Author Archives: nwcmarginalia

“Dating Jesus,” by Addie Zierman

The following excerpt is from Addie Zierman’s memoir How to Talk Evangelical. One of the structural elements of the book is a series of glossaries defining key evangelical terms and then expanding on them; this is one of those terms.






Dating Jesus To give up dating for a window of time in order to focus more specifically on your Relationship with Jesus.

Note: This phrase can also be used to diplomatically turn down a date from an undesirable person. “Sorry,” you might say. “I’m dating Jesus right now.”

Felix, for example, is dating Jesus. Theoretically. Also he is sitting next to you in a dark car. You are weepy. Felix is dabbing at the tears on your face with his long fingers. He swallows, and you are close enough to his neck to see the way it makes his Adam’s apple move along his throat.

He is a senior. He is handsome, and he knows that he is handsome. He has good hair and perfect lips and a tall, built body. The girls like Felix and Felix likes the girls and because of this, he has gotten himself into trouble more than once. So in a renewed commitment to personal purity, he has taken his devotion to abstinence to the next level: a dating sabbatical. A break from girls altogether. He is dating Jesus.

Sort of.

Right now, it feels an awful lot like he is dating you.

You can’t see anything outside of the car, though you know that you are in a housing development, one of the rich ones with lots of big trees, lots of little empty turnabouts like the one where you are currently parked. Inside, the numbers on the clock cast a green glow on Felix’s sharp features. He leans toward you so that you are forehead to forehead, and you can feel your heart lurching erratically. He stares at you. You stare at him. He moves so close that you can feel the five o’clock shadow poke against your breathless cheeks.

You inhale sharply and back away. You put your two small fingers against his lips. “You’re dating Jesus, remember?” you say. This is the truth in this moment – not the beating of your heart against the darkness, but the unbreakable promise to God that forms the context behind it. Felix has vowed not to date girls, and you know what happens when you come between boys and their vows.

Besides, you are supposed to be waiting. Waiting for your sort-of-boyfriend Chris, who is in Garden Valley, Texas, also dating Jesus, and consequently, not speaking to you. He is fighting the forces of evil, doing great things for the Lord. You are supposed to be quiet, preserved, watching over the horizon.

Not alone in a dark car with Felix and his perfect lips.

You should have let him kiss you.

If you had, maybe this would not be your story, your journey, your burden. If you had done what you wanted to do instead of watching over the boys and their vows…if you had allowed yourself to be hurt the usual ways that teenage boys hurt teenage girls instead of falling so nobly on the sword of the Spirit, a constant sacrifice, dying again and again to your own desires, then maybe it would not have gone like this.


Marginalia Returns!

With  featured reader (and NWC alum!) Addie Zierman and student readers Lacy Barker and Brianna Flavin. Come on out this Thursday, January 20 at 7:00 p.m. in the Black Box theater.

Addie Zierman recently received her MFA from Hamline University, where she primarily studied creative nonfiction. She lives in Andover with her husband and one-and-a-half year old son, Dane. Against her better judgment, she’s having another baby this April. When she’s not writing or chasing her child around, Addie can be found watching bad reality TV and trying to sew things. She’s powerless to overcome her addiction to Diet Coke.

Lacy Barker is a (very recent) grad from the NWC English department. Originally from Cedar Rapids, IA, she likes eating Oreos with peanut butter and watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman with her roommates.

Brianna Flavin is a senior writing major with big aspirations for her future primarily oriented around gardening, painting, mountain climbing and picnicking.

“January 24: Early Errands,” by Judith Hougen

Soon, Marginalia will begin featuring the work of Northwestern students (both current and alums), but we thought we’d kick things off with a contribution from our very own Judy Hougen. Says Professor Hougen about her piece:

I’m fascinated to discover the layers of meaning that lie quietly beneath seemingly ordinary moments of life.  Currently, I’m working on a series of literary-quality essays on faith and the writing life that I hope to publish in a single volume some day.  As part of this collection, I envision some short, in-the-moment prose pieces that contain strong attention to detail.  This is one of those pieces.

January 24: Early Errands

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

–Mary Oliver—

It’s eight below this morning as I drive down Highway 36, bone-gray asphalt wearied by salt and destinations, thick, sky-blue gloves perch on the wheel, my breath an easy haze in the chilled compartment.  After a week of fever, everything amazes a threadbare mind. Illness has a way of shaming us into submission to the body, into being and stillness, our breathing serrated like old regrets and too many days brimming with uselessness while manila folders scatter on the dining table heavy with words.  A few minutes later, I see it to my right: transfiguration: the sun swelling past itself, haloed and huge in the crystallized dawn just above bare-knuckle trees and condos. Common vernacular: a sundog.  I know a little science, the deep cold translating air into a prism, refracted slices of ice choreographed into color, light begetting light, resonating sky.  I glance sideways as the highway allows, cough, eyes back to the tired ribbon of road.  But I know this is the glorious ornament of winter, the eastern horizon white, luminous in my peripheral vision, open hands of light laid against my car like a priest’s.  I awaken a little more and picture myself as the supplicant of small consolations, and I think of Mary Oliver kneeling in a summer field at the edge of a grasshopper, his every machination absorbed into a prayer, a question.  In her own words, idle and blessed.  The old Toyota’s heat starts to kick in, and I loosen my scarf, my body relaxing with the lean margin of warmth.  The sundog still overwhelms the sky as I drive this morning past strip malls and snow-loaded ditches to places I already call inconsequential.  And I remember her poetic question, wondering what it means to receive so much gratuitous light into our undeserving bodies, our frailty of attention.  This is what I know: after thick nights of virus loaded with sleep and soup and television, I’m given—what?—a spaceship of light, the day alive in my passenger seat, and these two hands as a sign, a kind of possibility.

Marginalia 1: Last-Minute Switch, Love Handles, and More


Thanks to everyone (nearly fifty of you!) who came out for our first Marginalia event!

(For those of you who know the difference between a Lacy Barker and a Rebecca Kisch, you’ll notice that that’s Rebecca, not Lacy, in the photo above! With Lacy getting sick at the last minute, Rebecca stepped in and read in her place.)

All three readers were fantastic: Elena’s distinctively Minnesotan poetry (lakes! snow! deer hunting!), Rebecca’s lyrical tribute to her grandmother, Gary’s Shakespeare-esque ode to his midsection….

A few more photos:

Hope to see all of you (and more of you!) at our next event in December!

Two Poems by Gary Dop

Poverty Identification Simulation

Dear Homeless People:  You should know
that we, upper middle class college students,
will be wearing clothes
like yours.  Some of us will even stink

like you by the third and final day of our project.
We’ll probably sing Kum-Bay-Yah
and talk poverty.  We’ll shut off
our cell phones.  One of us, probably a girl

from a suburb named something Falls,
will say, I can’t believe we’ll be out here
all night, and one of us, probably a boy with
gel in his hair, will snuggle up to the girl

and say, It’s so amazing how they live like this,
no homes or email, and they look for food
in dumpsters. He’ll look up at the spring night
we selected because it’s not winter and whisper

like Nicolas Cage playing sad:  I’d do it,
look for food in the garbage.
One of us, probably a lisping theology student
will say, When my father lost his job

we would’ve been stuck on the streets
if my Grandpa hadn’t owned a slew
of rentals on the Southside. In a pallbearer’s tone,
we’ll talk about you people, how we know

what we’re doing isn’t really what you go through,
which will validate what we’re doing. Before
we’re resurrected from your world, one
of you, probably someone not as

dirty as we’d expect, will walk up to us as we
whisper, deciding who will address you.
How’s it going? our spokesman will ask. You’ll ask
for money, and we’ll look at each other, something secret

validated within us.  One of us, probably someone
with good teeth, will tell you, We didn’t bring money
‘cause we’re doing a poverty simulation.
You’ll look at us, at the holes

in our dark clothes, at our tap water bottles,
at our grouping together in threes and fours.
In your pocket you’ll find some change and step
onto the next bus.  One of us, probably most

of us, will question whether you are
really homeless.  We won’t know how to talk
of all that might be true.  We’ll finish
with pepperoni pizza back in the dorms.

(first published in Green Mountains Review)

Bill Bitner’s Bundle of Something Identical

Once a month or so, I go to the Econo Lodge
and drop off a bundle, usually a wrapped up phone book
or something else heavy, before the sun gets up.

To the nametag on the lady, I say, My brother
will come around to pick this up. It’s something important.
He looks a lot like me, but his voice is higher.

Mother, more than once, told me I got
my brother’s name. Bill Bitner the First, my older
twin, caught something blue and died 10 minutes old.

When the sun sticks through the slits on the west window
and bounces off the TV screen, I get up
from my plaid chair and pull my fishing hat down on my eyes.

I fix a limp or stutter step onto my legs when I see
the same lady at the counter. I’m here to pick something up
from my brother. My voice usually cracks on brother.

Your brother, Mother said, probably would’ve been a foot taller,
able to digest peanuts, and eczema free. I wonder if Bill
would have been afraid of shadows that might catch fire.

The lady gives me the package like she’s found a teddy bear
and I’m its child. It’s a phone book. I take it, hold it close to my heart
murmur, and forget to ask what I really want to know—

When I dropped this off, what was my name?

(first published in Cave Wall)

Marginalia Reading Series Episode 1: Gary Dop with Lacy Barker + Elena Fultz

Literature in 3D! The inaugural installment in Marginalia’s reading series will be Monday, October 25 at 7:00 pm in NWC’s Black Box theater.

The reading will feature visiting poet Gary Dop, along with student readers Lacy Barker and Elena Fultz.

Reader bios:

Gary Dop lives with his wife and three daughters in Minneapolis, where he teaches creative writing and literature at North Central University. Dop studied poetry at the University of Nebraska’s MFA program, where he received the MFA Creative Writing Award as the program’s top student.  His poems have been published recently in journals such as New Letters, Rattle, Poet Lore, Poetry Northwest, North American Review, Agni, New York Quarterly, and elsewhere. When avoiding poetry, Dop moonlights as scriptwriter and comic.
Lacy Barker is a senior English writing major from Cedar Rapids, IA. She likes eating Oreos with peanut butter and watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman with her roommates. She’s graduating in December and counting the days.
Elena Fultz is a junior English Writing major from Bemidji, Minnesota.  She enjoys watching Pixar movies, singing with large groups of people, and picking blackberries.