Five Minute Friday: Beauty

Skate

Gentle Reader,

Such a fun Twitter chatter tonight. The gif game was strong. The Office references flowed freely. Poutine and colonoscopies were discussed (the one does not necessarily lead to the other). The Norwegian curling team’s pants were admired. I was graced with honourary Canadian status. (See what I did there)?

I love these people.

Kate says: beauty.

Go.

I’ve so enjoyed watching the Olympics this year.

As a child I loved figure skating, my heart captured by the artistry of athletes like Oksana Baiul and Gordeeva/Grinkov. As an adult, I discovered ice dancing, which is like ballroom dancing and a skating rink got together and made something truly magical. In 2010 I watched as Canada’s Virtue/Moir and the United States’ Davis/White battled it out. In 2014, they battled again, but with a different (and, in my opinion, incorrect) outcome. Heading into the PeyongChang games, I was more than ready for the Virtue/Moir comeback and to be very #TeamCanada. (All the “noooo” in the world for France’s Papadakis/Cizeron).

Odd, this love, since I’ve never glided across the ice or even pushed my foot into an ice skate. Never had the opportunity. Now, because I have to live in a protective bubble at all times, I can’t go skating, no matter how much I want to.

Thus I content myself with watching men and women defy gravity and tell stories with blades strapped to their feet. It’s art. It’s sport. It’s thrilling.

That’s the beauty of the Olympics, I think. All the politics and doping aside (really, guy who does curling? You had to use drugs?), the world is treated to 10 days of good fun. Competition and elation and heartbreak and the reminder that we’re all the same, no matter where we come from. In a world fraught with increasing and constant tension, this beauty, this space, is necessary.

Stop.

The Virtue/Moir programs. Watch them both. There will never be better ice dancers.

Also this, which is the most Canada thing to ever Canada. Dude is gold-medal winning ice dancer who gets worked up at a hockey game. I love that.

scott-moir-womens-hockey-gold-medal-game-refs-video

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Enough with the Hustle (or, a Nerf Herding Life)

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

 

Star Wars: the Last Jedi comes out in a few weeks. The excitement in the Gregg house is reaching maximum levels.

Years ago, I had a retail job that lasted exactly two weeks. Pressure someone to buy a tube of lip gloss? No, thank you. If I hadn’t quit, I don’t doubt that I would have been fired. “Chatty, good salesman” will never be words that describe me.

So color me uncomfortable to know that everyone, it seems, is selling something.

I like to work hard. I don’t mind having to put in some effort. I don’t balk at a little sweat.

What irritates the crud-muffin out of me is having to put myself “out there.”

I get that there’s a business side to writing. I get that it takes time and energy to build up an audience. I get that social media has come to play a huge (and, in my opinion, disproportionate) role in the lives of authors everywhere. I get that link-ups are important, a way to meet other writers and grow your reach. I get that well-crafted titles are vital and attractive images necessary. I get that you have to keep the content flowing. I get that good design matters.

None of that is wrong or sinful.

But.

Did you know that people publish articles telling others how to write viral blog posts? There’s actually a formula. If you follow certain steps, you’re more likely to see your stats explode.

Did you know that you’re supposed to “cycle” your blog images on Pinterest so that your followers see them multiple times? Same goes for sharing links on Facebook and Twitter. Better overload that feed.

Did you know that you have to spend some good money attending writer’s conferences in order to get a literary agent to give your book proposal more than a passing glance? Most of these conferences are, as we say where I’m from, “back East,” making the cost simply out of the question for many.

Did you know that most Christian books are exactly alike because publishers are terribly risk-averse? Imagine how many voices you’ve never heard because they don’t harmonize with the established choir.

Did you know that if every blogger did everything that we are “supposed” to do in order to be successful (as the world defines it), we’d never see the sun because we’d be trapped behind our screens all day long? That’s no life at all.

Again, I like to work. I have to write. I believe that each one of us who taps the keys is required to take the calling seriously and do our best. I wouldn’t be coming up on my tenth blogging anniversary if I didn’t. There’s nothing wrong with sharing things on Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter. There’s nothing wrong with writers conferences. There’s nothing wrong with having a plan and dedicating time to this thing that is so important. As usual, the tools are benign.

And as usual, there is something wrong with the way we use them.

A Christian writer (or a writer who is a Christian, same difference), shouldn’t be selling herself. He shouldn’t be stressed out at 2:00 a.m. because he “only” has 500 followers. Nobody should feel bad when the stats aren’t that great. (After all, every last one of us writes a clunker from time to time). She shouldn’t be striving to squeeze herself into an “acceptable” box. He shouldn’t try to be like anyone else. Nobody needs to find identity and value in how “successful” they are.

Did you hear that?

Nobody needs to find identity and value in how “successful” they are.

Believe me, I struggle mightily with this. I am never going to be Miss Popular. I have considered throwing in the towel more than once. My voice does not sing the song that mainstream Christian culture wants to hear. I have more often than not wondered if I’m having any impact at all. Who really cares what I have to say? Who even knows that I”m here?

But what’s the goal: That anyone knows my name, or that they know His?

Our job isn’t to be “successful.” It’s not to go viral, gather a magical number of followers, brand ourselves to death, sign a multi-book deal or alter the message to make it more palatable. Our job is to preach the Gospel. It is to make much of Jesus. It is to decrease, while He increases (John 3:30).

Our words will fade.

His will not.

We are but a breath.

He is eternity.

So, enough with the hustle. It’s okay if you don’t have something to share every single day. It’s okay if you don’t follow the formula. It’s okay if you faithfully labor in the hidden places. It’s okay if you have no idea just who it is you are reaching. Your value and legacy have nothing to do with what you achieve. These things are wrapped up in Christ, whose child you are, in whose arms you are hidden.

The only thing that matters is if you used your ability to scatter words across the screen to give Him honor. The only thing that matters is if you point people to Him. At the culmination of time, when the clouds roll back and this world as we know it is no more, nobody is going to care how entertaining your Facebook page was. We’re going to be far too busy exulting in His presence.

Why not exult now? Why not believe, fully and deep in your bones, that He smiles upon you, no matter how great or little your reach may be?

So yes, fellow writer, work. Steward the gift well.

But, every once in awhile, step away from the computer and the page. Look around and look up. Throw caution and the “supposed to” into the wind and go for a walk. Pet a dog. Call a friend (or, really, text a friend, let’s be real). Do whatever it is that will shake you back into reality. Because there’s things more important, more vital, than stats and shares.

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Five Minute Friday: Mom

Along the way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

I went to bed at 7:45 p.m. last night.

Par-tay animal.

Linking up with Kate and The Gang.

Go.

It’s the most a-awkward day of the yeeeeaaaaarrrrrr…at church.

“Happy Mother’s Day!” comes flying out of well-meaning, enthusiastic mouths seconds before the look of horrified realization – “Oh, craaaaaaaaaaap. You never carried a baby in your womb-pouch thing that you don’t even have anymore and does that maybe make you less of a woman and you haven’t adopted anyone that doesn’t have fur and I shouldn’t have said that and now I feel weird and did I make you feel weird and how can I get out of this please put me out of my misery right now I’m going to back away slowly and go get a doughnut.”

I nod. I say “thanks” and wish him or her the same in return. (Yeah, weirdly, lots of men). I’m sure a smirk crosses my face because the entire exchange amuses me.

And, oh, the Mother’s Day sermons. No matter how hard I try, I tune out. Or read the footnotes in my study Bible. Jael’s brief story is particularly interesting. Not because I’m angry or hurt. I’m not. I just don’t know why there must be special Mother’s Day sermons and services. Or any recognition of any secular holiday – Father’s Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, President’s Day, May the Fourth be With You. Isn’t the point of our corporate gatherings to worship the Lord? To focus on Him? Can’t moms and dads and just people be encouraged and uplifted in the normal course of that worship? Must the spotlight be shifted?

This is an unpopular opinion, I’m sure, but I don’t want church to be about anything or anyone other than God. I don’t like it when groups of people are invited to stand so all can applaud. Save it for another time, another place.

Between the above period and the “b” that starts this sentence, I’ve been staring at a blinking cursor for a good few minutes. Time is long up. I want to end this with some bit of wit or wisdom, but I haven’t got any. Just go hug your mom or your mom-figure. Or call her if she’s not close by. Because of course I don’t hate Mother’s Day and I don’t want to tear down moms. I love my Mom. The older I get, the more I appreciate all the sacrifices she made for me.

What I want is space for suffering. Space for the lack of the American Dream fulfilled. Space for weak bodies and complicated situations and marriages that have taken a beating. Space for tears. Space to think that women are insane for not using any and all pain medications available during labor because I’ve had surgery and ain’t nobody got time for that. Space to roll my eyes over the fact that every little thing in Western Christianity is oriented around children, around the family, thereby leaving out significant portions of the Body. Space to be the cool auntie with the good fashion sense who lets kids eat the candy their parents don’t allow. Space for questions. Space for bruises and blood tests and surgical scars. Space to raise my hands in worship, in an unspoken message that my Creator hears: I am not what many think I should be. I do not have what many think I should have. But You – You are enough.

Stop.

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Hollow Outrage

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Twitter lost its collective mind over the last week.

At least the part of the tweet stream that I swim in.

CT Women, an arm of Christianity Today that bills itself as “news and analysis from the perspective of evangelical women,” launched into a two-month long series called #AmplifyWomen: A New Conversation About Leadership and Discipleship. The first entry, “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?,” written by Tish Harrison Warren, stirred up an incredible amount of ire. I confess that I felt that ire at first. I’m as egalitarian as they come. “Feminism” is not a dirty word to me. My knee-jerk reaction after reading the article was to wonder why men weren’t being called to the carpet. Men like Douglas Wilson, Mark Driscoll, John Pavlovitz. Men – conservative and progressive – who teach harmful things. Why were women being labeled the “bad guys?”

Thankfully, I watched the responses before adding my voice to the cacophony. Often wisdom is found in waiting. I took the time to pause and reflect. The more I thought about it, the more I liked Warren’s article, for several reasons:

  • First, she’s an ordained minister. She’s hardly out to silence women’s voices.
  • Second, her call to accountability is appropriate. Anyone who dares take to a public platform had better keep the words of James in mind: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (3:1, NKJV).
  • Third, she never once asks women to submit to oppressive, misogynistic church cultures (as some claim).
  • Fourth, she doesn’t dismiss laypeople (again, as some claim).
  • Fifth, everything in the piece is applicable to men, just as many (if not most) things geared toward men are applicable to women.
  • Sixth, this is the first entry in a series. Anyone who thought she should or could cover every facet and concern of women in ministry ever had hugely unrealistic expectations.

Do I think that it’s practical or workable for every blogger to submit every piece he or she writes to some “board of blogging overseers?” Of course not. I don’t believe that Warren thinks that’s a good idea either. A large portion of accountability should be left to the readers, who need to know the Scriptures well enough to be able to discern when someone is “off.” (I’m talking about unorthodox “off” here, not legitimate differences in interpretation). Those readers should attempt to correct that author, and then stop following that author and warn others about him or her if he/she refuses to be corrected. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with or oppressive about going to our pastors and saying, “Hey, could you check this out? Have I written anything heretical lately? Would you come around me and support this ministry I’ve got going?” That just makes sense. That’s the Body doing what its meant to do.

The main objection to Warren’s piece appears to be her inclusion of one particular author as an example of the blogosphere phenomenon and the questions surrounding it:

One of the most prominent recent examples of this crisis involves the popular blogger Jen Hatmaker, who last year announced that her views about homosexuality have changed. She was cheered by some and denounced by others. LifeWay stopped selling her books. Aside from the debate about sexuality, broader questions emerged: Where do bloggers and speakers like Hatmaker derive their authority to speak and teach? And who holds them accountable for their teaching? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders? What interpretive body and tradition do these bloggers speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we as listeners decide whom to trust as a Christian leader and teacher?

The accusation, coming fast, heavy and from multiple voices: “You’re trying to tear down Jen Hatmaker!”

Please.

There’s nothing offensive in that paragraph. Absolutely nothing. No name calling, no shaming. Just the facts. Hatmaker did announce a change in her views. Some did cheer. Some did not. Lifeway pulled her books.

Apparently stating the facts is now a mean thing to do?

Jonathan Merritt published a scathing retort,  “Why I’ll take courageous Jen Hatmaker over her cowardly critics any day,” over at Religion News Service. Phrases like “conservative mafia,” “evangelical aristocracy” and “institutional machine” litter the piece. I don’t condone nastiness and I have no doubt that Hatmaker has encountered some – but there’s a massive difference between nastiness and disagreement, between character assassination and parting from someone over irreconcilable doctrinal differences. It isn’t wrong to say, “I don’t agree with this stance you’ve taken and here’s why.” It isn’t horrible to tell your friends, “I don’t think you should follow this person and here’s why.”

Warren wasn’t attempting a shade-throwing take-down. There was no need for “progressive Twitter” (not my phrase and I can’t remember who coined it) to scream bloody murder. And in that scream is an important, unspoken claim: I should feel sorry for Hatmaker. I should defend her.

Why?

Between Facebook and Twitter, she has 757,563 followers. Her books are (and will probably continue to be) bestsellers. She had a TV show. She’s a featured speaker with the Belong Tour (if you can figure out exactly what that tour is about, you’re smarter than I am). Her articles for the Today show’s parenting site have been read by almost seven million people (if I am interpreting that statistic correctly; go here and decide for yourself). She testifies to a happy family life. By all accounts, she is beloved and successful.

I’m supposed to feel bad because she’s taken some heat? I’m supposed to buy into the “Christian machine” conspiracy theory?

I don’t.

Call me callous if you like. Shrug.

No leader is or should be immune to criticism.

Most fascinating to me about the whole brou-ha-ha is the near-complete lack of response to the second entry in the series, “The Great Female Commission,”  because another supposed fault of Warren’s piece had to do with her not addressing the lack of opportunities for women of color in ministry. She, a white woman, wrote from a place of “privilege.” Again, it was impossible for her to cover everything in that article, but I do recognize the validity here. The Church has a terrible track record with women in general, and an even worse one with women who aren’t white.

But…”The Great Female Commission” is an interview with an African-American woman who’s doing cool things in women’s discipleship.

And there’s very little engagement with it.

I see you, Twitter. I see you complaining about hashtag appropriation (#amplifywomen rose out of the Women’s March back in January), which has to be one of the dumbest, most nonsensical things ever. I see you mercilessly laying into a woman who dares to express a view different from you, the very thing you vociferously condemn others for doing to your preferred Christian celebrities. I see you talking a big game about supporting and uplifting women of color and then refusing to engage with Natasha Sistrunk Robinson and her thoughts on discipleship.

Your outrage is hollow.

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Addendum: Warren posted a follow-up to the CT Women piece on her personal site. April Fiet shared a thoughtful response, as did Hannah Anderson.

Photo credit: Anna Demianenko