First, Compassion: Compassion Fatigue Can Come Later


Mohamed Azakir/World Bank

We’re exhausted.  My last post was written in the days immediately following the SCOTUS same sex marriage decision, and it seems the entire summer has been one long stream of public controversies, celebrity scandals, tragedies, disasters and culture war battles.  This week alone our social media feeds have been filled with dead police officers, Kim Davis, Lila Perry, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, destruction of historical sights by ISIS, and the latest outrage quotes from Trump.  We are worn out with arguments and laments and calls to action.

But in the middle of all of of this noise, there were photos of a tiny boy in velcro sneakers, lying face down in the sand.

Aylan Kurdi insisted upon our attention.  Thank God, after the first few hours we began to see photos showing Aylan in life, smiling next to his brother, Galip – who also died in the waters of the Mediterranean, along with their mother, Rehen.  Suddenly the stories we’ve heard about this refugee crisis, the numbers we’ve ignored – all of this white noise behind our outrage over dead lions and marriage licenses and Ashley Madison –  it had faces and names.


Mohamed Azakir/World Bank

But this is how social media works:  in the past two days I’ve seen dozens of stories about Aylan Kurdi, and dozens more about the refugee crisis.  It is front and center, which means it is momentarily inescapable.  We are grieving and distressed and horrified together, and all of this emotion is our collective catharsis.  Soon we will have had enough of thinking about it and we will play a subtle trick on ourselves.  We will believe that our thinking and feeling was actually doing something.  A few days of reading statistics and weeping over photos will serve as what we owe to Aylan and Galip and Rehen, and the millions of other refugees clinging to leaky rafts, crowding train stations, squeezing through barbed wire fences.

“I can’t take it.  I can’t think about this anymore,” we’ll say, and most of us will experience compassion fatigue without having actually done anything.  I know this cycle because I go through it over and over again.

UNHCR/D. Kashavelov

UNHCR/D. Kashavelov

Please, if you are like me – quick to feel and slow to act – can we do better this time?  Can we do something in response to the largest refugee crisis of my lifetime?  Can we take seriously the brotherhood of man, the idea of loving our neighbors – beautiful notions that mean nothing, nothing, nothing if we are never moved to act.

Others  have already done the work of finding ways we can help, and I will pass a few of those along to you.   You may not be able to do very much, I may  not be able to do very much, but we can do something.  Let’s pay attention a bit longer; let’s stave off the very valid excuses until we have performed at least one small act to relieve the suffering of our brothers and sisters.  The compassion fatigue can wait.

Mohamed Azakir/World Bank

Mohamed Azakir/World Bank

Churches of the Nazarene (my denomination) are caring for Syrian refugees in both Jordan and Syria.  To learn how to donate toward their work, go here.

My friend Cris sent me the link to a fundraiser for a Syrian Christian community (in one of the remaining safe zones) that is caring for 800 refugee families.

Ann Voskamp has written an extraordinary post on the refugee crisis, including five ways we can act.

Catholic Relief Services does good work, and is serving refugees both in the Middle East and in Europe.

Finally, here’s a petition asking our federal government to commit to the resettlement of 65,000 Syrian refugees (we’ve accepted less than 1,000 in the last four years).

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At Pride, in the name of love

pridefest1I was at St Louis Pride this weekend.

Saturday night, as I felt more and more anxious about being “outed” as a Pride attendee, I decided I needed to write about it; face my fear head on.

I could tell you that I was there in  my capacity as a pastor (or pastor-without-papers, as I think of  myself as the moment), and that would be true.  God told me to go several months ago, and I kept trying to figure out a way to really represent Him.  Carry a loving sign?  Hand out some kind of scriptural trinket?  Counter-protest the protesters?  I never came up with a good plan, though,  and that was part of the reason I was anxious that first night.

“How will I justify this?  How will I explain being here to the people who would freak out over me being here?  I’m not doing anything special.  I’m not being especially Jesusy right now.  I’m sitting on the grass listening to music, surrounded by – to be frank – a lot of gay people.  This is exactly the sort of thing that gets me in trouble with other Christians.”

My friend Tina was with me at Pride.  She’s a free-spirited Jesus-loving hippie who has no concerns about what the church folks will think of her hanging out at a Pride Fest.  She was delighted to be there, basking in the general laid-back, accepting attitude.  Tina is not gay, but she still somehow seemed to be in her element.  As for me….I was struggling a bit.  It wasn’t culture shock or disapproval.  It was just that creeping fear of being found out by my church, my extended family, my homeschool friends.  What would they say if they knew where I was?

And so here I am, making a decision not to hide where I’ve been this weekend.  And what’s more, while I hoped that God would use me as a gracious presence at Pride the reality is that I received far more grace than I was able to give.

What did I see?  Lots of color.  People of all ages.  Many, many families.  A two hour parade.  Lots of dancing.   Very few things (but admittedly a few) that curled my hair.

pridefest2What did I do?  I ate Greek salad, clapped and waved during the parade, collected free swag (mostly beads),  sat on the grass and listened to music, danced a little, did a lot of people watching.

At lunch on Sunday, Tina and I shared a picnic table with two men named Anthony and Mike.  Anthony is married to a different Mike, but his husband had to work and so Anthony was doing Pride with his best friend.  Both Anthony and Mike were friendly and cheerful and a little bit silly.   Anthony mentioned that his 18 year old daughter was at Pride for the first time, and he was trying to keep his drinking under control for her sake.  “She goes to church with her mother,” he said, “so she’s getting a lot of messages from that.  But she knows that we love her.”  Mike interjected to tell us that Anthony’s ex-wife still think he can “pray the gay away”.

Tina and I were standing in a line when a young man turned around and said, “You two are gorgeous, I want you to know.  And you’re inspiring.  I want my boyfriend and I to be just like you someday.”  We were puzzled by this, and Tina laughed and said, “Well, we’re just friends.”  The boyfriend spoke up and said,  “How long have you been friends?”
“Two years.”
“Really?  You give off a vibe like you’ve known each other for a long time!”  I replied, “It does feel like we’ve known each other for a long time.”  Then I basked in the glow of being called gorgeous.

We spent a long time sitting on a curb listening to cover bands, watching the crowd in the street.  One 30-something lesbian couple caught our attention with their exuberant dancing.  They must have noticed us, too, swaying back and forth as we sat on the curb.   One of the women ran over and grabbed both Tina and I, pulling us onto the street to dance.   And so we joined the crowd and danced along to a medley of Michael Jackson songs.  At the end of the dancing there were hugs all around.

What I saw this weekend was mostly people relaxing and having fun.  Yes, some people were drinking too much and behaving accordingly – but that’s true at Cardinals’ games and wedding receptions, too.  Daytime Pride, at least, was far more family-friendly than I expected.  The mood was jubilant (in part because of this past week’s SCOTUS decision, I’m sure), and it really did seem like a place where every age, every race, every body type, every style was accepted.

People want to be accepted, you know.

At Pride, straight couples and gays and lesbians and trans folks sing along together to a cover bands version of “Don’t Stop Believing”.  Children get their faces painted and teenagers play volleyball and it all seems so benign, so much like every other public gathering in these parts.  So why was I afraid?

This post is not about sexual ethics or politics or court decisions.  I think religious pluralism requires that we practice our various expressions of faith alongside each other without imposing religious convictions on each other.  For me, that means that a distinction between civil and religious marriage has always made sense.   But I’ve said that before.

This post is about me wanting the relief of not hiding, of speaking the truth – even if the truth is just that I went to Pride because I heard God calling me to go.  But in the end, I didn’t go to preach.  I just went to be with people.  I laughed at Anthony’s jokes, and cheered for the band in the parade and hugged friends I ran into and enjoyed the event just like everyone else was enjoying the event.  I think I felt safer when I imagined somehow having a “purpose” that would protect me from criticism.  But I’m letting that go.  Many of the people I was with have never had that protection, and never will.   I’m afraid to admit I went to a festival, but they’ve lived with fear of rejection (or worse) all their lives.  We Christians often talk about being “above reproach” and while I get the point, I think we sometimes just like to be “above”.  I am tired to trying to be above.  I want to just be among, for a change.

What else can I say?  I love my Jesus, who befriended everyone.  And I love that he’s pulled me out of my insular shell and into places I would never have gone before.  I was wrong in the past for thinking that people who are gay are any more screwed up than the rest of this screwed up human race.  I’m sorry that I ever said one word that made them feel less precious to God than I am.  Right now, I have nothing but love.

By the way, I did have a sign, and that’s basically what it said (with credit to Derek Webb).  I held it for a while in the parade, and then set it down so that I could clap.  It blew away from me, across the barricade and landed face up on the street.  The sweet young man to my right said, “Isn’t that your sign?”
“It’s okay, I was getting tired of holding it.”  And ironically, I think more participants in the parade read the sign on the ground than had noticed it in my hand.  It was just a disembodied message now, but I hope it was exactly what someone needed to hear.

I was wrong.  I’m sorry.  I love you.


Posted in Christian Ministry, Christianity, church, homosexuality, spirituality | 13 Comments

17 thoughts on not being a pastor

stopsign1.  I never much liked the title anyway, so that’s lucky.

2.  When I first heard that I might not be relicensed this year I was panicked, angry, hurt, and desperate to get the Credentials Board to change their mind.  By the time the door closed firmly behind me (yesterday) I knew it was in everyone’s best interest for us to part ways.  So thank you for that, God.  I almost feel relieved right now (though I know that grief is on its way).

3.  You can explain and explain, but sometimes people are just not going to see things the way that you do.  That doesn’t reflect negatively on you or them.  It’s just reality.

4.  I am very slow in learning #3.

5. I’m much stronger than I used to be and quite capable of advocating for myself.  Yay, me.

6. To be honest, I  wish I’d made a career plan at some point.  I  mean, another career plan.

7. When God asked me to give my life to His church, I thought He meant in the church.  Frankly, though, I don’t feel like my ministry in the local church has been very fruitful.  The most meaningful work I’ve done in the last several years has happened outside the church walls.  So maybe, like John Wesley, the world is my parish.  Or at least the coffee shop, or Denny’s, or the movie theater, or the internet.  That’s not so bad, is it?

road  closed8. I keep telling myself that the classes I’ve already finished were not wasted.  Ordained or not, I’ve gained a lot valuable information.  And if anyone has a job for someone who who has completed most of the course load for ordination in the Church of the Nazarene, I’m your gal!

9. I am, and will remain, a a church geek.  I still want a copy of Mildred Bangs Wynkoop’s “A Theology of Love”.  I will never stop wearing my “Female Theologians Rock” button.

10. I love my church, and I remain convinced that I fit somewhere in my denomination.  It’s still a big tent.  Unfortunately for me, ordination comes through a much smaller and regionally-determined tent.

11.  I have nothing to hide, so if you want to know why I wasn’t relicensed, I’ll tell you.  But ask me privately (in person , in an email or Facebook message, whatever).  I’m afraid if I try to explain it in a post I’ll either misrepresent the Credentials Board’s perspectives or my own.  I assure you that it’s nothing scandalous; just irreconcilable differences.

12.  If you care about me at all, please don’t use me as an excuse to bash the Church, or I’ll just feel super guilty and compelled to rush to Her defense.  #askmehowIknow

13.  Everything that has happened feels, to use a “Law and Order” phrase, like the fruit of the poisonous tree.  The extra scrutiny from the Credentials Board started with the false accusations I wrote about last summer.  It certainly rankles my sense of justice that someone lied about me in order to prevent me from being ordained, and now that all the dominoes have fallen he’s getting his way.  I remind myself often that I can’t frame this as winning and losing….but it’s not easy.  You guys, I’m struggling a lot with forgiveness.  It’s so hard when the other person won’t acknowledge that they’ve wronged you, and some of the people around you diminish what’s been done, and you feel like “the wicked prosper” while you’re flattened, and humiliated and feel like damaged goods, and there’s no real recourse.

14.  That got a little dark.  Sorry.  I know Jesus understands being betrayed by a friend, so that helps.  And I trust that eventually this pain has to dull.

open road15.  Here’s what I won’t miss about being a licensed pastor:  being afraid to speak.  Maybe  my compulsive, possibly pathological, need to share what’s in my head would have inevitably gotten me in trouble – even without the poison tree.  Pastors are expected to be very, very careful and to not admit to too many questions.  And I am a fool who rushes in and has tons of questions.  I want to tell my truth without fear again.  I look forward to that.

16.  I know that even sharing this much will be considered bad form and un-Christian by some people.  We have this idea that we protect the church by promoting the good stuff and hiding the bad stuff, but I’m an increasingly bad hider.  In case you haven’t figured this out yet, I love the church.  I don’t tell my story to shame the church but because it’s my story.  And I want to tell it.

17.  I’m still crazy about Jesus, and I know He’s crazy about me.  He’s brought so many beautiful people into my  life in the last several years, so many rich experiences, and even though I have no idea what’s ahead I trust Him with it.  Somehow this is going to be okay.  I wanted you all to know what’s going on because some of you have been with me on this journey since I embraced God’s call.  I don’t know what’s next, but to quote Gungor (and my next tattoo) “This is not the end.”

Love, Sharon

Posted in Christian Ministry, Christianity, church, religion, spirituality | 8 Comments

Religious Freedom, Priorities and a Terrible Anniversary

freedom for all hoosiersMy thoughts are a bit scattered today.  I’ve been remembering.

Have you been paying attention to the news out of Indiana this week?  Gov. Pence just signed their Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law despite a loud outcry and threats of losses to the economy over what many perceive as granting the “right to discriminate”.  They may have a point, since the bill was proposed shortly after Indiana legalized same sex marriage, and the law effectively gives businesses the right to refuse service to gay customers on religious grounds.

But there’s more to religious freedom than this one cultural behemoth – same sex marriage – isn’t there?  I’ve been reading article after article on Indiana’s new law and on similar laws in 19 other states, and the federal law which preceded them all, signed into law by President Clinton in 1993.  Maybe, I kept thinking, these laws have real importance for protecting religious minorities.  Maybe we should be talking about that, about how to protect Sikhs and Muslims and Orthodox Jews, and all of the other groups in this country that are vulnerable to religious oppression.  Why must this be framed as the anti-gay bill?  Why must we always go straight to the narrative that tells us that Christians are out to get gays?

And then I was reminded of what happened just over a year ago.  March 26, 2014, World Vision – the massive Evangelical child sponsorship non-profit – reversed its decision to open hiring to gay Christians in same sex marriages.  That policy of openness had lasted only two days.  As soon as the decision to hire gays was announced a tsunami of criticism hit World Vision, with high profile Christian leaders accusing the organization of rejecting biblical authority and caving in to the “homosexual agenda”.  Richard Stearnes, the president of World Vision and a man who had devoted his life to serving the poor, was now a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Within the first 24 hours the Assemblies of God had counseled its members to disassociate from the ministry.

And disassociate people did.  Before it was all over, World Vision had lost 10,000 child sponsorships (Update:  World Vision’s end of the year report  now calculates between 15,000-19,000 sponsorships lost due to the controversy).   Think about that:  thousands of Evangelicals weighed priorities in the balance and decided that the battle against same sex marriage was more important than feeding, clothing and educating children that Jesus might well have called “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine”.

I was heartsick and angry then, and I said so.  In a comment on a blog post I said that I was no longer comfortable calling myself an Evangelical because of episodes like this.  And to be clear, I was upset both by what was happening to innocent children and by what that said to our gay brothers and sisters.  I remember one gay Christian writing, “It’s as if thousands of people have just said, ‘We hate you so much we’d rather starve children than let you have a job in a Christian organization.'”

I know what will be said.  “This isn’t about hate, but about truth.  We are just trying to uphold traditional marriage.  We won’t compromise.  We may hate the sin, but we love the sinner.”

It felt like hate, even to me as an observer.  I’ve watched people rush to Phil Robertson’s defense after he said vile things (repeatedly), and brutally attack Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine after he had the temerity to express sympathy for civil same sex marriage.   I’ve seen Christian pastors counsel parents to shun their gay children and I’ve heard this defended as a loving choice – even while the stats on homelessness and suicide in the young LGBT community pile up.

So last year the reaction to World Vision felt like the last straw and I said, online, that I wouldn’t call myself an Evangelical anymore.  I wanted to be an ally for my LGBT brothers and sisters, I said, and it seemed there was no room for someone like me in the Evangelical movement.   I said things I shouldn’t have said, and I was held to account for my words.   It turned out to be kind of an ordeal, and I got through it only be clinging to Jesus and telling the truth.  But whatever flack I took for losing it online was nothing in light of the losses to World Vision and the pain suffered by gay Christians.

And here I am a year later thinking, “No wonder so many outside the church think Indiana’s new law is targeting gays.” I remember last year, I remember the clear priority of so many people who call themselves Christians, and I want to mourn.  If the world sees the church as anti-gay even more than pro-Jesus, well, who is to blame for that?

I am still an Evangelical in the best sense of the word, but I’m afraid that the best sense has been swallowed up by politics and hostility and fence building.  If it seems crazy or paranoid to you that gay people in Indiana are afraid that Christians will oppress and ostracize them if given the chance, just remember this time last year.  There were 10,000 votes sending that very message.

Posted in Christianity, homosexuality, politics, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

More of This, Less of That, 2015

In no particular order:

this american life

More of this.

More reading quality fiction…..Less scouring the internet for things about which to be outraged.

More cleaning my house…..Less wondering why no one is cleaning my house.

More open, honest conversations with open, honest people…..Less beating my head against conversational brick walls.

Call the Midwife

More of this.

More listening to NPR and discovering new (to me) music…..Less Pitbull.

More watching good movies and catching up on TV shows I’ve missed (for instance, currently, “Call the Midwife”)…..Less flopping down on my bed and watching reruns of “The Big Bang Theory”.

More going on dates with my husband, playing games with my children, cuddling with my dog and hanging out with friends who love me…..less trying to impress a world full of people who really couldn’t care less what I  think, wear, do or say.


Less of this.

More writing because I love writing…..Less writing because I feel like I have to weigh in on every hot topic.

More running and strength training…..Less griping about my out of shape body.

More fruits and veggies…..Less eating junk food like I’m an immortal.


More time loving and being loved by Jesus (consciously, deliberately)…..Less time defending him.  He does alright for himself.

I will be 50 two months from today.  I plan to make this a banner year.


Posted in aging, resolutions | 3 Comments

Movies 2014: The Best and Worst (of what I saw)


I saw 57 movies that were released this year.  Despite my best efforts to keep up, I’ve missed a lot of high profile films, including some that might have made my Top 10 (most notably Boyhood and Whiplash). The list below is the best and worst of what I saw, but my list may shift over time as I catch up on the movies I missed.  Thus ends my disclaimer.

1.  Calvary
Calvary 1The Passion of Father James….director John Michael McDonough (In Bruges) created the most spiritually powerful movie of the year, a potent depiction of a man of faith in the crucible of suffering.  Brendan Gleeson is an Irish priest in an increasingly post-Catholic Ireland, ministering among people who hold him in contempt because of his office.  That one of them is also planning to kill him for the earlier sins of a pedophilic priest seems only a more extreme version of the treatment Father James endures in the course of his ordinary work.  Calvary is a packed with religious symbolism,  and the parallels between this week in Father James’ life and Christ’s journey to the cross make this much  more than a suspense thriller.  I should add that Gleeson’s performance is perhaps my favorite of the year.  He’s brilliant as an ordinary man being asked to carry the sins of the whole church.

2.  Force Majeure
force-majeure-posterWhat happens when you’ve been caught  in your worst moment – of weakness, cowardice, selfishness?  How do you come back from that?  This Swedish film begins with a happy family on a ski vacation, and a near disaster becomes the catalyst for dealing with that question, and more.  Force Majeure is a darkly funny comedy that deals not just with a suddenly-strained marriage, but our often unspoken ideas about masculinity and gender roles.  Director Ruben Ostlund shows real insight into how we behave with each when we are ashamed, disappointed, struggling to forgive.  By the end of Force Majeure, everyone is given a chance to fail and be restored to community.

3.  Life Itself
life itself 1I’m a life long fan of Roger Ebert’s film writing – and toward the end of his life, his more personal writing.  He was the subject of a documentary in those last years, from director Steve James (Hoop Dreams); and the film does a superb job of telling not only the story of a famous career but of a life deeply lived, right to the end.  Ebert opened himself up to a sometimes shockingly intimate record of his physical decline, but he never  seems pitiable.  There’s too much humor and light in both his eyes and the words he taps out as long as his body will allow.  Life Itself is also a deeply moving tribute to the relationship between Ebert and his wife, Chaz.  No drama or romcom this year could compete with the love story in Life Itself.

4.  Ida
ida 1One of the quietest films of the year, hands down.  Ida is about a young novice nun (Agata Trzebuchowska) in 1960s Poland.  She’s been raised in a convent but before taking her vows discovers that she’s Jewish, and has one living relative, an aunt (Agata Kulesza) – a hard living Communist party insider.  Together Ida and Wanda go on a journey to learn what really happened to the rest of their family.  The black and white cinematography is stunning, and with limited dialogue the expressiveness of the actresses faces carries the weight of the  movie.

5.  The Imitation Game
THE IMITATION GAMEIt’s the sort of prestige project that sometimes collapses under the weight of its subject matter and star power, but The Imitation Game  largely avoids that trap.  Benedict Cumberbatch gives a rock solid performance as mathematician Alan Turing, and highlilght his work in cracking Germany’s Enigma Code in World War II.  The Imitation Game may amplify Turing’s role for dramatic effect (it was more than a one man show, after all), but it rightly draws attention to this little-known piece of wartime history.  It also draws attention to the vile treatment Turing endured because of his homosexuality.  The contrast between Turing’s service to his government and how he was persecuted by the same left me outraged at the end of this film.  That’s not a bad thing:  we need reminders not to let history repeat itself.

6.  Guardians of the Galaxy
guardians of the galaxy 1Guardians of the Galaxy was the sort of pure cinematic fun-fest that some of us remember experiencing with the first Star Wars trilogy.  And sometimes, that’s all you really want in a movie, right?  Fun?  Guardians offered memorable characters, action, humor and a terrific soundtrack, and was a movie you could enjoy with the whole family – as I did.  This was Chris Pratt’s breakout year, and I’m sure he’s given thanks many times for the opportunity to star in a vehicle that was so very easy to love.

7.  The Lego Movie
lego movie2Another Chris Pratt performance as Emmett provides a sweet, silly center to the chaos of The Lego Movie.  The visuals are spectacular, it’s indisputably funny, and packed with a surprising amount of social commentary.  I also appreciate the redemption offered to the “villain” at the end of the story.  The Lego Movie also has an astounding cast – from Will Arnett’s spot-on Batman, to Liam Neeson’s Janus-voiced Good Cop/Bad Cop, to Alison Brie’s manic Unikitty.  And let’s be honest:  “Everything is Awesome” was the best cinematic ear worm of the year.

8. Still Alice
still alice 1How do you make a movie about early onset Alzheimer’s that isn’t unrelentingly depressing?  Still Alice manages, in part by exercising remarkable restraint.  Julianne Moore plays a linguistics professor who finds words slipping away as Alzheimer’s progresses.  It’s a terrifying journey, but Still Alice handles it with quietness and control.  Alice tries to hang on to her sense of self, and her husband and children do their best to love and care for her at each step along the way.  That’s what most families in this situation do, after all – the best they can.  Moore gives a great performance as a woman whose sense of identity is bound tightly to her intellect.  Even when speech leaves her, the longing to communicate burns out of her eyes.  Kristen Stewart is also a standout as the daughter who loves her mother well by treating her losses with respect.

9.  We Are the Best!
we are the best2The second Swedish film on my list – the Swedes are killing it this year!  We Are the Best! is the episodic story of an all-girl punk band in 1980s Stockholm.  But these girls are very young (13, 14) and the idea of having a band is a whim.  Best friends Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Clara (Mira Grosin) are not musicians, but they eventually recruit a schoolmate who is, Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), and manage to play at least one concert.  The performance itself turns into a riot, the sort of thing that makes the truly punk heart proud.  We are the Best! is the best depiction of adolescent friendship that I’ve ever seen:  the wild devotion, the petty jealousies, the threat posed by crushes on boys.  It’s also very insightful about what it’s like to be young and an outsider, the way that teenagers try to craft identities to feel less alone in the world, and includes a respectful treatment of Christian characters.  None of this is handled heavily, though:  We Are the Best! is buzzing with energy and flat out funny.  (And “Hate the Sport” is the second best ear worm of the year!)

10.  Chef
chef 1Jon Favreau wrote, directed and starred in this little movie that slowly built both buzz and a satisfied audience this year.  Favreau plays Carl Casper, an impassioned chef who finds himself suddenly unemployed.  The loss of his prestige job leads to a new, if initially humbling, approach to his career, and a deepened relationship with his young son.  Chef has real sweetness to it:  imperfect but loving relationships between parent and child, an ex-wife who is not a monster, friends who care enough to push each other toward change.  It also has a rousing Latin-flavored soundtrack and foodie scenes that will leave you salivating.

The Runners-up, 11-20

the-skeleton-twins-2014-1Every one of these is worth your time and attention.

11.  The Skeleton Twins
12.  Inherent Vice
13.  Obvious Girl
14.  Gone Girl
15.  Nightcrawler
16.  The Edge of Tomorrow
17.  Snowpiercer
18.  Rich Hill
19.  Noah
20.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Worst of the Year

god's not deadJust don’t bother…none of these are worth your time.  I realize my number one pick will alienate some of my Christian friends who enjoyed this movie.   I’m sorry.  I tried.

1.  God’s Not Dead
2.  Into the Storm
3.  Dracula Untold
4.  Earth to Echo
5.  The Taking of Deborah Logan

My Favorite Performances of 2014

tilda-swinton-as-mason-in-snowpiercerTop 5, Make that 6, Female Performances

1.  Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer (I hear she was also terrific in Only Lovers Left Alive)
2.  Jenny Slate in Obvious Child
3.  (Tie)  Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza in Ida
4.  Julianne Moore in Still Alice
5.  Mira Grosin in We Are the Best!

nightcrawler 1Top 5 Male Performances

1.  Brendan Gleeson in Calvary
2.  Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler
3.  Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice
4.  Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins
5.  Andy Serkis in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

What about you, readers?  What did you see and enjoy in 2014?

Posted in art, media, movies | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Scripture in the hands of an angry woman

Young man reading small Bible

It’s been a long time.  When last I wrote it was summer,  I was glorying in my new running habit, and I was looking forward to my first 5K.  I’ve now done three 5Ks and I’m trying to figure out the best way to keep running through winter weather.  And boy, are we already having winter weather.

Running is the least complicated thing  about my life, which is part of the reason I enjoy it. You run, or you don’t run.  That’s pretty much it.  There’s not much nuance, not a lot to analyze.  Given my tendency to over-analyze, this is a gift.

But elsewhere in life, I keep doing that thing I do.  I try to solve unsolvable world problems inside my head.  I set arbitrary deadlines by which I plan to settle issues that have confused me for years.  I demand from myself absolute clarity or else.  “You hear me, soul?” I say.  “Get your act together!”

I’m here to tell you, if you have a disposition like mine, this is a bad path.  I’d been feeling depression-free for months until I decided to get all my questions sorted out.  I would determine precisely what I believe about sexuality, about the nature of the afterlife, about the interplay between human freedom and divine action, about the character of God himself.

Set aside for a moment how arrogant that sounds.  I wasn’t trying to settle those questions for the whole world, or even for the whole church.  Just for myself.  And I figured I would go back to the Bible and read, read, read, read, read until it was all clear.

I love the Bible:  I’ve written about that before.  I love wending my way through its poetry.  I love its weird nooks and crannies.  I love the rich diversity of characters, love spotting myself in its stories,  most of all love the Jesus I find there.  But when I come to the Bible making demands of it, insisting that the text and my brain are going to uncover the final God’s-honest-truth answer to the questions that plague me….as I said, it’s a bad path.
I wasn’t treating the scriptures or myself with any tenderness, but slave-driving both of us.  I didn’t get the results I wanted, and that made me angry.  I started to see new things in the scriptures that puzzled or troubled me (old things, really, but seen through strained, anxious eyes), and that made me angrier.  I had friends reading with me, trusted friends who love me and who wanted to help me on my quest.  But when they weren’t bothered by what bothered  me in the text I became angry at them, too.  Anger turned into hopelessness.  I started to panic, afraid that I would feel  this way forever.

I finally stopped cold in my reading.  I told one of my friends, “All of my thoughts are leading to dark places.  I can’t trust my own mind right now.”

I’m starting to understand that this is what it is to live with depression lurking right under the surface even in good times.  Sometimes it rises up without warning, but at other times I am careless and I give the darkness power over me.  This was one of those times.  There is a line in “To Kill a Mockingbird” –   “sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of another” – and I’ve always pointed outward when thinking of that danger.  Fundamentalists, using the Bible like a bludgeon.   Misogynists, racists, homophobes,  quoting scripture to reinforce their oppression.  But this time it was me, turning the Bible on myself, forgetting that this book is not an end in itself.  It’s not “Life: The Desk Reference”.  I forgot what Jesus said to some Jewish leaders who seem to have had similar blind spots:  “You study  the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,  yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

So I stopped raging through the New Testament, demanding that it give me my answers.

I’ve discovered recently that Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote some pretty dark sonnets.  He was an English poet and a Jesuit priest, a man who seems to have channeled his passions into profound devotion to both God and the natural world.  Without going too deeply into Hopkins’s life story, he did experience deep emotional valleys and wrote his “terrible sonnets” out of those times.  I’ve been reading a few of them, and one in particular, Sonnet 47, felt as if it had been written for me, especially these lines:

My own heart let me have more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet….

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile 
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what…

That is the place I came to, of needing to take pity on my own heart, of stopping my own tormented mind from furthering tormenting itself.  I had to “call off thoughts” in order to make space for comfort.  Oddly enough, I found that comfort in the very place I’d found my torment.  I went back to certain places in the Bible the way a child asks for the same lullaby they’ve heard a thousand times.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.

My questions aren’t bad questions, although they are sometimes, perhaps, the wrong questions.  My hunger for absolute clarity pushes me away from love, makes a sentence like “God is love” seem childish and simplistic.  But Jesus welcomed little children, and what matters may be simpler than I understand.   John Wesley, who could plumb the theological depths with the best of them, wrote that “there is nothing higher in religion-there is, in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark”.

And so I’m letting myself by rocked again in that quiet place of loving and being loved.  “Return to your rest, o my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”

I’m not telling anyone to quit searching for the answers to their questions.  I  also know myself well enough to believe this is only a temporary respite for me.  I’m a questioner, a seeker, an over-thinker. But I’m also learning my limits.  I don’t, can’t, know all the answers.  I will live with confusion.  The answers I have and the answers I don’t have will sometimes seem inadequate not only to me, but to those around me.   My “tormented mind” will torment itself until confusion turns to despair, if I am not careful with myself – and even careful with the scriptures I love so much.

For right now, until I feel restored and in my right mind, I’m going to “call off thoughts awhile” and rest.  I’m going to know and rely on the love God has for me, the way I did when I was a child.  If all I ever sort out is that I want and need that love, and want and need to give it to others, that will have to be enough.

Posted in Bible, Christianity, mental illness | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment