Archives for January 2017

Katharina & Martin Luther: A Book Giveaway

**This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to our winner, Michele!**

When Michelle told me she was writing a book about the marriage of Katharina and Martin Luther, I imagined her sitting among stacks and stacks of dry historical documents in a library carrel, possibly stress eating chocolate. I saw her sitting in the center of a swirl of words written by men for men about the historical significance of men. I couldn’t fathom how she would find enough material to write about one woman’s experience during the Protestant Reformation–even if that woman was a runaway nun married to the Protestant reformer Martin Luther.

Very few of Katharina’s own words and letters remain, but out of the copious amount of Martin Luther’s writings and those of his followers, Michelle weaves the strands of Katherina’s  life together to create a fascinating story. Michelle manages to capture the essence of  their marriage as seen through the eyes of observers in their home and through Luther’s private letters. It is thoroughly researched, thoroughly educational, and thoroughly entertaining.

Katharina lived in a time and place when women, however smart or strong-willed or educated, were treated as second class citizens. Marriage and motherhood were their highest (and some would argue, their only) calling. And yet, Katharina influenced her husband and their household in innumerable ways. She was a revolutionary ahead of her time who would not be silenced. When confronted with circumstances beyond her control, she looked for ways to circumvent them. When she encountered error or false speech, she spoke truth. Where she saw opportunity, she reached out and grabbed it.

She is exactly the kind of woman I want my girls to become. Women of valor, of truth, of resistance. Women who work tirelessly, who rise early in prayer, who serve and love and speak light into dark places. Women who are not bound by the words with which men label them, but who rise above those words and recognize themselves as Beloved, Chosen, Accepted, Free.

We live in a time where the messages my girls receive about who they are and their value as women is conflicted and confusing. A time when misogynistic speech rings out from the highest offices, and boys in the classroom repeat what they hear our leaders say. They sit in the middle of a swirl of words spoken by men for men about the significance of men which informs their view of the world and their place in it. They need women like Katharina, who lived in far more challenging circumstances, to speak to them today.

I’m so grateful Michelle sat surrounded by stacks and sifted through the mountains of words. I’m encouraged by Katharina and Martin’s story, and I think you will be too. In honor of strong women everywhere doing hard things, I’d like to gift one reader with a copy of Katharina & Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk. It’s the story of two imperfect people resisting the establishment together for God’s glory. I can’t think of a better time to read it.

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I’m giving away one copy of Michelle’s book, and I would love for you to have it. To enter the drawing either leave a comment here on the blog, or on my Facebook page. In an entirely unscientific method, I will choose one name out of a hat and notify a winner by next Monday, Feb 6th. Happy commenting!

Friendship in the Internet Age

Three times, I attempted to visit the Tenement Museum in New York City with a friend before we succeeded. Twice we drove in, sat in traffic for a few hours, then navigated around construction zones, only to find lot after city parking lot full. The third time, we rode the train to Penn Station, then wrangled our way downtown amidst the crush of Christmas crowds. We layered ourselves in denim and cotton, wore our heaviest coats, and exhaled great puffs of breath like smoke into frigid air. We arrived early and killed time over croissants in a coffee shop with bare bulbs, brick walls, and coffered ceilings.

I realized on our third (successful!) attempt at making it to our destination, that the journey together was more important than setting foot in the museum. Uninterrupted travel time, a few consolation lunches, and time together over steaming mugs of tea gave my friend and I the chance to peel back the polite layers. We experienced frustration and disappointment. We talked about the struggles of marriage and raising kids and how to sustain our art. And we survived my attempts at navigation in the concrete jungle of NYC. This particular map-reading disability has strained my marriage on more than one occasion. A friendship that survives my neuroses, complaints, and inability to understand simple directions is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow–a mythical treasure.

After warming our bodies with pots of tea, and our souls with talk of city life, we wandered over to the Tenement Museum. We settled on the Shop Tour, and the guide walked us through a shop front in one of the original tenement buildings, formerly inhabited by various immigrant groups new to New York City. We stepped back in time from the bright cold of Orchard Street into a dim room with a dark wood bar, barrels and taps, and brass instruments hanging behind them. Tables and chairs sat scattered about the room, and adjacent to the pub, was a tiny kitchen with a pot-bellied fire and bratwurst dangling from thin white string strung across the ceiling.

While the store front evolved over the years taking on many different faces, the original shop was a community pub run by a newly wed couple who arrived in New York as children from Germany. As we listened to the docent tell their story, it became clear that the pub served as a hub for the entire neighborhood. It was a gathering place for families, neighbors, and co-workers to share a drink, eat a hot meal, enjoy music from the homeland, and strengthen into a community. I imagine friendships were forged over a pint of lager, business deals confirmed over handshakes, and love blossomed over bratwurst.

We’ve come so far from these tight-knit communities, and we’re poorer for it. There are no family pubs, no community hubs in my corner of suburbia. My friend and I live 45 minutes apart from one another, and it takes highway upon highway to see each other in the flesh. It takes every bit of intentionality and planning we can muster to spend half a day visiting our nearest big city.

The Shop Tour reminded me how much we need each other, what community can and should be, and what community looks like today. Today, it looks like fruitless driving adventures and museum visits and coffee shop chatter. On the return train, we bumped into my friend’s real-life neighbor. We chatted on the ride home, and she asked how my friend and I met. We looked at each other for a split second, and then I laughed when she said, “We met on twitter!” How very 21st century.

The tour stirred up a sense of misplaced nostalgia in me for the past (if only we had a corner pub, a Luke’s Diner, a Central Perk, a Community Congregation), but it also encouraged me to appreciate the ways we go about community and friendship today, and examine how I can do it better. More than that, it helped me appreciate the gift of finding a friend who will  plan multiple days out together with varying degrees of success. Who puts up with my particular brand of crazy. Who tells me the truth about herself and doesn’t look away from the truth she sees darting behind shadows inside of me. We met online, and she’s become one of my most faithful and dearest.

Something in me still longs for the promise of days when creating community and cultivating friendships meant spending an evening cozied up with a glass of wine, or an afternoon unfolding over cups of fragrant tea with endless refills. I can keep searching for these opportunities to take part in what once was, but I must also embrace what is. What is friendship today? How can I create physical space for it in a life often conducted online? I’m carrying these questions with me into the new year, and I hope the new year will unveil a few answers.

Making Peace with Our Bodies

In my early twenties, a friend invited me to a performance of the Royal Ballet in London. I’d only been to the ballet once as a child, and it had left me with the impression that I was on the outside looking in on something fragile and untouchable, but so very lovely. I agreed to join her, and wondered how I would experience the ballet this second time. I thought I would find it boring. I was in the thick of raising little ones, breastfeeding, exhausted, in a silent war with my changing body. My friend sat beside me with her leg in a cast, carrying crutches. We were a jacked up pair, as we waited to watch men and women with strong, able, obedient bodies create magic.

During the performance, the prima ballerina descended an entire set of stairs en pointe. It was so stunning, I held my breath. I stole a glance at my friend and saw tears rolling down her cheeks. Afterwards, we talked about that singular moment and how it wrenched the heart right out of us with its precision and difficulty. We left one another a few moments later–she hobbled to her taxi, and I rode the Tube home tired, but transformed by beauty.

I watched the dance movie Step Up while running on the treadmill a while ago. To be fair, I’d just watched two foreign films with subtitles and an art house film so subtle, I’m still not sure anything happened. I justified Step Up by telling myself one piece of fluff entertainment couldn’t hurt, but I forgot what watching dance does to me, how it brings me to tears every time. There is something so beautiful about the connection dancers have to their bodies that moves me in a way I don’t experience with other art forms. It evokes a longing in me for a similar connection to my own body.

I’m no longer in a silent war with my body, but I also don’t feel entirely at home in it either. Over the years, I’ve taken up various practices to help me begin a conversation with myself. I took up running in my thirties, and my body told me it is strong and resilient. But, I’m also prone to age and injuries. I practiced Pilates, and my body told me it can recover from the wild ways three pregnancies affected it. My body also revealed an inherent weakness, an incurable curvature of my spine in the form of scoliosis. We’re still negotiating this discovery. Over the last year, I added occasional yoga classes to the mix. My body tells me things in the quiet, slow movements of this practice. We share secrets, and it has been healing in a new way.

But, dance? This is the one thing I’ve always wished to do, the one challenge I’ve never attempted, having no sense of natural rhythm or grace. While watching Step Up, I recognized everything I’ve ever wanted for my own body. Dancers are at home within themselves, and this is the longing from my childhood identified–to feel that pain and beauty, fragility and strength, restraint and freedom of movement are part of wholeness. This is living at peace with one’s body. This is understanding the incarnation in a new way.

I carry a tiny seed of hope that someday, dance and I will become friends, and I will learn how to express myself without the crutch of words getting in the way. My body will reveal its secrets in a tactile, earthy way, and the untouchable art will no longer be a stage or screen away.

The Significance of a Sister Circle

*Subscribers: I apologize for the glitch this morning with the emails. This version has the links to the post:) Thanks for trusting me with your inbox, and thanks for reading!

After the family funeral, one of the older women approached me in the buffet line between scooping spoons of mac and cheese and chicken piccata onto my plate. Another peppered my daughter with questions through the stall door of the church’s ladies room. A third struck up a conversation with my son while waiting to greet the family after the memorial service. They spoke as if they knew the intimate details of our lives, asking questions only a magician, or someone in the family’s inner circle, could pluck out of blue sky and thin air.

When my son turned to me with wide eyes and a questioning look during the granny brigade’s interrogation, I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. He had finally come face to face with a lifetime member of his grandmother’s infamous Sister Circle…

To read the rest of the post on lifelong friendship, join me at More To Be.

One Word 2017: Artist

“I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ” Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses…” ~Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water

In ancient Judaism, Jewish men bound small boxes, called tefillim or phylacteries, to their forehead and their arm. These boxes contained words of the Torah printed on scraps of paper, and they served as a reminder that the words of God should be at the forefront of our minds and the inspiration for the work of our hands.

I chose the word Restore as my touchstone word for 2016, a word I believed was birthed in the heart of God for me, and I carried it with me throughout the year. I wore it strapped to my heart like a tefillin wraps around the forehead or the arm of a devout believer. I wore Restore as a symbol, a beacon to guide me in prayer, in thought, and in action. For most of the year, I wore it with desperation, while so much of what I hoped for was stripped away. A job offer, a book proposal, my confidence as a parent, a friendship, peace of mind, my voice, a sense of hope–all disappeared under the weight of this word.

I thought I held a promise, and instead I clung to a word that brought doubt and defeat. It was a difficult year of waiting and watering seeds that never seemed to grow. And yet, as the year draws to a close, I see restoration taking root. A few opportunities slipped into my open hands. Prayers for my children bore fruit. I wrote words and released them into the world. I discovered points of light guiding me in the darkness.

During this dark, imperceptible work of restoration, a deeper longing began to grow, and it birthed a word to carry with me into 2017. “Artist” is my touchstone for the New Year, the word that will serve as a beacon and symbol–a phylactery bound to my hands and feet and chest. This is a year of becoming, of creating courageous art because creation requires more than imagination, it requires a lionhearted act of courage. It is about consuming art not as a diversion, but as inspiration to create more of my own.

“And the idea of being named for an artist. A person could be reborn on the strength of that.” ~Barbara Kingsolver in Flight Pattern

I have always coveted the name Artist, but I’ve felt embarrassed and ashamed of this desire. Ashamed that I couldn’t claim this name for myself, but rather waited for someone else to give me permission and to name me.

Shame forces us into the shadows, and this year I am stepping out of the shadows and into starlight and sun. I want to live into the fullness of myself as an artist, rather than in the shadows of others’ art. This feels very vulnerable to admit out loud on the internet, but it is a first step towards a reclamation of my name. A first step towards creating courageous art.

I don’t know what this becoming will look like, but I stand ready to embrace imagination and discipline my way towards acts of creation, to step out of the shadows, to drink of the light, and let it pour out like drops feeding the lake of good and true and incarnational art.

“All of writing (and art) is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake.” ~Jean Rhys in the Paris Review

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Your word for the year may not relate to art in any way, but I want to encourage you as you enter the new year, to begin looking for ways to bring light into the shadows. Where do you find yourself hiding? What would a courageous next step look like for you in 2017? Once you’ve identified it, write it down and bind it to your heart in some way. Give yourself the name you’ve always longed to hear, feed the lake of your passion, embody courage.