kyndallrae

creating me [using words]

Archive for the tag “theology-ish”

What a Way to End a Year

No, I haven’t disappeared. Just wading through shit (sorry to be so blunt) right now, and it’s hard enough to breathe, much less write. But I’ll go ahead and share my sermon from last Sunday, which I was excited about at the time I preached it, before other unrelated things blew up in my face and fogged my whole perspective. So now I don’t know if it was any good or not. You can tell me. (Actually, if it’s not any good, don’t tell me, as I’m feeling fragile, and I work really, really hard on this preaching stuff. I am trying to become really good at it someday, as I think it might be my special way to help the world, but it takes a long, long time to get really good at things, and I’m still practicing.) Anyway, I thought this was an appropriate way to end the church year:

 

(P.S. Audio here, if you’re interested.)

 

“What is truth?” said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer . . .

. . . so begins Francis Bacon’s essay on truth from 1597. What is truth? It’s a question that has captured philosophers for millennia, though the skeptic Pilate scarce had the time to consider it. It was the only question he asked Jesus for which he did not care to hear an answer. He was interested in Jesus’ alleged kingship, where Jesus came from, what Jesus has done, but he did not listen to Jesus’ truth.

It was just as well, perhaps, that Pilate left the room without Jesus’ reply, because Jesus’ truth was hardly something that could be summarized and digested in a single conversation. Pilate was looking for evidence, not a whole new way of life.

When he did have room to answer, Jesus responded to Pilate’s whole interrogation in the predictable Jesus-y way: he evaded the questions, taking the dialogue his own direction instead. Jesus showed no interest in winning a debate. He came to earth to do one thing, he told Pilate: “to testify to the truth,” and such a testimony had little to do with an argument and more to do with how he lived and who he spent time with and that he healed people. His truth was embodied, not debated. He gave parables instead of lectures, because his truth was like stories that live in your heart. It wasn’t the kind of truth that could fit on a flashcard; it was the kind of truth that blew up the world.

How could all that living he had been doing fit into a measly question and answer session with Pilate? Jesus’ truth was a living, pulsing thing, which was not the solid sort of stuff an attorney could work with, but Jesus didn’t sweat over his lack of a defense. In fact, he embraced it. “My kingdom is not of this world,” he calmly told Pilate. “If it were, my followers would fight to prevent my arrest.”

And true to his word, there was no prevention, no defense, no attempted escape. The closest thing to a protest on Jesus’ behalf was the disciple who bravely or foolishly cut off a soldier’s ear in the Garden, but Jesus nipped that in the bud, healed his enemy’s ear, and told his beloved friend to put away his sword.

Here was a king without a military and a truth that could stand alone without an army. From Jesus’ perspective, his truth needed no defense. Wow. I have lost count of how many times in my lifetime I have heard the warning that truth is under attack in our country or world, and whether that is an accurate assessment of societal ills or not, I know that any attack—big or small, real or imagined—would not ruffle Jesus’ feathers a bit. He would look into our scared little eyes, gently remove the swords from our grasp, and say “There, there. Quit chopping people’s ears off with your biting rhetoric. How else will they ever hear me, unless you quiet down and let me tell my stories?”

You see, the major difference between Jesus and us is that he let people crucify him. We’ll fight tooth and nail to defend the truth whether or not the King asked for warriors. We’re so afraid he’ll lose without our help. But his kingdom is not of this world, and neither is his victory. The only way he fought back was to quietly come back to life after they beat him dead. He just lived, and that was his argument. Which is a hard game plan to follow for those of us who prefer a contact sport or an impassioned debate.

After college, when I trying to pick a seminary, I visited one campus where part of their sales pitch was to explain that if we chose their seminary, we would read more liberal theology than the liberals, so as to better defend ourselves against them. Something about that speech seemed off to me, even then. Needless to say, I did not choose that school; I opted for one where the truth was a wide world to explore rather than a battleground on which to stake a claim, where the truth was something with the power to make you come alive rather than something with the clout to make you belligerent.

Truth is less of a territory that needs defending and more like the energy that enlivens the world. Truth is the very spirit of Jesus Christ who fills you and guides you and moves you, and no one can take that Spirit away from you, so there’s no a need to take up a sword. So when you see people strutting around with the supposed truth strapped to their chest like a badge of honor, shut up your ears and run the other way, because that arrogance isn’t Jesus. Truth is not surety; Truth is patient discovery. Truth is the unrelenting willingness to transform and the ever-ready eye to see things in a new light. Truth turns you into putty, something of substance that can bend and arc and stretch and move along with the winds of the Spirit and the sudden startles of new insight. When you notice yourself growing stubborn and rock-like, that’s when you know you’re drying out and nearly empty: the truth is leaking or evaporating and you’re hardening like a lump of lifeless dogma.

I had to learn some of this the hard way on my journey to become a pastor because I had this call from God, and it was something I knew in my gut, but there were lots of people who didn’t believe me, and I could do nothing to prove it to them. Girls couldn’t hear a call from God to preach; it just wasn’t done. I knew it wasn’t done, and I’d never been one to rock the boat. But yet there was this stirring of truth inside me that countered the status quo. So I took that stirring and examined by every means I knew how: I prayed, I studied Scripture, I asked advice, I read books and articles and commentaries, I journaled. But having a good answer or the most-well documented research or the best logic wasn’t enough to convince my old church, my friends, my family. So I slowly began to learn that the Truth didn’t need to be defended at all. I don’t have to defend my vocation, my calling, my life to anyone; I don’t have to defend the truth. Because Truth is something inside me, and my job is to live it, not prove it. I don’t debate the truth; I seek to embody it such that you couldn’t kill the truth without killing me, because I think that’s what Jesus did. Truth was more than idea to him; it was an identity, a way of being in the world, and that was strong enough to stand on its own, without an army.

Truth isn’t really something you can diminish into a packaged defense—I mean, you can try, but you will always lose something of Truth when you reduce it like that. Fortresses are such puny holding grounds for Truth; the splendor will explode past the walls every time we try and contain it, so who are we to try and dig trenches?

I think this is why Jesus was reluctant to own up to his kingship when Pilate asked; he didn’t want to give the wrong idea about who he was. It’s hard to understand the kingdom of heaven when the heavenly kingdom is so dramatically different from all the kingdoms of earth. If we call Jesus King, we might get the wrong idea that King means something we’ve seen before—a dictator, perhaps, or someone who feeds off power, someone who demands, hoards, and wars, someone who conscripts labor for the sake of advancing his empire. So instead of explaining how he was different, Jesus showed us. This isn’t a King who needs defending; a God whose glory will be diminished if we don’t toe the line. This is a God with glory to share, glory to spare, glory he will allow to be smeared on a cross and hammered with nails. It is a truth-telling rather than a stance-shouting kind of glory. It doesn’t need to be brandished or flaunted or paraded or forged.

When they drug him away to be crucified, Jesus said, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” In other words, this is what God allows to happen to his truth-bearer. This is a King who allows his glory to be trampled and mocked without ever raising a fist. Who are we to think that we deserve to be believed in the world? Who are we to think we have a right to stand up and fight, when Jesus himself laid down and died? Mind you, I don’t mean to suggest that Jesus gave up on the truth. I don’t mean to suggest that Jesus ever subjected himself to the empire. I don’t mean to suggest that Jesus ever compromised an inch of who he was. But he radiated his truth in such a nonviolent, such a non-egotistical, such a non-domineering way that only the most sincere saints of God have ever come close to emulating his truth-bearing.

Miraculously, God entrusted us with the truth, entrusted us to pass it along the same way Jesus passed it along. But it didn’t take long in human history before soldiers would place the sign of the cross on their shields in hopes that God would help them win a battle, which is perhaps the most sacrilegious use of the symbol of the cross ever. And to this day, we find ways to decorate our shields with crosses, to use truth like a prop to bolster our opinions and give us a sense of superiority over others. But this isn’t the way of the Kingdom, and if we’d listen to Jesus, we would know what kind of King he really is, and by following him we’d become citizens of this strange, strange kingdom.

On my way out of the library this week, I stopped in front of a piece of art titled, “Thanks and Praises.” It depicted a circle of African-American women in long, flowingly, brightly colored dresses-yellow, orange, gold, green, blue red. With arms raised high above their heads, they were dancing, worshipping. Behind them, the background started dark then gradually turned to light, from left to right as if their story was one of light breaking into darkness. And it occurred to me that women who have known the horrors of human slavery do not offer praise and thanks, unless the Light that has come into their world is wholly different from the slave-owner. They pay homage to no king unless it is a King who sets them free. They dance for no owner, no master, no chief, no commander. They dance for the Truth that brings freedom.

It is toe-tapping Truth, this coming of Jesus into the world. You don’t worship him for his power, because he doesn’t wield power over you. You worship him for laying his power down in order to set you free. By God, this is a King like none other.

This is a King like none other. King is almost the wrong word, isn’t it? ‘Cause we’ve never seen anything like this before. We’ve never met a king like this One before. What is truth? How bewildering to discover Truth is a person, Truth is a spirit, Truth is that thing which won’t stop living even after you kill it. We’ve never seen anything like it. It’s enough to make you dance your praises. It’s enough to make you humble. It’s enough to change everything.

All praise and glory be to Christ our King, the bearer of Truth. Amen.

 

The Murky Waters of Fearless Faith

“Invite your spirit-guides and your angels into your healing,” she said as her hands gently touched the soles of my bare feet. I was trying to relax, but I was momentarily distracted by how freaked out I would have been by a reference to “spirit-guides and your angels” just a few years ago, and I felt the old fears creeping back in, whispering to me that I must be crazy to be lying here on the table for a healing touch session.

But eventually I recognized that something real and entirely non-threatening was in fact happening to my body, which softened the fears and I relaxed into the experience. To my surprise, I felt my own Chi (or something like that) as my knees tingled without being touched and an odd sensation (which turned out to be an energy block) moved through my gut.

After the brief session, the practitioner talked with me far longer than the 20 minutes I had paid for, and she spoke with remarkable, but not creepy, insight into my life. It was not as if she was psychic, but like she had good intuition and knew the right questions to ask. I found myself telling her more than I tell most anyone, simply because she knew what to ask, and she asked with such genuine interest and care.

I have recently developed a tenacity about pursuing my own healing, even if it is a path that takes me outside the box of “acceptable” behavior. In this case, I began hearing about healing touch practices from other people I trust, which always makes a foreign thing more approachable, and I began to think it was something I was willing to try.

I am so drastically less afraid of stuff than I used to be that sometimes it scares me (ironic, I know).

When people ask me if and how my theology has changed since getting an education (college, then seminary), I say yes and no, but the most significant change is that I have quit believing in religion based on fear. I mean, theoretically, I always believed that God is not a God of fear, and I heard churches quote 1 John 4:18 (“perfect love drives out fear”) even as a child, but you tend to do what churches do, not what churches say, and every church I knew was motivated by fear, so for all my young life, I followed suit.

We were so doggone afraid of bad influences, evil people, Democrats and Disney. Beer, boys, bands, Halloween, a college education, evolution, Barbies, strangers, theme parks, Hollywood, hormones, Santa Clause: serpents lurked everywhere. It was best to stay home. (Fortunately, there were church services four times a week so you wouldn’t go stir-crazy.)

My intention isn’t to poke fun at the tradition that raised me, but I do think there are some absurdities at play, and we shouldn’t be afraid to name them.

The residue of past fear is veeeeery sticky, but love is an oil that washes it away. The fear keeps trying to draw me back within its sticky grasp, but the more I move ahead, the more I realize I’m just not anxious anymore, and why would I want to be? I’m not scared of contamination anymore. I am free, and this has bettered my faith, not damaged it.

Sometimes I think about all the fears I’ve given up and I am quite nearly alarmed to think what I may have inadvertently “opened” myself up to. But opening hasn’t harmed me, or caused me to lose my way, not once. It’s taken me deeper, every time. Deeper into myself, deeper into my faith, deeper into compassion and truth and justice and humanity.

Freedom is too great a thing to sacrifice on the altar of appearances and expectations. My friends, do the unexpected.

 

P.S. Anyone want to give a testimony?? What is a fear you have abandoned and did you discover anything beautiful and wholesome in the process?

Too Poor to Buy Fair Trade

 

 This is us on Halloween: Wall-e and Eva from the Pixar movie Wall-e

I have a horrid confession: When I saw an essay about the injustices of the chocolate industry circulating the internet right before Halloween, I purposefully did not read it because I didn’t want to feel guilty when I bought my Halloween candy. (Side note: I felt guilty anyway.)

I mean, I get it. The problem for me isn’t about understanding the need for justice. I believe in ethical buying, I really, really do—enough that is has changed some (many?) of my shopping decisions. But at the end of the month . . . I’m still on a budget. And I know that sounds like a cop-out, but it is my honest truth.

I know I could do better than I am doing. I know I do not need everything I purchase, and I felt horrible, truly horrible after purchasing my iPhone case on Amazon for less than $3, and then realizing after the fact that it was coming all the way from Hong Kong, which means I didn’t even pay enough to cover shipping which makes it inevitable that somebody is getting screwed in this deal, and it sure isn’t me. (Not to mention the ethical dilemma of whether I should have an iPhone in the first place, and so forth and so on.)

And then we throw this Halloween party for the youth at church, and on top of that, I want to be a good neighbor to all the trick-or-treaters, and both those things required (required, I tell you!) lots of candy. I cannot afford 150 pieces of fair-trade chocolate. Or, at least, I don’t yet know how to work that expense into this already flimsy budget that we’re barely holding together.

Mind you, I am not proud of this; that’s why this is a confession. We have made some important lifestyle decisions in the right direction, but it feels like we are just scraping the top of the iceberg, you know? Like there are a thousand more to make, and sometimes I am just plumb out of decision-making energy, and into my mouth goes a Hershey bar, just like that. I mean, what’s my $5 going to accomplish in a war against chocolate? Somehow, it seems the odds are against me.

I was going to poll the audience for solutions to the dilemma, but I recognize there are no simple answers. Besides, I am trying this new thing where instead of looking for answers, I look for the right question.

Here’s an example: Do I really need this? can be a helpful question when making purchases, but in my experience, it is not really the best question. Sometimes it is okay to buy things I do not need. Both feasting and fasting are spiritual disciplines. Sometimes my husband and I blow money on a nice date night, and I am glad we do. Traveling to Europe for fun is going to be ridiculously expensive, but I still plan to do so before I die. I need a better question than simply asking what I need, because that question is not broad enough.

So, what are the questions you ask to curb your consumerism? What are the questions that guide your decisions? Questions you may never answer definitively, but you intend to keep on asking for the rest of your life if need be?

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.

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?

Chaos

Sometimes it is just too much: this hatred, this ignorance, this tribalism that defines us as people. It can feel as if I am drowning in it with no place to come up for air. I have the severe urge to fix it, then the sinking realization that I cannot succeed. So I sit with my grief and then I walk in the park and take acute notice of the wildflowers.

Belief bubbles up inside me. The beauty of the earth (with its continual death and rebirth) is more everlasting than all the ugly deeds of humanity. I pay homage to the sacred and she mends me.

I think I shall be one who swims, floats, surfs, dives. Though the waves be fearsome and the water heavy, I will make my home in the seas. I will be Peace in the Chaos.

Lady Wisdom

Townsmen ordered exile,
She became elusive,
a wanderer traversing earth,
a noble nomad harboring
her vagabond truth:

Now in sly seclusion,
by regal irreverence
She keeps watch
Crops fail:
She laughs
and plucks a wild berry.
She dances in moonlight,
Disappears behind trees
Like a spirit
You cannot catch her
Like the wind
She is free
A rare gift is to sight her,
rarer still to hear her sing
Her music is forever
in the woods and in the wind,
harked by birds and forest creatures
overheard by pure of heart,
by seekers and by drifters,
ears bursting from constraint.

She is subtle
if she shows herself-
You can find her in a painting,
In a poem, in the starlight
In wildflower petals
In lines of holy writ
At times beneath steeples
Inside a mother’s arms
Most of all in silence
Her gentle whisper
Roars
Like on the rooftop
She cries loudly,
Beckons boldly
If you’ll listen
If you’ll follow

Wisdom calls.

 
 
(Note: This poem made its first appearance in my sermon “Where is Lady Wisdom?” based on Proverbs 1:20-33).

In the Southern Baptist Church

In the Southern Baptist Church,
the only stories
were conversion stories:
“Share your testimony”
they  encouraged–
the subtle message being,
every other part of your story
was irrelevant
save that one moment
where
in the twinkling of an eye
you went from sinner
to saved.

For those of us who grew up
good little girls, good little boys,
the conversion was so slight
it sounded dull in our own ears,
hardly worth repeating.
Thus it was as if
we had no story at all.

It wasn’t until later I learned
my whole life is a story
my whole life, a conversion.

The Sanctity of Pizza

It is only Thursday, but it feels like Friday because I am planning to make pizza tonight for dinner. Weekday pizza puts a certain weekend-buoyancy in my spirit, and I feel lighter, more relaxed.

Nate and I are trying to improve the health of our diet these days–so far, by adding vegetables and cutting out processed foods. But I can tell you right now, pizza is here to stay. Aside from sprinkling a few spinach leaves on top of the cheese, I am not even attempting to make it more nutritional. Pizza is too sacred to mess with, you know?

I am a big believer in discipline, fasting, moderation and the like. But I also consider it a spiritual practice to eat what you love and let yourself enjoy it. This is an especially good practice for the uptight, the calorie-counters, the worried, and the perfectionists. Amen.

To You Who Were Raped (by the Church)

To You, Who Were Raped by the Church
(and then I tried to make you be my friend)

I expend a lot of energy trying to earn forgiveness for the church from the world.

I want desperately to differentiate myself from the acts of violence, the crimes against humanity, the sickening hypocrisy:

Look! My congregation is not mean, I swear it. We are gentle and gracious. We do, in fact, use our intellect, even in the church. We allow for questions; we embrace those who are different. We are safe, we are different, we are a breath of fresh air.

Look! I am a pastor who will not manipulate, lie, or belittle, I swear it. I do not molest children or mishandle funds or sleep with my secretary while cramming abstinence down the throat of our teens. I respect the personhood of each individual. I am safe, I am different, I am a breath of fresh air.

Only all this effort to earn forgiveness from You, the Wounded, the Raped, the Lied To, and the Used . . . all this effort to prove I am different . . . it is about my ego. My need for You to approve me, accept me, and see that I am special. I am sorry. I won’t ask for Your forgiveness again.

Instead I say to You: You have every right to be angry.

If the Church raped You, I am not sorry. Sorry is the wrong word. As if I could make amends for such evil.

Instead I am devastated, and I get out of Your way. It makes perfect sense if You hate us. I can understand if You are suspicious of all clergy, even me. I hereby give up my need for You to like me.

I give up my anxiety that You come to like God again. If God is good, like I believe, then God can handle herself and soothe Your wounds in time. If God is evil (or not even there), like it must seem to you, then I am sorry for interfering in Your journey with my pompous opinions.

You have every right to be angry, and the only way to heal is through Your anger and not around it (at least, that’s how it works for me), so I apologize for trying to force a rushed reconciliation that would require You to stuff the anger. I’m bad at timing.

Somewhere (it was in church, I think) I got this idea that salvation was in my hands, and I had better dispense it quick or all of You would die. God, I was presumptuous.

I see You now, and You are so alive, and Your job is so hard. What obstacles You are up against: so much hurt to overcome just to survive, just to heal, just to find peace, and there’s hardly a church-goer alive who will let You be.

Even the kindest among us try to smother You with love, as if You were a wayward child we could win back with kisses rather than a victim of atrocity who needs Your space to heal. I wish we had not inserted ourselves where we did not belong.

Just to be clear, I’d still like to be friends with You. Not to satiate my insecurity, but because I think You are cool. I am fascinated by Your story, and I wish I could hear the whole thing. I think You are incredibly brave, and that You have something to teach me. I have this sneaking suspicion we could actually connect, more than either of us would have thought possible.

But I just wanted You to know, You are free to decline the invitation because I can see bad things have happened to You, and I promise to quit play-acting like they didn’t happen. I won’t trivialize Your hurt by pretending there’s no rift between us.

So goodbye, You beautiful person. I hope You find Your healing.

I hope one day, in Your own time, You say to me, “Hello.”

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