Tuesday, July 3, 2018


On Sunday I preached 
about the crowds pressing in. 
All the bodies. All the stories incarnate. 
They are sweaty and pleading. 
Weeping and bleeding. 

One woman is drained of her power and life. 
But when she touches his cloak, 
everything changes. 

Jesus stops. He turns to see 
who received his own power and life. 
They are connected. 
There is healing in that.

I woke this morning and stopped to see 
my own body. 
To recognize her life and power. 
To grieve the ways 
some seek to grab or limit 
her story incarnate. 

I wept for all the women
drained of their life and power. 
Who have spent all they have 
and are no better off. 
Who are desperate and faithful
reaching out to be made whole.

And then I dressed 
my beautiful curves
with the sour fruit. 

They can call my womb
a preexisting condition 
my mystery a liability 
my shape in need of legislation 
but I will keep adding sugar.

Because there is One who stops 
who turns to see 
who gives away his own life and power 
to heal those out of options
to recognize those fading into the crowd.

Your body is sour. 
And your body is sweet. 
And your body matters fiercely to God.

Keep pressing in 
with your weary, wild beauty.
It seeks power and life
and it bears good fruit.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018


When the girls were toddlers we were introduced to a chart that described their developmental stages. Sometimes your kid is in equilibrium. They are finding confidence in a mastered skill or at peace with their ability to communicate needs. Sometimes your kid is in disequilibrium. They're in a growth spurt that makes them moody, uncoordinated, or emotionally volatile.

You'd think identical twins would ride this rollercoaster together, but ours do not. They tag in and out of equilibrium, taking turns as the adventurous and articulate leader. And their brother is on his own ride. That's the thing about siblings. They multiply the dynamics in a household exponentially. Everyone is dealing with their own stuff and yet we're a team trying to function together.

I think still have seasons like this as an adult. I take at least two months to hibernate in the winter. I'm terrible at communicating, exercising, and sleeping. It's a diet of hot tea and wine and Crock Pot dinners from the holidays to the first sign of spring.

In the springtime I start saying YES with abandon, hosting guests and planning summer weekends with enthusiastic over-commitment. When the thermometer reads 80 degrees, I start working and writing in my head while walking near the water or pulling weeds in my yard. As the days get longer, I put down the heavy should's I tended to all winter and lean into stuff that gives me life.

YES has me tangled up with a book deal through Fortress Press.
YES has me co-producing the Alter Guild podcast with friends.
YES has me navigating both campuses of a large, dynamic congregation.
YES has me writing grants and worship services for retreats.
YES has me preaching often.

These things have me writing more ferociously than ever, but rarely here at tangled up in grace

Most of us are in equilibrium at the Carlson Casa these days, which makes for lots of laughter and big adventure. But when we are not, there is great grace in being loved through a surly mood, a lapse of energy, a lazy season of self-collection. It is all welcome. There is enough square footage for all the loops and twists and turns. All the YES and all the NO. The whole damn flow.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Valentine's Day. Ash Wednesday. John 13:31-38.

We enter this world with a fierce curiosity for where we belong and who we are. Our parents and caregivers tell us stories before we can comprehend them and read us books before we can follow a plot. If we're lucky, they whisper their unconditional love before we have to ask.

My children were all born in the month of February, when so much of the world stalls in hibernation and snuggles in for warmth. When they were tiny I would dress them in soft, furry snow suits with bear ears atop their heads. Then I would drape them in blankets and strap them to my chest before heading out into the cold world.

I liked being pregnant a lot more than I liked caring for newborns, so having their breath so close to my chest was nostalgic and satisfying. I would wrap my arms around their sleepy bodies as if to say, “This is where you belong. This is who you are. No matter where you go.”

Perhaps it was this kind of love that inspired the first Creation story, six chapters of order born from chaos. When God breathes and speaks, life springs forth. Scientists describe creation as an explosion of ancient stars that released cosmic ash throughout the universe eight billion years ago.

Astrophysicists say heaven’s primal outburst spilled life’s richest ingredients all over the galaxy, ensuring that we are all connected. Every living thing belongs to every other living thing, which makes us (atomically and literally) stardust.
“We have calcium in our bones and iron in our veins, carbon in our souls and nitrogen in our brains. 93 percent stardust with souls made of flames. We are all just stars that have people names.” – Nikita Gill
For some this creation story is too abstract or disorienting, so Genesis gives us a second account. Adam is gathered into human form from this cosmic and earthly dust. God breaths Spirit and life into him, which ignites relationship, love, and freedom. Adam is wrapped in the soft security of a garden, close to God’s bosom where he can hear whispers, “This is where you belong. This is who you are. No matter where you go.”

And he goes, alright! 
But the love and the story go with him.

I recently learned that mothers carry the cells of their babies inside their bodies for years after giving birth. It made me think about my own body and children, the complexities of loving part of yourself beyond yourself.

It make me think about Mary the mother of Jesus, who lost track of her boy and found him in the temple days later.

It made me think about God as our heavenly parent, who knows and forms us and then sets us free. Is God laced with some of our cells, our cosmic and earthly dust?

In John 13, Jesus makes a promise to the disciples:  There will be a relationship even when we cannot be physically together. He knows we will look for him when he’s gone and so he tells us to look for love. To listen for the story he’s been telling about where we belong and who we are.

And, when we do, we remember that we are stardust.
·        We are the richest ingredients in the galaxy, ancient stars with people names. We are holy and adored, fearfully and wonderfully made.
·        And we are also the dormant soil of earth, silent and still without the breath of Spirit and life to raise us up, to whisper love that calls us out of slumber and death.

We enter this world with a fierce curiosity for where we belong and who we are. We need storytellers who can give voice to our location in the cosmos, who can speak and sing and whisper the truth:  Creation has been dying and rising for God’s glory for billions of years, a testimony to God’s explosive love for you.

Jesus addresses the disciples as Little Children, not to belittle them, but to extend God’s parental voice and comfort in a moment of uncertainty. So that they will see him whenever they look for love and they will know who they are whenever they tell stories about the God who turns stars to dust and breathes dust into life.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


We are coming of age.
My classmates, my colleagues, my peers.
We are naming things that need to be named and elbowing our way into the public square. We are getting published and giving Ted Talks and recording albums.

We grew up on the sidelines while fundamental Christian voices dominate the public square, but we've been tagging in for about a decade now. So many people do not have language for their theology and theology for their values. And that's on us. It is practiced and gifted and sung and spoken and prayed and confessed in our Sanctuaries, but it is missing in bookstores and on radio stations that sell mostly damnation, emotional highs, and self-help.

I am soaking in the work of my generation's Christian leaders: children's books, memoirs, devotionals, articles, poetry, music, spoken word, and visual art. There's good stuff out there!

Here's one more log on the Holy Spirit's bonfire.  I've been writing and storytelling and praying with three fabulous pastors my age. It's become a podcast called Alter Guild and our first season will be available on Monday, December 25. These episodes rooted in familiar and obscure Christmas texts and will be released one day at a time through the Twelve Days of Christmas.

This season produced without a budget. We are grateful for the talent and equipment borrowed from our congregations, the blessing of our colleagues, the free trial memberships for stock video and music, and the time we've found - against all odds - in the holiday season to create something new.

Want to help make it successful? Here's how:

  1. Subscribe to Alter Guild through iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, etc. Or visit www.alterguild.org to listen through the website.
  2. Like and Follow @alterguild on Facebook and Twitter.
  3. Rate us on Facebook and iTunes.
  4. Share this resource with others who listen to podcasts or need to hear a fresh word rooted in these ancient texts.
  5. Give us feedback. Email alterguild@gmail.com to share your suggestions, encouragement, and ideas for future seasons.
Why "Alter Guild"? Because something is changing in the church. Just ask those authors, artists, and musicians. The call to discipleship is still rooted in ancient mystery, but it alters the way we listen, love, and serve in the world. We've had a lot of fun putting these episodes together and hope they speak to your weary, curious, and empathetic faith. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

public vulnerability.

I met with parents of confirmation students last night. They asked how to engage scripture so that we hear the call to the public square and know where to show up. I blabbed on for awhile and I'm not sure I said anything of great use in that moment. A day later, I'm still thinking about that question and more practical ideas have been swimming by my brain.

1. Fail hard. You won't always be in the right place at the right time. Prophetic, active, embodied faith requires practice and risk and looking a fool most of the time. And that's okay. There are no Division 1 scholarships on the line here. Like St. Daniel the Tiger says, "Keep on trying - you'll get beh-et-ter."

2. Focus in. Choose a few issues that matter deeply to you. Spend time learning about the intersections of that issue - the demographics most affected, the funding barriers, the stereotypes, and the people already showing up and being loud. You can't save the whole world and fight every fight. But you can delve into a few things that introduce you to new relationships and ideas.

3. Join some stuff. Are you at PTO meetings or City Council conversations? Does every member of your family have a library card and know how to use it? When is the last time you visited a state park? Did you tag them on social media and give thanks for that sacred space and unsung work? It's a good time to rediscover the power and privilege of being a citizen.

4. Like it all. Find organizations on Facebook that align with your values and dreams for community. Like and follow their pages so you can see what local events are already happening around you. Show up for your watershed district, urban art programs, MLK Jr. speaker series, or a scout troop pinewood derby. Visit a place of worship for their fish fry and bingo night. (It's real.) You don't have to recreate the wheel. Good stuff is already in motion and it's easier than ever to jump on the beautiful bandwagon of resistance or celebration. (Also, this can be done while drinking wine.)

5. Tell the kids. Share some of the ways you struggle to connect your faith to daily life and your values to concrete action. They're watching and wondering how all this stuff connects. If they don't know that grown ups think this is really hard, they will draw sad conclusions about how discipleship works and why being the church matters. Your vulnerability is welcome proof that confirmation is not graduation - we wonder and wrestle with this stuff from cradle to grave. Maybe they'll have some ideas about how your family can work on this together.

6. Pre-read that scripture. I'll bet your place of worship publicizes the texts for next weekend in advance. Read the text before worship and see if any of these questions get your wheels turning. Just one or two. It doesn't need to be intensive.

  • Does this scripture sound like instruction, story, conviction, promise, or something else?
  • Who is named in this scripture and who is merely described or spoken for?
  • What do the action verbs reveal about this story?
  • What does (particular character) have to gain or lose?
  • How is heaven's love or justice revealed here?
  • What about this scripture makes me feel defensive, uncomfortable, or convicted?
  • What about this scripture makes me feel hopeful, relieved, or forgiven?
  • What is going on in the world or my life that resonates with this scripture?
  • If I'm going to hear a sermon/reflection on this text in a few days, what do I hope to hear more about?
Most of us don't read the Bible during the week and, if we do, there's some "professional" there to translate or expound right away. The average mainline Christian seems out of practice simmering with scripture, reading it and then letting it soak into our ordinary tasks and thoughts. But that's how preachers and teachers get cracking. That's where the weird and wonderful stuff happens. It doesn't require fancy degrees or biblical fluency or personal agenda. Give it a try and see what happens.

7. Believe in the little things. Tonight I donated $50 to Doug Jones for Senate in Alabama. I want to believe that my $50 will help keep Roy Moore and his "family values" out of the United States Senate. Roy Moore stands as a bigot and barrier at the intersection of so many things I care about. He doesn't believe women or Muslims should hold elected office. He tried to take a mother's custody away because of her sexual orientation. When he was my age, he stripped down to his underwear and molested teenage girls. He and his voter base don't get to corner the market on what it means to be American and Christian anymore. I don't want Doug Jones to lose in a nail biter and wonder whether $50 would have made a difference.

Seven. It's a holy number so I'll stop there. Are we willing to fail, get specific, show up, be a witness to others, share with the next generation, read the bible, and believe in small acts of hope and love?That's plenty. And yet, it's just a call to public vulnerability. This is what it means to be incarnational, to be the church, to be together in the public square.

See you out there, with open hearts and makin' fools. 
Love, Meta