Category Archives: Archives

The danger of the single story

I watched a TED talk tonight by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie. In it, she talks about the danger of the single story, recognizing that any person or place is comprised of a plethora of different stories which together make up the sum of their existence.

Three excerpts from her talk really stood out to me:

The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

Stories have power. Stories have an incredible capacity to create empathy, connection, insight, and compassion. But there is a danger in placing too much emphasis on any one story. As Adichie explains in her talk (and has been my personal experience), Africa is much more than beautiful landscape, failed governments, and starving children, although those things are undoubtable true stories about some of Africa’s realities. But Africa is hope. Africa is resilience. Africa is life and love and community.

Rather than an admonition to discount stories or to shy away from them, rather let us embrace a holistic story, understanding that single stories do not define a person or a place. We are all made up of many different single stories. Let us listen to the single stories for what they are—singular narratives. And let us push to know more, to hear more stories; to discover both our differences and our similarities and to find our common humanity amidst it all.

Interconnected

“Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality—not as we expect it to be but as it isis to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily. That there can really be life only where there really is, in just this senselove.”  -Frederick Buechner

I’ve been rolling this quote around in my mind the past week. Beyond the six degrees of separation idea and other similar concepts, I do believe that we are all connected to each other. Buechner has, as is pretty typical for him, put a thought of mine into words about a million times more eloquently than I could hope to do. Except he probably wrote this before I was even born, so I guess I had the thought and then found out he wrote about it…(huh. I think I just confused myself with that one).

Just as interconnected in my mind are the ideas of life and love. I’ve come to realize that life without love isn’t really living and that to choose to love is to choose life. I’ll admit I love rather poorly most days. I want to love more, to love better, to love when it’s uncomfortable and when it hurts and when it’s inconvenient.

This idea that we are all interconnected is why I care so much about people around the globe, about women’s issues and extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS and exploitation. It’s the reason why I simply cannot buy into the American dream, why I want to keep simplifying my life, why I read and study and hurt for people I’ve never met. I don’t believe my life can be full on my own. I need you and you need me and we both need our brothers and sisters next door and halfway across the globe. We are all interconnected.

“…unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily.”

When Jesus wept.

I got an email from a dear friend tonight. It just about broke me. She’s in what feels like a no-win situation, with no way out. And by that I mean, whatever direction she chooses to go, she will be hurt, and others that she loves and deeply cares about will be hurt. Today she was blindsided with a whole new element to her situation. She is stunned. Numbed, even. She doesn’t know what to do, what the think, where to go from here.

I don’t know how to even begin to respond. I just don’t know. How do I begin to speak truth into her life when I’m not sure what that truth even is?

But I’ve been proofreading my friend Josh’s soon-to-be-published book this weekend. He wrote about the story in John 11 when Lazarus dies. A few years ago, this story was brought into a whole new light for me. And reading Josh’s book, I was reminded of some profound truths about the character of God and the response of Jesus to our pain.

Before he even arrived in Bethany, Jesus knew the end of the story; he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead. Yet moments before he performs this incredible miracle, when confronted with the agonizing grief of Martha and Mary, verse 35 says, “Jesus wept.” I have often wondered why. Why would Jesus weep? He knew that in just a short time, all of the mourning would turn to rejoicing and that God would be glorified more greatly through it all. Yet he wept.

I could give my friend some lame platitudes about how God will indeed make even this right—how perhaps now, and especially in the end (heaven), God will be glorified through this situation. But I’m not even sure I believe that most days. I want to, but I don’t. And it would be pithy and christian-y to say so and I really hate those kind of clichéd answers. I never want to be that kind of friend.

So here’s what I want to tell my friend tonight.

I want to suggest to you is that Jesus is here with you in the midst of the deepest pain and agony you have experienced in your life, and he is weeping with you. Not shedding a tear or two, but weeping…body shaking, curled in a ball on the ground, crying so hard you can’t breathe, snot pouring, out of control weeping. I believe Jesus wept because this was never the way it was supposed to be. Sin wasn’t supposed to be in this world, life wasn’t supposed to be so hard, we weren’t supposed to be so completely screwed up in all the ways that we are. I think he weeps because he feels our pain as deeply as we do and he hurts that we are hurting and he weeps for a world that is broken and for our brokenness.

Isaiah (7:14) and Matthew (1:23) say that Jesus was given the name Immanuel, which means “God with us.” He came to be with us, in the whole of our lives. Through all of the ups and the downs and the very deepest, darkest pits of our lives, Jesus came to be with us. He took on flesh and he experienced humanity in its fullness. He lived and loved and hoped and laughed. He was exhausted (emotionally and physically), he was broken, he anguished, and he wept.

As you kneel in the dirt next to a tomb where your love and your hopes and dreams have been laid and you are overcome with pain and sorrow and grief, I believe Jesus is there with you. And what I pray for you is that you would know His presence now more tangibly than you have ever known it. I’m not praying for answers, I’m not praying for this to be taken away, I’m not praying right now for God to use this for good in your life. I am simply praying that you would know that Jesus is there with you, weeping with you, sharing your pain.

May you know the fullness of Immanuel.
May you experience God with us.

May we all.

I love you…just as you are

There is a scene in the British romantic comedy Bridget Jones’s Diary where the following conversation takes place:

Mr. Darcy: I like you, very much.
Bridget: Ah, apart from the smoking and the drinking, the vulgar mother and…ah, the verbal diarrhea.
Mr. Darcy: No, I like you very much. Just as you are.

Oh, those magic little words…I like you, just as you are. Later, after she has repeated the conversations to a few of her closest friends, one asks, “Just as you are? Not thinner? Not cleverer? Not with slightly bigger breasts or a slightly smaller nose?” No. He likes me, just the way I am.

I’m not sure whether it is evident to those around me, but I often struggle with self-confidence. I am a perfectionist and a people-pleaser, and so I strive very hard to at least maintain an image of someone who has it together. Sometimes this is true; most of the time I’m just trying not to lose it. It seems that I have a general inability to accept that who I am isn’t a mistake or the consequences of past sins. As a result, I have a very hard time believing that others accept me as I am, and I have an even harder time believing that a perfect God might accept such a flawed me.

Today I came across this clip of Brennan Manning preaching in 2007. This is the last few minutes of a sermon he gave at Woodcrest Church:

Wow. Take a minute to read through his last few thoughts.

“…And honest, the god of so many Christians I meet is a god who is too small for me. Because he is not the God of the Word, he is not the God revealed by it in Jesus Christ who this moment comes right to your seat and says, “I have a word for you. I know your whole life story. I know every skeleton in your closet. I know every moment of sin, shame, dishonesty and degraded love that has darkened your past. Right now I know your shallow faith, your feeble prayer life, your inconsistent discipleship. And my word is this: I dare you to trust that I love you just as you are, and not as you should be. Because you’re never going to be as you should be.” 

“I dare you to trust that I love you just as you are.” Hearing that was one of those ‘hello, rake‘ moments for me….straight smack to the forehead. Coincidentally (or not so much), in a conversation with a mentor of mine this weekend, she told me that her most regular prayer for me is that I would know, really and truly know, the depth of God’s love for me.

I’m not sure that I do. I’m not sure I believe He loves me just the way that I am.

But I want to.

Indifference

I’ve spent a lot of time reading blogs lately. Chalk it up to avoidance of job applications. I have found myself being deeply moved by several things that I’ve read. One quote in particular really captured me:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference.” -Elie Wiesel

I’ve felt pretty indifferent when it comes to faith the past few months. Getting to the point of graduating from graduate school was so crazy, I felt like I just put all of my questions and issues on the back burner and left it there. After graduation there was moving. After moving there were the holidays at home with my family. After the holidays, I began job searching. And so on and so forth. It’s easy to find excuses not to deal with the hard stuff. It’s easier to be indifferent.

In my blog reading this past week, though, I have been deeply disturbed by some things I’ve read. Things about how churches treat broken people and how Christians like to see the world in black and white, which ends up hurting a lot of people who live in the gray. My reading has led to more questions, not answers. And that was the main problem before–not that I didn’t have questions, but rather that I wasn’t asking them. It’s hard to find answers if you refuse to ask questions. Now I’m asking questions. Deep, soul-searching, stomach churning questions. I don’t feel indifferent anymore.

I realized this week (with a lot of reflection spurred by the above quote) that this is the essence of faith. My nature proclivity to revert back to my childhood understanding of faith means I often believe that unless I am actively pursuing God and doing “well” when it comes to following a path of righteousness, then I’m not walking in faith. It’s incredibly discouraging. It steals my hope. Because those times seem to be few and far between and I’m left wondering what to do in the meantime.

But what if we take this quote and turn it back around? If the opposite of faith is not heresy, but indifference; then logically, the opposite of indifference is faith. Such a simple concept, but one that has breathed life into my soul. Perhaps this whole crazy journey I’ve been on these past few years has been teaching me about my limited understanding of faith. Frederick Buechner said the following:

“Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting. Faith is journeying through space and through time.”

Learning to live in this concept has been freedom to me this week. For me, faith has been in asking questions. Faith has been engaging in the hard stuff, instead of running away. Faith has been embracing the gray areas. Faith has been admitting that I know little…and that’s ok. Faith is admitting that I’m fallen.

So long, indifference.

faith

I’m a word person. Always have been. I like words and their origins and definitions. I like to use the most accurate and descriptive word possible when I’m talking or writing and regularly stop mid-sentence if I can’t come up with it off the top of my head. I’m sure my love of words is deeply connected to my love (er, obsession?) with books and reading, but I think there’s definitely an additional element of my personality that is drawn to words, to word pictures, and to the articulate use of words.

Probably the most influential quote I have read in the past six months came from Frederick Buechner, from a sermon entitled “Follow Me” found in his book The Magnificent Defeat. Buechner says:

“Faith is the word that describes the direction our feet start moving when we find that we are loved.”

That sentence messed me up when I read it for the first time six months ago. It has messed me up every time I have read it and thought about it and meditated on it since then (and this has occurred rather often). It still messes me up today, although maybe now for slightly different reasons.

If I’m being very honest, I’m having a bit of a crisis of faith right now. I am wary to admit it (and am tempted to just delete that last sentence…but I won’t). I had a long and rather unexpected conversation with my friend John today about some of the things I’m struggling with. One of the bits of wisdom he shared with me (and there were many) was how easily we forget that God desires to have a relationship with us. God doesn’t want us to have a system of beliefs or a moral code, he wants a relationship.

And relationships are messy. Just because we know a lot about a person doesn’t mean we know them. The knowledge of the intimate details of someone’s life doesn’t mean you have relational intimacy with that person. Love and trust can only come from the intimate knowledge of a person. John reminded me that Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He didn’t say, “I hold the truth,” he said, “I AM the truth.” And that we can’t know truth unless we know him–really, truly know him.

I’m struggling with truth right now. For reasons rather beyond my understanding, so much of what I believed in the past about God just isn’t enough anymore. I’m not sure why I believed much of it in the first place and I’m not sure if I believe it still. I am struggling with my faith…and if I really boil it down, I think it all comes back to the Buechner quote–I don’t know that I’m loved. I know about the love of God–I can tell the stories and share the verses and even tell about specific instances in the past where I felt the love of God. I understand it cognitively, but I don’t know it right now experientially (through intimate relationship). And really, can we ever know that we are loved without intimate relationship?

So I find I’m not moving anywhere. I’m struggling with my faith. I feel broken and confused and more than a little frustrated.

And there is no resolution, either to the concept in my life right now, or to this blog post. It’s just where I’m at right now, and I’m trying to be a bit more honest about it.