Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Love and Marriage When You’re Saving the World

Have any of you been following the news around the recent discovery of a fourth-century papyrus fragment that mentions Jesus’  wife?  The veracity of the papyrus is apparently dubious at best; but this hasn’t stopped Harvard professor Karen King from seizing on the new-found Gospel of Jesus’ Wife as a fresh spring for research insights (or, the justification for another round of conspiracy theories).  (I’ll be curious to see which it is.)  In the meantime, political cartoonist Mike Luckovitch, whose work often appears in my local paper, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, has done some midrash of his own on the theme of Jesus and marriage:




Musical Feature: Mumford & Sons’ “I Will Wait”

Mumford & Sons’ new album features a number of songs with richly theological imagery.

Once again, in the spirit of an Andrew Sullivan “mental health break,” today’s musical feature is Mumford & Sons’ cover song for their newly released album, Babel:  like many of the band’s songs, “I Will Wait” has, I suspect, deeply theological undertones; and, as one fellow groupie puts it, “they have spirit!”


Here are the lyrics, which for me echo themes of worship, repentance, and returning to and waiting for God:

And I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of dust
Which we’ve known
Will blow away with this new sun

And I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down
Know my ground

And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you

So break my step
And relent
You forgave and I won’t forget
Know what we’ve seen
And him with less
Now in some way
Shake the excess


But I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you

So I’ll be bold
As well as strong
And use my head alongside my heart
So take my flesh
And fix my eyes
That tethered mind free from the lies

But I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
I’ll kneel down
Know my ground

Raise my hands
Paint my spirit gold
And bow my head
Keep my heart slow

Cause I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you

So, for your listening pleasure, and because it’s Friday…

YouTube Preview Image




The End of Biblical Womanhood?

And, finally, my review of Rachel Held-Evans’ latest book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, which aired on Sermons That Work two days ago and is reprinted here with the permission of The Episcopal Digital Network:

If “biblical womanhood” were a rutabaga, then Rachel Held-Evans, in her newfound, tongue-and-cheek praise of womanly domesticity, would slice and dice it until it is no longer recognizable, then garnish it with a sprig of parsley. The result? An awkward vegetable – the kind I avoid in grocery stores – served up as a flavorful dish.


Indeed, Held-Evans’ latest book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” takes a difficult, loaded subject, one that can elicit strong feelings and knee-jerk reactions, and humorously pokes holes in it until it no longer holds muster; but what could be a painful, bitter rant by a feminist evangelical is instead a fun, amusing story about one young woman’s relationship with the Bible she holds dear and her effort to follow, over the course of one year, all of Scripture’s prescriptions for women.

At stake here is the popular mantra of conservative evangelicals John Piper and Wayne Grudem and the movement they and their Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood lead: “biblical womanhood” asserts that a woman’s best place is in the home, women should submit to their husbands’ leadership, and women should not be allowed to serve in main leadership roles over men.


If the notion that there is only one biblically supported form of how to be a woman is dubious at the start, it only becomes more ludicrous and downright ridiculous as the book progresses, offering both author and reader a boatload of laugh-rich material.

Held-Evans spends a year observing on a daily basis what she coins her “Biblical Woman’s Ten Commandments.” These emerge from the favorite proof texts of “biblical womanhood” enthusiasts. “Thou shalt submit to thy husband’s will in all things,” “thou shalt devote thyself to the duties of the home,” and “thou shalt nurture a gentle and quiet spirit” are a few examples.

These daily guidelines for living are interspersed with practices Held-Evans enacts just once, with a view to focusing each month of the year on a different womanly “virtue,” such as gentleness, domesticity, obedience or valor. October’s focus on “gentleness” thus involves refraining from loudness, even at football games (1 Peter 3:3-4), taking a lesson in etiquette (Proverbs 11:22), and doing penance on the roof for acts of contention (Proverbs 21:9). April’s call to “purity” means camping out in the front yard for the first few days of menstruation, in accordance with the Levitical rituals surrounding female purity (Leviticus 15:19), while an emphasis on fertility in May inspires caring for a mail-order, computer-simulated baby (Titus 2:4).


Certain sections elicit applause in addition to a good laugh. Held-Evans’ exploration of “what biblical submission really means” is near the top of my short list of best exegetical commentary on the submission passages (Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18-19, 1 Peter 3:1-2). Here Held-Evans effectively shows the deeply contextual nature of the command that wives submit to their husbands, insofar as it appears within a Greco-Roman household code that also accommodates slaves submitting to their masters. The implication is clear – that if we are to support wifely submission to husbands, we must also implicitly embrace a household code that accommodates slavery!

Outdated? I would say so.

Outlandish? Absolutely.


I have a few, small gripes after reading the book. The short sections highlighting a particular woman from Scripture, from Mary, the mother of Jesus, to lesser-known types like Huldah, are enriching narratives that further dismantle the misnomer of “biblical womanhood,” but they seem a bit disjointed in their placement within the book’s overall framework. It can be unclear how, for example, the story of Ruth the Moabite really relates to the preceding chapter on “beauty” – or if, for that matter, it is supposed to.

Every so often Held-Evans’ welcome, self-deprecating sense of humor about the evangelical tribe in which we both were reared is prone to broad generalizations built on faulty assumptions, like this one: “In the evangelical Christian subculture, there are three people a girl’s got to know about before she gets her period: (1) Jesus, (2) Ronald Reagan and (3) the Proverbs 31 woman.” Growing up in a conservative evangelical home, I heard a lot about Jesus, but a whole lot less about Ronald Reagan and the Proverbs 31 woman; and recent studies would confirm that today’s evangelicals do not fit easily within any one particular subculture.


Finally, while a chapter on sex and beauty is most certainly germane to an exploration of “biblical womanhood” and will gratify readers in our sex-obsessed culture, I’m frankly not interested in hearing about Held-Evans’ seemingly riveting life in the bedroom. Held-Evans is a gifted, competent writer, one who has earned a broad, loyal readership, and she doesn’t need to pander. “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” deserves to be taken seriously for its deft and funny application of a devastating misnomer in today’s evangelical world – despite a couple of these cheap shots to salivating readers.

The other day, a woman from a “Bible church,” upon meeting me and learning that I was a minister, exclaimed simply and with great conviction, “That’s not Scriptural!”


Thanks to “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” I was able to respond more confidently and with a laugh, “But of course polygamy is!” (Genesis 30, Exodus 21:10).

But for more on polygamy as part and parcel of “biblical womanhood,” you’ll have to consult Held-Evans’ chapter on the womanly virtue of “obedience.”

So, what do you think? Can we finally put “biblical womanhood”- and “biblical manhood” for that matter- to rest once and for all, thanks to Held-Evans’ good work? Leave your thoughts below.


Top Five Least Favorite “Christian” Code Words

Does anyone know where I can get one of these padlocks for my kids in their teenage years?

The other day a pastor friend asked if I’d like to help her preach on Stewardship Sunday.  A kind but dubious invitation which I agreed to with a level of trepidation.  That’s because anyone who has been around the church on Stewardship Sunday knows it’s that day on the church calendar when we pastors prostrate ourselves in all sorts of awkward rhetorical ways asking for money, usually to build God’s church.


It was funny timing, given that the next day students in Tom Long’s preaching class (for which I serve as a teaching assistant) were brainstorming all the more oft-than-not negative associations they have when they hear a preacher use the term, “stewardship.”

Come to think of it, though, “stewardship” is actually not at the top of a list of the various vocabulary words we Christians are good at throwing around and which can cause some indigestion.  Here are my top five, and maybe you’ll have more to add to the list below:

1. Purity– This is my least favorite word.  It’s not that I don’t think God calls us to be “pure” in our motivations towards God and our neighbor and to be brutally honest with ourselves and one another about the things that contaminate our hearts and our relationships with God, one another and the world- on the contrary.  But “purity” has tended to seep into our language as more of a code word for the behaviors that we like to check off our list as a way of marking membership in the Christian club.  Various sexual abstinence programs and initiatives for teenagers, like the “Purity Covenant,” “Passport2Purity,” or “purity rings” for example, (which serve a purpose and which I’m not necessarily bashing here), tend to throw around this term, often only with a rather narrow, uni-dimensional understanding of what the term means.


Another example would be the prohibitionist tendencies we see in certain denominations.  Someone I know, and a very gifted minister I might add, often is quick to remark that when people are breaking open the beer and liquor, he knows it is his cue to leave; in fact, he will often vocalize his association between “unbelief” and a choice to drink more than Fanta at parties.  I must confess that this notion of “purity” makes me shudder a bit.

2. Obedience– Usually when I hear this word, it comes more in the context of a rule-oriented, morality-centered relationship to God.  But the passage I read this morning from Deuteronomy is a reminder that God’s call to obey is less a long list of chores and more a kind of ringing reminder about how much God loves us and wants us to live and flourish in this world.  “Love the Lord your God…obey His voice…that you may dwell in the land,” the Deuteronomist implores (Deut. 30:20).  Obedience is meant to be a joyful, relational privilege, not burdensome drudgery.


3. Personal relationship with Jesus Christ– This is one of the evangelical code words I grew up with which I find particularly annoying.  Usually I have heard it issued from an evangelistic backdrop, something like, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?,” or “You need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

The problem with this phrase is that it often comes undefined and can dredge up various unhelpful associations; and I question to what degree it is actually an honest, realistic description of a relationship with Jesus as my “Lord and Savior.” If a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” simply means that we can go to God without needing some other religious intermediary, fine;  if it means that God desires to be in relationship with us and cares about us personally as human beings, fine; but it can also be taken to mean that we evangelicals are just extra chummy with God, or have a special line to God that others don’t have.  And frankly, for as many times as I have been sure I’ve heard God speaking “personally” to me, there have been the times when I don’t know what God is saying to me and I can’t hear God’s voice above the din of the other voices.  A “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” can quickly devolve into a misleading description about the nature of how God chooses to relate to us mere mortals.


4. Jesus told me; or, The Spirit led me or, I have a word from the Lord for you– Okay, I may be nitpicking here, but let’s be honest: how many times do we use these expressions or heard others use them as a way of justifying our (or their) own hunches or gut impulses?  I’ve learned, for example, that when someone comes to me saying, “I have a word from the Lord for you,” I need to duck, and then hold lightly what comes after.  In two cases, the “word from the Lord” proved to be just this- a word from the Lord.  In two cases.  (This may be the subject of another post on my experience of having been on the receiving end of prophesy- and I happen to believe that there are people who have very legitimately been gifted to be God’s prophetic mouthpieces in various ways.)


5. Stewardship– Ugh.  It is often a plea for money to fund the salaries of the church’s “professionals,” so they can carry out all of the church’s “programs;” sometimes it becomes an opportunity to rather disingenuously claim the church’s overhead and building campaign costs belong to God’s mission.  (This really makes me nauseous.)  Almost always it comes with little envelopes and a pledge commitment and a forgettable sermon on the familiar, well-glossed money and giving passages from Scripture.

Got any other slightly nauseating Christian vocabulary terms to riff on?  Send them along and I’ll add them to the list; maybe we can even vote on which ones make the cut for top five!




The Importance of Form

The form of sermons has become this week’s focus with students in Preaching 501 with preacher and teacher Tom Long.  I’ll soon be listening to my students preach, some for the first time; and when they preach, their sermons will probably take on diverse forms.

And, in case you’re wondering and your wondering is causing you to lose sleep, the options for sermon form abound.  Homileticians, from Fred Craddock and Eugene Lowry to Paul Scott Wilson, have spent their time studying the most effective forms of communication and refining these for the discipline of preaching.  They each have their proposed model for conveying the “Good News” of Scripture.


There, of course, is the classical outline form.  Then there is the problem-solving form and the homiletical plot form and the “trouble and grace” form.  The movement form is another.

I could go on, but you get my drift.

In much of life, I suspect that form is as important as content, if not more so.

Tomorrow’s presidential debate is a good case in point.  If one of the candidates for president trips over his words or looks with too much steely eyed glare at the cameras or forgets how many American troops are in Afghanistan or uses the term “un-ladylike” to describe women in politics, his support in the polls will probably suffer- regardless of how much substance are in his words.

Maybe we can tend to downplay the importance of form because it sometimes coincides with image (how we present ourselves); and so many of us have become cynical about a world in which image reigns over substance.


But form, as the way we approach something, is critical.

If, for example, my husband had chosen to propose marriage to me by standing in the streets wearing a hair shirt and looking like John the Baptist, saying “Repent!  For the time for us to marry is near!,” I would have run in the other direction and not looked back.  The fact that he chose to propose on a day when we were hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains and I was complaining about my sore limbs and didn’t have an ounce of make-up on, and he did so, anyway, by kneeling down near a look-out point drenched in the setting sun and asking, “Kristina, will you marry me?,” was far more convincing.  The substance behind the form became not just more appealing but real.


Similarly, the fact that God chooses to come in human form is more than mere coincidence or sheer “image.”  It testifies to a God who glorifies God’s Self in the very act of becoming one of us.  The particularity of this form is also important: Jesus is Jewish, a descendant of king David, to be sure, and therefore fulfills Israel’s God-given mission of being a blessing to all the nations; Jesus is also a carpenter, building his Father’s kingdom not with nails and wood but with a people called to follow Him into a heavenly gateway to life as it should be and was meant to be from the beginning.  All those who were once outsiders, and all creation in fact, now find their return ticket to God and God’s plan of restoration through Jesus.

What forms do we take, and what do these reveal about the stuff we’re made of?  What do they say about what we believe to be true about God and life?

It seems to me that form and substance must agree with one another.


31 Days of Community

The Nester’s “31 Day Challenge” has inspired fellow saint and sinner Tammy Perlmutter to blog thirty-one days straight about the laughter, surprise and heartbreak of living in intentional Christian community.  Jesus People USA seeks to live out the kind of New Testament model of a family of believers that theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer holds up in his book, Life Together.  As she writes, Tammy will be engaging the theological reflections of an eclectic group of thought practitioners from the Christian tradition, people like “Jean Vanier, Henri Nouwen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Larry Crabb, Kathleen Norris, Esther DeWaal, Joan Chittister, Norvene Vest, St. Benedict, Teresa of Avila, and maybe even Finn from Adventure Time.”

I, for one, will be tuning in, and thought you’d be interested.




A Dangerous Communion

Sam, before she turned one, with a proud and very grateful mother.

(Note: “Flora” and “Sue” are aliases.)

“Flora” is lying in a dark room, the blinds drawn much like her pale face.  Two tired eyes wander in the direction of the voice at the door before coming to rest on the visitor: a chaplain, here because the nursing staff has asked her to pay Flora a visit.


The staff is concerned that Flora is not eating.  They’re afraid Flora, having lived on this sad, old earth 90 years now, is finally giving up on life.  They’re afraid that Flora, at 90, might be dying.

(And maybe they in their fear of death are not unlike a whole lot of us, whether or not we believe in some future resurrection.)

And this same Flora has a daughter, “Sue,” who lives in the same facility now because she is unable to care for herself.  For all these years, Flora has steadfastly, and at times maybe indignantly, cared for her daughter, who has spent most of her life in a wheelchair- until this last year, when the inevitable decay of old age has finally obliged Flora to entrust herself and her daughter into the care of others.


And so the chaplain now finds herself here in this quiet, dark room with a tiny lady, shrouded in sheets, her weary, prune-like face barely poking its way out from beneath the rumpled covers of a hospital bed.

The chaplain finds herself here knowing full well that she is probably here more because of the fears of Flora’s well-meaning caregivers than by Flora’s own request.

But, the chaplain is here, anyway.  Because this is her job, of course. And, because these sorts of “end-of-life” conversations that most people prefer to avoid are ones she can by now approach with a kind of distanced, clinical “professionalism” of sorts.

It has only partially occurred to this chaplain that she might be here because of the mysterious providence of a God who can use even our fears to lead us to the very center of this crucifix-shaped world and break us open so that love spills out.


And so, dutifully then, having settled herself into a chair at Flora’s bedside, after indulging in a bit of small talk, the chaplain asks the question she has learned to ask in various ways in these sorts of conversations:  “Flora, I’ve heard you’re not eating these days.  Have you stopped eating because you want to die?”

And then, without answering the question, Flora instead begins to talk about her life.  She begins to tell this chaplain about her daughter, the one in the wheelchair with the sweet smile who, whenever I visit, nods gently and demurely when I touch her hand and shows me with childlike happiness the colorful bracelets dangling on her wrists, the ones she has been making since she was a small girl.

“Ah, how Sue loved to make those bracelets,” her mother is saying to me now, her mind returning, I imagine, to her mental pictures of the little girl she loved and cried over and worried about and poured her life into so sacrificially all these years- the daughter she still loves and cries over and worries about even now in a nursing facility.


And as she tells me about her daughter, this woman in the twilight of her life speaks matter-of-factly.  There is no hint of quaint sentimentality- only the honest, descriptive realism of a mother who has watched her daughter grow up in a hard world.

“Sue was diagnosed with quadripelegiac cerebral palsy shortly after her birth,” she says.

And at the sound of “cerebral palsy” the professional chaplain in her chair begins to crumple internally just a bit.

Flora goes on.  “The doctors said it was something she developed after she was born.  She had to wear a full body brace for a time, and after that leg braces.”

And now the chaplain is remembering the little plastic ankle braces with the pastel-colored flowers- the ones her daughter wore when learning how to walk over the course of frequent sessions with a physical therapist.


“How she had a hard time of it, and how I felt so much for my dear daughter and all she had to go through,” Flora is saying.

The “professional pastor” in the room is feeling something well up within her. A tear, then tears.  “Holy sadness,” as the nineteen-century theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher, is the closest name I can give for it.

Meanwhile, This isn’t professional of me, she is thinking.  I can’t cry.  I’m the minister here.  Boundaries, people, please!

But the recollections of the beloved, blonde-headed, little girl with the bob who says, “Cheese,” when she means, “Please,” who at three still takes her time going up stairs with the slow deliberation of a novice painter etching her first still life, who lights up every room with a smile, are too hard to repress now.  And, she is remembering the moment when a doctor, marveling in wonder and with great delight at the rhythmic, wave-like patterns on a sonogram, exclaimed that the child she was carrying in her last month of pregnancy was the happiest child he had ever seen.  “It’s like your daughter is dancing!” he had exclaimed joyfully.


Later, she had known something was different when Samantha (“Samantha” which in Aramaic means “God listener”) hadn’t begun to walk at almost two years of age.  That is when the visits to the physical therapist began.  Then the speech therapist.  A round of medical and DNA tests, none of which could really detect the source of the problem.  Until one day in a neurologist’s office, this mother had heard the terrifying words, “cerebral palsy.”  A mild case, but cerebral palsy all the same.  A simple scar on my daughter’s head which could have been caused by almost anything really, and which, with therapy, could be treated and remedied if not cured.

Why? I had wondered.  To bring God glory?, not without some hint of bitterness.  But, how?


And now Florence is telling me about her quadripilegiac daughter whose life-long calling has been to make colorful bracelets and smile sweetly back at the world and let others care for her, and in so doing make the world a more beautiful place.

And between the tears running down my cheeks now, “My daughter has cerebral palsy, too,” I manage to stammer.  “It’s a mild case,” I say.  “But I can begin to imagine what you and your daughter must have endured together.”

For the first time Flora is looking into me now: “You understand then,” she says.  The connection lights up her face, if only momentarily.

And now I’m holding her hand and the tears are silently streaming down my face as I try to wipe them away- as if somehow Flora might not somehow notice.


The professional chaplain is crying like a baby, I’m thinking.  Get yourself together, I’m telling myself.

“Christ’s body broken for you,” I hear it sometimes said when I receive the bread and the wine. But here it is again, only embodied differently this time.

An aperture of light in a dark room.

An exchange of shared broken things.

Feeding one another.

Broken bodies.

Broken hearts.

Broken spirits.

And at the center, in the space between us, a cross with God on it.







God’s Mission: An Invitation to Party On?

Michael Frost’s “The Road to Missional” cuts to the heart of what it means to be church.

Tomorrow I head for Kansas City, Missouri to join a gathering of other pilgrims on the missional journey.

Which makes it especially timely that Michael Frost’s book, The Road to Missional, arrived in the mail this week.  Frost has written a number of books, including Exiles and, with co-author Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, both seminal books that introduced the missional church movement before “missional” had become just another household name and popular church catchphrase.


There are already within the first couple of chapters some wonderful, little nuggets…like this one: God’s mission is an “endless party” of sorts; and one party, in particular, yields some deep reflections on the nature of the church’s calling.  “The Feast of the Epiphany” is the festival on the church calendar recalling Christ’s revelation to the three Magi (representing Gentiles, as in those not among God’s “chosen people,” the Jews).  While it is usually celebrated in January, the Feast of Epiphany, Frost goes on to argue, (and here he invokes a similar claim made by missiologist David Bosch), can and should be the daily expression of God’s “kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”


Here is Frost reflecting on the meaning of this party for the church’s life together:  “The Feast of the Epiphany is, of course, a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi.  But what Bosch is suggesting is that such a festival ought to be the everyday experience of the church.  The celebration of the coming of heaven to earth and the offer of citizenship to all people, Jew or Gentile, should epitomize both our corporate life-together and our missional life-for-others.  Mission therefore should be something like an endless party.  It is characterized by celebration, joy, relief.”

I’m looking forward to joining a great party at Sentralized.


Our Golden Calves: A Correction to “More Thoughts on Disappearing Mothers”

You don’t have to be erecting a golden calf in the wilderness to have your own golden calves.

Fellow saints and sinners, none of you pointed this out (rather surprisingly), but it occurred to me this morning that I had originally written this: “The Bible and my Reformed tradition have taught me that we human beings are capable of making idols out of just about anything, children included- maybe most especially our children…”


I’m not sure what I was thinking when I wrote it- I probably wasn’t thinking!- but that last clause, “maybe most especially our children,” is now gone.

Actually, if I had to choose one cardinal idol that deserves a “most especially” before it in Scripture, it would be money and greed, mainly because of the hard things Jesus has to say about wealth.

But, this, too, like many things here at this intersection between life and God, is up for discussion. If it’s true that “the Bible teaches…we human beings are capable of making idols out of just about anything,” (in other words, we are incredibly creative when it comes to giving ourselves over to death-inducing things in place of the one, living God) is there one form of idolatry that Scripture tends to highlight over others- in the sense that we human beings are “most especially” prone to it?

What do you think?  I’m all ears.



Til’ We Have Faces

In the last 72 hours since the airing of my post, Facebook’s “Disappearing Mothers”: The New Form of Women’s Self-Effacement?, I’ve heard a lot, learned a lot, and, been surprised and even flabbergasted, thanks to those of you who weighed in with your opinions.


The question I posed (for those of you just tuning in) was this: if it is indeed true that more mothers than fathers are posting profile pictures on Facebook that, in place of themselves, solely depict their children, what does this mean?; does it suggest, or can it suggest, a disappearance or “self-effacement” of sorts by women, at least during their child-rearing years?

Here is what I by and large heard from you:

– That I’m reading too much into the reasons people choose certain profile pictures over others, and that women who post their children in their profile picture (without appearing in the picture themselves) have all sorts of reasons for doing so, or, alternatively, have only one reason for doing so, which is “just” to connect with others


– That you, like me, would not replace your own profile picture with one of your kids (although you and I were very much in the minority, within this readership at least)

– That women can be feminists and post their children in their profile picture

– That there’s at least reason to ask why, if a woman would not post (in place of herself) a picture taken solely of her husband, she would be so quick to post only her children- and, by implication, why questioning a woman’s choice to do this very thing is, in turn, breaking some sort of unspoken, sacrosanct etiquette

– That the more personal, purely social dimension of Facebook makes posting one’s children in one’s profile picture acceptable or appropriate


-That I may be making a false assumption in thinking that women are more prone than men to posting pictures of their children in place of themselves

– That posting one’s children in one’s profile picture means one is heavily involved in their lives, or has a special needs child, which does not equate with “self-effacement”

– That you don’t feel apologetic for letting your children be the center of your life

– That this topic was simultaneously frivolous and interesting

– That mothering is neither frumpy nor sexy (hmm)

– That you think people who, like Roiphe (and now me, as one guilty by some very slim association) are being “selfish” to make our assertions (I’m curious, by way of follow-up, whether this sort of judgment would be as quickly dished out to a man?)


Here’s what I learned, thanks to you:

– That if something as seemingly “frivolous” as a discussion about the motivations behind why we women post our children in our profile picture can amuse, engage, provoke and even infuriate you, while all the while generating a conversation about life and God, then a book about bumper stickers can, too (which relieves me greatly, since my greatest fear about writing Grace Sticks: The Bumper Sticker Gospel for Restless Souls, is that it will be just frivolity and nothing more!)

– That you care a whole lot about the nature of your identity as women, mothers, people of faith and Facebook users


– Two of you kindly pointed me in the direction of resources that speak to two dynamics fiercely at play in this conversation, namely, the mommy and parenting wars.  Fellow saint and sinner Olivia recommended this helpful article as a way of inviting some deeper exploration of the impact of the “child-centric” (for lack of a better term) approach to parenting that seems to have stolen the show in parenting circles over the past few decades (at least where I live).  Saint and sinner Megan steered me towards a lighthearted but eye-opening entree into the mommy wars and the reasons behind it, with an article that invents a new acronym to embody the deep fault lines we mothers erect for ourselves- MLS (“Mommies I’d Like To Slap”).


Here’s what surprised and even flabbergasted me:

– That readers flocked to this topic, lighting up my live feed with the same intensity of today’s midday rainstorm and leaving often deeply impassioned responses- so much so that apparently The Washington Post Social Reader republished my article on their site yesterday (a shout-out of “thank you” to fellow saint and sinner Megan for letting me know this)

– That at least one person (which probably means there were more of you) found my comments personally offensive and understood me to be saying (presumably because she was missing in a lovely profile picture of her two graceful children) that I was condemning her as a bad mother and a bad Christian (*certainly not my intent whatsoever!)


– That a number of you concluded, based on what Roiphe and I wrote, that we could not be mothers, and one of you went so far as to conclude I could not be the mother of a special needs child (when in fact I am)

– That those of you most “invisible” on your profile pictures were also the ones most vocal about your views, which were (not surprisingly) most strongly in opposition to my article


The other day someone who was hurting called.  She said she had my picture in front of her.  I grimaced: I knew exactly which one it was.  The rather unbecoming, Polaroid mug shot of a bespectacled, new chaplain grinning back at the camera on orientation day, accompanied by this chaplain’s cell phone number, now hovers over copiers, next to fire extinguishers and besides vending machines in companies across greater Atlanta.  Ugh.


The woman told me about her problems.  She told me how the only thing keeping her from killing herself was the knowledge that she was her son’s only living parent now.  She couldn’t do that to her son, she said- but it helped to be able to talk to someone she could trust, because she hadn’t told anyone about just how overwhelmed she had been feeling.

And then, with a sigh of relief, “You don’t know what I look like,” but I have your picture here, and it gives me a real connection,” she said.

All sorts of images parade for our attention each and every day.  We mothers, of all people, know this.  While standing in the check-out line at the grocery store or waiting on a prescription for a sick child, we can momentarily reflect on the faces and bodies we don’t have, however perfectly sculpted or air-brushed they might be.


But do these artificial images offer connection? Are they approachable?  Can we intuit behind these faces a human being with her own unique personality?  Can we trace the beginning crease marks that with age tell a bit of her story? Is the first impression we have actually of her- or is it of an ethereal presence behind her son’s first lost tooth or her daughter’s first-place win at the state fair’s pie-eating contest?

We mothers are so very different, unique, and beautiful.  Each in our own way.  Each as God has made us.

Our voices don’t come disembodied.  They come with bodies- and with faces.  All sorts of faces.  Tired ones.  Made-up ones. Smiling ones.  Pensive ones.

We can connect with one another and our world in a way that is far more palpable or meaningful than any magazine cut-out could.


Even on Facebook.  Even with a simple profile picture.

And, if the hard, unglamorous work of motherhood often goes on invisibly and behind the scenes- in doctor’s appointments, at teacher conferences, changing diapers, cleaning up spills, or with hot tears rolling down our cheeks- we don’t have to be invisible.

If we mothers can use our voices- and over the past few days you have proved you can- we can show our faces, too.

They go together, after all.

(Question: Is this topic becoming wearisome?  Please just say so if it is!!)







Previous Posts

Suicide, Depression and What Every Family Needs to Know
Today is the last day of National Suicide Prevention Month. That, and the suicide earlier this month of a young man in a church community in ...

posted 9:10:32pm Sep. 30, 2015 | read full post »

Mental Health Break — "On Melancholy Hill" and What's Up Next Here
Single motherhood for the next nine months — with my hubby traveling back and forth to Washington, D.C., thanks to a National Endowment of Humanities (NEH) research fellowship there — may reduce my presence here at this intersection. But I'm ...

posted 3:34:48pm Sep. 24, 2015 | read full post »

A Monk, A Man Behind Bars for Murder, and Their Life-Changing Correspondence
[caption id="attachment_5740" align="alignleft" width="400"] The U.S. locks up more people every year than any other country, including China, with a population roughly five times greater than that of the U.S.. 5% of the world's population ...

posted 8:37:11pm Sep. 16, 2015 | read full post »

This Old House: A Poem
              The dramatic transformation that our old house continues to ...

posted 9:19:25pm Sep. 11, 2015 | read full post »

2 Ways I'm Like Mr. Bean When On Retreat at the Monastery
It’s been a while since my last “retreat” at the monastery. The last time I was here, I was on ...

posted 4:25:13pm Sep. 09, 2015 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.