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Regaining my Freedom to Think


Good storytelling requires something called “willing suspension of disbelief”. When it works, we are transported to places that are impossible.  Yet somehow we believe, if only for the time we are reading or watching the story.  We see ourselves on a broomstick throwing the Quaffle or chasing the Snitch.  We sit in the wagon watching the endless prairie roll under our wheels with Jack the bulldog trotting in the shadow beneath us.  We hear the call, “The beacons are lit, Gondor calls for our aide” and we ride with Rohan to the great battle outside the walls of the White City. We are taken outside of ourselves for a time.  We escape reality for someplace else.

Yet there are times when we participate in a willing suspension of disbelief in ways that aren’t so innocent. There are places and times when we suspend belief in order to fit in, so as to remain within the boundaries of our tribe.  I’ve been recovering from just such a suspension of disbelief for some time now.

As a young Christian, I was caught up into a conservative evangelical Jesus movement church that viewed the bible as the center of faith. Everything we needed was found in the bible.  Anything that didn’t line up with the bible, as the leaders of my group understood it, was wrong.  More and more of my freedom to think for myself was curtailed as I became a dedicated follower.  We were given lists of acceptable books that had been vetted by the leaders of the church.  Conservatives were good, Liberals were bad. The bible was to be defended at all costs; when JEDP theory[1] was mentioned in a college English class on the Bible, we were equipped to defend Moses as the only author of the Pentateuch, and anyone saying otherwise was a heretic.  Slowly, bits and pieces of myself got locked away in order to fit in with those around me.[2]

As the child of a physics professor and a biology major, I had been raised on evolution, astronomy, archaeology, geology, dinosaurs, anthropology, and the discoveries of ancient humans by the Leakeys in the Olduvai gorge in Tanzania.  To fit in with my new found faith, I had to engage in willing suspension of disbelief as I was taught that God created the earth in a literal six days, that the bible was dictated by God and perfect in every way.  To question its accuracy in these matters was to risk my soul.

As I had children, I became a homeschooler.  Homeschooling at that time was one of the bastions of extreme conservative literalistic thinking, especially in regard to the sciences. Most curricula taught six day creation, some adhered to a young earth theory.  As pieces of my mind were being locked up, my soul was being eaten away, although I didn’t realize it.

Ironically, it was being involved with homeschooling, and witnessing the outworking of these extremely rigid beliefs that was instrumental in beginning to free me from this suspension of disbelief. I think it began with my one and only home school convention, where I actually had to see and experience some of the most extreme examples of things like the full quiver movement[3] that started to wake me up.  Freedom started to arrive with the discovery of  a home school curriculum that didn’t deny the demonstrable ancient age of the earth or try to reconcile dinosaurs and humans.  It was controversial in my cultural microcosm, but phew, a small piece of my mind back.

The next big break was some years later on the first day of VLI[4].  Two points were made that day that changed my way of understanding the bible.  The first was the idea that “All meaning is context dependent”.  Also phrased as “the bible can only mean what it ever meant” or it can’t mean something now that it didn’t mean to its original intended audience.   So, when looking at passages about women, slaves, or homosexuals, we need to understand what was intended by the original author, what that culture believed and how they behaved, how they would have understood what the author was saying and why.  We need to ask does it even apply today? How is our culture different? Do we know something today that wasn’t known then (because SCIENCE!) ?

The second point was in demonstration of the first. The professor described the first chapters of Genesis, where we see the six day creation story, as a polemic against the creation stories of the cultures around Israel rather than a historical record of creation. He then went on and enumerated a number of bible stories that have parallels in other cultures. I knew about this, I had taken a course on this in college, but had suspended belief in what I was being taught.  Life changing freedom granted.  I no longer had to hang my brain up at the door when entering church. (It made for some interesting conversations when people would invite me to visit the Creation Museum in Cincinnati!)

It is a continuing journey.  One that has accelerated over the last several years. It’s not always easy.  Not having all the answers can feel unsettling at times.  That’s where my relationship with Jesus comes in.  Since I have a real relationship with a real, communicating, loving person, I’m not going it alone. I no longer have to suspend belief in the hard sciences, sociology, psychology or philosophy. I don’t have to try to figure out the right answer from a book that, frankly, doesn’t address every single issue or question in life.  The best part? When I read the bible, I find so much life and wisdom there, without having to treat it like it’s going to contain all the answers. It equips me to think more deeply about my questions, it challenges the way I see and understand things. But it isn’t a rule book by which I must live my life.  I feel like I’ve regained my integrity as a person, which enables me to live out of who I am, not who someone else tells me I should be. By being able to see the bible for what it is: a collection of writings, written by many different people, telling the story of God in the ways that they experienced him, in all its inspired messy glory, I can embrace belief in both the bible and science. I no longer have to suspend belief in either direction.




[1] A theory that attributed the authorship of the first 5 books of the bible to multiple authors, signified by the different letters used, rather than Moses; also known as Wellhausen Hypothesis or Documentary Hypothesis.

[2] I should note that no one forced this on me. I was, however, very much a people pleaser, desperate to be accepted by the crowd around me.  Keeping controversial thoughts to myself and ultimately suppressing them was a means of self preservation in a group to which I very much wanted to belong.

[3] This movement teaches that women’s purpose is to keep the home and have children, that they are under the authority of their father until married, then under the authority of their husband; think Duggar family.

[4] Vineyard Leadership Institute, a 2 year ministry training program for the Vineyard movement.  Since renamed Vineyard Institute. I am grateful for the training I received there, even though I am no longer affiliated with the Vineyard movement.

Painting with my father

Dad and I in his studio. One of my paintings is visible on the table.

Dad and I in his studio. One of my paintings is visible on the table.

I recently had the opportunity to visit my dad in Vermont. He’s 82. He has been painting all of my life. I grew up with the smell of linseed oil and turpentine. He wasn’t the only artist I knew. I had two aunts who also painted. When I was little, I thought that being an artist was a real job you could have, even though my dad’s “real job” was as a physics professor. Sadly, when I announced that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, I was told it wasn’t practical.  Considering that all the artists I knew grew up during the depression, I’m not at all surprised at this response.

During this visit, my dad told me that he still has my very first painting, framed. I think it was called “kitty cats” and was a masterpiece in watercolors: several very washy lines on the back of a piece of some business paper. But then, I was probably 3 years old at the time. What I hadn’t realized until recently was that he has always secretly been very proud of my drawing and painting and art.

Place an oldest perfectionist child with an oldest perfectionist parent and there are some challenges with understanding. I know now that when my dad looked at my paintings as a teen and gave advice, he wasn’t criticizing. He was trying to help. But I couldn’t hear it that way. I stopped painting before I hit college, too afraid to make mistakes. It has been a slow journey back.

When I was in my early 20’s I lived with several art students. I didn’t dare show them my work, because I knew it was inferior to anything they could do. That is until the day a roommate saw a sketch I had done of another roommate’s dog. Her comment, “That’s a great start,” was revealing. In my mind, the sketch was finished, not very good. Her comment gave me permission to keep working on it. So I did. I worked on it until I was satisfied that it really did look like Teddy, under-bite and all.

Over the years I would dabble in various art forms with my kids, but I never did “serious painting” in oils or acrylics. There are lots of practical excuses for that.  The reality is that I was afraid.  A couple of years ago, my dad started encouraging me to start painting again. I hemmed and hawed. Eventually, with the encouragement of another art school grad, I tried a landscape. I worked on it for several sessions. I was happy with what I was able to do. But that was it.  For some reason, I didn’t do another. I was still afraid of imperfection.

So what changed? It’s taken a long time, but I’m beginning to be able to live with imperfection.  So when I had the opportunity to paint with my dad, how could I pass it up?  It’s only taken us forty years to get to this place.

I can’t post this without bragging a bit about my dad.  He spend his career in the academic world.  As such, he was told that his art was a distraction.  So he has painted under his Nom d’Artiste, Mutin for as long as I can remember. Finally at 82 he has his own studio and has been showing his art publicly for the first time. You can see his work here:


A Sabbatical Year

writs jack

the contraption I had to wear for 6+ weeks to stabilize my wrist

This has been an interesting year; in some ways an answered prayer. I haven’t worked at a regular job since last December.  I’ve had a sabbatical year: a much needed rest, a time for reflection and redirection. However, it wasn’t planned that way.

I took a couple of months off in January and February to rest and recover from the last few years, which have been challenging. When I did start to look for work, the interviews just weren’t forthcoming. As with many who are job hunting or changing fields, I put out dozens of resumes. Nothing. Finally in July, a good opportunity. I had a great initial interview and was scheduled for the second with the company owner three days later. The day before the interview, I shattered my wrist in a bicycle accident. I mean shattered: 22 pieces where there should have been two bones. The technical description was an “Open, comminuted fracture of the distal radius and ulna” The doctor’s slightly more practical description: like taking a hammer to an eggshell. No second interview for me, in fact, no possibility of working for months.

I was finally to the point of being able to return to job hunting in October. Again, I had a great possibility lined up. First interview, excellent, a second in the works. And then, send you through the roof pain shooting through my arm at random times, with the slightest movement. The pins that had been holding the bones together while they healed had shifted and one of them was grazing a nerve. Another surgery, another few weeks of not being able to work and another lost job opportunity.

It seemed like I was being told: NOT YET.

So, here’s the interesting thing: I wasn’t really excited about either of these jobs. They were just going to be jobs. What I wanted to be doing and what I have been doing, is working on a church plant*. The accident this summer slowed this process down, too. I’m not sorry about that. Church plants take time and energy. I’ve been given a year to just BE; a year to rest and relax and rebuild. (And yes, play endless, mindless games on the iPad…)

I am excited to be in the process of planting. I’m excited to see what God is doing with the group of people that has gathered to begin this journey with me. I’m grateful for the time that has been given to me before we launch our plant.  I still need to find a job and work at least part-time.  Not just to earn money, but because I want to be out and about and meeting people.  But I’m so grateful for my sabbatical year.  I needed it more than I knew.

*We are planting a church affiliated with  I can be reached on Facebook and Twitter if you would like to know more!

Hello, I’m Sue and I’m a recovering Evangelical

T and P on trail

I was never a very good Evangelical.  I wasn’t good at the evangelism part of it.  As a shy introvert, evangelism terrified me.  I was raised as the RESPONSIBLE CHILD.  As the oldest child, if somebody (usually my little brothers) did something wrong or didn’t do something they should have, it was MY RESPONSIBILITY.  Sometimes I didn’t even have to be present for it to be my fault.

Plant this RESPONSIBLE CHILD into the Jesus movement days. Everyone knew that “Jesus was coming back any day now and we must save as many people as we can!”  It felt like any conversation that didn’t include the gospel was deemed a failure.  So many methods emphasized the one call close:  meet someone, give them the gospel, get them to “pray the prayer”.  I had a hard enough time opening conversations with strangers as it was, let alone with this kind of agenda and responsibility.

I grew up, I learned how to talk to strangers, and I stopped fearing that each new person I met was supposed to be an evangelism project. If Jesus came up in the conversation fine, we would talk about Him.  But always in the back of my mind, there was that niggling thought, that somehow, it’s MY RESPONSIBILITY.

A few days ago I was reading the calling of the disciples, the “Come follow me and you shall be fishers of people”passage and all that angst from my evangelical past reared its uncomfortable head.  I was taken aback.  I hadn’t felt this for many years.  I’ve learned to pay attention to these reactions and spent some time sitting with it. Do I still fear that somehow, it is UP TO ME to bring people into the kingdom? That it is still MY RESPONSIBILITY?  In the midst of it, Jesus reminded me of John 12:32 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”(NIV)

All I have to do is lift up Jesus, to point to him. He does all the drawing.  I can do that.  I can point to Jesus. And I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE for the way anyone responds to Jesus.  He is.

What’s new with Sue?

Ocean Feb 15

“The difference between bounded-set spiritual growth and centered-set spiritual growth is that the first requires constant new information to keep us (marginally) interested and the other requires all the promise and insecurity of a living relationship that’s on the move and might take us to surprising places. ” Dave Schmeltzer

As I was reading through the latest thought piece from Blue Ocean faith on Childlike Faith, I was struck by the quote above.  You see, for many years I’ve been in the camp that equated greater knowledge with greater maturity.   Yet as I thought about it, I realized that all the learning and theology never brought me to any greater degree of maturity, either personal or spiritual, unless there was an experiential, life engaging aspect to the learning.   

I’ve been in a process of moving away from bounded set thinking for a number of years.  The less bounded set I have become in my own thinking, the harder it has been to live and work within a bounded set context.  Ultimately, that led to my leaving a job I loved (for the most part) in order to pursue Jesus, without knowing at all where that might take me.  I’m beginning to have an idea of the next steps.  

In a couple of weeks I will be attending the final cohort meeting of my training in spiritual direction.  It has been a wild two years.  Where I thought I was going when I began and the direction I am pursuing now could not be more divergent.  I started down this road to learn more about spiritual formation (the “new information”) and to learn how to be a spiritual director.  What I found instead was the “promise and insecurity” of a far deeper relationship with Jesus.  (I am frequently reminded of the cry of the children in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle: “Higher up and further in”).  Yes, I’m learning to be a spiritual director, the learning of which is a life long process.   But so much more has happened.  

I’ll be letting you know more of where Jesus is leading me soon!! 

I’m numb, and yet…

I’m numb.  Another shooting.  Another young white male with a gun. Immediately everyone wants to co-opt it for their particular pet cause: gun control, the broken mental health system (this with no indication AT ALL that mental illness is part of this particular incident), you name it, it is being said somewhere. Fingers pointing every which way.

Yes.  This is about race and racism.  Yes, this is about white male privilege.   Yes, this is about guns.  Yes, this is about a broken fallen world.    Yes, this is about many things.  But please, above all, this is about people:  People whose lives were cut short by another person.  All of them image bearers of the Living God.  Yes, even the shooter is an image bearer.  A broken, fallen, damaged and seemingly very corrupted image bearer, but still made in the image of God.

It breaks my heart when we, as image bearers of the Living God, hurt other image bearers.  To devastating effect: 9 lives ended because, ultimately, the shooter didn’t see them as fellow image bearers. Perhaps he didn’t see himself as an image bearer, let alone anyone else.  I don’t think this will even be a question that is asked.  But I’m asking it: Do we see those around us, those we love, but more so, those we dislike, those we fear, those we disdain, as image bearers of the Living God?

I can’t prevent the next shooting.  But I can be aware that each and every human being I encounter, no matter what their character, what choices they have made in life, what their beliefs, bears the image of the Living God.  And with this in mind, I can treat them with respect and dignity, because I too, bear God’s image.

Walking the Labyrinth


As I begin, a few turns and the tantalizing closeness of the center is there; the temptation to believe that I have arrived: A conversation remembered from many years ago with B and G and J; accusing me of self-righteousness, do I think that I have “arrived”? I deny the truth, that I do think I have arrived.

Turnings and twistings, but only one path: freedom that all the twists and turns are part of my journey, there are no mistakes. I am beloved in each turning. A step off the path to let me pass: the kindness and care of community. I step off the path: a pause in the journey, but brief.

From above all the turnings are seen. The center is reached but the journey is not done. Being present in the moment in each step, each turn. Turns that are surprising and take me in unexpected directions, far from the center.

The leaving behind of rigid thinking; still more to come in the way of challenges. A moment of grief remembered from the night watches: grief that a gay couple with kids would be made to feel unwelcome.

Ah, the end is in sight…but no, once again I am turned away to follow the path where it leads. There is no arrival, only the path.

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