Friday, November 16, 2018

Around this time five years ago, he and I were committed to each other in as many ways as two can be except by way of ring or covenant. In hindsight, the youngest and most dangerous of all the ways. We were fighting already like old people – a lot over schedules and semantics then, and we both hated pornography. He loved me and I loved him, and we knew from the humble beginning that we’d end up together, rounding out those last and final stages. I’d hear his same profession, let it sink impatiently deep, try with all my might to value its simple three-word form, and then I’d ask him for the first time, “But what do you love about me?”

We’d released our good and ready phrase into the atmosphere with an adolescent force to be reckoned with, and as many of you know, you’ll never get that bird back in its cage again. It flits and flutters about, intentionally careless, landing when it needs to or when it doesn’t, singing soft and loud, never enough times. And it’s true. Just when you think the love well’s run dry or it’s at least losing tread, there are days when it’s uttered between every literal breath and even then it’s still too few. So when, then, did I start needing more?

But what? He’d say well, of course your blue eyes and your family and our very common interests. I’d look at him – a stranger – my eyes drifting for his phone, and I wondered about who else he might know with blue eyes, a family, and similar favorite things.

. . .

I was scrolling through Instagram the other day, and this happens to me sometimes – I’ll go from zero to irked with not much context for the trigger that brought me there. I’m sure social media is a contributing factor, but it’s not the only one, and I won’t resign to an eternal temperament that’s just annoyed at the wind. With the help of the Holy Spirit who convicts with immediacy, I’m getting to the bottom of the provocations and the reasons they make me utterly out of control. Sometimes all-day irritable, sometimes more. Like rolling your windows up, locking your doors, and – only until your voice breaks and betrays you – suffocating a whole car with the devil’s dictionary of expletives and not a sin in sight to blame it on. Anyways, we’re working on it, sanctification and me.

That particular day, I’d come across some fluffy account (that’s what I call them) and behind this one, another blonde preaching from her impressive platform about dreams and margin and the ethereal lies that whirl around a misshapen identity. Throw in a few kitschy phrases about what to do when God says no and you’ve unlocked the winning formula. An anemic, scripture-based message and a thousand-person chorus amen-ing in unison. About what? She hadn’t risked a thing speaking in platitudes, she received the applause she had hoped for, and her blind affiliates can say they sort of feel better about themselves. Maybe it was a win-win all along.

He tapped me gently and told me that this was one of those times. Caught in the unbecoming web of judgment, condescension, and a gnarly assumption that her empty, loose words couldn’t possibly resonate with another human soul. It was a vulgar response, and a wrong one, but it was an assessment I wanted to come back to because it wasn’t new to me. I didn’t have pen and paper handy, so I scribbled down what notes I could quickly into my phone before the free thought vaporized and became bitter like it’s done before.

Vulnerability is specific and should be practiced without restraint – In relationship, in faith, in writing. Including detail and pointed repentance will highlight the character of the Lord more than vague representations of openness will. How much is too much to share or is that the point?

I collapsed it down and put the phone back snugly in my pocket, recognizing good and well that my opinion is only that, and I’ll need One more knowing to really get at what’s true. But with a swift and single pivot, I was at least able to catch it in a jar and examine the bug more clearly from above than from inside, slamming our heads into glass.

It really bothers me when I see a writer beat around the bush and call it honest. In fact, I think to name yourself a writer at all, you must be willing to learn more words and stretch them out to describe a thing well and you must be willing to suffer twice, making a reader live through the very affliction that made you tear the page up in the first place. I’m not trying to hear about your tiff with anxiety, which has you beat down. I want to see the color of the hives that cover your chest when you take your shirt off at night and know if they feel like bubble wrap as you press your fingers in. I’m not concerned with how inadequate you feel as a wife unless I know about the way you situated both soapy hands against the kitchen sink and with your neck strained out long you cry out to him that you don’t quite care what he has to say. And when you talk about apathy, try not to use the word more than once. Instead, tell me how scary it is to sit around a table eating chicken with the five people you love most and to still feel nothing, much like how someone might react after they’ve lost sight or sound or touch or taste.

Now, there’s a bit of controversy surrounding this one, but it might behoove the church to come out and just stand by something. Rather than covering its bases with a brush of generalities, I wonder how many might actually be comforted by the force in which a leader admits that he wishes they’d not split families up at the border. We’d nearly eliminate congregational phrases like, I know you didn’t mean to say it this way or what is he/she really trying to get at? You don’t have any reason to listen to me because I don’t know the first thing about stewarding a local body and I’m closer to apolitical than anything, but it’s just tiring to hear a voice in whatever capacity be mild and agreeable. Ask the spirit to correct, of course – and He will – but then find your convictions and don’t let them down, because the godforsaken name of authenticity depends on it. It seems we've gotten less thoughtful in our speech, and speech dictates more than we could know. I want Christ to impart wisdom in me, and wisdom is not light or undecided. It is pointed and sound.

If you’re familiar with any of my other ramblings here or elsewhere, you know that the Lord’s been teaching me for some time about my words. They trip me up and come out wrong and have been the cause of a handful of hurts over the years. It was a cruel irony when the Lord fashioned me with a penchant for writing and an unkempt tongue, but we’re working through that. And regarding the tendency to spill my guts all over the floor, there are moments where I’m certain I’ve let people in on way more than they bargained for with no way to take it back and no way to rearrange the story. But He’s quick to remind me that the word of God is specific and that when understood rightly, specificity is a gift too often snubbed and turned away as baggage. God was clear in his commandments, Jesus clear in his preaching of the gospel, and the Holy Spirit clear in his prompting and direction. The enemy tends to crouch near specificity and offer that they didn’t ask for this, and when you notice that, push further and you’ll hear the truer voice offer that maybe it’s surely what they need.

Ryan and I have spent all of our subsequent years in the throes of intimacy and the compounding specificity required to stay there. Say what you will about the Enneagram, but it’s a recently trendy tool that wasn’t as trendy four thousand years ago. Studying it closely has defogged a world of frustration for us. It doesn’t fix marriages or make you a perfect companion, but it encourages purposeful communication and comprehensive understanding – both ideas that demand precision.

We’ve learned to be specific in our praise and intentional with our questions. I don’t notice a fridge full of groceries and tell him thank you anymore. I go to him and say hey, I appreciate you going to the store. That’s really freed me up to rest, finish my work well, etc. Used to, he’d ask me what in the world is wrong, and I truly, madly wouldn’t know. I’d tell him nothing and neither of us was happy with that half true response. Now, because he knows that the shame-game is a 4’s broken heel, he’ll lean in and say that he knows I’m embarrassed for blowing up unfairly earlier and is that what’s bothering you? And the fact that he knows me well enough to direct his language accordingly is what separates shallow, self-serving openness from risky, self-sacrificing vulnerability.

After all this time, it’s not what he loves about me that’s changed, but the scope with which he shoots has become smaller. But what, I’ll say. And it’s something silly like how my nails click against the iPhone gorilla glass when I’m typing a message. He can hear it from a mile away. Most people use the pads of their fingers which produces an entirely different sound. Or when you’re primping in the mirror, he says, you make this same face. He demonstrates. Your lips purse and your eyes are like almonds, but you don’t know you’re doing it and no one would notice unless they’ve admired it for many, many mornings.

With such specificity, he’s captured my attention, and I believe anything he’ll say.

It’s not like we have nothing to lose in doing so, because I’m sure there are plenty of things. Reputation, perception, followers and fame. There’ll be backlash and possibly extreme opposition. But what if we dug all the way down and reached the guilty ground with signs that show we’ve said too much only to find that there’s more to go. More to uncover, more to feel, more to say. What if we risked over-sharing, misunderstanding, and being exposed for the sake of real rock-bottom depth and communion. I think we’ll find there’s freedom in saying exactly what we mean and consequently meaning what we say. Be diligent to pray against shame once it’s out there, and ask the Lord to do what only he can do when you’ve emptied yourself of everything. Go further than you’ve gone and expect quite a new thing to well up in you.


Monday, September 10, 2018

The ground outside is wet. I’m not inspired to write – I’m inspired to sleep until ten, which I’ve already done. But we’re here, it just happened this way, and we’ll see how it goes. Our dog is furled up nose to paw along the grooves of a pregnancy pillow. He loves that thing. I don’t know why we have it. It sits snug between his crate and recliner, and he shares window light with the terracotta houseplant. His eyebrows are matted up all covering his eyes, but he’ll peer through every once in awhile without moving his head just to make sure I’m minding my own business. If the music’s too loud for his liking, he’ll let out a four-second guttural sigh from his lonely, disrupted corner. He and I are much the same, and I think about this often.

I tried talking to him one day. Ryan was gone for work, and we sat together on the couch. He’s better at eye contact than a lot of humans I’ve met until he senses that something might be wrong, in which case he’ll flit his eyes back and forth with his neck craned down until you pull him into your chest for rescuing. He hangs for dear life onto the words we say, and when we speak, he responds appropriately every time. It’s still hard to tell if that’s characteristic of a good, obedient listener or just someone who’s scared to let you down. I cupped his face and brought it close to mine, and I said to him, “Baby, if you can talk, just say anything. One tiny, little word. I won’t tell a soul!” And he gets this frantic look in his kind eyes that’s worried you’ve just offered him something that he’s unable to fulfill. Out of all the many tricks in his brilliant repertoire, I had chosen the one that wouldn’t come, and he retreated to his room.

His room is just the kennel that he stays in when we leave home. A two-toned quilt remains folded over top to keep it dim and sheltered and safe from outside forces. On top is also the graveyard where leashes and fashion bandanas and unused waste bags go to die until they’re resurrected another time. There’s a grey fleece that fits nicely inside for him to circle around in until he’s found his final form. He must like it in there, because there’s little to no effort in getting him settled on our part. The kennel door is merely a suggestion that I think he’d respect even if left ajar. He’s bound to social rules and only rarely feels frisky enough to toe that line, and it’s usually when Dad and I are around to slap his wrist and tell him he knows better. He’s a sneaky little bastard that’s seduced by rebellious ideals but values loyalty to his people more than the thrill of saying no. I wish I could communicate how lucky he is to have learned this lesson – faster than me, but maybe I have to be thirty before that kind of maturity really takes root. Some people say that about your twenties.

It must have been last year when I noticed, but Ryan and I were in a tiff that could have been about any number of things. We sat oceans apart in our small living room. I cursed at him while he continued unsuccessfully to land his point. Our dog is intuitive and gets nervous when tensions run high between the girl and the boy that raise him. There’s not a moment when he positions himself within eyeshot of only one of us – it has to be both. And when we fight, I think it gets tougher for him to breathe. The air gets thicker and hotter and I know he feels like his being there is inconvenient. This night, I watched him slink off his chair and into his open crate. I’m sure he prayed for us to shut the door and lock him up tight, but at least it was black and there were walls. He rolled up near the back and waited for the storm to pass, and he’s done it ever since. I cried the first time, resenting myself and my unruly self-control, and in the same thought, crippling thankfulness for refuge where we all can find it. I flashed to mine twelve years ago – the twinkle lights and candle shrine and cold, dark window seat. You could hear it still from the other room, the shouting, but you weren’t in the way and a room doesn’t care if you use it to hide sometimes. Plus, if you hum loud enough or fall asleep you mostly forget it’s there.

I’m not an all dog person in the whole manner that some claim to be. I’d like for them to be easily trained and unassuming, tender, careful, mildly excitable and really sad to see you leave. Maybe there’s some sort of universal personality pool that most dogs fall into by default, but whatever the case, we had winning numbers when we found ours. He is exactly as you need him to be a hundred percent of the time. He’s skilled in matching the energy of a room, empathetic as all get-out.

He displays a bit of social anxiety, but he’ll sure try until he can’t any longer. He plays hard by his own standards and sleeps harder. Always sleeps harder. He’s quickly concerned and wears my sadness when I’m sad. But when we jump around, you better believe that he jumps, too – ears pinned up, tongue out wide, and backside shaking all over the place. He feels everything we feel and carries what we carry, and I bet you he feels crazy like his mother, but what a gift that’s been to me to have him balance the load. It’s wild, isn’t it, how what serves as a gifting for one feels like the short straw for another. In this case, the one is my dog and the other is me.

I’m reading a book right now about burden-bearing and how to do it rightly. She speaks about spiritual sensitivity and this anointed ability to pick up on peoples’ pain, or a person’s pain. To not only feel for them, but feel with them, and to not just feel with them, but to take it from them and bear more of it so that they might bear less. The ones who naturally exhibit this often don’t know it, which leads to the conclusion that the way they were made to be is hopeless and inherently wrong. Tired all the time, bouts of irritability triggered by unwarranted events, likely withdrawn, and happier in the forest than in a crowded room. These unsuspecting victims latch onto the emotions of others and are responsible for doing something about it. And what was intended to help and relieve and intercede on the Spirit’s behalf has a tendency to get stuffed and stifled and thrown out with the cursed children. I’m a cursed child in the infant stages of a course correction, but I still catch myself wondering why me.

We have a friend from France who comes to town and lives with our family from time to time. Her last stint in Texas was three months long, and I got to take her into the city one of the days. On the road we talked again about culture differences, racial bias, and the generation gap. As she and I drew a bridge from Paris to here, she said something true and I’ve gone back to it a lot in this context. Conceptually, it seems as if the issues easiest to form our small opinions about are – universally – some of the toughest to articulate. To yoke our speech and our thinking more evenly (and respectfully), she says, we must be willing to change our language of hard things first. Are they actually hard or are they just misunderstood, misidentified, or mistaken? In order to change our coming thoughts on a matter, let’s make good their purpose on our tongues.

I want to thank her for saying that, because it’s teaching me inadvertently that a gift is a gift is a good gift whose goodness is tarnished if our well-meaning knowledge of it trails behind a sad, sorry-for-yourself song. And maybe it’ll take some aligning of what I know to be true of this certain gift and what I say is true of myself, but I can’t fairly throw one out without recognizing the other. The thing you’re sure you admire in your neighbor can’t possibly constitute the same chorus of why me’s along the way. I don’t know how long that could take, but if I’m lucky, something that normally feels like emotional upheaval and total burnout would snap its fingers and bow to its helpmate: a prayerful returning of a whole room’s brokenness back to where it came from.  

I’d also like to thank my dog for being him, because he’s borne enough of my burdens over the years for me to come around past envy, denial, and avoidance to finally say show me your ways. And maybe just as soon as those words start to materialize will I then begin to think of God’s gift as a good one. I’d really like to think of it as a good one.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

I’ve been quiet around here lately, and that doesn’t bother me like it might have a year or two ago. I don’t want to speak frivolously, but my purpose for this space and writing in it is not for those of you who read and want more. I covet your time and feel thankful for each strange twinge of human connection it’s fostered. Really, there’s something cosmic about the transfer of experience from being to being, having met or having never yet met. Reading someone’s mail, as it were, and letting it happen the other way. I think we need more of that brutal exchange, and I’ll offer myself up for the opportunity every time.

But if I wrote for you simply because you read and you liked it, this shit would be over. The muse becomes a different thing entirely. It’s no longer art, or rather the manifestation of art as Christ through me. It would look like long-suffering deadlines (the two of these by themselves breed faithfulness but don’t play healthily for me in conjunction), opinion as an idol, and filling inevitable spaces that I was never meant to fill. The minute I start owing anyone anything, I’ll owe everyone everything, and that’s not a white rabbit I’m willing to chase. I hope this makes sense.

Truthfully, it’s been a little of this and a little of that. I’ve had my nose in the dirt, forging ahead in some areas I’d have been too fearful to go for in a previous life. Doing over saying, which is a new concept for me and in some ways a better one. I’m riding the proverbial wave (after a good stint of toes in the sand) and in doing so have felt the kind of pruning that happens when you’re finally ready for it. Some, you know, we stumble into and some works itself out over time, but this kind doesn’t feel sharp as much as it feels like I’d imagine a freshwater rain would after several days lost at sea. Gathering the pails and buckets and empty sardine canisters because here it comes, boys, and please don’t miss it. Patience, open-handedness, a spirit of peace and a gentler one. The pruning that only stings because it would have been nice to have had it awhile ago and now you’re scared you’ve got to ration the miracle because will it stay? And if not, will it come again? I drink with my tongue out wide like my life depends on it and I apologize for the belated invitation.

The idealist in me, though, wonders about the real reason I haven’t written in three months – as if what I said before wasn’t excuse enough. Is it because sometime earlier this year I’d committed myself to put down the pen and to read? I’d make my tiny veins plump with wiser words laid out like a feast before me, ones that had done both the sowing and the reaping and all the preemptive becoming. I’d lay a blanket over mine so as not to collect much dust but to forget its whining for a time so that I might press in to the gleaning. And I’ve done that, some, but it wouldn’t have stopped me. I’d have snuck into my room and plucked the blanket aside, bludgeoning the page until I could breathe properly again. Writing is no discipline for me, although I could make it one. I listen to it and respond accordingly and usually against my will or better judgment.

. . .

I remember being younger, maybe fourteen, and being dubbed “Megaphone Mouth” by Dad. He’d say it sweetly and like he wouldn’t trade it, but the decibels in which I said regular words apparently translated to some ungodly and uncomfortable level for those in earshot. In high school, my health teacher let me hear it. I’m Mrs. Conscientious, never-miss-a-day, star pupil, but I couldn’t seem to figure out my volume. I snapped at her, because the entire class was in uproar, hissing and chattering, which she recognized. She shrugged and said, “Your voice is the one that stuck out louder than all the others.” I had crafted a masterful frequency that outran the rest, maybe due in part to a large family and one that shouted remarks in ladder-like fashion. To keep up meant crawling on someone else’s shoulders and beating on your chest in pride once you reached the top.

I’ve got a strong bent towards feeling unheard or misheard with a lot to say and no real way of getting it across, and perhaps this heightened my perception of “tell something worth telling or you ought not tell it at all.” Words were my gavel for many years. I could make them what I wanted and they would tell me how to feel. I hung my hat believing, in the language of Kim Addonizio, “there is something you absolutely need to say. No one is asking you to say it. You know that, and yet here you are, an army ready to do battle with the forces of silence.” I respect that sentiment still to some degree. Voices of hope, or not even hope – just a voice of anything – in a hollow land. This land is hollow and I have a voice to use. I got real good at taking up my words as a shield, and they’re some of the times I regret most heavily. The Lord’s been kind in revealing to me moments that I’ve used words for senseless battle. He’s been kind in showing me that the forces of silence are often a gift and shouldn’t be fought. And he’s been kind in teaching me how to let the shield loose and wield a new thing, one that might not involve my words at all.

We were sitting around a BBQ joint the other night, most of my family and I. We stammered on over Shiner about the fish that the boys caught earlier. We got on to telling stories of growing up, building upon memories of when we’d laughed the hardest, comparing our separate scenarios with sleep paralysis, and uncovering the phenomenon of recurring dreams, ones we’d each had that were too hard to articulate at the time. The four of us there finally circled back around to birth order and marveled at how different we all are, me from my brother in the middle and even he from our brother that’s the youngest. In a few moments of tender discipline, we called to mind instances we had been hurt by each other and areas in which we were most skilled in hurting.

There will never be a time when that’s pleasant to hear, but I’m more inclined to hear it in the moment, when it’s a fresh, clean sweep up. There’s a scuffle and a flash and then it’s over until the next time. This one was miles worse and far more jarring because you’re at eye level with almost twenty years of your bloodiest battles, ones during which your words did all of the wounding and they’re still talking about how much it hurt. Not anymore, they say, but maybe. Who knows.

I went home and cried in the shower for fifteen minutes. I scrubbed my skin raw and wondered how much damage does it take to equal a wasted life and at what point do you stop hurting people in the exact same way? I was thinking about my husband now.

He’s only been on the receiving end five years, and I’ve delivered to his door enough persecution for this life and two more. Manipulation, fabrication, domination. Shrinking behind plated armor when I have felt embarrassed or duped or misunderstood or unwanted. And as much as he recognizes the hurtful hiss and chatter of the rest of the class, I’m just so scared that he might one day say that your voice is the one that stuck out louder than all the others. And as I fumble my way out of the bathroom, soaking and sobbing and looking for a shirt, he’s there with a blow dryer. He sits me down in the hallway on our floral, hand-me-down chair and combs the tangles in my hair and says that the ones who have every right to run will still outlive the rest. That’s how it works when people love you, he said, and that if it’s not one stupid sin it’s another. We all know, and we’ve all stuck around, haven’t we. Don’t be so hard on yourself and say you’re sorry when you can.

. . .

I will write until I'm gone, because I have to, much like the need to salivate or to swallow. It always comes when it needs to, but just as I’m thankful for the discipline of writing words, I’m equally so for the discipline of harnessing them, sitting on them until they're used rightly. Making them not like a rope of possession or a whip of correction or a leash of control, but making them like a ribbon of comfort and truth and wisdom that brings healing [Proverbs 12:18].

Another writer years ago told me that I’d be doing a great disservice to the world by not exercising my gifting publicly. That it was more prideful and selfish to hold onto my words than to share them. I lived a long time after that thinking I’d better tell something worth telling then. And I guess what I’m realizing now is that I could live a quiet and really faithful life without ever writing a word for you again, though that’s not my hope. I hope that you’re encouraged when you come here, but I pray you don’t depend on it. I pray you depend on muscling your way through your own junk sometime and that he’d wield a new thing in you, too.

I wanted to share a poem with you that I found. It’s about the quiet, faithful life of a tree who wouldn’t speak if given the choice. Let’s you and me care more about sinking our roots into the ground that grew us.

The Life of Trees by Dorianne Laux

The pines rub their great noise
Into the spangled dark, scratch
their itchy boughs against the house,
that moan’s mystery translates roughly
into drudgery of ownership: time
to drag the ladder from the shed,
climb onto the roof with a saw
between my teeth, cut
those suckers down. What’s reality
if not a long exhaustive cringe
from the blade, the teeth. I want to sleep
and dream the life of trees, beings
from the muted world who care
nothing for Money, Politics, Power,
Will or Right, who want little from the night
but a few dead stars going dim, a white owl
lifting from their limbs, who want only
to sink their roots into the wet ground
and terrify the worms or shake
their bleary heads like fashion models
or old hippies. If trees could speak,
they wouldn’t, only hum some low
green note, roll their pinecones
down the empty streets and blame it,
with a shrug, on the cold wind.
During the day they sleep inside
their furry bark, clouds shredding
like ancient lace above their crowns.
Sun. Rain. Snow. Wind. They fear
nothing but the Hurricane, and Fire,
that whipped bully who rises up
and becomes his own dead father.
In the storms the young ones
bend and bend and the old know
they may not make it, go down
with the power lines sparking,
broken at the trunk. They fling
their branches, forked sacrifice
to the beaten earth. They do not pray.
If they make a sound it’s eaten
by the wind. And though the stars
return they do not offer thanks, only
ooze a sticky sap from their roundish
concentric wounds, clap the water
from their needles, straighten their spines
and breathe, and breathe again.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

I took a fashion theory class in college because I needed some advanced elective credits, and really, how hard could something like that be. It was the first and only time in my sixteen-year education that I received a ‘C’, and I still respect and revere the feisty New Yorker with glasses who earned that title. She taught us about the history of clothing trends and the social psychology behind our appearances, our outward expressions that tell a good deal. She lectured on about subculture groups and body piercings and female foot binding in Asia. All the cute girls who showed up on day one in stilettos and fur were in for a rude awakening here, but I digress.

I sat near the back with tattoos and slim denim, soaking in from a faraway projector screen this hundred-year evolution regarding women’s style and the strange, cyclical nature of it all. We’ve stammered on for ages about how history repeats itself and often cross our fingers that it won’t, but it was stunning to study the precept so acutely in this one area and for no other reason than just to learn about its trueness. Let me show you.

In the 1910’s, we move from the Edwardian corset – intended to accentuate the breasts and hips and every other curve – to the 20’s right after the Woman’s Suffrage movement. Such provocative, ankle-showing form was forsaken and replaced with modest pieces like the straight-cut and flat-chested flapper dress. The Great War had ended and there was no greater feeling than simplicity. In the 30’s, we see the feminine and sinuous shape return in spite of the Depression, and by the 40’s, women were in the workplace and – for another time – sought function over fashion (as seen in the utility dress).

The 1950’s marked the end of war-time rationing, so materials were used liberally and for the masses, producing in droves your poodle skirts and your frilly socks and every neck scarf in the world. Accessories like pearls and pillbox hats that were once reserved for upper class citizens were now less expensive and married together this dichotomy of class and fun for all statuses of women to enjoy. In the 60’s, we see a swift transition advocating for youthfulness and modernity but unwilling to let go of a scandalous silhouette. We finally reach 1970, and ten years is time enough for a people to feel tied down, choked by politics and an existing state of affairs. And as with any newfound freedom that involves giving the bird, we’ve glimpsed a rare thing on the horizon and want anything to do with it. So it’s no surprise that in the decade of social change there was a generation littered with tiny tops and daisy dukes with nothing but naval and leg to look at. Charlie’s Angels came to be, and Farrah Fawcett, and then Woodstock.

And we have bell-bottoms and billowing skirts, which turn again to pegged pants and shorter skirts, ones that round the waist tightly. Everything will be larger and there will be more of it until suddenly everything is smaller and there is less of it. Star-studded statements eventually must die to the likes of their opposite – a muted palette, looser fits, popular androgyny. If you’re reading this, you know that it was only fair for Fresh Prince to happen before our favorite 2006 Olsen twins could. This has been the pattern, unambiguously.

This is still the pattern, only steeped in ambiguity, because we can’t, of course, see a pattern emerge from all the way down here. Down here, right now, we can see black lives trying to matter and a bent towards minimalism and a president unfit for his time and consistently warmer temperatures. We see alternate forms of medicine and unspeakable tragedies and a lot of people made of opinions. Ones that let us know when we should marry and how not to parent and what’s causing cancer in our foods. Now, read all that over again. Did you? None of it is new. Not one of them special or unprecedented or wild enough for a previous world or the next. The evolution of the garments we wear only mirrors a bigger story which tells of a whole earth built upon existence, death, decay, rebirth, and again.

Here’s a for instance that the Internet’s pregnant with recently. Well, real life, too, but more loudly the Internet: What if progressive Christianity has gone too far? What if we’ve swung too wide, included too many, repented too little. The radical wave that rejected its evangelical upbringing in pursuit of a new narrative, what if by abandoning certain doctrine we’ve abandoned the faith in its entirety? Is it time that we crawl our ways back to a sure set of fundamental theology, or is the mere idea of a universal truth too much a mystery for even that?

In just twenty-four years alive, I’ve already borne witness to three major shifts in which American Christianity hangs in the balance. Not personal shifts, necessarily (albeit some), but cultural ones. We were, at first, too close-minded and then we became “burned out” on the rigidity once we realized that the majority of people were offended by us, and now – after we’ve adopted some science and attended a few protests and advocated for one too many same-sex couples – we’ve lost sight of judgment. Someone tweeted the other day that “progressive Christians like to pretend they are welcoming, inclusive, enlightened, and all those nasty conservatives are hateful, oppressive ogres. But many progressive Christians have become what they claim to dislike so much.” And I think this is what I’m inarticulately getting at.

1) That this is not the first time religion has divided itself in search for the rightest way and 2) That as long as we’re here, we’ll go round and round, too much and not enough, back and forth trying to reclaim the very same thing – what is true. Each of us scrambling for truth and fairness and a soft middle ground to land, none of which will be reconciled this side of Heaven. Since a pattern is only a pattern from up top, we can hardly see that all of this has happened before and cyclically must continue, but be sure, it has and it will. Only it’s not our lot to find an end or a way that is right but just to search for it faithfully.  

Wendell Berry says this: “We cannot know the whole truth, which belongs to God alone, but our task nevertheless is to seek to know what is true. And if we offend gravely enough against what we know to be true, as by failing badly enough to deal affectionately and responsibly with our land and our neighbors, truth will retaliate with ugliness, poverty, and disease. The crisis of this line of thought is the realization that we are at once limited and unendingly responsible for what we know and do.”

And so it goes – ten steps forward and triple the steps back as we taste whispers of the truth and consequently let it down. This side of Heaven will know badness because we’ve known goodness, poverty because we’ve known prosperity, and ugliness because we’ve known beauty. But at least we’ve known at all, right?

Our bodies are designed to live in step with the seasons, archetypal and divine, but we were also marked with an indelible longing for something not here, something finished and whole. And though the Lord made it and called it good, as long as creation is on its feet, it will be moving and changing, living and dying, retaliating against the truth. Some might think it cruel to start us off spinning, chasing a fruit that may never come to bear in this world, but I don’t think so. Because being faithful right now to what is true inevitably lends its efforts to the whole and single truth, coming to bear the fruit of Goodness without badness, Prosperity without poverty, Beauty that cannot also be ugly. I want to know that.

It is quite easy and natural to either separate ourselves from the process entirely or to become so deeply immersed in the change that it sinks us. But I wonder if seeking to know what is true actually involves a holy concentration in both pulling back – recognizing our place on an arbitrary scale – and pressing in, tending affectionately and responsibly to our land and our neighbors while we wait. I’d like to bide my time here in such a way that what I know to be true is offended one degree less in Winter than in the Spring before.
. . .

As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
Burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.
So one generation of men will grow while another dies

- Homer, The Illiad, Book Six
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