Book Review: Healing Spiritual Wounds

Book Review

Carol Howard Merritt, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God after Experiencing a Hurtful Church
(New York: Harper One, 2017), hardcover, 232 pages.

HealingSpiritualWounds

Carol Howard Merritt, known for her insightful writing in the Christian Century and her previous books* offers a gentle work for those who have endured mistreatment by the Church. This book is not intended has an apologetic for “why” one should be in a church, or even be a Christian. Rather, it is intended to help those who are struggling to redefine faith’s role and want help finding the path back to belief and wholeness.

I began this book in the throes of the flu, and thanks to “flu brain” was not able to finish it as quickly as I wanted. But a few weeks, ago, as I read and reflected over her words, I was encouraged that, once again, she has brought clarity and a much-needed re-teaching of one of Christianity’s main tenets: Love God, love yourself, love others.

The book is grounded in her own spiritual journey and invites the reader to begin their own path of healing and discovery. Can one find a place peace and wholeness away from an internal conflict about a “God of love” and the way religious people act? Carol suggests there is a way, and it is in a place of peace and being “in God.” She shares her own realization that her “inner skeptic” (p. 5) was searching for God, even in the midst of disappointment and pain. And she invites the reader along to ponder their own places of raw hurt, discouragement and doubt.

This is not a “how-to” book. Merritt doesn’t give you simple formulas and Bible memory verses to “fix” yourself. Instead, she models a way of meditating on the Sacred text, on seeking God in the unspoken words of the suffering, and then she provides creative exercises for reflection in the journey back to wholeness. The author is clear in her own realization that “religion heals… but also brings suffering” (p. 8) and names the knife-in-the-gut wounding from the Church’s teachings that are sexist, racist, homophobic and politicized.

Carol groups the “spiritual wounds” we may experience around seven distinct areas, each with their own path for healing: healing our image of God, recovering our emotions, redeeming our broken selves, reclaiming our bodies, regaining our hope, reassessing our finances, and being born again. Each area of spiritual wounding offers vignettes from her own life, stories from the struggles of others, and exercises for reflection. The process begins with understanding our own experiences of religious wounding, not just what we experience, but where we have wounded others. I have started a collage recommended in the chapter “Finding Shalom” and it has been very thought-provoking, one that I will be working on for a while!

As a trained chaplain, several of the chapters reminded me of my own work in my spiritual identity and pastoral identity. In particular, the chapter on “Healing Our Image of God” took me back through the process of experiencing the “life-giving God” through a process Merritt calls “communal and personal” (p. 55). I remembered how I learned to experience God outside of a list of do’s and don’t’s. How photography, poetry, writing and music changed the “replay” of God’s work in my life. It was soul-stirring.

Other chapters had equally thought-provoking moments and I know I will want to return to this book for a more lengthy reflection, perhaps with others in community and accountability. It is not a quick read! You might want to make it your summer reading project, or schedule it for Lent 2018 (as this year’s Lenten season is underway).

For those who have struggled against a “father” image of God that conjures up the worst memories of the Church’s patriarchal abuse and misuse of scripture, I encourage you to get this book and dig deep. Merritt writes: “We don’t always realize that we’re working under patriarchal conditions because we’re so used to them; it’s like not knowing when we’re breathing polluted air” (p. 202).

Rediscover that God is not a white male, nor an authoritarian killjoy, and is completely and utterly bent on the loving work of restoration and reconciliation – with you. And me.

*(Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation and Reframing Hope: Vital ministry in a New Generation)

—————————————-

Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God after Experiencing a Hurtful Church. Carol Howard Merritt. New York: Harper One, 2017. Hardcover: 232 pages. ISBN-10: 0062392271

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.

 Another day, another stole

amani-stole

My stole from Amani Ya Juu (Peace from Above)

Today I took a quick trip into downtown DC, to the plaza in front of the US Supreme Court building. Before I started my rounds with my hospice patients, I put on my collar and this stole. The stole was made by refugee artists from Amani Ya Juu. It was the first stole given to me when I was ordained, and has a special place in my heart.

(Make sure you visit their website — see the beautiful things they have created, and read their stories!)

The artisans of Amani Ya Juu use their love of African textiles, their commitment to their community thriving, and their skills in creating beautiful items. My stole is just one of the items they make. But the beauty of their craft is just part of what I have learned from these women.It is their example of faithfulness in the face of horrible injustice. It is how they move past those experiences and find “the peace that surpasses all understanding.” They have learned to survive life’s twists and turns, and to make sure their community thrives with them.

It is this selflessness, this desire deep within them to serve others that inspires me in my ministry. I do it so imperfectly… but their example challenges me.

So I stood on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court this morning, with flurries and a stiff, cold breeze. There, I gathered with many other faith leaders to speak out…

…for those who are unjustly detained

…for those who are denied due process in our courts

…for the attack on our civil liberties — ALL of our civil liberties — by those who refuse to obey court injunctions, who defy our Constitution, and who act for selfish gain. 

…for eviscerating the progress made under Loretta Lynch in defending the rights of all persons of color. #BlackLivesMatter

I am compelled to respond because I believe the God I serve demands it. I am compelled to respond because I believe in the worth and value of my fellow humans. And I am compelled to respond because we have done enough waiting. We have given enough “chances.” The actions over the last ten days are sufficient.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

I am angry. Angry that the powerful do not use their power for the common good. Angry that elected officials are not governing in a way that benefits ALL of us — our country, our world, our future.

I am motivated. I have called, written and tweeted my elected officials. I have encouraged them to stand firm and defend our Constitution. I have pleaded with them to uphold “liberty and justice FOR ALL.”

On Sunday, I led this prayer… and I stand by every word, knowing that God will be with us as we stand up to injustice and bigotry.

LET US PRAY.

Lord God, we gather in your Presence, aware of your care for us and for the world. We ask for your Spirit to guide our words and our worship this morning.

Gracious God, the hungry are all around us. May we faithfully share of our pantries and cupboards, our money and our time, that they will be bountifully fed.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

Lord of all, we pray for our elected officials, that they will serve the people and defend and protect our Constitution. We hear the words of the spiritually empty, the proud, and those who abuse their power. We pray you will burden their hearts with your Truth and convict them by your Holy Spirit.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

God of all nations, we pray for those in legal limbo, whose immigration status is wrongfully blocked, who are doctors and teachers, researchers and laborers, parents and children. May your justice prevail and may your angels take charge of them and liberate them.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

Healer of the broken-hearted, we your children humbly repent for the ways we have not cared for the aliens and the strangers in our midst. Forgive us for our short-sightedness and selfishness. Give us courage to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly. May our actions make a difference as we join with others who follow Christ.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

We pray all this in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Amen.

I do not understand the whys and breakdown of common decency that led to our country’s situation today. I lean on hope in a God who is more powerful than the power-obsessed. I am resting in that Peace from Above.

Pray with me, friends…

We must stick together and believe in God’s love for us and for all humanity.

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?

womaninpulpit

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.

img_2456

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!

Book Review: “Ruined” by Ruth Everhart

TRIGGER WARNING: Rape; sexual assault.

ruined

As a mother, I’ve had more than enough good advice to pour into my daughters’ ears.  (I’m sure, in fact, I’ve said TOO much!) Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to say, “here is my story… learn from it!” But Ruth Everhart’s memoir is one of courage, honesty and integrity.

The setting of her memoir could be near any of a number of college campuses. It was a Sunday evening, after church. A houseful of Christian college women were forcibly held and raped at gunpoint… and lived through the experience. Ruth and her friends survived a night of chaos, distress and violation.

It’s a club no one wants to join, this sisterhood. It’s a story no one wants to hear. To live through. To have to testify about to a room full of strangers. To somehow pull the shards of your life back together and try to finish college, go to graduate school, get married, have children…

To compound her recovery, Ruth had to navigate the restoration of her sense of safety and worth. She had to redefine what it meant to be a single woman in a purity culture of high moral expectations. And, somehow, she had to find a way to experience wholeness and forgiveness… despite the label she felt she would wear forever… RUINED. Or, as the judge called the victims at the sentencing of one of the perpetrators, “marred and scarred.”

Ruth’s greater story is the one of how she recovers her understanding and perceptions of God. For how could she hold to the tenets of a faith that allowed this horrible event to occur? Where was God when she was raped with a gun to her head?

As she wrote:

It had been more than a year and I still couldn’t live with the implication of what I’d always believed: that everything happens according to the will of God. The God I loved simply wasn’t that monstrous…”

In the process, Ruth found ways to overcome being a prisoner of her past. She fought her way past the most visceral of reactions to claim her healing. She shares the process of moving from victim to survivor to overcomer. It wasn’t a straight line, for like all of us in the healing process, there are zigs and zags in the road to wholeness. She discovered a way to take the hard parts of her life and allow God to not only release her from them, but to become a woman God would use, as she says, “not in spite of them, but because of them.”

I won’t spoil Ruth’s story for you… because I think as you read her experiences and reflect on her spiritual journey, you will ponder the way of your own. You might also consider the injustice done to women through the patriarchal systems of the “purity culture” of fundamentalist Christians. You will also have to reflect on that notion of God’s grace — how it reaches us and transforms us. And that in itself will be a blessing.

******

Ruined by Ruth Everhart. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; Reprint edition (August 2, 2016).

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the author 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.”

Friday Five: Push or Pull?

The traffic crawled for over a mile this afternoon and this was most of what I could see:

DO NOT PUSH (if you know what's good for you.)

DO NOT PUSH (if you know what’s good for you.)

It was the inspiration for this week’s Friday Five (which I’m hosting this week over at RevGals). Play along if you’d like!

I am fortunate to have some great encouragers in my life. The ones who know me the best are great at knowing when to challenge me, and when to just chill and let me figure it out myself. SO… think about the encouragers and challenges in YOUR life and tell us…

  1. After achieving a goal, do you set the bar higher, or rest on your laurels? I am someone who pushes herself, always going for that next goal.
  2. Which is better: a kick in the pants or a hug and a cuppa? If I’m struggling, I need “a hug and a cuppa.” I am far too self-critical and have (probably) already kicked myself around the block.
  3. What’s your baseline motivation? Fear? Competition? Not getting caught? 😉 Being seen as lazy. I’ll push past my limits to try and do it better. One of the things I’ve had to learn along the way is to let “good enough” be OK sometimes.
  4. When you’re facing a big challenge, do you need to talk it out, or puzzle it out yourself? It’s kind of a combination. I want to talk about it, but not so that you give me the answers.
  5. Who is in your corner – always? Who helps you achieve more than you imagined you could? (You don’t have to give names) Family. Friends who have gone the distance. Some pretty amazing co-workers. And RevGals that I’ve never met IRL but always have a word of encouragement when I’m feeling defeated.

BONUS: A picture, piece of art or music that expresses your experience of the push/pull process.

I found this in my photo files. It speaks to me of this process of making headway and then falling back into old habits or struggles. I also like the image of being in the process with someone — human or Divine.

Abandoned swingset. Photo credit: Rev. Deb Vaughn

Abandoned swingset. Photo credit: Rev. Deb Vaughn

Friday Five: Go to the head of the Class!

I’m hosting the Friday Five over at Rev Gals. Care to play along??

It’s Back-to-School time! Are you that “A+ Student for life” or the King/Queen of Detention? RevGals want to know! We are all still learning (or re-learning) some kind of lessons!Tell us about your learning edges in:

1. Reading: what’s in your “to-be-read” stack? Fiction? Church leadership? Commentaries?

Here’s a picture… Notice my Kindle is on top. It’s just an unending stack!!  

2. Writing: are you blogging? Journaling? Developing a new book proposal? Or just crafting sermons? Any excerpt you’d care to share? (We won’t grade your penmanship!)

I have been struggling with blogging, to be honest. I have stories to tell… But some of them are impacted by HIPAA privacy rules. I’m still figuring this one out.

I have been mulling over a book idea called “What NOT to say!” It’s meant for all those horrible moments when someone says that trite pablum that makes clergy blanch…

3. ‘Rithmetic: Family budget? Church budget? National debt? What are you discovering about yourself and your church/family when it comes to handling money?

I asked this question, did I!??? Or be quite honest, I’m tired of “the budget” being given as a reason for doing/not doing something. If you are a leader, you learn how to prioritize and pay for what matters. 

4. Music: favorite new hymn or worship band?

To be honest, I haven’t been listening to a lot of Christian music. It’s had a “Jesus-and-the-money changers” feel to it. But I do like the song “My Ev’rything” by Owl City. 

I’m getting new songs these days from my 20-year-old, whose Spotify playlists were fresh and fun! I’m kinda loving Hozier. He’s so raw and real. 

5. Detention: uh huh… If you were supposed to report for detention today, what would be the note on the slip?

Probably being too loud in the restaurant last night while playing the “glamour shot” game. You Google your first name + “glamour shot” and then look at the images that come up with your search terms. Completely silly.

BONUS: Recess! RevGals just want to have fun! What’s your favorite way to unwind?

Hang out in the hammock chair on my back patio with a book. 

  

Friday Five: Blessed Rest

I’ve already had my “vacation” this summer. While it WAS restful, this Friday Five speaks to a vacation where I am really ON vacation…


1. Tell us about a place (retreat center or other getaway spot) that offers especially good hospitality. What makes it so for you?

I don’t know one so I’ll be reading about ideas from others!

2. Is there a ritual of renewal that you seek, or that you find especially helpful, while on retreat? (naps, reading, knitting, staring out toward a different landscape…)

Walking the beach. Always renews me.   

3. Retreats/getaways often have a way of washing over us with its own gifts, no matter what we may seek from it. Tell us about a time that such a gift made a lasting impression.

I went on a retreat once where there were constant gifts and reminders of God’s love for me. They were sent by people who didn’t know me but wanted me to experience an outpouring of love. It happened all the time.  Every day. All day. Every time a new event started. It was very heart-warming. 

4. Imagine that a gift bag was waiting for you on your bed when you checked in for your time of sabbath. What would you like to find in it?

A map to local haunts or hikes, REAL recommendations of places to eat — not just a list! (and included gift cards), and a free pedicure/spa treatment. 

5.   Besides a dessert buffet featuring chocolate, what is something you would love to see a retreat/getaway offer that is typically not part of such an experience?

Ummm… You had me at “chocolate”!

Bonus: You’ve been granted a weekend off, and the means of getting away is provided. Where would you like to go?

Quiet beach, someplace with an ocean breeze and A/C, and fresh seafood. I don’t have to drive, cook, clean or be with people unless I want to be. Yes, I’m an extrovert. And I enjoy time with my extended family. But time off with my own agenda sounds wonderful.