what lies underneath

From the view above the lake (I imagine Lake Tanganyika ringed by Burundi and Congo) all appears serene. I bob in the water gently, my slow graying hair pulled into a ponytail stub. I look like an average middle-age woman taking a Saturday swim while her husband plays with the kids on the sandy shore dotted with acacia trees.

But underneath my legs thrash wildly, stirring trouble and frightening fish. I kick every which direction, wrestling water, foot flinging through a sand bottom and stubbing my toe. Underneath it’s not so pretty, not so serene.

I feel like this… a serene, even benign surface. All you can see is me and my modest one-piece bathing suit straps clinging to my shoulders. Harmless. But below lives a torrent of activity. But how can you tell from just looking across the water, not even a ripple in sight?


I’ve always looked safe, conventional, a non-threatening persona from head to toe. No crazy hairstyle, no chunks of pink, blue or purple dyed in. My clothes all match pretty much – brown belt, brown shoes, all accessories in silver and to scale. All the make-up I own fits into a travel-size zip-lock bag, fit for airport inspection. No one would confuse me for danger in a line-up.

Inside, however, I’m not so stayed and safe. I’m a bit unconventional and off kilter. I’ve wrangled with believer’s baptism (opting out, in the end) and explored new metaphors of atonement that reframe sacrifice. I nurse doubts about demons, at least the variety I was taught to exorcize in seminary. The jury’s out when it comes to my views on homosexuality – I just honestly don’t know, so I err on the side of grace and generosity for now. Sometimes I feel more catholic than charismatic, definitely more democrat than republican, and green enough to take recycling seriously.

My kids know more about the land-grabbing antics of Jezebel than Noah’s ark or Joseph’s colorful coat. We talk about Jesus who hangs out with the wrong crowd, commands constant forgiveness, tells us to share (more than spend) our money and go after the smelly black sheep. I don’t believe in flannel graph Jesus – so I teach them about the Jesus who walked the Jerusalem street, spoke with a Galilean accent and looked more like our Palestinian friends, brown and kind. They wouldn’t recognize the blue-eyed blond caricature, for which I am glad.

I’m also getting in touch with things that really anger me. As an adopted child, I seethe when people say my family’s unnatural or even slightly less than the biological kind. Just because I lean liberal doesn’t mean I value life less or have skewed family values. And caring for the environment means I take the Bible more seriously, not less. I hate economic injustice – hate. it. – even as I’m part of the systemic problem. And all this hot energy churns inside me like the spin cycle of my old clunky washing machine.

I’m learning I’ve got an edge. I’m as likely to break into a praise chorus as a rock anthem (complete with crackling amps and pyrotechnics). I could as easily inspire as incite, comfort as confront or just rant. Do I owe this unfettering to the aging process? Or have I just had enough of playing it safe in my matchy-matchy outfits?

Should I let my insides out? Let my edgy side squeeze through my epidermis like a color-saturated tattoo? Or is it better to float on the water and never let on to what’s stirring underneath?


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3 thoughts on “what lies underneath”

  1. Erin Wilson
     ·  Reply

    All the best stuff happens once you throw off the flannel graph.

    I hope you come to love that edge (though I suspect you might already).

  2. J. R. Goudeau
     ·  Reply

    I love this piece. I think my favorite people are aquired tastes, people with edges that don’t quite fit. The older I get, the more I think God will knock my edges down if he doesn’t like them, so if he left my loudmouth, angry-in-the-face-of-injustice voice, perhaps it’s because it’s an edge that’s supposed to stay, part of the tool he wants to use sometimes. I’m glad to have you for an “edgy” friend.

    By the way, have you read Simone Weil? Your discussion of baptism makes me think of how she wrestled with that.

  3. Diana Trautwein
     ·  Reply

    This is terrific. And if I had my druthers? I’d see you floating serenely and think, “That looks like fun” and then I’d be both flabbergasted and delighted to see your legs kick through to the surface, making a great big, delicious SPLASH. Yeah, I think I like mellow with a side of mayhem a whole lot.

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