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

Reflection

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.

Roundup

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.

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.
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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.

Should I Feel God’s Presence in My Life?  

If you grew up evangelical, it’s likely you experienced the phenomenon known as the “camp high.” This experience would occur when your youth group or church made its way to a retreat center, or perhaps your parents sent you off to a summer camp. A few days into the week, when you were tired, hadn’t stopped sweating in 96 hours, and were certain that the friends by your side would be your best buds forever, the evening program would happen. A campfire, perhaps, or a stirring message from a stage, and before you knew it, every emotion you’d ever known was rising up within you, a symphony of feelings that you were sure could only mean one thing—this is what it feels like to be near God.

I have many memories associated with this kind of experience, most of them occurring at camps or retreats or on mission trips, moments sweet and safe and removed from the every day normalcy of life. Sometimes I would access those emotions in a smaller dose on Wednesday nights at youth group, or during a Sunday morning service, a certain song or message conjuring up a fiery commitment to God and His ways. How could I want anything else?, I would think. Surely, if He can make me feel this way, He must be the One to follow.

While experiences like this were peppered throughout my teenage years, when college and young adulthood arrived, they seemed to slip away quietly. I wondered, worried even, if I was doing something wrong when I could no longer access the emotional highs I had once known and associated with God’s goodness and presence. As I made my first decisions of adulthood—a degree plan, marriage, my first job, two summers on the mission field—I wondered where God was. I was quite sure factually, logically, rationally, that He was pleased with the road I was walking. But emotionally, I wrestled. Why couldn’t I feel Him? And what did it mean that I couldn’t?

Keep reading at iBelieve.

How to Respond in Times of Crisis

I sat in my favorite corner of our couch, knees pulled up to my chest. A few close friends were scattered around the room, eyes soft, questions gentle. We had been at an event together earlier that evening where words were spoken that caused a part of my heart to fracture. When I left the event as soon as possible, these women called and offered to come, to sit and listen or let silence linger. We did some of both.

Mostly, I rambled, at least that’s how I remember it. I remember tears and I remember closing my eyes as I spoke sentences of which I was embarrassed of, words that made me feel faithless and weak. But most of all, I remember the tenderness of the women gathered in that room, their compassionate strength that bore the weight of my sadness and anger.

When I was in crisis, the physical presence, help, and listening ear of others was critical. Never have I been so aware of the beauty of the body of Christ as I have been when I was dependent upon others to care for me, to support my family, and to pray and believe for me when I was losing my grip on the ability to do so for myself.

When crisis comes, many of us determine to buckle down, to believe that grit and fortitude will be enough to weather the storm. But what this often can mean is that we want to be strong, though Scripture tells us that God’s grace is made perfect in our weakness. We do not want to inconvenience others, though Scripture tells us to bear one another’s burdens. We want to think of crises as linear—as having a beginning, middle, and end, life returning to a happy “normal” after the fact–though Scripture tells us that we will have trouble in this world until Christ’s return.

Keep reading at iBelieve.

On Hopeful Resistance

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
~ Emily Dickinson

I am not sure that I have ever before read a poem that I adore so fully and disagree with so heartily all at once. I am not sure if that is even an entirely possible state of mind, but it certainly seems to be the one I am in as I read Dickinson’s rhythmic words.

I did not used to feel this way about this poem. Not long ago, I found it to be only beautiful, merely soothing, simply grace. “The thing with feathers” — what a gentle, calming thought. The idea that hope could swoop down, land within me, beat its little wings and fill me with hope, why would I want to do anything but wrap my arms around that idea, embrace it wholeheartedly, maybe set up a few directional signs for the little hope-bird so it would arrive faster? Come to me, hope. Fill me up.

While I haven’t abandoned this little imaginative figment entirely, I no longer find it to be enough. I never did, I suppose, since I am one who believes her ultimate hope is in Christ, that He is the only hope in life and death. But I did find that repeating those little mantras to myself, words of Scripture, of creeds, even of Dickinson, was enough to reinvigorate the little bird’s wings, sending him flapping back into my presence, into my soul.

Keep reading at Upwrite Magazine.

Hope in My Earbuds: A Tribute to the Gilmore Guys

Say what you will about Twitter (and we could all say plenty), but I’ll tell you this: it served as the launching point for one of my favorite little bits of happiness over the course of the past year. The bit of happiness wasn’t, however, a Twitter account, a meme, or a GIF (though each of those could serve as runners up). Rather, it was a podcast.

Twitter was the meeting place for Kevin Porter and Demi Adejuyigbe, twentysomethings in Los Angeles, California, who half-jokingly agreed to chat their way through the television program Gilmore Girls, record their ramblings, and broadcast them for whoever may decide to listen. The product of their Twitter-baked plan was Gilmore Guys, a podcast which lasted for three-and-a-half years, ending earlier this summer after rising to #39 of all podcasts on iTunes during its peak of popularity.

Full of silliness, special guests, and skilled analysis made possible by their own budding careers in LA, Porter and Adejuyigbe found the x-factor that so many long to find in creative work—they invited people into a place that felt like home. While their house was built on an existing foundation (Gilmore Girls), the walls and rooms were all their own. And before we, the fans, knew it, their “home” was one of our favorite places to drop by each week. We’d peer around the corners to see who else was there, smile, and stay awhile. In the beginning, we came for the Girls, but in no time at all, we looked up and realized we were staying for the Guys.

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

*Photo Credit: Gilmore Guys

Review: “The Curious Christian” by Barnabas Piper

It’s not often that I write “Bravo!!!” (complete with, yes, three exclamation points) at the end of a book’s introduction. The Curious Christian: How Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life by Barnabas Piper, however, led me to do exactly that. As unusual as that early display of endorsement was, though, it wasn’t the introduction to the book that hooked me. Even earlier than that, in the dedication section, Piper convinced me that this book was a treasure.

“For my mother,” he writes. “I remember lying on top of the luggage in the back of our Chevy Caprice ‘Woody’ Station Wagon on the endless drive from Minnesota to Georgia and listening to you read adventure stories for me to hear all the way in the back and reading so well I forgot how bored I was.’”

Piper goes on to list memory after memory of how his mother sparked curiosity in him, how she taught him, how she modeled a love of learning for him, how she shaped and inspired him.  Trips to the library, hours spent on sidelines of the football field, the kitchen radio tuned to Fresh Air by NPR or Prairie Home Companion, Piper’s mother showed him a zest for life. “I wrote the words,” he writes. “But the ideas are yours.”

Keep reading at The Influence Network.

What Friends Are For

I grew up in the era of the sanctification checklist. “Have you read your Bible today? Have you spent time in prayer? At church? Serving others? Memorizing Scripture? At Bible study?” The list goes on. Extra points if your youth pastor added, “Did you spend more time reading your Bible or looking in the mirror this morning?”

This guidance came from leaders who desired to see teenagers fully devoted to Christ, but it felt like a fifty-pound weight on my already burdened heart. I longed for the satisfaction of feeling right before God—and that weight on my chest only increased my zeal.

Maybe, I thought, some more marks in those checkboxes would help me become holy. Maybe I can check off the boxes before the weight crushes me.

Many praise the move away from this type of ministry, but I wonder how far we’ve really gone.

Keep reading at Fathom Mag.