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These are just a few of my musings about faith, formation, culture, and life.


Who is welcome here?

Jen Michel

I’ve written in Keeping Place about the part of our church’s liturgy that I appreciate most; it’s when someone stands to pray for the church and for the city. This part of the service is where we talk to God about the grit-and-grind realities of everyday life—in our own congregation but also in Toronto. We pray as part of the work of imagining what it could be like for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Yesterday, my husband, Ryan, was scheduled to pray for the church in the city. In his prayer, he mentioned the recent decision by an Ontario court to force physicians in the province, opposed to physician-assisted death, to provide a referral to their patients despite their conscientious objections. It was a blow to the 4,700 Christian doctors in the province, and as I’ve spoken with some of these doctors in the past, some wonder whether they will continue to be able to practice certain kinds of medicine in Canada in the future. Ryan prayed that these doctors (many in our own congregation) would be given wisdom and courage.

It might not have seemed a very controversial prayer until after the sermon, during the few minutes that are routinely devoted to Q&A. A man from the balcony waved his hand to catch Pastor Dan’s attention. He stood to mention the “young man’s prayer” earlier in the service.

“I personally am very much in favor of physician-assisted death. I think this is a welcome turn in the modern world, and I’m just wondering: What roles do personal politics have to play in the prayers we pray here? And how am I to pray along if I can’t agree?”

When I had met this man, several weeks ago, he was quick to nervously tell me that “I haven’t been to church in more than fifty years.”

It was a moment tense with a great deal of uncertainty—both for him, I’m sure, as well as for us. We waited breathlessly to say what Dan would say.

For those of us who grew up in a pew, we can hardly appreciate the difficulty of walking into a church either for the first time or for the first time in fifty years. Church is a place of so much shared—and implicit—consensus. We share a common vocabulary. We share a familiar understanding of what’s happening during the service. We move in time as if to the beat of some invisible drum. No wonder it’s daunting for people to join us: they feel clumsily out of step.

I think the question remains for those of us who would call ourselves "believers": what does it look like to welcome a “stranger” among us? How do we make our churches places to safely explore the Christian faith?

We have the seeker-model of the 1990’s, of course. That was about neutralizing the physical environment of the church: taking down the cross, for example. Replacing the pews with theater seats, preferably with cup holders. I think we’ve seen the limited effect those changes have had, and I’ve read in recent years that people today (especially younger people) are longing for a more sacred kind of church architecture. As it turns out, we don’t actually want our sanctuaries to look like movie theatres.

What does welcome look like then? I have a feeling it looks more like the moment from our church service yesterday, when a gentleman who hasn’t been to church in fifty years got up the nerve to raise his hand, and with it, an objection. I have the feeling it looks like a pastor answering that question with a great deal of courtesy and theological seriousness. “A wonderful question,” Dan began, “and I’m so glad you’ve asked it.”

“Maybe we could begin by considering the Christians in Nazi Germany who failed to defend the Jews at the time. In hindsight, we can see that their moral ambivalence proved to be the exactly wrong thing needed at the time. They needed the moral courage to land squarely on the side of the Jews. It’s only later, of course, that we can see this.”

“There’s no doubt that following Jesus will often put us on the ‘wrong’ side of our current cultural moment. People in the general culture will draw what they feel to be obvious conclusions, as in the case of PAD, but Christians, because of their theological commitments, won’t draw those same conclusions.”

“We don’t bring personal politics into our prayers so much as our theological commitments. I think it’s appropriate that we can pray as Ryan prayed today, acknowledging, of course, that there will be disagreement among us. Thank you again for what was a very perceptive question.”

There were other brilliant things that Dan said, and by the time he’d finished the answer, the congregation burst into spontaneous applause. “Why are you clapping?” Dan asked sheepishly, turning his attention to communion.

I wasn’t clapping so much because Dan had brilliantly answered that particular man’s question. I was clapping because he’s answered a much more important one:

Who is welcome here?

You, sir.

You, who haven’t been to church in 50 years.

You, who disagree with our theological commitments.

We invite you among us: to raise your objections, to puzzle over faith, and to come—however fitfully— to Jesus.






On My Bookshelf for 2018

Jen Michel

I mentioned in my 2017: Year in Review that I read less this past year than years previous. Although I haven't been able to figure out why, I do know it's true that the practice of regular reading requires forethought and intention. You have to keep a good list, order books in advance from the library, and turn deliberately to your book at the end of the day rather than Netflix. Good reading is like good eating: you'll feel better for having done it, but it's always tempting to steal a cookie before dinner. I don't want to be a fundamentalist when it comes to reading, but I do want to challenge myself to read more in the year ahead.

Reading is, of course, an important part of the work that I do, and gratefully, I have a well-established routine of morning reading. (Right now, it's the One Year Bible NLT, the complete collection of letters between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, and a book of poetry by Ross Gay.) I am also regularly reading on whatever subject I'm writing about. (Currently, I'm writing on the incarnation for book #3, and I'm reading Chesterton's Orthodoxy, Mark Jones's Knowing Christ, and Graham Cole's The God Who Became Human.)

I suppose that you could say that based on the reading I do in the morning and the reading I do for my writing, I'm READING! But I don't want to just be a practical reader; I want to be a superfluous one. I want to read beautiful, haunting novels. I want to savor poetry. I want to understand the world that's come before me. I want to pratice curiosity, develop keener habits of observation, feel and love deeply. I think reading helps with all of that!

In that spirit, I'm offering you the list of books I'm putting on my proverbial shelf for 2018. Truthfully, I know I won't make it through this list, but at the very least, it's a guide, a rudder in the shifting winds of mood. I'm not resolving to get through this list so much as read everyday. (I'm going to track my progress using this tool from Modern Mrs. Darcy, who's a great resource for the reading life!)


Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

, Ross Gay

Good Bones

, Maggie Smith

Second Sky

, Tania Runyan

The World’s Wife,

Carol Ann Duffy

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

(Translator, Anita Barrows)

The Jubilee

, John Blase


The Rise of Christianity

, Rodney Stark (220 pages)


, David Whyte (247 pages)

Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition

, Christine Pohl (190 pages)

The Patient Ferment of the Early Church

, Alan Kreider (300 pages)

For the Life of the World

, Alexander Schmemann (151 pages)

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets,

Svetlana Alexievich (496 pages)

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved

, Kate Bowler (208 pages)

Death by Living

, N.D. Wilson (208 pages)

Winsome Persuasion: Christian Influence in a Post-Christian World

, Tim Muelhoff and Richard Langer (219 pages)

Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts,

Marilyn McEntyre (208 pages)


Can You See Anything Now?

Kate James (256 pages)

No Great Mischief

, Alistair MacLead (304 pages)

Little Fires Everywhere

, Celeste Ng (352 pages)

Sing, Unburied, Sing

, Jesmyn Ward (304 pages)


, Ali Smith (288 pages)

Love Big, Be Well

, Winn Collier (176 pages)

Peace Like a River

, Leif Enger (320 pages)


Walking on Water

, L’Engle (200 pages)

Words in Air

, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (816 pages)

Art and Fear

, David Bayles, Ted Orland (122 pages)


Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jill Franklin

, Jill Lepore (270 pages)

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

, Caroline Fraser (515 pages)

Many of these titles come as recommendations from friends. Here are some other great lists to check out:

On My Shelf: Life and Books with Russ Ramsey

(The Gospel Coalition)

Ten Favorite Reads of 2017

(Trevin Wax)

Christianity Today's 2018 Book Awards

Englewood Review of Books

Best Books of 2017

(Fathom Mag)

Did you know that I write a monthly newsletter? I call it Miscellany because it's all the odds and ends of my life and work. If you're interested in subscribing, you can here. It arrives around the first of the month (ish).

2017: A Year in Review

Jen Michel

The end of the year is careening to a halt. It’s easy to forego reflection, especially when there is so much cooking and travel and gifts to buy. But because this year’s theme seems to have been the call to plant deeply rather than scattering broadly, I haven’t let myself off the hook entirely from looking back and considering how this last year was spent. I think that’s part of the deeper life I want to be living: not just letting the days drag me along but exerting some resistance to the rush of life. I know the ultimate question in thinking back on the year isn’t, “What have I achieved?” so much as “Who am I becoming?” Importantly, there’s the weighty sense that the only person to whom I ultimately give account is God. Am I, like Jesus, seeking to please him alone?

On the home front, I want to say that marriage is as solid as it has ever been. This is in large part because I’ve married an incredibly solid and stable man. He is so incredibly faithful, so trustworthy, so good. I sometimes wonder: how was it that I had the sense—at 22—to marry him? It’s probably also true that we’ve fought more this year than previous years. But I consider to be, not a worrisome, but healthy sign that some of the tectonic plates are shifting in this marriage of more than twenty years. I think we’re both rejecting unhealthy patterns that we’ve relied on in the past, and I also think we’re getting bolder about articulating what we need and want from each other. We’re growing into a clearer sense of what God is calling each of us to do and how our marriage can be a vital support in these individual callings. Ryan’s life is meetings and people and crisis and travel. My work depends on long, lonely stretches of writing and immersive reading and study. These differences are significant, making it work for both of us to figure out how best to support one another. And yet it’s incredibly gratifying to know that we are both so immensely proud of each other. At Ryan’s work holiday party this year, one of his colleagues drew me aside to specifically mention how Ryan has helped him. “I’m learning so much from him,” he said, detailing some of those lessons. “He’s an incredible leader.” I couldn’t agree more.

In terms of parenting, the kids continue to thrive, even if I have all the normal fears that most of moms share: am I doing enough for them? giving enough of myself? Will they walk with Jesus into their adulthood? I know that Ryan and I don’t ultimately have control over that last piece, but I also know that we want to be as intentional as we can be to love and to teach them well. I remember, years ago, reading a book by Anne Ortlund on parenting, and she said that all good parenting is really about this: becoming who you should be and staying close enough to your children so that they catch it. That resonated with me when the children were little, and it resonates even more now that they’re older. I’m trying to stay close to my children, even though, quite honestly, I don’t always know how to do that well. Sometimes it’s hard to know if I’m being unnecessarily intrusive or appropriately curious. My friend, Wendy, whose children are just a bit older than mine has reassured me that all the “wrong” questions I might be asking now will turn out to be all the “right” questions in just five more years. Oh, I hope that’s true!

In terms of professional work*, in May of this year, I released my second book, Keeping Place. (I can happily report that at one point, it topped the charts of Christian self-help books.) The process of writing this book, if I can be honest, was troubled with lots of self-doubt. I had the wonderful fortune of receiving some notice with my first book, Teach Us to Want. But instead of having that notice reassure me of my ability to do the work, it just left me feeling like the most obvious of impostors. I continually worried, as I wrote the second book, that I would never be able to meet the new expectations that others seemed to have of me. Keeping Place was finally birthed into the world, and while the writing had been so fraught with apprehension, the release—gratefully—wasn’t. InterVarsity Press has been such a wonderful partner in the process of writing these two books (and now the process of writing my third). I’m grateful to be doing this work, which gives me the flexibility I need to be present with my family. I’m grateful that as I write, I learn and grow. As I’ve always said, I write primarily to teach myself. It has also been an unexpected gift that the writing has led to speaking opportunities. I’m grateful for this invigorating part of my otherwise solitary work. This year, I traveled to Dallas, Chicago, Orlando, Edmonton, Princeton, Winnipeg, as well as spoke at local events in Toronto. It’s not easy to leave home, but I do love the chance to meet people, to hear their questions and struggles, and to witness the faithfulness of local church leaders.

This was a year of investing deeply in my own church, which I’ve always said has been important to me. I was part of the team that launched our first women’s Bible study (on the Psalms) and taught on the occasional psalms as well as the psalms of lament. I also helped coordinate a team to publish a special commemorative edition of our arts’ magazine, Imprint. And finally, in November, I helped to plan a large open-house event, which more than 400 people attended, including many who don’t attend our church. Every other week, I debate whether I should be calling up our pastor and asking for a job. But then I remember that I have a job already and that it probably makes the most sense to continue my involvement on a volunteer basis until the Lord leads otherwise. Our family continues to be deeply grateful for this local body of believers, and it was an extra special year in our family/church life because along with several other wonderful men, Ryan was installed as an elder!

Disappointingly, I read less this year than past years. I suppose that having a book chapter to write on an 800+ page book might have had something to do with that, at least in the early part of the year. It might also mean that I have daughters who insist I watch the Great British Baking Show with them. But the truth is that I crowd my life with too many things, let myself say yes too easily, fear disappointing others by saying no. I’m headed into 2018 with the intention of reading more, which isn’t just a vital part of my life as a writer. It’s nourishing to me as a human being.

In terms of the biggest developments of the year, it’s probably most significant that we become permanent Canadian residents this past July, which prompted us to buy a home in Toronto! We moved in November into our new house and are settled for the near-term as we’re hoping to do a renovation/addition before too, too long. All that angst of Keeping Place, finally resolved! Not. This world can’t satisfy our deepest longings for home. Nothing’s as permanent as we want, nothing’s as perfect. And yet, there is still so much housekeeping to be done in everyday life: the embodied, emplaced work of love and witness. Toronto is home, and I am so grateful for the many, many people who enrich our lives here by their friendship. When you wonder at my absence on social media, it’s probably best to remember that I’m trying to be a good neighbor in my family, on my street, in my school community, in my church, in my city.

In reflecting on the year, I opened my journal and turned to the beginning of 2017 (or really, the end of 2016). On December 30th of last year, I was writing some reflections on Psalm 146:

“When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.”

“This reminder of mortality,” I wrote, “Mortality—the great obstruction to human plans, ambitions, achievements. The yawning grave, willing to swallow every human life, big, small, rich, poor. Plans perish: only praise persists:”

“I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.”

As you celebrate Christmas and enter a new year, may you remember the vapor that life is and choose to spend it well.

*If you’re interested in other work that I did this year, here are some links to articles, interviews, podcasts, etc:

A Story Called Rest, Comment Magazine

3 Ways to Make Your Resolution Stick, The Gospel Coalition

Teach Us to Want: A Conversation (Podcast), The Zeppelin Lounge

One Church’s Story of Resettling a Syrian Refugee Family,The Gospel Coalition

Keeping Place, DVD series

Keeping Place,Audiobook

Keeping Place

Keeping Place (Unpublished Bonus Track), Fathom Mag

The Tamarisk (Everbloom),Paraclete Press

Muddy River, Good Letters Blog

Making Christianity Respectable Again (Book Review): The Gospel Coalition

For the Love of S-Town, Christ and Pop Culture

For the Love of S-Town (Podcast), Christ and Pop Culture

How to Binge Watch Like a Believer (Interview with Andy Crouch), Christianity Today

The Too-Small Story of Home, The Gospel Coalition

The Silence of Suicide, Redbud Writers Guild

Our Homemaker, Who Art in Heaven (Excerpt, Keeping Place): Christianity Today

How Poetry Enhanced My Bible Reading, American Bible Society

No Apology For Nostalgia, First Things

There’s No Place Like Home, The Well

Interview with Ashley Hales,

The Longings and Losses of Home (Interview), Fathom Mag

God is a Homemaker Who Does ‘Women’s Work’ (Interview), Christianity Today

Finding a Home That Lasts,

Why Homesickeness is Health, The Gospel Coalition

Helping People Become Aware of Their Desires,

Thou Shalt Not Bail,Christianity Today

Weinstein, Trump, #metoo,

Better Than Your Best Life Now (Podcast), The Gospel Coalition

Whose Will Be Done? (Our Secular Age),The Gospel Coalition

Persuasion: Keeping Place (Podcast), Christ and Pop Culture

Minimalism Isn't the Key to ChristmasChristianity Today

Book Endorsements

Making Marriage Beautiful, Dorothy Greco

The Year of Small Things, Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger

Long Days of Small Things, Catherine McNiel

Comfort Detox, Erin Straza

The Sound of a Million Dreams, Suanne Camfield

Grieving a Suicide, Al Hsu

Almost There, Bekah DeFelice

Grit and Grace, Caryn Rivadeneira

The Magnificent Story, James Bryan Smith

This Is Our Time, Trevin Wax

The Neighbors Project - and an invitation

Allen called me back yesterday afternoon, and we spoke for fifteen minutes. “You’re easy to talk to,” he tells me. “And you’re easy to talk to,” I tell him. We agree to meet at the open-house event that our church is hosting this coming Thursday evening, November 16. He promises to bring me samples of his work, and I promise to make time to look at them. In this phone conversation in which I try getting a quote from Allen to hang alongside his portrait for Thursday’s gallery event, Allen describes himself as the “disability photographer” of the neighborhood. He means, of course, the neighborhood into which our church has just moved. This is why I phoned Allen, why we've taken his picture: we’re neighbors of sorts. For the photography exhibit on Thursday, a team of photographers has scattered on local streets throughout the course of many months to meet people just like Allen — to hear their stories, to capture their faces, and to begin practicing the neighbourliness to which Jesus calls his people.

“I am the photographer of the forgotten,” Allen tells me over the phone. “Because I am one of the forgotten.” He describes being hearing impaired, indicates that he has suffered a traumatic brain injury, admits that he is poor. His art, he says, isn’t a passion but “a way of surviving.” I think of the photograph of Allen that will hang in Thursday’s gallery, how it captures Allen the artist: the camera slung around his neck, the keen eyes. (And if bushy eyebrows make for an artist, those, too.) I think, with great gratitude, how good and right it is to hang a portrait of one of the forgotten in the middle of Christ's church.

On Thursday, Grace Toronto Church throws open its doors for a housewarming party of sorts. We’ve come home, as we like to say — found a more permanent place in the city now that we’ve bought and renovated and moved into the 1878 Old St. Andrew’s Church, which stands at the corner of Jarvis and Carlton streets. There would be all kinds of ways to celebrate this memorable occasion, but we’ve chosen to mark it in the way that we think most honors Jesus. We’ve made the event less about ourselves and more about our neighbors. “Neighbor” is, in fact, the word that will hang over the doors to the photo gallery, hopefully calling to mind the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In that famous story Jesus told, the Lord reminds a young man, so eager to get things right, that the Law and the Prophets is summed up into two commands: love God and love your neighbor.

Or maybe I could even put it this way: love God by loving your neighbor.

Just this morning, I found notes from one of our team meeting's back in the spring. Together we had read and reflected on the parable to orient ourselves toward a vision for this event. “What is neighborliness?” we had asked ourselves. We came to words like compassion, care, notice, initiative, costly, attitude and action, thoughtfulness, long-term investment, relational. “What are obstacles to neighborliness?” Desiring to justify ourselves, capacity, time, fear, the unpredictability of the situation.

“He cared close,” we observed of the Samaritan, noticing our own fears for safety and the complicated nature of human pain. We made some attempts at conclusion.

Neighborliness is central to the gospel. We embody how God in Christ acts toward us. We image him in the world. To understand someone else’s brokenness, we have to own our own. We must build common ground, which makes for long-term, sustainable action.

On Thursday, all the prayer and planning, reading and reflection will be realized in a free event, open to church and community friends. We will have a large photo exhibit, which is a response to the question, “Who is my neighbour?” As our Director of Worship and Arts describes in the artistic statement, “Displayed throughout the gallery are images of people from the communities surrounding Old St Andrew’s. In our hyper, quick-paced city, we rarely take the time to see the people around us. The use of larger-than-life format in this display challenges us to stop and look, even to confront our unwillingness to find the beauty and diversity in the people we meet every day.”

In addition to the photo gallery, we will offer guided architectural tours of the historic church building, designed by the famous Toronto architects Langley, Langley and Burke. And finally, there will be a performance of an original adaptation (by Ian Cusson) of Bach Cantata 164, whose text is taken from the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

My Savior, through the radiance of your love, now melt my heart of steel that I, with Christ-like love, may daily strive  to comfort my neighbor in their anguish, whoever they may be, friend or foe, Christian or not, and that I treat his anguish as if it were my own. May my heart be loving, pure and soft, so that in me your likeness might be shown.

As people enter our building, we pray they encounter Christ in the faces of their neighbors. If you’re local, you’re certainly welcome!

Grace Toronto Church 383 Jarvis St. Toronto 7-10pm Concert performances at 7:45pm and 8:45 pm

** As the coordinator of this event, I'd like to credit the book, Slow Church (by John Pattison and Chris Smith), with the inspiration for the Neighbours' project. In their book, Pattison and Smith argue that “we need practices that will reorient our desires to our places.” We should leave off “broad generalities about changing the world” and instead reimagine “in more specific ways the transformation of our own particular places,” (74). This event does this kind of imagining, and I'm grateful for Pattison and Smith's emphasis on rooting ourselves, as churches, deeply in our places.

Weinstein, Trump, #metoo

That God loves Harvey Weinstein will seem an obvious truth to people of faith. What is equally obvious is the righteous contempt for Weinstein to which we might now feel entitled. Harvey Weinstein’s alleged behavior is not simply repugnant; it’s criminal. My stomach has turned to read of—and now listen to—his sexual aggression against women. “I’m a famous guy,” he says on the audio recording captured during a sting operation in 2015. He is heard pleading with Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez to stay in his hotel room. She resists. “Why yesterday you touch my breast?” she asks, her voice plaintive and persistent. “Just come on in, I’m used to that,” Weinstein answers. “Five minutes. Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes.”

For this week at least, Harvey Weinstein is chief of sinners. (His fall from grace is predicted to have more lasting effects, one reason the Weinstein Co. is considering delaying the release of ‘The Current War,’ for a spring 2018 release.) On the pages of The New Yorker and The New York Times, Weinstein is like a centerfold for modern transgression: public man destroyed by private transgression. Or worse: public man destroyed by private transgression enabled by complicitous silence. It seems an entire industry—office assistants and company executives, agents and the publicists—delivered vulnerable women into his barbarous paws. Their sin is complicity.

There are sins we tolerate in the modern age—and sins we don’t. The Weinstein scandal bears out these culturally-derived laws of moral transgression. Licentiousness is, of course, never the problem. As Matthew Walther has written in The Week, “The sexual act, we tell ourselves, is a simple matter of exchange between consenting partners.” Consent is the crude law for governing what is and is not sexually permissible.

Exploitation, on the other hand, is out. Harvey Weinstein wielded power over young actors whom he invited into his hotel rooms for “work” meetings, inviting them to give him a massage, watch him undress, take their clothes off, or whom he forcibly raped. Weinstein made award-winning films: on his relative favor, stars could rise or fall. That he recklessly abused that position will damn him.

But there is also further violation, this one most telling in terms of what it reveals about our contemporary ethic. It’s not simply that Weinstein acted the part of predator; it’s that he’s hypocrite par excellence. He publicly championed the rights of women; he marched in women’s rights parades; he endowed chairs at prestigious universities in the name of prominent feminists; he raised millions of dollars to support scholarships for women directors at the University of Southern California; he donated to the campaign for the first woman American president. The public progressive appears to have been a private lecher.

We have, of course, a sitting President damned with an audio recording not unlike what Ambra Battilana Gutierrez recorded of Weinstein two years ago in a New York City hotel room. Trump confesses on that recording, in the crassest of terms, having tried to sleep with a married woman: “I did try and f*#@ her. She was married.” He also confesses to a willful abuse of power: “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Our president’s language degrades even further: “Grab ‘em by the p---y. You can do anything.” Trump did eventually apologize for the recording, and evangelicals seemed to have graciously accepted. They overwhelmingly voted him into office.

Did the church give Trump a pass, a pass that Hollywood now rescinds vis-à-vis Weinstein? Weinstein was fired by his own board, and none of the top Hollywood agents whom he called on to publicly defend him agreed to do so. By contrast, after the release of the audio recording, prominent evangelicals continued to support the Republican nominee. Four of every five self-identified evangelicals voted for him. (I did not.)

To the degree that evangelicals have tolerated Donald Trump’s bad behavior, I don’t think it’s a matter of simple political pragmatism (e.g. Supreme Court nominees). I think it’s also because we’ve always accepted him to be a flawed character. The great consolation seems to be that our thrice-married, bombastic and belligerent president has never pretended to be a saint. In this way, Donald Trump is the ultimate hero of authenticity in the age when “staying true to yourself” is the only criterion for virtue. Our president’s virtue, if we were to call it that, has been his straight-talking candor, his rejection of the political and contrived. Insofar as we’ve known him to be a compromised figure, at least he’s been a consistent one.

There is a degree to which the evangelical church shares the complicity of Hollywood. But the sins we hold in common aren’t simply our common silences when abuse happens in our ranks. The church, like Hollywood, is guilty of elevating authenticity as the ultimate virtue. Hollywood now judges Weinstein, not simply for his crimes, but also for his hypocrisy. That he is a sinner is evidenced by the cleaving of his public and private selves. Not dissimilarly, some evangelicals have largely excused Trump’s bad behavior. Perhaps we’ve convinced ourselves, better a flagrant sinner than a fraudulent saint.

To be sure, all of us is either flagrant sinner or fraudulent saint. When casting stones or finding specks, we are most helped to consider the weight of our own moral failings before considering another’s. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon the church to name sin and declare outrage, especially as countless women take to social media, telling their stories of sexual abuse, aggression, and rape.

Housekeeping: And the first sight of miracle

“Yup . . . yup . . . yup. Now release the wheel. Good. A little bit of gas. Yup.”

This is a transcription of Audrey’s first driving lesson with me. Camille recorded it from the backseat, and I am happy to say that I was uncharacteristically calm and encouraging as Audrey jerked to stops and starts in a nearby neighborhood, which I had specifically chosen for its wider, quieter streets at a remove from Toronto's bustling downtown. Although I had tried insisting it was Ryan’s responsibility to teach our oldest to drive, the reality is also that I am home in the daytime this summer with flexibility in my schedule, and he is not. And as friends reminded me recently, I can’t really send Audrey to driving school next week with absolutely no road experience. So, I am doing my due diligence this week and risking my life (and the lives of our other children, whose smothered giggles from the backseat of the van can also be heard on the video) to teach Audrey how to drive. (If I’m granted permission from said daughter, I’ll see if I can post the video later today on social media.)

Teaching Audrey to drive is just one way I’m keeping place this summer. As many parents know, summer is the season for turning life upside down and shaking out its contents. Without the regular routines of school and with the irregular routines of camp and travel, it becomes difficult to maintain a semblance of order, of predictability, of quiet. Instead, life, in the day-to-day, often feels like a messy pile of gum wrappers, receipts, and pens missing their caps. And admittedly, the quotidian chaos can be frustrating, especially when work and household responsibilities don’t simply disappear because the final bell has rung for the school year and pealed summer. I still have to answer email, still have to keep to some kind of writing schedule for the next book, still have to the big project that I’m leading at church.

It was this ongoing-ness of work, this gum-wrapper, receipt, and cap-less pen life that woke me up yesterday with leaden dread sitting heavily on my chest, mocking my intention to set one word down on paper. And quite honestly, yesterday, dread had it right. Because after more than two hours of waiting in the lobby of Service Canada in the morning (all six of us had to get our SIN numbers, which is the Canadian equivalent to a social security number), the day already felt swallowed up by the housekeeping. And it wasn’t even lunchtime.

I write about the housekeeping in chapter 6 of Keeping Place, and it’s in this chapter where the whole book turns—from considering home in the abstract sense of longing toward home in the more concrete sense of labor. If there was a reason that I needed to write this book, it might be for this chapter and the ones to follow it. Because like you, I can get grumpy about the housekeeping. I feel entitled to life being easier, more convenient, less built on the principles of hassle. But what I’ve come to realize is this: there is no home without the housekeeping. We don’t get any of the comfort and safety, rest and refuge or home without the regular hassles of the work, which is to say: the investment we make in our people and places. (And if you have read Keeping Place, you know I’m not just talking about the nuclear family and our house.) Housekeeping is a way of describing our call to embodied and emplaced service in the world.

Because it’s summer, because life has this gum-wrapper quality to it, because I’ve been immersed in the day-to-day responsibilities of the housekeeping, you might imagine what I noticed as I recently was reading the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in the book of Luke. As Luke 23 concludes, we see Joseph of Arimathea claiming Jesus’ bloody and battered body from Pilate. This is his act of the housekeeping. He takes Jesus’ body down from the cross and wraps it in a shroud before placing it in his family’s tomb (v. 53). And who is there watching this tender act of love? The women, of course. And when they return from this private burial scene, what is the work they take up? The housekeeping, of course. “They returned and prepared spices and ointments,” (v. 56). I imagine this small group, shedding tears into their mortars, letting grief keep rhythm with their pestles. I imagine the motion of their hands as one small source of consolation, one solid promise that the world wasn’t only gum-wrappers and pen-less caps. I imagine their kitchen work, taken up in community, in the dread of the darkest day, and I think of the small comfort it must have been to end up here together, puzzling out what it had all meant that Jesus had breathed his last breath, that the sky had gone dark, that the temple curtain had been torn.

And then Luke 24 opens. The quiet desolation of a Sabbath with a buried Savior has ended, and the women hurry to the tomb with their spices. Did you catch that? It’s the housekeeping that brings them to the sight of miracle. They are the first to the tomb because they are the ones intent on properly embalming Jesus’ body. In other words, the housekeeping isn’t the menial work to get done before the real business of life begins. The housekeeping is the means for seeing Jesus.

And that encourages me. Summer is full of housekeeping, which means I’m not always getting done what feels most important to get done. But isn’t that just my foolish, naive way of seeing the world? Because when life turns upside down and shakes out like crumbs from the bottom of my purse, can’t I choose to believe that Jesus is there, too?

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the angel asked the women at the tomb. As was true in their case, it’s the housekeeping that can bring me to the sight of miracle.

The housekeeping of camp laundry. The housekeeping of afternoon driving lessons. The housekeeping of lobby waiting. The housekeeping of babysitting a friend’s son and hosting overnight guests.

Summer’s housekeeping, like ground spices, bring me to an empty tomb.