Post-evangelical prayers

Hi friends,

After a bit of a partial hiatus, I’ve gotten back in a rhythm of posting a (brief) new prayer 2-3 times/week at my @postevangelicalprayers Instagram account.

My hope in these prayers is to explore – for myself and for anyone else who might resonate – what prayer looks like post-evangelicalism. For me, there are ways I used to pray when I was part of the evangelical universe that just don’t make sense anymore. I feel like I’ve lost a lot of well-worn scaffolds for prayer, and I would like to take part in building something new.

My hope is that these “post-evangelical prayers” point toward a God whose love is more vast than evangelicalism teaches and whose Spirit unambiguously moves in the direction of justice.

I thought I’d share a couple recent prayers here, since not everyone uses IG. I’m also very open to your thoughts & feedback if you’re someone who doesn’t use IG regularly but who enjoys these prayers and would like to see more. Is there another format that would work well for you? (FB page? Separate blog? Something else?)

Whether or not you use IG, I’d also love to hear any suggestions of words, themes, thoughts, experiences, realities, Bible passages, etc. that you’d like to see incorporated into future prayers. What’s on your mind that you don’t know how to pray about? (Not that I will know, but…we can reflect together.)

Here are a couple recent prayers:

God,
You know all the ones we have lost.
You know how we loved: imperfect, but real.
We choose to trust that your love holds them.
They did not need to pray a Sinner’s Prayer
or take communion 
or recite the Four Spiritual Laws
for you to know them and want their good.
Surely today they are with you in paradise.
Amen.


God,
You are the one questers always find.
We go looking, and there you are.
Not particularly concerned with how we seek, 
just that we seek.
“Inclusive” doesn’t quite cover it,
because with you there was never any out-group.
There was never that power dynamic.
We come to you as equals—
the only way we can.
Amen.

Peace to you this weekend,

Liz

Epiphany prayer

I wrote a prayer based on what I’ve heard six different elders share at church these last couple Sundays. Thought I’d share it here too.

The prompt was something like this: What epiphany have you had recently (that is, what do you feel like God has revealed to you), and what are you doing with it?

So grateful for each of these amazing humans’ insights and vulnerability.

God of our ancestors, 
There has never been a person, a family, 
a generation you have not seen.
You saw their struggles and their joys, 
their celebrations and their desperation.
We honor them, and, in so doing, we honor you.
Your love encompasses them as surely as your love encompasses us.

God who dwells in hard histories,
You give us strength to see and not deny the past.
You walk with us as we reshape narratives, fill in the gaps, 
remember things as they happened
and not how we wish they were, or what we were taught to believe.

God of the advocates,
Thank you for the gift of knowing that we were already praying,
even when we didn’t know it.
You have been in every plea for justice,
every act of care for another human being,
everything we did to make sure someone knew they had value
and were not forgotten.
Help us move toward justice, love, and peace,
trusting you are near even when we don’t feel you.

God who kicks down doors,
Give us courage to face our places of privilege.
Give us the nerve to push for equity.
Open the doors that need to be opened
and tear down the doors that need to be torn down.
Invite us to make good trouble with you.

God who is near to the lonely,
Help us accept our loneliness and find you,
somehow, in the murky midst of it.
When friends don’t know how to care for us, you are with us, still.
When comforting words fall flat in the face of our grief,
and well-intentioned platitudes just make us angry,
you make room for us to yell and cry and grieve.
Our full humanity is not too much for you.

God who invites us to lie down in green pastures,
You are not our boss.
You do not buy into capitalism’s lies that say we must always be working,
always producing, worth only as much as we produce and consume.
You are the God who rests.
You are the God who invites us to rest.
Overturn tables set with the greed of a few to the detriment of all.
Break the connection between money and value.
Restore our sleep, our bodies, our minds, our health, 
our courage to resist these systems that were not built for us.

God who believes in us,
Remind us that there is more to us than we might know,
more than others might recognize.
Sing over us your songs of worth, precious value, wisdom,
courage to be exactly who you made us to be.
You created us as you wanted us to be.
Let no one tell us otherwise.
Fill us with hope for a future we can’t quite yet imagine.
May our dreams move in your directions.
Help us remember that each one of us is necessary.

God whose star the magi followed,
Reveal yourself to us:
your broad inclusivity, your redeeming power,
your advocacy, your table-turning justice, 
your tender presence in our darkest times,
your rest, your restoration, your kindness,
the glory of your creation in us and around us.
Reveal among us the different kind of community you build.
Help us go a different way from the well-trod violent paths
so easily available to us.
Make peace in, among, and through us.
Amen.

Magi, Wisdom, People Younger Than Me

Note: This week and next week I have the privilege of sharing some scripture and life reflections with my church community via our weekly newsletter. I’ve been asked to reflect on the theme of epiphany – what do I feel like God is revealing to me, and what do I do with that? I wanted to share these reflections with you, too. Here’s the first.

A cool image of the magi / Photo by Marcel Eberle on Unsplash

On New Year’s Day, Pastor Lina preached on the Epiphany story (Matthew 2:1-12). She reflected on the ways God speaks to and through people whom Christians might consider religious “outsiders,” like the magi in the story. God’s wisdom and love is bigger than we often imagine.

As I reflect on the Epiphany story, I notice how the magi set out to worship “the one who has been born king” (Matt 2:2). They talk about birth, so it sounds like they knew he was still a baby. And yet, what must it have been like to actually get there and see that this was the king they came to worship (v. 11)? He was just a tiny infant. Maybe sleeping, maybe crying, maybe breastfeeding.

What did that feel like? What did it do to the magi’s ideas of kingliness—and, more generally, to their ideas about power, and wisdom, and who does or doesn’t have these things? 

I used to work in college campus ministry, and I’ve done a lot of listening to people younger than myself—trying to encourage them, root for them, cultivate loving spaces where they can grow and thrive. But sometimes I catch myself assuming I know better than them. Of course I do—I remember how little I knew at their age.  

And yet. Wisdom comes through God’s Spirit, who dwells in people of all ages. There is also wisdom that comes from life experience, and older people often have more of this. But people younger than me have had life experiences different from my own, and they have gained wisdom from these experiences. I want to pay attention to that.

In the First Nations Version, the magi say, “We saw [Messiah’s] star where the sun rises and have come to humble ourselves before him and honor him” (v. 2). This translation uses the words “humble” and “honor” where other translations often say “worship.” I like this.

I don’t want to worship people younger than me. But I do want to humble myself and honor them. I don’t want to assume I have nothing to learn.

Dominant U.S. society has norms around who has power, who is expected to lead, who is assumed to have expertise and wisdom, who is followed and heard: white, male, straight, able-bodied, upper-middle-class, ages 35-70. 

There is no part of me that truly believes these things are qualifications for leadership. And yet, these subliminal expectations are deeply ingrained in me, and in many of us. Operating otherwise feels like swimming upstream. But this is what God invites us to do.

What to do with this? For me, I think humbling myself and honoring young(er) folks means choosing not to take a piece of writing, a spoken word, a poem, a piece of art, or anything else less seriously when it was written, spoken, or created by someone younger than me. It means listening to people younger than myself not just to support them but also to see what I can learn from them. It means hearing their words of dissent, dissatisfaction, or critique with openness rather than defensiveness.

Humility and honor: this is what we have to offer one another as humans. Across ages, across generations, across race and class and gender and orientation and all the other differences that often divide us. My hope is that a posture of humility and honor comes to mark both my life and our life together as a community.

Peace to you this week.

Liz

Totally biased fave reads of 2022 (nonfiction)

Happy 2023, friends.

Last week I spent a little time reflecting on some of my personal favorite fiction books from 2022. Now it’s nonfiction o’clock. 

Same caveats as last week: I make no claims to know what the “best books of 2022” were. I’m just here to share what I read and liked in the last year. Different books speak to different people in different ways. I share these because they resonated with me, and some of them might resonate with you too.

If I’m counting right, in 2022 I wrote up “super chill book reviews” for ten books. I haven’t really been writing up super chill reviews for books I didn’t experience as good and important, so…take this as a list of recommendations! Here they are, in order of when I posted about them (and with links to the super chill reviews):

Whew, that was a lot of super chill reviews. So chill right now. 

There are also a few books that fall in the category of “I didn’t write a review for this one, but I really have to include it in my totally biased faves of 2022.” I’m trying to keep this list short—and I think I’m doing better than last year!—but it’s hard. 

Anyhow, here are a few I especially enjoyed, with some brief notes/reflections, as well as links to bookshop.org for a fuller description of what they’re about.

Spirituality that I’m here for:

Sometimes I spend a fair amount of energy reflecting on the kinds of religion and spirituality I’m not here for. Particularly the kinds of religion and spirituality I was once here for (or at least participated in) but am no longer. 

I don’t regret this; I think this is crucial.

It’s also been good, though, to reflect on the kinds of religion and spirituality I am here for now, or want to be here for going forward. The books above are a few along those lines that I’ve enjoyed—that I felt were good for my soul.

For healing the land and our relationship with Earth:

A collection of essays and poems that are both appropriately sobering and surprisingly hopeful. Took me a while to get through, but well worth reading. Helped me get better in touch with the spiritual side of the climate crisis, if you will (and I will). 

Bring the buffalo back! Read this book to find out why. Okay, so that isn’t the only thing this book is about; it’s just something that stuck with me. The author is an environmental scientist who went looking to rebuild soil carbon and found out that it’s connected to history and colonialism and race and immigration and so many things. The BIPOC scientists and farmers Carlisle interviews for this book are amazing.

When your justice-seeking soul needs some encouragement:

A thoughtful, hopeful exploration of activism and joy. Lots to love about this book. I might have to do a super chill review with a few quotes that stood out to me at some point. 

When you need therapy but can’t afford a therapist:

I’m sure this book is not a substitute for actual therapy. But… it’s also not not therapy. I felt like it helped me better understand emotions, painful memories, and what to do with them. Highly recommend for anyone who needs to work through some stuff—which is most of us, I imagine.

These are some of my totally biased nonfiction faves from 2022! Have you read any of them, and if so, what did they get you thinking about? And what have you been reading that you’d recommend?

Totally biased fave reads of 2022 (fiction)

Hi friends,

Well, it’s that time of year. The time when every magazine, newspaper, website, and blogger published their “best x books of 2022” list, like, two months ago. 

(How do you even know until the year actually ends? What about the books that get published in November and December? Are they destined to be sad and lonely forever?) 

Anyhow, I like to wait until the year is closer to actually being over. And I like to resist the urge to pretend that I know anything at all about the best books of 2022. 

But here’s what I do know. I know I read a bunch of books in 2022—some published in 2022, some published earlier. (I’m hesitant to say how many, because what does that even mean when books vary so much in length and density?) I know I liked a lot of them, but some more than others. And I know I’d love to share some of the ones I liked most with you. 

Thus, my “totally biased fave reads of 2022”!

Let’s start with fiction, and then we’ll mosey on over to nonfiction next week. 

I don’t know that I had one clear favorite fiction book this year. (Although if I did, it would probably be Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko.) I feel like it’s hard to compare, because there are so many different genres, different subject matters, different levels of seriousness. All worth reading. 

So instead of trying to rate them against each other, I’ve made up some made-up awards. The books are ordered, very imprecisely, from most heartbreaking/serious to most light/fun. 

Here we go!

  • Most heart-wrenching exploration of queer people & communities’ experiences in the 80s: Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers (Penguin Books, 2019)

Omg, this book was sad. Loved the characters and was right there with them. And it helped me understand and empathize with the people and communities impacted by the AIDS crisis in a deeper way.

  • Most epic multigenerational historical fiction with morally complex villain: Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (Grand Central Publishing, 2017)

So epic. Learned a lot about East Asian history, woven through this story about a Korean family living in Japan. Beautifully done. Especially appreciated the attention to women’s lives and experiences. And for some reason I found the main villain-ish character very delightful—not delightful in the sense of being likable or a good person, but in the sense that his complicated bad-ness was complex and interesting.

  • Most awesome first half before becoming a little more grim than I was hoping for: Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun (Tor Books, 2022)

I was so into this book for quite a while, but the last maybe-third-ish of it was…I don’t want to say disappointing, because maybe you’ll love it (and that’s great if so!), but personally I was bummed about it. But I really, really liked the early story about a cunning and gutsy girl who survives poverty to become a novice monk and then a sort of nonviolent(ish) resistance fighter against the empire.

The parts narrated by the octopus were my faves, to be honest, but the book as a whole was also delightful. Bonus points for being set in a fictional town in western Washington. If you’re looking for something a little lighter, Ken and I both enjoyed this one.

I felt like this book had some (good) messages that were laid on a little thick, but it was still a good, fun read. Lucy was my fave. 

  • Most delightfully interconnected fictional universe of the rich and famous: Everything (not a book called “Everything,” but actually all the things) by Taylor Jenkins Reid. 

I read Malibu Rising (Ballantine Books, 2021) early in the year and found it a lovely, intriguing story about the adult kids of an absentee rock-star (like he’s literally a famous musician) dad, combined with some nicely-woven-in-and-not-too-unsubtle thoughtfulness about love and family and such. So I kept going with Taylor Jenkins Reid and ended up reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (Washington Square Press, 2018), Daisy Jones & the Six (Ballantine Books, 2020), and Carrie Soto is Back (Ballantine Books, 2022). 

I enjoyed all of them and don’t think I could pick a favorite. So, if you’re looking for one to start with, you can choose whether you want to get into surfing (Malibu Rising), acting (Evelyn Hugo), music (Daisy Jones), or tennis (Carrie Soto). 

As a fun side note (not a big part of the stories, but still fun), I enjoyed that they’re all set in the same fictional universe. (As in, minor characters in one book play a large role in another.) 

Hope you enjoyed these made-up book awards! Feel free to comment or otherwise get in touch with your own—I’d love to hear what fiction you’d recommend these days.

Advent prayer: Soul

An Advent poem/prayer on the theme of “soul.”

Soul

God,

I want to live and move 
out of the depths of my soul.

I want to see soul in everyone I meet. 

I want to be connected with my soul.

So many forces have tried to break this connection.
Sometimes it feels like they have succeeded.
But not entirely.

I want to know my soul, 
and to know that she is worth knowing.

I want to live in communities 
where souls are seen and honored, 
reconnected with themselves, 
connected with one another
in love, trust, acceptance.

God, they say institutions have souls. 
So many of them are so bent, so broken. 

I don’t want to move in spaces 
that ask me to cut my soul off at the door.

God, restore my soul. 
Heal her. 

Help me trust her again, 
even when everything around me tells me not to. 

Amen.

A couple other pieces elsewhere on the web, if you’re looking for some (short and sweet) Christmas break reading:

  • A prayer and some reflections on joy – over at Christians for Social Action. Reflecting on the connections between joy, activism, and purpose. And Mary’s Song, because it’s Christmas. With appreciative shout-outs to Karen Walrond, Rebecca Solnit, & Cherrie Moraga.
  • I participated in a Patheos “seasonal holidays” initiative where I got to choose among a number of predetermined prompts…thinking and writing about New Years resolutions seemed fun, so here we are: How Do I Make Religious New Years Resolutions?
  • Still meandering through the Bible-themed part of a series of reflections on faith-related things I’ve changed my mind about. The latest: What Does It Mean to Read the Bible for Guidance?
  • Also, if you want to get an email whenever I post on Patheos, feel free to sign up here. (I believe this link should get you my posts specifically, not just Patheos Progressive Christian posts in general – please let me know if you experience something different :).)

Peace to you this Christmas.

Advent prayer: Release

A poem/prayer, reflecting on the theme “release.”

I’ve been reading an indigenous memoir called The Woman Who Watches Over the World, by Linda Hogan. One of the things Hogan says happened when she was in the hospital recovering from a traumatic brain injury was that she asked all the questions that had gone unasked and unanswered in her family.

Something about the ways her brain had changed and was changing released her from whatever fears or inhibitions had kept her from asking these things before.

I wonder what it looks like to be released into freedom to say the things we are afraid to say, but which are important, and which hold possibilities for healing.

Here’s the poem/prayer:

Release

God,

We hold anxiety in our bodies, more than we know.
We hold so much.

The news is depressing, overwhelming.
Our lives fall apart in an instant
and there is no room to mourn.

The pressures of our world build up inside us 
over a long time.
Muscles clenched and tight, hearts hurting.

What would release mean?
Is it in our power?

And if our souls found release, 
what exactly would come out?

Words unspoken, thoughts unvoiced, 
fullness of humans shrunken too long
to fit whatever was expected of them. 

A valve holds back all the “too much,” 
all the improper, the inappropriate, 
the rage.

These rivers were not meant 
to be dammed up inside us.

God, hold us in the release.

In your voice that says exactly what needs to be said 
and never lies.

In your being that encompasses us 
and is not drowned by our rivers.

God, provide safe people, 
safe spaces for release.

Provide people who will bring their full selves, 
and who won’t run away when we bring ours.

Because we’re all a lot.

God, release us into freedom.

Amen.

Advent prayer: Favor

A poem/prayer on the theme “favor.” Perhaps a loaded word depending on the church-y circles you may have been in. I’m wrestling with that here, as well as more generally what favor could mean in an unjust world.

Favor

God,

I don’t want the kind of favor 
where I have more and someone else has less.

I want your favor for everyone I know.

Favor in the good things they’re doing.
Favor in the good people they are, 
the good inside of them.

Favor to know they’re loved.

Favor that gives confidence 
to keep trying, keep growing, keep moving.

God, I don't know that I want unconditional favor.

I want the kind that will get my attention 
when I start to go the wrong way.

The kind that will direct and redirect 
my feet onto good paths.

I don’t want the kind of favor 
that keeps me happily singing Jesus songs
while my theology, my words, my actions, my attitudes 
make others suffer.

I want the kind of favor 
that opens up a new world.

Favor to level mountains and raise up valleys.

Favor such that all are valued, 
all live freely and in joy.

Favor toward a world where barriers, hierarchies, injustices 
are washed away.

Favor like the sun’s warmth 
after weeks of rain.

Favor like the smile of a baby 
who has not yet learned to distrust.

Favor that holds us together 
when everything falls apart.

Amen.

Unrelatedly, a few other updates:

Advent prayer: Wisdom

Continuing with the theme of “Advent poem/prayers from 2021 that I’m still feeling”… The word for this one is “wisdom.”

Wisdom

God,

There is wisdom in our souls, deep down.
There is so much we don’t know.

We carry some wisdom 
and we need other humans for the rest.

We need the whole of creation
as our wisdom teachers.

The wise ones move in cycles of receiving, giving,
mutual respect, gracious attention.

God, in our world 
the wisest ones often go unheard.

We clamber after the confident ones, 
the smooth-talking ones, 
the quick-thinking ones, 
the shiny put-together polished ones.

But wisdom is carried 
in bodies who keep the score of suffering,
in wrinkled faces who have laughed and cried too much 
to bother putting up a front.

Wisdom is slow-moving.
She refuses to be commodified. 
We often rush right past.

God, help us not miss wisdom 
in our rush to say the right thing.

Help us not miss wisdom 
in our inattentiveness, 
in our tendency to think we know things.

Help us not miss wisdom 
as we still ourselves and wait.

Give us patience, as long as it takes.

We wait in the dark, where wisdom hides, 
that we might find her.

Amen.

Advent prayer: Open

Last Advent season, in 2021, I wrote a bunch of poem/prayers, responding to different daily one-word prompts offered by my church.

This Advent season felt like a good time to revisit these prayers and share some of the ones that still resonate. This one is on theme: open.

Open

God,
I want to be open 
with an openness that knows its boundaries 
and guards them zealously.

An openness that wells up from deep within 
and is not pressed or forced or manipulated.

I want to shut out so much.

I need to learn to shut out so much:
the insulters, the tired misogynist tropes, 
the name-callers, the actors in bad faith.

And yet, as I learn to shut them out, 
I want to be open.

Open to wonder. To awe. 
To the things I have yet to learn.

Open to beauty, to nature, to art.
Open to joy, to breaking open and being remade.

Open to challenge and correction 
from those who love me and are for me.

Open to letting people surprise me 
with their generosity, their kindness, 
their capacity for transformation.

There is goodness in the world.
It is not only sorrow.

God, in your extravagant profligate openness 
you created humans—
raw, unpredictable, glorious, fickle.

You know everything but were open 
to being surprised by us.

Help me be open to being surprised, too.
Amen.	

Are there parts of this prayer that you feel? Other prayers or reflections that come to mind when you think of openness?

On an unrelated note, this is what I’ve been up to writing-wise since the last update (and as a reminder, you can always go to the “on the web” page to see what’s new…or old…).

  1. Do Not Worry: A Communal Approach (Red Letter Christians)

For a while (like, October 2021 – Feb 2022), I was blogging a lot about the passage in Matthew where Jesus tells people not to worry. It started with a mini-sermon from church and then went all sorts of places, from worry as a good thing, to the feminine side of God, to what does and doesn’t add an hour to our lives, to what it might look like to learn from the wildflowers. And those are just a few.

Do Not Worry: A Communal Approach is a piece I wrote as part of that series and then thought, I wonder if someone wants to publish this one. Many months later, here we are!

2. On Hope: Prayers & Reflections (Christians for Social Action)

This is the first in a four-part series on the weekly themes of Advent (hope, peace, love, joy). It incorporates some of the prayers I wrote last year with new reflections on what these words might mean in our world. Featuring lots of engagement with activist scholars & writers.

3. When Clarity of Belief is Important (Patheos)

I wrote some things about my discomfort with belief statements and how they’re sometimes used – but of course everything is more complicated than that. When Clarity of Belief is Important adds a little of that complexity, particularly with LGBTQ+ people/communities in mind.

4. A Crisis of Authority – or, Life in the Mud (Patheos)

Starting off a series of reflections on how my views of authority (Bible, church, pastors, etc.) have changed over time. This post explores in a general way what crises of authority can look like…and how they can feel.

As always, thoughts about any of this are very welcome!