A Resurrection Mindset

I drove the van through the entrance of the cemetery. The large, iron gate rested back against a grassy bank. It felt as though driving too quickly might wake some of the dead, so I drove gingerly.

We circled through the grave stones. Maile recognized many of the last names, common in the small town of Troy, Ohio, where she grew up. It took two trips around before we finally spotted the one we were looking for:

“Velma Peeler”

“There it is,” Maile said quietly. I stopped the van.

She got out and walked slowly through the dreary day, weaving amongst the stones. Then she stopped, staring down at her grandmother’s grave. The older two kids chattered in the back, asking questions non-stop about cemeteries, death and a grandmother I had barely known.

When Maile approached the van she wiped her eyes, a sad smile draped across her face.

“Okay,” she said, putting her hand on top of mine. “Let’s go.”

* * * * *

Two thousand years ago, a few women walked quietly to visit the grave of a dear friend. But when they arrived they found only an empty tomb. And an angel sitting on a rock.

“He’s not here,” the angel told them. “He’s risen. Just like he said he would.”

What did the women do?

“They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it.”

* * * * *

I think it’s normal in life to revisit the tombs where deaths have occurred. We think back to how life should have been. Could have been. But the more time we spend in front of the grave, the greater the chance that bitterness and unforgiveness will set in and hope will vanish.

This is the lesson I’m taking from Easter this year. Those women who saw the empty tomb? They left it “quickly with fear and great joy.” It takes a lot of bravery, and masses of hope, to turn our backs on the death in our life.

Every death in life leaves room for resurrection. Every lost job, every closed church building, every serious injury or scary diagnosis or broken relationship will eventually lead to an opportunity. But only if we can open our eyes. Only if we can leave the tomb with “fear and great joy.”

But what then? What should we do after finally gaining the courage to stop letting that death define us?

Do what the women did: run and report it. Share the story. Spread the hope.

“I’m Not a Writer” – John Steinbeck

Ever go through times of serious self-doubt? Ever think that you’re actually rather terrible at being a parent, or a preacher, or a writer, or a teacher? Ever wonder how long it will take for those around you to realize you’re a fraud, send you packing to the far-off reaches of the country where your new claim to fame will be having an occupation that lands you a spot on “Dirtiest Jobs”?

I feel that way. A lot. That’s why I love the following journal entry by one of America’s greatest writers:

My many weaknesses are beginning to show their heads. I simply must get this thing out of my system. I’m not a writer. I’ve been fo0ling myself and other people. I wish I were. This success will ruin me as sure as hell. It probably won’t last, and that will be all right. I’ll try to go on with work now. Just a stint every day does it. I keep forgetting. (John Steinbeck, Working Days: “The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath”)

Now I’m no John Steinbeck, but it sure helps knowing that even he had moments of self-doubt, times when he felt like he was not a writer. I have that page permanently dog-eared.

On page 156 of Anne Lamott’s book “Bird By Bird” is the following poem by Bill Holm:

Above me, wind does its best
to blow leaves off

the aspen tree a month too soon.

No use wind. All you succeed

in doing is making music, the noise
of failure growing beautiful.

Failure will lead to something beautiful. Sometimes though, in order to understand this, we have to take a moment, sit with our backs against an aspen tree, listen to the wind in the leaves.

Death Sucks

Death sucks.

We can call today Good Friday with the benefit of hindsight. But on that Friday, the day a man from Nazareth was nailed to two wooden beams, the people who loved him thought it was anything but Good. All they could see was Death.

Please head over to The House Studio to check out my guest post today on death and a few things Christians should consider before Easter Sunday arrives.

* * * * *

Incidentally, if this is your first time here, you can check out the story of how my business failed and my wife and I moved our family of six into my parents basement so that I could pursue my dream of writing full time. That story starts here: Falling Through.

There’s also two of my most read posts of all time: “Confessions From the Guy Standing at the Back of the Church” or “The Opposite of Love is not Hate”

Or if fiction is more your thing, don’t forget to check out the “Choose Your Own Adventure” style story I’ve been working on, where each week you guys get to vote on what happens next. It’s about a girl living in a walled city – she wins the lottery when the attendant from whom she purchases the ticket changes her numbers. Oh, and the lottery isn’t for money. Check that story out HERE.

Quickly Moving Rugs and Change

Have you ever noticed how fast life/God/fate can pull the rug out from under you?

I feel like my life is constantly going back and forth between two phases – either I’m unsettled and looking for something different, or I finally reach a state of satisfaction only to have outside change thrust upon me.

How do you deal with change?

(If you’ve blogged about major transitions in your life, please give us a link in the comments section below).

My Journey Through Monkey Town

When my kids are scared at bed time, a story usually does the trick. When they got bored during our 2300 mile road trip through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia (with minor appearances in West Virginia and Maryland), stories took their mind off the endless miles of highway. When they want to feel part of a grand narrative, they’ll ask me to tell an exciting story where they are the main characters.

“Tell us the story about the adventure those four kids go on,” Lucy asks, referring to herself, her two brothers and her sister.

Stories are the language of children, and since we were all children once, stories are one of the only common languages of humanity.

* * * * *

“…you’ll be able to tell your children and grandchildren…the stories of the signs that I brought down on them, so that you’ll all know that I am God.” (Exodus 10:2)

“…tell God’s stories to everyone you meet…” (Psalm 9:11)

So the next generation would know, and all the generations to come – Know the truth and tell the stories.” (Psalm 78:6)

Something the modern mindset has successfully undermined is the power of stories. For a hundred years or more, our obsession with the scientific method has worn away at the credibility once given to the imagination, to making things up, to belief without evidence.

Yet even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals the power of stories. One gospel writer claims that Jesus didn’t speak to the crowds without using stories.

This is the evolution of faith that I found so refreshing in Rachel Held Evan’s debut book, “Evolving in Monkey Town.” She introduces us to Dayton, Tennessee, the town where the Scopes Monkey Trial “made a spectacle of Christian fundamentalism” in the first half of the 20th century. The unexpected appearance of doubt in her fundamentalist faith sent Rachel on a journey of uncertainty, inquisitiveness, and hope.

What I love most about “Evolving in Monkey Town” is that Rachel doesn’t lead us into this place of doubt and then leave us dangling, uncertain of our next move.

She leaves us with a passage about stories:

Questions are a child’s way of expressing love and trust. They are a child’s way of starting dialogue. They are a child’s way of saying, “I want to have a conversation with you”…If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that serious doubt – the kind that leads to despair – begins not when we start asking God questions but when, out of fear, we stop. In our darkest hours of confusion and in our most glorious moments of clarity, we remain but curious and dependent little children…

God must really love us, because he always answers with such long stories.

If you’re interested in the evolving nature of faith and belief, if you still have hope in the power of stories, you need to read this book.

* * * * *

Rachel Held Evans is a writer, skeptic, and Christ-follower from Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925.

Her first book, a spiritual memoir entitled Evolving in Monkey Town, released with Zondervan in July of 2010. Her second book, an experimental memoir (tentatively) titled “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” will be released by Thomas Nelson in 2012. (You can learn more about the experiment here.)

You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Five Writing Secrets I Learned From “Groundhog Day”

One of the great funny movies of all time, “Groundhog Day” tells the story of weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) as he lives the same day over and over…and over…and over again. He’s a cocky son-of-a-gun, which is where many of today’s secrets can be found:

1) Being a writer requires a certain amount of confidence. Day after day you try to transform 26 letters of the alphabet into complex ideas and engaging stories. Anyone who thinks they can accomplish this is either crazy, or, well, someone like Phil:

Phil: I’m a god.
Rita: You’re God?
Phil: I’m a god. I’m not *the* God… I don’t think.

On second thought, you probably shouldn’t think you’re a god. You might be in for a let down. But in order to continue as a writer you do need a measure of confidence.

2) If you feel stuck, try something different.

Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?
Ralph : That about sums it up for me.

Change up your point-of-view, your setting, your characters. Try writing in your favorite writer’s voice. Try writing in the voice of a writer you despise (either because you don’t like their writing or their popularity drives you mad with jealousy). Whatever it is, try something different.

3) Sometimes people won’t like what you’ve written. Sometimes even you won’t like what you’ve written. It’s inevitable. One way to maintain the confidence we talked about in #1 is to remember this:

Phil: People like blood sausage too, people are morons.

People generally have terrible taste. Look at the most popular television shows or singers. Think about the most popular food places in the world (McDonalds and Subway). Did you know that NASCAR is the world’s most attended sport?

4) In your new found super-confidence, be prepared to adjust your approach:

Phil: You weren’t in broadcasting or journalism?
Rita: Uh unh. Believe it or not, I studied 19th-century French poetry.
Phil: [laughs] What a waste of time! I mean, for someone else that would be an incredible waste of time. It’s so bold of you to choose that. It’s incredible; you must have been a very very strong person.

5) In the same way that Bill Murray had to relive Groundhog Day a million and two times until he got it just right, be prepared to keep trying until the piece of writing is what it should be:

* * * * *

Similar posts include:

Five Writing Secrets I Learned From “Dumb and Dumber”

Five Writing Secrets I Learned From “The Princess Bride”

Five Writing Secrets I Learned From “Airplane”