the forty-first formica friday

It's that time again, another Formica Friday, a treasure trove of hodgepodge, random tidbits, and a bit of this and that. In particular, it is the place where I can celebrate the best posts I read this past week and want to share with you.


A quote:

I don't know exactly what covetous is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else's virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it.

-- Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

A list, in which I describe what I am thankful for:
  • dinners and potting wheels and HEB runs and saved fish
  • being surrounded by the most fascinating, lively people
  • when the chapel at St. Paul's is so full, you think it could burst in joy
  • finding a place to live in St. Andrews, a cottage by the forest
  • my publisher letting me have the title for the book I had dreamed of for months
  • Seth's email, which came at the acceptable time
  • my ridiculous, beautiful friends, who came to dinner with my family, all ten of us there and loud and laughing, and when it was time to go, each of those wonderful people handed me a letter overflowing with love

Posts, websites, trinkets, and the Internet week in review revue: (after the jump)

  • because I think Sarah Bessy is one of the most extraordinary bloggers currently writing, a woman who pushes me to write better, to be more open and honest, to dig deeper, and who offered here such tangible grace, I wept my way through the post: In which I (re)imagine Christianity
  • because Nish writes the honest things and allows the honest things to be hard, aching, but beautiful feel.
  • because Elora truly sees people, sees their needs, and want to hear who they are and how they got there: the world needs your story.
And, as always, an old post from me:
Like this post? You can like the blog and keep up with it on Facebook here.
Have a post from the week you'd like to share? What was your best post this week? Or did you read someone else you just have to let us know about? Leave me a note in the comments below!

life: unmasked -- god of the gaps

Today, I share a post about life: unmasked, a blog meme started by my sensational friend, Joy.


When I was diagnosed with chronic insomnia earlier this year, I had envisioned a magic moment of transition in which I would begin to take prescribed sleeping pills and suddenly have eight hours of rest a night. I would be this wonderful person who slept, showered, read The New York Times on my iPad, and always had time to make a French press.

Things turned out differently.

The Ambien I take only lasts four hours and wakes me up around hour six because I have to go to the bathroom. Instead of sleeping more, I sleep the same amount as I did before, I just now do it sooner and wake up in groggy alarm feeling like I'm the kid who drinks two liters of Coke on the mission trip right as the bus stops in the line for Border Control on the Mexican-US border.

This semester, I'm taking a weight training class that meets early in the morning. Under normal circumstances, I'm able to exercise well in the afternoons. But lack of sleep and stress exhaustion combined, when I try to lift weights in the morning, my body responds by promptly having me reject the exertion on biceps by doing something infinitely more productive--vomiting.

I've tried everything: light breakfast, no breakfast, water, no water, wake up early, sleep in, nothing has helped.

My weight instructor is kind. She recognizes that I have a problem. I've reported the sleeping disorder and gone through the medical motions. Every day she sees me, she asks how I am. (As a guy, this is one of the worst questions that can be asked. I already feel emasculated since I can barely keep up, asking how I am is only one more layer of awkward pride stoning.)

But yesterday was different. She asked how I was, then over the course of conversation it became relevant for me to share that I was going to St. Andrews next autumn for graduate school.

"Oh," she said with some surprise, "That's a really good school."

And like a tidal wave, emotion swept over me. I suddenly realized that she only knew me in the context of the class. I was the kid who was unable to keep up, who got sick, who had something as undetectable by observable evidence like a sleeping disorder and could be making the whole thing up.

Where was my tshirt that let her know I was super intelligent? Where was my sign that told her, "I'm really good as what I do."?

I was sitting in biology last week when our professor asked us to share our opinions on evolution after she had presented her own. A few people spoke here and there, then I went, all prepared words and phrasings, calling myself a medievalist and high church, trying to explain a belief in evolution that does not adhere to a common ancestor, spilling out rabbinic readings and Aquinas. At one point, she turned a phrase just so and I reacted at the most inopportune time. She hurried past and kept talking and I realized, suddenly, that I had given her the impression that I believed that man was made in the physical image of God. My mouth hung open, I wanted to scream, to clarify. But it was too late.

Last December, when I got in a bit of hot water for criticizing the Live31 Movement, I received a lot of spiteful emails and blog comments that often pointed out I was trying to ride their success as a means to boost my own platform. I could not, as much as I wanted to, write emails back that said, "I have a book contract. I don't care about their numbers. That's not why I'm doing this." Instead, I wrote massively long emails about grace and prayer and faithfulness, which were just as much about over-explaining than standing on the book would have been.

I do this all the time.

My theology is so fluid, my opinions so diverse, my wonderings so likely to change, I feel the need to constantly overshare my way into a person's heart to make them like me. I fear being misunderstood because I fear that people will dislike me if they don't get me. Me, ontological, wonderful me. I fear that if something is left not clarified, my very important life won't be understood well and rightly.

This is completely ridiculous. And dare I even mention the egoism involved here?

Biologists refer to the argument God of the gaps as a weak, illogical approach to science in which something that science has yet to explain outright proves God without question. (The obvious problem being that as soon as science does provide an answer, God is, by this logic, disproved.)

I am learning to argue God of the gaps differently: God fills in the spaces where I haven't given the itemized list of my theological perspective or brain space or graciousness. God fills in the spaces where I haven't showered that day or had time to make a French press or couldn't tell you what the cover of the Times was to save my life. God fills in all the gaps.

I hate trite, pithy sayings, but sometimes you have to bite your tongue, accept that you are misunderstood, trust the Holy Ghost and say, "Let go and let God."

It's a radical kind of trust. A trust that not all of you needs explaining all the time. A trust that He's qualified you just enough for the moment you're in. A trust that even if people misread you, don't get you, don't see, that that's enough for the present. He holds it all.

Just like now, as I look at this post, and I realize it came out all different than I had planned. I had thought of smooth words, warm lighting, and gracious prose, like last week. Instead, you got too much information on when I have to use the bathroom in the morning.

I trust, without as much cheek in it as it may read, that God can fill in this gap too.


It is my joy, with Joy, to share here words that expose life honestly, openly, and messily. Some days my posts for this meme are about this chaos of being, other days I manage a bit more gentle words.Would you join us in sharing the vulnerable times, the unordered times, the unkempt rooms? 

Life: Unmasked

because i need altar calls, letter twenty, preston to hilary

Today, I bring you the continuation of the blog banter Hilary Sherratt and I have doing, in which we write public letters to one another back and forth and invite you to join us in the comments. Read the letter I’m responding to here. Dear Hilary,

I forget to cherish, too. I forget that I have promised so many Lents past that I would observe it properly, if there is such a way, and to honor the fast with an effort toward earnest prayer. But it falls apart in practice. I get busy and tired and all those other myriad things we always are and always say and I forget. I let it slip through my fingers. Time spills out and sometimes it appears so wasted. It's not. Word does not return void, I know, but the glimpses of the lost fragments in the immediacy of their departure leaves little room to think anything was built.

But for all that talk of missing Lent, there has been something nagging at my spirit the past few weeks.

As much as I love high church reverence, the form of worship, I find myself feeling the absence of the altar call. Yes, altar calls with the Sinner's Prayer and an invitation to accept Christ into your heart as Lord and Saviour. That language, that pressing need.

I should like it to happen right before the Holy Communion, before the elements are brought forward. At least, I think I do. I haven't quite worked out the logistics yet. But I keep thinking about someone sitting through the liturgy who isn't a Christian already, who has never really heard but ended up there because of a friend or a death or something, and I keep wondering if they would leave the service knowing that God loved them, that Christ died for them, that conversion was a choice to be accepted, a gift to be received.

And I think I go to an exceptional Episcopal church here, but I don't think it's the case.

The colors of my heart are showing, but I am still evangelical enough to believe in soapy, sappy songs about Jesus on Christian stations and that a confession of Christ as Lord matters eternally. I still believe in Hell. I still believe that people could end up there.

I have found myself a bit adrift in church these past few weeks. Not entertaining the thought I would leave, for I know with such a true peace that I would not. I cannot simply give up the beautiful expression that is liturgical worship, the way it moves my heart and guides my spirit. But because I need altar calls, I'm chewing. I'm wrestling atop my kneeler wondering about what evangelism in the high church should look like. I'm wondering about Peter standing up on Pentecost and preaching to thousands who converted then and there. I'm think that eternity still matters, matters for those who are not yet grafted in to this loud, vibrant Body.

And I'm calling myself evangelical again. I think that's an important step.



using the eucharist as a weapon -- today at deeper story

Join me, today, at Deeper Story. The form pride takes can be surprising.

There was a time when I attended a problematic church--let's call it The Church of the Windowless, Likely Resurrection--which prided itself on everything it wasn't. This is the typical model of most emergent movements within the modern Church: the body is defined by everything it disagrees with. (Ironically, radical fundamentalists are of the same philosophical stripe.) Phrases like burned by the church and the Bible as conversation starter are vogue. This is problematic. This is, often, incredibly irreverent.

But I said pride can take surprising forms, and while The Church of the WindowlessLikely Resurrection prided itself on what it wasn't, I prided myself on everything I thought I was.

I first began attending St. Paul's Episcopal Church two and a half years ago, which I attended for a little while concurrently with The Church of the Windowless, Likely Resurrection. Before that, I was raised by some very delightfully strange Baptists who viewed Communion with serious reverence, but referred to it more often than not as The Lord's Supper.

For awhile after I first started at St. Paul's, I carried the word Eucharist around like it was a weapon. Anytime I was with anyone, I saw fit to forgo other words like Communion or Lord's Supper in favor of the "right" word for the act of worship. Even if the other person had used Communion the entire time they spoke, even if their theology of Communion was beautiful, I insisted on calling it the Eucharist, in a kind of pointed, knowing way.

I did this mostly with my parents.

Keep reading this today, at Deeper Story.

manuscript mondays: walking on water

On Mondays, I am simplifying. Here I shall give you small, little glimpses into the manuscript draft I am working on for my forthcoming book. As always, the comment section is open to discuss these strands of thought.

There's something wrong with how we're reading the Bible. The literalists, convinced that every single piece of Scripture is recorded fact, approach passages like the pillar of fire that God appeared as when He led the children of Israel out of Egypt through the wilderness, or Peter's attempt to walk on water, as empirical accounts of historical events. And I take no issue with that. I, too, believe God appeared in a literal pillar of fire and I, too, believe Peter literally walked on water. Yet if all the fire pillar and the water walking are is nothing but historical details in an otherwise convoluted narrative and not awe-inspiring, tear-generating moments of wonder on our part, we've forgotten how to read stories well and we're useless when it comes to reading Scripture.

One semester at Baylor I was leading a discussion on a twelfth century Anglo-Norman lai in which the protagonist is prophesied to by a wounded stag. I asked the group a few questions about the story, poked around with wonderings about what they found odd or out of place. They named a few details, but missed what I had considered the glaring, obvious one: "Did anyone find it odd that the stag spoke?"

Disney and fairy tales have led us to believe animals speak all the time, that it is the most normal thing as long as the thing is written down. A snake speaks to Eve and we think it is simply explained. God appears as a pillar of fire and we brush past it as detail. Peter walks on water and we miss a frightening confirmation that God is absolutely the Lord and Master of the cosmos, that particulate matter is accountable to Him, and that He can do whatever He likes to bend the physical laws He Himself put into place at the creation.

Since I was little, when I walk along beaches, I walk barefoot on the edge of the shore where the wave meets the sand. When the tide rolls in, I lift my foot just enough so that the water passes under, then I step forward. Ever so often I catch, for a moment, a displacement of density that makes me feel that I stand on the water, that I know what it is to walk on it.

I imagine this shall be a habit of mine until the day I die, until the day I am invited to actually walk on water, to meet my Saviour on the other side.