The power of words: an article on EEWC

I wrote a ViewPoint article for my friends at EEWC (The Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus) about the power of words. Many times we are flippant in our word choices. When someone objects to how we say something, we (I) might say, “Oh, take a chill pill.”

Lately, I’ve come to see that this attitude is flat out wrong. How we describe ourselves can be very powerful. And how we allow ourselves to be described by others is even more so!

It all started with reading my email:

I recently received a promotional newsletter from a healthcare agency well known in my area. They are sometimes regarded as the benchmark of hospice caregivers. So it was with some surprise that I read an article that began with these words:

“I believe in old women who learn new tricks — gutsy, wrinkled broads who eat alone in restaurants and pump their own gas.”

I about choked. GUTSY, WRINKLED BROADS? Are you kidding me? And who doesn’t pump her own gas these days?

I write more about the power of words. I hope you’ll check it out at the EEWC website!

Friday Five: Let’s Eat

This week’s Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals is all about food! Thanks to 3dogmom for this week’s prompt!

My first ever Friday Five is dedicated to Nikki MacDonald, sister RevGal, who was hungering for an opportunity to write about Haggis. With that introduction, today’s FF is all about food!


1) Is there a food from a foreign land whose reputation led to trepidation when you had a chance to give it a try? Did you find the courage to sample it anyway? If so, were you pleasantly surprised or did you endorse the less than favorable reputation that preceded it?

When I was in France for a short mission trip, I had the opportunity to try escargot. I was, quite honestly, skeptical. The descriptions I had heard ranged from “it’s like thick snot” to “chewy garlic.” So… I tried them. And they were DELICIOUS! Garlicky, warm, melt-in-your-mouth… oh my. I haven’t tried them since, because, well, I’m not convinced they would be good. Somehow, a restaurant that sells burgers, chicken fingers and fries should not be trusted to get escargot correctly. But maybe that’s just my foodie prejudice showing!

2) What food from your own country/culture gets a bad rap?

As an American, you can get just about any kind of bread, and most of the time if it’s not mass-produced yeasty white bread, it’s pretty good. So I’ll come to the defense of German bread! A lot of people have only tried the dark brown German bread that has the consistency of cardboard with a tough crust. Mmmm. Delicious. Not. I have had scrumptious rolls, buns, breads and pastries during trips to Germany.

3) Of what food are you fond that others find distasteful?

I. LOVE. RHUBARB. I like to make it into sauce and have it cold over yogurt or just plain. And I also LOVE ELDERBERRIES! When I lived in Ohio, they were growing along the back roads (usually around a lot of poison ivy!) They are a tiny, dark berry that you usually see in August. They don’t cultivate well, and I haven’t found a local source, other than frozen ones from Trader Joe’s. Elderberries are the slighty dusky, earthy-tasting relative of blueberries but pack a whole lot more flavor. I usually put them into a pie. Yummy!!! A third food that I enjoy and the Skepto-meter is high in my house is COCONUT. Yup. I can buy a package of Almond Joy bars and they will last me months. No one will touch them but me. Heh.

4) Is there a country’s food, not native to you, that you go out of your way to eat?

A good peanut chicken pad thai over rice noodles. I’m cheap. I can enjoy it at a fast food place or a nice Thai restaurant.

5) What is your guilty pleasure food?

Can there be anything but CHOCOLATE?

BONUS: What was your most memorable meal (good or bad), either because of the menu, the occasion, the company, or some other circumstance that makes it stand out?

Our Just Desserts
Our Just Desserts

The year we remodeled our kitchen, I was without an oven and cook-top for 4 months. Because of some issues with the County code inspector (not our contractor) the grand reveal was delayed into the middle of December. It was disheartening. Our architect/remodeler gave us a gift certificate to a local upscale restaurant. When we realized that we could use it Thanksgiving week, we celebrated with our daughters (one just home from college) and had some of the best cookies, pie, cheesecake and crème brûlée EVAR.  As you can see we didn’t exactly wait to get a nice fancy picture… we dug right in!

While we did get into our kitchen a few weeks before Christmas, this was a memorable night out. (If you want to read about the whole process and experience of our kitchen remodel — which actually was a good one — I blogged about it here!)


An afterthought…

I live in a part of the world and an area of my own country where most of us do not struggle to put food on the table. I am blessed beyond measure to have all I need and, indeed, all I could really want, in terms of creature comforts and amenities. While I’ve just written a blog post that focuses on the excesses and loves of my palate, I realized that I needed to stop and count my blessings. So I am… If you are looking for a ministry to support in your area, I encourage you to help your local Food Bank or community soup kitchens. And to truly be thankful to God for that next meal.

And on that note, here’s a Prayer for the Hungry… join me in remembering if you are so blessed as I am, for those who are without food and clean water today…

A Prayer for the Hungry 

By Steve Hammond

O God, we pray now for the hungry—
not the spiritually hungry
not the emotionally hungry
not the psychologically hungry
(though they surely need our prayers)—
we pray now simply for the hungry hungry.

We know in the realm that Jesus showed us
no one goes hungry, no one lacks daily bread.

In Your Realm, those with food remember the hungry,
those with food share their food with the hungry,
those with food work on behalf of the hungry,
those with food weep for the hungry, even if it makes them feel guilty.

God, we are grateful you never forget about the hungry—
that you long for the hungry to be fed.

God, we are grateful you never forget about those who aren’t hungry—
that you long for them to feed the hungry.

God, the hungry and unhungry stand as one before you;
loved with the same love, both in need of you and each other.

God of the Hungry, so many are hungry.
Rescue your hungry children,
fill their stomachs with food and their hearts with gladness,
so that they, too, might experience the luxury
of dealing only with their spiritual hunger,
their emotional hunger,
their psychological hunger.

Send your Spirit to the hungry hungry, and to the unhungry,
until all feast with Jesus in the new age.

In the name of Jesus and the hungry hungry we pray.

End of sermon. Thanks be to God.

The Urgency of “NOW” – Reflections on The March on Washington

Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963 from
Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial, August 28,1963 from

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

from the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King

Fifty years ago today, the March on Washington converged on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I was oblivious in many ways to the tension and racial struggle of the nation at the time. I was living with my family in South Carolina, and attending school in a segregated school district. There were “white buses” and “colored buses.” It didn’t seem right, but that’s how it was. When I would talk to my parents about it, they would stress that it was absolutely positively WRONG. But that was the way the schools were run.

We moved back to Ohio in the early 1970s when my dad got a new job. Columbus was not a bastion of progressive thinking, but the schools had some kind of “balanced” attendance policy. My high school was integrated, at least in name. But at lunchtime, there was a clear segregation at the tables. You learned.

The year we moved north, the South Carolina schools were implementing forced integration. In response, some families pulled their children out of public schools and put them in “white flight” schools. Parts of the Carolinas are recovering from this ragged, raw, forced integration. And parts are still defensive.

In seminary, I had occasion to talk with my fellow students from the South about their experiences. We were poles apart. One African-American man shared that he had to work for ten years to save up enough money to go to college. Seminary took another ten years, and he eventually was awarded a scholarship. His insight and understanding of the human struggle for freedom and acceptance taught me more than any textbook. Another student, who already had a PhD in education, shared about her fears for her sons when they went to a big-city university. She said, “I still have to worry about them getting pulled over for just DWB!” (“Driving While Black”)

These memories and more came to mind as I listened to the speeches and the musical selections on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I didn’t make the trek downtown today, but I had kept the marchers, the leaders and all those listening in my prayers. It is an event that will be talked about for some time.

There were two moments that struck me as I watched this afternoon unfold –

First, there were two former presidents on the dais with President Obama. Presidents Carter and Clinton lended their statesmanship to the event. But both former Presidents Bush (G.W. and G.H.W.) did not attend because, according to reports, they were unable to travel. (We won’t talk about the fact that the younger Bush made it to Southern Methodist to watch a football practice… but not to Washington.) But sadly there were a lot of political figures who did not come to the Mall. Members of Congress and Senators were conspicuous by their absence. In a time of political gridlock, it is important to remember that Leadership does not consist of only doing what you want in the name of justice and equality, but considering and responding to the struggles and needs of others, particularly if these look and sound different than your own.

Second, I was struck by the reminder by President Obama that we are all “marchers” in this effort for Freedom. This is an excerpt from his speech: (the full text is here)

That tireless teacher who gets to class early and stays late and dips into her own pocket to buy supplies because she believes that every child is her charge — she’s marching. That successful businessman who doesn’t have to, but pays his workers a fair wage and then offers a shot to a man, maybe an ex-con, who’s down on his luck — he’s marching.

The mother who pours her love into her daughter so that she grows up with the confidence to walk through the same doors as anybody’s son — she’s marching. The father who realizes the most important job he’ll ever have is raising his boy right, even if he didn’t have a father, especially if he didn’t have a father at home — he’s marching. The battle-scarred veterans who devote themselves not only to helping their fellow warriors stand again and walk again and run again, but to keep serving their country when they come home — they are marching. Everyone who realizes what those glorious patriots knew on that day, that change does not come from Washington but to Washington, that change has always been built on our willingness, we, the people, to take on the mantle of citizenship — you are marching.

Marching means pressing on. Even when you hurt. Even when you are tired. Even when you are not convinced you are going in the right direction. Even when you not sure anyone is listening (a common fear of bloggers!) You keep marching, talking, sharing, blogging — because the job is not done.

I have a lot of hope today. Hope because I am choosing to see the best in the world around me. I believe that God takes willing hearts and changes the world, one event, one decision at a time. It’s not easy. But we keep going.

A fellow RevGal posted this quote today, and I thought it summarized beautifully the process to show the unending, unswerving March towards equality and justice.

Hope has two beautiful daughters.
Their names are anger and courage;
anger at the way things are,
and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.


Amen. So may it be. Thanks be to God.

Being Mindful… of Spirituality and Health

This last week I was in a conference at George Washington University at the GWish (George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health) Summer Institute. The theme was “restoring the heart and humanity to health care.” The participants were about evenly split between chaplains and doctors/nurses, with the majority from the US and Canada, but there were a few from Australia, Singapore and Korea. It was stimulating. Fascinating. And mind-shifting (not really mind “blowing” because it speaks to something that I strongly believe is true.)

Among the issues we considered were questions of advocacy, empowerment and responsiveness for our patients, and issues related to ethics and moral distress in caregivers. There are quiet revolutions reported – where physicians, nurses, chaplains and social workers all seek to find ways to make a difference in the wellness of the people we care for, and to make it a patient-centered process, rather than a reimbursement-driven one. This, of course, flies in the face of the requirements by administrators and supervisors… and the dilemma is well-documented.

But what is more striking is that, despite all the advances in technology, medical knowledge and education, there is still a “status quo” that is hard to break… the one that, at least as my medical educator friends describe it, is based on output and competition, and leaves little room for the “humanity” of it all. I have heard surgeons tell their students that “we are not having one of those fuzzy kum-ba-yah moments here,” a snide remark about the “humanity in medicine” programs that are part of medical schools today. The pressure to produce, whether student, resident, fellow, or staff physician, is telling. There are deeper systemic issues, such as the limitations of the number of hours that medical residents are allowed to work (and if they try to work extra, they can put their program in jeopardy with regulators, as this story tells…) And there is the ever-decreasing reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid, which color all of our medical care, whether we use private or government insurance.

Any profession has a common body of knowledge, but in health care there are layers upon layers of information. There is the basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology (and all of the related “-ologies”). There are standards for patient care, communication, and personal/professional development. But the difficult piece to teach — regardless of who you are — is to reflect a compassionate presence.

As I reflected on my own work, theological studies and clinical education, there are some similarities for chaplains. We are grounded (or “ground IN”) the studies of our respective theological belief systems. We get a nod to practical skills (preaching, spiritual care) and there is some time given to spiritual formation. We might get a class on recruiting volunteers and budgeting. In the press of writing theological research papers, there were times that the spiritual formational piece seemed like just “one more task” and not an essential piece of the degree program. The longer I am in ministry, the more I understand that formational emphasis to be essential! The reflective part of my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) experience has also been more and more important to me as I spend more hours post-training as a professional chaplain. My times of reflection and personal spiritual formation are what ground me. They are the spaces that I give myself to seek to do a better job, to put away the questions about my work that can haunt me — or make me overly impressed with myself. (Nothing like sitting down to write a verbatim and discover how much of my clinical visit was clearly less than optimal!)

Where do I go from here? I am thinking about research — studies which might draw more insights into the needs of the families of ICUpatients, or ICU staff. I think about grief and grief work, and even the anticipatory grief of end-stage cancer patients. I think about the spiritual needs of the “nones” that are on the increase in this busy metropolitan area, and how they can best be served. And then I try to figure out where, in a 16 hour overnight on call shift, I will have the time (or the presence of mind) to first “do my homework” on the literature available at present, and then to actually DO this research. I know that understanding what I do in chaplaincy and why I do it is important. But I also know who I am, personally and professionally, is just as important.

Labyrinth at Dayspring Retreat Center, Germantown, MD
Labyrinth at Dayspring Retreat Center, Germantown, MD

So while I cogitate on those research projects, I’m continuing to cultivate “the chaplain within”. One of the disciplines I have been reinforcing lately is making time to walk in silence and reflection. There are labyrinths not too far away from our house (about 30-45 minutes in traffic). The hosts of these labyrinths are always friendly and welcoming. (If you are curious and live in the Metro DC area, they are located at Dayspring Retreat Center and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Bethesda.) I should note that there are many other labyrinths in the DC area; these are just the ones which are closest to us.

I know it sounds a little… unusual… but I will soon be working on making a labyrinth in our back yard. This corner of the world is secluded, relatively flat, and has enough space for me to set in some pavers as a border for an simple spiral labyrinth. I enjoy being in our back yard, whether weeding or just bird-watching. Rather than having to “go and do” anywhere, I can create a space right outside my back door. And invite others to “take a walk” there, too.

Future labyrinth site?
Future labyrinth site?

So… in a few months, ask me how this little project is doing. It’s a bit of a daunting task for heat/humidity/mosquito/tick season around here, but I want to give it a shot. If for no other reason, there will be a quiet place to reflect, pray and remember why I do what I do.

Things ya can’t tweet…

Last week I had a Twitter discussion with my friend, David. We have strongly held opinions in opposite camps on John Piper’s recent teachings, namely his view that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.” Other women bloggers have not pursued this topic because they have been browbeaten by blog trolls and the like in the past. I really, REALLY am not interested in attracting that kind of attention. And there is that old internet maxim: “Do not feed the trolls!”

However, as an ordained pastor and woman in ministry, I did feel the need to respond. The original post has had quite a reaction across the web. Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi) offered a post that particularly encouraged and resonated with me. And so I tweeted:

Thanks @TallSkinnyKiwi. I’m not giving up – God has work for me to do! “In Search of Masculine Christianity”

David suggested that if I weren’t raising daughters, I might feel differently about the topic. While that was completely untrue in my case, I knew that if I started responding with my counterpoints, it could get heated. I’m really REALLY over the big discussion and Bible-slinging on this topic. However, I promised David I’d give it some thought and respond  with a blog post where I’m not limited to the “sound bites” of Twitter. So here goes…

Many people trot out the old arguments for why women should/should not pastor churches. They begin with “Eve sinned first” and end with “none of Jesus’ named disciples were women.” And their hermeneutics continue in this hunt-and-peck manner. Wearing pearls and braided hair is just a “culturally bound reference.” But “women keeping silent in the Church” is not. Right. Puh-leese.

I’m not going to take a blog post and pick apart a chauvinist hermeneutic. To my mind, it comes under the heading of “needless disputations” and distracts us from the work God asks each of us to do. (Unless, of course, your life mission is to go around being a theological pain-in-the-rear. In which case… great. More power to ya.) I’m also not dissing those who are informed Calvinists in their leanings and ascribe to Reformed theology’s teachings. As Dr. Roger Olson says in a recent post, the problem is that there are some who insist it is the “only correct” theological stance. I think Christians of conscience and study can take issue with Calvinists. And I do.

What is a deeper issue here is that people who are followers of Jesus can take such pleasure in viciously attacking another’s doctrinal stance. Instead of uniting to care for the world and the hurting and needy people in it, they sit and take snarky potshots at each other. And I am as guilty of this as the next person. In fact, were I to stop and parse this post, I could point out several places where I was a little too sarcastic. I guess when one elbows her way into the conversation, occasionally one gets a little snarky.

As part of my clinical training, I had to write a short paper on “theological commitments that ground and guide me” in my work as a chaplain. They also ground me in my basic theological approach to life, ministry, marriage, child-rearing, etc. According to the requirements of the assignment, it was limited to one page. I can assure you that was a challenge. Without re-doing or expanding on the paper, here is how I view ministry, life, the universe and everything. Hopefully it will clarify that my approach to ministry is not based on raising daughters, but on following Jesus.

Theological Commitments that Ground and Guide Me

My theological perspective has four major tenets.  The first is that I believe God is relational.  God is not just an Abiding Presence or Spirit (though God is both), but as Creator, made humanity to be in relationship with God. This relational faith means that I do not see anything that humanity experiences (good or bad) as being outside of the knowledge or control of God. I see God’s involvement and interest in humanity as being intimate, involved and responsive. Humanity sometimes chooses to ignore or defy God — and not asking for robots, God allows our foolishness.

The second grounding belief I hold is that though humanity is made in the image of God, our free-will choices have caused us to become mortal, finite and flawed.  The result of our “fallen” human condition as recorded in Genesis results in interpersonal strife, disease, pain and a creation that is also flawed and at times chaotic. Because of the fallen or sinful condition of humanity, we frequently make choices that are counter to our wholeness, and thwart our desire to be close to one another and to God. In terms of relationships, I believe the model for relationships should be that of “before the Fall,” not bound in a cultural reference afterwards. This means that I do not see hierarchical familial relationships as being biblical. Nor do I see limitations on the ministry of men or women, for it is clear in Scripture that one’s Calling is determined by gifting, not gender.

A third grounding belief is that I believe by living in accordance with God’s principles, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, humanity can be transformed into a more perfect representation of God. This means that I see the process of faith as being personally transformational. It is not by one’s efforts, but by the work of  the Spirit that we conform to the image of Christ. This takes out of the equation any performance-based expressions of what is “godly” or “holy.”

Finally, I believe in an after-life that is based on a person’s faith as acted upon in this present life.  While I do not expect a patient or client to hold to my personal faith and belief in the salvific work of Jesus the Christ, this concept of hope and of resurrection gives me a sense of trust and expectation for “a new heaven and new earth.” This also grounds me in a sense of purpose and promise. I do not see this life as being “the end”.

That’s a start for why I do what I do, and where I live, work and pastor. And it’s just about impossible to fit all that into the character limits of Twitter. Unless, of course, you link to it. 🙂 Finally, lest you think I am spouting petunias, here are a collection of blog links by Rachel Held Evans. She offered a challenge, quickly taken up by men in the blogosphere who disagreed with John Piper. There was a groundswell of voices in disagreement with Piper’s closely held theology. Those posts said what I knew to be true, both doctrinally and experientially.

As you were…

Second Hesitations

Be careful what ye blog, for verily, thy future employer shall find thee out.

2 Hesitations 1:4

I am eight weeks away from finishing my fourth unit of CPE. I’m polishing the old resume, writing my consultation paper, and working on a “model” verbatim. In addition, I’m trying to finish up all those lovely final CPE projects which kill the evening hours and fill the pre-dawn hours of my life. (What’s a weekend? What’s it like to goof off after work? And will I ever just sit and be a couch potato after work? I dare not believe it.)

But enough whining. If I had wanted a regular, 9-to-5 job, I wouldn’t be a pastor, now, would I? 🙂

To be honest, I’ve had some wonderful experiences in this fourth unit. In addition to my CPE hours, I’ve been working per diem at a different hospital for evenings and weekends. I’m getting the best of the both worlds — professional experience with consultation and supervision. I enjoy being a resource and supporting families as they make some difficult decisions. I have so many stories I could tell, but can’t because of the privacy rules that the institutions require us to follow. (As well they should. The stories are not really mine to tell.)

The second main area where I blog is in the arena of politics and theology. I have been sorely tempted to post on the really stupid things I see in the press, in social media, in society in general. And yet… I recognize that I could jeopardize a potential hire if I scream too loudly of the “wrong” camp (whatever that may be.) My uneasiness increases when I think about my desire to be authentic…  that who you read about, talk to and see are one and the same person. If you’re read my stuff at all, there should be no surprises that I’m a feminist. And a Democrat. And an unapologetic supporter of “green” practices. And that I do believe that there is such a  thing as global warming.

Because of the intersection of these events, the end of CPE and the beginning of a job search, I’m trying to be circumspect in what I post. And hopefully… yes, i’ll still be employable when this post turns up on a bot search.

May God be kind and bless…

From human DOing to human BEing

I spent time OFF the web today. Part of it was my personal protest against SOPA and PIPA. (If you’ve been in a cave and missed the discussion, please click the link.) It looks as though the sponsors are going to go back to the drawing board and re-think the scope and focus of the bills. And that’s all good.

But it was also good that I took a short vacay from the cybersphere of blogging, twitter, facebook, G+, and my latest web timesuck, Pinterest. The time away was well spent: I added about 10 pages to my consultation committee papers for CPE. (More on this later… Another post…)

And I also had time to sit, and think, and pray. To be honest, I did pop on to Twitter and Facebook before dinner. I answered some emails, responded to a blog that spoke to something I’ve been ruminating on for a while. But that’s it. Pretty minimal for me. I do love teh interwebs.

I have been pondering this habit I have of living like a Human DOing, rather than a Human BEing. I keep busy. I read and think and absorb information, and then I go DO stuff. It hit me that I’m like the Pakleds on Star Trek. “I look for things…”

It’s idiotic. I do not have to engage every idea, every question, every issue. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. And yet. I still do it anyway. As if God needs me to get in on the action of the universe. That I have to help fix or change things. NO. Really. I just need to BE the person I am created to be. And then go BE that person wherever I go.

It sounds so simple. And it is so hard.

Paul wrote:

2 I just want to know this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the Law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so irrational? After you started with the Spirit, are you now finishing up with your own human effort? [Gal. 2:2-3 Common English Bible]

For me, it all goes back to a deep, basic, personal reaction to life. I think I have to do stuff. Find stuff. Works. Law. Instead of listening and following the bend of the Spirit. Instead of allowing the Spirit’s leadership, I get a cranked up agenda of things on a “do list.”

Slowly, I’m jumping off the crazy train. Join me, if you care to… here’s what I am continuing to work on…

  • Thinking through activities and opportunities that come my way, and if possible, giving them a 48 hour “think window” before saying “YES!!!” (Ahem. Or “NO.”)
  • Putting reading and journaling back into my weekly schedule. It’s haphazard. I’ve kept up with Bible reading so far. (Got a little stuck in mid-Genesis. But I’m back on track.)
  • Adding things into my life which spark my creative gifts in music, photography and writing. Not because I have to. But because I want to. They bring life to my soul.
  • Letting someone else do the dishes and laundry. Or not finishing them. (Repeat after me: “The laundry will never get done. The dishes will get dirty again. Chill. Relax. Enjoy life.” Go ahead. Say it. You know you need it, too!)

And the rest? Well, I’ll keep figuring out as I go along.



I want to feel Your Spirit’s leading,

Your Voice in my heart responding

With joy, with celebration

In responsiveness beyond my emotion

Rooted deep in my soul.

Willow in the Wind of the Spirit… I listen. I bend. I follow.