

For Whitford’s character, and for the majority of the men surrounding Graham, the issue isn’t how she ended up as owner and publisher of The Washington Post, even though they often talk like it is. The true issue at stake is the deeply entrenched belief that there is no space for a dress in a room overflowing with suits.

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

The Church Needs a Masterclass in How to Apologize for Sexual Assault

In the past few weeks, two new stories in the vein of the Harvey Weinstein news#MeToo, and #ChurchToo have emerged: those of Jules Woodson and Megan Ganz. Woodson was sexually assaulted by her youth pastor when she was 17; he was 22. Her predator, Andy Savage, has been a pastor for the past 19 years, only recently placed on leave from his current pastoral position when the assault accusations became public. Ganz was harassed for years by Dan Harmon, creator of the television show Community, on which Ganz was a writer.

While the traumas inflicted on Woodson and Ganz are different in myriad ways, they share a common factor: men in power preying upon women (or, in the case of Woodson, girls) who are subservient to that power in some way. Woodson was a student in Savage’s youth group, trained to see him as a spiritual and moral authority. Ganz was employed by Harmon: he decided whether or not her scripts were used and he signed her paychecks. Woodson and Ganz, by virtue of attending youth group and showing up for work, found themselves at the mercy of powerful men who used their power mercilessly.

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

Learning to Listen to #ChurchToo

An offshoot of the viral #MeToo campaign, the #ChurchToo hashtag has led to an outpouring of stories of harassment, assault, and abuse in the church and other Christian contexts.

#ChurchToo accounts having been pouring in for weeks now, raw and heart-wrenching in their depictions of church leaders perverting their power and positions to harm the vulnerable in their care. The stories are not isolated to moments of abuse, but include efforts by fellow church authorities to treat the abuses as garden-variety sins in need of forgiveness rather than as crimes calling for justice. Over and over again, elders, pastors, ministers, and leaders offer protection from consequences to their peers who are outed as abusers—evidence of a power dynamic in which offices of church leadership too often provide exceptions from moral standards rather than greater accountability to them.

With #ChurchToo, victims are bearing witness to years of being told to believe that they were just as culpable for “sexual sin” as their predators, pressured to forgive and forget, and being instructed not to alert public authorities.

Will we hear them?

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

(Image credit: fairytaleweaver, license)

Reflection and Roundup: My Writing in 2017


2017 has been a landmark year for me as a writer, in some ways obvious and others not at all. I’ve written for more publications than ever before, and while that’s been a satisfying accomplishment to be sure, there have been two other developments in my writing life that mean immeasurably more to me as both a person and a writer.

The first is that I learned to appreciate editorial feedback. The first time I received substantive edits on my work, I started sweating, slammed my computer shut, and considered never writing again. 24 hours later, I relooked at the feedback and slowly began to realize that if someone cared enough to critique my work, that meant they saw something in it that was worth saying.

Good editors aren’t destroying what I’ve created, they’re helping me mine it for treasure. My affection for editorial input has risen to an almost comical point now. I crave feedback, which leads to the second development.

I used to think of writing as inherently lonely, or at least as a task primarily undertaken alone. But due to friendships with fellow writers, editors, and readers, I now think of writing as one of the most profoundly communal dimensions of my life. A few pieces I wrote this year were conceptualized by other people, including my favorite piece of 2017, and there’s been nary a piece I’ve sent to an editor without asking at least two other people to read it and offer feedback first.

I’ve formed friendships over the past year that have offered me safety, challenge, comfort, and encouragement both as a person and a writer. While I have every intention of continuing to pursue new writing and publishing opportunities, there is no byline or book deal in the world that could offer me the joy those friendships born of vulnerability in both writing and relationship have offered to me.


These are my favorite nine pieces I wrote this year.

When Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, and Derek Webb seemed to reappear at once in my Twitter feed, I contemplated the allure of Christian celebrity and the precarious nature of Provocative Platforms. [Fathom Mag]

Upon the conclusion of the Gilmore Guys podcast, I penned a tribute to the way they offered Hope in my Earbuds. It is, in one sense, a piece about a niche bit of pop culture, but in a much greater sense, it’s about hospitality and family. [Christ and Pop Culture]

Life often seems to pay no mind to how hot the water is getting, how greatly the pressure is bearing down. I wrote about this broken world’s way of Extracting the Essence in an essay to my husband. [Mothers Always Write]

Through the lens of the poem Good Bones by Maggie Smith, I explored the idea of Parenting as Narrating, and what it means to tell the story of life to our children. [Fathom Mag]

My marriage is the result of two teenagers choosing one another when we barely knew what that meant, when we were novices at the practice of Shedding Summer Skin together. I pondered our story, the power of music and memory, and the band Death Cab for Cutie in a reflective essay. [Christ and Pop Culture]

After writing only prose since my days of angsty high school poetry, I tried my hand at a poem about motherhood called I Smile at the Bruises. [Fathom Mag]

A Thursday night of Shondaland viewing led to a conversation with several friends, and ultimately an article, about a question I find myself asking often: Are Women Really Welcome in the World? [Christ and Pop Culture]

It’s of deepest importance to me that my practice of writing be deeply intertwined with tangibly doing justice and loving mercy in my day to day life. That intertwine found its way into a piece on How to Be Faithful and Focused in the Face of the World’s Pain. [iBelieve]

I asked what it is about Louisa May Alcott’s March sisters that keeps us coming back to them, and how the church might embody a similarly compelling posture, in Little Women and the Imaginative Power of Family Identity. [Christ and Pop Culture]

I’ll think back on 2017 with deep fondness as a writer for decades. It was the year I turned over a new leaf in writing toward my voice, became a podcast co-host, wrote a study guide for a book, and traded in tightly clenched fears for hands more free to love in word and deed. It was a year of continuing to be pressed thin, of undoing and redoing, of preparing me for the mantra I’ve chosen for 2018: “an ear to the ground–and wait” (Charles Bruce).

Toward greater love, deeper listening, and what I pray will be beneficial writing, I go.

Little Women and the Imaginative Power of Family Identity

While lists of literature’s favorite women vary widely, they nearly always mention one beloved heroine: Josephine March of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. “Jo” and her three sisters, Meg, Beth, and Amy, have charmed hearts and minds for nearly 150 years through numerous adaptations, and PBS is preparing yet another rendition with a 2018 television series.

What is it about Little Women that keeps us returning to it? While the individual trajectories of the sisters, and especially Jo’s, are enthralling in their own right, something more profound and weighty anchors the story and comforts its readers: the sisters’ shared childhood and distinct family identity.

Little Women opens on Christmas Eve, just hours before a day that will be marked by a scarcity of gifts and a quartet of daughters missing their father who is serving as a Union Army chaplain. The girls are dejected as the story begins, lamenting that a day they want to celebrate will be tainted by lack and loneliness. They attempt to bring about some brightness by planning small gifts for their beloved mother, Marmee, but remain sad and disappointed at the thought of Christmas.

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

*Image Credit:

Social Media Fundraising

Fathom Mag interviewed me about using social media to fundraise, and how, regardless of season, God makes a way for His people to do that which He has called us to do.

First off, tell us what you actually do?

I use social media to fundraise for people in need. Typically, those groups of people include foster, adoptive, kinship, single parent, and at-risk for CPS intervention families. As I’ve become aware of other situations, I’ve also fundraised for hurricane relief efforts, refugees, and bone marrow transplant patients.

How did you start?

In 2015, friends of mine who were involved in our church’s foster and adoption support group opened a foster pantry filled with items that would be made freely available to foster families.  They were well stocked on clothes, toys, etc., but needed larger items like car seats, strollers, and high chairs.

On a whim, I logged onto Amazon, saw that a car seat was available for a great deal, and posted it on my Facebook profile with information about the foster pantry opening in case anyone wanted to participate in stocking it. I offered my PayPal and Venmo links and wrote that any amount was appreciated, and that once I received enough money to purchase the car seat, I would. The seat was covered almost immediately, and people went crazy over the fundraiser.

Keep reading at Fathom Mag.

Are Women Really Welcome in the World?

In 2017, it can be easy to believe that there isn’t much left that we haven’t seen. We’ve launched astronauts into space. We’ve mapped the human genome. We’ve harnessed technology in such a way that it has become an integral part of our everyday lives.

While we all theoretically know that there are heights yet to reach, the world seems accessed and accessible in ways like never before. Many of the stories we tell are thinly veiled retellings of stories already told—creative, but not even attempting to be original. Everything seems attainable, yet we find ourselves regularly returning to that which we have already attained.

Perhaps this normative recurrence of the same old tropes is why an experience a few weeks ago stood out to me so clearly, an experience in which I saw something that I had never seen before. While sitting on the couch in my own familiar living room, a new story played out. What I witnessed wasn’t a scientific advancement, nor a political achievement. In fact, it wasn’t even real. It was a fictional depiction of something possible in the real world, but yet to be seen. And it captivated me.

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

Provocative Platforms

On Mark Driscoll, Derek Webb, Tullian Tchividjian, and my quest for missing pieces.

I was sixteen years old when a new album came on the scene, quickly labeled “edgy,” if not offensive, in the world of 2003 Contemporary Christian Music. The lyrics were provocative, at least for the time, and my teenage heart was enthralled by them.

I am a whore
I do confess
I put you on just like a wedding dress
And I run down the aisle
—Derek Webb

I listened to the album over and over again, enticed by the call to what felt like a deeper faith, a rawness and authenticity that seemed to be missing in so much of the evangelical culture around me. The music was artistically good, but not overly polished. The lyrics were reverent (enough), but not stripped of human honesty.

I knew my salvation was secure, but I wondered if perhaps the hollowness I’d sometimes felt in the conservative evangelicalism of my childhood could be filled by the fresh air this singing provocateur was breathing. Maybe this was the missing piece.

Keep Reading at Fathom Mag.

‘Sit with Me’: Currents of Grief in “Wind River”

“This isn’t the land of waiting for backup. This is the land of you’re on your own.”

Harsh as those words are, the reality they depict is even harsher. Wind River tells the gritty story of a murder case on an Indian Reservation where a young woman’s body is found in the snow by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife game hunter, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). Signs of rape and assault that are evident from the beginning are soon confirmed, and FBI Officer Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) and Lambert pair up to investigate.

The audience eventually learns that Lambert’s daughter also died in the cold a few years earlier. The undetermined, suspicious circumstances of her murder leave Lambert tormented and hungry to exact punishment. A few scenes in the film play out like near-fulfillments of revenge fantasies for Lambert, tantalizing him with the aroma of justice, offering a taste, then disappearing. Lambert pursues vengeance on behalf of the newly deceased young woman, Natalie, and her family, indulging the bloodlust that has been percolating beneath his calm exterior as he has mourned his own daughter. The retribution does not satisfy.

Wind River is bleak, even gruesome at moments. The desolation that echoes throughout the snow-covered reservation and the agony of the characters’ stories resound loudly enough for Vox writer Alissa Wilkinson to suggest that the film “risks becoming a caricature of pain.” While I do not overtly disagree with Wilkinson’s critique (I certainly found a few scenes in the film to teeter on, if not fall over, the edge of gratuitous brutality), my overall impression of the film is, perhaps, rooted in different soil.

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

*Image Credit: IMDB