Love Wins, Controversy Sells

This is why I gave up Facebook for Lent. I am suddenly, vividly remembering: It’s ruined enough of my days already. To wit, I woke up sunny and cheerful, had a productive time working on projects… and then made the mistake of checking Facebook.

If you read Love Wins, you HAVE to read this article, a friend posted.

Well, as it happens, I HAVE read Love Wins.

I read it and am in the surreal position of having no passionate feelings about it whatsoever. This would probably lead most evangelicals to check my pulse, but it’s true. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t feel like Bell was “blaspheming God” and setting up a false god (as claimed in the review my friend linked). Nor did I feel that Bell’s theology and source work were squeaky clean, his argument unanswerable, or his conclusion inevitable.

As far as I could tell, both book and review indulged in a few shortcuts, a few trimmings, a few carefully shelved verses, and a fair bit of posturing.

And both made some good points.

But I didn’t write this to discuss Rob Bell. In the first place, I don’t have any of the answers, and in the second place—well, honestly, is there even any need for a second place after admitting that?

I sat down to write this because just reading that lambasting review made my chest hurt and my hands shake. For real. No hyperbole. My adrenal system was pretty much convinced I’d been in a car accident. Just from reading a book review.

I think I’m allergic to pastors, I told Carl last weekend, and even if I was being snarky, I think what I said it basically true. But it’s not just pastors. It’s a lot of people who are absolutely positive that they are right and other people are wrong and the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket because everyone else is failing to see their favorite position as the one and only truth for all time.

Which means I am in the unenviable position of being allergic to myself, because I think at heart most of us fall into that category. We are mostly all obsessed with being right, and our hands are mostly all closed tight.

Not that I enjoy living that way. I don’t.

I admire people with open hands. I aspire to live with open hands.

The problem is that I tend to assume the best way to accomplish this is to remove myself from the stimuli. If I could just stay away from Facebook, I tell myself. Away from Facebook, and blogs, and certain people, and situations, and more people, and… pretty much 90% of everyone I know…

Yeah. I guess that doesn’t work.

At least my problem isn’t a new one. While reading a book last week I ran across this quote from Psalm 39:

I said, “I will guard my ways, that I might not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle… I was dumb and silent… and my sorrow grew worse.”

Intrigued, I looked up the rest of the Psalm to see what insights David gleaned from his experience. Not helpful. He ended up begging God to “look away from me, that I may enjoy life again before I depart and am no more.”

Not exactly the spiritual pick-me-up I was hoping for.

It would be tidy and writerly to bust out a resolution about now, but the truth is I don’t have an answer. The one thing I’m not particularly interested in doing is developing thicker skin, or whatever it is you’re supposed to develop in order to see throwing rocks as “enlightening” ways of “engaging” another person’s “ideas.”

It’s that tricky balance between believing in Absolute Truth while honoring the lower-case truth of each person’s experience. Or, as Thomas Merton would have it:

[God] is the I Am before whom with our own most personal and inalienable voice we echo “I am.”

In which case, I suspect the journey might begin with seeing the imago Dei in each person. But how does THAT work? Especially when my heart is having a minor attack every time someone starts yelling at me online about Rob Bell’s blasphemy. Or how God designed men to be in charge. Or how the world is more sinful now than at any time since the Flood.

If you are at all, even remotely, maybe a tiny bit tending towards liberal thinking you will be familiar with the jibe about how liberals will tolerate anything except intolerance.

There’s some truth to that.

It’s good to examine the hypocrisy of one’s favorite hangout from time to time. On the other hand, it’s also good to remember that “tolerance” is sometimes just another word for love.

Love always protects the unprotected, forgives the unforgivable, and hopes in the hopeless. Love sees the wound beneath the anger, the shame behind the arrogance, and the future beyond the present.

That’s what I want to be like. Someday when I’m old and crinkly.

I’m not sure what that means for today exactly. I do feel less upset than I did an hour ago when I read that book review. So that’s good. And I have a nagging suspicion that the only way to truly love your enemies is to have no enemies.

I’m not sure how that works.

I do know that the best story I’ve ever heard about heaven or hell comes from an obscure book by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (he’s repeating a story by Jeremy Taylor, if you want to find the original) that I read shortly after I graduated from college.

[A man] met a grave and stately matron on the way with censer of fire in one hand, and a vessel of water in the other; and observing her to have a melancholy, religious, and phantastic deportment and look, he asked her what those symbols meant, and what she meant to do with her fire and water; she answered, my purpose is with the fire to burn paradise, and with my water to quench the flames of hell, that men may serve God purely for the love of God.

That story has always come back to me whenever anyone brings up heaven or hell and wants to be dogmatic about theology and original Greek. There’s something beautiful, surprising, and powerful about it. It has always filled a certain lack, a certain insecurity in my own heart.

Which is, as I said, neither here nor there since I’m not writing this to take sides in the controversy. The only side I could work up any enthusiasm for is the side against controversy in general.

I would like to be for peace. I would like to be for interactions that do not cause physical reactions of distress. Those seem like good goals.

I always think it’s good to know where you’re trying to go when you start a long trip.

And it will be a long one.



“Happiness is a how; not a what

A talent, not an object.”

—Hermann Hesse

Am busy this week trying to finish and send off a short story. Am also reading like mad, mostly Gretchen Rubin’s bestselling The Happiness Project because the weather is fantastic and I suddenly feel the need for sunny self-improvement. You know how it goes. The quote, anyway, is from the book—actually from one of her astute blog commenters included in the book. My attribution skills are growing.

Today was supposed to be 80 and rainy here in Plymouth, but we had thunderstorms all night, and the sky is currently blue. So I’m hoping for plain old 80 and sunny.

Spring is a beautiful thing.

The Friday 5

  1. I wrote a bunch of shoddy sentences today and one that I sort of like: “She’d decided not to think about it, but in her not thinking existed all the decades of her living.” I had a professor in grad school who LOVED to talk about unpacking sentences (swirling hand movements optional). This one is perhaps only carry-on sized but serviceable for sure.
  2. I’m finally reading the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Sirach, thanks to Carlie who randomly bought me an Orthodox study Bible for Christmas. I love how—even when we’re not very good about talking regularly—we still end up chewing through the same sorts of thoughts around the same time in life. Companionship is a good thing.
  3. I’m also glad Carl and I are going to be out tonight and therefore cannot watch the Wings game. Their doom is assured. I don’t need to see it. I’ll catch up with them in October. Stupid Wingies.
  4. I finally made a juicy pork chop last night. Breaded, fried, and finished in the oven. Cheers for me.
  5. Pilates is kicking my butt. All known muscles in my arms and legs are now sore. By the end of four weeks, I will either be toned or I will have quit. Let’s be generous and refrain from calculating the odds, shall we?

Springtime in Cleveland

Brandywine Falls

Yesterday was full of back-to-workingness, but today promises to be slightly more relaxed. Just a short story to refine (so close and yet so far) and a pork chop dinner to wrangle. Mel called and asked about swooping by to pick me up for a lunch at the farmer’s market (first day open!), so it sounds like we’re even getting an early bonus round to the day.

I love bonus rounds.

And in the mean time, I have a couple of shots from our long weekend. We went to Cleveland, which probably doesn’t sound like much of a destination to my well traveled friends, but we’d been staring at maps for a while trying to find short jaunts from the abode. And Cleveland turned out to be a fantastic spot to weekender.

Ferns uncurling in Cuyahoga

Of course, it helped that everything was just starting to green.

We spent the first—and only sunny—day at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a blip on the map that turned out to be surprisingly lovely. In the first place, the name is fun to say. I remember driving home from Philly with my sister-in-law once, just tired and slap-happy enough to be endlessly amused. I still enjoy saying it in the silly voice we assigned, and it made me think of Grace. Which is always a happy thing.

I think Cuyahoga might have been my favorite thing we did in the Cleveland area, although we also had a really amazing dinner at Lola, Iron Chef Michael Symon’s bistro in downtown Cleveland (probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and certainly one of the most inventive. Where else can you have brioche french toast for dessert with apple compote and maple-bacon ice cream? YES. Bacon bits in the ice cream. And it was AMAZING).

A third, somewhat trailing highlight was the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame… which had lots of nifty rocker paraphernalia (jumpsuits, early draft lyrics on creased notepaper, album cover displays, and signed guitars) but left both Carl and I scratching our heads about the layout and general management. On the bright side, it led to several rousing conversations of “If I were running the museum” and “what they REALLY need is to,” which is always fun. I’ve decided to add Museum Creative Director to my list of dream jobs. Seriously, how fun would that be?

Anyway, Cuyahoga.

Besides the falls and a long ramble in the newly greening woods (hunkering down to look at baby ferns, violets, chives, and little alien faces made of walnut shells), we also hiked around to the Ritchie Ledges and Ice Box Cave.

The ledges were fantastic. Mounds of russet colored limestone, layered and flaking like a giant’s biscuit. The reddish stone was in perfect contrast to the moss and baby green leaves, and the trail was only a loose suggestion. We stopped to wander in and out of the ledges, scrambling over rocks and squeezing between narrow bits.

Really lovely.

In one narrow ravine between ledges, we found some carvings of faces and horses, and I think that was my favorite part—just sort of letting my mind wander freely over everything, picking up pieces and bits of things that could be stories or worlds or what-have-you.

Just relaxing and fun and necessary.

… And now I’ve been to the farmer’s market and back, which ended up including lunch and a 3 mile walk with Mel’s sister, so now it’s getting close on dinner and that editing workshop is WAY over due. Not that I’m complaining. Life is processed best with friends and loved ones, yes?

Am off to edit.


A good time away so far and now full of things—news and ideas—to absorb. Carl’s waiting for the day’s adventure so must dash. Happy and peaceful Monday, friends.