SHEroes: Deborah and the Woman at the Well

A sermon offered to the people of God at Greenbelt Community Church, Greenbelt, Maryland

Thank you for your warm welcome. I’m delighted to serve you today for my friend Pastor Glennyce. We are part of a women’s clergy group and have enjoyed some wonderful times of laughter, prayer and inspiration. You are blessed with a great pastor!

My sermon this morning is based on the popular and epic blockbuster of the summer. It’s everyone’s SHEro, Wonder Woman! There are biblical themes in her story, themes that link our culture’s treatment of women and superheroes with God’s purpose in the world.

I should also mention: If you have not yet been to see this movie, I will have a few spoilers for you. (Fair warning!)

For some background: Wonder Woman is the story of Princess Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. She lives with her tribe on the island of Themyscira. Though she did not know it until she was an adult, she was the daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta, making her a demigod. Or demigoddess.

The myth is a powerful one. A young woman comes into her own, discovers she is born into a time of conflict where her unique gifts and powers are needed to make things right again. She is unspoiled by greed. She is not overly impressed with her personal powers. She doesn’t even realize she is beautiful.

The movie, set in World War 1, includes a handsome fighter pilot (of course) who crashes on the shores of Themyscira. Diana rescues him and then chooses to go back into his world to fight against the “bad guys”. She wears a tiara which can be thrown as a blade-edged boomerang, and wields a Lasso of Truth. Her bracelets become indestructible shields, blocking bullets and creating thunderbolts. She wears her sword down the back of her evening gown. What did you expect for Wonder Woman’s fashion accessories? She IS an Amazon. Did you expect tutus?

Wonder Woman, like the biblical women we will read about today, is larger-than-life. She faces injustice and evil and does not back away. In fact, like Deborah, our first SHEro, she realizes she has power and that she can use it to help others. (I kinda like that name… Deborah!)

Deborah  The Lord Will Deliver Us   Judges 4:1-10

Deborah was elevated to the position of judge in Israel. Our text in the NRSV calls her a “prophetess”. She is one of the twelve charismatic leaders, or judges, in Israel listed in the book of Judges. God put Deborah into leadership to provide spiritual and tactical leadership. The time she was born into was a period of struggle and suffering for the Jews. The Israelites had come out of Egypt, been led into the Promised Land, and faced a series of challenges from foreign powers trying to take the Land of Canaan from them. Historians suggest that the book of Judges was committed to writing during the Babylonian Exile (550 BCE).[1] The book’s message of hope and promise of deliverance must have resonated deeply with a captive nation!

Deborah

Artist unknown. Source Women in the Scriptures

Deborah ruled as a judge – not just to resolve legal disputes. She served in that role as a prophetess, a warrior and, as you might read later in Judges 5, she was also a poet and singer! She was given power to lead by God and used it wisely.

With our Wonder Woman theme in mind, Deborah fulfilled roles as a leader, ready to battle against evil with her unique insight and power, and as a defender of her people. Deborah knew her tribe. Her motivation was for their safety and the return of peace.

When Wonder Woman goes into battle, she assesses and charges the line of enemy fighters, blocking bullets with her indestructible bracelets. She charges into “No Man’s Land.” To quote the Tolkein SHEro Éowyn, She is. No. Man. The battle belongs to Wonder Woman. Or… in the case of Deborah, it belongs to the woman who follows the Lord!

Deborah is a role breaker and risk taker. There was no other general like her recorded in Jewish history. There are many conservative Bible commentators who try to explain away her calling and her power. It’s clear she was not a typical woman of ancient Israel. In fact, given the inequity in the representation of women in Holy Scripture, where their power and status were minimized, she must have been extraordinary.[2] SO extraordinary that she was not excised from the texts. That’s something to ponder

But the ancient mindset affects even how we translate her name: is she really “Deborah, wife of Lappidoth” when the literal translation of her name could be “Deborah, the fiery one”? Lappidoth is a derivative of the Hebrew word for fire or torch or lightning (לַפִּיד lappiyd). In the adjective form it would be “fiery”.[3] She may indeed have been married. And the guy she married could have been a fiery one, too! But in our text, she was called to more than marriage and family. And she probably had a bit of FIRE in her belly.

Now, what about Barack, leader of the army? He appears to be thoughtful, reserved, and more conservative. He seems highly analytical, maybe to a fault… I grant you that. In fact, some commentaries go so far as to characterize him as reluctant and wimpy for not “manning up.” But what exactly do we read about his character? Is that true?

Did Deborah usurp Barack’s role in leading the Israelites against Sisera, the general of

BibleArt-Deborah

Illustration from Dore’s ‘The Holy Bible’, 1866.

King Jabin’s army? No. She gave him direction. Deborah took the lead, but as any wise military leader knows, she prepared her general and soldiers to have a successful battle. And then as the skirmish develops, allow circumstances to dictate what happens next.

Then why did Barack want her there? Because she presented the power and guidance of God. It was not enough for Barak to hear and go. He asked for guidance and her presence. That sounds like a cautious, thoughtful, careful leader to me. A respectful one.

Later in chapter 4, you’ll read that the mighty iron chariots of the Canaanites, so feared by the Israelites, got (literally) stuck in the mud! Barack led a rout of the Canaanite army, and God did indeed deliver General Sisera into the hands of a woman.

In the interests, of time, I’ll let you read up on how General Sisera dies. (Quite honestly, that’s a ghastly and bloody bit that makes for great cinema, but not great sermons. That’s your homework. The story of Sisera and Jael.)

But what about Deborah as a woman and a leader. Isn’t that, well, unbiblical? Well I guess it depends on how you look at it. Was God in charge of the battle with Sisera? Yes. Did Deborah take over a “man’s job”? No. Barack was not the judge of Israel. That was Deborah’s role. It was not hereditary and it wasn’t elected. She was put into that role by God. And she knew it. And, coincidentally… so did Barack!

God is both compassionate and a righteous judge, humble and forceful, intuitive and logical. Deborah reflects the God who called her. A balanced leader. One that eyes the situation and seeks God’s direction as she acts with thoughtful and wise plans. Deborah exhibited concern for the welfare of her people.

It’s very much like Wonder Woman’s response when she sees the suffering around her in the war zone. People who are wounded. Without food. Hungry children. Destroyed homes. The situation is no longer abstract. She is not just practicing archery and hand-to-hand combat. She is moved to action. Her compassion pushes her to respond.

My friend, Dr. Christy Sim writes:

Today, as we confront suffering in our own world, brought about by years of conquest, lust for power, and patriarchal disregard for the marginalized, we could become overwhelmed by the vastness of the abstract forces working against us. …When we feel with those suffering, we access a deep passion to act. We, like Diana, can rush onto the battlefields of our times and work to create change. Feminine power is often found in compassion.[4]

When we are moved with compassion, we extend ourselves for those in need around us. Your church, like mine, is strategic and committed in your involvement with those who need our help. You invest your time and money in projects like the Special Olympics, or Christmas in April. That’s what God’s people do! We visit the sick. We befriend the stranger. We defend those being bullied. We care for the immigrants in our midst. We do not stand by and wring our hands and say, “oh, that’s just terrible.”

NO, Church. We DO something.

If compassion is our motivation, then like Deborah, we can make a palm tree our office and change the course of a nation. It really doesn’t take riches or CEO status or prestige to make a difference! But it does take action. And, like Deborah, when we see God’s plans unfold in front of us, we can proclaim this is God’s work. And the Lord receives the honor and the glory.

Sometimes, it is not just in serving God with our actions. We serve God with our words as we communicate God’s work in our lives. Just like our second SHEro this morning from the Gospel of John…

The Samaritan Woman at the Well  Come and See   John 4:7-30

sychar

This SHEro was not a powerful warrior, general and prophetess. She was an outcast. The scripture I’m about to read drops us into the middle of her story. The conversation between Jesus and the woman is found in the John 4:7-30.

The Samaritan Woman at the well… She has to be one of the most misunderstood women (in my opinion) in the Bible. A woman who had to come to Joseph’s well in the heat of the day to draw water, not in the morning or evening as most of the households would do.

The well in ancient times was a gathering place. The turn-of-the century Starbucks. If there was no river or other water source, any water you needed had to be pulled up, poured into larger pitchers and carried to where you needed it. Water for drinking, cooking, washing, and bathing. Water for your animals (unless the pasture had a spring). It was the source of life, literally Living Water.

That this woman had to get water for her household in the heat of the day meant that either she was a poor planner and household manager (not a good sign), or she was some kind of social pariah.

We learn from her encounter with Jesus that she has had five husbands, and that she is not married to the one she lives with now. This isn’t because of some lustful living. In all likelihood, she was divorced five times because she could not bear sons (a reason for divorce in ancient times). Or it is possible that her husband had died (and if she had not died in childbirth he might die first). It’s likely that she was not married because the brother or closest relative of her last marriage didn’t want another wife. So her notoriety is most likely not from shady living, but sheer dumb luck with the genetic lottery!

samaritan-womanBut the beauty in her story, to me, is that she discovers who Jesus really is. From his invitation, she accepts the Living Water, and she is changed. She returns to the village and says, “you GOTTA see this guy” – and because of her testimony, we read later in John 4 that many people in the city believed in Jesus – because of her testimony.

When the Samaritan woman experiences true change, when she understands who she is in the eyes of Jesus, there is an amazing metamorphosis that takes place. She can’t stay who she was. She becomes who, I think, God intended her to be… the messenger that brings salvation to a whole city.

If you have seen the Wonder Woman movie, perhaps you remember that Princess Diana goes through a metamorphosis as well. She was a princess, one who was not supposed to go to the practice fields where the Amazons were practicing hand-to-hand combat. She was supposed to be paying attention to her lessons. She goes to the training ground anyway. She practices in secret with the other warriors. She learns how to fight off multiple opponents. And when she crosses her bracelets… She becomes Diana, the demigod, not just Diana, the daughter of Hippolyta.

When Diana is deciding to leave Themyscira she says, “It is our sacred duty to defend the world.  And it is what I am going to do.” Her mother, who does not want to leave, says, “If you choose to leave, you may never return.”  Diana responds, “Who will I be if I stay?”

How can we, who have been transformed by the love and power of Christ, stay as we are? How do we say “no” to the God who has created us, changed us, empowered us, and now challenges us? The problem is not you or me. The problem is we. We are not telling our stories of hope and transformation!

Our challenge now is to take the stories of the Scriptures and allow them to transform us. So much that who we are, wherever we go, we have a story that changes the narrative. Let’s face it. The world is ready for some Good News!

The world’s stage has despot after despot, bigot after bigot, racist after racist, tyrant after tyrant trying to crush down and destroy any person who does not fit his or her definition of “our kind of people”. Can we sit back and say we are tired of the battle? Can we? If we do, we can no longer blame the person on the stage, spouting lies and prejudice and hate. We can only blame ourselves for our inaction. We are letting the noise of politics and conflict drown out the message of hope. God’s hope.

We instead must go to our villages – and tell the people around us, “Come and see the Christ, the Savior of the world.”

“Come and see” the God who routed Sisera’s army.

“Come and see” the women and men God has raised up to lead.

“Come and see” the God who knows everything we have ever done and yet passionately loves us.

“Come and see” the God who welcomes us to his Table and feeds us with compassion and grace.

“Come and see!”

img_1264 AMEN. Thanks be to God.

[1] Serge Frolov, “How Old Is the Song of Deborah?”, n.p. [cited 23 Jul 2017]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/people/related-articles/how-old-is-the-song-of-deborah

[2] William P. Brown, “Chapter 17: Gender I – Feminist” in A Handbook to Old Testament Exegesis, pp 250-252. Westminster John Knox Press; 2017, Louisville, KY

[3] Sara Koenig, “Commentary on Judges 4:1-7” n.p. [cited 23 Jul 2017]. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2216

[4] Dr. Christy Sim “Wonder Woman: A Divine Feminine Myth for Our Time” n.p. [cited 23 July 2017]  https://eewc.com/wonder-woman-divine-feminine-myth-for-our-time/

Who’s Calling? A sermon on Genesis 22:1-14

Offered to the people of God at Bethesda United Church of Christ

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
 (Psalm 19:14 ESV)

Thank you, my new friends, for the warm welcome to your church and your pulpit. I have enjoyed my friendship with Pastor Dee and other women ministers in the area, as part of the group called RevGalBlogPals. We found each other through the magic of the internet. The six of us in our small ministerial group meet about once a month. We laugh, talk, cry and pray about ministry and about our lives. I’m honored to preach here today for your pastor and my friend.

I did not mention in my bio that I was a member at one point in a United Church of Christ congregation. During my high school and college years, my family attended First Congregational Church in Columbus, Ohio, the church of Washington Gladden, Boynton Merrill, and Chalmers Coe. Being in a UCC congregation is very much like coming home! I say this to reassure you… I may be a crazy Baptist preacher, but I honor my UCC roots!

As you read from my bio, my primary ministry is that of a chaplain. When I worked at a trauma center, it was not uncommon to get that middle-of-the-night phone call. In a groggy, sleep-deprived state, I jumped out of bed, put on my shoes and headed for whatever emergency I was called to… But before I responded in person I needed to know Who’s Calling – and get straight in my mind what I was walking into.

Today’s text in Genesis 22 is one of those texts with a wake-up call in it. For if we do not remember the nature and intention of Abraham’s God, we can easily go careening off into the wrong direction. We can also do this text a grand disservice and take it as a simple conversation. Perhaps we might join philosopher Immanuel Kant in the depths of his cynicism. But this text can point us back to the Imago Dei, if we are paying attention.

After all, it is a hard story to hear, isn’t it? As if Genesis chapter 21 wasn’t bad enough – the story of Sarah and Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael… of jealousy and banishment… and of God’s protection and provision. If we read this story with ears of disbelief, we might respond much like the Abraham immortalized in another of Bob Dylan’s songs, “Highway 61.” You may be old enough to remember it:

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”[1]

I invite you to ponder Genesis 22 with me as we try to find the threads of grace and justice and hope and peace that we believe ARE the hallmarks of the Divine’s work in the world. In a broken, twisted, confusing world like ours, there are many around us who do NOT see that God is there.

My imperfect take on this text is simply this: as you read these words, never ever let the Covenant God of the Patriarchs out of your sight. Read these words through the filter of a relational God, not an impartial, angry God. We will indeed struggle if we forget this story in its context. The context is one of a covenant relationship. And it is a covenant relationship that will go through a severe test of faith (for Abraham).

Who’s Calling?

A Covenant God. A just God. A God who asked Abraham to leave everything he knew to go off into a new land, with a wife who has yet to bear children, to begin a great nation.

Who’s Calling?

A Covenant God. A God who keeps promises. A God who tells Abraham to walk for 3 days and then kill his son as a sacrifice. Our minds boggle. WAIT… Hold on now… Binding up a human being for sacrifice? Where is this relational God now?

The binding of Isaac, or the Akedah, is found in the Sacred texts for Jews, Muslims and Christians. The text weaves in faith and despair. Hope and disbelief. Kierkegaard in his work Fear and Trembling takes chapters and chapters to untangle the philosophical questions in this story. Never fear – I will not read the entire book to you! (But, should you wish to wrestle with this personally… there is your assignment!)

The relationship and love of a father for his son is emphasized in the construction of the very words of our text. In true ancient storytelling fashion, the repetitive words make it clear that this son, this Isaac is precious and beloved.

From our text in v. 3: Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…
Yes. His only legitimate son and heir. That one.

and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…
…and Abraham is given this horrible task…

The classic Jewish midrash by Rashi suggests God made this as a request to see if Abraham would really obey and follow him, only to then reward him.

The Holy One, blessed be He, makes the righteous wonder (or wait), and only afterwards discloses to them [His intentions], and all this is in order to increase their reward.[2]

Was this just a “test”? Was this a challenge to expand Abraham’s faith or just the beginning of the tale of God’s faithfulness?

When God promised Abram his descendants would outnumber the stars in Genesis 12, did Abram know how it would happen? He had no children, no land other than the space he pitched his tent! He did not yet know how God would do all these things but believed. We read in Genesis 15 and later in Romans that God “credited it to him as righteousness”. Against all the odds of the improbable, Abraham believed.

The Apostle Paul reminded us of this in Romans 4:18-22

18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

And isn’t that what we are called to in a time of improbable politics and conflict? We are called to believe that though it seems unlikely, God is at work… in and through and in spite of us!

On some level, Abraham had faith that God would do something even though he thought he was to sacrifice Isaac. In his own words in Genesis 22: 5, Abraham says…

Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; WE will worship and then WE will come back to you.

…WE will worship and then WE will come back to you.

Was it a prophetic statement or a quiet and desperate prayer by Abraham?  “WE will come back?”

I would suggest to you that Abraham may have been uncertain HOW God would bring offspring… with no son… or how Isaac would return with him, alive, but he believed that El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient One would do it! Based on all Abraham knew of God’s work in the past, he had faith.

Rev. Jacqueline Lewis says: “Faith in God means remembering deliverance in the past and expecting deliverance in times to come.”[3]

Remembering deliverance… expecting deliverance… I suggest to you that THIS is the narrow way through to understanding and living with this text.

Two other characters in this story deserve a moment of our reflection.

SARAH

First, Sarah.

Other than knowing the backstory, that she is Isaac’s mother, she is absent from this narrative. It’s not surprising. Women in the time of the patriarchs did not offer sacrifices nor lead worship, so they would not have made this kind of journey. They supervised households, had babies, made clothing, cooked meals, tended flocks and crops, and fetched water.

Sarah’s real worth in her culture’s eyes was measured by how many sons she birthed. She believed her barrenness was from God. In Genesis 12, she said that God had “prevented” her from having children, and in order to see that promised sea of descendants appear, she suggested Abraham have children by her slave, Hagar. She saw no other option.

How do we view Sarah? Do we see her as a schemer? Someone trying to keep her position as Abraham’s first wife?

Or do we see her through the lens of a woman who knows she is only chattel? Someone who not only could be replaced, but has no other recourse? Someone who only has an outside chance that things might go her way… but just in case… she pegs in her own position in the sand.

When we force people to the margins in society, whether by virtue of race or economic status, why are we then taken aback by their desperate measures? Rather than long-range planning, Sarah found a short-range solution. It’s a strategy that many of us have fallen prey to, if we are honest… Fear that I won’t get what’s “mine” or I will lose what little security I have.

Women of today are all Daughters of Sarah… If we from our place of privilege can find compassion for Sarah’s plight, can we then transfer that compassion to “the Hagars” in our lives? The people who have been intentionally shoved into exile? The ones who do not have favored status? The ones who are aliens…?

So, Church, how might we respond today to the marginalized and ignored…?

THE RAM

The other character I’d ask you to consider is the ram, who is, as the poet Yehuda Amichai said, “the true hero of the Akedah”  [Ah-KAY-dah]. Listen to the first part of his poem:

The True Hero of the Akedah
Yehuda Amichai  translated by Chavatzelet Herzliya[4]

The true hero of the Akedah was the ram
Who did not know about the pact among the others.
It was as if he volunteered to die in place of Isaac.
I want to sing, for him, a memorial song,
About the curly wool and the mortal eyes
About the horns that stood silent on its living head.
After the slaughter, they were made into shofars
To sound the blast of their wars
And to sound the blast of their celebrations….

The ram caught in the branches may have been reaching to eat the last tender shoots of a limb. Picture the deer in your neighborhood, straining to get the new, freshest buds off the top of your azaleas. Or the cow reaching through the fence to find the greenest grass.

Perhaps the ram was struggling for survival in a part of the world where green things and water are scarce. One could imagine the ram losing its footing and its horns becoming enmeshed in the branches. It could not get away… and it was there. Stuck. Waiting. A Divine appointment. To be sacrificed would be a merciful end rather than a long, slow death by thirst and starvation.

Could this happen naturally? Yes!  It did, as suggested by art found in “The Great Death Pit” from an archeological dig in the 1920s led by Leonard Woolley. (See pictures here at the Penn Museum website.) Some of the sculptures had a stylized animal, either a goat or a ram, caught in the branches of a small tree or bush. They were dated to be around 2100 BCE, the approximate time it is suggested Abraham lived.

The ram is also significant because it reminds us that the ancient peoples did not always use animals as sacrifices. The scarcity of resources, or fear of survival, led them to sacrifice children to the gods, like Amar-utu the Akkadian god of the desert sun.

Abraham was called out of this practice to worship the One True God. In this transition of a people group from old beliefs to new, he saw the ram as a reminder from God: I will provide for you.

Rev. Kathryn M Schifferdecker from Luther Seminary[5] says “the sacrifice of the ram in place of Isaac becomes the foundational act for all the Temple sacrifices that follow”

With our modern-day eyes, we can make the connection between God providing the ram, with God making a way for us, for our faith to declare us as righteous. We know Christ, the Mediator between the human and the Divine.

From your earlier years, you may remember these words from the Heidelberg Cathechism:

And who is this mediator—true God and at the same time truly human and truly righteous?
Our Lord Jesus Christ,
who was given us
to set us completely free
and to make us right with God.

How do you come to know this?
The holy gospel tells me.
God himself began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise;
later, he proclaimed it
by the holy patriarchs and prophets,
and portrayed it
by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law;
finally, he fulfilled it
through his own dear Son.

Abraham moves in this uneasy space of the old (human sacrifice) and the new (the ram). The ram brings a pause in the downward arc of the knife:

Abraham, Abraham!
Whom do you serve? (You gotta serve somebody!)

Abraham, Abraham!
Look up and see what God is doing! What God has already DONE.

We are all bound and unbound from challenges, illness, even death by the Creator God who made us. Even those we love the most. We bring heart-felt requests to God, believing, as Anne Lamott says, “someone hears us when we speak in silence.”

We must ask ourselves when we feel stuck:
“Who’s Calling?”
Whom do we serve?
Do we SEE God?
Do we HEAR God?
Do we respond with understanding?

Can we sit with the tension of this text?
Can we feel the agony of an impossible decision?
Can we spare compassion for our neighbor who does not have enough money for rent AND food AND utilities AND medicine AND clothing?

Can we see this story from our places of brokenness?
Can we remember we only see one side to a story?
Do we forget there is a place for God to speak into our lives and change us?
Are we listening and responding to God’s Call?

Are we finally waking up from a deep sleep, grabbing the phone in our sleep-fuzzed states?
Are we even move-able? Or are we, as Anne Lamott says, like “mushrooms, living in the dark, with poop up to our chins”?

Church, Church! Christ speaks!
Do we answer, Who’s Calling?

Or do we say, as Abraham did, Here I am!

Can you answer? Here I am!

HERE I AM!

Thanks be to God!

[1] Highway 61, lyrics by Bob Dylan. https://bobdylan.com/songs/highway-61-revisited/

[2] http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8217/jewish/Chapter-22.htm#showrashi=true

[3] Jacqueline J Lewis, “Summer Series 1: God’s Creative Connection” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series. ©2016, Westminster John Knox Press. p 57.

[4] http://ktiva.blogspot.com/2006/11/poetry-of-akedah.html

[5] Kathryn Schifferdecker, Commentary on Genesis 22:1-14, Working Preacher blog, © 2017. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2138

The Day After Christmas

The struggle is real.


I came downstairs this morning to begin a Christmas tradition with my family… Making the “monkey bread” that’s a special holiday treat. There was no time to bake it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. When I did have a little down time, we ordered pizza or ate leftovers. Or I just put my feet up and had some eggnog with brandy.

I’m incredibly blessed to have ministry opportunities in two venues: my work as a Hospice Chaplain, and my position as Assistant Minister at a progressive Baptist church. But today, I am going to enjoy my family,  open some presents, ignore my phone, and share in the cooking of a good meal. I might clean up enough of the counter to have a place to sit down and eat. Or not.

But most likely, I’m going to rest. And count the blessings I see… because they are everywhere. Once I have a few moments to breathe, I’ll get some other blog posts up…

Merry Christmas!

Happy Hanukkah!

Joyous Kwanzaa!

And peace be yours…

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!

I Will Hold Your Story

In my work as a chaplain, I am privileged to listen and reflect with those who are brought into my circle of care. I am not the only one who listens to these patients. Nurses. Social workers. Physicians. Nursing assistants. Even the food service and environmental service staff! We all are part of the patient’s journey towards wellness. We provide services, relieve pain and pressure, and make sure the patient’s and family’s needs are heard and met.

Sometimes in hospice work, however, we do not have tasks we can do. We provide the gift of Presence. Of listening. Of hearing and holding stories. It is a privilege and a blessing.

 

Patient

© 2011 Medill DC, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I Will Hold Your Story

When the time comes, I will hold your story.
I will listen to the words you do not say.
I will honor the memories that spring to mind,
suddenly, wildly, impetuously,
as if they must be remembered.
They must be said aloud or be forgotten forever.

When the time comes, I will hold your story.
I will laugh with you
(even though it hurts to laugh)
until the tears rolls down our cheeks,
and we gasp for breath,
As if you will never laugh again.

When the time comes, I will hold your story.
I will hold mementos and souvenirs.
I will cherish photos with you.
I will look at faces from your youth,
faded on paper, but not in your heart.
I will help you speak their names.

When the time comes, I will hold your story.
I will honor your faith.
I will celebrate the loves of your life.
I will clean my cheeks with my tears.
I will lift a glass in memory of your life.
I will remember…
And then some day,
Someone will hold my story, too.

When the time comes…

Rev. Deb Vaughn, 6.8.2016

Forgiveness and Alligator Shoes

shoes

EPhoto Credit: “Alligator Shoes”, © 2014 Robert Sheie, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

It was quite a shock to run into this man. I was getting some charting done with an eye on the clock, hoping to squeeze in one last patient for the day. I did not expect to see a nemesis from my past in a nursing home’s administrative suite!

At first I didn’t know for sure… for he always was a person who had a bit of swagger and bravado. He was a  man of high-priced, tailored suits and fancy alligator shoes.

And this man? He was looking desperate, slightly shabby, and selling photocopiers…

Really?

I blinked. Glanced over at him again…

Nope. That was the guy, all right. Could I leave without him seeing me? Maybe if I kept my head down and my focus on the charts…

Our eyes met. Crap. I smiled and went into my “public face” mode. (I confess. I acted polite, all the while dying inside.) We exchanged pleasantries. I managed to escape moments later, bemused by the emotional journey I traveled in just a few seconds. I was shaken at how all those feelings came boiling back up…

It was not a good memory. The feelings were slightly raw. Still.

He had lied about me to our superiors. Lied about me to our peers. Made every veiled, misogynistic remark he could about women in ministry. Put me into tears on more than one occasion with his snide remarks about my weight. Or judging me because I wasn’t a stay-at-home mom. Or smirked at my age. I felt self-righteous anger begin to rise…

And God said, “Forgive him.”

Lord, are you kidding me? After all I went through? And people were fired… And…

“Forgive him.”

I stewed about it the rest of the day. And then… I began my studies for an upcoming sermon, and read through the verses for Holy Week, including the Crucifixion. The passages on demonstrating forgiveness, from the heart, hit me… hard.

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25. NIV

Yikes.

I prayed for this man, asking God to bless him (and knowing that he will never know). I prayed for my attitude. I prayed for my anger. And, true to the promises of God, I felt my burden of hurt lifted from me.

I have a focus and purpose in the Work of God in this world… and I am moving on to do it. God is merciful.

Blessed be.