Holy Curiosity: Encountering Jesus’ Provocative Questions

Are you being willfully stupid? is just one of the interesting questions Jesus asked when he lived on earth. The book Holy Curiosity: Encountering Jesus’ Provocative Questions has been challenging and blessing me over the past few weeks. I’m reading and discussing a chapter each week with some family members. Lately the chapters have inspired us to also write poems. The chapters, each with a different question, include:

    • Who condemns you?
    • Why are you afraid?
    • How much bread do you have?
    • Are you being willfully stupid?
    • My God, why have you abandoned me?
    • Are you confused?
    • Do you believe this?
    • Why do you doubt?
    • What do you want?

From the chapter “My God, why have you forsaken me?” with a quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “Earth’s crammed with heaven” I wrote this golden shovel poem.

A Golden Shovelful of Heaven

the mystery of sweet earth’s

bliss and beauty is still crammed

full of crude confusion, with

scandalous prayers to heaven

From this week’s chapter, “Are you confused?”, I created a found poem, this type called a zentangle, based on the following page of text from the book. I was struck with the use of the word incarnate both as an adjective (Jesus, the Incarnate One) and verb (We are to incarnate Jesus.).  Wow!

But what if Jesus came, not to keep us from hell, but to invite us into hell? What if Jesus came to invite us to enter, with him, into the terrors of brokenness and sin and misery in our world? In the scandal of the Incarnation, Jesus took on human form and immersed himself into his world spun off course. On the cross, he was drenched in our sin. During his three days entombed in darkness, many traditions teach that Jesus descended into the depths of Hades to confront Satan and his hordes. If we as God’s people are now called to incarnate Jesus in our world, how could we possibly think Jesus’ ultimate aim is to make sure we are always comfortable, that we get our piece of the American dream?
Jesus invites us into the reality of his work, bringing redemption to the earth and speaking revolutionary Jesus-life to a dead, broken world.

Collier, Winn (2009) Holy Curiosity: Encountering Jesus’ Provocative Questions Paperback, Baker Books. Kindle Edition.

Incarnate Jesus
Jesus to invite
Us into hell,
Into terror of brokenness.
Scandal of Incarnation–
Drenched in our sin
Entombed in darkness
Descended into the depths
Called to incarnate
Jesus, our ultimate aim.
Jesus-life to a
Broken world

From the same chapter, “Are You Confused?”, Collier quotes Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Here are the words spoken by Porfiry Petrovitch to Rodion Romanovich that touched me: “fling yourself straight into life without deliberation; don’t be afraid.” That quote along with a story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water in Matthew 14:25-33 inspired this golden shovel poem:

To Peter
How long do I have left in this life to fling
Open the door of doubt for myself? How did you give yourself
Permission to balter straight
Into walking on the sea and into
A fearless and direct life?
A life of joy and singularity without
Standing around for deliberation
About whether you do or don’t
Have enough faith to be
Free to live, believe, and love–not afraid.

We Need to Write a New Chapter

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith is a book that has the power to transform us. I pray it does. As Ibram X. Kendi said, “We need this book.” I hope everyone who reads this will get a copy and read it too.

I have known Clint’s work because I listened to the Justice in America podcast, which he did the first two years with Josie Duffy Rice. This week I’ve learned more about his poetry. Here he is reading two of my favorites: “Counting Descent” and “History Reconsidered.”

“History Reconsidered” is a powerful poem that I’ve been thinking about all day. I wrote this golden shovel poem using Smith’s line: “Oppression doesn’t disappear just because you decided not to teach us that chapter.”

We Need to Write a New Chapter

We were lied to when we studied oppression
of enslaved American people. It doesn’t
count that we vaguely learned slaves disappear
when Civil Wars end. A moral, righteous and just
country would repent and repair wrongs because
white supremacy is evil. Truth. But you
can see from what’s happening today that many decided
to nurture white supremacy, and not
dismantle it in order to create a more perfect union. Some want to
halt the telling of truth, the new books that can teach
our children and adults that some Americans indeed proclaimed us
to be the land of equality and freedom, while simultaneously living the lie that
they owned other human beings. We need to write a changed chapter.

Smith’s book is full of new (and some known) content that is so heavy and difficult to hear, but Clint’s love and respect for people and his poetic language contribute to making the book a readable treasure that in fact we do need.

Here are just a few of the old quotes Smith includes that show some of the truths we were not taught:

“And if any slave resist his master, or owner, or other person, by his or her order, correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction, it shall not be accounted felony.” Virginia Slave Code, 1705 (Footnote iv, Loc 1274)

“So far as history reveals, no other slave society, whether of antiquity or modern times, has so much as sustained, much less greatly multiplied, its slave population by relying on natural increase.”  ~C. Vann Woodward, historian, 1983 (Loc 364)

“Louisiana looks to the formulation of a southern confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery.” ~Louisiana’s commissioner in a speech at the time of secession, 1861 (Loc 833)

Follow along and join us in the Virtual Book Club on How the Word is Passed.


Today: I was purging and deleting from my blog post DRAFTS, dozens inadvertently abandoned over the years. I found something, though, that I stopped to read. It was last edited November 13, 2011, but I thought this one still deserves attention. Did we change anything in the form of grading in those last ten years? The importance of student voice has been emphasized more lately, but do grades continue to get in the way of our young people being able to fully use their voices?  The questions at the end are still apt today. Here is the post I wrote then:

November 2011: Another one of those “ah ha” moments occurred this week when I gave a writing assignment– a “This I Believe” essay.

I gave a mini lesson on VOICE–the ability to connect emotionally with the reader, to put one’s special mark on the writing. Papers with great voice will sound like the author really is.

We talked of ways to help their voice come out in this piece: speaking in the first person, telling a specific story that illustrates a belief they have, and keeping the writing in the present–not about dreams they believe will happen in the future.

We listened to lots of examples and got started writing. The only thing I would be grading on this assignment, I explained, was the writing trait of VOICE.

When I read the first drafts, I was amazed at the range of success in writing with voice in this assignment. Some were rich and personal, authentic and fresh. Others were banal and bland.

I know it’s not easy for any of us to open ourselves and share our beliefs, so I didn’t have great expectations for our first attempt. However, what surprised me is, in general, is that the best VOICE papers were by the students who don’t typically get the best grades. Are they more willing to take risks?

The opposite was true for the typically “A” students. Many of those who care most about doing well grade-wise were the ones who played it safe, struggling to express themselves with a personal story so they could convince the reader they really believed anything. Theirs were well-written and organized, with meticulous conventions, but so lacking in VOICE, passion, heart.

Just another reason why my heart breaks when we have to give grades.

Are we snuffing out the creativity of our students who feel a need to get it “right”?

How can we reach students who seem overly-enamored with getting A’s?

“We’re all gonna die!”

Today’s Slice of Life at TwoWritingTeachers.org 15 June 2021

We had just been married a few weeks. Keith was on a camping trip with the youth group. On Friday morning, my only day off of the campout, I drove the two-hour trip to enjoy the day with them at the state park.

It had rained the night before, and everything was damp. We spent part of the day dealing with wet camping gear, but also swimming, hiking and other fun.

When dinner time approached, my husband tried to start a campfire for the hotdogs and s’mores. He had a metal can of Kingsford Charcoal Lighter Fluid, the kind you squeeze onto the wood. He tried to start a fire with this damp wood and kindling, throwing matches on that would not fully catch on fire. He doused it some more, then threw another match.

The lit match-squirt pattern continued until finally the fire took hold and shot up during the squirt phase. Our previously non-existent fire leapt from the ground up to become a flame thrower’s masterpiece–a flaming river flowing up from the ground. He instinctively threw the flaming bottle up and out of his hand. “We’re all gonna die!” he yelled. In that split second he pictured the metal can had sucked the fire into the fuel and became a bomb ready to explode (as we had seen on recent news warnings).

Being the brave fool I was, I grabbed not a handful of dirt, but someone’s sleeping bag that had been drying on a makeshift clothesline. I smothered the fire, which had spread out of the fire ring.

I don’t recall where or if it was spreading really; it was damp there in this forest and obviously not a fire tinder box ready to create a forest fire. Fortunately the charcoal fluid bomb fizzled, but the scorched and ruined sleeping bag now needed to be replaced. So, instead of sitting around the campfire, I drove to Target in the nearest town and bought a new sleeping bag so the teenager could sleep that night.

Fast forward 38 years. Last week was our anniversary, and we reminisced about some early memories, this one included. At the time he yelled “We’re all gonna die!” I wondered what I had gotten myself into. He may have wondered about me too.

Today Keith is known in meetings and groups as the non-anxious presence–a wise leader, looked to for surety and strength.

It’s good to not look too soon for the final person another will become–this wisdom is not just for children, but for partners, as well. Thanks be to God that we have hung onto each other through all kinds of exposing behaviors, and I am so grateful.

Image by LUM3N from Pixabay

Inspiration today was from The Isolation Journals, Prompt 151, by Ashley C. Ford taken from a portion of her memoir Somebody’s Daughter, which is a beautiful memoir and this month’s Book Club Pick.

“Think of a memory related to fire. How did it impact you then? What meaning do you forge from it now?”

Week 2 – 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge

Decorative image about the

This post is week 2 of 8 in the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge for educators. It’s not too late to join us! Click to check out the challenge.

Collaboration has become easier this year than in previous years. For one thing, at our school teachers used to be in our own classrooms. We sometimes could be there all day with children coming and going, but very little time to see or collaborate with peers. This year, the pandemic required a different arrangement for the classrooms. The children were divided into small groups of 8-10 and each had their own space. The students stayed in their classroom all day; the teachers would move into the rooms when it was their turn to teach them.

For the teachers, since we didn’t have our own room, each department was assigned a room. After five years of being in our own rooms and traveling up or down stairs and through the hallways to be able to talk to each other, this was a delightful new development. It was  a breeze to get consensus on something or to teach each other new little technology insights we figured out in our Google Classroom and Zoom programs, which were new for us this year. That set-up really improved collaboration for us.

In addition, having meetings became so easy from home or school, with Zoom. It didn’t matter where people were working. It was simple to attend or call a meeting. I noticed people tended to be more on time and there are fewer disruptions in Zoom meetings.

Of course, I miss the maskless laughter, dates, chocolates and Arabic coffee from in person meetings!

Birthday Bouquet for #SOS Magic

My husband celebrated his birthday last month. Soon he will retire after 4o years being a pastor and hospital chaplain. It will be a big change for him. He has been working since he was 16, so he looks forward to taking some time off to fiddle around and hang out at our desert home in California. Then I can imagine he will get busier volunteering to help people with their cars or computers and who knows what else.

We had a Zoom surprise party on the day before his birthday. Then on his special day, flowers came as a gift from the church here in Bahrain, where he served half-time for six years, before he went fulltime as hospital chaplain. Other than that, it was a typical Covid-19 chapter birthday celebration.

As I contemplate and look forward to our retirement, I do appreciate the fragility of life and know that we are not promised years ahead but just today. This past year has helped me to appreciate every single day, and today I celebrate again my husband’s birthday and these beautiful flowers.

bouquet of flowers in a vase with a painted map of Bahrain behind them

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

Our Trip to the Embassy

Day 15

Yesterday my husband and I had an appointment at the U.S. Embassy. We booked the first available appointment two weeks before. We each needed to sign a document and have them notarized.

Yesterday we left ourselves 40 minutes to get to the Embassy, which was about ten minutes away. Sure enough, we walked up to the gate and pulled out our passports, papers to be signed, and appointment verification. Then he looked at me and asked about my appointment. Oops, we thought. We only have one appointment. “May I go with him?” I asked.

“I’ll talk to my supervisor. In the meantime, you can wait in your car until five minutes before your appointment.”

“Yes, sir,” my husband said to this first person we met.

We waited and sat in the car and began to notice the details of the Embassy, which looks like a military base under protection. Rolls and rolls of razor wire on every perimeter. We wondered if it looks like our U.S. Capitol these days. Why is America so afraid? we thought aloud. We know about many of the experiences in the world that have made us afraid. It’s also related to power. Powerless countries, it seemed to us, don’t have to live at the same level of fear as we do.

We went back to the gate at 8:55 a.m. There was a new man there, probably the supervisor, who was very polite and thanked us for waiting. He said we could proceed with our one appointment, instead of two. He pointed across a lane to a ramp up to a sidewalk that had a rope barrier along the right side and a wall border on the left. I marched right up the ramp, took a 90-degree right turn, trying to follow his orders precisely. My husband, on the other hand, cut diagonally across the lane to an opening in the rope ten meters down. What? I thought!

When we caught up, I said, “You better be careful. I feel like someone is sitting in a guard tower ready to shoot us if we take a wrong turn.” I’m sure I was overly-anxious and exaggerating, but it felt all very strange and barren and foreign and cold.

We walked and walked, about the length of a soccer field to another right turn. We went into a small airport-like security system. We emptied our pockets, putting everything in a bin. These were scanned, then we walked through the scanner. We were also wanded this way and that, even though nothing beeped when we walked through. Finally, we were given a tag to pick up our things later. We were allowed to keep our passports and the papers we needed signing. Oh, yes, and my husband’s wallet so he could pay $50 each for the notary’s work.

We came out of that room and finally saw the Embassy building. We took a wrong turn to go up a set of stairs, but we were being watched. Fortunately, we didn’t get shot. Instead, we were politely shown where we missed our turned and escorted back.

We went inside. The three windows looked like the way prisoners talk to visitors with thick glass and microphones. However, it was also like a bank teller with a little doorway to slide our papers and passports inside. We got to take our masks off for a bit to assure him that we were the same people on our passports. Then he notarized our signatures, and we were off.

We backtracked our same steps as we picked up our belongings. The whole time took about twenty minutes.

Everyone was so professional and helpful. And really we didn’t see any guns. (Although I suspect there were some there, out of our eyesight.) Another thing that might be interesting, the only American we encountered was the notary public who witnessed our signatures. The other workers were all ex-patriates.

Of course, there are no photos in this post because our phones were not allowed on the premises.

Biting Heads

Today’s Slice of Life at TwoWritingTeachers.org

I’ve officially retired from my teaching position. This year I am doing some volunteer work at my same school in reading intervention. Some days I miss the everyday joys of teaching fulltime, but most of the time during this pandemic, I’m just thankful I don’t have to walk through all the crazy 2020 is throwing at teachers. Like this week the teachers prepare for their first student-led presentations on Zoom starting tomorrow, plus a visit from the BQA, the Ministry of Education’s quality assurance assessment. Both are adding to the already stressful nature of teaching in-person and virtually–in four different class groups. Some of my colleagues are teaching two grade levels–eight groups, four classes a day, with over a hundred children total.

So, today I am thankful that beside the Coronavirus stress we all carry, I only have mild stressors in my life this year. Like yesterday it was forgetting to get the grocery list from one of the people without a job we were going to serve through the outreach team. When I realized I had neglected to call her two days before, I made a quick call–no answer. So I made initial contact with a text. I copied and pasted and sent her a previous message I had written earlier in the week, but I forgot to edit it, so I sent the wrong name in the salutation. OK. That blunder was embarrassing and causing me momentary stress as I was trying to delete it before she saw it, and also make contact with her to get her list before my team went shopping in a less than an hour.

Enter my husband for lunch. He went to the kitchen sink and saw the morning breakfast dishes filling the dish tub. Next to that was the previous day’s dishes piled high in the dish drainer, puzzled together precariously.

He took a deep breath and sighed as he started to put the dishes away. Again he breathed–maybe yoga breathing–trying to compose himself and not say anything. But after a few deep breaths and sighs, I exploded.

I responded. “What is wrong with you? Stop breathing. Do you want me to do them? Just stop showing me how angry you are with your self-righteous deep breathing.”

He, “I just have a short time for lunch today.”

“OK, stop putting the dishes away. I said I would do it. I will. Can’t you fix your lunch with dishes in the drainer? How many times do you have to shout at me with your breathing. It’s obvious you think I should have done the dishes, oh high and mighty one. What is wrong with you? Why don’t you act like Jesus? Would Jesus put the dishes away? Or would he just fix his lunch while smiling and greeting me pleasantly? Blah, blah, blah.”

I thought of the quote about getting bumped and having what’s inside spill out–it could have been love and grace, but in my case this day, it was anger and sarcasm.

Fortunately, at this time in my life those outbursts are rare. I couldn’t help but think about the stressors in my life just a year ago, even before the pandemic. Teaching school is a never-ending flow of creativity and learning, sweet relationships and assisting young people in growing as learners. Yet, there is an everyday barrage of extra administrative requirements that don’t seem to help children, as well as unfulfilled hopes and unmet expectations, daily to-do lists never completed. I know over my years of stressed-out teaching there have been many outbursts like this directed at my husband, but also at others. I am not very sanctified when I get bumped, which I think is a true test of my character.

Before my husband went back to his office, I apologized for biting his head off. He, of course, accepted and offered his own, as well. I am so thankful we do not stay angry at each other.