A spot of something good in the world today: the songs we've loved in our eleventh year of marriage. Jack says that this is our slowest playlist yet. Maybe we're getting old. Maybe our lives are moving so fast that we need something to be slow (as Jason Martin sings on track one). Or maybe time running out is a gift, and as another Jason (Isbell) sings, we will treasure each other and we will work hard till the end of our shifts precisely because we know that our days are numbered. That song (track 4) is without a doubt my current favorite of these, but I hope they will all bring a little joy to your week.
I'm writing from the balcony of my little monastic-like cell on the campus of St. John's in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I'm here for my MFA residency, my third of five. We are studying Elizabeth Bishop and Constantine Cavafy and Willa Cather, and we are writing and revising, and we are sharing our stories, and we are taking long walks on the trails behind the university and into tow.n for food and drinks with sage and pinon and chile. On our off day, I visited Bandelier National Monument, and hiked to the cave dwellings of the Pueblo people and felt like a tiny speck in the universe and in eternity.
This week marks the six month anniversary of my book's publication. I've heard from many of you (and will respond if I haven't yet, with apologies) about how my story has spoken to you of yours. I'm grateful to you for reading.
A few quick updates: my marvelous writers' group has started a little monthly newsletter. If you'd like a peek into our daily conversations, our varied paths to publishing, and the ways we think about the writing life, you can subscribe here. The next issue is coming in the next few days, and it contains a very happy announcement.
I've also added a Speaking link to my site here. Check it out and let me know if I will be seeing you in the next few months!
This summer was Jack's 3rd of 3 summers doing PhD coursework in Pennsylvania. It's felt long and short. The kids and I tried to fill the hole in our hearts with traveling - Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, California, Missouri, Pennsylvania. Oh, and I got a new tattoo.
This summer, I read a bunch of formulaic and very enjoyable books by Jenny Colgan. If you want to read about a British/Scottish woman, approximately age 34, who experiences a personal/professional heartbreak/setback, and moves to a charming small town and starts over by opening her own cafe/cupcakery/candy store/bakery/bookstore and possibly finds a little love on the way, then check her out.
I also read middle grade and YA, because along with British chick lit, they are perfect summer genres. I loved Wonder by RJ Palacio and Gem and Dixie by Sara Zarr, and I also enjoyed The Greenglass House by Kate Milford and We Are Okay by Nina LaCoeur. Oh, and I read books about place, because as always, I'm obsessed with the interplay of rootedness and wanderlust. I liked At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider, and can only give partial recommendations for Who's Your City by Richard Florida and New Slow City by William Powers.
I watched all three seasons of Madam Secretary on Netflix, because sometimes you need to escape to a world, however unrealistic, where they are politicians you can believe in. I also really enjoyed GLOW and cannot say enough good about season two of Master of None.
As for music, next week I'll post the eleventh anniversary playlist. It's a good one.
And the only movie I got to see this summer was Wonder Woman. I enjoyed it.
The MFA means I'm not writing as much online or even for publication right now, but I think - I hope - good things are coming slowly. In the meantime, thanks for sticking around.
Hi. Hello there. Howdy. I'm back. Or I'm dropping in. Here's the thing: I've been releasing a book, working 30+ hours week, being a grad student, and taking care of two kids, plus or minus a few other things, and blogging has not been a priority. And probably won't be. But you know I always like to show up for Leigh's What I'm Into link-ups when I can, and today I can.
Here's what I've been into over the last few months:
Not much exciting in my television world right now. Jack and I have been working our way through season one of The Leftovers on DVD, but it gives me bad dreams, so. SO we started re-watching Friday Night Lights on DVD instead. When I'm folding laundry, I watch Jane the Virgin (RIP Michael - I was shocked) and Switched at Birth (RIP show). Together, Jack and I also have been into PBS's Victoria; the soapy teen Riverdale (Jughead 4-ever); Big LIttle Lies (Riverdale for adults?); and The Good Fight (The Good Wife spin-off).
Wait, that was actually a lot.
I finally read my friend Wesley's book Spiritual Friendship, and I dog-eared that puppy up. So much that rang true to my own experience of friendship and loneliness. So much goodness.
When I was on Whidbey Island earlier this month, I heard poet Mary Szybist read, and fell in love, so I immediately ordered her book Incarnadine and read it cover to cover (and I don't do that often with poetry). Szybist is Catholic, and this collection is inspired by the Annunciation. It is not for the faint of heart.
My airplane books for that trip to Whidbey were The Mothers, a novel by Brit Bennett and The Refugees, a collection of short stories by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Both were haunted by voices from the past.
On Whidlbey, we studied Annie Dillard's Holy the Firm. After reading it three times, I loved it, and to study it right near where it was written made the experience even richer.
My other favorite book of poetry this winter was Naomi Shihab Nye's 19 Varieties of Gazelle. I heard her on On Being with Krista Tippet, and then serendipitously found this book in a used bookstore in Fort Wayne. When we had poetry chapel at Taylor in March, I read this one from the stage.
I'm making a playlist of my current favorite songs to share with Mollie and Anna when we take our road trip to Memphis this June (PS: our 20th friendiversary is coming up! November 15), and you are in luck, because I am going to share it with you too. It is under construction (and probably NSFW).
If I were to highlight a few favorites, I'd probably say to check out the full albums from Julie Byrne and Michael Nau.
I'm loving Truth's Table, which is hosted by Ekemini Uwan, Michelle Higgins, and Christina Edmondson, who are "Midwives of culture for grace and truth." (In fact, I nominated in to be on the Christ and Pop Culture list of the 25 best things of 2017 - you can hear me defend it against video games and anime on the CAPC 25 here.)
I listened to all of S-Town, and mostly loved it, though my feelings are complicated. If you haven't heard of this one, which is like a nonfiction novel, here's the producer's description: "JOHN DESPISES HIS ALABAMA TOWN AND DECIDES TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. HE ASKS a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life."
If you did listen, check out this article by my friend Jessica for The Atlantic: Was the Art of S-Town Worth the Pain?
As for life this semester, I helped take a great group of first-year Honors students to the Bahamas for a course on small-island sustainability (this sounds ridiculously awesome, I know, but consider: we stayed in bunk beds, ate camp food, and toured waste management plants). I wrote about my favorite part of that experience for Elisa Morgan's blog, and I have a longer piece about it hopefully coming out elsewhere soon.
My buddy DL Mayfield came to speak in chapel, we took an epic writers' retreat with our sisters of holy mischief, and then I spoke in chapel. A little later I had my official book release party as part of Taylor's Making Lit Conference.
And then I went to Whidbey Island for an MFA residency, and it was quite nearly perfect.
Jack ran another marathon.
I helped build the new issue of Relief Journal, which will be coming out in the next month or so (and it's going to be amazing! Also check out the beautiful new website).
Easter reminded me of the beauty of what we have here in central Indiana.
And those are the highlights. Happy spring, friends.
Once, I wanted to be the greatest.
I thought so many things were black and white.
I crossed the ocean to serve God,
but I learned that most things were a bit more complicated than I'd thought.
I wasn't allowed to re-enter a country that had begun to feel like home because the authorities feared my religion, and felt that I might pose a political threat (sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it?). Others faced persecution because of the gospel I had shared with them. It felt like my fault.
I wondered if God was good.
I found out that I was more loved than I had ever understood.
And this is the story I share in my book. But it's the kind of story that most of us have - about the moment when your childlike faith became complicated, the moment you realized that your perspective on the world was woefully limited, the moment when God's grace became real to you.
If you have a story, will you share it? And if you want to hear the rest of mine, here it is: cultural critique, love story, travelogue, spiritual coming of age. Thanks for celebrating its release today with me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the 18th chapter of the gospel of John this week. It's the story of Jesus being arrested, but in John's careful writerly hands, it becomes a story about truth.
First, you’ve got Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, approached by Judas and some soldiers. When he tells them the truth about who he is, they’re literally struck by it: he says, “I am he,” (echoing God’s revelation of himself to Moses as the I AM) and they draw back and fall to the ground (John 18:6). The truth is powerful.
The soldiers arrest Jesus and take him in for questioning, pretending that they want to get to the truth. Meanwhile, Peter gets grilled by a servant girl, and lies about his identity. Cut to inside: Jesus tells the high priest that he has always “spoken openly" and “said nothing in secret”. He is struck for telling the truth. Cut to the courtyard: here is Peter lying again.
Finally Jesus is brought before Pilate, and in answering Pilate’s questions, Jesus says, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). Jesus could have gone in a dozen directions here. He could have said he was born to bring salvation, or that his purpose in coming to earth was to reconcile all things to God. Those would have been true. He chose a different emphasis. He emphasized truth.
Then Pilate: “What is truth?”
What is truth?
Truth is dangerous: it can knock you flat on you back, it can get you in trouble with the authorities. Truth, John has already told us in this gospel, can set us free (8:32). And truth is a person, Jesus, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6).
My friend Alan Noble says that our country is in the midst of “an epistemological crisis.” We’ve been sucked in by fake news sites, willingly sharing articles that fit our confirmation bias without stopping to check the facts. We’ve elected a president who lies compulsively. All politicians lie - all humans lie! - but the rate at which and the way in which President Trump and his administration lie is unique. Calling them "alternative facts" does not change what they are; a lie by any other name stinks just as much. And at the same time as Trump lies, he is actively attempting to discredit and silence all other media, calling journalists liars if they write stories he doesn't like. He is trying to create a sense among the general public that certain things are just unknowable.
Regardless of what you believe about Trump's policies and positions, his attitude toward truth is deeply dangerous and frightening.
What can we do to subversively work for Truth in the age of Trump?
Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s small book Caring For Words in a Culture of Lies offers some helpful ways forward. As lovers of Jesus, we are lovers of truth. We believe in being careful with our words. Here’s what she suggests we can do to steward our words well:
1. Love words–“We care for words when we use them thankfully, recognizing in each kind a specific gift . . .”
2. Tell the truth–Be precise, free of hyperbole. Be careful to say what you mean and be sensitive to how it will be heard.
3. Don’t tolerate lies–Confront lies by being wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Do so in love, in truth, and in humility.
4. Read well–Reading is a morally consequential act. Reading is “manna for the journey,” and a tangible, profound way to love God with our minds.
5. Stay in conversation–Conversation is a communal act; a mutual commitment to stick with the topic and one another and see it to the other side. Don’t flee when the conversation gets hard. Stay. Be curious about other points of view.
6. Share stories–Stories connect. Stories help us cultivate compassion, taking us to places we otherwise wouldn’t go.
7. Love the long sentence–In an age of 140 characters, to persevere through the long sentence cultivates a mental grit that allows us to sustain thought beyond the clickbait headlines of our day.
8. Practice poetry–Poetry draws us into paradox; it draws us into play. All the while we are stretched and challenged to understand the complexity of life. You can’t speed read a poem. You must sit with it for awhile.
9. Attend to translation–Translation considers for context and culture. Translation takes care to be understood amid difference. It’s an effort to communicate effectively with others.
10. Play–Play with words.”To play is to claim our freedom as beloved children of God and to perform our most sacred tasks–what we are called to do in the world–with abandon and delight, free to experiment and fail, free to find out and reconsider . . .”
11. Pray–Prayer reminds us of who God is and who we are. It uses the gift of language to commune with the Giver of language. It instills a respect of language and from where it derives.
12. Cherish silence–Silence is not the absence of noise, but “a place we enter.” It’s not empty. Rather, silence is FULL. Silence can restore our hearts, minds, souls and bodies to be more caring with our words.
(These summaries helpfully written by my friend Drew here.)
In a time of such great political and cultural upheaval, it feels strange to be touting my book, which releases on Wednesday. But in its own way, this book is the result of me caring for words: thinking deeply about the Christian rhetoric around missions, sharing my own story, and rethinking the way that I talk about God and faith. I believe that creating something beautiful and true is one of the best acts of resistance we have against a culture of lies, and this book is my attempt to do that.
And I hope that you will join me by sharing YOUR stories as part of my book launch celebration next week. There are two ways that you can play along - I want to share them now so that you'll have time to think about how you want to get involved.
1.The Instagram share! (Feb 1)
Post a picture of yourself when you wanted to change the world. For the caption, write a note to yourself at that time, or write about one thing you know now that you wish you had known then. Use the hashtag #dangerousterritorybook
2. The blog carnival! (Feb 1-7)
If you have a blog, join the dangerous territory link-up! Write a post using one of the following prompts. Here on my blog I will post links to all of your posts, and I’ll share them on social media. This link-up is open to everyone, so please invite friends to join, too!
- Write about one of your own “misguided quests”
- Or write about how a cross-cultural interaction (or a relationship with someone different from you) widened your perspective on the world
- Or write about a time you experienced God’s grace in a fresh way
I can't wait to hear your stories so that we can learn from each other about how God is at work.
Two days ago Rosie had a new career goal. “When I grow up I want to be Hillary Clinton,” she said. “Wait, no. I just want to be President.”
Yesterday in the car she had another plan.
“When I grow up I want to open a family bookshop.” I thought she meant a bookstore for families, but she meant a family business - she wants the four of us to run the bookshop.
“What should I call it?” she asked. I suggested a few alliterative names. She liked Rosie’s Reads.
A minute later, Owen said, “When I grow up, the third thing I’m going to do is open a park.”
"Wait," I said, "what are the other two?"
"You remember," he said. "Make Pokemon videos" (for youtube) "and play soccer. What should my park be called?"
"Peterson’s Playground!" Rosie exclaimed. "Yeah," Owen smiled.
My children sit in the back of my 2003 Honda, eating pretzels and cheese nips and raisins and m&ms, talking about their dreams. At night they stay up too late reading, fall asleep under down comforters.
In Aleppo this morning, hungry children watch their homes burn, see their friends shot.
In Aleppo this morning, 100 children were trapped in a building under heavy attack and some 80 civilians are thought to have been executed.
Activists in Aleppo are tweeting out their final, harrowing goodbyes. They will almost certainly be detained/tortured/killed upon capture.— Ben Taub (@bentaub91) December 12, 2016
It seems the world has been weeping for the slaughter of innocents for thousands of years.
We are still here, still saying, come, emmanuel, come. Put death's dark shadow to flight.
I've been supporting Syrian refugees through Preemptive Love and the Mennonite Central Committee. We can't just pray for God to be with us now; we must also act.
Every year I like to share a few of my favorite books and albums (here's last year's list). This year the whole family wants to play along!
Owen (age 5 1/2)
Owen can read - he likes BOB books and National Geographic early readers. But his favorite books of the year include books we read together and an...encyclopedia of sorts.
1- I'm A Frog (a Piggie and Elephant Book) by Mo Willems
The Piggie and Elephant books are perfect for preschoolers and early readers, but I think they're also some of my favorite books to read aloud, because they are hilarious.
3- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
We read the new illustrated version, which was a big hit with both kids.
Owen's favorite albums of the year were the Beatles 1, and the Beatles Blue Album.
Rosie (age nearly-8)
After about thirty seconds, Rosie had her answer. "My favorite books are these three serieses," she said.
1- The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley
2- The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer
3- The Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell
Her favorite albums this year have been the soundtrack to Hamilton and Red by Taylor Swift.
Jack's favorite books of the year reflect his research interests, as he's spent most of his reading time with PhD work. (Sorry about this adorable/hilarious picture. It helps balance the ridiculous titles you're about to read.)
1. Translingual practice: Global Englishes and Cosmopolitan Relations by Suresh Canagarajah
3. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington
His favorite albums of the year were David Bowie's Blackstar, Rihanna's Anti, and -- when our friend Julia got a job in music journalism this year, she told us that she felt like she needed to educate herself about music that was released before the year of her birth. What year were you born? we asked. And that is how Jack got started listening to basically every album that came out in 1994.
As for me, this summer I started an MFA program, and some of the best books I've read have been for that. Here's my top three works of non-fiction:
1. Citizen by Claudia Rankine
A genre-bending work, this book uses poetry, nonfiction, and modern art script. Rankine gives readers a glimpse of her life as a black woman in contemporary America, and the view she offers is powerful and moving. Her memory of the microagressions she’s swallowed rather than responded to - and the anger that’s built up - and the sense that ignoring microagressions (and other mistreatment) is what it means for her to be a good American citizen — these are the themes she explores over the seven sections of the book.
2. Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas
I don’t know that I’ve ever read in memoir such a complex, nuanced portrait of human relationship and love as I’ve read in this book, which is composed of very short vignettes in non-chronological order, and is absolutely compelling.
3. Dakota by Kathleen Norris
This was a re-read, but it had been over a decade -- and I'm not sure I actually finished it the first time around. This memoir about life in the rural plains speaks presciently to our contemporary political moment. It's meticulously researched, metaphorically resonant, and spiritually rich.
And my top three works of fiction:
1.The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber (I wrote about it back in January)
2. The Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid mysteries by Deborah Crombie
They're not quite up to my Inspector Gamache standards, but while waiting for the next installment from Louise Penny, this did quite nicely.
3. The Confessions of X by Suzanne Wolfe
in this gripping, beautifully written historical novel, Suzanne Wolfe brings the ancient city of Carthage to life, immersing readers in the experiences that shaped the theology of Augustine of Hippo.
My favorite albums to listen to this year were the soundtrack to Hamilton, Rihanna's Anti, and Sandra McCracken's God's Highway.
If you're not signed up to get my newsletter, be sure to sign up today - tomorrow I'll be sending out the link to a giveaway for a couple of excellent 2016 books as well as a copy of our church's Advent journal, which includes my original essay "Song Dedications" and one of Jack's poems (or you can buy an ebook version here - all proceeds go to the work of the church). In that newsletter, I'll also share my Christmas playlist and a tiny bit of unpublished writing.
Merry Christmas, friends.
First: I'm sorry. If you've been looking for me here on the blog, I've been absent. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, then you probably know some of what I've been up to... but I'm in the mood to share a bit more. Ok, more than a bit. Let's catch up. Let me bend your ear. Settle in as I chat away.
Jack spent the summer in Indiana, PA completing courses towards his PhD in Applied Linguistics. This was our second summer apart, and easier in some ways than the first. I visited him and met his friends, and then I took the kids to Colorado, where we visited friends, family, and places that hold so much nostalgic sway over me. We hiked and fed chipmunks and swam and I remembered what I had always liked best about being a camp counselor: the way it forces you to be present to the moment, alive to the physical world around you, undistracted by other things. I felt that this summer, focusing just on the day before me, and I loved it.
When Jack's courses ended, I began my first intensive courses for my MFA through Seattle Pacific University. We met on the campus of St. John's in Santa Fe and joined Glen Workshop participants (like my writing buddies Danielle and Christiana) in worship and play and craft lectures. I wrote a little bit about one of our field trips, to the holy site of Chimayo.
The day after I returned from Santa Fe, Owen started kindergarten, and Rosie began second grade. And I plunged into a fall filled with many things: helping coordinate programs for the Honors students at Taylor University, teaching 3 hours of class a week, completing MFA coursework, a (fairly new) gig writing for Our Daily Bread (more about that later), trying to help out with Relief Journal as a contributing editor, nurturing relationships outside the classroom with various students, hosting poetry nights, and of course staying on top of details related to my book coming out in February. Between those things and my responsibilities at home, I am finding my attention scattered, pulled toward so many different, good things.
Life this fall:
Jack ran a marathon with his dad in Columbus, Indiana, and we had a meal at Story Inn to celebrate.
I went on an overnight retreat with honors students, and took another group to Wheaton for a day to check out the collection at the Marion Wade Center.
The four of us went to Grand Rapids for a long weekend. While Jack and the kids explored the city, I met with my publisher and attended a conference for writers and editors at Our Daily Bread. I left feeling encouraged and blessed by the humility and sincerity of this group of people, more thankful than ever that they are the ones midwifing my book into the world.
A couple of my writer friends came to visit me. I love when people visit me. I love cooking for them. I love having the long-distance people I love see the place where I live everyday.
Rosie and Owen dressed as Hermione and Ron for Halloween, and for one night my dream of having a red-headed child was fulfilled.
Books this fall:
I've been re-reading a lot of Dorothy Sayers for the class I'm teaching this semester. Her Lord Peter Wimsy detective novels build very slowly, but they are smart and funny and worth the investment. Her essays are even better. I love smart women.
Over the summer, I read other detective novels set in Britain, mainly the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. They aren't as good as my favorites by Louise Penny, whose latest, A Great Reckoning, I read in September, but they're satisfying.
The best book I read this fall was Claudia Rankine's Citizen, a moving, genre-bending work that about her life as a black woman in contemporary America. I highly recommend it.
Oh, and I can't forget The Road Back to You, a new book from IVP on the enneagram that has inspired hours of conversation between Jack and me and our friends. I think this book has given me tools to better flourish in my relationships with others. (I'm a 5, by the way.)
Movies this fall:
I really need help staying awake in movies. We liked The Lobster, a sort of absurdist black comedy about what it means to be human, and enjoyed Southside with You, which is like Obama fanfic about Barack and Michelle's first date. I love Michelle Obama and would probably watch countless more hours of this.
TV this fall:
The shows we're adding to our DVR this fall are Pitch and The Good Place. I was less than enthused about the premise of Pitch, which is about the first female pitcher in MLB, but the writers have crafted a show that is nuanced and interesting, and that is about much more than baseball: the dynamics of male-female friendships, for example, and the politicking and money behind the scenes in sports. And The Good Place is funny, some episodes more than others, but I'll watch Kristin Bell in almost anything. Still a little on the fence about This Is Us, which I enjoy but do find to be a bit emotionally manipulative, taking the easy way out in its writing more often than it should.
Music this fall:
We're still listening to Hamilton (and loved watching Hamilton's America on PBS). And did I ever share our 10 year anniversary playlist?
Writing this fall:
Honestly, I've been struggling since I finished writing the first book. Do I have anything left to say? This is one reason why being in the MFA right now is good for me, I think. Apart from learning things to strengthen my craft, I'm also being forced to create and to pay attention to my life. Hopefully something good will come of it.
Also, I have an essay in a book that came out from IVP this summer. You can read "Teenage Heretic" in the collection Soul Bare, which includes poignant essays by writers like Sarah Bessey, Karissa Knox Sorrell, and Seth Haines.
Maybe the only other thing I've written this fall was an op-ed for the Taylor student newspaper about Independent candidate Evan McMullin. I've been deeply disturbed - I mean, there have been nights I haven't been able to sleep, I went to see a doctor because of a constant lump in my throat, I've been sick - by the religious right's support for Trump this season, by the silence of prominent evangelical men when I expected to hear them condemning the racist, misogynist words and actions of the Republican nominee. When I saw polling that indicated that a large number of Taylor students were planning to vote for Trump, I wanted to make sure they understood all their options. McMullin is a good choice, but personally, I did vote for Hillary, because although parts of her platform bother me - she's hawkish in the Middle East and more aggressively pro-choice than I am, for example - overall, I believe she's smart, hardworking, dependable, emotionally stable, and has policies that will support the common good. (More here.)
So that's what I'e been up to this fall. How about you?