creating me [using words]

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

The Successful Spouse

Plays the piano.

Very supportive.

Great with children.

An eye for decorating and good in the kitchen.

Grew up around ministry (pastor’s kid), thus knows the ropes.

Even keeps a clean house, can sing if needed, and married to a preacher.

All the qualifications are there for a terrific pastor’s wife. There is just one problem.

He is my husband. In addition to all these great qualities, he’s got others: he’s got big muscles, he can build/fix most anything, he is male, and most importantly, he is his own person.

Fortunately, our congregation is supportive of Nate for being Nate, and they do not pressure him to be any certain way or fill any certain roles as the pastor’s spouse. Unlike some churches, I’m pretty certain they would have hired me even if Nate couldn’t play the piano or lead VBS.

The pastor’s spouse is a tough gig, I think. It isn’t their calling, their vocation, their paycheck—not really. But the expectations are often huge. Nate cannot even experience what it is like, not really, to participate in church voluntarily. He has to participate (more or less) because he married me, and service to the church is part of the package when you marry a minister.

But it’s not just the minister-spouse thing I worry about most. It is his identity, his dreams, his gifts I fear will be swallowed in my shadow. So far, he’s been following my success across the country (well, the state of Texas, at least, which can feel like a country). When we married, he moved so I could finish seminary. When I took a job as a resident chaplain in a college dorm, he followed me and made his home among a hall of college women. When I came to San Antonio to take on my new job as pastor, Nate came with me, joined the church, and jumped right in. Granted, we made all these decisions jointly, and I have never expected him to follow me blindly. But still, I can’t help but notice the imbalance. Thus far, all the doors that have opened, have opened for me. The success has been mine. The opportunities have been mine. Attention, awards, and adventure—mostly all mine.

Nate is an amazing spouse, but Nate is also an incredible person in his own right. What about his life, his talent, his future? We never meant to put him on the back burner. It is just that I am nearly always the one who knows what she wants in life. He’s been more uncertain. I’ve followed my dreams. He is still dreaming up his own. I’ve been noticed. He’s been in the background, encouraging me when I went unnoticed, holding me when I cried, believing in me when I doubted myself.

When does Nate get his turn and what will that look like? Or what if my life continues to be a success story and what if the spotlight always faces towards me and away from him?

I appreciate his many sacrifices for me, but I do not want to become the god of his altar. He was created to serve something bigger than me, to have a bigger purpose than being my faithful pal. But finding that purpose isn’t always easy.

Anyone else out there have a similar struggle? What about men whose wives have sacrificed to support your job—do you have these same worries about overshadowing her identity with yours? What about women who have followed your men—how have you found your own niche? And what about couples like us, who are doing things in reverse of the common trend (successful wives, or stay-at-home dads, or women with bigger incomes, or men who are struggling to find a vocational identity, etc)—how have you “broken the mold” and what have you discovered along the way?


Blind Bartimaeus

I am struck by his stubborn persistence. The way Bartimaeus refuses to be silenced. That’s guts, or desperation, or some of both. There’s the way Bartimaeus jumps to his feet and leaves his cloak behind. If I were blind, I wouldn’t leave any of my possessions behind, for fear I wouldn’t be able to find them again. There’s the way Bartimaeus walks (runs?) to Jesus when he is called. A whole crowd of people, and the blind guy knows without hesitation which one to walk up to. And then there’s the way Bartimaeus gets what he asked for, but instead of running off to live his life, he keeps following Jesus.

I am struck by the crowd’s sudden change of tune. One minute they are rebuking Bartimaeus. The next they are cheering him onward. Presumably they had been following Jesus along the road, listening intently to the Rabbi’s words, soaking up his wisdom. With so many people and so many footsteps, they were straining their ears to hear. And then, this invasion: they smelled him before they heard him, and they heard him before they saw him. This dirty unwashed beggar interrupting not just the silence, but the cleanness and the sacredness of the moment, intruding the quiet anticipation with which everyone else was clinging to Jesus’ words. Like the fly that won’t quit buzzing or the workmen down the street who won’t quit hammering, there’s this persistent shouting that is ruining the peace, and the people are understandably irritable and intent on stopping the noise. But to the credit of the crowd, as soon as they see Jesus stop and call the man, they take their cues and change their attitude. They suddenly see the blind man for the underdog he is, and they become instant fans. “Courage! Take heart! Cheer up!” they egg him on to victory.

I am struck by the fact, that although he stops, Jesus makes a blind man walk to him. I mean, it just doesn’t seem very Jesus-y to me, to stand there like a game of Marco Polo, when it’s no game at all to the man who is crying for mercy. Why doesn’t God always rush to our side when we are in need? Why must we stand up and walk when we are the ones who can’t see where he is and he’s the one who knows right where we are?

I am struck that Bartimaeus regains his sight, which means at one time, he had it, and then he lost it. How does one lose one’s sight? Is it aging, or tragedy, reading without light or staring into the sun? When did you begin to lose the sight you once had? Was it age or tragedy or too much darkness or strain or stress or a general loss of wonderment? When did you stop seeing the beauty of the world or when did you stop seeing its ripped-apart-ness? When did things grow so dim that your eyelids drooped as if in slumber? Richard Rohr says “true seeing is the heart of spirituality today,” but “most of us have to be taught how to see” . . . which leads me to wonder was it Bartimaeus who gained his sight that day, or was it the crowd? Who learned the most about proper seeing?

I am struck that the crowd first saw a filthy beggar, but they kept one eye on Jesus, and when they saw him stop and turn, they turned to the beggar again and saw instead a champion of faith who deserved their applause. They began to will him to his healing—was it his faith or theirs that healed him? Maybe it was all the faith mingling together that made a miracle possible.

I am struck that Jesus had enough patience to let all this unfold. Compassionate man that he was, he must have been dying to run over and wrap this man in his arms. He must have felt the urge to scorn the crowd for their initial rebukes and prove them wrong by his show of love. But instead, the text says he stood still. “Call him,” he said to the crowd, giving them a chance to change their tone, a chance to participate in the miracle, a chance to cheer on a stranger as he reached for his healing. Jesus could have rushed forward in compassion and rushed the crowd right out of the moment. He could have forced them to be outsiders to the event, and if he were a less forgiving man, he would have been certain that the outside was where they belonged. But instead he offers an invitation to let them be the inviters to a man in need of mercy.

I am struck that though he is blind, that doesn’t stop this man from groping his way to his healing. Healing always feels like groping, does it not? Like you’re grasping for straws, like you’re following a mirage, like you’re teetering on a ledge, like there aren’t any handles, like you’ll fall any second and be more scarred than ever, like you might never get there, like you’ve no idea if the healing is light years away or just around the bend. The movement towards healing always takes place with fuzzy vision and an unclear path, just the soft hint of a voice calling you forward. Sometimes the crowds boo you, silence you, poke fun, and rebuke you. Sometimes you are astounded to hear people cheering you on, believing in you when you don’t have enough faith of your own. You cannot control the outcome or the timing. You cannot manipulate things in your favor, and that makes you feel as helpless as a beggar. But your one job is: don’t give up. Stay loyal to your healing. Keep asking for what you know you need. Don’t let a mob of people shut you down. Because somewhere in that throng is a Savior. Keep on searching ‘til you find your deliverance. Don’t be too mad if you are made to get up and walk, because it is the journey that heals you. The journey is your faith. We think that faith is an idea in our heads, but faith isn’t in our heads. Or we think faith is something we feel in our hearts, but faith isn’t in our hearts. Faith is in our legs. Faith is in our bodies, faith is in how we move, where we go. Faith is the journey we take, and the faith-less are those who stay put. Jesus says your faith will heal you.

I am struck, that though the text doesn’t explain this, the crowd must have parted in order to make a path. I mean, they surrounded Jesus, but here was a blind man on the fringes who must get to him. So they cleared out of the way. They didn’t steer him or push him or force him. They didn’t point the way to Jesus, because this man couldn’t see them. But they made a clearing, a wide open space in which he could walk. They didn’t clutter the way with their opinions. They gave no advice: “Get glasses! Try LASIK! Try religion! Spit and mud are rumored to work!” They said nothing of the sort. They just made Jesus accessible, that’s all. They stopped interfering with their rebukes and their wisdom. They parted like the Red Sea and let that man pass through to his Land of Promise.

I am struck that Jesus heals people. I don’t know if it’s the pain in the world, or the unanswered prayers, or my own lofty logic that keeps me from seeing. Seeing Jesus heal people. It is a long journey, but he’s healed me too—bit by bit, piece by piece—but I’m not so sure I’m seeing yet. I’m skeptical, cynical, and hard to impress, and I rely on the skepticism to keep me safe from disappointment. But I’m starting to learn that I’d rather suffer a disappointment or two than never get moving at all. I’d rather fall and skin my knee in route to healing than sit on my rump and scorn the difficulties of standing up. I’d rather grope my way towards Jesus than keep questioning why he seems to be playing games with me, hiding, standing still. I’d just rather move, you know? I’d rather put one foot in and see whether or not the sea parts than stay put with the assumption that there’s no possible way through the chaos. I’d rather trust the voices that say, “Come here! Cheer up! Take heart! Courage! On your feet! He’s calling you!” than the voices that say, “Shut up! Stay down! You’re not worth it!” I’d rather be Blind Bartimaeus with a shot at life than the nervous little girl who is too ashamed to beg.

I am struck, that even after you regain your sight, the journey isn’t over. The first thing you’ll see is the road. The Jesus way continues, if you follow your eyes. Amen.

This is my sermon from this morning, “Stay Loyal to Your Healing,” based on Mark 10:46-52.  To listen to audio, go here. To peruse other sermons, go here

Richard Rohr quote is from Everything Belongs (NY: Crossroad Publishing, 1999) 17.

Artists Have a Duty, (I’m Told)

I had something completely different to post today, but then I found this in my office today, and it is ten times better than what I planned:

Anna is 12 years old. The rest looked like this:

I found this on a shelf in my office, rolled up like a scroll. Anna often leaves me treasures, and since this one was kind of hidden, I don’t know how long ago she left it. My concluding thoughts for this day’s work: I am at the right place, in the right job.

P.S. If you couldn’t read her text, it said:

I love to draw,
but drawing is more
than just copying
something you can see.
everything you draw
has a story behind it
and artists have a duty
to find it. I’ve always
wanted to draw things
you can’t see the
depth of the story that
is unexplainable. but
first you have to see
it not with your eyes
but with your heart.

Menstruation Musings

Warning to Men: I am about to talk about my period.

Disclaimer: I am not a health-care professional, nor is this blog scientific. However, a little bit of research into women’s bodies + my own experience with my own body = well, you will see . . .

I have become fascinated by my monthly cycle ever since I learned that it isn’t actually supposed to be painful. Yes, you read correctly. Those gut-wrenching cramps aren’t a natural part of the package apparently. Who knew, right?

So what causes the pain, then? It could be our own denial. We are ashamed of “that time of month,” or we try to “man” our way through it, or we are afraid of letting go, or what-have-you and we create such tension within ourselves that it causes literal pain.

As it turns out, you deserve/need a retreat during your period. Not because you are weak, but because you are so damn creative. Hello, you can make a baby inside your body. That’s big, so give yourself some credit. And that’s not all. You are wildly creative. There is so much potential inside that womb of yours, and we are not just talking fetuses. Books, paintings, cakes, gardens, homes, speeches, inventions, poetry, business strategies—who knows what all is inside of you. Your powers are endless.

Think of the time when your uterine lining is building as the time when you are gathering, honing, and sparking creativity. Your dreams are conceiving, gestating, growing, forming.

But then the day comes when you’ve got to shed the unused energy, the ideas that didn’t work, the grief for what will never be. The excess energy, the overload of ideas, the weighty grief of living—all these things are a necessary part of the creative process, but there is a time when you have to get those things out of you or they become toxic. And us women are on a schedule—to our chagrin or to our benefit.

You can cooperate with the release or you can resist it. Go ahead and guess which option will be the most painful in the long run.


Trusting the Place I Am

I want to trust
my location
my “lot” in life,
so to speak–
not blindly content,
oblivious to new
or different
But seems true
there must be a home
in which to plant
the seeds of hospitality

The Strange, Strange World of Social Media

It is potently powerful and severely limited at the same time. Facebook, blogs, Twitter—I vacillate between diving in to immerse myself in the mediums of the day and swearing off it all for good to embrace my romanticized notions of former simplicity.

Last week was a perfect example. I was awestruck by the exchange of dialogue, by how fast an audience can build, by the ability to communicate across great spans of geography. Yet I am frustrated by the limitations of such impersonal modes of communication, and how that limits your voice, how it sets you up to be misunderstood and misused.

On the topic of feminism specifically, I feel grateful for the opportunity to give voice to my experience and perspective, and I feel astounded, truly astounded by how well it was received. I feel likewise aggravated how impersonal dialogue via the Internet can be, and how that entices us to make assumptions about one another we would never make if we were speaking face to face.

As exhilarating as last week was, I find myself wanting to forget about it now, to create distance from the whole affair. I am too conflicted on the inside about whether these online conversations are worthwhile or whether they foster sharper divisions. Are we coming to understand one another better or are we digging our own trenches deeper?

I want to model healthy civil discourse—is this possible in social media?

What do you think? Have you experienced constructive conversation online or does it seem more like a hamster wheel that takes you nowhere? Which do you see more often— people transforming or people solidifying a stalemate?

When I Get Feisty

So the result of my rather scary post in critique of Dr. Olson resulted in an invitation to guest post on his blog about feminism.

See, dialogue does happen.

We can debate without hate.

A better world is possible.

Civil Discourse, I believe in you.

Toddler Legs in the Race to Freedom

(This is for Glennon, and for myself)

The truth is supposed to set us free. What I want to know is why being set free can hurt like heck?

I am starting to feel scared of the truth, for the way it burns. Truth, when hidden, causes ulcers (I have discovered). Truth, when released . . . well, I am still finding that out, I just know it is scary and searing and jarring. Like everything you propped yourself up with is now knocked away and you have to stand on your own two feet, but you have toddler legs that wobble and fail you. This just doesn’t seem fair at all: that you, beautiful you, with all your important jobs and all your serious efforts would wake up one day with toddler legs of all things and then discover the marathon starts today and you haven’t even trained. You can’t even run for goodness sake, what with these legs, but the race begins anyhow, without your consent.

Maybe freedom isn’t free and you will move so slowly it will hurt you as you toddle and trip your way to the first mile marker. But somewhere along the way you learn new skills, you find your own strength, you pick up speed. Someday you run, with the wind in your hair and the world both at your back and before you. It is such a surprise to discover just how many times in one life you can come back alive.

Being awake and alive is so much more painful that staying asleep, but we keep choosing to wake up and live. And our friends cheer us on from the sidelines.

The Scariest Thing I Have Ever Written

I write this blog with fear and trepidation, not because I am afraid of coming out as unreservedly feminist (honestly, that much should have been obvious already), but because it is nerve-wracking to dare to offer a critique of a professor whom I very much respect, a man with undoubtedly more knowledge and expertise than I.

So let us be clear from the outset: I am not attacking his character, I am not calling into question his motives, and in fact, I nearly always agree with his theology. The singular issue at stake is that in the midst of an otherwise thoughtful reflection, I noted the unfortunate choice of some careless words. I think that carelessness matters and should be amended. (His review of Rachel Held Evans book concludes with sweeping generalizations concerning the feminist movement, and the generalizations continue in the comment section.)

For example, Dr Olson wrote in one of his responses, “If you’re caught in a patriarchal church culture, leave it. Find one that isn’t (patriarchal),” and later said he doubts you could find a hint of patriarchy in his church. I mean no offense, but this is just plain silly, like a white person declaring we have successfully eradicated racism, or insinuating that minorities should quit complaining and just find a safe community where racism isn’t as pervasive. No one can guarantee there isn’t a “hint” of racism left in their church. Likewise patriarchy is everywhere, but you might not be aware of it if you are a man, seeing as how patriarchy exists to keep you comfortable. Telling women to “leave” the patriarchal culture in which they are trapped would be to tell most women to leave their marriages, and I am not just talking about abusive, unhealthy marriages. Telling women to leave patriarchal culture would be to encourage them to leave the Church altogether. Feminists are those brave souls who face patriarchy rather than retreat from it.

My very own congregation whom I dearly, dearly love and where I, a female, serve as pastor, is still softly and subtly patriarchal. Not on purpose, not because anyone there is mean or power-hungry, but because patriarchy is ingrained in our psyche. Patriarchy is something I live with on a daily basis even though my church is progressive and egalitarian, even though I have “made it” successfully as a female pastor in a man’s world. Patriarchy is something I confront on a daily basis; most people are so enmeshed in it they don’t even know it is still draining their lifeblood away. Most egalitarians I know are still uncovering the patriarchal residue within themselves. It is a lifelong process, and why shouldn’t it be after centuries and centuries and generations and generations of repressive habits? So far, it has taken my husband and I approximately 6 years of being theoretical egalitarians before we really began to shed in practice and in attitude the most toxic elements of patriarchy. I suspect we have further to go, and let me be clear this has been a joint and entirely voluntary journey, in which we have held hands, and the further we travel, the lighter and happier and closer we have become.

There is simply no reason why educated people should remain in denial that feminism is diverse, just like Christianity, just like the Baptist tradition. I certainly do not agree with every feminist author or leader. I am not that simple-minded, and it is a little insulting that anyone would assume that I am. There is a wide-range of people (both women and men) who agree wholeheartedly with the movement of feminism and not one of us embraces every single expression of it.

Let me just tell you a little bit about what it is like to be a woman in a patriarchal world. As a woman in seminary, you have to be the best. No one would admit that, but it is the unspoken requirement and I guarantee you the women know exactly what I am talking about. As a woman, I have to master the perfect blend of masculine assertiveness and feminine charm. If I am too assertive, I will considered a bitch. If I am not assertive enough I will be labeled “too timid” and therefore not quite mature enough for ministry yet. (Thank God I have male mentors to show me the way.) When, as a woman, I try to talk about the unique difficulty of finding my authentic voice as a female, as a preacher, a man always pipes up to gently remind me that men struggle to find their voice too. It is a little presumptuous of them—these men who have been largely affirmed since the first day they walked the aisle with a Call—but I just smile and nod, smile and nod, smile and nod because I know they didn’t mean to minimize our struggle. When I meet older progressive men who learn I am a pastor, they treat me like their granddaughter at her first ballet recital. They have never met me before, but they practically hand me a bouquet full of their pride. And while I truly appreciate the sentiment, I merely smile and nod, smile and nod, smile and nod. Yes, I am sweet with a voice to match, yes I certainly weigh the same in pounds as your twelve-year-old granddaughter, and yes, in many ways I am innocent and perhaps even cute. But you, sir, are innocent in ways I am not, being a man of privilege. I am an easy person to talk over—my loud voice is quieter than your inside voice. I am an easy person to overlook—I get mistaken for a middle-school student on a regular basis (I am, in fact, 27). But I am smart. And I work hard. And I am passionate, and I am sincere, and I take my work seriously, and I am a damn good preacher. (There, I said it.) I have lost family and friends by following this call to ministry; I am a heretic to folks just for preaching the Gospel. I have gotten passed up for opportunities I was more than qualified for. I admit, I sometimes get attention now and again for my young success—I’m the tiniest bit of a “star” in certain small circles, the “token” female if you will, but I sure did not get into ministry for the strange popularity of it. I became a minister to do the work and preach, and that’s what I was repeatedly shut out from doing until I worked my ass off in pursuit of the Call that pursued me first.

One final note. My husband is one of the most pure-hearted feminists I know (granted I am biased). He would tell you that he never would have become a feminist if it weren’t for knowing me. But he would also tell you that with or without me, he’s never going back. I did not exert feminism like a dogma over his head to emasculate him. I simply am a feminist, and that moved him, inspired him, transformed him. If you’ve met him, he’s not what anyone would call girly. But he’s not afraid of his feminine traits either, and as such, he is a more integrated, more balanced, more healthy individual. He wasn’t emasculated by my feminism; he was set free.

Can we all please be more careful with our words, I beg you?

Lessons from da Feen

Looking’s a way of being: one becomes
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.
Walking wherever looking takes one.
~Denise Levertov~

Walking the trails
with my dog,
We never ever plan
which paths
we will take
or which turns
we will make:
the one    open     space
in life where
my inner scheduler
is silent–
over-ridden by
a child’s
sense of adventure.

We see a new trail
and we take it!
No questions,
no time constraints,
no agenda.

We follow our eyes–
Sight is our trail guide,
we are fiercely loyal to her.
(Well, to be fair,
the dog is more loyal
to smell,
but either way
our senses
direct our play.)

Could this way of walking
explode wider,
intruding even my work
and what would that mean?
if looking became a way of being?

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creating me [using words]


creating me [using words]