happy thoughts: january edition

Upon some personal reflection, I realized that I am not being thankful enough for the small moments in my life. I’m in the middle of two huge projects – one personal and one professional – and they occupy so much of my brain space that I am missing more and more of the tiny moments.

And thus, this post.

I know it’s a bit delayed (we’re almost in the double digits of February) but I wanted to start now. Combing back through appointment diaries and book lists, I have compiled the small happy moments of the first month of 2013.

1: Lunch with future in-laws
2: Ndeko arrived and brought so much joy with her!
3: Adventures in East Belfast and trad music at Fibbers
4: Pints at the Crown, the Duke and Kellys, plus taking Ndeko on her first proper Irish crawl.
5: Tapas and movies with two of my loves.
6: Caught the Belfast Plague and my man took great care of me
7: Fell deep into a new reality TV hole – thank you, Missus Kingsley.
8: Homesick a bit and chose to give into it with long phone calls to the fam.
9: Baby steps to normalcy as I did some laundry and felt human again
10: Bangers and mash for supper & time with JD
11: Worked from JD’s and relished in a full-sized couch!
12: Surprise time with two Irish sisters and beloved (almost) nephews
13: Fieldwork and Les Miserables
14: Fieldwork in the form of choir rehearsal
15: Chicken marsala for dinner and quiet moments with JD
16: ‘Language is sacramental’ and other revelations
17: Day of reading and coffee and texts from home helped with apartment stressors
18: Snow fell upon Belfast! And I got to chat to my Penny!
19: JD and I helped take back the city with dinner and drinks at the Potted Hen
20: Great fieldwork and the beginning of an ending.
21: Discovered a few new authors through fieldwork and fell down an Amazon rabbit hole
22: Transcribed fieldnotes most of the day so treated myself to ‘Great British Bake Off’
23: Today’s great thanks was that they sell Kraft Mac & Cheese in Belfast.
24: Small moments of love expressed in lovely ways
25: We took advantage of some fantastic offers and helped The Apartment take back the city.
26: Burns Night for fieldwork where I found out that I quite enjoy haggis
27: Fieldwork and lovely food
28: Choir Rehearsal and lovely moments at Starbucks with a contact
29: Bond Night with the Kingsleys, where we ate ice cream and made fun of ‘Moonraker’
30: Breakfast with Irish Baby Sister and then drinks with some of JD’s colleagues
31: Flew to Londontown with JD for a mini-break. Dandered around Soho and got foot massages in Chinatown. Finished the evening with fantastic sushi and collapsed gleefully into bed.

dear church (can we please have different conversations?)

this is my contribution to my brilliant friend Allison’s syncro-blog “Dear Church”. If you also have some things to get off your chest, find out here how to and join the conversation. 

Dearest Church :

A couple of years ago, I was quite prepared to never be part of you ever again. One of your branches decided I was disposable and cast me out without so much as a second thought. My willingness to walk away was a mixture of “well if you don’t me, I don’t want you” and an unbelievable pain at being called horrible names by my church. After several months of crying and reflection and pro/con lists, I decided to stay with you.

I re-make that decision regularly.

Now, do not get me wrong, there are times I find you simply delightful and you are “home” to me in a way that few other things are. As someone who lives outside my home culture and has spent most of my adult life doing so, little makes me feel more at home than singing hymns with a simple piano and a group of family I’ve never met before.

But – like any relationship – choice is a big part of our relationship. Every time someone stands up in your name and makes a comment which makes my blood boil? I choose to stay. Every time I have to defend your true intentions to my friends who have been hurt by false ones? I have to choose to stay. And I know I’m not alone in this.

As someone who is a professional academic studying you and your use of language, can I make some simple suggestions to maybe change how regularly I (and many others) have to make that choice? I had a beloved professor in seminary who used to tell me I was free to abandon a congregational church but that I should never, ever abandon the Bride. I carry that thought in my heart as I write this. I firmly believe that if we could use different language and have different conversations, we could embrace our identity as the Bride more firmly.

Instead of “my pastor speaks for God” can we say “my pastor does his/her best to use the education they’ve acquired and the insights they have to show me new things about Scripture/God/Church that I never would have thought of on my own”?

Instead of “if the Bible says it, I believe it” can we say “I find my truth in the words of Scripture but I acknowledge that I am also influenced by 2,000 years of tradition and history and we may not fully understand everything”?

Instead of “hate the sin and love the sinner” can we say “I don’t need to agree with every choice someone makes to love them”?

Instead of “you are going to hell” can we say … well, anything else? It really is time to stop invoking that threat.

Instead of standing on street corners preaching to anyone passing by, can we commit to loving people for the long term with no agenda? Instead of focusing our budget on the activities of a Sunday morning, can we hire social workers to help craft our interaction with our local and global neighborhoods? Instead of paying for buildings can we talk about meeting in houses or public spaces? Instead of involving ourselves in the reproductive and sexual choices of people we do not know, can we involve ourselves in the rhythms of our communities?

Can we start talking about promoting farming and local food in America? Can we talk about how Jesus wasn’t an American and God is an ahistorical and apolitical deity? Can we promote artistic expression and the laughter of children in countries we’ll never visit? Can we fight for clean water and proper dental care?

Can we be known by what we are for rather than what we are against? Please?


wait, summer is over? summer was here in the first place?

“Summer” is a relative term.

For most of my life, summer meant raised temperatures and shorter sleeves. It meant life slowed down just a bit and novels became a certain fixture of my days. Rita’s Water Ice, salt water taffy, barbecued items for dinner and – possibly most importantly – Jersey corn, tomatoes and blueberry pie.

This summer included only a handful of those. I did get to consume Rita’s (on several glorious occasions while visiting the family in Yardley) and had some delicious vegetables purchased at road side stands. I read a few novels (Grave Mercy  by Robin LaFevers is an absolute must for anyone who enjoys things in the vein of Hunger Games, by the way) and my feet found both the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

But slow down?


My summer did not do that.

Any concept of “rest” or “sabbath” pretty much went out the window on May 24 when my research proposal was rejected and I was given a new reality to live in. Within one hour I went from confidence and excitement about what the next season of my life was going to bring to abject horror, fear and panic over not having a plan. My stomach lurched and I felt that the walls were closing in on me and I barely escaped the room before dissolving into heaving sobs.

Over the next week or so, I cried and yelled and processed and freaked the flip out and came to peace with the new reality. With the help of favorites and family on both sides of the ocean, I formulated a new plan and moved forward in it. I downloaded thousands of pages of new articles and ordered new rounds of Inter-Library Loans.

Of course, it was not just my professional life that shifted. The personal one took a shift as well and some very serious conversations about permanence had to take place with the Irishman. Because – and this is a particularly delightful side effect of being an ex-pat – if I fail this next proposal (to take place in the beginning of November) my visa will be revoked and I will have 60 days to leave the country.

The end result of this, as I sit on the cusp of September, is that I only have vague recollections of not being so stressed and anxious that my sleep exists uninterrupted. This is a large reason why the blog has remained dormant, along with a few other reasons I’ll try to explore in the next wee bit.

All of that to say – my summer was not full of rest. There were moments of glorious sunshine and lazy moments spent on beaches. I sat at long, luxurious meals with family and explored new worlds. I celebrated marriages and dreamed  of others, but everything was punctuated with the nagging thought of “I may loose my visa in four months” breathing down my neck. As I move forward into autumn (arguably my favorite of all the seasons, especially for the three or so weeks it shows up in Northern Ireland), I will once again be surrounded by stacks of notes and color-coded post-its as I attempt to craft a new proposal.

And then? Over Thanksgiving? I will finally have my “summer”. My delightful sabbath where no professional work will be undertaken and I get to introduce my Irishman to my family and my world in the hopes that he finds home there as well.

So here’s to large cups of coffee and incredibly understanding friends, supportive families and a boyfriend without whom I would not have survived this summer this well. Here’s to shifted reality and finding my footing on an uncertain terrain. Here’s to movable summer and the promise of eventual rest.

may I introduce logic to emotions?

This is my contribution to Rachel Held Evans’ MutualityWeek2012. To see the other incredibly wise people who have written about this, see here.


“But you can’t do that.”

I turned and stared at the boy who had uttered those words. I was seventeen and working at a Christian summer camp in Southern New Jersey. That fall, I was headed to university to learn how to love students better and was telling my fellow co-workers that I wanted to preach in the all-camp final service.

With sunblock dripping in my eyes and confusion clouding my soul, I replied “why?”

“Because you’re a girl. Girls teaching men is a sin. Everyone knows that.”

And with those simple words I would never forget, boundaries were placed upon my previous understanding of a boundless God.


“What do you mean they walked out?!” I shrieked.

I was twenty-one and in the college cafeteria after one of our mandatory chapel services. A brilliant woman had come that morning to teach us about loving orphans and vulnerable children in Vietnam and I had enjoyed every moment of her talk. My male lunch companion had just informed me that several of his male friends – upon seeing it was a woman at the pulpit – had walked out.

“Yeah,” he shrugged non-commitally. “It’s not a big deal, Kristen.”

“It’s NOT A BIG DEAL?!” I felt my temperature and temper rising. “But they walked out just because it was a woman!”

“Well, they’re just following what the Bible tells them to do.”


“The one we all read, Kristen. You can’t change what the words say. Stop being such a Yankee about it.” Yankee, you see, was many people’s shorthand at that university – located in the American South – for me when I was being opinoniated, or fiesty, or strong willed. If they weren’t such “good Christians”, I’m sure they would have just called me what they were thinking – a bitch.

“Like I said,” he looked me dead in the eyes, “it is not a big deal.”

And with those words I realized I had larger dragons to slay than I had ever thought possible. 


In the past ten years, had I a dollar for every time someone told me that my gender limited me instead of empowered me within the context of the institutional church, I promise you I would not ever take out another student loan. Myself, my friends, my colleagues, my sisters: we have all been told we are “less than” for whatever reason. The comments were made by seminary classmates and college professors, by pastors in our churches and by authors we’ll never meet. Each hurt, though. I won’t deny that.

This conversation is incredibly emotional for anyone involved. We, as humans, put deeper value in religious language than any other. Thus, whenever God’s ideas about humanity are introduced into a conversation the conversation automatically becomes more intense. By the way, that is the foundation of most sociological studies of religion and language. But that’s why I like to pause for a moment and attempt to remove the emotion. As a sociologist, I am deeply interested in how religion shapes society and society shapes religion. Both of those things have logical trajectories.

I believe it is only logical to end gender discrimination within the Church. Which, by the way, is what is currently practiced in millions of congregations around the world. I’m not being dramatic, I’m being factual. Whether you feel it is backed up by Scripture or not is irrelevant. It simply is. The question – therefore – becomes whether or not you feel God is in the business of gender discrimination.

I don’t believe there is any evidence that God is. In the ancient Hebrew scriptures, YHWH is constantly shown as a deity of order and stability. In vast contrast to the origin stories of Babylon and Messopotamia, YHWH was never subject to fickle whims and YHWH’s actions were always bent towards the good of humanity. The ancient Hebrew people believed deeply that God was a god of order. So why are we so hesitant to embrace that now?

Of course, as with every other issue in Christendom, this one comes back to your interpretation of Scripture. Many other wise writers this week have tackled exegesis and I do not need to go into that here. But if you are someone who believes women must be subordinate to men within the Body of Christ, may I ask for your logic behind that?

Why would we allow participation based on reproductive organs and not skill sets? Why do we think God small enough to be limited by only creating women to bear children or clean houses? Why – and again, I ask for a clearly logical answer – am I – a woman with a first-class seminary education and a gift for public speaking – less qualified to preach than the gentleman sitting beside me with no formal training and a job as an accountant?

My hope for the Church as we move forward is that we begin to have adult conversations about this. This week is a great start and I hope it fuels more weeks like it. However, I also hope every congregation can discuss this. I hope young girls are taught to be strong women of valor first and foremost and to find themselves in Christ – whatever that ends up meaning to them – rather than finding themselves in their potential future husbands. I hope we can value other sacramental relationships other than marriage and other professions than motherhood.

May we find the deepest and widest definition of the Kingdom – one which represents the boundless and complete love of the God we claim to serve. May we allow people to be safe within our midst; their gifts encouraged and strengthened and not shunned. May we – as the Universal Body – be a place known for “yes” instead of “no”, hope instead of condemnation. May we celebrate the fullness of each gender, each human, each living beings as miniature expressions of the fullness of God and embrace each other as family.

anniversaries of trauma: or, in which i talk about my dark day

In the beginning seasons of Gilmore Girls, Luke disappears for one day every year. Lorelai cannot figure out why and Babette informs her it’s his ‘dark day’. On the anniversary of his father’s death every year, Luke removes himself from society. He shuts down his diner, goes fishing and remembers.

Yesterday was my dark day.

Four years ago, in the name of loving me, the church I belonged to and was volunteering for declared me to be a “damaging and harmful” individual in the lives of teenagers and both implied and outright said I had engaged in inappropriate behaviour. They complied a list of evidence, which I was not permitted to see, and gave me no chance to respond. They ordered me to cease working and interacting with all young people immediately. While they communicated they hoped I would stay within the congregation I am not entirely sure how they expected me to. It took me three and a half years to consider joining another institutional congregation. There are so many nuances of that day and that event and that reality. Know I take responsibility for any of my actions which appeared on that list, but I will never agree with how I was treated or spoken about.

A significant piece of me died that day. I lost a family, an identity and a place. I felt moorless and afraid to go out into public in that town in case I ran into someone. I was asked to never speak to any of the young people ever again even in public and I tried to take that request – which was a little insane – seriously. If I saw them in Target, I walked out. If I saw a parent at Chilli’s, I left. I essentially turned into a hermit in my house. I lost friends and there are people I thought would be family for me forever who have rarely spoken to me since.

You can imagine that whenever people talk about ‘church discipline’ I get a little antsy.

For anyone reading this who has not been a member of a congregation, this may seem a little insane. It was just a horrible set of things said to me – why the mourning? I completely understand your confusion. Let me say these people had verbally pledged to me to be ‘family’ and to love me and guide me through seminary. Instead, they shunned me. I now also get a little antsy when institutions use family language.

So every year on that day, I take a dark day. I remember and cry and mourn the moments which shifted the direction of my life. I may also say nasty things about the man who compiled that list. I pause to remember the girl who trusted the church to be a good place who would love her and believe in her and champion her and how I’m not actually sure I miss her. But then I remember the past four years. The years of healing and hope, the years of people who rallied around me and assured me I was not a bad youth worker and did, in fact, have a place in the Global Church. The ways in which my definition of church has changed and how I like it better. I’m proud of how I have risen from that day and who I am now.

However, the 25th of April will always be marked with deep breaths, quiet reflection and gratefulness for hope and resurrection.

conversations I am simply tired of having

I, as a woman, am tired.

I’m tired of being told I’m second rate in a thousand subtle ways, I’m tired of being told that fighting for equal pay makes me militant or ungrateful, I’m tired of living under double standards and I’m tired of my worth to many being judged by my reproductive choices.

I, as a Christian, am tired.

I’m tired of the myth of homogeneity, I’m tired of having to defend my faith with a tone of shame in my voice as I sip beer or watch Sex and the City and I’m tired of having to figure out how evangelical any friend is before I can be vulnerable about things.

Today I am especially tired that we – as a religious system – keep seem to fighting the wrong fights.

The most recent installment of “Things Which Make Kristen’s Blood Boil” is the bru-ha-ha over the use of the word “vagina” in a new book by Rachel Held Evans. She explains the whole thing on her excellent blog and it is worth a read. But for those who want the Reader’s Digest version, here it is. In a book about womanhood and its relationship to Christianity, Rachel’s publishers are telling her to eliminate the word “vagina” because Christian bookstores (Family and Lifeway in particular I assume) will not carry it if its in there.

<Insert my best Amy Poehler impression>


Really, Christian booksellers? Really? These are the lines you’re choosing to draw? And even if Rachel’s editors are being overly cautious and booksellers still would sell the book… REALLY? Because the thing is I have yet to speak to anyone familiar with this world who isn’t surprised.

I don’t want this to turn into a vitriolic rant against the Christian publishing industry; what I really want to question is this: It is the year of our Lord two thousand and twelve and we’re still uncomfortable with using words speaking about female anatomy? So much so that we would possibly deny an important voice to be distributed? We have no problem with selling all manner of violations of the separation between church and state or works which perpertuate the health & wealth gospel which seems to be so very popular in my beloved country at this point. The problem we have is with the word “vagina.”

I think we’re having the wrong conversations. 

I think we should be wrestling with an appropriate response to capitalism, human rights violations, and the state of the American education system. We should be working the best we can at every moment to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love the Lord our God with all our being. We should be trying to be gracious and kind, loving and hospitable. We should be figuring out how to deal with theological and orthopraxic realities regarding homosexuality. We should be fixing the foster care system.

Because here is the deal, love crumpets. If you believe God created the whole world, then He created vaginas. And I’m fairly sure He’s comfortable with the word.



pro-life, pro-birth, pro-choice: thoughts on the conversation

Want to make a difference? Be pro-LIFE, not just anti-abortion.
-Adopt a kid. Adopt two kids. Encourage your friends to adopt, your churches. Adopt so many kids (and not just cute babies) that white people in grocery lines judge YOU. The Church was doing this in the Roman Empire long before they were even a legal religion, and when they finally accepted at legal they had a stone manger out front for people to leave orphans.
-Adopt a single mother. Stop having a guest bedroom and have a guest.
-Support food banks, or better, TexasHunger.org
-Imagine alternatives to violence.
-Impact poverty. Somehow. Get creative… or just pick something in place and run with it. My money says less than 75% of the people reading this are doing anything right now, but I bet they bought a kitchen aide mixer, a TV, or a cell phone in the last year.

The above series of points come from my friend Dustin – they comprised his Facebook status about a week ago. Since then, the abortion bru-ha-ha on Facebook has given way to the debate regarding birth control and the panel convened yesterday before Congress.

Can I be perfectly honest for a minute? And this isn’t out of snarkiness, this is out of honest confusion: why are some people obsessed with how women treat their fertility? Being in community with someone and walking through a difficult time with them is one thing – standing outside clinics or on street corners and informing strangers of their opinion is another. I am – once again, this is honest confusion – not sure what the end goal is in accosting people.

I’m sure I could dig up all sorts of history and statistics regarding when people began to understand pro-life as only having to do with a pre-birth human. There are lots of historical records and sociological accounts as to how society has treated fertility or lack there of and those are fascinating but perhaps for another time. What I want to throw out to the universe is the question I haven’t been able to stop chewing on since I read Dustin’s status:

How can people reclaim the phrase ‘pro-life’ as being more than simply ‘pro-birth’?

I am – for the record – personally pro-life and politically pro-choice. I hope I never have to make the gut wrenching decision that hundreds of millions of women have had to throughout the ages. I am also thankful I am a citizen of a country where I am allowed to consider options, although I don’t live in one now. (Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland – women have to fly to England for the surgery if they so choose.)

What would it look like to be holistically pro-life? How would people treat the death penalty or gun control laws? How would they view genetically modified food and the growing international obesity problem? How would they speak of human trafficking, genocide, war and other human inventions which claim lives? Would people talk about global warming differently?

As a confident but at times publicly reluctant member of the Kingdom of God, this is the conversation I think we need to be having. Dearest fellow members – can we stop talking about life as only existing in someone’s womb and instead embrace the mess that it actual is? Can we love people through that decision instead of trying to make it for them? Can we put our money where our mouth is and find families and homes for the millions of abandoned children throughout the world? Can we fight to fix the foster care system?

I understand for some Christians, loving people means hoping they share in a specific vision of morality. While I do not agree with that – either as a human, woman, social worker or theologian – I can respect those people are trying to love as best they can. What I’d like to invite anyone with that mental bent to think about is what does loving someone really mean?

I think loving someone means being patient with them. It means being kind and hopeful and not imposing my will upon their lives. It means being vulnerable and honest, caring and gracious. It means not keeping score of their wrongs against me. It means speaking truth within the context of relationship and making sacrifices for their well-being. It means knowing when to apologize and when to demand apology. It means laughter and joy, respect and communication.

I am not good at any of those things most days. My resolution for 2012 was to be better and I fear I have failed more often than not. I can make excuses – there’s been a lot of change in my life, PhD work is hard, being an ex-pat is stressful, communal living is difficult – but it comes down to me not making the choice to love as often as I should. So my reaction to my own question is that – to love better the people immediately in front of me at any given moment.

(I will also send letters to my Congress people telling them exactly what I think of some of these issues. I will support organizations and beloved friends who are on the front lines of this situation and I will find out what I can do here in South Belfast to make life better for others.)

may today be a day where I choose life and love so that others may choose it as well. may we understand complexity and embrace confusion and walk in light of love and grace remembering at all times that statistics have faces and stories just like ours.