Brew Pubs, Putting Down Roots, and What the Incarnation Means for Local Living

This past Friday my husband and I hurried out as soon as he got home from work to beat the crowds at what we were sure would be a very busy opening night at the new brew pub in town. We grabbed the last open table with re-purposed church pew seating, sampled some impressive local brew, and talked amid the happy clamor of someone’s small business dream coming true.

In our tired but trying town, I’ve started taking every new business venture as a personal triumph. I was infuriated when I saw the headlines that our neighborhood coffee shop had been closed down due to unpaid taxes, and then elated and relieved to hear they were reopening (where I plan to leave tips from now on and forevermore). I frequent the farmers’ market and champion the local coffee roastery and bookstore over any franchise.

But I have not always been so interested in local culture. Two years ago when I first moved here after our honeymoon, I was not ready to put down any roots. It took me nine months to change my Maryland license. We slept on a mattress on the floor, not bothering with furniture which would be too hard to move later. I hated the weather.

It took some time to acquaint myself with the place and the people, but as I’ve immersed myself in our local culture, I never would have imagined how much I would come to identify with it.

Our Location Shapes our Person

Have you ever noticed how people describe their personalities according to their location? We identify ourselves by our geography. We define ourselves by our free Californian spirit, Midwestern roots, southern hospitality. We call ourselves city girls or country boys, corporately-minded East Coasters or free-flowing West Coasters.

We say these things, because where we live plays a part in who we become.

We inhabit a space and it shapes us. The ancient Israelities understood this far better than we do today. Old Testament Waldemar Janzen explains,

“Landholding, for Israel, is based neither on aboriginal claims nor on military power; it is inheritance and rest (Deut. 12:9) granted by God’s grace…God alone is its owner, and human existence is properly existence as“strangers and sojourners” (Lev. 25:23).  Trusting in God’s grace, however, humans can live securely in that impermanent status, knowing that the hospitality of God alone offers the real security of home.” [1]

Americans often rely on the luxury of choosing their location, whether for a career, the climate, or another variable, but through God’s grace, we can inhabit any place and spread out our roots wide and full.

And when we are at home in our space, we are empowered to:

  • rest,
  • welcome others into our space through hospitality,
  • and obey Christ’s command to “love our neighbors” (Matthew 22:39).

Our Location Shapes our Faith

A local gospel must be important for a God who entered our physical space, Emmanuel, to dwell with us. There’s just something sacred about drawing near, loving not just the abstract world but our neighbors within physical reach, and putting down roots in faith.

Do you identify personally with your environment, or perhaps on the opposite end of the spectrum, resist it? How has where you live changed your convictions, interests, perspective?

[1] [1] Waldemar Janzen, Old Testament Ethics: A Paradigmatic Approach (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1994), 42.

When Grace Stirs Up the Dust

On Ash Wednesday, they got my order wrong at Starbucks.

I had taken my cup back to my seat before I realized it, and hesitated, pausing there in my black dress which I thought I would wear, being appropriate to the day. I didn’t yet have the kiss of ash on my forehead, but had found a service to attend that evening. And I have been considering what to give up for the forty forthcoming days.

But sitting in the corner of the coffee shop, it suddenly seemed absurd to me that dust should deserve a vanilla rooibos tea latte.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return…

These bones are on borrowed time. I may decorate them to show my youth, but this frame is mortal. I remember when my muscles tie themselves into knots around my spine, when news of a celebrity death starts trending on Twitter, when I flinch in fear at sudden swerves in traffic.

We tend to remember the Fall in the garden as an event, a swift plummet, but ever since we fall in slow motion. Especially when we are young and in good health, we rarely realize gravity’s slow and silent pull toward the end.

Which makes me wonder, why give gifts to dying children? 

It almost seems unfathomable. I woke up cozy that morning in my house that I own with my husband whom I love. I drove to Starbucks in my Jetta, propped my new boots up on a comfy armchair to sit back and enjoy a customized beverage, wholly superfluous to my nutritional diet and needs.

Impossible, that I should be entitled to any of this. My life is overrun with privileges.

Ashes remind me that I don’t deserve it; that it is a gift. But on the other side of these ashes, the God I love stands to resurrect, to bring to life, to make things new.

I held my steaming cup in hand, and knew that I am blessed.

How does Lent shape your perspective? Are you doing anything this year to observe it such as fasting, new disciplines, reflection, etc.? I’d love to know!

The Inconvenience of Lent

[This post was originally published on Relief Journal’s blog, and I’m happy to say our church now incorporates communion into the service]

In our American culture of drive-through coffee, instant Twitter feeds, and video on demand, we prize immediacy. We like to check our email on our touchscreen phone as soon as it hits our inbox, grab lunch to-go, and download live-streaming news. We are a nation of busy professionals, parents, and students living under the banner of “carpe diem,” driven by the idea that there’s no time like the present.

This “now” syndrome certainly has advantages, motivating us to work hard and invest fully in whatever we’re doing, but what happens when we apply our instant-culture values to spirituality?

I once had a bizarre experience with communion that made me consider this question. After months of exhausting church-searching, my husband and I finally found a church where we wanted to stay. It’s a contemporary kind of church, the kind that has a graphic designer on staff and a coffee bar out in the hall, and we came because we like the teaching and the small groups. But you have to understand, the church we went to before we moved was a liturgical church, the kind with Kierkegaard quotes in every other sermon and weekly communion. So we knew we’d have to make some adjustments at our new church.

But this is what I did not expect: communion that is served before the service, an addendum tacked onto and separate from the worship service. So we set our alarms a little earlier, entered the sanctuary, and found only a fraction of the congregation had shown up. The pastor said a prayer for this handful of early-risers, and at his invitation we filed up front and received the elements, and then it was over. The whole ordeal took literally five minutes. There was no time of confession before receiving the sacrament. There was no benediction afterwards, charging us to go forth bearing Christ into the world. There was no community, only a yawning faithful few. There was no ritual, no careful unfolding of holiness.

It was like grabbing Christ’s blood of the covenant, His outpouring for the world, in a Styrofoam to-go cup. It was a sacrament dictated by convenience, quickly squeezed in between other items on the agenda, and left out of the greater context of cosmic redemption.

The problem with an instant culture, and an instant church, is that a preoccupation with the present diminishes our ability to see seasons, to see story, to observe the unfolding of time. This is the pivotal idea of the sacrament of communion: Christ asks us to remember Him by taking the bread and wine (Luke 22:19), and to anticipate the future when we will eat and drink with Him face to face (Matt. 26:29).

As we now enter the season of Lent, we enter a time of waiting. There is no immediacy or convenience here. But there is a story of cosmic proportions unfolding, as we take the forty days of Lent to remember, to walk through the events of the life of Christ: the temptation in the desert, the agony of Good Friday, the silence and sorrow of Holy Saturday, and the joyful victory of Sunday morning.

It is often difficult for us to lay down our gadgets and agendas to just sit for a while, quiet our souls, and dwell with God. And yet, He laid down everything for us, making Himself “nothing” and emptying Himself to the point of death (Phil. 2:7-98).

In his beautiful poem“Seven Stanzas at Easter,” John Updike writes of the agony of the cross, “Let us not seek to make it less monstrous, for our own convenience…” As we cross the threshold of Ash Wednesday, let us reflect sincerely and sorrowfully on Christ’s suffering for us, so that on Easter morning, our hearts will grasp the incredible joy in His resurrection.

How do you find preparing yourself for Easter through Lent an inconvenience? How do you find it a blessing?

Going Local, Saving Sex, & Other Readings

Jobs, relationships, traveling adventures, and the like are all good reasons for twenty-somethings to pack it up and make a move. But I think it’s also important to invest in each place even as we pass through it. It takes courage to put down roots in what you know are only temporary homes, but I’ve learned personally the richness of living locally, and immersing yourself in the community God has no doubt intentionally placed you in.

I reflect on this tension in an article in RELEVANT today, The Great Escapism: Why this generation needs to learn how to stay put

On a different note, I was interviewed last week by the editor of B (of the Baltimore Sun paper) who was doing a piece on abstinence as a reemerging trend for young adults. She contacted myself and another former intern of a non-profit that gives abstinence presentations in the Baltimore school system, and asked some good and fair questions. The final piece was published today and I’ll be curious to hear what you think.

You can read it here: Virginity in Pop Culture: Why do we care who isn’t getting any?

Also, don’t miss these two blog series I’ve been enjoying for the past few weeks:

Preston Yancey’s “At the Lord’s Table,” a candid collection of voices affirming the beauty of the church

Ed Cyzewski’s “Women in Ministry” series, a redemptive conversation of the giftedness of women to serve

What are you reading and enjoying this week, whether online or in print?

The Church is Like a Soup Kitchen #ATLT

Today I’m honored to be posting in Preston Yancey’s At the Lord’s Table blog line-up, in his own words, “a series of over 50 posts from varying authors about the beautiful, mangled Church. Look for at least two new posts every Monday through Saturday between January 25th and February 22nd. Join us in the conversation? See you in the comments.”

Here’s the beginning of my post and I’ll see you over at Preston’s blog to read the rest! 

If communion is an occasion for confession and cleansing of sin before approaching the table, then I was entering crunch time. I was already out of my seat, shuffling reverently forward with the rest physically, but spiritually stuck on the awareness that another member of the congregation, another child of God, was concurrently approaching the table.  I knew I could not honestly receive the cup and bread with a grudge in my heart, but this person had hurt me. And I struggled to forgive…

Is There a Line Between Physical and Spiritual Health?

This fourth week in January, we’re caught in a changing of the tide. For we who indulged in Christmas feasting and snacking now take a solemn vow of health and wellness, stocking up on protein powder and taking advantage of yoga mat sales. It’s a cliche, but it happens annually.

My pastor opened his sermon yesterday with some stats on the new year’s surge toward physical fitness, and offered up the logic that if we are going to be so intentional about building a plan that will have lasting benefits for our bodies, why wouldn’t we likewise create a plan to consistently pursue spiritual health?

When was the last time you heard a pastor affirm the body and its physical care? As I think on previous sermons I have heard, I can recall mostly warnings and polemics against the body as it leads into (usually sexual) sin.

But I was refreshed, this Sunday, to see a treatment of the physical and the spiritual that was not communicated as a dichotomy. The forbidden fruit in Eden, the manna in the wilderness, the water turned to wine, the feeding of the five thousand, the last supper of bread and wine…these are just some of the parallels used in Scripture that God uses to show His spiritual truth through our tangible experience. But for any of these metaphors  to work, we have to affirm both elements.

God speaks to us as whole people, not ambiguous ratios of body and soul, tangible and spiritual, but as whole men and women made in His image. And we do damage to ourselves when we splice this image.

I did damage to myself as a teenager, committing myself to spiritual growth while hushing the hunger pains of my self-emptied body, serving two gods, one to which I entrusted my soul and the other which I alternately praised and detested in the mirror every day.

It wasn’t until I encountered the Incarnation that I began to heal. The God who was not transcendent but dust-rooted, who breathed through mortal lungs, like me. He was whole and holy, and I became hungry again.

How do you integrate the body and faith? How do you encounter God in your physical experience? 

Marriage Is…

Over Christmas I caught up with a friend over coffee, and the conversation of expectations and marriage came up. She asked me how I would describe our first year of marriage, and if it was hard. Marriage, and newlywed life especially, is a lot of things, but that would probably be the last word I would use to describe our first year together.

“Really?” she said, “You’re the first person I’ve heard say that.”

The first picture taken of Zach and I together. It's a long story. Maybe I'll tell it sometime.

It made me sad to hear that young married couples experience challenge and difficulty as the norm. I know that marriages can hit hard times. Any relationship worth fighting for will be hard, it will weather both tension and tenderness. We’ve experienced both in newlywed life, most of our conflict arising from the adjustment of welding two lives into one. And I can only speak from this small beginning that is ours, but overall, I would describe marriage in different words:

Marriage is hilarious—like when you both say a million-dollar word— “elixir,” for example—at the same time, or when you make a merry mess of the kitchen together attempting smoothie recipes.

Marriage is safe—like when you have the weekend from hell and your husband leaps to your defense in a tirade against all injurious persons and events, both at once cleansing you from the experience and making you laugh.

Marriage is fun—a 365-day-a-year sleepover with your best friend who happens to be super cute. I think that says it all.

Marriage is creative and playful—like when you happily trade in a traditional dinner date night for making snow angels at the park, dreaming and making life lists together, and taking late-night city walks. Love widens your imagination to a new scope of color.

Marriage is sweet—like when he made it all through college without drinking coffee, and then started brewing a pot daily when she was away in Amsterdam, because it made him think of her. Like when he’s going to have a beast of a day at work and she does her hair curly, just the way he likes it.

Marriage is friendship—a deep kindred knowledge of each other, in which he knows that she cries every time Fred dies in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, that she drinks her coffee always with a straw. And she knows that he craves citrus when he’s sick and that his sense of social protocol cringes at taking pictures in nice restaurants. The best part is we’re always still learning.

Marriage is redemptive–in God’s astounding grace that allows us to rehearse His divine love toward each other in everyday liturgies of sharing a sink, table, and bed, as we share heart and soul.

What is your reaction when you hear people talk about how “marriage is hard”? Does that ring true or would you describe marriage differently?

Why We Need Minor Chords in Christmas Carols

 This year I realized that all my favorite Christmas carols consist of minor notes. Beneath the soaring major chords runs a thread of melancholy.

Because even in the Christmas cradle, there is a sword. Simeon spoke of it in the temple, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

The melancholy of minor chords in Christmas songs speak to me of a world straining under the weight of the fall. They resound to remind us that we are a weary world indeed, singing bittersweet carols with the pleading chorus of “Come, Lord Jesus, Come…”

We wait, sometimes crying, sometimes rejoicing. Here are three beloved Christmas carols, with minor chords in both lyrics and sound:

O Come O Come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.


It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (My favorite rendition here by Sixpence None the Richer)

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

Oh Holy Night

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt His worth
A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices

Homemaking for Twentysomethings in Transition

In the past two years I’ve made many transitions–from a student to a professional, a single lady to a wife, an intern to a business owner, an apartment renter to a homeowner, and more. And in the hurricane of changes, the theme of home has become something near to my heart.

Today I’m over at RELEVANT magazine writing about “Our Transient Generation: the need to be grounded in a culture always on the move.” I look forward to hearing your thoughts and stories on making a home.

Here’s the beginning of the article…

For every twentysomething there’s a shift, somewhere along the way from college to graduation to career moves, in which we choose to stop calling our family’s house “home.” It can be subtle or sudden. We pause while filling out a job application at the line of our home address, we return to our childhood home on summer break to find our room evolving into a storage unit or we commit to serving overseas for a year and acclimate to a foreign culture which quickly becomes more familiar than our own.

This transitional time can be bittersweet, but our innate human longing for home is not ungrounded. As Kim Peterson proposes in her book Keeping House: A Litany of Everyday Life, “The Christian story of redemption … is a story that moves from home to home.”

Through many moves as a young adult—a dorm room, a city apartment, my childhood bedroom, a cheap newlywed apartment and finally to a cozy brick bungalow my husband and I are now privileged to call our own—I have found this to be true. Like many twentysomethings in transition, I have been vulnerable to emotional and physical displacement, but I have learned that the ache to belong is perfectly aligned with Scripture’s description of God’s people as rootless travelers, making the journey from Eden to Heaven, from home to home.

You don’t have to be homeowner to make a home. And if we build our homes with holy intention, whether home is a rented apartment, a starter home or your parent’s basement, the attention and care we invest in our physical spaces will make itself evident in our journey into adulthood and spiritual maturity as well…

 Click here to read the rest.

Innovation and the Incarnation: A Dialogue on Digital Books

While growing up on a steady diet of children’s books and classics, my mom used to say I was addicted to print. And since the digital advent I’ve had to modify this slightly to feeding an addiction of both print and pixels. I work more with digital ink than print these days, and I believe there’s a respectable art to both mediums.

Digital Ink and the Incarnation

But personally, I still gravitate toward the sacrament of print. I’m still one of those traditionalists who see romance in libraries and print presses and coffee rims on cream pages. I love words. I love the way the Word Incarnate sprouted lungs and limbs to dwell with us, spirit-God taking human, physical form. Digital words, it sometimes seems, regress against this divine unfolding of word becoming embodied.

But then I conducted this interview with NOVOInk which effectively changed my mind. I was intrigued when John Hirst, who formerly worked at NOVOInk and founded Generous Mind, argued that digital reading is a move toward the Incarnation because enhanced, interactive book editions actually bring the content and the author back together.

In the industrial mass-production of the last century, he said, we’ve lost the personal connection with the author, which interactive e-reading is able to resurrect. John explained, “We are not so much in love with the technology of eBooks as we are excited about what eBooks can do to reconnect authors and readers in ways that will lead to life transformation.”

Hidden Costs of Innovation

I applaud NOVOInk’s approach to eReading, but I suppose I can’t expect all business media giants to bend to a theology of language and the Incarnation.

This morning The High Calling pointed me to David Wheeler’s blog, a brick and mortar bookseller, who warns against the costly trade-offs of selling out to Amazon’s digital empire and feels the pressure in his own bookshop of their tactics to dominate the industry. David writes, and this gave me chills,

“It has never been a small irony to me that Amazon chose a Bradburian name like Kindle and Kindle Fire for their e-reader, as they continue to set fire to booksellers, publishers, and writers alike.”

Throughout history, innovation without boundaries has resulted in dire consequences. What boundaries do you think we need to put around our technology, reading and otherwise, so that we make the most of it without it getting out of our control? 

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