Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Actually, women already do "have it all" (giveaway!)

Hannah Anderson and I became friends as a result of a twitter exchange about gender and theology a couple of years ago.  I was being snarky, of course, and she was being nuanced and reasonable.  Our conversation ended with my suggestion that she and I should change the terms of the debate, reframe the discussion of "women in the church".  I was half-joking, but as it turns out, she was totally serious.  Like, she wrote a whole book about it.

This month Moody released Hannah's book Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God's Image.

Though we land in slightly different places in the gender role debates, I appreciate Hannah's careful, scriptural look at what it means to affirm that women are created in the image of God.  Instead of asking "What does it mean to be a woman?"  Hannah asks what it means to be fully human.  Instead of asking if women can "have it all,"  Hannah insists that as image-bearers, we already do have it all. Here's the endorsement I wrote after reading an advance copy:

Can women "have it all"? In Made for More, Hannah Anderson reminds us that debating whether women can have fulfilling families and careers isn't the right place to begin in answering that question. Instead, she argues that women do have it all: we are full image-bearers of a great and glorious God. As Anderson unpacks the truth of what it means to be fully human and created in God's likeness, she skirts the trendy controversies of the day, instead offering women a strong scriptural foundation for understanding our identity. While the mommy wars rage, Anderson's still, small. and eloquent  voice calls women to a deeper, freeing vision of all that God intended womanhood to be.

You can hop on over to Christ and Pop Culture to read my interview with Hannah about the book.  You can also enter to win a copy of the book here!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Divorce of Strangers You Love

A few days ago a pair of songwriter-musicians, who are Christians, announced their divorce.  I am thinking of them tonight, Easter Saturday, the Great Vigil, and feeling sad and solemn.

Why should I feel so sad?  I don’t know them; they are not my friends and they are not my heroes. And I don’t believe that sadness is the only appropriate emotional response to the news of a divorce, especially when I know next to nothing of the stories behind it.

But when the people whose particular brand of confessional, spiritual music has companioned you for half your life announce that the love they’ve organized their lives around is broken, apparently it hits you personally.

My best friends and I used to play his songs on the guitar in our undateable college years.

Danny and I spent another late night over pancakes/ Talking about soccer and how every man’s just the same./  We made speculation on the who’s and the when’s of our future/ How everyone’s lonely, but still we just couldn’t complain./  And how we just hate being alone/ Could I have missed my only chance… But if the birds and flowers survive, then I’ll make it ok.

In Southeast Asia, my fledgling-faith sister sang his words, too.  Take to the world this love, hope and faith.  I strummed awkwardly on my Thai guitar.  She took the bread of life to the villages.  And let the bread on your tongue/ Leave a trail of crumbs/ To lead the hungry back/ To the place they are from...

My children sing her songs, and fall asleep with her melodies in their ears as the sun sets.  I sing them, too, and cry, even before this happened, I cried, because they’re beautiful and true, and maybe I’m broken in some of the same places she is.


I grew up in knee-deep in the world of Christian radio.  I waded through the Christian Bookseller’s Convention and the National Religious Broadcaster’s convention wearing Doc Martens and no make-up.  I was cynical about the Testamints and the Go Against the Flow t-shirts before I even knew the word commodification.  But I loved it, too, especially in those perfect days, the late nineties, when we had the burgeoning “indie” Christian albums, and Rich Mullins was still alive, and we got beautiful first albums from so many artists: Jars of Clay, Carolyn Arends, Waterdeep, Jennifer Knapp, Sixpence None the Richer, Caedmon’s Call.  

Even then, in the late nineties, CCM was changing. It wasn’t the same place it had been a few years earlier.  Remember when Amy Grant and Sandi Patty announced their divorces, how the stations stopped playing them? How we all judged them, skeptical of their commitment to Jesus.  We spoke about the failure of the Christian music industry, how it took naive artists and thrust fame upon them without shepherding them, uprooting them from their churches and accountability structures.  It was the industry’s fault, but also, Amy and Sandi were our role models, and they had let us down. We couldn’t play, or sell, their music anymore.  Because they weren’t married anymore. And we had to make sure everybody understood that that was wrong. If we kept playing their music, people might be confused.

That was the wrong response - or at least, it wasn’t the right response.  It wasn't the best response. And I’m happy to see that the vapid and vituperative internet hasn’t exploded with judgement or criticism or calls for boycotts for these musicians; things have been mostly quiet about the end of this marriage.  Granted, this couple doesn’t quite have the Amy and Vince level of celebrity, and they removed themselves from true “CCM” many years ago.  But maybe the difference in response also stems from a growth in humility in us listeners.  I’d like to think it does, anyway.  I’d like to think that when Christians who write songs make mistakes they still get to keep writing songs, and we still get to listen.  That we don’t think we have the right to call their very salvation into question.


But what is the right response?

In one sense, unless you know them personally, it’s nothing.  You don’t need to say a thing.  The state of marriage and family and salvation is not suddenly in question.  It’s not the case that if you stay silent  but keep listening to their music you are implicitly affirming divorce.

In another sense, the right response is prayer.  To pray for them, and for anyone whose love is broken or breaking.  To ask for humility and clear vision of yourself, to ask for God’s grace to strengthen your marriage.  To acknowledge that you could be in the exact same situation, but for the grace of God; and yet that the grace of God is with them in that situation too.

And maybe the response is to be more willing to invest in your own friends.  To go to the hard places with them.  To ask more questions instead of tiptoeing around; to invade their privacy, if they'll let you.  To be more honest about your own struggles, too.

These songs have been with you from your restless teens to your broken twenties and your tired thirties.  They were from Texas, and you were from Texas.  They were Presbyterian and then Episcopal, and so were you.  The pushed back against convention, they said bad words, they got prophetic.  They married a little later, they had little children, and so did you. 

The grace of God is with them, and the grace of God is with you.

I want to say that it’s a minor tragedy, tonight, as I sit in vigil, thinking of the rescuer.  I’m thinking too of a man in Texas who lost his nine year old son yesterday.  Of a refugee family of eight in Minnesota who can’t find work because they don’t know English, don’t have a car. I’m thinking of the fears that keep me from living whole-heartedly, of the selfishness that turns me inward instead of outward.  

But none of these failures of love is a minor tragedy, they’re just all bits and pieces of the one great tragedy, the reality of a broken world, the need for a rescuer.  As we keep vigil and lament tonight, we lament in hope, because he's coming.

Seven Stanzas at Easter {poetry for lent}

Seven Stanzas at Easter
by John Updike

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
     reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
     eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that -- pierced -- died, withered, paused, and then
     regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, trancendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
     faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, no papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
     grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
     opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
     embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Saint Sebastian {poetry for lent}

The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, Odilon Redon. 1910

Saint Sebastian
by W. S. Merwin

So many times I have felt them come, Lord,
The arrows, (a coward dies often), so many times,
And worse, oh worse often than this. Neither breeze nor bird
Stirring the hazed peace through which the day climbs.

And slower even than the arrows, the few sounds that come
Falling, as across water, from where farther off than the hills
The archers move in a different world in the same
Kingdom. Oh, can the noise of angels,

The beat and whirring between Thy kingdoms
Be even by such cropped feathers raised? Not though
With the wings of the morning may I fly from Thee; for it is

Thy kingdom where (and the wind so still now)
I stand in pain; and, entered with pain as always,
Thy kingdom that on these erring shafts comes.

an explanation of {poetry for lent} 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kneeling {poetry for lent}

by R. S. Thomas

Moments of great calm,  
Kneeling before an altar  
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God  
To speak; the air a staircase  
For silence; the sun’s light
Ringing me, as though I acted  
A great rĂ´le. And the audiences  
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,  
For the message.
                  Prompt me, God;  
But not yet. When I speak,  
Though it be you who speak  
Through me, something is lost.  
The meaning is in the waiting.

an explanation of {poetry for lent} 

Monday, April 14, 2014


 In 2012 I posted my top ten favorite things about the Festival of Faith and Writing.  Yesterday my sister texted me, saying "I hope you'll do that again," and, as I love to hear myself talk, I guess I can do that.

When I first attended the FFW in 2012, I felt like I had found my happy place.  The kind of conference where I got to listen to smart people talk about books in interesting ways?  The kind of place where if people found out that at the age of twelve I had both a "bookwoman" sweatshirt and one that read simply "So many books, so little time," there was a chance they might NOT smile weakly and start looking around for someone less crazy to talk to? 

This year the experience was equally wonderful, but different in one particular way: this year the experience was extremely social for me. I missed sessions to continue interesting conversations.  I even skipped THE NATIONAL to be with people.  THE NATIONAL, people.  What was I thinking?

The truth is, in this weird way I kind of hate to admit - because I want to be all about presence and embodied experiences and wendell berry - the connections I've made online over the last two years are real. I am a different person because of them.  I'm more inspired and confident creatively due to the relationships I have with many people I never or rarely see in person.  When I think about the Inklings in a pub in England or the Lost Generation in cafes in Paris, I think of my writing group on Voxer.  And while I'm no C.S. Lewis or Ernest Hemingway (I do like to think of myself as a Sylvia Beach, but now's not the time to discuss that), I believe that we are finding a similar kind of creative community through the internet.

And that's why, though the sessions at the festival were great this year (and I missed a lot that I want to revisit when the audio is put online), most of my highlights were about people.

10.  Seeing one of my favorite contemporary mystery novelists, Julia Spencer Fleming, and finding her to be smart, funny, self-deprecating, grounded, and knowledgeable about her craft.  That's a person I'd like to be like in thirty years.

9. I've appreciated Luci Shaw's poetry for many years now, so it was a pleasure to finally hear her read in person.  She's eighty-five, and so stately and gorgeous, so alive and attentive to life. That's a person I'd like to be like in fifty years.

8. Miroslav Volf spoke about education and human flourishing, about how "Decisions about the life worth living are increasingly shaped by decisions about consumer goods" and "We seek to satisfy our desires without exploring what is genuinely desirable." He's smart.

7. The Taylor University creative community made me proud: We had students with their names printed on the covers of journals, and everyone was asking me, "Do you know Dan Bowman?  What has he done to your creative writing program?"  The truth is that Dan is an agent of change, an advocate not just for students, but for friends as well, and he's having significant impact.  Of course it was just fun, too, to sit and talk with students and friends, and to run into alumni and see how smart and motivated they are.

6. On Friday night my writing group had dinner with Rachel Held Evans.  It was great to reconnect with her. Rachel is kind, honest, and, as DL said, always using her platform to highlight other people's voices.  She's generous.

5. Hermeneutics hosted a really fun reception on Thursday night, and it was great to re-connect both then and throughout the weekend with some of the writers I really admire - Karen, Rachel, Katelyn, Laura, Marlena, etc.

4. Several of the regular Christ and Pop Culture writers were there!  I only got to meet them for a few minutes at lunch one day, but it was good. They are thoughtful, smart people.

3. Would you believe that when I moved to Southeast Asia ten years ago, I met a kindred spirit right away?  I knew it when I walked into her house and saw her books.  I've only seen her a handful of times since leaving Asia, but every time I see her, I find that I still want to be just like her.  Sandy and I got to spend the better part of an afternoon together catching up.

2. I met with a couple of publishers about the book I'm currently working on, and would you believe they're interested? Now I'm just preparing myself to spend the summer with an open vein, losing blood into the keyboard until my heart is on the page the way I want it to be.

1. Most of all, it was beautiful to be with my writing group. What a gift from God it is to share life with these women. I would never have believed - and I still have trouble explaining - that you can make friends online, and that they could change your life for the better.  But here's the proof.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Purvey Translates: In ipso enim vivimus et movemur et sumus {poetry for lent}

This is the third in a series of three poems I'm sharing from Thom Satterlee's Burning Wyclif.  For more background, read this first.

Purvey Translates: In ipso enim vivimus et movemur et sumus

Sometimes the words I translated
translated me, as when
I wrote, "In Him we live
and move and are." For days
I dwelled in that mystery
where all air seemed holy
and fearful. I believed
I was a rip running
through God's body, a tear
that only stopped
when I sat still. Then
at my desk, half in daydream
I felt myself placed
as a word on the page,
and suddenly I saw
the whole of who we are
and how we're bound together --
each one of us a word
in the Word of God,
and our life's goal as simple
as remembering the lines
He first drew us with,
the sound and sense
we made in that language
before languages.

Originally published in The Southern Review.

an explanation of {poetry for lent} 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Brethren of the Cross: Oxford, May 19, 1349 {poetry for lent}

This is the second in a series of three poems I'm sharing from Thom Satterlee's Burning Wyclif.  For more background, read this first.

Brethren of the Cross: Oxford, May 19, 1349

"Some element of the flagellant lurked in the mind of every medieval man."
-The Black Death, 64

Although in Wyclif the element was trace,
And not much lurked in his mind without his knowing,
Still he could not look away, and something --
Was it sympathy or kinship? -- went out from him
like a bird from its cage.

He stood among the crowd and watched
Over a hundred flagellants
Stripped to the waist, scourges in hand,
Grouped in a circle. Gradually their chanting
Rose in pitch and volume

As they beat their backs and chests
With spikes sewn into leather thongs,
Tearing their flesh, now bleeding
Openly, freely, in front of God, the crowd, and him
On an early afternoon with the shadown

Of St. Mary's spreading across the square,
The tip of its spire pointing
Like a finger at the righteous suffering,
As if to settle all the arguments
Over what would end this Plague:

Here, these few who give themselves
For the many.  Wyclif felt their blows
Himself and without thinking
Touched his chest, half expecting blood
To soak through his robe and stain his hand.

But when he took his hand away
And saw nothing, he knew
He had only lapsed into believing.
As suddenly as the cage had opened
It closed. He left without a word.

This poem first appeared in Roanoke Review.

an explanation of {poetry for lent}