Month: January 2016

Why Being Nice is Not Enough

I had a startling thought the other day: when God commands us to love each other, he’s not just commanding us to be nice.

And I'm not even talking about the fake, Midwest sort of politeness here.

And I’m not even talking about the fake, Midwest sort of politeness here.

This may not be a revelation to anyone else. But as an extroverted Midwestern female who loves to give hugs and ask you questions and bring you food if you’re sick or your spouse is sick or you might possibly get sick at some point in the future, “nice” comes pretty easily to me.

Obviously, loving your enemies or reaching out to unbelievers was a whole different thing. But for people in the church, which in my case included my family members and most of my friends, cheery greetings, fun conversations, and a well-intentioned attempt to follow-through when I promised to pray for someone was enough, right?

Here’s something I’ve learned since then: by letting myself off at the entry-level of niceness, I was only loving certain people when it was convenient for me. (more…)

Four Fictional Role Models

Last week, I mentioned an oddly-specific number of fictional characters who made it onto my “Awesome People I Like List.” There are many heroes of literature I’ve enjoyed or found interesting, but here’s why these four made my list. (They’re also in order of life stages, and happen to go from “Most Like Me Now” to “Least Like Me Now,” which seems appropriate.)

Stage One: Childhood/Adolescence

Anne Shirley (of Green Gables)


Anyone who knows me is going to say, “Um…why did you aspire to be like someone who is already exactly like you?” To that I say that your goal for your early years shouldn’t be too daunting. Just learning who you are and what you believe should be enough.

I basically was Anne Shirley growing up, from her melodramatic vocabulary and ability to find kindred spirits everywhere, to her stubbornness and love for life, to that time she hit a boy in the head with a slate when he made fun of her (only in my case it was a lunchbox, and yes, it was right after I watched the movie for the first time). I always found it tragic I didn’t have red hair. Or live on Prince Edward Island. I tried to make up for it by saying “Sooorry” like a Canadian. (Kidding, that’s not the reason.) But really, Anne’s joy and love for others is something I’ve always hoped to keep with me as I grew out of childhood.

Stage Two: Early Adulthood

Samwise Gamgee


Because Sam.

I really feel like I could just stop there. But I’ll go on.

I was listening to a writing podcast recently where they were discussing what makes a compelling character: likeability, competence, and proactivity…but usually not high levels of all three or the character would be obnoxiously perfect. They mentioned Sam as an example of a character who is overwhelmingly likeable and kind of proactive, but not super competent, in that he isn’t particularly talented or handsome or brilliant or good with a sword or able to make hilarious wisecracks all the time. Then one of the hosts piped up and said that no, he is extremely competent in one area: loyalty.

And I thought, you know, if I had to pick one area to be extremely competent in…that would be it.

I want to be Sam because I want to be brave, but in a way that comes from selfless devotion to others, not from me thinking I’m awesome. My personality is essentially hobbit-like. I’m a comfortable creature who loves trees and fields and warm houses, who makes food for people and gives gifts and tells stories and sometimes makes really bad impulsive decisions. But if a wizard or a fellow hobbit stops by and asks me to go on an adventure, I’d want to say yes. And I’d want to be known as the one who stays loyal and hopeful no matter how bad things got. (more…)

Why I Default to Small Talk…and Shouldn’t

Everyone in the car was a Christian, or at least doing a really good job at faking it. They were the married couple who worked for one of our author’s ministry. I worked for a Christian publishing company.

For the first part of hour-long drive to the airport, they put themselves up to the daunting task of trying to sell me on country music.

I will admit to enjoying some Chris Stapleton songs, but that’s it.

I will admit to enjoying Chris Stapleton, but that’s it. Even that was hard to admit.

“It’s really cool how music connects so powerfully with almost everything,” I said, trying to segue into something that didn’t involve more lyrics about trucks and whiskey. “I mean, I love stories, and even I admit that music has something to it that words by themselves don’t.”

She nodded, saying, “That reminds me of….”

And she stopped, the thought just kind of fading into nothing.

“It reminds you of what?” I prompted, because the conversations that almost die are usually the most interesting.

“It’s nothing, really. Just something my pastor said once in church.” When I waited instead of letting her off the hook, she mentioned that her pastor talked about how part of being made in God’s image is the ability to create—not in the same way that God does, out of nothing, but taking something and making it beautiful. And how, because music has such a deep, emotional resonance with us, he liked to think that the words of creation were actually music, that God sang the world into existence.

We talked about that, and about why music has the power it does, the entire rest of the way back to the hotel. And it was something, really, not a dismissive nothing or a trailed off, half-finished thought. “Wow,” she said, when we hauled the luggage out the back, “I’m really glad we talked about this.”

And it made me realize: we have a habit of making faith-related conversations highly personal.

Those are things we talk about in small group, or to our immediate family members or best friends, and only sometimes, only when we’re feeling particularly brave or needy or thoughtful.

This does not actually make sense. Let me explain why.


Kylo Ren and Me

“I know what I have to do, but I need your help.”


Like most epic character confrontations, this one takes place on an unnecessarily precarious bridge as Kylo Ren and Han Solo face off near the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Warning: spoilers ahead!) As Ren wrestles with himself, for a moment you might wonder if he’s actually going to let go and give up his seriously awesome lightsaber.

That moment is very quickly gone, and as everyone else in the theater was mourning, I thought to myself, “Huh. That reminds me of how I pray.”

Let’s take a little trip back to the days when I wore my semi-bowl-cut and frilly socks to church with pride. God bless Sunday School teachers. Teaching orthodox doctrine to obnoxious, snotty-nosed juice-box-hyped little terrors is more daunting than pretty much any unreached people group, with the possible exception of cannibals.

When kids’ ministry teachers instruct kiddos that the proper way to pray is closing your eyes, folding your hands, and bowing your head, they’re saying less about the theology of prayer and more about the fact that when you’re talking to God, you shouldn’t also be staring at the spider in the window or stabbing the kid next to you with safety scissors.

There’s nothing more or less godly about this particular posture of prayer. In the Bible, people prostrated themselves, knelt, raised their eyes to heaven, covered their heads, danced before the Lord, and just about any other variation you can imagine.

Folding or clasping your hands is a totally appropriate way to pray. In college, though, I started praying with my hands open. There’s nothing better or more spiritual about this—it’s just a reminder.

Imagine the following conversation right at the dramatic father-son confrontation in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (more…)

The Best of 2015!

It’s the beginning of a new year, marking five years of once-a-week blogging for me, which is significant because I can barely keep a houseplant alive. (And don’t even get me started on goldfish. Poor Long John Silver….)


To celebrate, I’m walking down Memory Lane and highlighting some posts you should be sure not to miss. (aka I spent my entire New Year’s weekend playing board games, getting caught up on letter writing, and researching the Civil War and not writing a new blog post for today.)

Most Popular

Gold Medal: Theologian Valentines

It was extremely gratifying to know that something that took me twenty minutes and a glue stick to make entertained so many people, including a few who actually printed them and gave them to a significant other. The comments on this post are also hilarious.

Summary Quote: Well…this one is basically all images. So here:


Silver Medal: When You Want to Give Up on Our Culture

This would have been in my Favorite Posts list if it hadn’t been here. I love it when I remember a story that helps clarify how I think about life and culture and theology. The men of Gerig during the Taylor Riots had been in the archives of my brain for a while, because I knew it was significant, but I wasn’t sure what the application was.

Summary Quote: “The stories we tell matter, because they show what we value. What we are proud of matters. What we are ashamed of matters. The actions of other nations we’ll defend or decry, the occupations we overpay or underpay, the fictional heroes and villains we cheer or boo—all of these tell the rest of the world what we value most.”

Bronze Medal: #LoveWins?

There is no better place to think about the issues surrounding gay marriage on the day of the Supreme Court’s decision than a booth at a Christian music mega-festival. But really. It was an odd juxtaposition that got me thinking about grace and culture and what it means to hold firm opinions while still caring about others.


Summary Quote: “Think well, have good reasons for your opinions, don’t be afraid to have beliefs and express them. Do so in a gracious way, and we’ll get through whatever new crisis or celebration or confrontation we might face in our newsfeeds and our lives.” (more…)