The Church Isn’t Dying; It’s Being Reborn

Jun 29 2015

Every once in a while, I speak here as a Christian to Christians about Christiany things, and I invite the rest of you to participate because you’re always welcome here and always encouraged to pull up a chair to this table. Now because this blog welcomes a wild and wide array of people from all backgrounds, some of you have no interest in this topic, and that’s OK. No sweat. I’ll be talking again soon about pooping my closet or being too sweary or teaching my children to vandalize things and generally upsetting polite society; things you can, in other words, be dismayed I say in public. Hang in there! I’ll be back to delight and/or offend you again soon. Right now it’s the Christians’ turn.

Ready, friends? Alrighty, then. Off we go!

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Dear Fellow Christians,

I hear a lot of talk these days. A lot of talk. Talk accompanied by hand-wringing. Talk accompanied by agonizing. Talk accompanied by finger-wagging and distress and, well, even some woe. The Church, by and large — and I mean the universal Church here, the whole shebang, the big enchilada — is kind of, to be technical about it, FREAKING THE HECK OUT.

“THE CHURCH IS DYING,” we say. “The Church is almost dead.” And we get panicky and fearful because the Church is gasping for breath, and it’s on our watch.

It’s not last week’s SCOTUS decision to legalize marriage for all comers and the implication on a traditional view of Scripture that I’m talking about. Or not just that, since I’ve been drafting this post for a hundred, hundred years.

“THE CHURCH IS DYING,” we say, and we’ve been saying it for quite some time, looking for signs of deterioration and finding them everywhere.

“MILLENNIALS ARE LEAVING IN DROVES,” we cry.

“OUR NUMBERS ARE DECLINING.”

“Fewer and fewer people adhere to fundamentalist or even evangelical interpretations of the Bible,” we notice, and we’re right.

“THE PEOPLE IN THE PEWS ARE GETTING OLDER,” we see, and we wonder how to bring in the next generations.

“LOST,” we call people who don’t subscribe to our version of Church, as though we get to assign that title; as though we think we can know who’s lost and who’s found.

And I could cite examples for all of these things, but, frankly, I looked on the World Wide Webs, and — egads! — there are thousands of articles to choose from. Hundreds of thousands. WHOLE SERIES OF BOOKS where the freak-outs are happening. So, as a mama of five who works two jobs and has to choose some things not to do, I’m going to say, if you need proof, look it up. Google can help you. It’s what they do. It’s what they live for.

“THE CHURCH IS DYING,” we say, and we conduct polls and we read stats and we concoct fancy plans to lure people back.

“COME BACK,” we say, and people don’t. They don’t come back; not to church as we understand it, anyway, and we despair.

The Church, it seems, is on its death bed, and those of us who love Jesus – those of us who adore what the Church could be, as a Life-Giver and a Light-Bringer and a Love-Bearer – mourn.

But I want to suggest something to us.

I want to share a teeny, tiny thought.

I want to ask us to consider the idea that the Church may not be dying, friends; it may not be dying at all. The Church may be being reborn.

What if…?

What if this is true?

The Church isn’t dying. The Church is being reborn. 

Listen, friends. Listen. Listen to this little Whisper that sounds a lot like Hope.

The Church isn’t dying. It’s being reborn. The Church is being reborn as it has again and again throughout modern history.

Again and again, the Church is reborn.  

I mean, yes, the Church is a hot mess right now. A whole, big, emotional mess. We are not being kind. We are not being gentle. We are not exhibiting self-control. We are looking the Fruits of the Spirit in the eyes and hollering, “BITE ME, Fruits of the Spirit. BITE. ME.” Which, HELLO, is labor exactly. Birth in spades. BITE ME, Kindness. SUCK IT, Gentleness. I AM IN PAIN HERE, AND I AM DOING THE BEST I CAN.

Have you ever been in labor? Have you ever seen it? Imagined it, even? The pain, the agony, the ooey gooey mess; we are pooping all over that table, friends, while we labor and fight and push to bring about new life.

The Church isn’t dying. It’s being reborn. And it is a giant mess of a process, like birthing always is.

The Church isn’t dying. It’s being reborn, and there are people who don’t want to be in the room. They’ve disengaged. They’ve walked out. The process has been too painful. It’s been too much. That’s okay. It really is. Not all of us are built for labor or called to go through it. Not all of us can go through it after we’ve endured too much.

But some of us are in the middle of it. Smack dab. Called to labor. Called to engage. Called to do the birthing or to bear witness to it with all the gore and the swearing and the sweating and the slime. We’re called to labor with all the dedication and all the exhaustion and the risks in equal measure of triumph or defeat.

We’re called to labor because we’re driven to help New Life draw its first breaths. We’re called to labor because Love is pushing and kicking and straining to get out. We’re called to labor because we adore Love already, despite not knowing it fully, despite getting it wrong so often, and we’re called to labor because we know on some core level Love is always worth the agony.

The Church isn’t dying. It’s being reborn as Love again. We are abandoning fundamentalism, ironically to get back to the fundamental of the Gospel which is to Love God and ourselves and to give the gift of Love freely away, especially to those who are different than ourselves, because Love teaches us that those who are different are our Neighbors and our Friends.

We serve a God of Love, after all. We serve a God of Resurrection. We serve a God of New Life. And it turns out this isn’t a numbers game or a death game. This is a hearts game. A hope game. A faith game. A Love game.

Birth is beautiful, yes; A MIRACLE. And it’s gritty and grimy and ugly. Might I suggest this? That our exhaustion with the heresy of exclusion and the nitpicking of rule-bound faith is a rebirthing of the Church and not the killing of it?

Jesus has always been most present in the mess, friends. Born in the muck and the mess and the madness, divinity in the unexpected places. Why should we expect it to be different now? Where else would Jesus be found?

The truth is, I know less and less as the years go by; less and less, and what I do know becomes more deeply distilled into one message and one message only, which is this: Love God — or if the God name doesn’t make sense to you, too stretched out of shape by people trying to shove too many non-God shaped things inside it, then use God’s other name, which is Love; Love Incarnate. Love God. Love Love. Love the Author and Perfector of Love Itself. Love Love in its purest form, and then love each other from the outpouring of that Love. Love each other wildly and without limits. Full of undeserved, unearned Grace.

The Church isn’t dying; it’s being reborn. Again. As Love Incarnate. And that, my friends, is Hope.

With, it turns out, undying Love,

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P.S. Shel Silverstein already wrote this whole post in poem form. It’s called Invitation, and it’s one of the most Godly things I’ve ever read.

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So, friends, come in. Come in. Come in.

If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

 

 

The Importance and Meaning of Rainbows: An Essay by an 8-Year-Old Boy

Jun 27 2015

Dear Friends,

I came home from work yesterday to this.

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My dog dyed rainbow.

Given the SCOTUS ruling yesterday that made same-sex marriage legal nationwide, I thought my kids might be celebrating. You know, being timely! And up to date on current events! I don’t know how I thought they would’ve picked up that news from playing Minecraft all day, but a mama can hope her babies pay attention to Supreme Court decisions while she’s at work, can’t she? Then it occurred to me that the last time the kids dyed the dog, it was to paint flames down his sides, and I didn’t assume they were celebrating arson. So I asked them why they did it. Why did they paint the dog to look like a rainbow? Other than the obvious, of course; that they had a) paint and b) a dog. 

So we sat outside late at night as the heat faded and so did the sun, and we talked about rainbows. Rainbows and color. Rainbows and God. Rainbows and people. Rainbows and life and how we approach each other with compassion and kindness. And this morning, Cai, one of our 8-year-olds, sat down to write you this essay. Cai’s last essay here was co-written with his twin brother. It was about Penis Tendons. Because I told them, if they wanted to guest post on this blog, they must choose an important topic, spell words correctly, pay attention to sentence craft and structure, have a POINT and a conclusion, and it had to be about be about something that will improve the lives of others. So, Penis Tendons, obviously. Since then, they’ve tossed around the idea of guest posting again, but the writing muse eluded them. Until now. 

And so, because Cai asked, and because Cai has important and wise things to say, I give you Cai’s Essay on The Importance and Meaning of Rainbows. 

With love,

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The Importance and Meaning of Rainbows
by Cai Woolsey, age 8

Yesterday my brother Cael and me dyed Chip’s hair rainbow. Chip is our dog. He is friendly and nice but not always. He is white with curly hair. He is 9 years old and he barks for five minutes at a stranger but after that he cools down.

Our friend Kasey helped dye Chip’s ears and the top of his head red, and we used her hair dye.

We painted the dog because I thought it would be a good surprise on my parents, and I thought it would be a good look on Chip. We think it is.

Other kids should and shouldn’t dye their dogs. You shouldn’t dye your dog because if your dog doesn’t have white hair it wouldn’t look so good, but if your dog does have white hair it would look great, so then you should.

Let’s talk about the importance of rainbows. I dyed my dog rainbow because I like rainbows. They are full of beautiful colors that are all different.

In the Bible, the rainbow symbolizes new life. Do you remember the story of Noah’s Ark? The story of Noah’s Ark is about Noah and his family building a huge wooden boat, and God tells Noah to gather two of each animal and put it in the boat. His family gets on the boat with him and there is a huge flood that floods the whole earth. After the flood there is a rainbow and the rainbow is a symbol of new life and promise that God would never flood the earth again.

In America, rainbows symbolize that a boy and a boy can get married and a girl and a girl can get married if they want to. I think that it’s a good idea because if a girl and a girl or a boy and a boy are in love that they should be allowed to get married.

Rainbows are the most cool in science because you get to see that light is made up of the colors of the rainbow. All of the colors are very different and beautiful, and the rainbow is the most beautiful of all because it is all the colors together. It is just like God shining through us. We are all different and beautiful, and we’re even more beautiful all together.

I think rainbows remind us of the Fruit of the Spirit which is in the Bible, too. Those are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.

Some people say rainbows are a girl thing. They are wrong because PEOPLE CAN LIKE ANYTHING NO MATTER WHAT.

This story is important because I hope that people will think differently about rainbows. Rainbows are for all people. They are about love and light and God and new life. You should never misjudge a rainbow; it’s like never judge a book by its cover. What you find inside is most important.

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Cai Woolsey is 8 years old.

When he grows up, he wants to be a doctor because he likes being around people, talking to them, and helping them.

Cai likes to type essays while sporting pink and blue nail polish and wearing his shirt backwards on purpose. At age 6, he coined the phrase, “All the colors are for all the people,” a slogan he lives by today. 

When Sad Comes

Jun 25 2015

I’m just kind of done today.

Wrung out.

Depleted.

Emotionally spent.

Sad.

Face down on the figurative pavement, friends, and here to stay for a while. A few minutes. A few hours. A few days. It’s hard to tell. All I know is I’m not moving right now.

Charleston, yes. The shootings in Charleston hit me like a punch to the gut. Racism and violence does that to mamas in general, and to dads, and to people who seek to Love Our Neighbors as ourselves. It’s especially tender, I think, for those of us who are part of transracial families, made of members who have whole palettes of colors imprinted in our collective skin, because we know those people are our sons and our moms and our sisters and our friends. Living with and loving people of all colors does this, after all; breaks down barriers so that even we who are steeped in privilege are wounded when our neighbors bleed.

But not Charleston alone, I admit. Charleston alone didn’t level me like I feel it should have. I feel vaguely ashamed of that, but there it is nonetheless.

Charleston happened on Wednesday, and we left for vacation on Friday. Vacation with one kid vomiting, and then another. And a headache for Greg. And a rash under my boobs.

We soldiered on, and then Sunday came.

Sunday. Father’s Day. A beautiful, summer day we spent together glorying in the sunshine on a river in Oregon.

Sunday. The day Brenda died.

Brenda, the mama of one my kid’s besties.

Sudden illness. Gone at 50. Life irreplaceable and somehow, inexplicably spent anyway.

I sat in our hotel room with Greg on Sunday night — in our hotel room with the loud, steady air conditioner and maroon decor and soft beds and snoring kids — and I said, “I’m going home.” Our vacation was supposed to last until Tuesday. We’d planned it for months with Greg’s parents, but this is what it is to be older and wiser. “We tried, Greg, we really did, but I’m going home.” And because Greg is older and wiser, too, he said, “We did. We tried. It’s OK. Go home.” So I packed my bag and a couple of kids and a service dog, and we came home to mourn.

My oldest asked me why. She knew why she needed to be home. To be with her friend. But she asked me why I did. “Why are you coming home, too, Mom? What are you going to do there?” She wanted to know, and she asked relentlessly, the way teenagers do. And the way teenagers do, she didn’t accept the quick answers meant to placate her. Answers like, “Just in case you need me.” And answers like, “I’d rather be there for you guys and have you need nothing than not be there and have you wish I was.” So I finally told her, “I have no idea what I’m going to do. None. At all.” And she said, “OK.” And that is a kind of wisdom, too.

On Tuesday, Rachel died. Cancer, the fucker. Rachel died, even though she was a sister and cousin and daughter and cherished friend. She was also a mama; irreplaceable, yet gone.

Charleston. Brenda. Rachel. None of them my losses, as in, not my besties. And yet all of them are my losses — our losses together — because they prick our hearts and tear our souls and leave us feeling helpless, vulnerable and afraid, and so very sad for their families and friends.

I sit outside on this summer night and the wind pushes down from the mountain behind me, persistent. My grass is dead but the weeds still make a valiant effort like the wind and the sun and Love to keep rising, again and again.

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I sit in my saggy chair and I think about God and why I still believe.

I believe in healing. I believe in grace. I believe in a Love so wild and free it blows through us and knocks us off our feet. I believe in community. I believe in come-unity. Community. Come, unity. Come, Unity, come.

I believe in God because I must. A crutch? Yes, YES, a crutch. A crutch on the days I can’t walk on my own. How do people do it without one? I need a crutch some days, a wheelchair others, and a soft place to land on the days I can’t go on, can’t get up, can’t move much less function. And I need a companion on the days I RUN. Because I run, too, wild and free like Love, and that’s when I want Grace to run alongside me. Love, my companion; Grace, my support. Love to laugh with me, the sun on our faces as we race through open fields. Grace to whisper, “See? I told you you’d walk again. See? I told you you’d RUN.”

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How to Smell Like Mint

Jun 23 2015

Listen. My children will be happy to tell you how I smell.

For the record, I don’t always smell bad. Sometimes they say I smell like skin or like the sun or like a campfire or like the bathtub, though that last one certainly isn’t always a good thing.

Most of the time, though, when my kids are pointing out how I smell, they use words like “puke” or “sweat” or “geez, Mom, did the dog roll on you?” and “yeah, Mom, did the dog roll on you after rolling in poop?” And then they giggle, but not one at a time. Nope, they giggle all together, because Maligning Mom is a sport for them; a team sport where they each know their positions and the importance of passing the ball and how to anticipate each other’s moves so they can score, man. So they’re precious little angels, is what I’m saying. My kids are DOLLS.

The other night, though, as I was laying in between my 8-year-olds while they were drifting off to sleep — a ritual I continue even though they’re too old for it, because it soothes all three of us and in my old age I’ve learned to give and take soothing wherever I can — one of them snuggled further into my side and breathed deep and whispered, “Mama, you smell like mint.” I pulled him closer and he snuffled and sighed before he went limp with sleep and contentment, and it was one of those moments of mamahood that rooted into my heart. Mama, you smell like mint, he said, and it brought back my memories of how my mom smelled when I was little and snuffly at her side. I know exactly that smell of safety still, and with it I can hear what my mom’s voice sounds like with my ear on her chest — the echo, the low vibrato, the hum of her conversation as I drifted off to sleep myself.

I left my boys’ room that night happy and content, fulfilled for the moment just to be present and love my babies and to smell like mint, and I shuffled into the bathroom to get ready for bed myself.

I brushed my hair, and I brushed my teeth, and I hummed to myself as I undressed.

Which is when my shirt caught on my skin and ripped a patch of it right off, just underneath my armpit where it’s soft and vulnerable.

“The?” I muttered, shirt still stuck around stung skin.

I tried to see what was causing the problem — duct tape, I figured, though how I’d managed to duct tape my shirt to my ribs, I didn’t know — but I couldn’t see well enough to know what was stuck or how to dislodge it.

So I pulled and peeled the shirt off, a little more gingerly this time after my first misguided attempt to simply tug the whole thing off in one fell swoop like a normal person.

That’s when I found it. The wad of chewed up gum adhered to my shirt and my body. Not my gum, of course. Someone else’s gum inside my shirt. A child’s gum, I’m assuming. A child’s chewed up, spit out gum. And not fresh, either. Nope. Not fresh. This was the kind of gum that’s been chemically transformed into super glue by at least one trip through a washer and a dryer.

Yep.

Gum.

Mint gum, to be specific.

Which is why I smelled like mint.

So, just in case you want to know how to smell like mint, too, I took a picture for you.
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I’m currently considering placing more used gum in other strategic body locations, because, honestly, this is the best I’ve smelled in a long, long time.

Yours truly,

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P.S. As you can see, I’m very Pinteresty. For other “How To” posts by Expert Me, I suggest reading How to Organize A Linen Closet, How to Mop, or, more realistically, We Do Train Wrecks Here.

P.P.S. If you actually ARE Pinteresty, I love you times a million. I do. True story.

 

UPDATED with Winners: Worst Contest Ever

Jun 20 2015

Hey! You know how you go on vacation with your five kids, and one starts puking, and you’re all, “Dear Jesus, please, please, please let this be food poisoning or an anxiety attack or anything other than a bug that’s going to take us all down” and then Jesus forgets about that whole Wave a Magic Wand and Make Everything Better part of his contract, and a second kid starts puking and you’re all, “OH MY GOSH, JESUS, WE HAVE TALKED ABOUT THIS,” but Jesus is all, “It doesn’t matter how many time you TELL me to be a Magic Wand, Beth; still not my gig,” so you hold the bucket for Kid Number Two and rub his back and tell him All the Poor Babies and All the I’m So Sorrys and have a minor crisis of faith, because JESUS CHRIST, and then you remember that Jesus said to Love Each Other well, and didn’t give any cool bonus features with that command — not Love and You Will Be Loved, not Love and Then I’ll Wave My Magic Wand, not Love and Everything Will Fall Into Place, just Love Period — and you realize that’s exactly what you’re doing at 3:00am with Kid Number Two? You’re exhausted, and you’re in a hotel room, and you’re beginning to have wall-to-wall pukers, and your husband can sleep through anything, and you’re sure you’re coming down with the pukes because there’s nothing like the sound and smell of vomit to make you want to do it, too, but you manage be Love anyway? You know how THAT happens?

YES, ME, TOO.

In conclusion, Jesus is a sometimes a sneaky JERK with his agenda.

Also in conclusion, I write very long run-on sentences when I’m tired.

Also-also in conclusion, one of my besties suggested we play Clue: Woolsey Puker Edition, which is just like a regular game of Clue except instead of trying to deduce who murdered whom with what in what room (which is too easy because I murdered Greg with a pillow in our hotel room WHILE HE SLEPT THROUGH ALL THE PUKING*), we try to figure out which Woolsey will puke next, where, and into/onto what.

Clue: Woolsey Puker Edition

What We’ve Already Learned: 

1. Ian, in the minivan, rim shot into the gallon ziplock baggy.
Also acceptable are the following:
Ian, in the bathroom, mostly into the toilet,
Ian, at Craker Lake National Park, under a fir tree, and
Ian, in the hotel room, into the garbage can.

2. Cael, in the hotel room, into the ice bucket.

What Players Are Left:

1. Greg
2. Beth
3. Abby
4. Aden
5. Cai
6. Grandma
7. Grandpa
8. Zoey the Service Dog

Locations:

We’re in Southern Oregon for the next four days and will be making a day trip to the Redwoods in California.
Feel free to use your imagination for puking sites; after all, that’s what we do!

How to Enter:

Leave your guess!
Include 3 parts:
1. Who will puke
2. Where
3. Into/onto what.

THERE WILL BE TWO PRIZES: ONE for the person who guesses closest, and one for the person who guesses funniest, because DEAR GOD, WE NEED A LAUGH.

It may not be a great prize, but it will NOT be puke, so Win/Win!
I’ll probably mail you some local (uncontaminated by Woolsey hands, I promise) Oregon chocolate. Or something. I don’t know. I’m open to suggestions.

I cannot wait to see your entries. Cannot WAIT.

With Love as endless as the Woolsey germs,

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*P.S. Greg got up with all the kids and let me sleep in. I shall hold off smothering him with a pillow for another night.

UPDATED: We are three days post-puke-fest, and in a SHOCKING twist, we’ve had NO NEW PUKERS. (I know, I know; now that I’ve typed this out loud, it’s a’comin’, but that’ll have to be a story for another time.)

Our winners are as follows:

1. The person who got closest to NO NEW PUKERS is Ami of MommyPig.com who writes, “Ugh. So sorry. I get really pissed when Jesus doesn’t stop the puking. I mean seriously, we’re not talking curing leprosy or raising the dead here; help a mother out. I pray there will be NO MORE PUKING BY ANYONE AT ALL. EVER.” 

2. The person who wins for funniest comment is Katie with, “Ooh! Ooh! I’ll use my real life experience with my pukey pants sister to predict a future trend for the Woolseys. I predict Cai will puke on the back of Cael’s head in the middle of the night. The next day, Aden will puke in Abby’s lap in the car. In conclusion,younger siblings are rude and puke on older siblings, and then your mean mom won’t let you be mad at your little sister, because it’s not her fault she gets car sick, even though she could have chosen to puke in her OWN lap. But I’m not still bitter 26 years later or anything.” Heh heh. This is something that would TOTALLY happen to us.

Ami and Katie, send your address to me at fivekidsisalotofkids@gmail.com with the subject line “I WON,” and I’ll send you your prizes!

AN UPDATE: 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin

Jun 16 2015

 

In October 2013, I wrote an essay titled 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin. In it, I ask my fellow Christians to stop using that phrase. Because UGH. And ACK. And has there ever been a phrase less symbolic of a Jesus who welcomed outcasts to his table, and who discarded rules in favor of mercy every time? Has there ever been a phrase quite like ‘Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin,’ intended to express love, that falls so dramatically short of its goal?

Now, a  year and a half later, 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin is seeing an online resurgence. Over 100,000 people have viewed it in the last two weeks. Granted, that’s not the 750,000 who’ve read The Day I Pooped My Closet, but there’s no accounting for taste, friends, and if you look at both posts together it becomes very clear, very quickly that we humans sure do like reading about THE MESS, don’t we? The mess in the closet. The mess in our hearts. The mess in our church. The mess in the ways we communicate.

It’s OK, though! This is a messy space. We welcome the mess here, always.

And a mess it has been. Very, VERY messy, in fact, because 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin has made some of my fellow Christians Very, VERY angry. And, while some have expressed their consternation kindly and rebuked me with obvious love, some have called me Heretic and False Teacher, A Disgrace to the Faith and a Liar.

Now, as this post has surged, I’ve left it alone, intentionally commenting very little because I think a) it’s important to have a healthy dialogue which only happens when we allow other people their say, and b) we welcome all comers to this space. That’s what we do here. It’s who we are. We welcome people.

There comes a point, though, if I continue not to comment, where I end up creating confusion or, at the very least, a one-sided conversation where I’ve lobbed the first ball, you hit it back, and then I refuse to continue… and, well, that’s not very helpful of me, is it? At the end of 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin, I asked for your agreements and disagreements, and then I zipped my lips.

Here I am, unzipping my lips. Because it’s time. And because it’s important to clarify a thing or two.

If you need to read 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin first, head on over. We’ll wait.

Ready? Here we go.

What 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin IS Saying and Also What It’s NOT:

To be crystal clear, 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin is talking about the PHRASE ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ and why we should discard it. It’s a post about our Christian lexicon and the ways we need to evaluate our words. That’s what the essay IS.

As far as what it ISN’T, you don’t need to scroll far through the comments on that original post to see that some of my fellow Christians are very dismayed by this essay. They think I’m saying a) that sin doesn’t exist and b) even if it does, we should ignore it and let everyone blithely go on sinning… like, WHEEEE!

To those people, I say, maturely, “Am not.” I am saying neither that sin doesn’t exist nor that we should ignore it, though I AM saying that it’s rarely our role to confront it, that we’ve grossly mistaken “confronting sin” for loving our neighbors — exactly the opposite of Jesus’ example and words — and, finally, that we ought to be EXTREMELY, EXTRAORDINARILY cautious about the whole “calling out sin” thing. We have, in other words, gotten the whole Jesus message dreadfully wrong, and we owe it to people to humbly apologize and ask their forgiveness. More about that in a minute.

Sin, Crime and Injustice

Another confusion I found in the comments is in our collective understanding of sin, crime and injustice, which became obvious in comments like “so you think what Hilter did was AWESOME” and “so when your kid is abused, you’ll just congratulate the abuser.” For the record, I’m going with no on both of those.

“Sin,” by definition, means “a transgression against divine law.” “Sin” should not be confused with “crime” which is “a transgression against the law of the land.” Crimes must be reported, friends. Nor should “sin” be confused with “injustice” which means “a lack of fairness or equity.” We — Christians and NonChristians alike — must report crimes and work toward fairness and equity for all people.

It’s not that sin, crime and injustice don’t overlap. They do. Often. Abuse, for example, is certainly a transgression against divine law. So it’s a sin, right? But it’s also crime and needs to be handled by the law, folks; the Church has gotten itself into a world of hurt by trying to “hate the sin” out of abusers, overstepping the bounds of what the Church is and is not equipped to handle.

Instead, the word sin refers in the context of this essay to immorality. A transgression against divine law. And this is exactly the connection I tried to make in 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin. We Christians are eager to point out immorality. Spend any time at all on Facebook and that’s obvious. And this is the message we’re getting SO WRONG, folks. We decry sins like promiscuity, adultery, intoxication, and so many more, focusing in ways Jesus never did on others’ outward actions, all the while ignoring our own sins of the heart — the sins on which Jesus did focus — like pettiness, cruelty, harshness, rage, greed, and hatred.

Imagine this, though. Imagine a Church that LOVES OTHERS. A Church that welcomes the stranger. A Church that LETS EVERYONE IN, not to change them, but to ADORE them. A Church that seeks, not to reform others or call them to repentance, but seeks to reform ourselves. To repent for the ways we’ve lacked mercy. To ask for forgiveness for all the finger-pointing. To act like Jesus came to set us free, not trap or trick us. To humbly admit our fear and our pride and our anger. To work to grow and change.

Over and over, Jesus’ lessons to us were about the ways we are unkind, uncharitable, unmerciful, unloving. Those are what I see as our deep sin. As MY deep sin. And that’s what I wish we’d correct. Together.

We Really Do Need to Stop Using That Phrase, Friends

In the words of my brother Jeff, we can debate between the “Love/Don’t Judge” verses (Matt. 22:37-39, Matt. 7:1-5, Luke 6:37, John 8:7, 1 Cor. 4:5, etc.) and the “Accountability/Live Holy Lives” verses (James 5:20, Rev. 2:6, 1 Cor. 5, etc.) forever. FOREVER AND EVER. This is complex and takes the most learned theologians LIFETIMES to suss out and, even then, they don’t all agree with each other. I think, then, we can probably agree that a six-word phrase — ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ — does not do justice to that complexity. And in over-simplifying, it devalues and hurts people.

HOW we confront each other or hold people accountable MATTERS. And uniformly, the people who have been on the receiving end of ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ report it as hurtful. If you’re using this language with people, it hurts them. Please stop.

With love (and hatred for our sins)(ha!),

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P.S. I don’t actually know if any of that makes sense, but it’s 10:30pm and I’m stuck sitting criss-cross with my laptop on a bed in between two sweet, smelly, sleeping 8-year-olds, so I’m hitting publish so I can try to extricate myself from this position before my legs crap up. I hope you understand.

P.P.S. I meant to write, “cramp” up in that first P.S., but I didn’t do it right. I’m leaving it because it’s symbolic. Sometimes when I try to write one thing, crap comes out, instead. I hope you understand.

P.P.P.S. Before you criticize my theology, I’d like to give you more to criticize. Not really; I’m actually not interested in more criticism, though I understand it’s part of the gig and likely to continue, so whatever. I do think it’s helpful, though, when you have a more complete picture. In addition to the “Faith and Doubt” section you can find at the top of this page on the left sidebar, I’d encourage you to read Sanctuary, The Real Reason I Still Go to Church, and especially On Parenting, Faith and Imperfection. I hope you understand.

I Think I’m Doing Anti-Body-Shaming Wrong

Jun 13 2015

Greg doesn’t like it when I tell him I can feel the baby kicking, and he totally refuses to put his hand on my belly so he can feel it, too.

We sit on the sticky couch late at night or we lay in bed with the kids’ cereal crumbs and cracker shrapnel, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the way these things usually happen, I feel the baby kicking, so I interrupt his show or his book or his game of phone solitaire, and I ask if he wants to feel the baby, too, but no. He never does. Not ever.

Greg also refuses to call it “the baby” just because it’s actually gas, but I don’t think that’s a very good reason not to participate in the joy, do you?

Greg hurts my feelings a lot. We can all pray for him.

I went clothes shopping last night, which, as my girlfriends can tell you, I detest and avoid at every possible turn. I think my Love of Shopping is hanging out on a tropical beach somewhere with my Dignity and my Sense of Decorum, part of a witness protection program because I’m a ongoing danger to them and the only way to survive is to never return.

I went clothes shopping last night, though, because I love my job and I think I might get fired if I show up naked. I’ve been running out of clothes for quite some time, and I hit critical mass (or critical lack of mass) this week, so it was time to buck up and get ‘er done.

I was like a child facing standardized testing or Saturday chores or bedtime, all whiny and reluctant, sighing and dragging my feet, and saying a lot of Do I Have To’s and Please Don’t Make Me’s. I went anyway, though, because I am a grown-up, and I can overcome.

This time I went shopping, though, I had a little more fun than usual.

You guys. You guys! Did you know they have full length mirrors in dressing rooms these days?

It’s TRUE. They DO.

They never send me a full length mirror when I order my clothes online — probably because they know I can’t use one responsibly — but, apparently, when you go to a store, they let you into a private room with ALL THE MIRRORS no matter who you are. No Responsibility Test or anything. And then you can do whatever you want in front of those things! WHATEVER YOU WANT.

IMG_4212As for me, I tried on clothes and took baby selfies. After all, today’s modern woman does not want to buy clothes in which the baby doesn’t look good.

Yes, I had to work at it to get my belly to really pop, you know? And, yes, I had to angle the camera correctly to make sure the bulge was as bulgy as possible. But I think we can agree it was worth it, yes? Because how ELSE will I commemorate this season of life — the season when I don’t have a technical baby in my belly but I do have both gas and the surplus belly material to make a really great fake baby. I mean, they always say, FOCUS ON WHAT YOU HAVE and DON’T FOCUS ON WHAT YOU DO NOT HAVE, and I’ve decided to take that advice to heart.

I showed my baby belly selfies to a friend today, and I don’t want to be critical of her or anything, but she was kind of a killjoy like Greg.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to push your belly out, Beth,” she said. “Pretty sure you’re supposed to suck it in.”

I asked her if she wanted to feel the baby kick.

She didn’t.

And then she said people — especially modern, American women — don’t take pleasure in having a baby belly when there’s, you know, no real baby inside it. I disagreed, and I mentioned all of the beautiful projects out there like the 4th Trimester where women proudly show their bellies because those bellies MADE PEOPLE. Stretch marks are tiger stripes and all that! “I’m in good company,” I told her. And she said, “Yeah, but they’re talking about deep-seated images of beauty in our culture and changing how we view women and honoring all people well. You’re just sticking your belly out because you think your big belly and having gas are hilarious.”

In conclusion, I think I’m doing anti-body-shaming wrong. On the other hand, if anyone wants to feel the baby kick, I’m your girl.

With love,

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P.S. Kudos to all of you growing actual babies on your belly selfies. Getting a shot of me and not the dressing room wall was really hard. No one took belly selfies 9 years ago, the last time I was pregnant. We had it easy, man. EASY.

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P.P.S. I bought the pink dress.

P.P.P.S. I also bought Spanx, because Both/And, friends. Both/And.

P.P.P.P.S. On a note unrelated to my belly, I run a writing retreat with some incredibly rad writing professor friends of mine. It’s called the Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat, and we just released dates for 2016. You can find all the info here if you’re interested!

P.P.P.P.P.S. I once wrote something a little more poignant about my belly. It’s called This is My Body, Sacred and Scarred. Just in case you need to purge your mind after this one.