Author: accidental devotional

I live and work and love in the city of Atlanta. I am trying hard to follow God as a mother, teacher, wife, speaker and writer. Sometimes, there are moments when I get it right. And when I don't God's grace is sufficient.

How to be counter-cultural

Counter-cultural. I was probably in middle school when I first heard the phrase, understood the word, was told that I was called to it. It was at a Christian music festival, and I was listening to an abstinence speaker claiming she often got mistaken for an albatross speaker when she told people what she did. THAT was how counter-cultural keeping your pants on was.

Abstinence wasn’t the only counter-cultural thing mentioned in my youth group days, but it was probably mentioned the loudest and most often. Mostly abstinence from sex, but drugs, alcohol, and swearing were also mentioned as things the cultural wanted me to do that I should also abstain from.

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I wanted so desperately to be counter-cultural. I wanted to be different, for Jesus, for myself, for the world. I wanted to counter the culture. I wanted to save the world. I’d be lying if I implied it wasn’t all still true. And I don’t think I’m the only one, the only counter-cultural hopeful out there. I know because I see you.

I see you. I see you worried about the state of this world. Me too. I am worried about this beautiful world of ours too. I see you angry at the state of the environment, the political systems, the world. I am angry too. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It isn’t Godly. I agree.

We need something to CHANGE! We need a REVOLUTION! We need to FIGHT THE MAN, man! We do. It’s true. We need to counter this culture of ours.

I see you in my classroom with your funky colored hair, with the patches on your book bag, with your rolling eyes. I see you with your hard back copy of the complete works of Poe, with your indie band t-shirt and your hand crocheted slouchy beanie. I am for real, and unironically jealous of your flowered Doc Martens. I get it.

I get your teenage angst. I don’t know if you will ever grow out of it. I haven’t completely grown out of my. You are right to be giving the side eye to this world. You are right that there is sometimes nothing to do but sigh.

I see you on my Twitter feed, with your furry, your frustration, your sub-tweeting. I see you with your sarcasm and your rage. I get it. ragey and sarcastic are important and humor is one of the best ways to subvert an empire. I too want to subvert the empire, to counter this culture that I know is so damaging.

I see you on Facebook. Your deep and strong desire to protect the things that need protecting. I get it. I do. I have two little girls of my own, and 180 students that I also claim. I understand how scary it can be living in a world like this. Surely we can do a better job of protecting our most vulnerable.

I too want this world to be headed in a new direction. I too wish that something would change. I too long to see the church become radically different from anything this world has to offer. I can work myself into an angry, anxious, pessimistic ball of hardness if I let myself. I can run myself into the ground circling round and round the brokenness of this world. I wish to be counter this culture. I think maybe you do too.

I am learning that there are big bold ways to be counter cultural. I am watching people do it. I am proud of them. But I am not sure I am called to living on a mountainside in a yurt I have built with my own too hands. I am learning the quiet radical ways to counter the culture that is burning me out.

 

If we want to be counter-cultural, perhaps we should start here:

Take a nap when you are tired, even when you have a to do list a mile long. Decide that your body is telling the truth            and rest in the Sabbath that was created for you.

 Be kind. Be patient. Even when you get cut off, even when you are short on time. Even when it is hard and makes you feel like you are getting the short end of the stick.

Tip well. Especially when the service is bad. Assume your server is having a bad day.

Let people merge in traffic.

When someone who has a different political view starts talking, listen. Ask questions so that you can actually better understand their viewpoint.

Look the mom of the tantruming infant at the grocery store dead in the eye and tell her she is an excellent mother.

Be quick to praise your colleagues, your children, your friends, your spouse.

When someone tells you they are hurting, believe them.

Weep with those who weep.

Be honest about the doubt you have in your own house of faith. Honor the doubt of others and trust that the mystery of God is enough to cover both of you.

Break bread with people who are not like you.

Decide it is okay to be uncomfortable. Seek it out even.

Give away your power, your privilege, your seat at the table, especially if you have earned it.

Know your neighbors, walk your neighborhood. Look people in the eye and talk to people when it is inconvenient.

When you feel the inescapable urge to do something/eat something/get out/go home/post something/check Twitter, don’t. Instead, be still. Be alone with yourself, with your thoughts, with your God.

Don’t buy it, whatever it is.

Believing that every small change matters, that every kind word matters, that love does and love wins, that is counter cultural. Believing that it is here and now and in my own heart that the change takes place, and not later, when I have more money and influence.


So you want to be counter-cultural? Believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are enough, that God’s love covers a multitude of sins. Then act out of the radical understanding that every single person is an image bearer of God.

I Love the Internet! vol. 4

I still love the internet, and all of you for making it such a great space. Today I am happy to include people you will recognize as weekly favorites, those I have loved for a long time but never told them, and some brand new to me spaces and voices I found and already love.

D.L. Mayfield wrote an essay I totally identify with for The Toast, which I love. I too am sure that God and my mom think I am awesome.

“When you grow up believing both God and your mom think you are awesome, you become woefully unprepared for the banalities of life. This is a side-effect of growing up self-assured and evangelical, a case-study in what happens to a teenage girl’s psyche when she believes that she truly can do anything she sets her heart on.” -When God and Your Mom Think You’re Awesome

Do you know about John Blase? Sometimes I stop class to read his poems to my class because they are just so perfect. They are fantastic!

I thought the moment I was most proud of yesterday 
was stopping to watch two early bird sparrows gather
twigs from beside the wooden gate and fly them
up to our sleeping neighbor’s gutter. And it was at first. -Love Poem No. 24

You are Here Stories posted a poignant set of pieces on gentrification by Jennifer Pelling. She tackles this subject with grace and honesty.

Take-over. This was the phrase my friend used as we sat together in the car after Kendall’s presentation. “I know that he’s got a convincing argument,” he conceded, staring out the window, “but there’s just this sense that people have, this sense that their world is being taken over, and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. It feels like a take-over, and that’s scary.” –Gentrification Part 1
No one got shot. The police arrived, they talked, the next door neighbor came out, and soon everyone was laughing amiably. As the cops drove away, embarrassment settled in, hard. “I hate this,” I thought, “Why are we always the ones to overreact? It’s the middle of the day, of course they weren’t doing anything wrong.” My housemate came back in and noticed my discomfort. – Gentrification Conversation Part 2
 

Nicole Romero guest posted a de-tale for Cara Stickland that I adore on motherhood and her daughter’s ducky. This is the most relate-able understanding of motherhood I have ever read.

Each pull was a manageable time to survive. We could do anything for one length of the lullaby. Hold her for one lullaby. Let her cry for a lullaby. Sit on the floor and let myself cry for one lullaby. Stand over the crib praying reminder-prayers that she is God’s child not mine and He is using all things for good… even this… for one lullaby. Hold her tense, little body and Ducky close together on my chest for one lullaby.- de(tales): ducky

I loved the most recent entry to The Angry Women Blog by Ellie Ava. That space is really interesting and the internet makes it possible. Those stories need told.

You chose the people who would reject another Christian for befriending people who were different, for daring to question Conservative politics. People who would reject a woman who was genuinely, honestly, compassionately facing the hard questions of her faith because she spoke about things that the bullies couldn’t even tolerate having a reasonable discussion about. –You Chose the Bullies

Lastly, I absolutely adore these portraits of shelter dogs. If you are wondering what happens when you put dogs in a photo booth, the internet has the answer. See all of them here.

And that is why I love the internet. Why do you love the internet? I love finding new reasons so if you see something or write something you love, let me know! Tag me on Facebook or Twitter so I can share in the love.

What Brene Brown Knows about Education Policy

Blame. Blame blame blame. Get your finger out because it is time to put your finger toward the person whose fault it is. Who can be held responsible? These are the questions they are asking about schools, about students, about my own classroom. I am not really sure who the they is, or if they actually record the answers, or do anything about the conclusions. How they come to those conclusions is also sort of vague. But I do know this, there is blame to be had and someone is going to assign it.

Blame is the high stakes, in the high stakes testing.

I am lucky to be working at a school that does well and is generally succesful. The principal assumes that the teachers do our job and the students do their best, and mostly this all happens everyday. We score well on our tests and when the results are less than desired, the conversations about them have been positive and forward thinking. Everyone can always get better, and we want to.

But I haven’t always been so lucky. In schools with high poverty rates and low test scores, the blame cascades down the power structures, people passing it down, their hands dirty with the blame as everyone tries to avoid drowning in it.

This is the way educational policy is written in this country. Most of the laws have these insane consequences, potential school take overs, firing the principal and all the teachers, withholding pay. For the kids, failure to pass the test can mean failure to graduate. Whose fault is it? Who is there to blame?

A few months ago I stumbled upon this video.

And I couldn’t help thinking of my students and my classroom. Of how when testing season comes (and it is upon us) I have to work extra hard to keep my temper and remain kind. Because what if they do poorly? What if they have a bad day? What if the measurements are had and someone thinks I am a bad teacher?

This is what we call teacher PTSD. In past buildings I have sat in rooms where scores are projected onto a screen, names are named and teachers are shamed. There is no distinction between the teacher who teaches the remedial classes and those that teach the honors. Only the scores, only the verdicts. This teacher is good, this one is bad.

And when the teacher is doing everything she can? In her weaker moments she turns on the kids. Whose fault is this mess? Why can’t you learn it? Will you not try harder? My reputation is on the line.

There is a lot of research about what makes a good teacher and what makes a good principal, and mostly it is still a mystery. But the best principals and teachers have the same thing in common. They build strong relationships with the people they are in charge of, principals to teachers and teachers to students. And blame is hurting that.

My very favorite best teachers were in subjects I hated. I, with my chronic absences due to mysterious health problems, was not the ideal student. My sophomore and junior years I had math teachers who did right by me anyway. They gave me every chance, they were kind and gracious. I felt safe in their classroom despite the fact I was perpetually absent, confused, behind. Everyone has a favorite teacher, and everyone talks about the relationship they formed with those teachers.

This still happens, I still am forming bonds and believing in kids, as are my colleagues. But you need to know that this is in spite of the culture of testing in this country. This is in the face of the onslaught of high stakes tests and publicly published scores. The great teaching that is happening is in direct violation of the testing culture.

Blame is hurting kids, it is hurting relationships, it is shrinking the space and time and creativity that it takes to engage a kid’s brain. And it is written into our educational policies, the blame is in the baseline.

I love the Internet! Vol. 3

Well this is a week that I for SURE love the internet. It is Spring Break and my little family is in Savannah, house sitting for a friend that I met on the internet. A total soull sister who can read about right here. I asked her if we could come visit for a few days and she said she was going to be out of town. So I asked if she needed a house sitter, and SHE SAID YES! And the most hilarious thing ever is that she thinks we are doing her some kind of favor by hanging at her adorable house and letting the neighborhood kids play on her backyard court and hitting the beach every day. I mean…someone had to take one for the team.

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Christian charity is so hard.

Meanwhile on the Internet, some really amazing things have been happening.

Esther Emery Got a book deal! and posted this particularly amazing Easter piece.

“I do not wish for you that Easter would find you without a church to call your own. Nor do I take this for myself, forever. But it is my truth today. Today I will sing Alleluia with flowers and children for company. And here among us, too, Christ is risen. I know. The flowers told me so.” -When the Flowers Take the Pulpit

Tammy Permultter posted this a week or so ago and I adore it. I kept forgetting to tell you. Tammy’s daughter is on the autism spectrum and I love the grace that Tammy parents with, the grace for herself and her daughter.

“Mike steers her into the bathroom and explains to her that Don is very sick and has lost a lot of weight. They come out, and Mike sits on a stool by the bed as Phoenix settles into his lap. Mike tells her to hold Don’s hand to let him know they are there, so she takes his long, thin fingers in her tiny ones.” -Losing Friends, Finding Nemo and all the Life in Between

Tanya Marlow got angry at the Mudroom, and felt that maybe Jesus understood.

“And I know that Jesus’ anger differs from my anger, but maybe it’s not as different as we think. He got angry on behalf of others, whereas at this very moment I am angry on behalf of my own injured self—but today, grinding my teeth in my bed, I wonder about the similarities between our anger. I wonder if Jesus felt that burning in his stomach, the adrenaline pumping in his veins, his hands shaking as he finally gave physical expression to the fury he felt at injustice.” -When Good Girls Get Angry

D.L. Mayfield gave us a heartfelt update on ordinary life and transiitons.

“But still: that is a whole dang lot of transition. I sit on my bed and try to contemplate it all but I can’t. I think about the past almost-3-years, the lessons we have learned about community and simplicity and service and celebration. I think about my present, how currently it could change day-to-day.” –notes from a place of transition

I’m a total Suzannah Paul fan and I love this one on her beloved city Pittsburgh. She mentions The Pittsburgh Project, where my youth group served one year. That week had a major impact on me.

“When we discovered a third floor walk-up in a brick Bloomfield row house, we knew our little family of two had come home to the East End at last. Boasting a sunny kitchen outfitted in fifties-era fixtures and compact appliances, Hobbit ceilings, and actual sleeping quarters, the apartment felt palatial at $325 a month. So what if it was accessible only by fire escape and lacked a bedroom door? The Shire was ours, and God bless the youth group parents who dropped off teenagers in the back alley for dinners and movie nights.” -Wherever I’m With You

And, perhaps most importantly, if you aren’t familliar with the work of Austin Channing, now is the time. She is speaking boldly and prophetically about race and reconcilliation. I met her last year during spring break and cannot begin to tell you how much I have learned simply by listening when she speaks. She reminds me why I love the internet. Because people who have so much wisdom, just hand it out.

Black bodies running. Black bodies scared. Black bodies falling. Black bodies in the dirt. Black bodies in pain. Black bodies silenced. Black bodies unarmed. The broken black body has too often defined our American experience.-Nice is Not Enough

What did you write that you are particularly proud of? What did you read that you just loved? Let me know in the comments, and if you write something next week you want me to see, tag me on Facebook or Twitter.

Rituals: The sound of Celebration

When Cara Meredith asked me to guest post about rituals I said yes immediately. We don’t know each other that well, but it seems obvious we are kindred spirits. Then I freaked out because in order to have rituals you need to be tempered and consistent and I am not awesome at being either of those things. But I do like fun. I realy like fun.

We don’t have many rituals. I love fun, and am easily drawn in by novelty. I was told I would surely grow out of this, that is the best part of no longer being in my twenties. People have stopped telling me that I will grow out of myself; now I can grow into it.

My propensity toward novelty means that it is sort of difficult to keep rituals. I know that kids thrive with night time rituals and when I am putting my three year old into bed for the fifteenth time I swear that tomorrow the night-night song and story will begin. But then there is a new show on television, or the girls imaginary play is just too good to interrupt, or the mud pie making in the spring time yard means that we needed a bath and then things got crazy with the bath paints. I love all of it. You skip a night time ritual enough and then there is no ritual at all.

But there is one thing I like do, like to have, like to use. There is one ritual I keep cold in my refrigerator, just so that I can have it on hand whenever the occasion may arise.

You can read about it here.

I Love the Internet vol. 2

It has been a week, and it turns out I still love the internet! If you write something awesome please let me know. Tag me on Twitter or Facebook so I can come back to it easily. So, without further ado, this is why I love the internet.

Ed Cyzewski had my favorite April Fools joke. I love jokes that poke fun at culture that needs a closer look.

“These are direct commands from scripture. We need to stop picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we’re going to obey, and start picking and choosing—compulsively even—from our dinner plates.” –The Toddler Diet

Natalie Hart shared about her ministry being a soccer mom in a school where very few parents are stay at home or work from home. I have seen the difference bringing snacks and giving rides can make. Seriously, life changing.

“But, for now, I will drive. I will buy way too many bags of Cheez-Its and boxes of granola bars. And probably Krispy Kreme for the last game. And love every minute of it” –Ministry of Rides and Snacks

Heather Caliri wrote for The Murdroom Blog about how we attempt to grow grass in the deserts of our lives and how maybe we should stop it.

“I wonder why we turn our souls from the desert even though it is all around us, whether we live there or not.On this soul-parched earth, we are all of us desert-dwellers. We are all waiting thirsty for living water. Let us not cover over the dry soil. Let us hold hands and acknowledge each other’s thirst” – When The Rain Does Not Come

The Caiobhes Blog had a great piece about Holy week and what it feels like when life gets in the way. I am having a very strange Holy week and this is really resonating for me.

“It’s Holy Week. My week hasn’t felt very holy. It’s been busy and tiring. With children on school holiday I’ve had people with me all the time. I’ve been managing their needs and my needs. We’ve met with friends and taken walks. Played games and eaten meals.” – My Unholy Week

Rachel Held Evans has written this week about the women of Holy week. I am being challenged and encouraged by her thoughts. Both were great but I really loved this one.

Just as Jesus predicted, most of the Twelve abandoned him at his death (John 16:32). But the women remained by his side—through his death, burial, and resurrection.  It is during Holy Week that the stories of these women really shine. The Women of Holy Week Part 1″

Sarah Bessey’s writing is always beautiful, but she has had a baby recently and the raw, precious new life seems to be enfused right into her words.

“These are the days when the death of winter, the stripping away of it all, is humming towards the renewal of spring and we can feel it, feel it right from the dirt and the water, the trees and the very air – life is coming, blooming, and God, it’s beautiful.” –We were loved right to the end

As  for me, I had a pretty quiet week. I did manage to link up with Tara Owens as I wrote about Embracing my body and how difficult it can be for me to really be physically present. I also was published at The Mudroom Blog today, talking about how I am just not built to chase storms. I really love that space and am continually grateful I get to be a part of it.

Happy Easter everyone! May we lean into the idea that Christ has risen, and that Christ is coming again.

Embracing MY Body, a link up with Tara Owens

This is a contribution to Tara Owen’s Embracing the Body link up. Full disclosure, I got a complimentary copy of her amazing book. Real talk: I would have bought it and you probably need to buy it to. It is blowing my mind and I am not even done yet.

I have a weird relationship with my body. I know very few women who would describe their relationship with their body as whole and good. I think most women I know have good days and bad days, good moments and bad moments, good parts and parts. But I also know that perhaps my relationship with my body is even more complicated than that.

At thirteen, when everyone hates their body, my body hated me back. A tangle of mono and anxiety morphed into a disease that would teach me not to trust my body. Or maybe more specifically to fight it. Either way my body was something to manage, to overcome, to ignore, to be frustrated with, but not really to live in.

Like the times I got to the end of speech tournaments only to find whole pieces missing in my brain. Or waking up the next morning and being unable to walk.

Like the times I smiled and told everyone everything was fine, but then collapsed on my couch unable to move for three days. That Senior skip day at the amusement park cost me three real days out.

Everything was calculated. It had to be. My favorite wedding picture is a product of me saying, “I need to sit down. Now. NOW!” My body only got my attention when it was in extreme stress. If I was going to pass out or throw up.

I’ve been healed for years, the doubters calling it mysterious remission. And I still find myself escaping to the space above my neck when things get hard. Too much stress, too much asking, too much exhaustion and I just don’t live in my body. I don’t even notice until someone I love tells me it has been all day and I haven’t touched them. Sometimes my husband, sometimes my girls.

I am amazed by the way my children inhabit their own bodies. They jump and squeal and give hugs with their whole beings. They tackle and fight and rage with their whole physical selves. They have strong preferences about what will and will not touch them. Juliet will not wear things that are itchy, even if they are beautiful and built for dress up play.  Rilla likes all bottoms to rest at her hips. Even her tutus. They are hungry when they are hungry, and thirsty when they are thirsty and they want a hug, or a kiss, or to shove or kick something when they want it. Period. They inhabit all of themselves.

My girls don’t spend a lot of time assessing their bodies, deciding which parts they like, which parts they want to ignore. They run around in their underwear before bedtime and call it all good. The gangly legs, the rounded belly that disapears a little every day as the toddler grows into a child. Their bodies run and jump and bike and cuddle and they are good. Of course they are. This is something I never doubt either.

But can I extend that understanding to the body they came from, the body I have a more complicated relationship with?

It is Holy week, and I find myself thinking about the body of Christ. The actual physical body. Tara writes about how we believe that God was made flesh, but it is very hard to believe that flesh was made God. But both are true, they are if you believe the incarnation is true anyway. It is Holy week and I find myself thinking about the things my God did with his body, how He was bathed in perfume by a woman who was not even supposed to touch him, how he was betrayed with a kiss, how he washed the feet of his disciples and broke bread for them to eat together. I am thinking of the pictures of Jesus lounging with his disciples, his head in their lap. I am thinking of an embodied God.

A God made flesh experienced this world in a body, a body that was broken to save my world, but also my body. I am thinking about a redeemed body, about my own flesh already redeemed. I am wondering what it would look like to call my body good.

I am linking up with Tara to celebrate her book, Embracing the Body, that is seriously worth checking out.