I guess I’m a blogger now…

Happy DST, everyone! I personally love this season. In Seattle, it’ll stay dark out past 9:30 in the summer time. Last night, I took a walk with Andrew and we stayed out until 7 pm. 7 pm! What a miracle.

Apologies for the radio silence–I was hard at work launching an exciting blog at Patheos! Patheos is a multi-faith religious network. I’m on Patheos Progressive Christian writing about Christians doing strange/interesting things at Surprising Faith.

You can read my latest post about my pastor who is suing the city of Seattle here. Here’s a snippet:

Three years ago, on Dec. 12, 2011, John attended a protest in support of Seattle port workers. As he was leaving, he was beaten, led to a van, and taken to prison. After filing a complaint against the police department which yielded no results–no investigation, no apology–John filed a lawsuit against Seattle, saying that he was unjustly imprisoned.

You heard it here first.

I’ll be posting over there 1-2 times a week and look forward to hunting down more interesting Christians. This is becoming a habit.

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This time of year is Advent in Christianity, the time leading up to Christmas. (Another thing I have always enjoyed about religion: it divides the year into seasons of what you are supposed to think about and feel.) Advent is about joy, peace, hope, and contemplating new freedom, new life. Whether or not you are interested in Jesus, a baby being born is a new beginning.

For the past two weeks, we’ve been talking about the Christmas story. Two weeks ago, we read the story of Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, getting told by an angel that she is going to have a child via God. This week, we read the story of Zechariah, who is told by an angel that his wife will have a child, even though they are very old and infertile. That child will become John the Baptist.

During our services, we have a kind of typical opening: John, our minister, gives a talk on a part of the Bible. Then, he sits down and asks us what we are thinking. It makes the service more participatory and less teacher-student. It also gives me a prompt to think about while I’m listening to the sermon, which I enjoy.

As John spoke about Zechariah, who is skeptical of the angel who tells him he’s going to have a son, and our capacity for joy, I thought about last week’s story. Zechariah asks the angel, “How can I be sure of this?” He’s an old guy and this defies the laws of science. (Nevermind–they didn’t have science back then. It defied the laws of life.) The angel tells him “now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words.”

In contrast, when an angel tells Mary that she will bear a child, Mary says, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Again, defying the laws of life. The angel “explains” to her that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Mary says “Let it be to me according to your word.”


Then she sings a song about how great God is, how he’s brought down the mighty and filled up the hungry. It’s called the Magnificat and you can read it here. It’s a very interesting reaction from someone who has just been told they will have a baby out of wedlock and without even getting to have sex.


So as John was talking about Zechariah and how Zechariah’s joy is delayed because he doesn’t believe (and how a lot of us can sympathize with Zechariah’s skepticism), I was thinking about how crazy it is that Mary reacts with joy to the news the angel gives her. I don’t necessarily even believe in the Christmas story as a factual story, but as a story, it shows that Mary is pretty remarkable. She gives the angel the thumbs up and gets pregnant, magically. She has to deal with the consequences of that, not the angel. She has to explain to her mother that she is pregnant. She has to tell people it’s God’s baby, not Joseph. And I don’t think people were so different in this place and time that they wouldn’t think Mary was out of her ever-loving mind. Who has a baby with God? What does that even mean? (Sidenote: did she actually get to have sex with God? The Bible glosses over that fact. But Mary’s Magnificat is a pretty happy song.)

Zechariah, on the other hand, might be a freak–a father in old age–but he is about to get something that he wants (we assume). People are going to raise their eyebrows, yes, but they will be happy for him. But Zechariah doesn’t get to tell them. He has to stay quiet.

I realized while we were talking that Mary’s joy is incredibly brave. Imagine if, today, your friend or daughter or cousin or you got randomly pregnant. And instead of being baffled, concerned, or fearful–or maybe in addition to all those things–you were happy. Being happy while unexpectedly pregnant is enough to drive the entire movie Knocked Up–we are continually surprised by the fact that Katherine Heigl decides to have the baby and be happy about it, even though the father isn’t the man of her dreams.


What if, when things seem like they suck for us–when we are given the metaphorical unexpected pregnancy that will threaten our reputation, our relationship, our family’s honor, and our happiness–instead of being confused, angry, and worried (or in addition to being confused, angry and worried), we celebrated? What if we high-fived ourselves for taking on something crazy and even unwanted? What if we smiled? What if we were happy even though other people pursed their lips and shook their heads? What if we were happy even if our moms disapproved and our family name was destroyed?

What if, instead of being bitter and pissy about the fact that I have gotten rejected about a million times from various magazines and journals, I was happy? Not happy because I was looking on the bright side, but happy because I got those rejections?

What if, instead of being worried about the future of my career, I celebrated the uncertainty of the future? What if I gave myself a pat on the back for this uncertainty?

Being joyful in the face of confusion and fear is weird. It’s totally unexpected. It’s hard for me to even imagine. It’s not accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative; it’s having unbridled joy about something that seems like a huge mistake or a massive hurdle, put in your life for no reason.

I’m not very good at having joy about unexpected events, but I’m happy about the fact that an essay I wrote about something sad–a miscarriage–had an impact. I’ve wondered if I should feel guilty about its success–am I exploiting my own sadness, or something? But instead of worrying about it, I’m going to choose to be happy. It was a good thing that I wrote that essay, and good that it got published, and good that it got the kind responses that it did. I have my own private feelings about the miscarriage, too, and I can feel those things and still be happy about what I shared with the world.

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Getting Involved

Since starting to go to Valley + Mountain, I’ve tried to become a part of the community. I’ve introduced myself, not sat only in the back (a big step for me!), hung around after to chat, participated in a potluck party, gone to a clothing swap, and started running the newsletter for the Collaboratory, the community center where Valley and Mountain is held.

Now that I write that list out, I feel a lot better about myself. At V+ M, it seems like everyone is always cooking food or cleaning up or setting up for something, and I’m just standing around chatting. (I hate cleaning up! I know that is no excuse.)

Getting involved feels good. I’ve made friends and had people to talk to when I was happy and unhappy. It’s a really nice feeling. Church as community–a diverse, inter-generational, friendly and welcoming community–is often overlooked. But I think it’s reason enough to join a church.

Why? BECAUSE COMMUNITY IS GREAT. Being part of something that’s bigger and more diverse than your friend group is amazing. The other week, I got to hold a baby while talking to someone about his experience doing the Freedom Rides in the 60s. I get to talk to old adults, young adults, kids, three-year-olds, babies, and because this is Seattle, a dog named Lola. I get to hear what they care about as parents, children, students, and toddlers. (The toddler I talked to the other week was very interested in Elmo and going bye-bye, and in many other things but I’m not sure what they are.)

My friends are amazing–I am so lucky to live around friends out here–but we are all pretty similar in outlook and age and status in life. That’s why we’re friends! Of course we have different viewpoints and ideas, but we are all concerned with the same set of things that are tied to our age and station: advancing our careers, having/not having kids, finding a place to live/buying a house, living far away from our parents, and where to go on Friday night. It’s great to have a group of people who will always be up for talking about these things, but it’s amazing to have a group of people who have either 1. Already done all of these things or 2. Never thought about doing any of these things. It helps me to realize that I will not always be twenty-something and thinking about how to balance writing and working. IT IS SIMPLY IMPOSSIBLE.

And that there are other, more important things than my little career.

Valley and Mountain meets in a diverse neighborhood, Hillman City. There is a cool map here of diversity in Seattle here. The Rainier Valley is full of diverse neighborhoods, and diverse is not code for “not white.” The map shows how likely you are to be a different race from someone else, and the higher the number, the more diverse the neighborhood is. Diversity was one of the reasons Andrew and I moved to Seattle (from distinctly not-diverse New Hampshire), and I’m very happy that we ended up living where we do and that I go to church where I do. Our future kids will get to meet people outside of our friend group, people who are older, younger, richer, poorer, and just different from the people I usually hang out with. People who teach yoga, people who write plays, people who make their living getting phones to homeless people, people who are mothers and activists and loners and, overwhelmingly, very nice.

All the love is starting to make me wonder if I’m losing credibility here. Some day, I’m sure I will write about the difficulties of being in a community like this one–maybe when they make me start cleaning up?–but I’m happy to enjoy it here and now. This has been a difficult fall, with lots of rain and sadness, and it feels good to know that I am part of something bigger, happier, and good.

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Money + Church

I’ve been mulling over money and church for some time now. Actually, I have been not-mulling this around for a long time. I don’t like to think about money, and I don’t like to talk about money and church.

I know that there are churches that take advantage of people and wrongly exploit their resources. This is bad. It’s even worse when these churches’ congregations have limited resources. But that’s pretty much all I can say about bad churches. They exist, they are the worst.

I know that some people think that giving to church or organized religion in general is flat-out dumb. They wonder what services a pastor or priest really provides and question if that money could be put to better use. It probably could–who am I to say?–but as long as you are of sound mind and your family is on board, I say do with your money what you like. Giving to a church is undoubtedly better than smoking crack.

I have not verified this.

The hole in this argument is that sometimes churches are less than transparent; the Catholic church used some portion of my money to cover up their terrible terrible scandals. Mars Hill used some of its funds to buy Mark Driscoll some book reviews. I am zen about this, but I don’t think you have to be. Once the money is out of my hands, I try not to think about it.

Research is key. I don’t think it’s wise to write out a check to every church you visit. Especially if, God forbid, they ask you to on the first day–tacky at best. But when I joined Valley and Mountain, I visited for a few weeks, talked to a few people and made some friends, drank an iced tea with the pastor, and read about them on their website. They seemed legit. So I started giving money to them.

I have not given money to a church since I hung out with the Catholics, aside from a few dollars here and there on random Sundays. I didn’t give money at Restoration because I didn’t want there to be a conflict of interest–journalists never pay their subjects. But when I stumbled upon Valley and Mountain, I wanted to join in, even if I didn’t know where every single dollar of my money would be going. I wanted to support the community.

Valley and Mountain is a super-transparent church. I know that my money is going to help run the Collaboratory, buy food for our weekly meals, support the pastor and his family, and help people in the community. It funds activism: protests, speakers, whatever else we come up with. I don’t know, for example, whether it’s buying a latte or heat for the winter, but I trust everyone in the community enough to use our collective resources wisely. They are human and of course not everything will be a stellar, life-giving purchase, but that’s fine.

I’m not an outside observer, the way I tried to be at Restoration. I’m invested, literally and figuratively. I want Valley and Mountain to stick around for a long time, and this is one way I can help it.

In church, people have been talking about money a lot lately, first because there was a pledge drive and now because the holidays are coming up. They talk about how it’s freeing to give away money, how it forces you to be more responsible. It is once again creepily (that is the only word that seems apt for money-related matters) similar to how the leaders in Restoration talked about tithing. I have heard testimonies in both places about people giving despite difficult circumstances, and what a blessing it is. One woman gives even though she is a single mother, unemployed. Another woman gives ten percent of her income, pre-tax, even though she is raising three kids and two foster kids with her husband.

I am always torn when I hear these stories. It doesn’t feel “good” to me to give money away. I would much rather buy myself some lattes. It doesn’t feel freeing–it feels stressful until I stop thinking about it and I get used to it, and then I don’t care. I actively don’t think about it.

I realized while I was trying to write this that I don’t have any clear feelings about money at all, aside from how I prefer to spend and not spend it. I have methods for spending my money, but I don’t have a philosophy behind it. I don’t have a way of thinking about it. Do you guys have any books on this? Any resources you might suggest?

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