The Fairy Tale Realist

the old stories say it better

How to Thrive in Chaos I: Building a Culture with Yourself

Note: This was originally published in my October Newsletter. Since this is an introduction to my new blog & video series, “How to Thrive in Chaos,” I decided to repost it here, to give readers some context.

The idea of building a culture with yourself might strike you as odd. We think of a culture as being made up of a group of people, and their values, art, history, institutions, and traditions. However for the purposes of this post, a culture occurs whenever disparate components come together to form something new and -hopefully- better than the individual parts. 

I have chosen to frame this topic in this way partly as an antidote to Self-Care Culture. On its surface, self-care is obvious and necessary. But self-care also provides a profoundly low standard for how to live your life. Caring for yourself in terms of basic needs- sleep, high quality food, rest, friendships, etc. used to be taken for granted. Today, it is a whole industry trying to fill a screaming need in our overworked society. 

Self-care is fine as far as it goes, but I think it barely scratches the surface of what we need to do in order to thrive as human beings.

When I say that we need to build culture with ourselves, I am using the word “culture” almost more in the food sense. Disparate high quality ingredients that come together to undergo a transformation and – voilà! – produce a delicious and satisfying end result. When cheese is made, there is a basic initial product (milk), and then all kinds of other necessary and almost magical components get added. Most importantly, a culture of bacteria is added to the milk that is specific to the kind of cheese you want to make. If you don’t have the culture, you don’t have the cheese. 

When I speak about an individual’s culture, I am referring to all the component parts that make up who you are: your history, values, strengths, failings, habits, preferences, etc. It includes how you respond to stress, how you unwind at night, how you conduct yourself in a conflict, and what kinds of foods you like to cook yourself (or order out).

The biggest obstacle to a strong self-culture is created when our society offers us physical comfort, constant entertainment, and a steady stream of information and content that relieves us of our need to exert ourselves intellectually.

If our society is going to survive, we must recover our ability to have a top-notch self-culture. If we are to thrive as individuals, we must take charge of our individual cultures and bring them into alignment with God’s design for humans. 

So what does this look like? First, we are going to look at a Biblical example of someone who had a strong self-culture and was able to navigate through extremely turbulent times. Second, I’m going to give you some practical steps to think through what you want your culture to look like. 

Most of us are familiar with the story of Daniel. The story begins when Jersualem was beseiged and taken by the Babylonian king. Many of Israel’s people, as well as the articles from the temple, were carried off to Babylon. Among the people who were taken captive were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

The captives were to be educated and assimilated into Babylonian culture so that they could serve in the King’s house. They were stripped of their Jewish identity, most likely castrated, and were given essentially a college education in the history, culture, and dark arts of Babylonia. The goal was complete assimilation. The Babylonian King wanted to benefit from his recent conquest’s cream of the crop, without the threat of any kind of uprising down the road. 

It is in this context that Daniel’s self-culture starts to shine.

Throughout this book, we see Daniel doing a number of proactive, and potentially even dangerous things to preserve his self-culture in order to resist assimilation. It should be noted here that his self-culture was very much in alignment with the Hebrew culture of his faith. The idea of self-culture is not a replacement for your faith culture. Our faith culture informs and adorns our self-culture, and the quality of our self-culture feeds back into our faith community. It is a mutually life-giving relationship. 

Let’s look at Daniel’s self-culture. In Babylonia, he was no longer able to practice the fullness of his faith – going to the Temple, studying Torah with the Jewish scholars, celebrating the Sabbath with his family and friends. 

So what did Daniel do? He refused to eat the portions set aside for him from the King’s table (a practice that acted out the dependence of the courtiers and royal officials on the generosity of the king), and insisted on eating a separate, clean diet of his choosing.

He kept his prayer habit consistent, and when it became illegal to keep praying to God, his private prayer habit was so strong and solid that he was able to keep it up even in the face of possible death. 

And despite being forced to learn what was essentially the sorcery or witchcraft of the Babylonians, he was able to keep and cultivate his God-given ability to interpret dreams. 

Christians often feel out of place in the world, and that is a good thing. But Christians in the U.S. and most Western countries can’t even imagine what this must have been like for Daniel. Imagine being removed from your family and hometown, forbidden from ever attending Church again, and being forced to learn astrology and witchcraft in order to serve the powerful leader who killed or captured everyone you know! How would you stay close to God in such a setting? How would your faith hold up? Would you keep thriving or would you collapse? 

Daniel is an inspiration to us all: he shows us what it looks like to be proactive in keeping a self-culture consistent and strong in any circumstance. 

Thankfully, we (in the U.S.) are not facing anything so heinous and traumatic on a national scale as what Daniel faced. But we are facing turbulence and uncertainty. 

If you are struggling with maintaining peace and feel that you are not thriving, the place to start is your self-culture. What are your prayer habits? How do you “reset” when you have been thrown off by fearful headlines? Are you intentionally seeking out life-giving people or do you feel helpless? 

There is much more that needs to be said about what this looks like. 

Over the next few weeks, I will be doing a series of blog posts that will be a deeper dive into several facets of what it looks like to create a strong self-culture. We will look at the different major events in Daniel’s life as guiding principles, reflect on what Jesus promised to be for us, and look at some practical tools and habits you can implement right away to majorly upgrade your self-culture and get back on the road to thriving. 

For now, I invite you to meditate on the life of Daniel. Re-read the first the book of Daniel (or at least chapters 1-6) with an eye to learning from a true master of self-culture. Daniel knew who he was, and he knew who his God was. Daniel doubtlessly experienced unbelievable emotional turbulence as well as unthinkable trauma. Daniel faced the temptation be brainwashed by a pagan king, and to submit to a command to pray to the king instead of his God. It was his powerful self-culture that allowed him live in a culture so hostile to his faith, and yet to thrive.

In Which I Move to New York, and am Still Very Surprised

At various points in my life I have fallen on one side or the other of the predestination/free-will debate. Now don’t stop reading yet! I promise this won’t be that kind of post. In fact, by the time I was in college, I was already burnt out on the debate. High school Robin was dogmatically on the side of predestination. College Robin stopped caring, but didn’t have any reason to question this belief. But mid-to-late twenties Robin was fairly rattled and had became unsettled on the question.

It became less and less clear to me- both from Scripture and from experience- that God actually was planning out everything that would happen and directing our steps accordingly. Things happened that were simply unthinkable if you imagined God deciding in the abstract that they should happen. And more and more I discovered the very real and important distinction between the fruit you harvest when you have planted and the fruit you harvest when you haven’t.

The experience of reaping what you sow definitely gives you an impression that you are the one calling the shots. And there’s nothing like a decade and a half of post-college experience that tears down any illusion of life being orderly, tidy, or as it should be.

Today, I believe that predestination and free will are like two axes on a multi-dimensional chart. They are both true and important, but we really just can’t see how they synergize. (This will need to be its own blog post at some point!) But, regardless of our own perception of our experience, there’s no getting around the fact that the Bible puts forth human agency & responsibility, and equally God’s providential direction of all the events in history.

So what does this has to do with my moving to New York?

Simply this: that I have no good explanation for why I’m here, other than that God pulled some strings, arranged a supernatural series of events, caused me to be in the right place at the right time, and …. voila! I am here.

(Above: what happens when a plantaholic decides to move five states north. Not pictured: the 20 or so large boxes of books my poor dad had to hoist into the truck)

I won’t go into the whole story here, but suffice it to say that it is truly a series of unlikely (but very fortunate!) events. And, despite being here for almost two weeks, I am still very surprised.

My belief in God’s active intervention in history is very much restored, because I can take absolutely no credit for this turn of events.

I can’t even say that it has been a life-long dream to live here. I thought vaguely about it, but at the end of the day, I didn’t even bother dreaming about it, because it seemed impossible.

This lovely rainbow showed up as I was waiting for my return flight after I flew up to see the house. There was no rain, and not a cloud in the sky- just the bow! It was very special.

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a tidy lesson for you you here. It would be completely delusional of me to give you a step by step process for how to get your wildest dream to come true. I think there are many more variables to why things happen or don’t happen than we can even imagine. When we reduce things down to God either orchestrating things or not, we don’t fully see what is actually going on.

Here are the few things I do know: 1) God seems to want me in NYC for this season in life. 2) The only reasonable response is absolute unremitting gratitude and thanksgiving.

This post is part announcement, part reflection. I have been here almost two weeks and have been fairly quiet about this new development online. I have been preoccupied with unpacking, setting up my new space, and just walking around in awe.

So as of September 24th, I now live in the heart of Queens, in a lovely beautiful, safe, and walkable neighborhood. I love taking my daily walk and discovering whole new streets, neighborhoods, shops, and people. The beauty of New York is that it is impossible to exhaust its newness, its diversity, its vibrancy.

So with profound gratitude, and still in utter shock, here are a few pics of my new neighborhood!

My lovely new housemate, Susannah.
Forest Hills Station Square, a scant four-minute walk from my house.

The view of my street, lamppost and all. The closest Forest Hills intersection in all its sunset glory, and just for fun, a local apartment building named after my former city.

Monday Meditation

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

Last week I posted an excerpt from Augustine’s Confessions

“In a thunderous voice he called us to return to him, at the secret place where he came forth to us. First he came into the Virgin’s womb where the human creation was married to him, so that mortal flesh should not for ever be mortal. Coming forth from thence ‘as a bridegroom from his marriage bed, he bounded like a giant to run his course.’ He did not delay, but ran crying out loud by his words, deeds, death, life, descent, and ascent- calling us to return to him.”

The words quoted from Psalm 19 are the Psalmist’s picture of the rising and setting sun. By itself, this is a lovely and vivid way of describing a natural phenomenon. But when Augustine reads those same verses, he sees not just the physical sun, but our Savior, bounding like a blinding and joy-filled giant, bursting from the Virgin’s womb and rushing through his life, unafraid and full of love, calling us to himself.

One of the tragic consequences of the modern period has been to de-mystify the world. Not that the world is actually demystified, but that we no longer naturally look around us and see God. This passage by Augustine might seem beautiful and quaint to us, but it’s also a call back to sanity. This is how we must see the world if we are to see reality.

Now more than ever, we can’t afford to see the way those around us see. Lord, give us your eyes to see the world the way you made it: charged with your glory, bursting with spirit and supernatural significance, and all pointing to Christ.

Monday Meditation: Christ’s Abundance of Life

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The past few weeks, I have been re-reading Augustine’s Confessions. This morning and found myself reading this sentence over and over:

“He who for us is life itself descended here and endured our death and slew it by the abundance of his life”. – Confessions IV. vii.(19)

I love the image of Jesus defeating death, not with death, but with the overabundance of his own life. Jesus is Life, and therefore Death has no power or sway over him. Satan could not defeat Jesus, because he had rejected God’s life, and the only weapon left available to him was death. Death is no match for life, as Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates. At the end of all things, there will only be life.

On an every-day level, we all have pockets of infection, corruption, and death in our lives. I think particularly while we are “stuck” at home with ourselves, our families, or roommates, it is easier than usual to despair about our internal state. While we’re out and about, running errands, going to movies, and going about our “normal” lives, it’s easy to be so busy that we don’t notice habits that are crippling our spiritual lives, speech patterns that bring down those around us, or as Augustine would say, “disordered loves.”

If you’re anything like me, you try to white-knuckle these problems into submission. You read books on growth and self-improvement, obsess over habit-building strategies, etc. There might be nothing wrong with looking for behavioral strategies, but they will not make you more like Christ.

What would it look like if, instead of kidding yourself that you can self-help your way into these changes, we instead meditated on the abundance of Christ’s life?

God made us mysteriously entangled creatures. In ways that we don’t yet understand, our physical lives and behaviors actually flow out of our spiritual health (out of the abundance of the heart…). I believe that when we meditate by yoking our hearts to the Lord and using our imagination as a tool to fill ourselves up with God’s truth, we will see life flowing out of us instead of death. (If you don’t believe me, just think for a minute about the spiritual significance of mirror neurons.)

The thousand little deaths we die when we participate in ungodly thoughts, speech, and behaviors are flooded and overwhelmed with the abundant life of Christ. When we are united to Christ, his death is our death, and his life is our life. What started with Jesus bursting from the tomb and will culminate in our perfection in the new heavens and earth, is still at work in this period in between. It is a river of life that we can either swim in or not. We might not see everything in our life transform all at once- that seems to be the nature of this in-between life. But I believe that as we continually turn the affections of our heart toward God, and unite our thoughts and imagination with his works and being, we will be transformed, and be on the path toward abundant life.

Where are the Church Mothers?

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Recently I went to a Saturday evening mass at the Roman Catholic cathedral in town. At the time, it was because I only had access to a car on Saturdays, and had to chose between that and the local hipster coffee shop Churches (which have their place, but I’ve been there done that). As I sat in the transcendent, colorful, and exquisitely designed sanctuary (which can seat more than 2,000 worshippers), and I saw the colorfully robed man moving to and fro at the front, kissing the Book, bowing before the Host, and, let’s face it, delivering a laughably mediocre homily, it struck me that I was completely comfortable with a male priesthood in this context, whereas in the Protestant Churches I’ve been in, I have found it off-putting to say the least.

As I wondered why this would be the case, I realized it was because this priest was the Church’s father, but the Church had a mother in Mary. A complete family picture was being presented for me as I watched the Catholic Church work in synergy with itself.

And then I wondered, where are the Protestant Church mothers?

One of my problems with the “traditional” complementarian model is that there is rarely, if ever, some positive role for women that corresponds with what we see women doing in Scripture. If we restricted the Pastorship to men, but had a cohort of official prophesiers, made up of men and women, that would make sense. Or even if we had some office of Church Mother, who could speak edification to the Church body, that would reflect the household of God as it should be. But we don’t. In the average complementarian Church, women have no way to use their voice to edify the Church as a whole. They might be able to teach children, and the older women might be encouraged to lead Bible studies and form relationships with younger women. But there is no sanctifying of the woman’s unique voice and Image-Bearing in corporate worship.

I believe that a Church should reflect a household as laid out in 1 Timothy 5. Given that a household should reflect the dignity and voice of all parties; and especially given the Biblical precedent for female prophets (Miriam, Huldah, Anna, Philip’s daughters), I simply can’t see that an all-male leadership model of the Church is Biblical. 

Practicing for a Sound Mind

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Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

I grew up the daughter of two professional musicians, which means I have had more off-hand nagging and commenting on my piano playing than anyone could wish for. Once I hit high school, official lessons were a no-go (then, as now, I had no patience for “boring stuff”), and launched into playing whatever I wanted, which happened to be a lot of Beethoven.

One of the practicing principles that my mom instilled in me, was that if you make a mistake, it’s not enough to go back and play it one more time correctly before moving on. The standard was, for every time you get it wrong, you had to play it at least ten times correctly before considering that hole in the passage mended. Make a mistake on your tenth try? Start over, and play the problem passage another ten times through.

For some reason I was thinking about that principle today as I lay on my bed, feeling yucky after the social media decisions I had made. Much like the feeling you get after downing an entire package of cookies or carton of ice cream, I regretted everything. It’s not that I had spent that much time on Twitter, or looked at anything particularly offensive. Sometimes, I find Twitter even to be fun and even intellectually stimulating. But today, my mini Twitter binge was nothing more than mental junk food. I scrolled through outrage and gossip, occasionally side-stepping into strangers’ timelines to marvel at their dumb opinions (don’t you love this time period?)- and now I very much wish I had not.

This isn’t a post about digital minimalism or time management. What I had before my Twitter binge, what I lost, and what I am trying to regain, is a certain kind of inner stillness that I have been learning to cultivate. I find that when I’m in this place in my spirit, I have a constant flow of ideas, pictures, nudges from the Holy Spirit, etc. I see this flow as very much a gift from God; but it’s up to me to steward the flow.

Maybe this sounds a little “woo” to you, but I don’t think it’s much different from what Paul was talking about in 2 Timothy 1:7. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” The mark of God’s presence is this inner stillness and flow.

The problem is, nothing sells faster than fear. The current top headlines in the world- at the moment Impeachment, Brexit, Climate Change, and the Coronavirus- are not going to be discussed with the spirit of power, love, and of a sound mind by very many people. Why? Because that wouldn’t sell. Can you even imagine click-bait that’s positive? “Click here to find out all the ways our world is actually improving!” Wouldn’t happen.

That means if you drink from that well- let’s call it, The Well of Fear and Outrage, just to be melodramatic-, you have to do some damage control to sync back up.

So how does this connect with my mom’s ruthless piano practicing rules?

The way I would apply the principle is this: if you make the choice to indulge in some mental junk food, you have intentionally practice the opposite.  It’s not enough to mentally decide that that nonsense isn’t for you. You have to actively fill back up with the good stuff, disproportionately more than you think. You have to go back and fix the passage you just flubbed, so the next time you get to that place in the music, you confidently sail through it.

If I spend 15 minutes getting my inner cogs jammed up thinking about people I don’t know, and situations I can’t solve, how can I get back to a clear mind that is open to ideas and the Holy Spirit? Realistically, maybe an hour meditating on Scripture, reading Chesterton, listening to beautiful music, being quiet in nature, etc. (These examples reflect my life as a single person but this list could easily include quality time with family spent playing, talking about what we’re grateful for, etc.)

That might seem unrealistic in terms of the time trade-off, and honestly, that’s partly the point. If my end goal is a certain state of mind that is open to the Holy Spirit and conducive for creativity, I simply cannot get there by wasting time and bandwidth with mental trash. It might be unrealistic for me to course-correct for an hour. But then I should have thought of that before indulging in the junk food- what the time crunch shows me is that I didn’t have time for the mental trash in the first place.

I could probably spend many posts on strategies for course-correction, but at least for now, I have a useful image for what it looks like to practice in order to correct a problem in my internal life. It’s not enough to shrug it off- only by being proactive will we be able to steward our inner flow.

 

Seriousness is Not a Virtue

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Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

It is one of the hundred answers to the fugitive perversion of modern “force” that the promptest and boldest agencies are also the most fragile or full of sensibility. The swiftest things are the softest things. A bird is active, because a bird is soft. A stone is helpless, because a stone is hard. The stone must by its own nature go downwards, because hardness is weakness. The bird can of its nature go upwards, because fragility is force. In perfect force there is a kind of frivolity, an airiness that can maintain itself in the air. Modern investigators of the miraculous history have solemnly admitted that a characteristic of the great saints is their power of “levitation.” They might go further; a characteristic of the great saints is their power of levity. Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. This has been always the instinct of Christendom, and especially the instinct of Christian art. Remember how Fra Angelico represented all his angels, not only as birds, but almost as butterflies. Remember how the most earnest medieval art was full of light and fluttering draperies, of quick and capering feet. It was the one thing that the modern Pre-raphaelites could not imitate in the real Pre-raphaelites. In the old Christian pictures the sky over every figure is like a blue or gold parachute. Every figure seems ready to fly up and float about in the heavens. The tattered cloak of the beggar will bear him up like the rayed plumes of the angels. But the kings in their heavy gold and the proud in their robes of purple will all of their nature sink downwards, for pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One “settles down”  into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness. A man “falls” into a brown study; he reaches up to a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue.

-Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Longing for Fairy Land

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Photo by Will Fuller on Unsplash

In a sense a child does not long for fairy land as a boy longs to be the hero of the first eleven. Does anyone suppose that he really and prosaically longs for all the dangers and discomforts of a fairy tale? – really wants dragons in contemporary England? It is not so. It would be much truer to say that fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. This is a special kind of longing. The boy reading the school story of the type I have in mind desires success and is unhappy (once the book is over) because he can’t get it: the boy reading the fairy tale desires and is happy in the very fact of desiring. For his mind has not been concentrated on himself, as it often is in the more realistic story. – C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children from On Stories

Social Justice and the Kingdom of God

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Photo by Tom Parsons on Unsplash

The evangelical conversation about social justice can be frustrating to overhear and participate in. As Christians, we’re called to seek and serve the lost, right? Why wouldn’t that include social justice? On the other hand, many more liberal Christian Churches have reduced the Gospel to doing good while forgetting that the Gospel is not the news that “we’re here to help!” but rather the news that Jesus is King of the World and we need to get behind his banner.

The social justice statement published by Tom Ascol and others was a good marker for where we are in the Church with respect to the issue. (You can read that statement here: https://statementonsocialjustice.com and for a lengthy but excellent critique of the statement see Alastair Robert’s response here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzN04Danjas)

A helpful distinction I have heard recently is between mercy ministries and social justice. Evangelicals tend to be good at a certain kind of outreach- serving at a soup kitchen, raising money and physical resources for the poor, mentoring underprivileged kids, volunteering at crisis pregnancy clinics, etc. These are what would be defined as mercy ministries. Mercy ministries address immediate needs, usually physical, but often emotional & spiritual needs as well.

Social justice, on the other hand, involves building and reforming social structures so that people are less likely to end up in those circumstances in the first place. Social justice addresses the systemic issues of oppression, corruption, oversight, and neglect.

In this current moment, there is a big push by conservative Christians for mercy ministries, but a lot of skepticism towards social justice. I have heard prominent Christian leaders say that we shouldn’t be focused on social justice because as the Gospel spreads throughout the world, governments and laws will more and more align with God’s perfect standard for justice. The Social Justice Statement mentioned above puts it this way: “We affirm that when the primacy of the gospel is maintained that this often has a positive effect on the culture in which various societal ills are mollified.”

Now imagine if this had been the attitude of William Wilberforce. What if he had refused to fight to change the laws of England to end slavery because “as the Gospel spreads in England, we will naturally leave practices like slavery behind.” When slavery ended in England, it was not because the Gospel had naturally worked through the nation. It was because men and women such as Wilberforce, Hannah More, and others, would not shut up about slavery.

In other words, it was because they had a social justice mindset, and not a mercy ministry mindset. If Wilberforce had taken the advice to simply serve those hurt by the institution of slavery and pray for its dissolution, we might still be living in that wicked system today.

Thankfully, that particular iteration of slavery has come crashing down in Europe and North America, but there is still much work to be done. While there is still human trafficking, police brutality to minorities, abortion, bungled and inexcusable treatment of refugees and immigrants, poverty, and child pornography,  we have our work cut out for us.

Mercy ministry won’t move the needle in any of these travesties, although caring for the needs of the people crushed by these human rights violations is an important complement to changing laws and social structures. It is only when Christians decide to take up their God-given sledgehammers and start tearing down these unjust societal structures that we can begin to have a just society.

For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest
    on the land allotted to the righteous,
lest the righteous stretch out
    their hands to do wrong.”  -Psalm 125: 3

As this verse makes clear, having just laws and a societal intolerance for corruption is what allows the righteous to resist temptation. Not simply the spread of intellectual or emotional assent to the Gospel. We have over-spiritualized the spread of God’s kingdom for too long. God’s kingdom will be fully realized not simply through preaching and worship. It will also be realized through activism, lobbying, awareness, education, and public debate (and of course, art, beauty, parenting, hospitality and much more, but that’s a post for another day).

For too long, many in the Church have arbitrarily decided that the Gospel must come first, and justice will follow. I believe that as governments reform, it will plough the ground of society for the seeds of the Gospel. We don’t know how the Kingdom of God will grow through our efforts, but we certainly shouldn’t limit ourselves to the tools of preaching, worship, and mercy ministries. Bringing the kingdom of God is an all-hands-on-deck affair, and social justice is an indispensable weapon.

God’s Breath and our Voice

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Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

It’s the first Sunday of Advent, four years after my last post on this blog. A lot has happened in these last four years (it always does), but possibly the most dramatic emphasis that God has been pushing to my foreground is the recovery of my voice. How I lost it is the subject for a different post, one I might not get to (I tend not to be auto-biographical here), but for now, I want to tie a thread together between God’s voice, our voice, and Advent.

God used his breath to speak this world into existence, and then he used that same breath to animate Adam. We are ultimately clay, breath, and words. God’s majesty and glory could not be contained in a single iteration of humankind- he needed…. how many of us? Billions by this point. By the end of history, who knows? And that won’t even exhaust all his thoughts, or the expansive range of his personality. Our voice is absolutely vital to our identity as humans, made in his image. To restrict another’s voice, or to mock or silence it, is to silence the Lord himself.

This isn’t to say I don’t support hearty debate. Because of the fall, we all have absorbed and produced many toxic and unholy ideas and we often give them voice. That’s why it’s important, even while maintaining our civility and graciousness, to also encourage rowdy conversation, debate, and even satire. To stay silent in the face of lies is to be complicit.

So I’m resurrecting this blog, four years later, on the first Sunday of Advent, as a step in that direction- first as an outlet for a voice that has not yet been fully realized, and second as it arises, to embrace hearty and joyful disagreement.

For the last eight years, I have been a Children’s Director at an Anglican Church. When I was teaching children’s church during the season of Advent, I always started with the story of the Annunciation. The Annunciation is a beautiful story in which the angel Gabriel comes to visit Mary to tell her she will be the mother of the Son of God. She agrees, and a few verses later, she bursts into a song, a beautiful work of art that has been sung, chanted and read for centuries. (Luke 1:46-55)

It’s interesting that immediately before this story, another person is visited by Gabriel. But instead of having the privilege of being given a voice, of having his tongue loosed to create beautiful poetry and song to praise God, Zacharias finds his mouth mysteriously and horrifically silenced. His unbelief and skepticism dealt a death-blow to his ability to use his voice. It was only when God’s promise to him was realized and he responded in gratitude and belief that his voice was restored to him.

As I move into this new season- most immediately a season of Advent and longer term, a season of pursuing the voice God placed within me, my hope is to be a Mary and not a Zacharias. My hope is to respond to God’s initiation with belief and willing participation, rather than cocking the eyebrow to ask, “how?” I don’t know how, and I’ve never known how. It’s not my job to know how, it’s simply my job to say with Mary, my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. (Luke 1:47)