Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dear Rachel:

It's not that you grew up outside of Birmingham, roughly two and half hours from where I lived and grew up in Mississippi. I mean, it practically makes us neighbors (of a sort), but there's more.

It's not that you have helped to disprove the theory that everyone who roots for or loves the University of Alabama wasn't held enough as a child. I mean, we are rivals (of a sort - Hail State), but there's more.

It's not that you're a gifted and articulate speaker. I mean, your smile and laugh alone can alone instill quiet (of a sort) and disarm some of your detractors, but there's more.

It's that there is a genuine warmth in your words that comes across on the printed page.

It's that when I met you, you had such a welcoming and honest spirit that it put my inner fanboy at ease. You treated me as a friend, and not someone who just happens to read your blog. And you were that way with every person that came up to you. 

It's that there is such heart, such passion, and such intelligence behind everything you do. Yes, even the camping out in a tent bit.

It's that what you write shakes me from a complacency in my faith that I may have settled in to, and causes me to live a life that - well, lives out in word and deed that which I claim to believe.

It's that you have taught me so much. I imagine that the years I struggled with my faith, questioning it all while shaking an angry fist at the sky, would have been better had I known I was not as alone as I felt I was. 

It's that you invite the marginalized, the ignored, and the cast out to the table and say "Tell me - tell us - your story." It's the 21st century equivalent of foot washing, showing honor to many that the church would prefer to silence.

Kids of all ages - regardless of gender -
LOVE reading about biblical womanhood!
It's that every time my kid sees your photo on my laptop, he says "Daddy, it's your friend Wachel!" As he grows older, reading your words will help him to know that everyone, regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic standing, or sexual orientation, is a beautiful child of God and can and does deserve respect. It will help him know that mom and dad aren't the only people of faith who think and act that way, despite what mainstream Christian culture might show him.

Some may say you're mocking. I say you're not afraid to investigate. A faith that does not hold up under scrutiny is not a faith I want to take part in. Besides, you are fierce to defend our faith to those who would detract it, and yet comfortable enough in your beliefs to question some of what is said MUST be done.

(Plus, the God we serve has to have a bit of snark in Him. After all, we do. Since we are made in His image, God must love sarcasm. Trust the theology of the quick wit.)

Rachel Held Evans. It's been an honor to get to know you as a person and not just as an online presence. I am humbled by your even knowing my name. You, my friend, are a true woman of valor. Eschet chayil!

And "Roll Tide." 

This blog entry was written as part of a surprise synchroblog event to support the work of Rachel Held Evans and to celebrate the launch of her new book A Year Of Biblical Womanhood, available at finer non-biased bookstores everywhere.

To read the other entries in the synchroblog, click here

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

When I stated reading A YEAR OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD, I found myself doing something I rarely if ever do: forcing myself to slow down. That's part of the challenge behind this book: you want to just sit and ingest as many of Rachel's words as you possibly can, but you also want to stop and savor the beauty of the narrative she is unfolding. In roughly 300 pages, Rachel Held Evans manages to successfully challenge the misconception that "living biblically" - based on gender roles - can be distilled into a series of rules and regulations.

(c) 2012 Rachel Held Evans
What stood out to me as one of the greatest positives about the text is what many may find as one of its greatest negatives; namely, unlike 99% of the books published in the evangelical Christian community, this book does not ever give a "how to" guide or numerically provide "easy steps" on how to live out biblical womanhood. I'll admit, even though I loathe to read those kinds of books, I halfway found myself looking for those at the conclusion of each chapter. This speaks more to the conditioning we have come to expect out of Christian texts and not how the Bible states we are to live.

This is just one of the many ways Rachel's book shatters expectations. The book is fun without being disrespectful or irreverent to the source material. Her story is personal but universal in application. Her voice shines through in the story she tells, and it is obvious that Rachel the author documenting this experience and Rachel the person undergoing this transformation are one and the same. She does not try to distance herself or the reader from the positive or the negative experiences during the year she writes about. In many ways, it feels as if as a reader you are taking this journey with her. This is due in part to her comfortable, inviting style of writing, but also because of the insights and "aha" moments that are revealed as Rachel scrapes away the veneer of rules-based Christian living so many women - and men - find themselves bound to.

To be fair, the book isn't perfect. But then again, neither the book nor the author ever made the claim that this is THE book on what biblical womanhood should be written by THE authority on the subject - which is a remarkably refreshing perspective for a faith-based book. Rachel simply took the idea that half of the population of Christians everywhere have been told there is only one limited way to behave or have a role to play in our faith, and challenged the readers to examine the biblical text and what we have been told is the only interpretation of it. Of course many will see this as heretical, questioning the established ways in which church and life operates, and they will do and say all that they can to cast her in the most negative light imaginable.

After two-plus millennia of repeating the same pattern of trying to silence these voices, you'd think church leaders would get a clue and stop trying to crucify the people they disagree with. I fear for who they offer as Barabas to the masses this time out. 

Love God. Love others. That's how every day of every year of biblical life for women and men should be lived out. And (SPOILER ALERT) that's what Rachel admonishes at the end of her book. 

While many might take offense at suggesting this as a book one "Must Read," it most assuredly is a book you "Should Read." 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Prodigal: Listen

Today officially marks the beginning of my regular contributions to Prodigal Magazine - read on below for an excerpt, then click on the link at the bottom to read the rest of it. I am insanely grateful to Darrell for asking me to join in here. You should all email him a note of thanks or send him chocolate. 


“Hey, buddy? Did you hear what I just said?”
“Yeah, daddy. Yeah” was the practically-rote response my three and a half year old gave to me while sitting at his desk. He was eating graham crackers and drinking a juice box while the exploits of Grover, Ernie, Bert, and Cookie Monster played out on the television screen before him. It was early in the afternoon, relatively soon after he had woken up from his nap. And although I was trying to talk to him…

—I was clearly not as interesting as puppets singing about plastic bath toys.

A few minutes earlier, a sound that resembled a large, metallic crash had come from our backyard. I slipped on my sandals and was about to head out the back door to investigate the championship wrestling match that a couple of squirrels had undoubtedly gotten into, but I wanted him to know where I was going. Kai is accustomed to me going outside to take the recycling to the street corner, rescue errant balls that roll off the patio, and the like. But just to be safe, I told him for a third time “Kai, daddy is going to go to the backyard to see what that big noise was, okay? You sit right here, and I’ll be back in just a minute, alright? …Malakai? Did you hear what I just said?”
“Yeah, daddy. Yeah.”
Forget “cookie;” “C” is obviously for “complacent.”

Click here to read the rest of the story....

Monday, October 22, 2012

Now

Let me begin by debunking a few common myths about having a child: first, the so-called "Terrible Two's?" They're not that bad. Really. Ask any parent. Things truly take a turn for the worse when they turn three (which not too ironically is half of one of the numbers of the Beast). At two, kids are just beginning to exhibit their independence. Them saying "No" is not the problem. It's when at three, when they can better articulate their argument about why they don't want to wash their hands, go to bed, or eat anything other than French fries for dinner, that parenting gets frustrating.

Also, from the time they become self-propelled (wobbly though it may be) to the point when they are entering the preschool phase of life, as a parent you feel like you almost needed to watch them like a hawk else they stage-dive into an empty bathtub, try to eat to dog food kibbles, or finger-paint their own episode of GO, DIEGO GO onto the flat screen. Again, by the time they reach age three, things change and a little alone playtime isn't a bad thing. You're not going to single-handedly re-codify their MBTI Personality by letting them fly solo for a little.

Just remember: moderation, in all things, is the key.

Recently I've caught myself in the bad habit of saying "wait," or "not now" to Kai with much greater frequency than I ever anticipated I might. Part of this comes from the way he and I have interacted for the last three-plus years: I'm always there, always playing with him, always reading to him, always ready with yet another pack of Gummy Bears. As such, he expects me to be a readily-available plaything 24/7. Because I'm trying to instill in him a moderate sense of it being okay to be alone for a while, I've been trying for both of us to be okay with, for example, me being in the kitchen while he plays with his Legos in his room for a few minutes. But I'd be lying if I didn't also say I've at times "deferred" portions of our playtime because what he wanted to do wasn't convenient to my time, to my plan of what was supposed to be done then.

This isn't me being cruel or ignoring my child, nor is this me intentionally choosing something as more important than him. Both of us taking a break every so often isn't a bad thing. What I've come to understand is that when I do this with such alarming frequency, I'm acting like a parent.

Not like a dad.

And yes: there is a difference.

Kai is simply looking for someone to play with, to spend time with, and he is choosing me. When I continually say "wait" or "not now," those seconds count. They add up to minutes, hours, days when we're not involved with one another - and I know when he gets older, I will regret each and every time I put something that COULD wait before him. There's a world of difference in being dependent on me and being codependent with me. I need to not carve out a gulf between us physically or chronologically, else it becomes an emotional one. Again: taking a break every so often isn't bad.

But nothing...nothing...should be more important than my family. Nothing.

My lawyer has advised me that love does. I've also come to realize that love acts.

And sometimes - love is just plain silly.

It's still appropriate for me as his dad to say "wait" or "not now" to some things - when I've been handing raw chicken and he wants to climb up me, for example - but saying "yes" is much more fun and much more prone to making lasting memories between us. Dress up like a superhero before we head out to the grocery store? Yes. Go on a spy mission in the backyard? Yes. Have a parade on the front porch of our house to celebrate Crazy Thursdays? Yes.

These memories will last longer in our hearts than they will as a blog post or Tweet, anyway.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Review: How To Turn Your Marriage Around in 10 Days

Ordinarily, the idea of reading a book on marriage seems about as appealing as getting a root canal after using an actual tree root to bludgeon me unconscious.  Far too often, well-meaning writers (and pastors) take a subject and topic that is incredibly complex and try to boil it down to the easiest, solvable, paint-by-numbers method imaginable, often leaving out core subjects and ideas, and ultimately ending with the pithy idea of "taking it all to God in prayer" as a method of wrapping it with in a nice, neat, theologically-weak bow. So I went into Philip Wagner's How To Turn Your Marriage Around in 10 Days with a touch of cynicism and eye-rolling, expecting to be disappointed yet again with a book that doesn't know how to deliver what it promises.

I love it when I am proven wrong.


In this guide, Wagner lays out ten days' worth of exercises designed for spouses to work on individually and collectively, although the "ten days" portion is a bit of a misnomer; there's actually enough actionable material contained within each chapter that a couple could spend ten weeks utilizing one section each week and still not get bored. Every chapter not only contains a story from his own marriage, but many contain additional narratives taken from couples he knows. Instead of this coming across as padding for the chapters, it reinforces a key concept married couples sometimes forget in their struggles: you are not the only couple who has ever experienced something like this. Taking that sense of struggle from the isolation ward we often place it in and realizing there are communal pains is perhaps one of the greatest strengths of this book.

What I loved about Wagner's method of approaching a marriage is that it pretty much mimics Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: the core needs must be met first before we can progress on. In Evangelical Christianity, we erroneously think that maybe we should pray more (or harder) or study the Bible more (or harder) as the answer to relational issues without realizing that in doing so, we ignore the basics of our relationship, and sometimes we become harder. Wagner approaches the topic of marriage from the standpoint of it being between two individuals and not two names on a church roster, and that thematically makes all the difference in how his tone comes across.

The concept Wagner used that struck me as IT was summed up in the phrase "Love demands that we climb." Instead of falling back on the exhausted meme "marriage is work," Wagner continually refers to the imagery of a relationship as taking place on a ladder, going one rung at a time, and not progressing further up until the rung we are on is stable, fixed, and can bear the weight of the climb ahead. Or to use some of his chapter titles, "Play" should not come before "Forgiveness."

Like all good albums, there's a "bonus track" chapter included, which encourages the reader to be an active participant and engage in an ongoing refinement of the exercises in this guide. Although the book isn't perfect (for one thing, the constant references to "men and sex" got to be a little distracting if not repetitive), it's relatively thorough and comprehensive in what it covers, and manages to give advice that is not only sincere but humorous at times.

This is not not kind of marriage guide one would read once then put a shelf thinking "well, that was okay." Neither, interestingly enough, is it a marriage guide that I would say is written exclusively for a Christian audience. To be certain, the book is rooted structurally and philosophically within a Christian framework and with a biblical foundation. Yet unlike other "Christian marriage guides," How To Turn Your Marriage Around in 10 Days contains not only enough quality material that a couple in an interfaith relationship or those who come from a different faith background could find material and ideas on how to strengthen their relationship, and it could simultaneously stand as an example of Christian literature that is not surface-level and is incredibly real in expressing the struggles we as people In loving, committed relationships experience.

Really. It's just that good.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Pitching to Shoeless Joe Jackson

I have an obsession with Field Of Dreams, one which has only intensified over the decades since I first saw it. I think I've managed to hyper-analyze this movie from every possible angle and apply it to my life: father issues; finding your calling; pursuing dreams when the world around you says you're nuts; hearing a disembodied voice speaking words of challenge and encouragement to your soul; and growing corn (okay, this one maybe not so much). During the Story Conference in Chicago, I managed to pull out another set of life parallels with this film simply by knowing where the food trucks with shorter lines were located.

The first day of the conference was rich with meeting people in person whom I knew online, and trying to decide if our avatars matched up with what we looked like in flesh and blood. Individuals whose words have challenged and moved my soul were among the sea of hugs and handshakes I found myself in. Once the sessions for the morning were over, I found myself standing in a group as we chatted about what one of the presenters had just spoken on. We were still inside the auditorium and apparently taking up valuable space, because one of the volunteers came to shoo us out so they could set up for the afternoon.

After my group got outside, we saw the insane line of people that snaked around the parking lot as they all tried to hit up the food trucks outside our building. I mentioned I had seen some restaurants that morning as I walked to the conference, so we decided to walk a block up to see what was available. Once we had all purchased our respective meals and sat down on the concrete to eat, I took a moment to just soak in the absurdity of the situation I found myself in.

I was sitting next to Rachel Held Evans. Matthew Paul Turner was snapping photos. Ryan was to my immediate left. Ed was directly in front of me. Alise was just off to my right.

And then...there was me. Eating a calzone, surrounded by writers. REAL writers.

'Kids Field at Talking Stick' photo (c) 2011, Dru Bloomfield - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/There's a scene in Field of Dreams, where after Ray Kinsella has heard The Voice, plowed under his crop, and has waited patiently after constructing a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield, Shoeless Joe Jackson finally appears. After having a virtually wordless conversation with Shoeless Joe, Ray utters to himself one of my favorite lines from the movie: 


"I am pitching to Shoeless Joe Jackson."

It was as if comparative to this moment, all the other crazy crap he had done was relatively sane. It was as if he was questioning who was he to be pitching to this legend and giant in his field. It was as if this was one of those watershed moments that he will remember with a smile on his lips every time the memory comes to his mind for the rest of his life.

Clearly, I didn't relate to this in the least.

Later that afternoon, when whomever was speaking about whatever topic they were going on about (my brain was still mush and trying to process it all), I heard a Voice speaking to me. Well, not so much "speaking" as "making me feel and understand something which had been vacant in me for so long that I wasn't even aware of its absence:"

"This is where you are meant to be. This is where I've wanted you to be all along.

"Everything. All the pain, heartbreak, joy and insanity in your life that you have struggled through, cried over, and been reborn into has brought you to this moment for a reason.

"Don't question if you have a right to be here. Don't you dare question if you have a right to be here.

"What and whom I have called worthy, don't you call unworthy. Especially yourself."

I am equals with Shoeless Joe Jackson. And apparently, everyone mentioned above...which is both humbling, empowering, and nausea inducing. I also suppose this means I should stop looking down on myself and actually look up. When you engage with the people around you, you're supposed to look at them, not your own insecurities and doubts. 

I may never have been drafted into a league, but I've managed to be included on a team. A tribe. And not as a tag-along or a mascot, but one of the ones intended to be included.

Guess it's time to see if I can "go the distance."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Guest Post: Worse Than An Unbeliever

Today, I have the honor of being my friend Matt's lead-out guest poster on a new series about gender roles in the church and family at his site The Church of No People. I've known Matt for three years or so now, and every time I get to see him in person (and that one time on Skype, which we REALLY need to repeat), he always floors me with how genuine, open, and kind he is. Why he chooses to hang out with my sarcastic self is anyone's guess. :)


There are many things I’ve received over the past three years from strangers once they discover I am a stay-at-home dad: high fives, smiles of approval, and the occasional cup of coffee or cookie – all freely given by people who see me interact with or hear me tell stories about my kid. But then there are some Christians, fellow believers, who condemn me sight unseen because of how my wife and I are raising our son.
They will know we are Christians by our love. …as long as our love lines up with one interpretation of the Bible, incomplete though this interpretation may be.
Click here to read the rest of the article. And while you're there, feel free to leave a comment at his site. 

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Eyes Have It

I once spoke to a crowd of over 5000 college students.

I was in attendance at a conference in Anaheim, CA as a representative of the university I was employed by at the time. The conference was for community and junior college students, the leaders on their respective campuses, to try and see what four-year institutions they might want to transfer to once their time was up at their current school. As a co-sponsor for the conference, our university was to be given 5 minutes to speak to the crowd, and to "pitch" our school to them. I was certain that my boss, who was traveling with me, was going to stand behind the podium and speak while I just stood to the side smiling, like the people at awards shows who stand there awkwardly to usher the recipients on and off the stage.

The morning of our presentation, he asked me if I wanted to speak in his stead. I don't recall much of what happened next, although I apparently said "yes" since I spent the rest of the morning writing out notes, slightly freaking out, and rushing down to the gift shop in the hotel to purchase a tie.

I once spoke to a crowd of over 5000 college students.

You can ask me what I said to them, and I can tell you I genuinely have no clue. You can ask me how it felt to speak to a crowd that large, and again, I can tell you that I genuinely have no clue. The subject, the terror, the sound of 5000 people applauding you as you take the stage - these are all white noise moments in my memory. I know they're there, but they're indistinguishable and vague.

What I do recall? The faces. The eyes. The looks of people close to me on the first few rows, people in the balcony, people standing in the wings of the stage.

Mainly because this was in 1999, and I didn't own a cell phone yet.

Now that I have done the unthinkable and spent three separate trips away from Kai in the past six months, I've come to appreciate the ways in which we play together. Although Ashley will say I am guilty of this as well, far too many times I have seen parents out and about with their kids - at the park, the zoo, the museum - and their face is buried in their phone and not watching their child. Granted, I do at times get sucked in to my Twitter feed when I should be doing something else, but for the most part, I put my phone away when I'm out with Kai - unless he's doing something amazing and I have to get a picture of it.

These times when I've been away from him conferencing it up, meeting people in real life that I've wanted to for some time, and making new friends that I still text with on a moderately daily basis, I will admit: my phone has been my closest friend. I've been able to check up on Kai, be all social-media-savvy by texting and Tweeting as things happen, and do everything else one isn't supposed to be able to do with a phone. And it's been great, since it gave me a sense of connection to the events that were happening.

Coming home, I've had to recondition myself to put the darn thing down and not erupt in some kind of Pavlovian response pattern every time it buzzes from the adjoining room where I left it. And it's not because I don't want to be involved in the discussions happening online or that I don't have anything to contribute.

It's because of Kai's eyes.

I can sit in his room and build all kinds of Lego constructions worthy of Norse songs. We can go outside and kick his soccer ball for hours. We can color, cut things up, and put on a parade, but it doesn't feel like we've connected until he sees me looking at him. Eye contact. Not talking or playing at each other but with one other. It's when he sees me fully investing my time into him and being fully present with him that he just gets this crazy big grin all across his face. It's real to him. We're not just rolling cars to one another: we're driving them. We're not just playing with actions figures: we are defending our house and Maggie against the forces of evil. We're not multitasking: we are investing.

That's what I remember about speaking to 5000 college students. That's what I remember about sitting on the steps of an office building eating lunch from a food truck. That's what I remember about how I am supposed to talk with and interact with people before my social muscles began to atrophy as a result of being a stay-at-home dad.

It's the eyes.

'Eye' photo (c) 2009, Luis Antonio Rodríguez Ochoa - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Computer characters or icons are great, and can and DO lead to meaningful friendships. But when I'm with someone - especially after having been physically gone for some time - I need to be emotionally, mentally, and simply focused on them when I am right there beside them and close to being in their personal space.



They need to see me focusing on them as much as I need to see their eyes reflecting the knowledge that nothing is as important to me as they are at that moment.

Unless Kai and I are needed because Loki escaped again. Then you can just check my Twitter feed to see where all the battle has taken us.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Oh, You Know. Nothing Big. Just Publishing News. Again.

This will be brief since - well, the words speak for themselves. No need for me to wax on about it.

You may have noticed a new icon on the sidebar to the right over there. Go on. Look at it. The one that says "I Am A Prodigal." This isn't so much a confession as it is a proclamation: I am now going to be a Featured Writer for ProdigalMagazine.com under their "Relationships" section. ...yes, yes. Get your snickers out. Odds are I may contribute something else time or again to the site, but this is where you can go to get a regular fix of my words. Well, there and HERE, of course.

Honestly though - this is a HUGE blessing, although part of me expects Ashton Kucher to step out of the back room and just yell "PUNKED!" at any moment. I need to just shut up and God take me where I'm supposed to go without thinking I am deserving of it.

The second big announcement comes a little after the fact, but it's so big that I am still going to float for months to come because of it. 

When I attended the Story Conference in Chicago two weeks ago, I met Rachel Held Evans. Although I had "met" her online before, this was my chance to play it cool and speak to her in person. Anyway, for reasons that extend beyond my comprehension, she asked me to take part in her "Ask A..." series, writing about being a stay at home dad.

To say the support has been positive is an understatement. To say the stats on visits to my blog have gone nuts is an understatement. 

To say I have been honored by Rachel is a GROSS understatement. And not only have I been blessed by getting to know her, but it's been encouraging to this writer(ish) person to be able to take his passion and run with it. And maybe someday soon I can stop tearing up as I think about it. 

I do plan on answering here a couple of the questions people asked me at her site that time and space did not allow me to address, so be on the lookout for those.

More news to come...