Once upon a time there was darkness.

Once upon a time there was darkness. And somewhere, hidden in the darkness, was a voice. And the voice whispered, “Light.” And there was light. And in the light, there was Jimmy.

Jimmy was the youngest of nine children. Playing the second youngest of twelve was not a challenge. He was basically reenacting his typical day – full of God and music and brothers. He just had to add some dancing. And a coat. A colorful one.

As Jimmy sang and danced his way through a world flooded in light, there was a girl watching from the darkness.  And although the girl dreamed of one day being in the light, being a part of the creation of worlds day after day and night after night, the darkness did not scare her. It was familiar. She had spent quite a bit of time in the darkness. Sought it out, in fact. In the darkness of night, galaxies opened to her. In the darkness of theaters, worlds upon worlds were gifted to her. In the darkness of her closet, God met her.

She was in middle school – not yet a teenager but no longer a kid. The word “tween” hadn’t been invented yet, but if it had she probably would have rejected the designation. Categorization of people was not her thing. They were too complex for that. As soon as you started labeling and organizing and segregating them, the wondrous aura of mystery that surrounded them and gave them their personhood was dulled. The thing that made them more than things. That made them shine.

Middle school is a time of transition. It is no longer elementary school, but not yet high school. Charts with gold stars are replaced with assignment books. Gently spoken Don’t forgets are replaced with accusatory Why didn’t yous. Playmates you like make way for crushes you like-like. Even the body that has successfully gotten you through a dozen years of walking from A to B and communicating with the world at large is starting to betray you. You’re ganglier, clutzier, squeakier, fuzzier, and bumpier.

The girl felt all these things. And right in the midst of this confusion of not knowing who she is, who she is becoming, or who she wants to be, the adults in her life presented her with a selection of doors leading to a variety of eternities and said, “Choose.”

On Sunday mornings, the girl went with her family to services. On some Sundays, they went to a large building surrounded by grass and trees and with an interior what was simple but shone with glorious sunlight that entered through the large windows and bounced off the brilliant white walls. On other Sundays, they went to a small, stone building in the center of their one-horse town with a small cemetery just outside and the large stained-glass windows muting the sunlight so the candlelight could dance across the polished, wooden pews and deep, maroon carpeting inside.  At the one building there was kite flying and bunnies and acoustic guitars. At the other there was grape juice and bread and organ music. Inside both buildings they talked about The Book. But inside the first building they talked about other things, too. They talked about poems and rebirth and the earth and inclusiveness. Not in the way the second one did – as psalms and resurrection and a footstool and peoples of many nations – but as distinct sources of knowledge.

Because the second building was close to her school and easy for kids from her school to get to, she spent most of her Sunday nights at the stone building playing games and eating marshmallows and pizza with kids from her class. Some of them were her age. Some of them were older. Some she liked. Some she like-liked. She chose the second building. The second community. The community of her mother’s choosing. She turned her back on the building of her father.

The girl liked books. Books of poetry, books of fiction, books of facts, books of pictures, books of words, books for children, books for adults – she loved them all. But The Book? The Book stood out. It captured her imagination. There were other books about families, disasters, betrayals, romances, friendships, spies, miracles, and dragons. But most of these books were about only families or spies or dragons. The Book? The Book had all the stories. Its author didn’t seem to think it odd to place the telling of a nation’s history next to a collection of poems. Or a letter to a town next to a story about angels and multi-headed beasts. Or four stories about one man all together but all different. Or a story about the creation of all things inside the story of the creation of all things. It was an odd book, indeed, but she loved it. The more she read The Book the more she felt The Book had to tell her. It was as if it created and recreated itself as she read.

She did not talk about The Book with anyone. Not her mother. Not her father. Not her friends. Yes, they all knew that she read The Book in her weekday class at the second building; the class that would allow her to fully become a part of the community there. In the class, the girl and the other students read The Book part-by-part then answered questions about it in the big, brown binder the leader of the second building had given them. Just like doing science homework, or a book report.

If there was a lot of reading to do before one of these classes (some of the stories in The Book were long and detailed), the girl would read The Book while curled up on the sofa in the living room or splayed out on her bedroom floor next to her stereo. The same places where she read the other books in her life – the ones from the library in town or the library at school or the big pile of paperbacks in the corner of her parents’ bedroom where her father’s nightstand and dresser created a nook the girl could crawl into to explore the piles upon piles of books her parents stacked there.

But sometimes… sometimes the girl felt The Book beckoning to her. Whispering.

  • After a rain storm, a dove would begin to coo outside her window. Did the cooing of a dove comfort Noah every time he heard it after the flood?
  • Up many and many a marvelous shrine/ Whose wreathed friezes intertwine/ The viol, the violet, and the vine wrote Edgar Allen Poe in his poem The City In The Sea. Does this gravestone’s frieze purposefully invoke a trinity?
  • The girl’s history teacher said that Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne were falsely accused of being witches. We know the accusations were false because witches aren’t real. But witches and sorcerers and necromancers are mentioned in The Book. Why?
  • Was the place high on a desert plane/ where the streets have no name the city that was as wide and high as it was long and made of gold “as pure as glass”?
  • The girl saw a model of a DNA molecule. Learned about coding and RNA and mutations and cell replication. So much complexity. So much intricacy and delicacy. How could that come from a bang? Or a breath?

At these times, the girl needed to read The Book. To find what new mystery The Book was ready to reveal to her. What new question it would challenge her with. What new character she would meet that would shout from the pages, “Me, too!” But there was the problem of The Choice.

When the girl chose, she hadn’t simply chosen between two buildings. She had also chosen her mother’s beliefs over her father’s. Her mother over her father. Yes, her father’s building read The Book; talked about it. So did her father. But it was different. Not the same. To him, it was a book. Not The Book. It would have been at home in the nook in the corner of their bedroom. One among many, to choose or pass over for another equally fine.

So the girl went to the one place where she knew galaxies revealed themselves and worlds upon worlds had gifted themselves to her. She went into the darkness.

girl reading.png

She was not the first to discover God in a closet. Others had entered that world before her. That world where lions are not tame but are good. The girl did not meet the Lion-God while curled up in a blanket on the floor of her closet, The Book spread on her lap, flashlight in hand (she met him on the living room sofa in the brightness of a summer afternoon). She did meet the Breath-God, the Fire-God, the Word-God, the Man-God there. In the dark. She read in the dark and met shepherd kings and prostitute saviors, dancing bones and prophesying donkeys, fires that burn but don’t consume and angels that hold the winds of the earth in their hands.

She read in the dark because she loved deeply in the light.

Not the love the girl felt watching Jimmy sing and dance across the stage, giving a story from The Book flesh, movement, and song. That love was exciting and burned bright, but that was a passing, immature love. The love that forced her into the darkness was a deep-rooted love. One she felt with every glance, every hug, every grand gesture, every quiet grace.  It was a father’s love for his child. Like in The Book. But with flesh on. And the house lights up.


Fun fact:

Out of curiosity, I looked online to try and figure out when I saw this performance of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Jimmy Osmond (I have long misplaced the picture of Jimmy I had cut out of the newspaper and carried in my wallet for years after that performance) and not only was I able to find the date of the performance but I was able to find a review for the specific performance I attended! My inner teenager’s heart went pitter-pat! Here’s the review.

*This post was inspired by questions from the Reading Guide for the book Inspired: Slaying Dragons, Walking On Water, And Loving The Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans

Happy Launch Day, “Inspired”!

Inspired CoverToday is launch day for Rachel Held Evans’ new book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking On Water, And Loving The Bible Again. 

I was privileged to receive an advanced copy to read and review and have shared my Goodreads review below. While I liked the book itself, I have found the Reading Guide to be of immeasurable encouragement and inspiration in my own spiritual practice. I will be sharing some of my Reading Guide motivated writing and insights here. Just click on the “Inspired” tag at the end of this post or in the Tag Menu above.  (Note: The Reading Guide was being offered as a pre-order add-on. Check back here or on Rachel’s site for information on where to order/ find the Reading Guide when it is available.)

I hope some of you will share your own Inspired inspirations in the comments. Links to your own posts would be wonderful!

Happy reading!




3.5 Stars

*See update following original review*

After reading “Searching For Sunday” and meeting Rachel Held Evans at a church retreat where she shared excerpts from “Inspired” and led us through some exercises to help us explore the Bible with new eyes (she refereed to it as “VBS for adults”), I could not wait for the release of the book and was thrilled to be offered the chance to read a preview copy.

At the retreat, Ms. Evans explained and led us in the practices of (or close facsimiles of) Lectio Divina and Ignatian Spiritual Practice… both practices of studying the Bible through creative exploration and contemplation, frequently using writings, re-tellings, paintings, and other artistic interpretations. She even read one of her own such re-tellings (in the form of a short story) from “Inspired.” I was surprised, then, when there was no mention of these practices in the book. There *is* mention of the traditional Jewish practice of midrash – a similar, creative interpretive practice. However, while the book begins with one of these creative re-tellings (a 6-page short story), there is no mention of the practice of midrash until page 22. She spends the rest of this chapter (covering “Origin Stories” of the Bible) explaining the value of midrash and creative, playful exploration of the Bible.

The rest of the book follows this pattern, a creative exploration by the author (a story, screenplay, etc) followed by a more scholarly (but conversationally accessible) chapter exploring the writing genre of the Bible passage that has just been midrashed — but without any guidance of the midrash process. This makes the book feel a bit incongruous despite the strict adherence to the aforementioned pattern. It requires the reader to flip back and forth between various writing styles and genres with no transition. Maybe this was intended by the author (to mimic the various, abutting genres found in the Bible), but this was not made clear or announced in any way and made for slow reading.

I was also hoping for some instruction in how to perform such creative investigations myself. Scripture readings with writing prompts, challenges to use different types of creativity (poetry, short story, letters, sketches, etc), or even just a “now try writing your own short story based on this passage.”

Although there were no instructions for readers to perform their own investigations, the creative writings provided by the author were interesting to read and inspirational in and of themselves. They were an encouragement to me to continue doing such exercises and sharing them with others. I have been doing them in my head for years, but I can now see the value in recording and sharing my exploration and study with others.

It was also encouraging to hear someone express their own questions and doubts that reflect my own and to have them not be afraid of them but reinforce that approaching Scripture with not just my heart and soul but also my MIND is essential to my spiritual growth. In this respect, “Inspired” makes a natural follow-up to “Searching For Sunday.” And I understand why the author of “Searching For Sunday” would prefer to say, “I found a means of approaching the Bible that I have found valuable. Let me share my experience with you,” without dictating a new form of study (with its accompanying “rules”). I just wish that her fear of becoming one of *those* voices telling others how they *must* study and interpret Scripture hadn’t kept her from more actively *guiding* others in their Scriptural explorations.


I was given the opportunity to read the Reading Guide that will be made available to accompany this book. If the introduction to the Reading Guide had been incorporated at the beginning of “Inspired,” it would have explained some of the disjointedness of the text and would have bumped my original rating to at least a 4, maybe a tad higher. It would still be shy of a 5 for some heavy-handedness on political issues (having some is fine, and actually welcome to provide some contextualization, but it went beyond that in my opinion) and because the flipping between creative exploration and more traditional analysis and scholarship interrupts the flow of reading. However, the Reading Guide greatly enhances the main text. I would love to have seen it integrated into the original and (again) it’s introduction included in the original text. (less)

Streaking Through Scripture

Ever have that sensation when you are coming home from the grocery store or the library or work or somewhere else familiar and you turn onto your street and suddenly wonder how you got there?

You were driving. You know in the far reaches of your conscious mind that you turned left at the shoe store that was able to progressively dye your satin pumps darker and darker shades of lavender during the “summer of weddings” just after college. And your intact tires testify that you successfully avoided the pothole that weekly creeps further and further into the travel lane from the shoulder in front of the park where your son fell off the climbing wall and knocked out his tooth when he was six. You know you did these things. You must have. You were at the grocery store or library or work just forty minutes ago and now you are driving past Mrs. Murphy’s freshly planted pansies, but you don’t remember a single minute of your drive home. Not this particular trip, anyway; just an amalgam of trips over the past days, weeks, months, years.

It happens with anything familiar – drives, chores, family stories. It also happens sitting in the pew on Sunday mornings.

Let’s look at this past Sunday. Palm Sunday.

  • Everyone is handed a palm frond or cross made from a palm frond (or both) as they enter the sanctuary.
  • The service will start with  a procession up the aisle, usually involving small children flapping large palm branches with no regard to objects or people in their reach while waving at their proud parents or looking down at their feet praying they can sit down soon.
  • This is followed by a reading of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem from one of the gospels.
  • And so on.

You know the routine.

So do I. We worked through this same routine in our own church (sans the small children… they were part of an earlier service). Everything followed in its course:

  • Palm fronds and crosses as we walked in? Check.
  • Procession? Check.
  • Gospel reading of triumphal entry including prayer in Gethsemane, ear being lobbed off, man running naked from Jesus’ accusers? Che…

My husband’s and my heads shot up at the same time. We looked at each other. Had we heard that right? We both began furiously flipping through our bulletins.

post photo

Yup. We’d heard it correctly.

When the heck was the streaker added to this story?! My husband grew up Baptist. I grew up Unitarian and Methodist. We’ve attended Orthodox Presbyterian, Presbyterian Church in America, and Anglican churches faithfully for the 24 years we’ve been married. We’ve spent time in campus ministry. My husband has served as a deacon. We’ve both taught Sunday School. Neither of us recalled this little tidbit. Must be an Episcopal thing, we surmised. It was the only logical explanation. That’s the danger when you do a dramatic reading/ paraphrase of the gospel story. Things get added. Things get weird.

We participated in the rest of the service. Left quietly. Turned and walked slowly down the street towards our car. As soon as we were out of sight of the church, my husband and I exclaimed,

“What was that?”

“You heard it too?”


Then we did what any good 21st century American Christian does when confronted with a theological question: we pulled out our phones, took them out of airplane mode, and googled.

Wanna guess what we found?

They all left him, and fled. A certain young man followed him, having a linen cloth thrown around himself over his naked body. The young men grabbed him, but he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked. – Mark 14:50-42, WEB

The reading was taken practically verbatim from the Gospel According To Mark!

How have we missed it all these years? You’d think a little tidbit like that would stick with you.

And even more perplexing to me is why Mark thought to include this detail in his gospel. None of the other gospel writers included it. Is it central to the story? Is it a final reminder that Jesus numbered the poor among his followers? Is it to show that Jesus was utterly alone? That even the poorest of the poor abandoned Jesus at his time of trial? That running through the streets naked was preferable to being associated with Jesus?


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Creation & Identity

St. John The… Racist?

womanwell2In chapter 4 of the Gospel According to John, we read the story of Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. In verse 9, the story is interrupted by a parenthetical statement that appears to have been inserted by the author to clarify the story for the reader.


The Samaritan woman said to him [Jesus], “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) NRSV


Jews and Samaritans share a common heritage. They are both descendants of Israel (Jacob) with the Samaritans being descended from Jacob’s most beloved son, Joseph. This fact alone should explain some of the animosity towards the Samaritans and the rest of Israel’s descendants, but the schism was deepened during the time of the division of God’s people into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, the Assyrian conquest, and the Babylonian captivity. The Jews of the southern kingdom kept themselves monotheistic and otherwise set-apart from their Babylonian captors while in exile. The Samaritans, meanwhile, co-existed with their invaders, intermarried, and adopted some of their gods and religious customs. When the two groups reunited… there was tension, to say the least.

At the time the story related in John takes place, the biggest disagreement between the Jews and Samaritans is where they should worship God… on the mountain in Samaria (where the well is located) or in Jerusalem. (John 4:19) This centuries old conflict meant that Jews may do business with Samaritans (the disciples did go to buy food in the Samaritan town, after all – John 4:8) but they did not speak to them outside of business transactions and they certainly did not drink from the same water pitcher.

And that got me thinking…


“Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.”

Like water pitchers.

Or water fountains.

Or lunch counters.

Or churches.


But isn’t that the reason Jesus is talking to this woman? This Samaritan woman? This Samaritan woman? The reason he is asking her for water? Water from her pitcher?  Water taken from Jacob’s well? Jacob, ancestor of the Jews. The same Jacob who is the ancestor to the Samaritans. The Jacob who makes them kin.


Why would Jesus do this?

Could it be the same reason why Dr. Martin Luther King marched in Birmingham? Because injustice was there. And because “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Could it be the same reason why Desmond Tutu, in his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, asked blacks and whites to look each other in the eye and say,”You are a God-bearer?” Because we are all made in the image of God and deserve the dignity of that truth.

Could it be because she was seeking him (“I know that Messiah comes, he who is called Christ. When he has come, he will declare to us all things.” – 4:25)? Because Jesus tells us that “he who seeks finds.” (Matthew 7:8)


Jesus’ approaching the Samaritan woman is the incarnation of Isaiah’s prophesy of a reunified Israel:

It shall happen in the latter days, that the mountain of Yahweh’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it.
Many peoples shall go and say,
‘Come let’s go up to the mountain of Yahweh,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
and he will teach us of his ways,
and we will walk in his paths.’
For the law shall go out of Zion,
and Yahweh’s word from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations,
and will decide concerning many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:2-4; emphasis mine)

So my question is this: If Jesus made the concerted effort to demonstrate acceptance of and reunification with the Samaritans (both in this instance and in others, such as the healing of the lepers or the parable of the good Samaritan), then why does the writer of John’s gospel (probably written 70 years, give or take – that’s about three generations) insist on adding the parenthetical? In the present tense? Not “Jews did not share…” but “Jews do not share…”.


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*this post is based on a Lectio divina/ Ignatian meditation I completed at this year’s Lenten Retreat at The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-By-The-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida, March 3, 2018; led by Rachel Held Evans