Have You Kept Christ in Christmas?

Each year, the holiday season brings with it many historic traditions, like the red cups at Starbucks, the bad pop Christmas songs playing in every retail store in the country, and the revived rhetoric among certain Christians about “keeping Christ in Christmas.” Perhaps you have heard talk of this on the news or seen posts about it in your Facebook feed. I assume the underlying concern is that the removal of any religious references from the holiday might indicate a resistance against or stifling of Christianity in our country. I can appreciate that. But, first, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve got multiple holidays happening in tandem rather than one religious holiday being continually corrupted. C.S. Lewis identified three Christmases in his essay “What Christmas Means to Me” from God in the Dock: there’s the “religious festival,” which is “important and obligatory for Christians,” and the “popular holiday,” which is “an occasion for merry-making and hospitality” for many, regardless of religion or background. Lewis calls the third Christmas the “commercial racket” that “has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers.” He elaborates in typical Lewis fashion—smart, concise, funny—if you’re interested in reading the entire essay, but I’ve shared enough to make my present point. Continue reading Have You Kept Christ in Christmas?

What Can We Learn From the Mars Hill Shutdown?

Mars Hill Church began as a small gathering in Mark Driscoll’s home in 1996 and soon became one of the fastest-growing churches in the country. But the church that was praised just last year as one of the “Top Churches to Watch in America” has been the subject of much controversy lately, stemming primarily from its hyper-masculine, strongly opinionated founding pastor. The Puget Sound Business Journal recently ran an article stating that there are rumors of Mars Hill declaring bankruptcy (the Puget Sound region of Washington was home to several of the church’s locations). Even if such rumors are false, they are indicative of the dramatic decline in both popularity and organizational stability the church has seen in recent months. On January 1st, 2015, Mars Hill Church will officially dissolve. Continue reading What Can We Learn From the Mars Hill Shutdown?

Little Hope Was Arson – A Second Look (Film Review)

Note: a review copy of this film was provided in exchange for a review. Visit the film’s website here. See our earlier review from James here. Spoilers follow.

If you’ve ever been to Texas, you may have noticed the Jesus fish symbols on billboards used (presumably) to alert viewers that the company is Christian owned, or that it only takes a few minutes on the road to realize that there is almost literally a church on every corner. Continue reading Little Hope Was Arson – A Second Look (Film Review)

To Live In Peace and Repentance

I often find that, from Sunday to Sunday, I am struck by different moments in our church service. Last week, my husband and I made a short autumn getaway to Vermont (referred to simply as “God’s Country” in our house). On Sunday morning, we stood side by side in a small Russian Orthodox Church outside Montpelier, on what can only be described as the perfect autumn day: the sun was bright; the sky was clear, intense blue; the air cool and fresh. The morning sunlight softly illuminated the smoke from the censor as it gently wafted and curled around the altar table. The deacon took his place facing the altar doors and began reading off prayers, and one in particular struck my heart: Continue reading To Live In Peace and Repentance

“The Heights and the Depths:” Considering the Seasons of Life

Like a cool morning mist, fall is gradually settling on New England. Having been raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it’s a different and enjoyable experience for me to now live in a place that has proper seasons. In New Mexico, summer lingers until about mid-October. The fall leaves are lovely—mostly golden cottonwoods—and the fall temperatures last until almost Christmas. Winter lasts all of two months, if that, and it starts to feel like spring again in February. Continue reading “The Heights and the Depths:” Considering the Seasons of Life

Children, God, and Human Nature: How Being a Nanny is Teaching Me About the Universe

In my day job, I work as a nanny for three adorable children. The brother-sister twins are almost a year and a half, and their older brother, Sam, is four. I’ve learned some things that I more or less expected to learn after taking this job: how to change a diaper, how to prepare bottles, how to spot from across the room a baby chewing something he’s not supposed to chew. However, I’ve also learned some things that I didn’t expect as much. Continue reading Children, God, and Human Nature: How Being a Nanny is Teaching Me About the Universe

A Defense of Traveling Without a Smartphone

Last week, my husband and I spent a few days in Montreal, Canada. It was our first trip up to the Great White North since moving to the Boston area almost exactly one year ago. I had heard that Montreal is primarily French speaking, so I was prepared for a bit of a cultural immersion. What I didn’t prepare for, though, was not being able to use my iPhone as soon as we crossed the border.

About two minutes after passing through border control, my husband and I each received text messages informing us that using data while out of the country would cost about an arm and a leg. This meant no more Google Maps; no more checking for updates on our lodgings in my Airbnb app; no more Instagramming, Tweeting, or checking Facebook. No more constant access to the Internet.

At first, this was nerve-wracking. Neither of us had ever been to Montreal, after all, and neither of us could speak French very well. As I’ve said before, I am an introvert who is afraid of drawing attention to myself (sometimes to a debilitating point), so I don’t like the idea of standing out as a tourist. In hindsight, however, the experience of exploring a new city without constantly referring to a screen was pretty nice. Aside from using my phone to take photos and videos from time to time, I didn’t take it out that much around the city. Of course, we had wifi in the apartment where we were staying, so in the mornings and evenings we looked for fun things to do online, made lists of names and addresses in a notebook, and marked their locations on a paper map given to us by a friendly employee at a tiny rest stop in northern Vermont. (We came to rely on that map a lot during our trip, so friendly Vermont rest stop lady, if you’re reading this for some bizarre reason: thank you.)

Not only did we quickly learn that most people in Montreal can speak English (at least when they want to), it was also a relief to find that the locals were pretty friendly and happy to help two lost-looking American tourists. One afternoon we sat down in a park and unfolded our map, trying to orient ourselves and find the quickest route to a bar where we’d read we could get some good local beer. Two friendly faced, stylishly dressed university students approached us. The young man greeted us in French but quickly realized that we didn’t speak it. He proceeded in English: “Do you need some help?”

“Well,” my husband said, “We’re just trying to figure out where to go next.” The blond-haired female student bent over us, looking at the map through her large hipster glasses.

“Do you want to know exactly where you are?” she asked in her lilting French Canadian accent.

“Sure,” my husband replied. “We’re trying to get to this bar nearby.” He pointed to our marking on the map, where earlier that day he had simply written the word “Beer” on the  intersection closest to the bar.

“Ah, Dieu du Ciel!” the girl said. She knew of it and told us a good way to get there.

The next day we made a wrong turn on our bikes trying to make our way back to the Latin Quarter (where we were staying) from the port in Old Montreal. Again, we stopped and opened the map. Not five minutes later, two young men approached us and offered to help. As we talked, they also gave us tips on some fun things to do that evening. That’s the thing about pulling out a map in public: it’s a universal signal that says, “I’m lost,” and it’s recognizable to speakers of any language.

While it’s definitely great and convenient to be able to pull up Google Maps and know exactly where you are, or to do a quick Yelp search for good restaurants in the area, traveling in a new place without that instant accessibility to information lent itself to a more human experience. We had more interactions with locals than we would have had otherwise; when we got lost or needed a recommendation, we had to rely on the kindness of strangers rather than our smartphones. And, of course, there was the added benefit of not compulsively checking Facebook every five minutes during meals together. Plus, using a paper map and finding our way as we went was kind of fun; to be sure, it was also occasionally frustrating, especially when certain streets seemed impossible to find on the map or had different names for some reason. But after a while, we got a better feel for how the city was laid out and which streets could take us where than I think we would have by simply following turn-by-turn instructions from a GPS.

I’m not making a broad argument against modern technology. Most days, I love having a smartphone. But it does seem that certain technologies can lend themselves to isolation, depending on how we use them. If my husband and I had been able to use our smartphones every time we needed directions or help of any kind, it probably would’ve been a little more convenient, and we probably would’ve saved a little time getting around, but we also wouldn’t have interacted as much with the people around us. And for an introvert like me, I often need an extra push toward interactions with strangers.

When visiting a new place, opening yourself to receiving help from the people there makes for an experience that is more human and more interpersonal. It makes you vulnerable and it’s even a bit humbling, because you can’t feign independence with a technology crutch. Instead, you must accept setbacks and delays as part of the reality of exploring someplace new, and if you need help, you must acknowledge it, reach out to your fellow man (or let them reach out to you, as was often the case for us in Montreal), and see where you end up.

The “Quieter Love” That Comes with Time

I met my husband when I was fifteen years old. We fell in love as kids. Jordan used to pick me up at my parents’ house in his white mustang to take me out on dates: to movies; to go swing dancing; to the local Albuquerque coffee shop where he had asked me to be his girlfriend in the first place. We dated for several years (broke up once in the middle) and married two months before my twentieth birthday.

The groundwork for our relationship was laid in the early days of our youth, which paired nicely with the pleasant dizziness of youthful love: love that is just starting out, just revving up, just blossoming and overwhelming you with its sweet fragrance.

Sometimes I miss those early days of being in love. I’ve seen more and more engagement announcements in my Facebook feed in recent years, always accompanied by photos of the smiling couple and the girl showing off her ring, always full of the particular excitement and giddiness that comes with still-young love.

Let me be clear: I love my husband more than anyone. He’s my favorite person in the world. I certainly haven’t “fallen out of love” with him (whatever that means). Our romance is still young in a lot of ways, and there’s always something new and exciting to look forward to next.

But our love is different than it was back in high school, or when we first got married, and I’ve learned that that’s okay. That’s how it’s supposed to be. We have both changed over the years, because that’s what human beings do as they grow and learn. We’ve gotten to know each other (and ourselves) better. We’ve faced some challenges and made some big decisions together. We’ve seen each other at our worst, our most vulnerable, and our weakest. We’ve enjoyed each other at our best.

There’s a passage about love from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity I’ve been thinking on lately (and which I’ve mentioned on here before). It’s long, but it’s great, so here it is:

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

This quieter love is what, I think, Jordan and I are beginning to experience now, after entering our fifth year of marriage (and the eighth year of our relationship). Because not only do we as individuals change with time, but love changes, too. After you’ve left the stage of new, young love, you begin to experience what older love is like…not that I would classify what Jordan and I have as particularly “old,” but it’s older than it was eight years ago when we started dating or five years ago when we married. Like us, it’s aging and growing and changing. Love is not a static thing. And (Lord willing) in five, ten, twenty-five, or fifty years, I’m sure our love will be different than it is now.

Relationships are fortified through little, everyday things. Earlier this summer, Jordan and I were apart for over three weeks, which is the longest we’ve spent apart since getting married. (It unpleasantly reminded us of the roughly two years we spent long-distance dating, which, as I articulated in an exasperated Twitter post while Jordan was away, “SUCKED FOREVER.”)

Some of the things I missed most during that time were just the everyday parts of our relationship. I missed our evening routine of making dinner and watching something on Hulu or Netflix together. I missed having someone just to talk to about my feelings. I missed the silly little things we’d do to make each other laugh, like doing a dorky dance while taking the dishes to the kitchen or making up our own lyrics to cheesy love songs to sing to each other from the next room. I missed lying in bed together, staring up at the dark ceiling, and talking about our days or our future or how we want to raise our kids and all of the other little, secret things you only share with a spouse. This must be the stuff of Lewis’ “quieter love.”

I am excited by this new stage of love that, while not as flashy as its predecessor, is a little deeper and richer and growing more so day by day. I remember fondly the early days of our romance, but I wouldn’t trade what we have now to go back and start all over again.

Onwards and upwards.

Image via IM Creator.

Why We Should Care (and Talk) About Mary

“And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’” — Luke 1:28

Author and podcaster Michael Hyatt, a former Protestant and current deacon in the Orthodox Church, states in one of his podcasts* that in Protestantism, Mary is “eerily absent.”

“I don’t think I ever heard, as a Protestant, a single sermon about Mary,” he says. Outside of the Christmas narrative, Mary is not talked about much. Having been raised in the Evangelical church, this was certainly true of my experience. If Mary was ever discussed in my Sunday School classes or from the pulpit, it was to emphasize how normal she is —  presumably as a way to distance themselves from Catholicism, the churches I grew up in presented Mary as just like the rest of us. That’s the impression I was left with, at least.

It’s true that Mary is not divine like God, and she should not be worshipped or thought of as such. Redemption and salvation come only from Christ. However, that doesn’t mean we cannot benefit spiritually from a proper understanding of his mother. To diminish or even dismiss Mary —  also referred to as the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, or the Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer”), among other titles —  is to miss out on some deep and incredible theological realities about God, humanity, and womanhood.

Now, there is truth to the sentiment that Mary is just like us: she is a human being in need of a savior just as much as anyone else, a fact she herself acknowledges (Luke 1:47). But she is an example for all Christians because she fully submits to and obeys God. In fact, her humanity makes her actions and responses to her circumstances all the more outstanding and inspiring.

Dn. Michael calls Mary the “prototypic Christian” because her humility and acceptance of God’s will for her life is a model for us all. Her humility, he says, “is a huge shift…from the way we think about ourselves as Americans in the twenty-first century. We think we’re entitled. We deserve better. And even as Christians we sometimes think that…why didn’t I get a different life? Why didn’t I get an easier life?…But not Mary.”

After hearing Gabriel’s announcement that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, Dn. Michael points out that Mary calls herself the maidservant of the Lord, and says, “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) “She knows who she is and she’s content to obey,” explains Dn. Michael. “And she puts herself fully at the mercy of God’s word.” This is central to Mary’s significance to Christianity; Dn. Michael continues, “To me, whatever else Mary is for us as the Theotokos, she’s also the proto-Christian. The first Christian. The best example of what it means to receive Christ, not just with lipservice, but in our hearts, and to abandon ourselves completely to God.”

Further, we learn from her words in the Magnificat that “[Mary] begins with God…in verse forty-six: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.’ (Luke 1:46) This is the essential feature of Mary’s life. This is why she is the protoypic Christian. This is why she’s a worthy example for all of us…Mary understands: it’s not about her…it’s about [Christ].” Mary demonstrates the proper Christian posture toward God: one that is marked by humility, acceptance of God’s will, and Christ-centeredness.

Another important reason we should care about Mary is that through her, womanhood, motherhood, and unborn life are redeemed and sanctified.

Christ redeems all of humanity. There seems to be, though, a special redemption given to women through the Mother of God. What does it say about God that the way he chose to redeem humanity was to become human, and the way he chose to become human was to be carried by and born of a human woman? God chose to be born and to have a mother who nursed and nurtured and raised him. This says that God values and esteems unborn life, women, and motherhood.

Through Mary, womanhood was redeemed: as Eve disobeyed, Mary obeyed. Through Mary, childbirth and motherhood were redeemed: as Eve was cursed to bear children in pain and suffering (Genesis 3:16), Mary was blessed to bring forth Christ and to be the vehicle of salvation and life. Christ is the second Adam. Mary has been called the second Eve.

Abortion is, to say the least, a tragedy for the unborn children who lose their lives, but it is also a tragedy for the women who lose or even willfully deny a part of themselves that is, in a way, divine. I am not suggesting that women who don’t bear children have an incomplete or lesser identity, but generally (and biologically) speaking, childbearing and motherhood are uniquely female things, and they therefore are part of the female identity. Because Christ was conceived and born and has a mother, the ability to conceive and bear children and the role of mother will forever be linked with the incarnation. Just as dismissing Mary is to dismiss a rich aspect of Christian theology (of which I’ve really only scratched the surface here), dismissing childbearing and motherhood is to dismiss a deep and sacred aspect of what it means to be a woman as well as what it means to be human.

“And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” — Luke 1:41-42

*quotations are taken from episodes of At the Intersection of East and Westa podcast of Ancient Faith Radio. The episodes quoted here are “Mary — The Prequel,” “Mary — The Annunciation,” and “Mary Meets Elizabeth.”

“There Must Be More to Life Than Having Everything”

“He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 5:10

I think Americans are generally uncomfortable with limits. Ours is a consumeristic culture: we want unlimited options; we want what we want, when we want it, and for the cheapest price possible.

We apply this consumeristic mindset to other aspects of life, too. We want to have accomplished careers and idyllic family lives. We want the promotion with the corner office and the healthy marriage, comfortable home, and well-adjusted children (of which we want one boy and one girl, of course, so that we don’t miss out on raising either gender). And, just as we have a list that guides us in the grocery store, when we act as consumers of life itself, it feels like our lives become ruled by an invisible checklist: impressive job title? Check. Spouse and kids? Check. Three-bedroom house? Check. Vacation condo in Florida? Check. 

Of course, having any or all of those things is not inherently destructive. It’s good to believe in ourselves, follow our passions, and try to do something meaningful and fulfilling with our lives.

There is danger, however, when completing the invisible checklist becomes the endgame. It’s harmful when the checklist weighs so heavily over our lives that our goals and desires overshadow what we have in the present. This kind of thinking is easy to slip into: “Once I finally get [blank], then I’ll be happy,” or “I’ll know I’ve really made it when I finally [blank].” I often lose sight of the good things God has given me here and now by fretting over what someone else has (or appears to have, from my biased and limited perspective), and the only real result of that is more anxiety and dissatisfaction. It is idolatry: I worship achievements, experiences, and myself. I expect these things to make me happy and whole. I know this, but I do it anyway.

Maybe life isn’t all about “having it all.” There’s a quote from a Maurice Sendak book that goes, “There must be more to life than having everything.”


There must be more to life than having everything.

I don’t know about you, but I feel so relieved when I read those words. It’s such a refreshing thought that life is more than a checklist of accomplishments and milestones we must collect like trophies. Life is more than an increasingly exhausting “race to the top” or the next thing we want to say we’ve done, to somehow prove that we are valuable, capable, and satisfied (to others or to ourselves).

Maybe we should make our lives more about giving and less about having—more about serving and less about achieving. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about whether or not things or relationships in my life are making me happy. Instead, I should focus on what I can do to make those relationships stronger and healthier. Maybe instead of worrying that others are living better lives than I am, I should focus on how I can best love others.

Maybe I won’t visit all the places I hope to visit. Maybe I won’t get my “dream job.” Maybe I won’t live in the hippest city or have just as many kids as I want. Maybe I won’t ever publish a book.

And maybe I will get some of those things, or even all of them.

But I’m certain that my life will be emptier if those are the things I care most about, because really, all of those things translate into one primary concern: myself.

So instead of living life based on an obscure list of accolades that I think will make me happy or prove my value, I must embrace the life that I have and focus on grounding it in the God who created me and you and all things, the God who always loves us and keeps watch for our return, whether we have strayed for a few minutes or for many years. And maybe he has something in mind for all of us that’s better, more rewarding, and certainly more sanctifying than anything we could possibly think of to put on a checklist.