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any day a beautiful change

Updated: 2016-12-19T08:13:46.123-06:00


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The Last Post on Any Day a Beautiful Change


(image) For real.

I'm closing up shop... this shop, anyway.

After more than a decade of blogging here at - otherwise known as any day a beautiful change - I'm ready to close this space. I am not entirely sure if/when I will delete this site.

Why now? I get more traffic than ever, after all.

Why now? I love this space and can't even begin to articulate how much it has meant to me.

When it comes down to it, this blog did exactly what it was supposed to do: it turned me into a writer. It's been a long time since I've been an especially active blogger, and it seems like time to acknowledge that by turning the lights out on this space. It feels more than a little neglected.

I've contributed to three books since the blog-eponymously titled Any Day a Beautiful Change, and I'm contracted to write two more.

It's time to retire as a blogger. It's time to just be me, the writing pastor.
(image) Don't despair, avid fans and longtime lurkers. I have imported all of the archives to my site. I will continue to post on the blog platform there - occasionally new original posts, more often links to writing elsewhere.

If you want to continue receiving updates via email or RSS subscription services, you will need to re-subscribe; the "subscribe" options are on the bottom of the home page

So really, it won't be that different. But it won't be any day a beautiful change. 

And oh, how many beautiful changes there have been.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading this. I mean it.


Willis Sister Email Exchange


This is seriously one of the best Willis Sister email exchanges of all time. It makes me awfully glad Gmail archives emails as conversations.

September 17, 2007
Katherine writes: 
"the ting tings, "that's not my name"
you can hear it here:
i just heard it on kcrw and nearly had to jump up and dance myself"
May 6, 2009
Katherine writes to Marie, who apparently made an offline Ting Tings reference:
"do you remember me sending you this email? because i have to say, I TOLD YOU SO!!!"
May 3, 2012
Elizabeth writes:
"ahem, I just bought the Ting Tings this morning. WHAT THE HELL TOOK ME SO LONG?? 2007 is when you sent this???"
Katherine writes:
"Rolling my eyes so hard it hurt. It seriously takes you THAT long to take my recommendations??"
Elizabeth writes:
Marie writes:
Ha I was JUST listening to The Ting Tings this week-one of my favoRites. CAUSE I LISTEN...

There's a Woman in the Pulpit: Book Release


(image) Way back in the earliest days of my ministry, I happened upon a brand new community of bloggers: the RevGalBlogPals. It felt a bit like finding gold, or the elusive needle in the haystack. I was overwhelmed by my new vocation, and feeling very, very lonely as a solo pastor. I missed my seminary friends like crazy, and had never before faced the challenge of making friends in a new situation without the benefit of having classmates or coworkers.

I made some lifelong friends through RevGalBlogPals. Some have become friends in "real" life; others still seem to live on the Internet. I also contributed to the first two devotional books the group self-published - A Light Blazes in the Darkness and Ordinary Time. In a very real way, this community has been an invaluable resource as I make my way as a writing pastor. This is why I am so delighted and honored to have contributed a chapter to There's a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments and the Healing Power of Humor, just out from Skylight Paths Publishing.

My essay, "The Parson," incorporates material on boundaries and pastoral identity that I presented at the 2030 Clergy Gathering last year. It begins like this:

I don't have my hands on a copy of the book yet, but I trust that it will be filled with precisely what the subtitle promises. You can order a copy through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or directly from Skylight Paths Publishing - or request through your local bookshop.

A big, heartfelt thank you to Martha Spong, one of the original RevGalBlogPals.

(I squealed the first time she commented on my blog. True story.)(image)

Healing Christian Healing


(image) When I hear the word healing, I think of it in medical terms. I think of doctors who diagnose sickness, treat injuries, research diseases, and work to prevent the onset of pain and illness. I think of state-of-the-art cardiac units and Doctors Without Borders. I think of amoxicillin (despite the fact that it gives me hives).

When I hear the phrase Christian healing, however, my mind switches channels to the worst of what religious broadcasting has to offer. A lot of hucksters out there dangle the promise of miraculous cures to those who would just summon the faith to buy them. There is never a lack of suffering in this world, and with the right balance of illusion and charisma, con artists can make big bucks by exploiting it.

Wearing God: A Review


Lauren F. Winner’s Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God is playful, serious, informative, devotional, and as important as it is gratifying. As a reader who has long been unable to resist Winner’s engaging if uneven oeuvre, I read it with the sort of joy one feels when watching someone utterly hit their stride.

Everyone has always liked to talk about Winner’s youthfulness. Plenty of ink was spilled over the horror of a 26-year-old memoirist. But Winner is no longer notably young. She’s written her way through more than a decade of life since “meeting God”—writing about sex and faith and divorce and doubt. Her work plots a religious life over time, the disarming girlishness of her early work giving way to the stark voice of Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. It’s only by looking at the whole shelf that you see the inevitability of Wearing God. Of course this is the book that follows the mid-faith crisis, just as the crisis followed the conversion.

... read the rest of the review at the Christian Century.  (image)

The Whole Story (More or Less)


Yesterday in worship, I preached a three-part sermon telling the arc of the biblical narrative. I've found that many people know biblical stories but not necessarily where they fit. I've also found that Christians don't often know what to do with the Hebrew Bible, and end up mostly ignoring it. I obviously left out far more than I was able to include, and made interpretative decisions as well. But, here it is: the biblical story in a nutshell.Part IIn the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. May God bless our understanding of this sacred story.Creation - and then, the fall. Did God know that the human beings, created in God’s image, would willfully do the one thing they were told not to do? The moment Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, a rift formed between God and the crown of God’s creation. The rest of the Bible is essentially the story of God’s attempts to repair that rift. When humankind fell, we fell hard. We demonstrated a remarkable capacity for wickedness. God was so horrified by the evil in the hearts of human beings that he regretted creating the world in the first place - and sent a massive flood to erase it. He wanted to start over again with Noah, who was righteous. When the floodwaters receded, God established the first covenant with Noah. God promised his blessing to Noah and his descendants, and swore that he wouldn’t flood the earth again. He put a rainbow in the sky as a reminder of the covenant. The fix didn’t stick. People were still people. Capable of great good, but also capable of great evil. God determined to heal the rift - this time, through a people. Through these chosen people, all the families of the earth would be blessed. God approached Abraham and established a covenant with him, promising Abraham that he would have many descendants, and that the land known as Canaan would belong to Abraham’s descendants. Abraham and his wife Sarah were far too old to bear a child, and yet they did: Isaac. In one of the most chilling stories of the Old Testament, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. This was unthinkable - not only for all of the reasons that make us cringe in horror, but also because Abraham’s promised descendants were utterly dependent upon Isaac living long enough to procreate. Still, Abraham trusted God. Isaac was bound and Abraham was lifting the knife when he noticed a ram stuck in a nearby thicket - there was the sacrifice God promised he would provide. Isaac was saved, and Abraham’s faithfulness was confirmed. There was drama, and more drama. Isaac married Rebekah and had two sons, Esau and Jacob. God continued to affirm the covenant from generation to generation, reiterating the promises of land and descendants. As often as not, these biblical “heroes” did not act heroically in the slightest. There was trickery and violence and cruelty. Jacob’s beloved son Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers.And that is how the Israelites ended up in Egypt. When a famine hit, Joseph’s brothers’ sought relief in Egypt, where Joseph had become a powerful leader. The Israelites migrated but lost their power and good favor over time, and before long they were enslave[...]

Premenstral Ministry


I was scrolling through headlines when the story caught my attention: yet another school shooting had resulted in yet another fatality. A young girl was dead at the hands of a classmate, her parents shattered by grief, her community forever changed. I felt undone. It was only 8:00 but I put myself to bed immediately, where I commenced with sobbing.

The next morning I got my period.

Ever since I was 12 years old, when I suddenly and inexplicably started despising my best friends for an imperceptible insult, the primary symptom of my monthly menstrual cycle has been extraordinary emotionalism. Other women get cramps; I get hysterical. I’ve learned to be almost thankful for my solitary physical symptom. If not for the tell-tale bloat that makes it nearly impossible to button my jeans, I wouldn’t be able to convince myself that I’m not deeply depressed or off my rocker. I’ve spend many a menstrual period making amends, having realized that I didn’t really despise my best friends nor, in more recent years, intend to divorce my husband. It was the hormones talking.

...continue reading at Gifted for Leadership.  (image)

The Risk of Learning


I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for about nine months now, attending classes several times a week at a studio less than a mile from my house. It’s done wonders for my back, which has long been beset by debilitating (though mercifully intermittent) pain. I’m not naturally strong or flexible, but I’ve marveled at the incremental progress I’ve made, class by class, as the months pass by.

I was finally starting to feel like a modestly capable yogini when I recently discovered during an intensive workshop that I had been doing chaturanga – a fundamental pose that one does countless times in each class – wrong. Not a little bit wrong. All wrong. My initial chagrin was magnified a hundredfold when I discovered that I am nowhere near strong enough to do it properly.


How I Write So Much


I write a lot. I mean, I am by no means truly prolific; I've written one book and won't have the next one drafted for another year or so. I have friends like this who turn out incredible numbers of well-written pieces. But, I do publish fairly frequently for a person who works a full time pastoral ministry job and parents two small children. A couple times lately people have commented on this, and I've felt all weird and panicky, like, I need to explain myself. Like I must be guilty of dereliction of duty in other areas of my life because I write "too much."So, I'm explaining myself. Not because I really have to, but I do think it will make me feel better.I write a lot in part because I've always written a lot. It's been a habitual part of my life for more than twenty years. When I was in grade school I wrote a novel. When I was in Introduction to Creative Writing at Kent State University during my freshman year of college, I wrote exactly twice as much as I was supposed to per the syllabus - in part because I was too afraid to ask if the twenty-five journal pages were supposed to be double-sided, and in part because I just had that much to say. Back in the heyday of this blog I published upwards of twenty posts per month. And for the first five years of my ministry I also wrote a sermon manuscript nearly every week. More and more frequently, I'll think of something I want to write and instead of writing it for my blog, where I have a very modest readership and no source of revenue, I'll tailor it for a publication that pays and has a broader audience. In that sense I'm not necessarily writing more than I used to, though I do think I'm writing better than I used to. And then there's this, and this is key: I borrow time to write from three different areas (more or less).I take time from my personal life; I don't knit anymore, and don't watch nearly as many television shows and movies as I'd like, and don't have the tidiest house on the block, because I choose to spend time writing instead. As I gear up to work on bigger projects - currently a preaching commentary, soon enough a book - I know that this is the area that will require the most sacrifices. I am mindful about protecting time with my family.I spend pretty much all of my ministry-beyond-the-walls-of-the-congregation time to write. I used to serve on denominational committees, and I don't anymore. I miss it. I am way less connected to both the UCC and the DoC locally than I was when I traveled to Altadena once a month to serve on the Pacific Southwest Committee on Ministry, but I can't do that kind of thing anymore if I'm serious about writing. I think, though, that writing is a legitimate way to serve the greater church.And I borrow some time to write from my pastoral ministry. I'm often thinking through issues that are deeply relevant to my "day job", and able to reuse bits and pieces of writing for church things - and, critically, because my church is supportive of this. I was told when I was interviewing here that they'd written the job description to cover 2/3 of a full time position, so that whoever came to the position could bring their particular gifts and graces to fill out that last 1/3. Writing doesn't comprise an entire third of my vocation here, but it's certainly part of it, and for that I am very, very grateful. I try to "give back" by writing things that are highly specific and practical to my congregation - hymns, pageants, etc.So, that's pretty much how I write so much. And why do I write so much? That's a much easier answer: because I need to.[...]

Sabbatical Summer 2015


In May, I will celebrate the tenth anniversary of my ordination; June marks the fifth year since we moved to Western Springs. This hardly seems possible. This summer I will take my first sabbatical from pastoral ministry - two months, from mid-June until mid-August.

My plans for this sabbatical have shifted. As recently as last month I assumed I would be beginning doctoral coursework; I applied and was accepted into the Association of Chicago Theological Schools Doctorate of Ministry in Preaching program. But, an unexpected opportunity materialized and I have requested a deferment.

Instead of starting school, I'll be starting to write another book. Last week I signed a contract with Herald Press. The editors contacted me in January with an idea and have worked with me to develop it into a proposal. We're all pretty stoked about it. I'm not quite ready to divulge more details, but it's become increasingly clear to me that it's a book I'm called to write.

My intention is to spend most mornings with the girls, and write during the afternoons. Additionally, I'll be returning to one of my favorite places on earth, Collegeville, Minnesota, for a weeklong writing workshop with Lauren Winner and eleven other women writers.

I don't imagine we will completely disappear from First Congregational Church. Maybe that's the way a sabbatical is supposed to be, and maybe it will feel like I'm "working" when we come to worship. I'm okay with that. This isn't just my church; it's my family's church, too, and it wouldn't feel right to separate them from their community of faith for two whole months. I'm also going to drop in to help coordinate First Congo Family Camp; it's just one night, and again, my kids would be bummed not to go. (I hope to take a make-up sabbatical weekend sometime in the fall, to compensate.) I do suspect we'll take advantage of the opportunity to visit a few other local churches, too.

I'm looking forward to a summer of family, writing, swimming, reading, biking, yoga... and more writing.


Let Us See You Ever Clearer


I have a rather busy week, with more things on my to-do list than seem possible to actually accomplish. I was bemoaning to a colleague this morning that it was taking me forever to finish the bulletin because I couldn't find the right hymns - there aren't many hymns about Jesus overturning the tables at the temple, you know? She joked that I should write a hymn, and I was all, "yeah, right!". But then I went back to my office and thought, "why not?" and proceeded to spend the next hour writing this, to-do list be damned. It's not the best hymn ever, or even the best one I've written, but it will work perfectly for our worship service this Sunday.

(It's licensed through Creative Commons - you're welcome to adapt but not use commercially, and please give me credit. Thanks!)

Let Us See You Ever Clearer

Jesus, you preached grace and mercy,
fed with stories and with bread.
Yet your parables of judgment
stir our hearts with quiet dread.
Let us see you ever clearer,
not what we prefer instead;
not what we prefer instead.

In the temple you turned tables,
scattered coin and sheep and dove.
Crude dishonor sparked your anger,
Indignation from above.
Let us see you ever clearer,
Righteous, holy Son of Love;
Righteous, holy Son of Love.

Though we know where this is going -
Christ shall suffer; Christ shall die -
still we search for easy triumph,
pray the cup shall pass you by.
Let us see you ever clearer,
As the cross is lifted high;
as the cross is lifted high.

Let Us See You Ever Clearer by Katherine Willis Pershey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


Afterlife of a church


A few weeks ago, I was feeling nostalgic. It was the fifth anniversary of my family’s pilgrimage from Southern California to suburban Chicago for my interview weekend at First Congregational Church of Western Springs. It feels odd to call it that, though; it wasn't so much an interview as a time of holy conversation, prayer, worship, laughter, feasting, and fellowship. The terms of my call were unofficially worked out at a kitchen table while the Super Bowl droned on in the other room. There have only been a handful of times the movement of the Spirit has been abundantly obvious to me, and the thunderous call to serve as one of the pastors at First Congo was one of them.

... Continue reading at the Christian Century.(image)

Yoga Back (Warning: Gratuitous Selfie)


I've been a member of my local studio since June now. My membership got off to a rocky start; a few days after I joined, I carried something too heavy and threw my back out. I couldn't even get an emergency massage because I'd dropped my massage plan in order to afford the yoga membership. Then, eager to get back to the mat and prove that I hadn't made a terrible decision by joining the studio, I took a class before I was sufficiently healed. I ended up having one of the longer and more terrifying back pain extravaganzas in a life that has had its fair share of back pain extravaganzas. (Incidentally, I wrote the first draft of this essay for the Christian Century while on strong painkillers. This made for a rather convoluted first draft that took forever and a day to fix. Lesson learned.)

But the acute crisis healed, with rest and a course of chiropractic care. I went back, chastened, with a renewed awareness that yoga was not going to heal my back problems in a day, a week, a month. I went back humbled and ginger, and afraid of what could happen if I upward-facing-dogged the wrong way. But I went back, and I went back, and I went back.

And now this is my back.

I have spent roughly two decades hating my back, so forgive the gratuitous selfie, okay?

It's changed. I can see it. I can feel it. My problematically weak core is getting stronger. Things that I thought I could never do - chaturanga without dropping to my knees, side plank, bird of paradise - I can do. I'm still cautious about pushing myself. As I continue to practice I continue to build not only my muscles, but also my awareness about what I should and should not attempt. With my particular spine, I'll likely never do a handstand or wheel pose or any other deep back bend. But I am tentatively beginning to hope that if I keep this up, I might not end up in anguish for days on end, frantically counting down to my next dose of painkillers and muscle relaxants.

Yoga has had an immeasurable effect on my spiritual life; I'll get to writing about that sooner or later. But just as we live and move and have our being within God, we also live and move and have our being within bodies. And I cannot adequately express how exhilarating it is to consider the possibility that I might actually have found something that will deliver me from this particular pain that has been a part of my life for so very long.

Knock on wood.(image)

Winter Makes Neighbors Out of People


I grew up just beyond the reach of the Lake Erie snow belt. I dreaded winter so much that I could make myself shiver just thinking about it - a handy trick on long, muggy August afternoons. I dreaded winter so much I wouldn’t even let myself enjoy the glories of autumn. Instead of seeing beauty in the red and golden leaves, I braced myself for the slow descent into chilly misery. My family barely dabbled in winter sports, so I didn’t even have the thrill of sledding to buoy me through until springtime. I stayed in-state for college, torn between wanting a warmer climate and wanting to be close to my parents. After four years of scraping ice from my windshield and scheduling my classes according to how far I’d have to venture out onto the frigid campus, my graduate school discernment process was a breeze.

So it was that a few weeks after our July wedding, my husband and I set westward for sunny Southern California. I’d visited the seminary in February, and been transfixed by the novelty of gazing up at the mountain snowpack while wearing a light jacket. I was thrilled to be out of the grinding Midwestern cold for good. But when we pulled up to campus, exhausted from our cross-country road trip, the mountain range wasn’t there. Granted, I hadn’t grown up around mountains and was therefore unaccustomed to their nuances, but I was relatively sure that mountains did not pick up and move. Had someone at this seminary put their mustard-sized faith to the test, and triumphed? As I squinted at the blank, hazy sky where I knew they’d been, I could make out a faint outline of Mount Baldy, all but obscured behind a veil of thick smog.


Remembering Marcus Borg


I learned of Marcus Borg’s passing on Facebook, from Diana Butler Bass. The news spread as news does these days, from person to person, fanning out across the social media feeds of liberal Christians everywhere. As one friend noted, “A lot of people do not know the name Marcus Borg. Those who do know that name seem to really know it.”

I lost count of how many friends and acquaintances posted appreciative reflections of Borg and his work (and, incidentally, his taste in footwear; more than one person fondly remembered his tendency to wear colorful socks). A distinct theme emerged from this chorus of eulogies: many progressive Christians identify Borg as the person who made space for them to return to—or remain in—the Christian faith.

... continue reading my remembrance of Marcus Borg at the Christian Century. (image)

30% Discount Code for Any Day a Beautiful Change



Things and Stuff and Other Miscellany


1. Juliette had her first piano lesson last week. Her teacher is a gem - well-recommended by about ten people in town. Thanks to choir and bells and a few lessons from Grandma, she was able to skip through much of the beginner book.2. I'm taking Tsh Oxenreider's e-course, Upstream Field Guide. I'm a little behind on the actual journaling, but I'm enjoying the process anyway. It's especially fun that one of my old friends is taking it, too.3. I had an incredibly vivid dream last night that I was negotiating a call to become the senior pastor of a Disciples of Christ congregation that was very far away. I know that it was far away because the dream involved a very long road trip for our relocation, and I know that it was a Disciples of Christ congregation because it felt so DoC. Anyone who's spent much time in different denominations knows that they each have their trademark "feel". I'm kind of proud of my subconscious for being able to so accurately conjure the Disciple ethos, lo these many years away from a DoC congregation. Anyway, the negotiations included a bit of wrangling over which office I would take; I wanted the one with all the windows, but it was adjacent to a room with moldy floors. Also, they claimed they didn't like to heat that part of the building. I woke up laughing. (Despite my dreamscape dalliance with the Search and Call process, I have absolutely no intention of leaving my church. For the record.)4. Right after we moved into our house, a woman who'd grown up here stopped by to visit. She mentioned that there had been built-in bookshelves in the living room; given how gorgeous the guest room built-ins are, I've been shaking my fist ever since at whoever tore them out. I've also been pining for (and pinning pictures of) built-in bookshelves to replace them. We'd gotten a quote a few years ago and learned that this is, in fact, a project that requires a bit of saving up. We're finally in the position to do it, and I am so excited. This isn't quite how they'll look, but in the general ballpark. There will be a pull-out desktop on one side, and a shelf that goes along the top of the window. 5. I've been a bit of a nervous wreck about my Christian Century cover essay. As I told some friends, it's a good thing one can't actually die of a vulnerability hangover. So far the response has been good, though. Greg Carey posted a different perspective at the Century blog, and I've received a few emails from people who've read it.  Normally I would not claim favorites, but I unabashedly favor the appreciative email that included a 42-year-old wedding picture. If what I write inspires people to send me their 42-year-old wedding photos, I'm doing something right. Happy Anniversary, F___ and S___!6. We went to see Big Hero Six with our next-door neighbors today. It was a little bit scarier than I expected, but we all loved it. It was charming and funny and had my favorite quality in books or movies or music or TV: a strong moral center. I liked it as much or more than any other movie I've seen in the last year. 7. I spent nearly an entire day cleaning my office and oh, do I like the results. (I'm in denial that every single thing has to be packed up and moved out next summer for the big asbestos abatement project.)There are so many things pictured here that matter to me. The metal plate from Betty Carol, the Cloisters photograph from Carly, the plastic yarn work tissue box that my grandmother didn't make but nevertheless reminds me of her so perfectly, the stoles from Lisa and my installation, the collection of Saint John'[...]

A Long Obedience


It is strange to think of a particular person as the person with whom I did not have an affair. There are, in fact, many people with whom I have not had an affair. Billions. I have never slept with the mailman, or kissed my ex-boyfriend, or flirted with a stranger (at least not on purpose—sometimes I can’t contain my natural charm). Since I’ve never been unfaithful to my husband, there are a remarkable number of people with whom I have not committed adultery.

... continue reading online at the Christian Century, or in the January 21, 2015 print edition. (image)

What I Learned From My (Spectacular Failure of a) Whole30


Let me crack open a Mountain Abbey Ale and help myself to a bowl of tortilla chips while I tell you about my January 2015 Whole30.Last year I read It Starts With Food, the book that outlines in detail the Whole30 program. I'd heard a bit about this particular paleo challenge from people I trust (I'm looking at you, Anne and Tsh). The idea is to eat clean - really, really clean - for thirty days, as a sort of nutritional "reset." "Clean" for the paleo crowd means tons of veggies, healthy fats, and meat. Dairy, beans, grains, and alcohol are strictly forbidden.I really liked the book. It taught me some stuff I didn't know, like the relationship between sugar consumption and cholesterol. I tinkered with some of the core principles, like eating vegetables and protein at breakfast, but filed away doing the actual challenge for another day.That day came, on January 1st. I drank my Modest Coffee without the benefit of my absolute favorite consumable item in the entire world, half-and-half. I sautéed kale for breakfast to eat alongside my eggs, ate a big delicious salad topped with roast beef and avocado for lunch, and made a rather complicated and exceedingly delicious paleo-friendly coconut curry for dinner.I also joined a newbie-Whole30 group on Facebook, thinking that I would need all the support I could get. That need for support became ever clearer when I went grocery shopping for Whole30-friendly fare. They say one of the things you learn when you do a Whole30 is just how much crap additives are in typically-processed foods. When you do the Whole30 you do not consume any refined sugar, at all. That means that even if your Applegate Farms sausage has zero grams of sugar, if it lists sugar in the ingredients it is noncompliant.You quickly learn that compliant and noncompliant are big words in the Whole30 world. In the Facebook group there were literally hundreds of food label snapshots captioned with the same inquiry - "Is this compliant?" You can't dip your toes into the program and still claim to be doing a Whole30. Consuming any noncompliant food means you're back to day one. I kind of get a kick out of the drill sergeant tone the Whole30 website takes: "Don’t even consider the possibility of a “slip.” Unless you physically tripped and your face landed in a box of doughnuts, there is no “slip.” You make a choice to eat something unhealthy. It is always a choice, so do not phrase it as if you had an accident. Commit to the program 100% for the full 30 days. Don’t give yourself an excuse to fail before you’ve even started."I committed. 100%. For the full 30 days. Until I was offered a piece of homemade strawberry pie yesterday evening. Did I eat the strawberry pie? Oh yes. I ate the strawberry pie. I may as well have physically tripped and landed face first. Dude, I licked the plate and I wasn't even at my own house.I knew that when we went to visit friends on Day 2 of the Whole30 that I might decide to start over. I am really committed to the principle that hospitality is to be accepted; if someone makes me food and I'm in the midst of an elective dietary experiment that is based neither in a sincerely held philosophy or an actual known allergy, I should eat the food. Gratefully.So, I wasn't necessarily 100% committed, but I thought for sure I'd start over again if, on day two, I needed to politely consume some rice.The strawberry pie changed everything. I tell you, it was like the scales fell from my eyes.The pie itself was excellent - sweet and tart and cold and delectable. But even mor[...]

The Turning of the Year


I don't really think that there's anything magical about turning the page on the calendar. I've been around long enough to know that I'm the same person on January 1st as I was on December 31st.

... and yet.

2014 was a tough year in many ways. Several people I love experienced terrible losses and hardships, and I carry their grief with me.

We didn't have any major emergencies. I had a rotten January and even more back pain than usual throughout much of the summer. My feet decided they didn't actually want me to be a runner anymore, and I miss running like crazy. We were miserably sick with the flu during the last week of Advent. And don't even get me started on the broken world.

But 2014 was also a significant year for me - even a good year. Ben and I had a wonderful getaway to the Festival of Faith and Writing in April. I became a contributor to the Art of Simple, and was invited to write regularly for the Christian Century (and became a board member, too). Our family had a truly fantastic week at Camp Highlands in August, and a wonderful time with my whole family in Montgomery, Alabama for Thanksgiving. I continue to love serving as one of the ministers at First Congregational Church of Western Springs, and struggle to express just how much that faithful community means to me. More every day.

I may be the same person on January 1st as I was on December 31st each year, but I'm nevertheless quite a bit changed than the person I was a year ago today - thanks in large part to practicing yoga several times a week and seeing a spiritual director once a month. These new habits are such a gift to me.

For the last few years I've picked a word of the year. Last night I realized I couldn't for the life of me remember what my 2014 word was. Um, oops. I looked it up: gentle. I may have forgotten that it was my word but I think it still had some bearing on my year. I learned to be a bit gentler with myself and with the people in my life.

For 2015, I'm picking a word that I won't forget: wholehearted. I won't forget it because my big intention this year is to read Jennifer Grant's new devotional daybook each day -  Wholehearted Living.

Happy 2015!(image)

Books I Read in 2014


I set out to read 50 books in 2014. I read 59! That doesn't include a handful of books I didn't finish for whatever reason. I shared my absolute favorites yesterday, but there really weren't too many of these that I didn't thoroughly enjoy reading.edit[...]

Best Books of 2014


I had a particularly good reading year; I made my reading goal for the first time ever and kept reading. I'll share the full list of the books I read this year soon, but first I'm linking up with the delightful Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy by sharing my favorite reads of 2014. In no particular order:1. Bel Canto by Ann PatchettI had actually forsworn this book on account of someone (ahem) spoiling the plot for me. I hate reading books when I already know what's going to happen. But even though I knew where it was going, I still loved this. And I totally burst into tears at the end. Beautifully written. And those characters!2. Ursula, Under by Ingrid HillThis is probably one of the best, most memorable novels I've ever read. Epic. The concept itself was brilliant - a girl falls into a well, and in the hours that follow, the author tells the stories of a generous sampling of her seemingly innumerable ancestors. I found it the tiniest bit hard to get into; at first it felt like a disjointed collection of short stories. But then - goodness. The threads connecting everything and everyone are tightened and, well. I shed a lot of tears over this one, too.3. Cutting for Stone by Abraham VergheseHarrowing, exhilarating, illuminating. I loved the narrator, and the goodness of several of the characters. I was kind of afraid to read this because it was so hyped, but it fully lived up to the hype.4. The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer WorthBefore I read this, I had seen one episode of the BBC Call the Midwife. I liked it quite a bit, but ultimately I'm glad I read this rather than watched it. Worth's observations about the world in which she worked as a midwife were so nuanced and detailed, and really well told. I ended up thinking a lot about the strengths of written narrative vs. visual media. The fact of the matter is, I don't quite have the imagination to conjure the world Worth describes as well as the BBC did, but I learned so much more from the narrative than I could have from passively watching the series.5. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth GilbertI just loved this so much. Alma! Ambrose! Moss!6. Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition, & the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock MichelI've been increasingly drawn to a more evangelical expression of Christianity in the past few years. Not necessarily evangelical theology or culture; evangelical spirituality. Teach us to Want offers an excellent exploration of evangelical spirituality. Michel really knows how to tell her own story in a way that edifies the reader; she's instructive without being didactic. The prose is perfect, and the wisdom is gentle, challenging, and new. This was a formative book that I've recommended to several people and will likely read again.Check out Anne's books and the other link-ups here. [...]

Hope for hurting bodies


Years ago, I encountered a graphic crucifix in an old Mexican church. It was too kitschy to elicit holy horror; the gashes on Christ’s face and body looked more cartoonish than redemptive. I am glad I never pushed the image from my mind, though. It has become for me a sort of icon of the banality of pain—even divine pain. For all the competing theories of atonement, there is a singular fact about the crucifixion: it hurt like hell.

I was still in elementary school the first time I woke up with a stiff neck, and I have grappled with bouts of severe neck and back pain ever since. When I was 22, a chiropractor glanced at my X-ray and told me I had the spine of a middle-aged man. I’ve sprained my back by carrying an amplifier and lifting a canoe. I’ve suffered through postpartum spasms that were worse than actual childbirth. Once I ended up on bed rest for days because I sneezed wrong. I’ve seen physical therapists and pain specialists, gotten monthly massages and an inconclusive MRI. I’ve swallowed painkillers so strong I couldn’t hold them down, and I’ve fretted about whether doctors will think I’m an addict if I appear too desperate for Demerol.

... read the rest at the Christian Century online, or in the January 7th, 2015 print edition.(image)

Trained by Longing & The Trumpet Child


Ever since Over the Rhine released The Trumpet Child in 2007, I've wanted to ground an Advent worship service in the title song, which is the most beautiful eschatological pop song I've ever encountered.

(Truthfully, many of the most beautiful eschatological pop songs I've encountered are also by Over the Rhine. There's a reason they're my favorite band.)

This was the year. Our Spirit Worship Band covered the song in worship on Sunday, and they did it so well I was weepy during their pre-service rehearsal. The singer - a sophomore in high school! - sang the heck out of the song, set down her mic, and picked up her saxophone. There were no fewer than four saxophones for the sweeping, all-encompassing culmination of the song. The sound - along with guitars and piano and drums - filled every nook and cranny of the sanctuary and just sort of demanded to be felt. It was extraordinary, truly. I knew they'd do it well but I could never have imagined they'd knock it out of the proverbial park. 

In planning the service, I saved the song for last. I wanted, quite simply, to preach into it. I didn't say a word about it. I didn't really need to, and besides, if I had I know that I would have sounded like the fangirl I am. But the fact of the matter is this: that song means the world to me. It really does. Preaching into it felt like the most natural thing in the world, because it is such an exquisitely crafted expression of eschatological hope. 

I sound a bit anxious and chirpy in the sermon recording; the service was running long and I must have been subconsciously deciding to move things along by speed preaching. Still, if you want to have a little glimpse of one of the most meaningful Sunday mornings I've ever had, you can listen to my sermon, Trained by Longing, here and then follow it with a chaser of The Trumpet Child (thought not our cover; we haven't the rights to publish the recording).

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