Crossposting: Why I Need RevGalBlogPals

Note: This is a reposting and expanded version of a Facebook post on a private page. It retells some of my own story to ordained ministry. (If you’re a regular blog reader, you can move on now…) I share this story because RevGalBlogPals is a small, grassroots 501(c)(3) organization and can use your support.

Why do I need RevGalBlogPals?

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Our book: There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

I was ordained later in life. Even though I originally went to seminary in the 1980s, I did not complete more than a semester of classes. In the conservative congregation where I was leading ministries and worshipping, women didn’t “do” that. I was told that “good Christian women” don’t become pastors. Something inside me yearned and burned. But I didn’t know any women pastors. So I quit.

Fast-forward 20 years. I’m continuing to serve in my local church. I’m reading Gilbert Bilezikian’s Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family. And I meet my first women clergy at a Walk to Emmaus retreat. Privately and individually, they each said to me, “Why aren’t you going to seminary? Why aren’t you a pastor?”

I was thrilled. And terrified.

As I started seminary, I searched online for “women clergy” and found the fledgling RevGal bloggers. I joined their collective voices on-line. They were patient as I found my feet in ministry, asked my clueless questions, and challenged my tightly held assumptions about gender roles in the church, my patriarchal-brewed theologies, and my limited view of the world. They helped me laugh at myself. They freely offered resources. They cheered me on as I was ordained and began chaplaincy training.

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My friends and co-laborers from RevGalBlogPals

While I’ve gained professionally from their blog posts, I’ve also benefited personally. Ministry is at times a lonely calling. The outside voices of criticism frequently drown out the Call of the Spirit. And now there are cultural forces at work that demean women in general, and progressive Christians in particular. I could not do my work without a local group of RevGals who are my sisters in ministry and my friends. We ponder, wonder and cry together. We went to Princeton Seminary’s Engle Preaching Institute and continue to study and learn together. We “found” each other because of RevGals!

There’s something else I’ve learned from being a RevGal. It’s OK to not have my stuff together. It’s OK to mess up. It’s OK to work on caring for and preparing my parishioners for Advent, and not have a stick of decoration up in my own home. It’s OK to cry out to God with my hurts as I listen to others do the same. And it’s more than OK to be intellectually and emotionally honest in my spiritual journey. There’s no “fourth wall” in ministry: I am  Called as I am, warts and bruises and all, to serve God. Nothing miraculous. Just a real woman, serving an amazing God.

img_3176As a monthly supporter of RevGals, I receive back so much more than I can give. I write for the blog. I enjoy the books they write. I use their liturgies in worship. I pray for their families as they pray for mine. And I know, without a doubt, that we are bringing diverse, compassionate voices to a world that so desperately needs them.

Join me in supporting RevGalBlogPals. Together we do make a difference in our devotion and our ministries. And if you have a woman pastor, chaplain or clergy member, send them our way! We will join forces for the greater Good!

Blue Christmas


Diana Butler Bass writes in a recent article in the Washington Post about the emotional stress that has filled the days and weeks since the Presidential election. Not just stress from who won or lost, but the increase of uncivil behavior towards one another. 

It’s wearying to the mind and the Spirit. 

(I’m not immune to the fits of snarkyness on Twitter. But I have not threatened anyone’s personal safety or denigrated their faith.)

Diana writes: 

“Advent recognizes a profound spiritual truth — that we need not fear the dark. Instead, wait there. Under that blue cope of heaven, alert for the signs of dawn. Watch. For you cannot rush the night. But you can light some candles. Sing some songs. Recite poetry. Say prayers.”

So for Advent this year I am going to Watch for the Light. I will be posting photos on Instagram (@HolySpoons) and will occasionally write here on my blog about the places and scenes which give me glimpses of God in this Advent season.

You can join me in this exercise. The liturgical season of Advent begins tomorrow, November 27th. Let’s find those points where God breaks through and use them to encourage one another.

Pax vobiscum.

There IS still hope.

I’m pressed but not crushed…  – Paul of Tarsus

Here’s my self-care when I’m sad and stressed:

  • Cooking good food. Comfort food.
  • Curbing my work hours.
  • A nice blush wine (For medicinal purposes. Of course.)
  • Petting a cat.
  • Being with family and close friends.
  • And watching a little Lord of the Rings…

Tolkien has a way of reminding me about the real and not real parts of life, particularly the reality of Good and Evil. We didn’t get to The Two Towers (again/yet/for the gazillionth time) but what came to mind the other night was the scene between Elrond and Arlen when he was pressuring her to leave with the other elves for Valinor…


Elrond:
Why do you linger here when there is no Hope?
Arlen: There is still hope.

 I don’t hold out hope that the Leopard will change his spots and be able to govern well. I don’t expect that lawmakers who seem to “piddle, twiddle and resolve” will get anything done. (Cynical Me believes that they might of course remove health insurance from the working class, legislate who you can love, and attempt yet again to make family planning decisions for all Americans… but I digress…)

But I cling to Hope.

Hope in finding simple ways to express that I AM an ally and proud feminist. That I care about the environment and the serious burden of higher education. That I want to see all children have access to safe water sources and a good education. That racism and prejudice are wrong… and eradicating them begins with me…

I look around and see our daughters who care about their fellow humans. And I know many of their friends who are genuine, thoughtful and caring. They give me hope. 

I watch my coworkers who do everything they can to bring comfort and compassion to someone’s last days on this earth. 

I cling to Hope.

I am still angry. I am still frustrated with white women, “Christian” women in particular, who supported a man who used misogyny, bullying, mockery and profanity to win an election. But then I have to let that anger go and get back to what I must do…

Do justice

Love mercy

Walk humbly

Amen. So be it.

I don’t speak for you

I don’t speak for you.

There. I said it.

I also don’t speak for people who look like me, dress like me, work with me, worship with me, or live near me. And, most importantly, I most definitely do not speak for someone who is nothing like me!

I am just… me. A wife and mom. A hospice chaplain. A progressive Baptist. A pastor. An LGBTQ+ally (and yes — I asked and was told that I am. If that matters.)

I look like women who voted for Trump in large numbers, and that pisses me off. (White, middle class, Christian.) I supported Hillary and contributed to her campaign. I tried to influence the hearts and minds of people around me to vote for her. And apparently, I was not very good at it.

Election night, I had tears in my eyes and felt frustrated. I had no words for those closest to me who were also devastated. I heard their fears. I was distressed with them. I am deeply worried about them because of the rhetoric and abuse we all heard from Trump during the campaign. They are vulnerable because of who they are.

Here’s what I have learned in the last few days…  (Sorry it’s in bullet points. I don’t have time to create fantastic, in-depth prose.)

  • By accident of birth, education and economic status, I could fade into the Great Beyond of white suburbia. But my Calling, my conscience and my faith do not allow that.
  • Those who know me already, know that when I wear a safety pin* or a rainbow bracelet, that I am visibly trying to signal what I believe and will do. And that I want them to be treated fairly, kindly, respectfully as I want to be treated.
  • Those who don’t know me personally might think I’m posturing.
  • The dying patients I serve, as well as their families, need my focus and care. Many of them are marginalized by their race, religion or gender identity.
  • My coworkers who care for the dying with me every day are sad, stressed and discouraged.
  • My family, friends, and parishioners have real fears, hurts and anxieties because of this election season.
  • I don’t have enough money, time or energy to respond to every need around me. That means I have to pick and choose, and I try to do that wisely.
  • I am praying — fiercely — for the projected new President.** (As of this date, the Electoral College has not met.)

 

I am trying to make a difference where I am. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Next year. In my context. Wherever God takes me.

I will do this imperfectly. Incompletely. Ignorantly. But I will keep trying.

I will  continue speak up against hate speech whenever I witness it.

I will keep learning. Growing. Praying. Reading. Listening. Serving. I’ll wear a safety pin and a rainbow bracelet. And sometimes, a cross. And I’ll try to do a better job of being an example of Christ in the world.

soli deo gloria

 

*It used to be that when someone wore a cross, they were expected to act “Christianly”. But today, the cross has been co-opted by political entities within American politics. It seems that a safety pin might better express my effort to be a welcoming, affirming and listening presence, without the trappings of a particular religious group.

**[edited to add] This does not mean he has my approval or my trust. (Bless his heart.) It means I am fulfilling a Scriptural admonishment to pray for those in authority.

Book Review: The CEB Women’s Bible

cebwomensbibleWhen the package with my review copy arrived in the mail, my first thought was, “Please, don’t let it be pink!” 

Thankfully, it was not! (And lest you think I am exaggerating, do a Google search for images of “women + Bible” and see what you find!)

As I skimmed my review copy, it was easy to see the intent of this edition of the Common English Bible: “to focus on stories of women, named and unnamed…”1 inviting the female reader to encounter the Scriptures with new insights and responsiveness to the written Word. For women in particular, it has been difficult to see ourselves in texts which appear to ignore women entirely, or relegate them to subservient roles in society. This invisibility was the cultural norm in ancient times, but causes many women today to question why the Christian faith is relevant in the modern world. Are our voices meaningful? Do our experiences and perspectives matter? Are women in general valued by God?

I was already acquainted with this version of the Bible. The Common English Bible was published with the intent was to bring the sacred text into “common” verbiage, without becoming a paraphrase. The translation guidelines were rigorous, and included men and women scholars. I use the CEB in my personal devotions and enjoy the approachable and clear rendering of the sacred text.

For this edition, the editors and commentary were all written by women. The individual books each have an introduction which provides background on the text, including a historical and cultural context. The introduction also highlights specific issues which will interest most women readers as they study the Bible.

I personally appreciated the indices which included: Named Women, Unnamed Women, Articles (indexed canonically and alphabetically), a list of discussion questions based on the Revised Common Lectionary, and (unusual in my experience) an index for the maps. These will be helpful resources for the novice or experienced Bible student.

For a recent sermon on John 9-10, I read and reflected on the passages using the CEB Women’s Bible. The reflection included in John 9 by Mandy Sayers on “Beggars” coincided with my previous personal study on the place of beggar in ancient society, and the radical, life-changing experience of encountering Christ — for the beggar, and for any of use who experiences the change that comes with following Christ.

My only quibble with this translation is that the gender of the Divine is consistently rendered as male. It remains an ongoing frustration for me, and many other women, who struggle at times to identify with The Holy when the pronouns for God are always a “he”… While I have cultivated the practice to “read over” the gendered pronouns, it remains a translation issue that has not been solved to my satisfaction.

Familiar faces and names are among the editors and contributors. I am delighted to see the variety of denominations, traditions and settings which they represent. The breadth of voices in this edition will inspire many women in their study of Scripture. I recommend it highly for your study and spiritual growth.

*********

The CEB Women’s Bible.  (c) 2016. Abingdon Press.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

1 from the Preface

What shall I tell my daughters?

Oh Lord…

How did we arrive in this unholy mess? The latest kerfuffle with the presidential election makes me want to throw things. Or vomit. Or maybe throw vomit. How did things get so thoroughly mucked up? Is this really the result of an uninvested, uneducated electorate, who were distracted by the rhetoric of obstructionist Legislatures, both national and local? (…as some pundits would suggest)

img_2179What shall I tell my daughters? They are voting in their first presidential election. The big issues like our national debt and student loans matter to them. (Hello. To me, too!) So does affordable healthcare. Getting a job. A clean environment. Global warming. A safer world. Marrying the person they love.

How shall I explain what their parents’ generation has done…and not done? They know as well as I do that it is a complex world we live in, far more complex than when I snoozed my way through “Principles of Democracy” (aka “civics”) in high school. It’s more than sound bites. It’s more than tabloid-driven news (God, help us!) It’s more than he-said-she-said.

This much I do know… I believe these young women, these wonderful daughters of ours are, inherently and personally, people of value and promise. They and their friends have much to give to our nation and our world. They have drive and dreams. They are articulate and compassionate.

They are watching and waiting with me, Lord.

I know You guide the hearts and actions of the nations.
I know You are able to steer even the most stubborn autocrat.
I know that whoever is elected will be flawed human being… just like me.
May Your peace reign.
May we hear Your direction.
May we know Your heart.
May we have Your mind.
And may those of us who are tasked with spiritual leadership
guard our tongues and increase our prayers…

Amen.

Book Review: The End of the Island

IMG_9952In a chaplain’s world, theodicy is that delicate and difficult balance of the gut-wrenching work of understanding why the Divine allows evil and human suffering. Human as we are, there is such a temptation to distill the work of theodicy into neat little pieces. As if pain, suffering, loss and grief would EVER be done “neatly.”

Many books attempt to express this through allegory or rigid theological systems. Instead of a systematic expression, however, Tucker places his allegory in a kind of contextual theology. Thus I approached this book with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Jeffrey Tucker takes as his muse “The Happy Prince,” a children’s short story written by Oscar Wilde. (You can read it on-line here…)  In the postscript of his book he delves into some of the influences of that story in his work as a chaplain. It’s worth reading first before you delve into the topics his work contains. I would have liked him to develop his own perspective on why he thinks he might be the Prince. It would have given his story a better foundation, for this reader, anyway.

The book is organized around the narrative of an old man traveling “to the end of the island” – a journey he feels he must make as his “time is short.” The “journey” is expressed via short vignettes, spread out over several chapters, each addressing a different question as it relates to human suffering. The questions include:

  • Where is my Suffering?
  • Where am I in my Suffering?
  • Where is the Divine in my Suffering?
  • Where is my Human Support?
  • Where are my Hope and my Deliverance?
  • Re-Defining Forward Movement
  • Finding the End of the Island

On the journey, the old man meets several individuals who help him re-examine what he is experiencing, where he is going, what he hopes to find, and what other lessons might be part of his journey. I particularly liked the author’s reflections in chapter 4 on “Where is the Divine in my Suffering?” His analogy of God being in both the tidal wave and the tidal marsh were poignant and personally meaningful to me.

At first, this structure is somewhat confusing and disjointed. (Perhaps a better “How to Use This Book” section is needed?) However, because of the nature of the questions which Tucker addresses, having “space” in between the sections of the old man’s story is helpful for allowing the reader to engage and reflect. This is not a book to read at one sitting. In fact, if you rush through it, you will miss the beauty of the struggle in this journey we are all on – of life and death, of hope and discouragement, of suffering and release.

Tucker’s premise is that our life’s journeys are not about “solving” the problem of pain. It is not meant to provide simple strategies or pointers. There aren’t Bible verses to read and write down your reflections with Jesus as your Best Friend in suffering and God always bringing healing and relief. (In fairness, there were many places where I found it was easy enough to be drawn back into Scripture and journal. It just was more raw than pretty, honest than victorious.)

This book is also going to make the more conservative readers among us a tad uncomfortable, for the author invites us to dwell with the wider views of spirituality, and to engage in mindfulness practices around the journey we are all struggling through. However, you will be invited to explore fresh and new ways of walking through your own personal, painful, rough patches. And that, in itself, is enough. For God is enough.

As the author says, “The totality of all our questions will never be resolved completely. For remember, I am talking here about movement – not a neat, linear journey.”

Here’s to the messiness and the reality that God is there in the mix. Always.

*****

The End of the Island by Jeffrey C. Tucker. © 2016 Eugene, OR. Resource Publications (Wipf and Stock): Paperback, 156 pages.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”