finding poetry

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I’ve been reading L. M. Montgomery’s Anne series this summer - for the first time ever, if you can believe it. I read Anne of Green Gables in my teens and as for so many others, Anne became a beloved fictional friend; but for whatever reason, I never followed the series to its conclusion until now, at least a dozen years later.

Happily, I find Anne to be just as much a kindred spirit as ever - and this time I recognize that her creator, Lucy Maud Montgomery, is even more so. She writes with such an old, meandering style, so unlike the fast-paced and action-packed demands of the year 2019. It’s slow and pure and lovely, such a joyous reflection of the best things in life, and it has given me a necessary glimpse of my own soul in the way that only classic fiction can.

I know we can’t live there, in the delightful unreality of stories, where the mundane is skipped over to save words and only the prettiest or bleakest moments make the page - but sometimes I rather wonder if we give up too easily in the pursuit of at least a hint of that beauty in “real life.” We submit to the prosaic existence, marred with occasional blots of grief or tears, and don’t even acknowledge that there is poetry to be found in any of it.

I don’t want to live my life that way.

I want to see and acknowledge everything beautiful, to think on the things that are true and noble and admirable, to notice all the little gifts of life and color that God splashes into my days. I have experienced the darkness in recent months and years, but I think I’m ready to emerge now, and to try to find the poetry again. No doubt some of it will be lamentation - especially as I watch the dark clouds gathering westward - but if I can’t find some beauty even in these storms, how will I weather them at all? I don’t want to look for the cliche silver linings, but rather feel the coursing life in my veins when the cold rain swallows me, or the thrill of God’s presence when the thunder roars, or the exhaustion of having loved my people faithfully and wholly through the hardest hours.

And then, “for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2a).

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

big, improbable ideas

This week I read a statistic that troubled me. On the YouVersion app, which populates different Bible reading plans and similar resources, a reading plan covering the theme of “justice” in the Bible has a 70% user completion rate.

The problem? It’s only a three-day plan.

That is, only 70% of people who sign up for a reading plan that will take three days can actually follow through on those three days.

It’s not surprising. We all know that our attention spans are shrinking, our lives are getting busier, and longform content is becoming less and less popular. We’d rather get the one-minute summary video with an eye-catching slideshow than take in the full depth and breadth of a topic. But it is still troubling.

One of the biggest projects I’ve created through this blog so far is a plan to read through the Bible in 180 days. If 30% of people won’t follow through for three days, how many will still be in it at the end of 180? One percent? Less?

Part of me fears that my vision is too big. It’s too much to expect of people, to read through the whole Bible. It takes too long. They don’t want to do it. They’re too busy. They’re too distracted. It’s one of those lovely, big ideas that I should probably pass off as improbable, if not impossible.

And I know that IT IS a hard task. I myself took this year off from Bible180, because it’s a big investment of time, energy, and brainspace to read through the whole Bible in such a concentrated amount of time. But whether you try to read the Bible in seven days, 180 days, or 365 days - it’s still going to be a really big book that requires really big commitment. We can’t distill it down to a one-minute video and still capture the beauty and complexity of who God is and what He has done.

And I know this, too: There are people that have completed Bible180 from beginning to end. Some of them within the 180-day timeframe, some of them taking a bit longer, but they’ve done it. I know who they are. They’ve shared with me how it has impacted them. Even the ones who made it to Deuteronomy, or to Jeremiah, or to the end of the Old Testament - they experienced transformation, too.

There is a pressure to make things easier. Faster. More bite-size, accessible, watered down. There are plenty of voices telling me I have too many big, improbable ideas - that nobody wants to do that much work.

But I contend that some of us are hungry to put in the work.

Some of us are hungry for the dense, nutritious meat of the Word. Some of us - probably more of us than anyone realizes - have been on a diluted diet for far too long, and we long to know God in His richness. His depth.

Maybe it isn’t about whether I can keep 500 people on task to read through the Bible that matters. Maybe it’s about whether the five or ten or twenty of them that were truly starving get fed.

The Bible school that I attended in Florida attracts one, maybe two dozen students every year. Not the hundreds or thousands that other institutions can boast. But the ones that uproot their lives to spend their days marinating in the fullness of the Bible, the ones that put dollars and hours behind their desire to learn from its every page whether they ever reap a tangible return on the investment or not - these are just one example of the truly hungry. And when the truly hungry seek after what can truly satisfy, they will be filled - even as their appetites are whetted for more.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Matthew 5:6

We’re all in different places in our walks with Jesus. Some of us need the milk-based diet - we are babies and we need someone else to hold the spoon. Some of us have been stuck on milk for a bit too long, but haven’t yet identified our real need for something different. Some of us have long outgrown the liquid diet and our souls are crying out for more substantial nutrition - and the skills to feed ourselves - to fuel our growth.

There’s a good place for cutting things up into bite-size pieces. But to the fear that I have too many big, improbable ideas that “no one” will ever want to partake in, I say that’s not true. Because I am someone, and I am starving, and I know that I am not the only one.

Are you one of the hungry ones? I’d love to hear about your experience with the Bible and what you feel is missing from your current spiritual “diet.” Leave me a comment below!

(The photos in this post were taken on a recent hike to McCall Point, Columbia River Gorge.)

of math, millennials, and the mission field

My sister Hannah is a mathematician.

She’s the only mathematician I’ve ever actually known personally. You just don’t meet that many people who go to grad school to learn things like real analysis and partial differential equations with the hope of spending their careers doing research in the area of “pure math” - and I’m still not fully sure what that means. Even less often do you hear someone exclaim, while writing proofs in what appears to be another language, “It’s so beautiful!” (Hannah has said things like this on multiple occasions.)

Far more common? “I hate math.” “I can’t calculate the tip - I’m terrible at math.” “Why don’t we stop teaching kids all this stupid algebra and just teach them useful things, like how to do their taxes?”

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Every now and then, you meet a one-in-a-million, like my sister. Someone who has found the beauty and the wonder that others may never appreciate, due to their deeply-held baggage of fear, confusion, inadequacy, or ignorance. Sadly, they grew up learning mathematics as a series of formulas to memorize and complicated steps to master, but no one ever taught them the logic of it; they never got the opportunity to problem-solve, to think critically, to ask why.

So they struggled through twelfth grade, or maybe as far as the undergraduate requisites, and then said goodbye to math forever. After all, we’ve got calculators for that.

The same thing has happened to the Christian church in America.

People are mystified at the numbers of the millennial generation who are leaving their Christian faith upbringing behind. Many of them, like me, were raised in Sunday school and AWANA, active within their youth groups, and never missed church. They went on mission trips and had records of great spiritual transformation. They loved Jesus. And now they’re gone.

And it’s for the same reason so many people hate the beautiful thing that is mathematics: because all they ever learned was the rules. They learned how to look, act, and speak like a Christian. They learned the Ten Commandments and all the other Biblical rules that their church considered important. They learned verses and stories and could sing the books of the Bible in order; they learned the formula for a salvation prayer (“Jesus, please come into my heart”), and how to categorize people into the ones doing it “right” and the ones doing it “wrong.” They learned how they should vote and how they should dress and who they should associate with. They learned the black and the white.

But no one ever taught them the logic of it.

No one gave them the chance to problem-solve, to think critically, or to ask why.

No one led them past the rules and into the relationship that their hearts were crying out for - beyond the formula and into the beauty of Christ and His love.

And no one gave them permission to consider that maybe it’s not all black-and-white, after all. Maybe some things are gray.

Why wouldn’t they bolt as soon as someone offered them the freedom to think outside the box, to be loved for who they are rather than what they do, or to ask the questions they’ve been dying to ask all their lives?

It’s not a mystery. They know the Bible, they know the Gospel, and they know exactly why they’re no longer part of the Christian church. If we’re listening, so do we.

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And I hope we’re listening, because to steal my sister’s words - it’s so beautiful. What God has done, the story He is writing, is so beautiful. The love He has offered is so beautiful. The desire of His heart to draw His created image-bearers back into relationship with Him, and to give them an inheritance as His own sons and daughters, is simply breathtaking. What a heartbreak to imagine that many will reject that truth because of deeply-held baggage like fear, confusion, inadequacy, and ignorance.

But we can’t share this beauty and freedom with others until it’s a reality for ourselves. Just as we’re the product of an education system that taught math as something you’re either “good at” or “bad at,” so many of us are the product of a church culture that has diminished Christianity into a list of rights and wrongs. Hannah has put in years of hard work and persistence to find and celebrate the beauty in mathematics; likewise, this issue can’t be solved by making churches more “relevant” - it has to be solved the hard way, which is by example.

The mission field of America, in many ways, starts inside of us. Even if we have never walked away from what we know to be true, most of us still have some callouses from clinging to the rules at the expense of the relationship. And our friends and peers who have abandoned their practice of faith very likely know just as much Bible and Christianese as we do - so they know how to spot a fake. They won’t be fooled by a religious show.

Only when we ourselves rediscover the beauty of the Savior, the genuine delight of walking in relationship with Him, and the blessing of counter-cultural unity with the His body can we possibly hope to recapture the young hearts in this nation. And truthfully? Some of the hearts that most need recapturing are our own.

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.