Cross-Posting: Journeying

This prayer was first posted on the RevGalBlogPals site, a collaborative and supportive network of women clergy and their friends. On the “even” months of the year, I write a prayer for Fridays. Sometimes they are more liturgical in nature, sometimes they reflect the world and its hurts. But most of the time, they echo my own spiritual journey.

A week from tomorrow, the progressive Baptist church where I have been serving these last three and a half years is closing and selling the property to another congregation. For the last eighteen months, the church was not able to pay me. I stayed, as I was there on a minimal, part-time basis anyway, and had full-time employment as a hospice chaplain. Besides, they were my community, my church family, my friends. You don’t walk away from your friends who will be experiencing a death – in this case, the death of a church. (Ok – you CAN walk away, but not for any reason other than selfish ones.)

Now as we round the final turn towards the church closing, I am wrestling with all sorts of questions: Where will I go to church? Where will I find a place to serve? What is ahead for me in ministry? Do I stay in my work as a hospice chaplain, or pursue a full-time placement in a congregation? 

These are all unknowns. And I don’t really need the answers today. Where I will be this week is in the liminal space of the now and the not yet. If I am honest, it is every week of my life, But this week, with the pending change before me, it is more glaring, more challenging.

So I wrote this prayer for my friends at RevGals who may be in a similar space. But I wrote primarily for me as I walk this road with Christ.

SDG

Deb


Looking down a country road, bordered by trees.

Holy One,

The way ahead seems lonely at times, and I fear the unknown…

But You sing,
I AM with you, I am with you always. I will not leave you abandoned.

The silence is awkward at times, and I worry I am missing something…

But you whisper,
I AM calling, I am calling to you in this wilderness. I will make your paths straight.

I am impatient at times as I peer ahead to see what is just over the hill, just out of sight, wanting the future NOW…

And you say,
I AM, I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

And I know that I know that you ARE, you are with me.

Thank you. Blessed be.
Amen.

In the middle of nowhere

“…Your sword can be a sermon
Or the power of the pen.
Teach every child to raise his voice
And then, my brothers, then
Will justice be demanded
By ten million righteous men?
Make them hear you.
When they hear you
I’ll be near you again!”
-Ragtime
Music: Stephen Flahert
Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens

The roof of a for-profit ICE detention center

It was in the middle of nowhere. West of Richmond. South of Charlottesville. East of Lynchburg. I would never have found it if I hadn’t had a GPS (and a map when I lost cell service!) It was hot and sticky. The sun was merciless. The stole around my neck was damp with sweat and felt so heavy.

I met up with members of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church from Raleigh, NC in Farmville, Virginia. As a sister church in the Alliance of Baptists, they responded to a challenge from their pastor, Rev. Nancy Petty, to bear witness to the incredible human suffering in these camps. I joined them and other Christians that summer morning to demonstrate the extravagant love of God. A God who welcomes. A Savior who stands up for the marginalized, who cares about refugees.

signsI had other things I could have done that day. I chose to crawl out of bed at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. (Crazy, right?!) But with a strong cup of coffee, and the prayers and blessing of my church and my family, I hit the road.

After a short prayer vigil with the entire group, I drove with other clergy to pray at the prison’s training center. We held hands. We prayed. We asked For God’s Spirit of mercy and compassion to touch the hearts of those who decided to work there. We prayed for the Spirit’s conviction on churches who not only refused our group hospitality, but whose members are among those working at the prison.

Detention center sign

We were told that 700 people are detained in Farmville. 700 people removed from their families, their homes, their jobs. 700 people who are not criminals. They are not “illegals.” They are seeking asylum. They were forcibly detained when ICE raids scooped them up and brought them here. Many were in process with their petitions… for a safe place to live and raise their families.

No one chooses to go an ICE detention camp, except for perhaps some Christians who want to draw attention to the detainees’ plight. I made the 3.5 hour drive because I believe it is important to call out injustice. I believe my faith in Christ requires standing up “for the least of these.”

Crowd at prayer vigil
Prayer vigil

We did not gain access to the detention center to talk to any of the detainees. I’m pretty sure the detainees didn’t even know we were there! But God knew. God knows them by name. God hears their cries and holds their prayers. God sees the injustice. And God will hold us accountable for not seeking justice for them.

Prison guard videotaping us.

We prayed as we marched. We sang. We interceded for the detainees and the guards. As we were leaving, walking back to our vehicles in silence, a guard videotaped us. (No doubt he was recording us for identifying us via facial recognition software!) I raised my hand and blessed that guard, making the sign of the cross. May he bear the full conviction of his actions in his heart.

On the outskirts of Farmville was “The Church of All Nations.” Since the local churches refused our group hospitality, I had to wonder… ALL nations? Or just light-skinned ones? How do these churches justify their inaction? How do they stay numb to the suffering in their midst? I made the long, sobering drive home reflecting…

I realized that in my comfortable suburban home, it’s far too easy to look the other way.  I frequently forget those who live ever wary of ICE raids. I don’t have to worry because my German-Irish roots and Midwest accent are a free pass. My whiteness means I’m not identified as a potentially unauthorized immigrant. I don’t have to carry around my passport to prove I am a US citizen.

These detainees still are my neighbors. How will I care for them? How will I support them? How will I work for change to comfort and protect my neighbors?

Pectoral cross made of forged nails

One thing I do know. Justice work is tiring and inconvenient. It is not done for attention or publicity or to create a scene. Justice work is meant to bring a voice for the voiceless, to remind us of rights we have, that others are denied. It is a Calling. And it is following the way of Christ.

Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Book Review: A Gracious Heresy

A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, by Connie L Tuttle.

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Any of us who have ever argued with the Divine over a persistent, unyielding Call to ministry will see ourselves in Connie Tuttle’s story. She honestly shares the journey from discovery to living out her Call. Only one problem: as a lesbian, every time she reached a milestone, she had to fight the same battles for understanding and full inclusion.

A lesser person would have quit, or turned her back on God. Connie took on the full frontal assault of her identity and her love for God. She dealt with the society-imposed shaming of her sexual identity. From the co-ed who wouldn’t ride in an elevator with her, to the fellow seminarian who informed her she was going to hell for being a lesbian, Connie walked the road with faithfulness and determination.

Tuttle’s writing is honest, thoughtful, provocative and real. Her words are from her heart, one that fully trusts, hopes and believes in the Call of God. On more than one occasion, as she faced opposition, she had to decide: was her faith one that followed rules and sought to be pious? Or was she someone who had a call to justice, and sought to be righteous? Over and over, she chose: “I want to be righteous!” Integrity and authenticity shaped her responses.

Her journey encompasses many of the hurdles familiar to seminarians and clergy: getting through seminary, facing ordination boards and faculty committees, finding a summer internship, and coping with the self-learning (and tears) in CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education.) She grappled with how her identity would be and could be a part of her pastoral formation. Oh, and yes, as a single mom, balanced, home, classes, and parenting.

While Presbyterians (PCUSA) now affirm and ordain women and individuals of all gender identities, at the time when she graduated, it was not even a remote possibility. Even so, as Tuttle continues to love and care for the people God has called her to as a pastor, she reminds us all to tell our stories.

And Connie’s story, full of love and grace, is one you should read. One day, I look forward meeting her, because I suspect we will enjoy many laughs and share the heartaches of our ongoing journeys, compelled to serve the Divine.


A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, by Connie L. Tuttle. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2018. Paperback: 195 pages. ISBN-13: 9781532655722.

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.

I Can See Clearly Now…

I came home from an extended weekend (and an AMAZING conference… more about that another time!) I discovered that the pump for my water feature had busted, and the water was very, very murky. In addition, it appears that we have a new occupant joining the lone Weasley brother! Welcome Froggo, a lovely leopard frog! Judging by size, I’m guessing in the alto to tenor range.

 

Putting in the new pump required draining the pond, which was a smelly and damp task! Included in the damp part was catching and holding the goldfish and frog in a separate bucket while I cleaned out the accumulated muck. Included in the smelly part was wiping out the decomposing fish poop and plant material. Pumping all that water out into the back yard made the grass and me all kinda… pungent. (Be glad those photos aren’t “scratch and sniff”!)

It struck me as I cleaned and mucked out the pond that there are times we forget to filter the things we see and the words we say. I know I jokingly say “no filter!” when I’m overly blunt or want to get my opinion out there. However, I have also seen how words can hurt, and how a lack of a filter actually muddies the conversation. After all, you can’t really listen when words hurt and wound. And you lose perspective and insight, too.

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Anyway, the new pump is working well, and Weasley appears content. Froggo is somewhere out of sight. And I have a fresh perspective on thinking, filtering and clearing up the muddy waters.

I think I can make it now the pain is gone.
All of the bad feelings have disappeared.
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for.
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), 
Bright (bright) sun-shining day!

from I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash

10 years ago… An Ordination Happened!

ordinationhappy
Laughing during the ordination service.

Ten years ago, I was ordained as a minister of the Gospel in a nondenominational church. For many years before that, I was serving in pastoral roles, but was not given the recognition of the title, “pastor.”

Some of us, like yours truly, take a long and winding road to get to ordination, partly because we don’t believe we really are supposed to be in the ministry. Or we believe the people who tell us that we “can’t do that” because of our identity.

What took me so long to become ordained?

I had to believe deep down to my toes that, yes indeed, God Called me. And then I had to speak up and say, “I’m ready. Let’s do this.”

My ordination day was shared with my friend Glenn. It was a party! A luau. A day with friends and family that is still, ten years later, very precious to me. Some of the friends have moved to other churches (or I have) and we don’t see much of each other any more. But their affirmation launched me and their prayers and commissioning spurred me onward.

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Surrounded by prayer and encouragement. (Family not pictured.)

I’m grateful for every opportunity offered to me over the years. Since the 1980s I’ve been active in ministry in many capacities. Directing choirs. Teaching classes. Writing courses, devotional guides, seminars and workshops. Administration. Leading worship. Marrying, baptizing, and burying ’em. Committees and council meetings. Mentoring and commissioning others. Going to seminary. Preaching. Protesting. Praying. Studying. Being an advocate. Standing up for the rights of the under-served and the disenfranchised. Working with like-minded Christian feminists. An ally, mom, wife, sister, and friend. Being a chaplain, counselor and midwife to the close-to-dying.

Each task has been something that, at the time, I did my best work possible. I was up late at night, or working through dinner. It meant a lot of driving, listening, and praying. Many times I messed up, teared up, or wanted to give up. But every time, the Call of the Spirit was louder than my whines.

Funny how that works…

I’ve served in churches, hospitals, out-patient clinics, sidewalks, long-term care facilities and homes. I have handed out tissues, made hard phone calls, and stood up for someone’s rights. Many times, I was the one who could hear the questions behind the words. Other times, I was afraid to be bold and confront the heartache that was as yet unnamed.

Then there’s the unexpected tasks of ministry… Unclogging toilets, sinks and floor drains. Photocopying, collating and stapling. Buying helium balloons. Calling caterers. Dealing with vandalism. Standing up to church bullies. And an infamous run to the thrift store with donated items.

Me and JCfame
Giving the Holy Family a ride to the thrift store donation center.

God called. I answered. Sometimes with tears. Sometimes with laughter. Always with this sense of “Who me? WOW! Yes! Me!”

Other times, God said “no… this Call is not for you.” And there have been tears and questions and a struggle to trust that a “no” from the Holy is a good thing. (I’m still working on that.)

So it’s been ten years… already? And I’m up for whatever God has in store for ten more.

If you’ve read this far, you get a medal. Or maybe a cookie. Thank you for persevering with me in life (and in blogging!)

A montage of ministry pictures from the last ten years:

dance

Here I am, Lord.
At times I’m bruised, confused and little deflated,
Or curious, enchanted and invigorated.
But most of all,
Lord of all,
My heart sings with a song of Alleluia’s
And my clumsy feet still dance with praise!
I can’t imagine doing anything else.
But Holy One,
That’s why we do it.
You.
And me.
Together!
Soli Deo gloria!
Amen.

The Rock Piles of Ministry: Who Knew?

 

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Behold. A rock pile.

Not just any rock pile. Oh, no! It’s taken years to get this pile of rocks.

There was a decent start to the pile when we moved in 22 years ago. As I dug new garden beds, I’d find rocks and add them. When we added a retaining wall, the landscape crew added to the rock pile. When we did a major remodeling of our home, the builder found even more. And when I installed a simple spiral labyrinth in the back yard, there were incredible amounts of rocks to toss on there, too.

Everyone was glad to have a place to discard the rocks. It was a lot easier than taking them to the landfill. Each contractor looked at me askance (at first) when I said, “if you find large rocks, I want them.” But since it was cheaper to reuse rather than remove them, there were no arguments!

I learned a lot along the way because of these rocks. Patience. Perseverance. Techniques of rock removal (yep! there are some!) Reality checks. And seeing progress and naming it for the hard work it takes.

 

 

Some of these rocks made my new landscaping projects very frustrating. At the start of building the labyrinth, I bent every single hand tool I owned because they were not up to the task of chiseling large rocks out of clay!

So now… those rocks are no longer discards!

It was with a bit of irony that I had to haul loads of these rocks back down the hill to grace the edges of a water feature we just installed this spring. Three wheelbarrows of rocks. (Yes. I counted.) And as I heaved and hauled and placed them, I had to laugh. Here they are. Being put to good use. Finally in their right place.

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It made me ponder a perverse truth about Calling and ministry…

For any of us who battle ourselves, our environments, our churches, our relationships to be finally FINALLY brought to just that right moment of ministry… it’s seems like it will never work. We interview. We candidate. We preach. We study. We try to do our best, battling the odds like rocks in hard clay. We set things aside for another day, making a muddy hillside into a landscaping feature of a retaining wall of cast-off rocks. We try to see the beauty in what we do. We keep adding to the pile. And then… and then!!!!

Those rock piles of ministry are put to use. Those mossy, ignored, strengths that we have set aside in obedience, or sometimes, out of necessity and not by choice, they suddenly become relevant. And they are beautiful, in their right setting, at the right time.

I hear you, friends. I know your sense of relief. And a bit of wonder, too, that though we felt like we were forever gathering moss, perhaps even feeling useless, we will one day see a change!  For now… NOW is the appointed place and time God has for us. There’s stuff to do – even on a rock pile. And greater things are ahead.

And if you are still waiting, like me, marking time on the rock pile with a prayer of fatigue and longing, know this…

You are not a cast-off.

You are not a mistake.

You are not in the way.

You are called… press on!

…for such a time as this…