In episode 1 of God Help Us, I sit down with pastor and former evangelical Dave Rohrer to discuss what it means to be an evangelical – in both the religious and political senses of the word.
Here it is! The very first episode of my new podcast, God Help Us – in which I have conversations about the curious, frustrating, and sometimes baffling relationship between Christianity and US politics.
This is a podcast especially for people who are politically engaged but don’t have a religious background and might feel at a loss to understand where the religious right is coming from. Every two weeks, I’ll dive into the issues with a special guest to try to unpack the pertinent theological themes and pervasive beliefs at play.
Carissa Leone joins me in this very special introductory episode to ask the questions she’d like me to explore in future episodes. Thank you for joining us!
This short creative piece from my Master of Divinity thesis was recently published in Lit, The Seattle School’s literary magazine.
“When God began to create heaven and earth, the earth was unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep.” God contained the chaos of both the deep and the dark, but their presence and power linger, just as potent, even now. The two are bound to one another, and like that deep, ancient ocean, darkness is vast, unfathomable, and dangerous.
The awful power and wisdom of the darkness arouse both our greatest fears and our most fantastic hopes—and perhaps inextricably confuse the two. Its potential is appropriately terrifying, but if we can muster the courage to pause long enough to witness the abundance of its true character, we may find that also like the ocean, darkness is beautiful and full of life.
Being able to see or reach out and touch the edges of a thing offers a sense of security and assuredness that both the ocean and the darkness refuse us. And whether by our own wandering, a violent tide, or unknown currents, one day we will find ourselves far out to sea, looking back for the shore, and it will no longer be there.
The land that God called out for us to stand on becomes a distant memory and the light that cannot be overcome is extinguished. Here, among the crushing waves, we may confirm our belief in God while simultaneously losing our faith. We may discover that Judas did not betray Christ after all, but that is was, in fact, the other way around. We may begin to ask not whether God can forgive me, but whether I can forgive God.
In this most immense and horrible place, I am forced to reckon with the questions I have carried with me, hidden, for too long. I must contend with beliefs I built while safely on land, where I quietly stifled my doubts and welcomed voices that happily explained away nagging uncertainties. Beliefs I have taken too great of pains to protect. Beliefs I have made room for by making myself smaller.
One by one, the promises that have been handed down to me—that God is good, that God is for me, that God will never leave me—become deeply suspect.
When God began to create heaven and earth, the earth was unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep. And that roiling, chaotic deep, shrouded in darkness, was full of monsters. From before the beginning, it has held nothing less than my most fearful desires—my hopes that I have bound up with disgust. The darkness I long to escape can only be met head on, deep inside my heart—and like the ocean, I am beautiful and full of life. This is the place God makes a home and invites me to come find God there.
 Gen. 1:1–2 (Jewish Publication Society).
 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” John 1:5 (New Revised Standard Version).
Three weeks ago, I turned in my thesis and completed my Master of Divinity. I know, it’s a big deal! Stay tuned in the coming months and I’ll start sharing pieces of the project, which is a collection of essays and creative writing about how our darkest seasons can reveal our deepest desires—and move us into redemptive action in the world.
In the mean time, I chatted with my friend Mike about it on his podcast a couple of months ago and you can download or stream the episode via his website. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!
Like many small Christian people, my church gave me my first Bible in fourth grade. Our pastor made an earnest speech to us and we spent all year in Sunday school getting to know it as a source of life-giving wisdom. I’m not sure whether these exact words were used, but the message was loud and clear: the Bible is God’s love letter to me.
This is a good message. It’s a great message. I don’t know any fourth graders, but I would guess this is an age-appropriate message.
It’s also highly individualized and wildly self-assured. It’s reflective of my white, American, upper-class culture. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem—except that it is, because of the seductive power of white supremacy.
I don’t know whether Roy Moore got a Bible in fourth grade. I don’t know if he was told that it was God’s love letter to him. I do know that he refused to concede when he lost the election last Tuesday.
That night, Moore said, “We also know that God is always in control.” He quoted Psalm 40:1-3, waiting on the Lord to lift him up out of this “horrible pit” (he recited from the King James Version) and put a new song in his mouth.
But this passage actually sounds like it would be more fitting for the women Moore allegedly molested than for Moore himself. Last month, after decades of silence, Leigh Corfman, Wendy Miller, Debbie Wesson Gibson, Gloria Thacker Deason, Beverly Young Nelson, Tina Johnson, Gena Richardson, and Becky Gray began to speak out about harassment from Moore.
As the Washington Post reports on the first four women’s accounts, “All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore.”
Talk about waiting in a pit, finding solid ground, and singing a new song.
So how did Moore confuse this psalm to be about him? Easy. Moore lives at the intersection of American exceptionalism and Christian supersessionism. These two ideas combined make it incredibly difficult for a white American Christian to not believe that they are God’s chosen people. It’s the basis of American slavery, manifest destiny, and Moore’s belief that government should not only reflect but be subject to his faith. Secularized, it’s when things just work out. Something good always comes along. Believe in yourself!
Living in a racialized system that is set up to benefit you only confirms this bias. When Moore gets elected, it’s God’s blessing. When he loses, it’s confirmation of what he’s read in the Bible, “you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22, NRSV).
Moore takes this to an extreme, but he and I have a lot in common. We are sure that God loves us and we have more privilege than we know what to do with. Left unchecked, we’re both in danger of forgetting that “blessed” in the context of the United States, is often synonymous with “white” and in his case “male.” His successes are a reflection of the demographic boxes he checks.
Moore believes in a God of justice, who is on the side of the oppressed. His problem is that the way we read the Bible always begins with our cultural location. And Moore’s cultural location makes him easily confused about who is actually oppressed.
Now, I don’t live in Alabama and I would never vote for Roy Moore, but if I distance myself too much from him and his worldview of being special or lucky or blessed or chosen in some way, I contribute to the cultural ethos that got him within a two percent margin of victory.
I’m not a judge who’s lost my job twice (TWICE) for breaking the law and then tried to get a new job as a federal lawmaker. And I believe very different things than he does, both about how government should function and what the Bible is actually for and about.
But something tells me that when I think about God and when I read the Bible or even just read the story of my life and how I expect to succeed in the world, Moore and I are probably thinking along really similar lines.
I know it’s not a classic Christmas message, but what if, to check my bias, I read the text not as God’s love letter to me, but to those who are oppressed by the systems that I benefit from?
What would it cost me to not celebrate Jesus living for me and giving his life for me, but for those who don’t have the privileges that I was born into? What would I learn and how might it change me?
Fall has arrived, at long last. It was officially official last week when I was overcome with the urge to build the first fire of the season and rewatch You’ve Got Mail while making a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils to send to my friend Elizabeth.
Elizabeth and I used to share a cubicle at work–a cubicle and a love for Nora Ephron wisdom. As I’m sure you know, You’ve Got Mail is rife with quotes relevant for every occasion. Many times we pondered along with Kathleen Kelly, “Sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave?”
Once again, I find myself in a moment of reflection with Kathleen. I’ve entered into the last phase of seminary and as I’m working on my thesis on making meaning in the midst of darkness, I’m wondering, what will it even look like to be brave in this process?
As if in answer to my question, writer, mother, teacher–and close personal cousin of mine–Catherine Alene wrote the following on her blog:
Do not rule anything out.
Recovery has been nothing like I thought it would be. It has been more challenging and more fulfilling than I ever thought possible. I hope to celebrate many more recovery birthdays and will embrace the truths that each one brings . . . I am now a writer, a mother and a teacher, three things I would never have become had I remained sick.
Catherine is one of the bravest people I know. She routinely boldly and courageously shares herself for her own sake and for the sake of others–her daughter, her friends, complete strangers, and me.
“I can attempt to insulate myself from triggers,” she writes, “but they are everywhere. They come in the form of comments, photos, films and even songs. Rather than avoiding them, I now gather whatever support I can find and confront that trigger head on. If I don’t, it will surface again and again.”
I need to get back to work now, but I’ll keep Catherine’s book (and a few pencils) close by to remind me that I’m trying this because I like it–and I can do it because I’m brave.
It feels pretty bonkers to wake up, pour myself a cup of coffee, sit down to an opinion piece by Senator John McCain, and feel better after reading it. But such are the times we live in.
McCain wrote yesterday in response to comments made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who essentially said that values are great if/when you can afford them.
Here’s McCain (you know, McCain, the famous former prisoner of war):
I consider myself a realist. I have certainly seen my share of the world as it really is and not how I wish it would be. What I’ve learned is that it is foolish to view realism and idealism as incompatible or to consider our power and wealth as encumbered by the demands of justice, morality and conscience.
The senator and I certainly have our differences, but as bananas as he can be (and probably would think I am), he’s not wrong. And he’s an important Republican who is talking sense. We’ve had too much division–and I may live to regret this, but–these are the conversation starters we need to lean into if we’re ever going to collaborate to effectively dig ourselves out of this hell hole.
I will say this to both the secretary and the senator: it is impossible to create value-neutral or value-less policy. Whatever we create is a reflection of what we believe and represents what we stand for. Secretary Tillerson cannot escape his own values even if he tries. All he can do is reveal to us where his heart truly lies. And for as long as we let him create and implement policy that has the very real potential to impact very real people in every corner of the world, it will reveal our hearts as well.
Here’s a post I wrote for The Krista Foundation’s Serve Well blog as part of their Advent reflection series. Enjoy!
As I read scripture, I’m struck by the persistent theme of God’s people continually asking God to be near them and awed by the ways God chooses to respond. Finally, God—ever mysterious—shows up in a backwater town, occupied by a violent empire, as a baby.
In his book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen applies the three temptations of Jesus to challenges in pastoral leadership. In Matthew chapter 4, following his baptism, Jesus fasts 40 days in the desert and then is tested by the devil. He’s told to turn stones to bread, to throw himself off the temple, and to fall down and worship Satan in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.
In part three of his book, Nouwen addresses the third scenario as the temptation of power. As a priest who had recently moved from teaching at Harvard to serving as a chaplain in a community of people with mental disabilities and their caretakers, Nouwen writes, “It took me a long time to feel safe in this unpredictable climate, and I still have moments in which I clamp down and tell everyone to shut up, get in line, listen to me, and believe in what I say. But I am also getting in touch with the mystery that leadership, for a large part, means to be led.”
From here, Nouwen proceeds to romanticise powerlessness in a way that only a person securely in power can do. He advocates downward mobility and powerlessness—and to this, I say, “Yikes” and “No, thank you.”
Hillary, Hillskies, Hillsom, Hillsbo.
You are my dream.
I lit a candle for you last night when I didn’t have words to express my gratitude. Our feminist book club will hold an emergency meeting of pie and wine tonight to be together in your honor and in our grief. Even my dad’s book club held an emergency meeting on Wednesday. We are still with you. We will keep moving forward.
I can’t tell if I hurt more because you lost the election or because Trump won, but neither is what I hoped for and both reveal a something of our country that feels insurmountable and totally paralyzing.