Poetry & Words

7 Things Evangelicals Can Learn from the Liturgical Church

Why do evangelicals ignore ancient church history? Why do nondenominational churches reject liturgy? Why is there such a gap between American evangelicalism and global Christianity? //
7 Things Evangelicals Can Learn from the Liturgical Church
When I was rebranding this blog, I wanted to include the term “liturgy” in my tag line. But my multi-faith writers’ group quickly said no. Liturgy, they said, was synonymous with Catholicism. I countered liturgy simply meant “the work of the people”, as in

  • our habits,
  • the intentional environment we create,
  • our patterns, and
  • the way we worship through the consistent choices we make daily.

Everything we routinely do is our liturgy, I argued. Besides, even in the context of church, Catholics do not own the term. Many Protestant worship services contain liturgical elements. My colleagues dissuaded me. I compromised, concluded I’ve spent too much time reading the dictionary, and went with the word “rhythms” instead.

But the exchange stayed with me, and I haven’t been able to stop asking questions. (I still like the word “liturgy.”) Why do we tend to think liturgy is Catholic? Don’t even the most seeker-friendly emergent evangelical churches practice many repetitive liturgies of their own invention — for example, in the distinct and recognizable way a worship team continues to play chords and pluck guitar strings while the leader transitions from singing to prayer at the end of the first set of songs, every single week?

Why are so many Christians determined to reinvent and rename the entire church experience, swapping out every term for something more relevant and hip?

Why do evangelicals shun the concise ancient creeds and write forty-page Statements of Faith instead? (Seriously, why?)

Why do American evangelicals think there’s an inverse relationship between the quantity of art in a church in the the quantity of holiness? Why is “church art” dismissed as religious in non-denominational circles?

Has America’s history of intense individualism really had that much effect on the way we view worship? (In other words, can we blame our uniquely-American hangups on the Puritans?)

Continue reading “7 Things Evangelicals Can Learn from the Liturgical Church”

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Poetry & Words

What People Don’t Understand About Having an Only Child

What People Don't Understand About Having an Only Child

Five years ago.  I don’t wish time to stop, because if time had stopped then I wouldn’t have today in all its glorious tumbling mix of beauty and brokenness.

No, I never wish time to stop.

This photo from the past is a femtosecond suspended in space — a single transient moment in time’s flight over us.

We’re in my favorite place on earth, high above the sea overlooking Bodega Bay, and the white-bright sunset is casting slivers of diamonds over us, by the handful. My pants don’t match my shirt, and I’m wearing my brother-in-law’s too-big shoes. She’s set to bolt away and grab fistfuls of sand. The sky is molten. We are hands on a clock, dials on the face of the sun.

And time flies on.

The shadows go round, and round, and round. She’s so little here, my third-grader, and my heart sometimes feels like it will split right down the middle.

See, she’s a miracle, you know, I miracle God granted in defiance of what time’s overly-speedy hands had begun to do to my physical body. And she’s light. Can’t you see it here, the light? True to her name, she’s Alenka, the radiance. When she was born, the nurse learned over the bed and asked, in a voice breaking under the weight of meaning, “What have you come to teach us?”

Strangers, won’t you step down and lift your head and open your eyes? Won’t you see beyond the narrow explanation you’ve created in your own mind?

You ask me why I had no more; I reply: no more arrived.

You ask so often. Do you realize how often you ask?

You never see the sorrow in my reply.

You ask at the line in the grocery store.

You ask at the library.

You ask at homeschool groups. (Oh, especially at homeschool groups.)

We’re dependent on God for so much. The thin tissue of our lungs fills and empties, fills and empties, fills and empties. We breath in oxygen; our organs are fed. We do not owe the function of these inner workings to our own righteousness. Our heartbeats, our respirations, the skin that covers these shells — gifts from the Maker, all.

Don’t count and measure and compare.

We aren’t given equal portions in this life, but we are given enough. We are given our portion. It is my sorrow that my arms cannot hold more; yet it is my joy they can hold the unspeakable gift I’ve been given.

Can you look at this life as liquid gold, with me? As chrysolite and as chalcedony? [1] We all walk sacred ground; there are no ordinary places. [2] We are souls inhabiting bodies; we are magic of the celestial kind.

Look to the Light, my friends, look to the Light and rejoice.

Poetry & Words

The Battle Between Blogger and Writer

The Battle Between Blogger and Writer

I feel stretched out, sometimes, pulled and twisted and at odds in the middle between the world of the writer and the world of the blogger. One is born a writer, but made a blogger.

For the writer, the sky itself shouts and whispers. Words fall down all around me from the sky, and I gather them up by the armfuls and pour them into the lines, giving my book a little shake at the end to settle in the errant punctuation.

But the blogger writes for function and purpose; proposals and contracts call for a practical list of countable tips that scrape away the cloud-words and add in keywords which screech and rasp against the lyrical rhythm.

For the writer there is always more to say — an endless spring of words to channel into funnels and sift, the gold letters glistening against the dross. But for the blogger, it’s never enough. The blogger must pour stats atop the words, and must toss the words together into a promotional salad, mixing up the letters every which way, until they’re poured out onto the editors’ desks and extruded through the constricting channels of social media.

The writer in me is always battling the blogger.

And the blogger, against her own will, must fight the writer.

“Out of the red and silver and the long cry of alarm to the poet who survives in all human beings, as the child survives in him; to this poet she threw an unexpected ladder in the middle of the city and ordained, ‘Climb!’” -Anaïs Nin

Poetry & Words

On Soviet Food and Spiritual Food

I’m currently reading a memoir of Soviet times, a sort of wandering musing on meals and cooking, from Lenin’s own kitchen to the communal cafeterias in Moscow. While I enjoy cooking, I confess I find food to be an inconvenience at times; and, as mother to a child with anaphylaxis, potentially deadly at others. Why did God design food to be so crucial?

On Soviet Food and Spiritual Food

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I’m currently reading Anya von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, a sort of wandering musing on meals and cooking, from Lenin’s own kitchen to the communal cafeterias of the author’s Moscow childhood. While I enjoy cooking — and obviously, books about cooking — I confess I find food to be an inconvenience at times; and, as mother to a child with anaphylaxis, potentially deadly at others. Certainly as a parent, preparing, serving, and cleaning up food is a nonnegotiable part of my daily routine. As I go about these chores, I often question why God designed food to be so crucial.

Why does the human body required food, simply to continue to exist? (Or, as I texted my friend the other day, “Why do these people I live with seem to want to eat three times a day?”)

My questioning doesn’t end there.

Why, in heaven, when all things are made new, does feasting still continue to play a central role?

Again and again throughout Scripture, we see food:

The fruit in the garden.

The lentil porridge.

The burnt offerings.

Loaves and fishes.

The last supper.

Perhaps eating, then, is an ever-present reminder of our daily dependence on God.

Take, and eat.

In Exodus chapter sixteen, the Israelites of old had to trust him anew each morning. Manna squirreled away under the corners of the tent or in a basket very openly revealed a lack of trust by dissolving into stinking, swarming mess of worms.

Manna, like mercy, is new every morning. Our own striving cannot sustain us overnight; only He can.

When Jesus teaches us how to pray, He does not tell us His power is vast enough to sustain us for all time — even though it is. No, he tells us we must ask Him for bread, every day. There’s a transcendental significance to the focus on daily bread. (Couldn’t he have just as easily taught us to pray, “Give us this month our monthly bread, so we need not stress about this again until the calendar page turns”? I would have preferred that.)

He didn’t, of course. There are no prayers for weekly or yearly allotments; but many promises for bread and mercy daily.

We are to turn our eyes upon him constantly, over and over and over again.

The hymn-writer Robert Lowry understood this when he wrote,

“I need thee every hour…
I need thee, oh, I need thee;
Ev’ry hour I need thee!”

Every hour. (If you have infants — or teenage boys — this is a very literal reality.)

Eating, I think, reminds of us our constant state of reliance on God. We rely on him for everything — the onrush of air into our lungs, the pulse of our beating hearts, and life itself. Simply to be alive is a gift. And when we set down yet another tired lunch on the table on yet another weekday noon, this ordinary act can be a worshipful acknowledgement of our utter dependence on God.

Work, as worship.

Food, as a worship.

Inhaling the aroma, tasting the spices on our tongue, feeling satiated, feeling hungry — these are all tangible ways to taste and see that the Lord is good. Yes, even if the meal is one you’ve had hundreds of times.

Even if you’re weary of meal prep.

Even then.

And our need for physical nourishment also echoes our need, too, for supernatural food. In the wilderness, David waxed desperately poetic in his sixty-third Psalm:

“You are my God;
I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You,
my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land
where there is no water.” 

Our souls are designed to crave Him as deeply as our stomach rumbles for food after a long day of slim pickings. God didn’t want us to miss this. He didn’t hide the symbolism in parable: he spelled it out for us when he said “I am the bread of life.”

We are supposed to feel as desperately starved for God when our spirits are hungry, just as we do for a food when our bodies are physically famished. Our bodies aren’t designed to last for long periods without eating; so too, our souls aren’t designed for only periodic spiritual dining, taken at infrequent intervals.

Later in the same Psalm where David first declares his wilderness thirst for God, he exclaims what it’s like to finally dive to God after his soul had been starved: “I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises!” (The Message translation)

In the Soviet memoir I’m reading, the author describes mealtime in Lenin’s Russia as “soup with rotten sauerkraut, unidentifiable meat (horse?), gluey millet, and endless vobla, the petrified fried Caspian roach fish.”

Is this what your soul has been surviving on?

Come!

You don’t need to live like this anymore. There is living water. There is life-giving bread.

The shackles are off; the walls have crumbled.

Read! Partake! Drink it in!

The time for feasting has arrived.

Homeschooling, Poetry & Words

East of Eden Book Club Hosted by the Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Hello, friends! Late summer finds me here, back in Tennessee after my summer wanderings. School books are stacked up again, pencils are sharpened, and we step into the rhythm of lengthening shadows and lingering sunsets. Here and there a leaf drifts by as if to whisper what’s next, on the wings of the wind.

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East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

“A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to.” -John Steinbeck

Sometimes, as homeschool parents, our world can end up being all-consumed with education, can’t it? Especially when we’re entrusted with the education of quirky, out-of-the-box, outlier kids, we can easily spend all our spare time chasing down solutions to help our asynchronous students thrive. This is definitely true over in The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community, the closed Facebook group that’s an offshoot of this blog. We spend a lot of time discussing giftedness, education, curriculum, and our kids in general. I love the support homeschool communities can provide. I’ve learned so much about various homeschool helps for gifted and twice exceptional kids.

But do you know what else is essential for success?

Our own wellbeing, as homeschool moms. We need to fill our reservoirs, too. If we’re stressed out, frazzled, expended, and flat-out exhausted, we’ll find it a whole lot harder to pour in to our kids, and lean in to this whole homeschooling craziness.

We think nothing of spending hours tracking down the precisely perfect literature list for our kids, but then somehow allow the stack of to-reads on our bedside table to languish. We make sure our students spend time digging in to the nuanced treasures hidden in stories, knowing it will enrich and edify, but then we scroll through social media instead of paging through a classic. (Or am I the only one?)

Online Book Club for East of Eden

Reading is really a wonderful kind of literary, thoughtful, continuing education. This fall, won’t you join us as a group of us from The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community pick up John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, lingering over four chapters each week?  I’m planning to pick out a brand-new commonplace book, too, and jot down passages which stand out to me.  (Everyone’s favorite Sarah Mackenzie explains what she keeps in her commonplace book.)

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

I’m naturally an overly-speedy reader, so keeping a pen and commonplace book handy as I read forces me to slow down a little more. As I wrote in a recent piece called Five Rewards of a Reading Lifestyle,

“Sometimes the nuggets of truth in a written passage are readily apparent; other times, the nuances require a little deeper digging before they’re visible. This is analogous to life; the profundity of life will not always shout to us from the surface, but is often

  • hidden away in quiet corners,
  • glistening in the shadows,
  • camouflaged by the everyday,
  • waiting to be discovered.

Reading teaches us it’s not always the flashiest or the loudest moments which are the most precious. In quiet searching through the written word, we are rewarded deeply.”

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

And as a writer, slow reading spurs me on to write, every single time. Yet like Steinbeck, “I find it difficult to write about my native place, northern California. It should be the easiest, because I knew that strip angled against the Pacific better than any place in the world. But I find it not one thing but many–one printed over another until the whole thing blurs. What it is is warped with memory of what it was and that with what happened there to me, the whole bundle wracked until objectiveness is nigh impossible.” -Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

I can’t wait to open East of Eden and travel west — walking figuratively through the West Coast again, seeing familiar places through new eyes, and stretching myself through intense plot and characterization.

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Join us, September 2nd, as we dive in to all 601 pages of East of Eden!

so you can chime in during our online discussions.

If you don’t have a copy of the book, ThriftBooks has several copies for around five dollars. (Click through to ThriftBooks from this page, and get 15% off your first purchase. Overly obvious disclosure: this is a referral link.)

Alright, ready? Mark your calendars for September 2!

Download the East of Eden Book Club schedule 

In September, the air smells different. Septembers are charred. The earth is dried and shattered into thousands of immovable pieces. I can always taste the wildfire in the air in September, that deep mix of ashes, burned pine resin and dust. No one else talks about it, but I think there’s a hint of pollen and petals in it too — that faint scent a rosebush gives off at the end of a long dry summer, when the blooms are slumped into disfigured, twisted crepe. I’ve always loved the way everything in September aches for the rain, looking forward to the washing that’s around the corner, even when everything is in ashes.” -an excerpt from my in-progress memoir

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community