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what is truth?

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.

children at advent

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. 

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.

our favorite books and music of 2016

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.

2-Pokémon Deluxe Essential Handbook: The Need-to-Know Stats and Facts on Over 700 Pokémon

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

2. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning by Karen Barad

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.

 

a few things this fall

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?
 

~linking up with What I'm Into at Leigh Kramer. ~

the ministry of reading aloud

Throughout my childhood, Dad read to me every night, and Mom read to me every morning. Nowadays government programs promote this practice, citing research which shows that it encourages emerging literacy, language development, and healthy parent-child relationships, but as a child all I knew was that it opened other worlds to me: Narnia, Oz, Deep Valley; Midwestern prairies, the Highlands, the Holy Land. Those stories burrowed into my soul, forming a foundation of truth that shapes my person and my priorities to this day.

In my life this reading-aloud has been a gift: a gift from my parents, a gift from the librarian, a gift from a fifth grade teacher doing all the voices in Hank the Cowdog. Most memorably, maybe, a gift from Jack, when we spent a month camping across the country and reading The River Why to each other, chapters in the car during the day, and chapters in the tent at night.

I’m an adult, now, but I still want people to read to me. I still want to listen. And I don’t think this is a childish impulse, but a human one, and even a subversive one.

At my graduate residency last month, people read aloud to us every day. In class my mentor reclaimed rhetoric. “The only place in contemporary, public society where you find rhetoric and poetics at work is in political speeches,” she said. “In fact, when we think about the word rhetoric, we now have all kinds of negative connotations because of politicians - we think rhetoric means twisting the truth. But in its original usage, rhetoric meant the most eloquent, moving expression of the truth. We need to take it back from the politicians,” she said. We need to care for words.

What if we read aloud to each other? At book release parties or poetry slams, at the preschool storybook hour at the public library, in the Sunday liturgy, during a cross-country car trip, what if we read aloud? What if we listened? What if we read novels, building empathy? What if we read poetry, letting cadence and metaphor shape our sentences and our sight? What if we read stories that taught us about experiences other than our own?

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye tells a story about a man who came to listen at a poetry workshop she led, and how his presence changed her:

And then this farmer showed up in Oklahoma at a workshop and told us all that he had come just to listen. He just wanted to hear everyone read their work. And we thought, “Wow. Look at this. The wandering audience. He doesn’t even want to participate; he just wants to listen.”

And he said, “No, listening is participation. It’s very important.” And he talked about being a child and being awakened every day by his granddad who read to the kids in the house as a wake-up call every morning, stood in the resonant hallway outside their bedrooms, and read poems. And my brain clicked. I thought, “This is what I’ll do for the rest of the time our son is at home. I’ll waken him every day with reading poems.”

So we did that for years, and I think he really liked it. And we would occasionally talk about the poems. Later in the day, he’d bring something up about one of the poems I’d read.

...It feels beautiful. And you feel better.

What if we read our poems aloud, and what if we listened? Later in the interview Shihab Nye tells another story of a school principal who begins each day by reading a poem, or a portion of a poem, over the school loudspeakers. Students there tell her they “carry poems” with them every day.

This week I've carried with me a few lines from Shihab Nye’s poem “History”:

“We were born to wander, to grieve,
lost lineage, what we did to one another
on a planet so wide open for doing.”

Our planet is so wide open. There are so many things we could do, so many surprising moves a person or a country can make that might be imaginative… And what have we done to each other?

I am looking for surprising, imaginative ways to make some holy mischief here and now, to reclaim rhetoric, to love words, to listen well. The ministry of reading aloud is a subversive practice to counter bigotry and hate. On a planet where we have the most refugees history has ever seen, in a nation where we’ve nominated a man full of toxic words and self-importance to run for our highest office, this is my next move: to stop and listen to you read your poems. And when it’s my turn, I’ll open my already well-thumbed copy of my friend D.L. Mayfield’s new book, and read you a chapter. Together we’ll learn how to listen well, how to be a witness to the world's brokenness, and how, as Danielle says, to run toward it.

 

Easily my favorite book of 2016, Assimilate or Go Home is a collection of stunning and surprising essays that invite us to reconsider our concepts of justice and love, and to reimagine being a citizen of this world and the upside-down kingdom of God. It officially releases tomorrow, but if you order today at Amazon, you can get it for under $9 - a steal.

dance to yellow submarine at six

A brief life update:

College students, professors, and preschoolers are finished for the year. Elementary students have four days left. On Memorial Day, Jack will head to Pennsylvania and to eight weeks of PhD classes. The day he finishes his intensives, I'll start my first 10-day residency for an MFA. 

We ate asparagus from the garden this month, and yesterday we picked the first strawberries. But half my beds are producing only weeds: I'm cutting back. This year we will travel instead of garden, wander instead of plant. I have baby relatives to meet, and I get antsy when Jack's not around.

Earlier this month I spent a week in Brooklyn with nephew Cedric while his dad started his second round of chemo. While there, I wrote an essay about cancer that doubles as a love-letter to my family's obsession with food. 

The kids have finally gotten into The Beatles, and our disc of The Beatles 1+ has been on repeat for a month or so now. So this morning, when I was reading through some old journals (I'm adding a chapter to my book - and that's another thing, final revisions are happening this summer, and I might have accidentally revealed the new book title in my bio here), I smiled when I found this letter that I wrote to Rosie before she was born. I wanted, at 27, to capture all the things I'd learned so far. I suppose there are bits I'd change and add now, at nearly 35, but mostly, I still think it's all true.

Rosemary,

Dance to Yellow Submarine at six. It's not ever going to make better sense.

You won't ever do even one thing perfectly. That's ok.

Don't let anybody do your imagining for you.

You were created to create,
and blessed to bless.

Hold everything with open hands.
What's ours is ours.
What's ours is God's.

You can't save the world.
You can barely learn the right way to love it.
But you will love it.

If you are not sure, then it's not love.

God's ways are higher than our ways.
We start with faith.

Never go to Matagorda.
View the ocean from Isaac's House,
skinny dip at midnight.

Be surrendered, but don't give up.

Find rhythms in life.
Find stillness.
Learn how to be.
Try highway driving, alone,
or listening to cicadas,
if you need to pray.

For now, we see trees walking.
A dirty windowpane view, at best,
or at least,
nothing.

It doesn't matter what you do
if
in doing it
you are finding broken parts
piecing them back together.

Don't live within your competencies.
The kingdom is breaking out all around you.

You can build your card house ideas;
in fact, you can't help but build them.
When they fall, Love is still there.

Trying to know a person you love
is like hitting a moving target.
It changes. You keep trying.