On Staring as Vocation

I’ve got a new essay up at The Samizdat. Today I’m looking at two great underappreciated films and using them to discuss solitude and observation in the life of the writer. Come on over and check it out.

Posted in Movies, Pop Culture, Writing | 1 Comment

A Reasonable Life

Hello, all you beautiful people who bizarrely have never dropped your subscriptions in the last two years of silence here. Beginning today I will be writing a weekly post for The Samizdat. For the time being I will continue to post links here to those weekly posts, but I encourage everyone to subscribe to The Samizdat. Today’s piece is about life after faith. Check it out!

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On community: food for thought (guest post by Erin Compton)

I’m honored to have the inimitable Erin Compton writing for me today. Erin’s blog showcases her brave and astute writing about a variety of topics, from depression to the loss of the sacred feminine in modern Christianity to struggling to connect with a church. Check out her site after you read her post below on the healing power of breaking bread together.


I am a firm believer in the power of food, and I’m pretty sure Jesus was too.

I sincerely believe something spiritual happens when you share a meal with someone, a bond is created in the mutual filling of bellies that for some reason cannot be replicated as effectively over such a short period of time. It is part of the reason that I fully support any Eucharist that is accompanied by an actual feast rather than just a bit of cracker and a sip of grape derived beverage.

In my experience with intentional communities and home churches, food was central. Creating the meal that we would share together was a huge part of our gathering, from deciding what we would make, to figuring out who would bring what ingredients to actually preparing the meal together, the opening of all our Sunday gatherings revolved around food.

Creating a meal together involved a certain amount of contribution and cooperation. It was a solid activity that reminded us in a physical way that we relied on each other for a basic need, to fill our hunger at the very least. Everyone became aware of one another’s basic dietary allergies, likes and dislikes and cared for one another by providing something everyone could eat. Even if we gathered with low blood sugar and nasty tempers as a result, by the time all our plates had been cleared we were in a better mindset to discuss scripture, to disagree amicably, and to support one another.

So naturally when I think about what community means within the church, the faith, the followers of Jesus, I think about food. One of my friends recently shared this quote with me that has been accredited to another spiritual guidepost, the Buddha: “If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.” Speaking from experience, it is very hard to stay irritated with someone you’ve shared food with. I’m aware it happens from time to time, but I also know that sharing food with people I have been in conflict with has been incredibly healing.

I think there is a reason that Jesus’ final goodbyes were said over a meal, I think there is a purpose to loaves and fishes and dining with drunkards, prostitutes and tax collectors, and I think it has something to do with the fact that God knows that our stomachs are intrinsically connected our hearts.

Be blessed, (and fed!).

Posted in Faith, Friendship, Guest Posts, Intentional Community | 2 Comments

The fits hits the Shan #9: homesick for their light

There are stars sewn under my skin.  I used to keep them in my pockets, but they fell out too easily; I lost them in tall grass and bounding up stairs. Once I climbed a tree over a creek in the middle of nowhere and hanging upside down, saw reflected my dismayed look when more than one sprinkled down to the surface, floating away to Somewhere.

And so I learned, not quickly, absolutely or painlessly, but I learned. I learned that stars can be lost.  All their soft, shimmering resilience is now tucked away where I can feel their slight pulse between muscle and dermis.  It is comforting to keep them safe.

In recent days, though, I have realized my pupils are  empty buckets, homesick for their light.  Are they still luminous there in the bloody dark, unseen?    I’ve wondered more than once when I’ve thought how bereft a crescent moon looks alone in the sky.

Wikipedia and Leonard Nimoy tell me that stars are not eternal – they can die; and when they do, they change the gravity of lives worlds away. Stars do not die quietly. Dying stars kill. That I am here to wonder at their life, it seems they must be living still.

That is the secret, then, that goes with me everywhere: under my skin I am a million points of light.

Tonight I am only wondering if the tragedy is an unlit night sky, or a scalpel.

Posted in The Fit Hits the Shan | 4 Comments

The fit hits the Shan #6: Purging Control

Shan is here today to share with us her first post of 2012. It is honest, raw, and beautiful, like always.


Shawn Smucker wrote something recently that’s had me asking myself an old question in a new way.  Not “Why do I do what I do?” or “What do I believe?”.  But what is it that I believe that results in me doing what I do?  That’s becomes particularly important when what I do is hurting me.

I have struggled – embarrassed and annoyed – for years with the ups and downs of an eating disorder.  I’ve wrestled in dark bathroom stalls and the bright lights of restaurant tables with an itchy-gripped hand tugging at the base of my skull.  I’ve dropped dramatic amounts of weight in relatively short amounts of time, starving myself or purging as I went. I have gained larger amounts of weight, recklessly and intentionally eating whatever sounded like the best way to calm that nagging itch in my head. I’ve dealt with frustrating physical side effects from both and stubbornly ignored them.

Like all addictions, it’s about control and how-I-feel.  Which really means it’s just about one thing, doesn’t it?  Because at the end of the day, all I want to control is how I feel.
To be honest, this “control” issue has confused me, though, because I would not otherwise characterize myself as a control freak.  My Type A friends and I joke about it, because I tend to take a decidedly “Eh … whatever you think.” Or “Let’s just see how it plays out.” type of roll in most everything else.  If you ask what movie we should see, I’ll likely ask what you want to see.  When I want something in any type of relationship– no matter how deeply felt – I will say it quietly every so often, but then I will leave it in a corked bottle on a shelf for later or forever.  I’m not likely to try to compel someone to engage.  If I’m sabotaged in a work interaction, I may quietly make sure it’s noted somewhere, but I’m just going to keep going as quietly as possible.   I don’t want more drama. I don’t want the reins. And may green in all its verdant shades preserve you if you ask me to make a list of what needs to be done.  I don’t want to plan ahead or make an itinerary. I want to get in the Jeep and see where the road takes me.   Hell, I don’t even need to drive –  I’ll ride shotgun or scrunch into the backseat and sing off key made up lyrics along with whatever tunes you decide to play.

Some of that is good.  I’ve found myself in some fascinating places in life and love and art and work because I just went with it and watched the view unfold.  I marvel over some of those things, huddled under a blanket on the front porch in the middle of the night with a hot mug of coffee between mittened hands.  There are deep, cool waters I’d have not tasted by marking their location on a map and going after them.

But some of that is downright insidious.  There’s “I don’t like drama” and then there’s “I have a hard time believing you really want to hear what I think, so I’m just not saying anything.”  I think tamping down some keen feelings of exuberance, hurts, hopes, fears, angers and “what I really think”s has lead me to feel compelled to control how I feel in this other area.   By owning the endorphins of starve/purge or glut, I can control the most basic of physical feelings I’m responsible to myself for.   I can produce feeling good this way.  But pouring endorphins on an itchy skull can’t satiate a desire to be known for who I am.

Did I say when I started this that it’s embarrassing?   It is.  I’ve believed that no one should have to be bored, annoyed, depressed, distracted or subjected to hearing what I really think or feel for a long time and as a result I’ve “fixed” the problem by abusing my body.  Writing for D’s blog, though, has been an act of belief since the beginning that I’m allowed – and welcome – to say how I really feel about all the mess and mystery and incandescence and mud.

There is no skull-ectomy to dig out that nagging whisper, but Shawn was right to point me towards asking what I believe.  I see the triggers.  I’m ready to believe new things.

Posted in The Fit Hits the Shan | 15 Comments

The fit hits the Shan #5: We Could Pretend

Shan is back with a poignant post about allowing those around us the space and freedom to be and speak who they are. Enjoy.


Last week I sat in a hushed little music hall and listened to Ruth Moody’s lilting voice croon some very honest, self-penned lyrics.  I cried when I heard things I have longed to say but dared not.  I alternately comforted and chided myself while sitting there in the dark about both the times I’ve tried to dare honesty aloud and all the times I haven’t.  I envied her the chance to stand on a dark stage and form the shape of a heart in word pictures for all to try to understand.

And yet there’s this: “I sometimes hold it half a sin to put in words the grief I feel, for words like nature half reveal and half conceal the soul within”.  Tennyson’s anguish when expressing loss is relevant to even my minor moments on private stages, too.  We speak and tether ourselves inexorably to our own explanations of who we are.  Our very attempts to bare ourselves end up limiting what people can understand of who we are and open us up to rejection or ridicule.  We talk and regret it. We keep quiet and long to share.   But, oh, the intoxicating idea of being understood and how it keeps coaxing us out again and again to risk all and speak!

I lay in bed after the concert thinking of all I want to be able to be fully honest about, all I long to feel safe enough to say. When I fell asleep, I dreamed I was trying to talk to a friend and he just kept telling me to be quiet. I woke up and felt trapped inside myself. The thousand nuances of what I feel and dream and fear and remember suddenly felt further down the bucketless well than ever.

Clearly there was some blue, rain-on-roof mood mixed in with a fair dose of self-pity and a lot of overthinking here. I am not unaware.  But here’s where it all took me:  am I –  who have sung to cold stars with Adam Duritz,  “Pull me out from inside” – helping the people I say I love feel safe enough to try to breathe out who they are?

‘Friend’ shouldn’t have to mean ‘person I am noisy around’, and certainly I am intrigued by the idea of someone it’s comfortable to be quiet around; but there is something to be said for loving someone enough to let them…just….run their mouth.

I’m not sure how many pieces of bread on the water I honestly bother to patiently follow back across the lake to find the person alone on the dock, tossing them on the waves.   My boys sing whale song in the depths of deep seas; how many times a week do I hold my breath and dive in and stay underwater long enough to let them sing to me? My girl is a twittering bird, darting from branch to branch; how often am I following her through the forest of her random thoughts to give her the chance to nestle down into the weighty topics she flits around?  It’s heartbreaking to think of the people I love feeling trapped inside themselves.

Ruth didn’t sing my favorite song of hers, We Could Pretend, last week at the show.  This is line from that song that whispers of that quiet desperation of feeling contained that way:

            We could bottle it inside
            Keep the lid on good and tight
            But at some point in the night
            It’s gonna to start to spill

I long for the safety and bravery to stand on all my private stages and sing my heart honestly.    My mind is thinking tonight of how to hand those I love a mic and a guitar and pull up a chair to let them bleed the truth of where and who they are.

Posted in The Fit Hits the Shan | 5 Comments

The fit hits the Shan, No. 3: Why can’t church be more like the smoking section?

Shan is back with possibly my favorite post from her yet (aside from the knockout that kicked this series off). Love this image. Enjoy.


I miss smoking.

Not the blood pressure spikes or the way the top of my mouth always felt like it needed to be cleaned with windex; I miss the kinship.

I miss the empathy of one needy person sympathizing with another. There is a smoker’s code. Any smoker can ask any other known smoker at any time for a cigarette or the use of a lighter, and it will be shared, if available.  (This is possibly untrue in prison where Shawshank Redemption instructs me cigarettes are actually a currency and treated differently as a result). If the smoker can not supply the requested smoke or light, they will often go out of their way to connect the smokeless soul to another smoker to meet the need. A smoker understands what it is like to escape from a stressful day at work for 15 minutes for a chemical boost only to find the pack empty.  A smoker can feel the frustration of stopping at a gas station on a road trip and  realizing when carded that your ID is at home. A smoker has shown up to be the wingman and needed more than the tail end of their pack to be able to keep making small talk with the cute couple’s awkward roommate.   A smoker has been there.

I miss how smoking with a group of people (even if you don’t know them) creates an impromptu therapy group. Something about knowing you all have this same primal dependency seems to be equalizing in some way. It is somehow safe to say into the quiet between puffs that you had a fight with your family the night before or that your girlfriend just isn’t inspiring you anymore or that your boss is unfair and you’re worried about your job. I have accepted the advice and concern of people smoking next to me whom it would never have occurred to me to even tell anything about myself to, let alone actually share frustration or struggle with. Maybe the fact that we all know on some level that the habit is a liability at best and a weakness at worst makes us (when smoking) willing to accept the imperfections of others a little more gently?

In my experience Smokers will often own their weakness. They frequently discuss their desire to quit (“again”) while smoking together.  Fish story lore springs up about how long the last smokefree streak stretched out. “I was doing great until” one-up-manship gets bantered about. You want to hear a tale of woe, listen to smokers tell each other about the crisis that kicked them back off the wagon – and every other smoker there feels their pain.  Even the “I’m not even going to bother to try to quit!” die hards tend to be sympathetic to the folks trying to. I’ve heard them be the first to say “good for you, you keep with it” before drawing in deeply.

I’m sure there are also plenty of stubborn, cantankerous smokers who were never a wingman, don’t give a flying fart about your problems and think trying to quit smoking is for sissies.  But tonight I found myself wondering why being around a group of “fellow sinners” at church isn’t more like sitting around with fellow smokers.

I don’t say this because I think I should take up smoking again. I say it because of 3 things that happened this week: 1)  I hid in a church bathroom crying because the people near me in the service looked at me like I was stomping on the baby jesus in the manger when the cell phone that I genuinely believed I had turned off rang for about 2 seconds during the service.  2)  People like me may not have been losing enough sleep over whether or not God actually loves us as people in spite of how broken and messy we are, so Mark Driscoll put a reminder back out into the ether that God does, indeed, hate some people. I spent a couple hours staring at the ceiling crying about that reminder and feeling utterly alone.  3) Tonight a woman I don’t know, with a slightly panicky and very hopeful look in her eyes, asked me if I had a cigarette and we shared a small moment of bonding in the chilly fall air while I told her I didn’t, but I knew someone who might be able to help her and pointed her in the right direction.  As I turned and walked away I was picturing them (they were virtual strangers to each other) smoking together and I muttered to myself, “christians should be more like smokers” before I even considered it.

So, I sat in the parking lot in my jeep, in the dark, and shed a few more tears and realized that I meant it. Of all people, the ones that say they know they have done wrong and that they’re grateful god forgave them (however they explain the how/why) have reason to be gentle with others who also find themselves to be imperfect and in need of a god.

Now, I know the church is full of very humany humans with very human reactions to the humanity in the world around them. If there’s a god who loves and can indeed forgive, then I know I shouldn’t judge him by the scowlers or Mark Driscolls of his group.  Tonight I’m just acutely aware that I’d like to be sitting around with hoi polloi who empathize with my weaknesses, toss their problems out openly just to be able to share their stress with someone, and are willing to sit comfortably in companionable silence.

I’m wondering if maybe we could have a picnic table outside at all churches.  That way the speaker could announce a 15 minute break and the smokers (closet or otherwise) could head out there.  As for me,  I may just arrive late and head directly to the smoking section.  If you see me there some Sunday, come on over. I’ll lend you a light.

Posted in Church, Faith, The Fit Hits the Shan | 41 Comments