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On Birthing a Book (and Why I’m Pacing Myself in 2015)

Birth Announcement

For those of you who know me and my writing, the connection between birthing a book and birthing a baby  is nothing new. With only secondhand knowledge of childbirth, it’s easy for me to make much of the similarities: both are an offering of our selves to the world, both produce something that wholly belongs to us and yet wholly has a life of its own, and both induce moments of less than flattering grunts, tears, and swears.  In sum birthing a book, like birthing a baby, is one of the most harrowing acts of creation I know.

This is why it feels so strange to me that at the precise moment when an author is most vulnerable (publication), she is expected to be most exposed (publicity). It would be like asking a pregnant woman to give a press conference on the day of birth, host a “launch party” when she comes home from the hospital, or write a series of articles within the first week of motherhood for her blog, friends’ blogs, and friends of friends’ blogs on just what exactly she was hoping to accomplish with this child.

It’s not like anyone tells you you have to do x amount of interviews, events, and articles. Like a lot of things, most of the pressure we feel comes from the overachieving voice within that wants to “make the most of things” and “not miss out on opportunity.” I’ve even gotten pretty good at spiritualizing this voice. Instead of the overachiever, she becomes the good steward. “Making the most of things” becomes “using my god-given talents.” Not missing out on opportunity” becomes “not hiding my light under a bushel.” It’s hard sometimes to discern where her voice ends and God’s begins.

So instead of following some inner voice, I’ve decided to listen for God in my inner delight in 2015. Instead of making a list of all the things I could be doing to promote the book, I’m asking myself what I want to be doing. “What opportunities quicken my soul?” “What collaborations spark my curiosity?” and “How many monthly to-do’s sustain my integrity?” Delight is why my first book event has me leading a women’s retreat at my local church instead of lecturing in front of strangers. Delight is why when I travel I ask friends if they want to host a house reading before reaching out to bookstores. Delight is why I won’t get on a plane more than once a month.

An editor once told me it’s smarmy to complain about being published. (How did Amy Poehler do this so charmingly in Yes Please?) So in the spirit of gratitude (and social mores), I want to share some upcoming engagements that do, in fact, have me glowing*:

    Durham, NC. January 23-24, 2015. I’ll be facilitating this overnight retreat on how to practice deep listening, embrace stillness, and belong to God in the quiet. Registration is open until January 9th.
    Durham, NC. January 30, 2015, 5-7pm EST. Join me at my house to celebrate the launch of the new book – and the Durhamites who are featured in it – over cupcakes and bubbly. Contact me for an invite.
    Online Curriculum. February 2015. Want to belong but don’t know how? In this web series, I’m sharing six key lessons for those who feel fed-up, left-out, or boxed-in by the church.
    Online Panel Discussion. February 3, 2015, 12-1pm PST. Join me, Scot McKnight, and two other engaging speakers for a debate on why church matters.
    San Francisco, CA. February 8, 2015, 7:30-9 PST. Over wine, whiskey, and cheese, I’ll be gathering with old friends and new to read from the newly released book. Contact me for more details.
    Durham, NC. February 17, 2015, 7-8 EST. Join me in my hometown for a reading of the new book. If you’re lucky, my friend Sarah will bring her famous cinnamon roll cupcakes again.
    Spokane, WA. March 5, 2015, 7-8 PST. My friend Cara S. set up this sweet reading at her local bookstore. I’ll also be facilitating a brief discussion on belonging to the church in a commitment phobe culture.
    Portland, OR. March 6-8, 2015. I’ll be leading a small group breakout session at this gathering of women who lead in the way of Jesus.
  • RISKING THE CALL TO BELONG: A COURAGE & RENEWAL RETREAT Chicago, IL. August 3-6, 2015. I’m facilitating this interfaith gathering with Parker J. Palmer and a handful of my Courage & Renewal colleagues on how to create true community.

I’ve likened these last few months before Lessons in Belonging pubs (official date: February 2, 2015) to the third trimester of pregnancy. “The calm before the storm,” I chuckle to whoever is listening, animals included. The morning sickness has subsided. The friends and family have been prepped. I’ve made peace with the fact that everything has not and will not go according to plan, but it’s still okay to have one. It’s also okay if it feels a little slack. It takes time for new life to be born.

In the book Free, Mark Scandrette writes, “God always invites us to a life that is freer and lighter than the false paths we will create for ourselves.” (Matthew 11:28-29). Let’s all agree to pace ourselves.

*For the most up-to-date list of my engagements, swing by my upcoming events page. 

An (Honest) Picture of Joy

JoyfulRush and I designed a family Christmas card this year. We debated whether it was worth spending over $100 to show our faces in other people’s mailboxes but agreed we liked it when they showed up in ours. We agreed to be equally invested in the logistics, although I stayed home from church one night and finished addressing envelopes. We even agreed on a theme, after Rush ex-nayed my recurring fantasy to do a cross-dressing family photo; he thought it  too S&M to go as the collared dog.

The card shows us as the picture of joy.

Except that we are not smiling.

We like our Christmas cards cheeky. It feels important not to take ourselves too seriously; sometimes all you need is to comb a good butt part to bring you down to earth. More so though it felt important for us to be honest in a year where from the outside everything looked sparkly. We have good jobs. I have a new book. For heaven’s sake, there’s Anthropologie wallpaper in our home now.

If we had written an update to accompany the card, we might have told you how in January, after finishing the first draft of her manuscript on being a “church-going commitment phobe” Erin switched churches, again. That part didn’t make it in the book.

Or we might have told you how in March, Rush realized that he feels a lot of pressure to make art in his backyard studio. What he really loves are projects: building a corn hole set, wiring an outdoor light fixture, designing a wood-planked Christmas tree. If you know someone who would like to build a tree house in the next year, he would like to help.

We also might have told you that while we really love living in Durham, we don’t, won’t, call it our forever home. We are not forever home kind of people. Some nights, we curl up on the couch and search in places like Seattle, Berkeley, and Milwaukee.

In other news this year, we learned, to our horror, that Amelia is now considered a senior canine; Erin’s sure her eyes are already getting cloudy. Rush wishes she were a better mouse catcher but refuses to get a cat, even though Erin thinks cats, like kids, are looking cuter these days. Did we mention we became godparents this year?

We might mention, too, that in October Erin started seeing a therapist and now likes to begin sentences with “My therapist tells me…” Rush is still figuring out how to love someone well who is “over emotional labor.” Erin is still figuring out how to actually be “over emotional labor,” especially when it comes to family, especially when no one has asked her to do it. The word compassion entered her vocabulary this year.

We wanted to be honest that though this year was full of higher highs and lower lows than we’ve yet known, we are becoming  joyful. Erin’s therapist tells her, “Joy is not possible when you are in fight or flight mode.” Now, instead of flopping between anger and fear, anger and fear, anger and a superiority complex, we are taking it all in. When you leave your heart ajar, you can’t help but take it all in. You learn to let it all go too.

In The Measure of My Days, Florida Scott-Maxwell wrote, “When you truly possess all you have been and done, you are fierce with reality.”  If I remember only one thing this year, it’d be that to belong – to yourself, to others, to God – is to embrace reality. To belong is to tell the honest story about your year, about who you have been and done, yes, but about who you are becoming too.

To belong is to listen to the story that’s telling you.


Faithful Rebel: Anurag Gupta on How to Cure Racism From Within

1404158494I learned about Eric Garner’s death like I learned about Michael Jackson’s: on Twitter. My initial reaction to both was the same, “Is this a joke?” There had been one too many hoaxes declaring the King of Pop dead to accept it. And there had been too many cases involving white officers killing black men to bear another. I placed the heels of my hands hard against my eye sockets and growled to God, “I am so tired of this shit.”

“We’ve been punked, collectively,” says Anurag Gupta, founder and CEO of Be More, a nonprofit start-up whose mission is to cure racism in our lifetime. “We are 99.9% the same,” he argues in my latest Lessons from a Faithful Rebel interview, and yet we’ve been placed in a “color-based human hierarchy.” And here’s the kicker: the hierarchy has spiritual underpinnings as the mythology surrounding angels and demons (good over bad / order over chaos / light over dark) is mapped out onto human bodies. Gupta identifies this categorization as the root of racism, which he defines as “a disease of the mind.” As our conversation unfolds, I begin to wonder, “If the root of racism is found in the mind, does this mean that the cure for racism is within too?”

The short answer: yes. The long answer: watch the interview. We talk about everything from how our brains create automatic biases just by looking at other human beings to why the media we consume is so important to closing the racial empathy gap, especially for the over 75% of white folks who don’t have a single in-the-flesh friendship with a person of color. (Note to holiday movie goers: Ridley Scott’s Exodus might make for a good story but it’s bad for your brain with the leads looking Scandinavian and the thieves, robbers, and servants, you guessed it, Sub-Saharan African.)

It’s not just the brain, though, that will take rewiring. Our souls need rehab too. The vision for Gupta’s Be More takes its inspiration from the words of Martin Luther King, Jr: “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” When I ask Gupta, who describes himself as inter-spiritual but worships at a Christian church, what practices help him tend his soul, he lists prayer, Metta meditation, and yoga. Faithful rebels know that activism without contemplation is like exhaling without inhaling – just a bunch of hot air. They know that quantitative change without qualitative change is its own kind of violence.

My practices of contemplation have been varied in the weeks since I heard the news; I heaved. I breathed. I listened. I retweeted the words of L.A. rapper Propaganda whose daughter cried, “Daddy I’m scared for you because when police kill black men they don’t get in trouble.” I gave myself permission to respond here when ready, instead of with the cruel immediacy expected of bloggers.

I figure, if we can’t practice non-violence toward ourselves, what right do we have preaching it to the world?

For more about the history of race in America and how our repeated assault on black bodies is no joke, check out the following books:
- The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
- Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander


Writer’s Envy: Silence And Other Surprising Invitations of Advent

photo (63)“This is the Lord’s doing.”

These are among my favorite words in Scripture. And not just because they point to faith in something greater than our own doing (and overdoing) but because they strike me as almost accusatory. It’s as if Elizabeth, mother-to-be of a baptist boy, is blaming God for her geriatric blessing. “You did this to me,” she says to God as she looks down at her elephant belly, shaking her head and chortling. “This blessing is all your fault.”

It’s for this reason and more that I’ve fallen in love with the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, carefully considered in Enuma Okoro’s devotional book, Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent (Upper Room Books, 2012). While most Advent literature focuses on the miraculous action of God in the life of a teenage girl, Okoro turns our attention to two, elderly Jews who like many of us hold within their brittle bones years of unmet desire. It’s no wonder that when an angel of God shows up with news of answered prayer they’re filled with both terror (Zechariah) and joy (Elizabeth). Getting what you want requires no small amount of courage; to lay down your tired narratives, survival strategies, and coping mechanisms; to lay down your past and choose life in the unfolding present. “As we anticipate God made flesh in Christ Jesus,” Okoro writes in the preface, “we dare to relinquish control, to harness our empty life-numbing habits, and to forfeit logic and reason because God often acts outside such boundaries.”

Silence is a masterful blend of scriptural exegesis, personal reflection, and liturgical invitation. Each day of Advent is accompanied by passages of Scripture, a theological reflection from the author, and a brief prayer of presence. At the end of each of the four weeks is a longer, guided meditation for readers to explore questions about their own relationship with longing and a prayerful challenge to live into our “most life-giving selves.”  Resources for church pastors and leaders come at the end of the book in a guide for small groups and liturgies for lighting Advent wreaths. Okoro is a skilled teacher who packs much depth in this slim book.

Perhaps it’s because I know Okoro as a close friend and colleague (Talking Taboo) that her words on the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary are particularly precious. There is a dearth of good, sensible writing on making and finding friends as an adult woman. (Cara Strickland is one of my favorite writers on friendship and the single life; Jonalyn Fincher is a lion in advocating for cross-gender friendships.) My first reading of Silence came during a difficult time with a friend who told me she couldn’t support my upcoming book for reasons that it didn’t edify the body of Christ to make private matters public. Okoro’s conviction that friends are people who “remind us of who we are, who challenge us to live into who we are called to be, and who accept us at every stage of the journey gave me permission to step back from that friendship, spend some time in solitude, and wonder if it was edifying to the Christ-image in me.

“This is the Lord’s doing.” I love these words. So much so that they begin the acknowledgements section of said new book. Anticipating its birth into the world has been an agonizing season of terror and joy (and therapy). Through the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, I am reminded that to accept the fullness of God’s promises requires time: of silence, of seclusion, of celebration with worthy friends. It requires a belly laugh from time to time too.

Okoro writes, “No one is left to discern God’s life-altering activity alone, to hold God’s promises alone, or to bear the burden of divine blessings without faithful companions, whether human or angelic.”

I count her as both.

A Very Foodie Giveaway

potential giveawayIt makes people happy when you are into food. I know this because I once took a cupcake menu from my favorite bakery in Seattle to a work retreat and during breaks read aloud the different flavors to whoever was sitting next to me. This was (a) a way to assess and make  new friends (Were they a vanilla or a chocolate person? A flavor of the month kind of gal or a classic guy? A friendly vegan?) and (b) a way to get at the things that got them most. Food can do this.

Maybe the way good buttercream hardens to the touch doesn’t get you real animated like it does me. Or maybe the thought of lavender buds in your cake seems like soap in the mouth. What does then, in the words of Mary Oliver, “kill you with delight”? Be specific about it. Be an evangelist for it. We need your delight in the world.

That’s why I’m geeked to participate in a very foodie giveaway with five other talented lady bloggers. Foodies, in my book, are not people with restrained or snobbish taste. Instead, we are like dogs on the hunt for delight, noses to the ground and mouths slopped with drool. We take pictures of our food. We dedicate blogs to our food. We fight with TSA agents over whether frosting is a liquid or a gel and when they say it’s a cream and we aren’t getting through security with 12 oz. of it, we scoop three quarters into the garbage using our bare hands and the bottom edge of a travel-sized shampoo bottle.

One lucky winner will receive a grand prize of over $200 in foodie products and paraphernalia (including a 12 oz. jar of said buttercream.) To enter, click the Rafflecopter link below. The more of us you follow, the more entries you get. It’s a chance for us to share our delight with you. And it’s a chance for you to delight in getting to know us.

Joy to the world.

The Rafflecopter

Click here to enter.

The Prizes

giveaway prizes final(1)

The Bloggers

Cara Meredith is a writer, speaker and musician from the greater San Francisco bay area.  She is passionate about theology and books, her family, meals around the table, and finding Beauty in the most unlikely of places. A seven on the Enneagram, she also can’t help but try to laugh and smile at the ordinary everyday. You can connect with her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Christie Purifoy earned a PhD in English literature at the University of Chicago before trading the classroom for an old farmhouse and a garden in southeastern Pennsylvania. Her first book is forthcoming from Revell. You can connect with her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Rachel Marie Stone is a writer living near Philadelphia. In the past eight years, she has lived in four countries and two states, and will gladly tell you about the various kinds of pizza she ate (or didn’t eat) in each place. Her book, Eat With Joy, won the Christianity Today Book Award for Christian Living. You can connect with her further on her blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

Carina is an etsy shop owner, writes when she can, works with Noonday to advocate for women around the world, and loves food. Preparing it, consuming it, sitting together around a table filled with friends and family enjoying it. She lives in Seattle, WA with her five lively children and one awesome husband, and drinks way too much coffee. You can connect with her on her blog, etsy shop, and Instagram (among other places).

Cara Strickland is a writer, editor, and food critic in Spokane, Washington. She writes about singleness, food, feminism, and the way faith intersects life (among other things) on her blog Little Did She Know. Come say hi to her on Twitter or Facebook. She likes making new friends.

When a Commitment Phobe Goes to a Tattoo Parlor

photo (62)“I could see the irony of it: a commitment phobe at a tattoo parlor.”

So begins my guest post at  Little Did She Know, a blog run by the talented Cara Strickland on singleness, friendship, and the de(tales) of our faith.

Now, for the first time in public, I’m sharing the tale of my tattoo, inspired by the new book Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them. It’s one of heartbreak and homesickness and learning to belong wherever you are.

I invite you to read the story here.

The Sweet Reward of Prayer

photo (61)I’ve been reading through the Gospel of Matthew for the past few weeks. I was in Numbers for a good long while before that, a wilderness unto itself as far as biblical books go, until I realized I had forgotten all about Jesus. Yes, I had forgotten Jesus. In place of the Gospel, I had invented a sort of spirituality of comfort in which God wanted nothing more for me than my own emotional well-being. I also sensed God wanted me to buy a new light fixture for the dining room.

It sounds ridiculous to me too now, but these things happen when we busy ourselves with the stuff of spirituality and not its source. We forget the kinds of things that come straight from the source’s mouth. This week’s gem? Jesus’s words on prayer: “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (NRSV, Matthew 6:6)

How easily we stray from these simple instructions. Hanging out with college students at church last week, I learned that Intagram-ing one’s “quiet time” is an actual thing: open bible, coffee mug, and a verse from Scripture are its hallmarks. (I could be accused of taking a similar photo earlier this month but, in my defense, there was a fairly large cheeseboard involved; see above.) It’s easy for me, too, to live a public faith life in which blogging and babbling serve as substitutes for exploring the secret life of my soul and the God who sustains it. To pray alone is, as Jesus taught, its own satisfaction. Alone, there’s no comparison, no preening, no need to exegete some truth nugget for others to mine. Alone, we may not need words at all. Words may make us too tired for the listening.

That’s another thing about public prayer that’s been troubling me: it can snuff out the listening. I wrote recently about how I made the first move on Rush and then waited and prayed and waited for him to make the second. My risk-loving nature often means I act impulsively, without confirmation from friends or God. This is fine for what I call the chocolate or vanilla questions of life, like should I walk to the Redbox machine or watch another episode of How I Met Your Mother? But for the big questions, like should I take on more work or move across the country?, seeking accord with those closest to me becomes a practice of trust and patience. Because I’m the more verbal one in my closest relationships, I can steamroll people with my prayers for them, for me, for us, before ever giving them space to hear from God themselves.

It’s not that there’s no place for public prayer. It’s the vocation of all God’s people to assemble for public worship, celebration, and lament. But when we keep nothing private, nothing sacred, we cheat God of our attention and cheat ourselves of intimacy. It’s like that friend who never wants to do anything one on one; group hang outs can be shiny and fun and even open pathways for new connections. But there’s less time for the depth that happens when there’s only two. We can busy ourselves with the stuff of friendship rather than listening to the friend herself. What is she longing for these days? What is breaking her heart? What is she noticing in us?

A final reflection: A few years after my parents’ divorce, my mom began praying about whether we should move across states to be closer to my dad. She didn’t want to steamroll my brother and me – adolescents at the time – into the decision and so she waited and prayed and waited until Charlie approached her. He wasn’t happy at his new school; could we think about moving? Only if Erin wants to, she said, and counseled him to wait and pray and wait until one day I approached them. I wasn’t happy with my old friends; could we think about moving? As a parent, she had every right to tell us what she wanted for our family. Instead, with time, she waited and prayed and waited until we came to want the same thing.

In doing so, she taught us to want God, prayer’s sweetest reward of all.