Archive for July, 2011

Mine Eyes Have Seen . . .

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

The CBE annual conference winds up today with a worship and Communion service presided over by my friend Martha Giltinen, an Anglican priest and seminarian from Pittsburgh whose service three years ago in Toronto left me in tears, touched to my soul by its profound simplicity and simple profundity. In a couple of hours, I will join hundreds of people from all over the world in worshiping God, in spirit and in truth and in loving communion with one another.

This is church. This is the Church, and our Lord is pleased.

I’ll be writing more — much more, and probably a bit more than that — once I get home later this week, but as I prepare for worship this morning, let me tell you of what I have seen and heard over the last two days:

I have seen an Indian woman in a flowing sari praying with a young Anglo college student who likely was a stranger to her.

I have heard prayers from the pulpit from a Khmer woman, a Mexican-American woman, and a male bishop from Kenya, all in their native languages.

I have seen, in a workshop, graphic images of pornography that horrify me and remind me of the horrors perpetuated on the women portrayed. (For once, a Christian objection to porn focused on the harm done to the women portrayed, not just on the problem of lust in men).

I have seen an Indian scholar, pastor, and father of three daughters weep from the pulpit as he describes a particular instance of female subordination he encountered during his ministry.

I have heard the shattering story of a young woman determined to follow the call of Christ on her life in the face of the men in her home church in a former Communist nation who call her a whore for doing so.

I have seen a Black man from Burundi engage in cautious, then joyous, conversation with a Black woman ministering in a Detroit suburb.

I have met a woman diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer diagnosed just days after her ordination earlier this year.

I have been gently rebuked by a young college student who grasped an area of pain in my life that I’ve struggled for decades to have understood by older Christian friends.

I’ve drunk wine, gone on walks, and eaten pasta with a family therapist from Sydney, a young Romanian woman ministering to women victimized by sex trafficking, a Hawai’ian psychology student, a woman sheltering an immigrant Mexican family in her Iowa home, a woman who walked away from a lucrative career in engineering to teach math in an inner-city school in L.A., a brilliant and gentle seminarian from Canada, and a heavily tattooed woman who isn’t sure about the whole “Christian” thing but is drawn to the message of social justice and freedom in Christ that CBE proclaims.

I’ve exchanged business cards with the bishop of Bondo, Kenya, had a book autographed by a German theologian, and made six new Facebook friends whose ministries I can pray for, and who promise to pray for mine.

I’ve seen too many times to count the blank look of disbelief and the searing look of disgust that I get when I describe the pastoral and theological horrors that dog the biggest church in my town. For once, I’m in a community of people who “get it,” and I wish I could import them all to Moscow.

I’ve held the hand of a woman as she relayed the heartbreak of a broken engagement precipitated by the man’s learning of her rape seven years ago.

I’ve mourned the loss of CBE’s founder, Dr. Catherine Clark Kroeger, and brushed away tears from a woman who was mentored by her for years — and shed a few of my own, because through Cathie’s books, I was, too.

Finally, I’ve come away from this weekend with a renewed commitment to Christ, to His Gospel, and to the gender and class justice He demands. In Galatians 5, the Spirit coursing through Paul reminds us of our freedom in Christ and admonishes us to never allow ourselves to be enslaved again.

As Dr. Richard Howell, an Indian theologian and pastor, says, patriarchy enslaves women and makes oppressors of men. I am renewed in my mind, heart, and soul, and I will work against the enslavement of women through the degrading and denial of their gifts, callings, ministries, and personhood. I am a free woman, and I will not sit quietly when men who claim Christ as Lord allow themselves to become oppressors by oppressing the women around them and teaching that it is right to do so. It isn’t right, it isn’t righteous, and it is an abomination to Yahweh, in whose image, male and female, we all were created — and created to serve.

May the God of our fathers and mothers be forever praised.

Back To The Conference . . .

Friday, July 29th, 2011

I’m attending the Christians For Biblical Equality annual conference in Seattle with the theme “Building Biblical Community: Transforming Sex, Power, and Privilege.” In just a few short hours — very few, and I’ve been up all night — I’ll register and begin, with a few hundred other evangelical Christians, a weekend that promises to be as stimulating for my mind as it is nourishing to my soul.

If you’re unfamiliar with CBE or wondering what “Biblical feminism” is, please read down a few posts — I wrote a couple of days ago about what it is we mean when we refer to “Biblical equality,” and it’s an important and necessary concept, one that too often is defined by its critics. I’ll be writing about what I’ve learned and who I’ve met, and I’ll gladly confirm the suspicion many of you have that I’m “obsessed” with patriarchy.

Yep. Pretty much. Because confronting any evil that encroaches on the Church and perverts the Gospel is something that ought to consume all who love the Lord Jesus. I do, and so . . . I do.

I praise God for the work of CBE and for the hard work conference organizers have put in to get this all together. May our God richly bless them, and may the message of the Gospel of reconciliation and mutuality ring out far beyond the grounds of the Doubletree Inn and Suites!

Marcus Bachmann — Is He Macho Enough? And Why Would Reasonable People Even Discuss This?

Friday, July 29th, 2011

By “reasonable people,” I am, of course, excluding Doug Wilson. Nevertheless, the Arbiter Of All That’s Good And Masculine has an odd little piece on Blog and Mablog concerning alleged liberal “attacks” and “bullying” directed toward presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann’s husband, Marcus. It appears that Marcus demonstrates what Wilson calls an “effeminate” manner of speaking, and this concerns Moscow’s Magistrate of Macho.

Here’s what Wilson says on his blog about ol’ Marcus:

“What he projects out in the open is the vision of a soft and effeminate man being pulled down the road by his dynamo of a wife. She appears to be a tornado in heels, and he appears to be a nice guy toiling in her wake…

The first woman president, if there is ever to be such, will present us with some interesting practical problems… One of those problems will be the problem of the First Dude. Just as American women have always wanted to admire the First Lady, so American men will want to look up to the First Man. And it has to be said — and remember I am simply talking about electability here — that this latter problem will be a thousand times more difficult than the former one has been. Think of it simply, and I am talking about the image of masculinity projected.

Most American men would think they could equal or far surpass Marcus Bachmann, and most American men would also think that Todd Palin’s Iron Dog snowmobile was about three hundred miles ahead of theirs. If a woman is ever going to be elected president, this is a dynamic that has to be taken fully into account. In the Bachmann campaign, it really does not appear to have been.”

Oh, my. The Bachmann campaign didn’t rate Marcus on the Macho Meter before it took off, and now — gasp! — a woman who, God help us, could be elected president will saddle us with a simpering, lisping husband looked down upon not only by American men, but by the entire male-supremacist, patriarchal world. She didn’t “taken into account” the need of American guys to have a “First Dude” who’s sufficiently rough, tough, and studly enough to garner their admiration. You know, a guy like Todd Palin, who can out-macho anyone, or at least as much as any guy with a proclivity for silk boxers can. What the country needs is a thoroughly masculine spouse if it ever chooses a female president, and Michelle and Marcus — the strident siren and the simpering sap — didn’t do their homework. Thus saith Wilson, and so be it.

Shame on liberals who mock Marcus’ speech and mannerisms — those Hollywood pundits who swear their gaydar went off the charts when they saw and heard him. But shame on masculinist pastors who in analyze the content of a presidential candidate’s campaign with an odd and yet utterly predictable caution that somewhere, somehow, someone out there — in her very own family, yet! — hasn’t embraced Wilsonian Masculinity 101. Maybe Marcus Bachmann can’t grow a Wilsonian beard. Maybe his voice isn’t that of the Reformers past, deep and rumbling, full of both authority and of assurance — because we know (!) that Zwingli, Calvin, et al and including Jonathan Edwards, spoke like Wilson. And maybe Marcus Bachmann doesn’t use his manicured, uncalloused hands to rip through a guitar solo of “Sweet Home Alabama” — as Wilson does.

Or maybe the problem is that Marcus Bachmann married a vibrant, energetic, articulate woman — a woman who I think would be a disastrous president, by the way — and appears to be quite pleased with her. That, to Doug Wilson, just isn’t right. And so the punditry begins: Michelle blew it by not taking into account the slobbering masculinity of the American male. Her defeat has been foretold, and it is a defeat deserved. She is now a cautionary tale: Women, don’t get too far ahead of your guy in public, or else you’ll make him into a weenie and you’ll both fall into the roast.

Rarely have I read such a bone-hard dictum with so little actual meat. Wilson really ought to cease with the political punditry and slink back to the pulpit . . . although he is unfit for that as well. With any fortune, there’ll be an appropriately masculine lumberjack position offered him in the near future, where he can flex his macho chops and do damage only to the inanimate and insentient. Because when it comes to understanding and commenting on people, his peculiar obsession with masculinity causes real harm to real men and to the real women who share their lives.

If I ever run into Marcus Bachmann, I think I’ll give him a big hug — or a shoulder punch. For now, though, I pray that he be spared obnoxious commentary about speech and mannerisms that are entirely irrelevant to much of anything at all.

The Tea Party and The Debt Crisis

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Some thoughts on the Tea Party and on the GOP in general . . .

1. All of the Tea Party Republicans appear to have in common two things: Great hair, every one of them, and an astonishing lack of understanding of how catastrophic a U.S. forfeiture on its debts would be if the debt ceiling isn’t raised by August 2. Every single one of them appears to be dangerously insouciant in grasping how this would affect regular people, including those who stupidly voted them into office, and it’s evident that a basic course in civics, not to mention civility, is greatly needed for those on the right side of the political continuum.

2. Tea Party house members, some 80 or so freshman representatives, were catapulted into power on the same wave of misplaced anger and ignorance that gave us Sarah Palin in 2009. That wave misappropriated actual populism and instead gave us a divisive, poorly informed, combative and reactionary group of zealots who represent not the best interests of the common man and woman, but a wholesale caving in to the institutions and power structures that have caused and will continue to cause great economic and social harm to those most vulnerable. Real populism encourages people to vote in the best interests of the middle class, the poor, and the economically disenfranchised. Tea Party “populism” is a vile toxin offered to desperate voters under the guise of “taking back” Washington. But Washington — government — has great power to aid the people and to strengthen the society around them; it is not in itself an evil, and this “taking back” is nothing more than an unwitting embrace of policies that guarantee shattered people, shattered communities, and a shattered economic climate. Christians would call these anti-people institutions and policies “strongholds,” and real Christians would seek to overthrow and overcome them in the name of Christ.

3. The Tea Party may be full of so-called Christians, but there is nothing about it that resembles anything even remotely Biblical, Gospel-affirming, or Christ-honoring. Savvy culture watchers would call “charlatans” what desperate and desperately uninformed Christians would call “saviors.” Biblically-grounded Christians would do well to become savvy observers of culture and call these false prophets out for their ignorance and duplicity.

4. My President has given up much ground — too much, in my view — in the name of sincere compromise. The Tea Party devours all around it and then petulantly whines that others, even their fellow Republicans, won’t give them more. Obama has pulled so far to the right that his identification as a Democrat is now strained; the Tea Party has pulled so far to the right that it’s off the table, off the charts, beyond reason, and out of its mind.

5. The last thirty years or so have given us a soul-draining picture of what results when one party co-opts Jesus Christ and then does all in its considerable power to drag His message and ministry through the political and social mud as it rushes headlong into the political theatre with an ethic that is at best un-Biblical and at its worst damningly anti-Biblical. In the eschatological search for an archetypical Whore of Babylon, I nominate the Religious Right wing of the Republican Party. Rarely has religious idolatry and shameless adultery been so clearly demonstrated by the Church in its lie-back-and-open-up courting of the GOP.

6. The Christian punk band Crashdog spoke prophetically in the 1980s when it sang, “Jesus and Republicans, they are not the same — Jesus a Republican? Have you gone insane?” You, of course, have not ever heard of Crashdog, and that’s not just because you don’t share my love of punk music. Prophetically-oriented Christian bands who don’t toe the party line, it appears, don’t get much marketing support or air play. Too bad. There’s a message there worthy of a wider audience.

7. I am unabashedly praying for an Obama victory in 2012. More than that, I’m praying for an unabashed voice of Christian reason and compassion to drown out the decidedly not-Christian clamor of the Tea Party, a voice that gives rise to a movement that progresses in this country’s best interest as those who would destroy so much of what America stands for dissolve and drown in their own morass of stupidity, ineptitude, and divisiveness. It’s that “tearing down strongholds” thing again — this time, focusing on those strongholds that slap “Jesus” and “moral values” on slime and call it gold.

Dispatch From Seattle and The Conference

Friday, July 29th, 2011

OK. I really don’t deserve such a nice room, and even one looking out over the courtyard of the Seattle Doubletree Suites, but if I’m forced to, I guess I’ll just make the best of it. Although I did have to join the Doubletree/Hilton Honors Program to get free in-room Internet. I just hope they send me a secret decoder ring.

Anyway, within an hour of checking in, I met up with my wonderful Caroline and her husband, Brian, and spent an enjoyable hour talking with them; a Sydney, Australia, family therapist; an Anglican priest — the woman who presided over the communion service three years ago that I mentioned in my previous post — and a young woman from Romania who is beginning a ministry to women victimized by trafficking. We went to Olive Garden; the wine flowed and so did the conversation, and all of it was to the glory of our Lord Jesus. Fighting patriarchy is a commendable activity, but fighting patriarchy because of our commitment to Christ and His Gospel of mutuality and reconciliation is the stuff wherein the Spirit flows. I saw a taste of that last night.

On another note, we were all discussing Unitarian Universalism, a church movement that includes one of my dearest friends and which has great influence for the good in Moscow. The UU foundational principle is “We believe in the dignity and worth of every human being.”

The biggest church in Moscow, however, follows the example of King David in cursing and praying harm on their enemies, and goes beyond John Calvin to embrace a “double predestination” that assures us that, for His good pleasure, God has created some people for ultimate and eternal damnation, and because of His decree concerning their fate, they have no chance whatsoever to seek Him, find Him, or escape His wrath. This, and not the credo of the Unitarian Universalists, is the guiding force behind their engagement with the community. It’s not hard to see that something’s gone terribly, perhaps irrevocably, wrong when those who reject Jesus Christ as the source of humankind’s salvation reflect more of Him than those who claim to have Him tucked firmly in their hearts, Bibles, and khakis.

May the Lord have mercy, and may you stayed tuned in for more Prevailing Winds blowing from Seattle and Christians For Biblical Equality.

Travelin’ My Life Away . . . And Ending Up In A Hotel Full Of Feminists

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Wow. Have I seen a lot of the American West lately . . .

Jeff and I left left Thursday for one of our beloved five-day, four-night road trips with our Forest River “Salem” series travel trailer, Mary Lou. It seemed obvious to name the 18-foot love nest-on-wheels after my dear grandmother, who was tiny, efficient, smoked Salems ’til she died at 90, and traveled throughout the West for decades with my grandfather, a fiery and unabashedly liberal newspaperman whose dedication to principle regularly got him run out of small, conservative towns. It was an honor to be Mary Lou’s granddaughter; it’s a trip to wander the West in a rig named after her.

But I usually manage to hang out at home between trips, and we usually don’t hit the road as often as we’ve been able to, praise be to God, this summer. So, after arriving home Monday, I left early Tuesday for Seattle, where I’ll be one of a few hundred participants in Christians For Biblical Equality International’s annual conference. In a summer garden choked with difficulty and pain, a few beautiful flowers have made their way through, and CBE’s decision to hold this year’s conference in a city only six hours from me and only 45 minutes from my son and my wonderful mother-in-law is one of them. In addition, my dear friend Caroline and her husband are attending the conference from Windsor, Ontario, and I’m delighted that we will host them for a few days apres-conference in Moscow.

They’re dying to see where I live, primarily out of curiosity — does a town that’s still debating the morality of slavery, or that accommodates with little or no debate the “ministry” of a man determined to drag the teachings and testimony of the Gospel through the verdant, fertile soil of my beloved Palouse, look at all weird on the outside? I’m eager for their perspective, and I suspect it will confirm the “banality of evil” thesis we’ve all heard bandied about.

I’ll be writing throughout the conference, which gets underway Friday morning and concludes Sunday with a Eucharist celebration that in years past has moved my heart in ways no other sacramental ministration ever has. The Doubletree in Seattle will be full of men and women, elderly Bible scholars and young seminarians, clergy and lay people, theologians and questioners and Jesus-worshiping feminists from all over the world, gathered to learn how best to understand the Word and how to apply it in full, loving, living force at home, in church, and throughout society. The emphasis this year is on the glory of shared leadership — men and women working together, serving on the basis of Spirit-giftedness, not gender — and on violence against women. The publishers of Ms. magazine graciously sent me 50 copies of their latest issue, which explores how the narrow legal definition of rape makes it difficult for women to find justice after an attack. I’m grateful to them, and I look forward to distributing the magazine to other sisters and brothers at the conference.

I’ll close by addressing something that many people, Christians and non-believers, have asked me — what is “Biblical equality”? Is it feminism with a toned-down, tepid, apologetic face? Is “Biblical equality” an attempt by secular feminists to weave a “womanist” hermeneutic through malleable Scripture? Or is it a hijacking of “feminism,” like the “Dangerous Women” theme of this fall’s patriarchal theology road show with Doug Wilson and Mark Driscoll, encouraging women in complementarian marriages defined by the wife’s gender-based, unchangeable subordination to her husband to see themselves as “radical” and even “dangerous”? (A hierarchical, male-supremacist marriage is, in fact, dangerous — but the women in it aren’t “dangerous,” but in danger, either of succumbing to un-Biblical theology or succumbing to the potential abuse of a power-crazed husband).

What exactly IS “Biblical equality”?

It’s the radical notion that the gender harmony created and found in the Garden is God’s ideal for women and men. It’s the sound, Biblical teaching that the discord and dominance of the Fall, which God foresees but never commands, is reversed in the work of Christ Jesus. It’s the seemingly bizarre, at least to complementarians, belief that verses like Galatians 3:28, Paul’s markedly steady drumbeat of mutuality in his marriage discourse in First Corinthians, the testimony in the Bible of women serving as judges, commanders in chief, apostles, elders, teachers and patrons of the Church, and the message of redemption and reconciliation in the New Testament all ought to be taken literally as evidence of God’s intent that gender never be the basis for oppression, exclusion, or separation among His people. And it’s the embrace of a mature, reasoned understanding of what in Scripture is for all time and for all people and what is culturally- and time-bound.

“Biblical equality” is the result, the only result possible, in my mind, of a redemptive and honest reading of the Bible, without viewing God’s Word through the lens of Anglo, Western, patriarchal privilege and perspective. A T-shirt I got years ago from CBE says it well, speaking of Jesus and his ministry of reconciliation:

“He Started It . . . “

It’s true, and those who choose to conduct relationship and construct roles in church, home, and society on the basis of male supremacy cannot be honest if they cling to the idea that the Savior wanted it that way. He didn’t, and he doesn’t. “Biblical equality” is feminism not just justified within, but commanded by, the Word. Our feminist foremothers were almost all committed Christians, and no committed Christian now ought to fear feminism or feminists.

Why not? Because they worship one.

Over The Decades . . .

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

There isn’t much that brings more warmth, more blessing, and more unfettered joy than renewing a long-lost friendship and discovering, as you gently pick through the decades (in this case, three of them), that the old friend you had then is your sister in Christ Jesus now.

Such is the case with me and with Susan (not her real name) — neither of us was in a particularly good place back then, and we had a falling out that resulted in our not being in contact at all from 1981 until just a month or so ago. And yeah, it was Facebook, and no, I didn’t have much hope when I searched for her, and yet . . . I found her, and she graciously responded. We’ve been Facebook-messaging ever since.

(Don’t bother correcting my Facebook terminology, please, because I am really happy, and I wouldn’t want you to bear the guilt of raining technology on the parade of gratitude and happiness I’m experiencing).

A relationship I thought was beyond repair, beyond hope, and beyond the reach of miles, decades, hurts, and life changes is slowly — as it should — blossoming again, and I give the Lord and Savior Susan and I both share all glory and thanks. I wanted this, and somehow, God made a way.

Because God does that sort of thing, and does it far, far better than I could ever have dared hoped.

Should The Curse Just Keep On Cursin?

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

No. It shouldn’t.

I’m reading a new book by Old Testament theologian David T. Lamb called “God Behaving Badly — Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist, and Racist?” In it, the Oxford-educated Lamb examines the O.T. texts that make Yahweh seem, on first read and apart from context, like a petulant, vindictive, jealous God who delights in the smite — the kind of God who makes it easy to set up the all-too-common “Angry God Of The Old Testament” vs. “Loving God Of The New Testament” dichotomy, a theological schizophrenia embraced just as often, I think, by Christians as by those outside of the Church. I’m eager to get through it, because I stumble at times in my own worship when I consider some of the “problem texts” Lamb talks about, and I haven’t always grasped them in a way that helps with my talking with non-believers.

But one thing hit me immediately: Unlike so many conservative Christian authors, theologians, pastors and statesmen these days, Lamb uses “sexist” in the title with a rock-solid presumption that the reader, like the author, sees it as a bad thing — a bad thing just as clearly as “angry” and “racist” would be both in describing God and as a defining ethos or characteristic of human beings. In a Christian culture not defined and influenced by masculinists, patriarchs, misogynists and complementarians, that would, in fact, be presumed. But as a culture full of binge drinkers would soften or, worse, make acceptable behaviors like “drunkenness,” or a Church full of thieves would blunt the ugliness of words like “theft” and “larceny,” the male-dominated, male supremacist history and strength of Christiandom has made even reasonable, righteous people question whether or not it’s virtuous or vile to be “sexist,” and I have to admit that its inclusion in the title as an obvious “bad thing” was ultimately why I bought it.

So, here’s Lamb’s take on the “curse verses” of Genesis 3 that so many take to be prescriptive, timeless, and binding in their effect on the equality of women:

“The negative consequences of the curse are not meant to be accepted. God himself acted to overcome them . . . Just as God resists the consequences, we also attempt to diminish their effects. We reduce pain at childbirth. We make it easier to harvest crops. We work to reconcile men and women and to eliminate sexism. With God’s help, we are not willing to live in the reality of Genesis 3 (men ruling over women), but we strive to get back to Genesis 1 and 2 (male and females as God-like helpers for each other), and we look forward to a time when, because of our unity in Christ, distinctions between male and female are diminished (Gal. 3:28). The curses are not good things to be welcomed or even unavoidable realities to be accepted, but are negative consequences to be overcome.” (David T. Lamb, 2011, InterVarsity Press, p. 59)

Amen!

Yes, That IS Disgusting. Now, What’s The Point?

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

In commenting about people, like me, who would say that the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19 is about rape and dehumanizing, degrading violence, not mutual, caring, monogamous homosexual relationships, Wilson crows that no one on the Left has condemned two of Bill Maher’s recent talk show guests who said they wanted to “violently f—” Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum, so disgusted are they by Bachmann’s and Santorum’s disdain for gay rights.

Let me set Wilson’s mind at ease. Some of us on the Left, and virtually every human being I know, would gladly condemn such disgusting, vile, and threatening speech. The Maher “guests” who said those things are true Sodomites — disgusting, vile, and threatening in their speech and actions, using the context of sexual contact to demonstrate their rotten hearts and withered souls. Frankly, I would consider Bill Maher to be a professional A-hole par excellence, if I used or permitted that kind of language, and he makes no positive contribution to anything other than his own and his sponsors’ bank accounts.

Now, what this has to do with differentiating same-sex erotic behavior between loving adults from the actions and words of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah is utterly beyond me, as it ought to be for the rest of the non-classically-trained world. But Wilson specializes in debate by diversion and argument by antagonism. He doesn’t have to make rational points; his audience expects that arguments be buttressed not by sober analysis, but by insults against feminists, liberals, pomosexuals and the like.

Sadly, the guy never disappoints.

Sometimes, It All Blows Up In Your Face

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

I alluded last week to a situation, a painful, crisis-precipitated rupture of relationship, with a family not related to either of us who are nonetheless as precious to Jeff and me as our own kin. It’s been a devastating, painful, and extraordinarily delicate minefield to pick through, and I had hoped nothing like this would ever have happened. Or would ever happen again.

And then — yesterday.

I was stricken to discover that the chill in the air I’d perceived with an elderly friend I love deeply — there is no “loved,” here or elsewhere — was real, and that she feels that I’ve somehow not lived up to whatever she expected, and whatever I would have gladly offered had I only known. Now she’s wounded and feeling betrayed; I’m wounded and feeling bewildered. I don’t know what I’ve done, or not done, or how I could have done or not done it any better. My conscience is clear, and perhaps she will come to see what I believe to be the truth of our relationship. No guarantees, though. Sometimes things just . . . fall apart, the theme of 2011 that I’m unlikely to mention in any Emerine-Mix Family Christmas letter.

Evidence in my life of the omniscience of my loving God is that somehow I wandered through the jungle of a an Internet search onto a book by former Fuller Seminary theologian and ethicist Lewis Smedes, whose work on homosexuality and women’s issues I’ve admired. I read something about a little book he wrote called “Learning to Live the Love We Promise,” in which he writes, and writes with tremendous insight and skill, about the costs and rewards of commitment between two people.

I often buy books because I think they’ll minister to others. This one, it turns out, speaks right to me in this season of commitment-gone-boom. If you’ve ever given all you’ve got and then seen it blow up, in any relationship — unlike many contemporary Christian authors, Smedes doesn’t privilege marriage as the only spiritually and emotionally significant connection people make, and eloquently describes both the pain and the joy of his friendships with men and women — read this book. And if you’ve avoided “putting it out there” with others, kept yourself from emotional intimacy with people you know you’d like to really connect with out of fear that it might be too costly, either in the friendship’s success or its failure, read it.

Smedes describes a way of living that is ultimately rewarding — life-giving — precisely because it’s so fraught with risk and pain. I needed his counsel right now; his words are a balm to my raw, grieving soul, and I will periodically offer some of his insights over the next few days. But join me in praising God-all-knowing for gently tossing my way a little paperback I’d never heard of in a time I never thought I’d live through.