Palm ashes burnt in bowl with dried palm frond cross on top

A Poem on the Eve of Lent

Palm ashes burnt in bowl with dried palm frond cross on top

Palm ashes for God’s beloved dust

God’s beloved dust,
fabric of the universe—
of planets newly discovered
and ruins ancient, broken
and us.

God’s beloved dust,
we’ll walk into wilderness
on a Wednesday—
a wilderness of words
and want
and wonder,
a wilderness for the wise
and the weary.

God’s beloved dust,
ushered from pew to pastor,
they will pause.
Eyes averted
or closed
or resolute in meeting mine,
an awkward encounter
breaking the boundary of space—
to touch another’s face
and to mark it
mortal.

God’s beloved dust,
thumb to forehead,
brokenhearted,
breaking with tradition,
I will say

to God’s beloved dust—
to the squirming infant
barely a month from the womb,
to the mother, headscarfed,
halfway through chemotherapy,
to the wrinkled widow
well acquainted with ashes:

Remember you are God’s beloved dust
and to God’s beloved dust you shall return.

And we will watch and wait
to witness
what God can do
with God’s beloved dust.

a red chasuble with dove detail

If the Chasuble Fits: Reflections on the 40th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women in the Anglican Church of Canada

a red chasuble with dove detail

Red chasuble with dove detail

I spent the last two months leading up to maternity leave serving at All Saints’ Cathedral. It was a short interim, just enough to bridge their staffing gap, that allowed me to work a little longer after my previous parish was filled. Two other women in a row – both under the age of thirty – had held the same position. Down the hall, the first woman ordained bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada had her office. If my gender was an issue for anyone, I never heard it. I have benefited from much progress since the first ordinations of women forty years ago. Most of the controversy that raged through the church in 1976 has died down.

On the other hand, being female and nine months pregnant in that early parish was more of a stretch. Trying to arrange the chasuble when I sat down so it wouldn’t get wet in case my water broke was only a young clergywoman problem! I will never forget the Sunday a young parishioner brought her Roman Catholic boyfriend to church. Imagine how it threw him to see someone preside at the Eucharist who was dressed as an ordinary priest and praying using familiar words – but sporting a very large baby bump. We had a good laugh about it afterward. I never saw him again because I welcomed a healthy baby girl four days later. For much of the global church, I’m an oddity. But most of the time, in a diocese that has been led by female bishops for coming up on twenty years, I hardly notice.

No, my femininity isn’t the main challenge I see to the traditional view of priesthood. I stand on the shoulders of women who fought those battles in their own generations and so paved the way for me to serve God and the church in this way in mine. In this culture, people are put off more by a church that does not have women in leadership. At least in my part of the world, at least on the surface, we have progressed. Most congregations in my denomination accept me as a priest without question. Even my youthfulness, perhaps worn down by a decade of motherhood, no longer attracts the kind of dismissive comments it did when I was twenty-three and trying to fill my first clergy collar. I have grown into it. I have learned better to speak the language that people expect of leaders. I know more of how to attend to the liturgies, committees, and community rhythms that keep the institution of the church humming along. I can preach the life of Jesus in a way that is inspiring with just the right amount of challenge, and listen with the right blend of pastoral concern. In short, I fit.

But though a woman wears the vestments, how much difference has that really made?

The dignified, authoritative country parson still inhabits our institutional memory. I have seen him live on in a church whose drive to spiritual maturity and collective imagination was crushed by a particularly harsh version of Reverend-knows-best. Stodgy women’s groups fill our caricatures and, whether or not they are real, they limit women in the church to bake sales and gossip. We second- and third-generation ordained women find ourselves – still – with the task of gently and intentionally laying down what has held us back from fully following the call of God. As we do, we find that the only church most of us has ever known is still deeply burdened, still stumbling through an incomplete story, still fallen so far short of reflecting the life of Christ. I and my daughters have the privilege of being educated and of choosing to pursue any vocation, but deeper sin-bound patterns still affect us.

I sat in a gathering of our national church in 2001, as Archbishop Michael Peers offered an apology on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada to those who had been devastated by the Indian Residential Schools and their terrible aftermath. He had first spoken those words eight years earlier to an indigenous council, and now it was time to renew them before the whole church. As I heard the Rt. Rev. Gordon Beardy, our first Indigenous diocesan bishop, receive the apology and embrace him as a brother, I did not understand that we were watching an empire crumble. I didn’t realize that this was the mighty falling and the wealthy being brought low. I couldn’t know how much this marked the church beginning to turn aright.

The legal settlements that followed required millions of dollars. The church sold buildings and drastically cut programs. Several dioceses were decimated. It did not make up for such a great evil, or begin to pay for our healing, but it forced us to sit and listen to those whose voices we had too long ignored. It forced us to be honest: we can no longer claim to be righteous, or even right. Though we have been given the hands of Christ, we have used them for violence. We may not now believe the lie that our empire is the hope of the world, or that divine favour will guarantee us material success, or that our sin does not matter. If we are honest, we cannot deny our need for grace and forgiveness, for Jesus.

When I stand at the altar with baby spit-up on my shoulder and wearing robes not made for my body, I hope that I will remember that I am not there to fill a mold that looms large with authoritative confidence, but to point to a life that leaves no wounds forgotten and untended. Jesus has always led away from our comfort and security. When I get comfortable with the church of the empire, I risk losing sight of him. Not with our power, but from the humble, forgotten edges, he will make all things new. I hope the church will remember this, too.

A friend took on holy orders this spring. Before the service started, as we always do, the mass of clergy, presenters, acolytes, and ordinands gathered outside the cathedral doors to pray. But this time, there was sweetgrass burning alongside the incense. Before the organ swelled, the surrogate grandmother to several clergy families’ children rose and offered blessings in an ancient language that most of us do not yet understand.

I can only bear witness to what has already begun. Read more

Called from the Shadows

This past summer, I explored Rome for an afternoon during a layover, and I prioritized visiting the San Luigi dei Francesi church where three paintings by Caravaggio hang. I became fascinated by one of Caravaggio’s paintings there in particular: “The Calling of Saint Matthew.” It depicts Matthew 9:9, which says, “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.'”

For the last decade, I’ve frequently drawn upon the tradition of Lectio Divina but less so upon Visuo Divina, the practice of prayerfully considering an image or visual representation in order to experience the divine. I am therefore grateful that God shook me out of the haziness of my playing tourist on a humid August day. In the midst of my fatigue and my feelings of being overwhelmed (so little time in Rome; so much to see!), the Holy Spirit invited me to stop and consider the truth of this painting by Caravaggio.

On the right side of the painting, Jesus gestures towards Matthew. Bathed in light, Matthew points to himself, expressing surprise. I, too, was surprised. Read more

A Hammock and a Window

more-than-enoughI have a very un-humble confession to make: I adore the cover of my new book. When my publisher first sent me the image earlier this year, I’m pretty sure I squealed like a teenager who has just found the perfect dress to wear to the prom.

The drawing on the cover is inspired by the hammock in our backyard. I bought it a couple of years ago, on a trip to visit some friends in Nicaragua. In real life, it’s red and white, though after a few seasons in the sun and the rain, the colors aren’t quite as bright anymore. It hangs between two trees, and dips low to the ground; my daughter likes to read out there, her brother likes to make it swing. I watch them through the back window, and the sight of the two of them out there playing is so beautiful to me that it takes my breath away.

Our life is very good. We live in a safe place. We have healthy kids, good jobs that we like; we’re able to pay the bills and put food on the table. Sometimes, I look around at this very good life and I can hardly believe that this is the same world in which people go hungry every night. The same world in which refugees walk for months and years with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The same world in which the gap between rich and poor is growing wider all the time.

How are we supposed to live, given this reality? When every choice we make – from where we live, to what schools our kids go to, to where we buy our groceries and our clothes – has implications far beyond our own family, how do we live?

I’ve been wondering about this for awhile now, but as I went looking for some answers, most of the responses I found were inadequate or confusing.

We could live more simply, but simple living turns out to be kind of complicated. We could commit to only buying stuff that’s sustainably produced and locally sourced, but that’s not always easy to find. We could buy only organic, locally grown food…or should we buy cheaper food and have more money to give to the hungry? We could use our cars less and give the earth a break, but then how do we get to work? We could go off the grid entirely and grow all our food and make our own clothes, but what if we don’t know how to do that, or want to do that? And aren’t we, as Christians, called to live in the world?

I didn’t exactly find answers to all these questions, but I do think there are some things we can do and do better. I think there are some faithful ways to live. We can make better choices with our stuff, all those material goods that make up our lives. We can pay attention to where it comes from and who makes it, use less of it, and be grateful for it. We can give generously from what we have. We can get to know our neighbors better. We can advocate for changing systems and laws that further exacerbate the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

The Christian tradition also offers some resources that can be helpful: Confession and lament. Sabbath-keeping. Delight, and hope. These are practices that ground us in our tradition as we try to make sense of the world we live in.

Anyway: back to the hammock. Earlier this year, one of the trees that held up the hammock had to be taken out. It was diseased up at the top, and the tree guy who understands such things said that it was too dangerous to leave standing. I was sad to lose the tree but I was even sadder to lose the hammock.

It had become a touchstone for me. Just having it out there reminds me of things I need to be reminded of: It reminds me that there are people who live different sorts of lives in different parts of the world. It reminds me of the need for sabbath and play and delight, even in the middle of regular, busy life. It reminds me that we are not without responsibility for our actions and our choices, but that there are faithful ways to live in the tension between appreciating the goodness of the world and grieving for the ways the world is broken.

I missed the hammock when it was gone.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, my dad and my father-in-law happened to be in town at the same time. My father-in-law is an architect who knows how to figure things out, and my dad is a putterer who likes to have a little project to work on. Together they rigged up the hammock in a different part of the yard, between two different trees in a spot I hadn’t considered.

There’s a different view from the back window, now, but I can still see it out there, standing as a reminder for all I hold dear. I am grateful.

Read more about Lee’s hammock (and plenty of other reflections on living faithfully in an unjust world) in her new book More than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of ExcessAn accompanying discussion guide and worship planning guide is available for free download here.

Adult hand holding a child's hand

Grieving Infertility at the Wailing Wall

Adult hand holding a child's hand

holding hands

In the midst of our darkest days of navigating our way through miscarriage, failed IVF treatments, and trying to decide how we felt about adoption, an opportunity arose for my husband and me to travel to Israel on an interfaith delegation of peace with three other Northern Virginian clergy. One of the first stops on our trip was the Western Wall. We’d visit one of the most sacred sites in Jewish history. The following, an excerpt from my upcoming book from Chalice Press entitled Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility, is the tear-stained prayer I placed in a crumbled piece of paper in the Wall and an account of what transpired afterwards. I wrote:

I am a Mother. Read more

Drawing the Circle Wide

3662909395_5f74d0a8a3_zIn the early 1990’s, Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Atlanta, GA, like most downtown Atlanta churches, was struggling. Members had moved out of the city center and into the suburbs, and were no longer willing to drive back to their home churches. So the suburban churches thrived as the in-town area crumbled. Real estate prices plummeted. The streets were vacated. The 1980s were not good to Atlanta’s heart.

The only folks who seemed to be moving into the midtown and downtown areas were folks who didn’t feel welcome anywhere else. The 1980s saw a surge of single, gay men buying up property and settling into the area. Things started changing. Read more

Earbuds

Hearing and Being Heard: A Pastoral Response to Orlando

Earbuds

Listen

The Orlando shootings are not about me. Let’s start with that. I’m white, heterosexual (attracted to people of the opposite gender), and cisgendered (my internal gender identity matches the physical traits I was born with).

My privilege has socialized me to think that the news is always about me – I believe I can make the first comments, know something about it before anyone else, and choose to disregard it as rubbish when it doesn’t fit my worldview. Even when I actually know and experience nothing about it, my place in society gives me the privilege to believe that I am allowed to be the first to know something about the things that happen in our incredibly diverse world. Especially, my privilege assures me to know that I will be heard.

I confess this: being heard has been more important in my life than hearing. I do not listen enough.

Today, the Monday after the shootings, I realize how much I need to listen. I am yearning for the stories written by people in the communities most affected. I am looking for articles written by Latinx (a gender-neutral word form of Latino/Latina) people, posts generated from people who identify within the LGBTQIA community, blogs composed by Muslims who remind us that their religion is indeed about love, not hate. We need to hear that hatred within Islam is a perversion of Islam.

In the same way, hatred is a perversion of Christianity. God is about love.  Read more

Why I Go to Church on Sunday, Especially When I Don’t Want To

sanctuary

Holy

“Every Sunday morning I wake up not wanting to go to church. By noon, I’ve come face-to-face with the holy and I’m humbled.” #realclergybios

I wrote that tweet back in January, but it nicely sums up my pastoral experience of the last 12 years. When my alarm goes off at 6 a.m. on Sunday mornings, my first thought is always “already?!” followed closely by “who decided that church needed to be at 8:15?” and “I hate being a pastor!” Mornings have always been my least favorite time of day, and, as an introvert, having to cheerfully greet hundreds of people always fills me with dread. Read more

How to Walk to a Meeting in Manhattan…While Female and Wearing a Clerical Collar and Red Leather Boots

  1. The Author

    The Author

    Be female.

  2. Be ordained.
  3. Be in Manhattan and, if at all possible, have plans and credentials to attend sessions at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
  4. As you prepare for the day, put on a dress with a clerical collar and knee-high red leather boots.
  5. Leave your hotel room early in the morning and walk up Lexington Avenue, in search of coffee, before the first session begins.
  6. Note the odd looks that people give you (when they don’t completely ignore you, as do most New Yorkers), and remember what you are wearing. Breathe in, breathe out. Note that it takes more energy than it should to be a walking contradiction. Plan to go to bed earlier tonight as a result.
  7. Locate a Starbucks and stand in line.
  8. Barely register the fact that a man has gotten in line behind you, until it becomes quite clear that he’s trying to get a good look at your collar without being too obvious, which isn’t working.
  9. When the man says, “Excuse me, but what are you?” remind yourself that he hasn’t had any coffee yet today, either. Smile your best smile and say, “I’m a pastor!”
  10. When the man registers this and then asks, “So, are you like the Mormons?” remember to breathe in, and breathe out. Ask him, “What do you mean?” and then immediately realize that a simple “no” would’ve sufficed. Tuck this realization away for next time. Reflect for a nano-second on the fact that there will always be a next time.
  11. When the man leans in closer and asks, in a tone reminiscent of trying to pick someone up in a bar, “Do you have to wear that special underwear?” take a brief moment to consider your options. Recognize that your least-favorite response is also the safest. Choose safety, every time. Glare at the man long enough to make him understand that you find both him and his question repugnant and then say, quite curtly, “No.”
  12. Go back to looking at the menu above the register, even though you knew what you would order before you walked through the door. Recognize that this man, knowing as he now does that you aren’t wearing Mormon underwear, is quite possibly still thinking about what kind of underwear you are wearing, especially now that he knows you got to choose it yourself. Resist the overwhelming urge to use any and all self-defense moves on this assho- I mean, customer. Order your coffee and head to the bathroom.
  13. When you find the only unisex bathroom stall occupied, wait patiently, hoping the underwear customer will be gone when you are finished.
  14. When the bathroom door opens, and the man who comes out is startled by your presence, find it odd that he stops for a moment to look you up and down, before he sneers at you and then chuckles.
  15. Connect the dots after he leaves and you walk into the bathroom stall, only to find that he has left the seat down and pissed all over it, not in the manner of a man with bad aim, but in the manner of a man who gets off on the idea that whoever comes after him will have to clean up his mess; this marking of his territory. Realize that he didn’t necessarily expect to see who that person would be, but that in his wildest dreams he probably couldn’t have conjured you up; try not to think about what he’s thinking about right now. Breathe in, breathe out.
  16. Because you really need to go, wipe the seat (and handle and floor and wall) with what finally amounts to half the roll of toilet paper. While you do, make connections between this man and the group of male Ivy League students you heard about in a session yesterday. (They were asked, by someone researching the effect of pornography on men’s brains, to list one thing they wanted to do to a woman, but never had. Every single one said, “Come on her face.” When asked why, they said it was a matter of power. When pushed further, they were able to articulate, “It’s because we know that women hate it.”) Try again not to think about what this man is thinking about right now; this man who somehow needed to prove himself by pissing all over a Starbucks bathroom. Breathe in, breathe out.
  17. When you have finally finished your surprise janitorial duties and used the bathroom yourself, grab your (now lukewarm) coffee and continue up Lexington Avenue.
  18. At a stoplight, when a cab pulls up and three men tumble out, appearing still drunk from the night before, move over to give them plenty of room. When one of them spots you and yells, “Hey, are you a priest?? Are you a priest?!?” simply smile and nod, especially given that this is the most tame encounter you’ve had all day, and it’s not yet 8:00am. Walk on, with your head high, as he yells behind you, “Hey, I’ve got some confessing to do!” Laugh to yourself, because you know no other way to survive.
  19. Arrive just in time to help lead worship for a group of ecumenical women at the Church Center of the United Nations, where it is so busy and chaotic that you forget about what has just happened until lunchtime.
  20. Stand in line for lunch at the U.N. cafeteria. While you wait, notice a woman approaching you. When she greets you, with a thick east-African accent, saying, “Good afternoon, Reverend! How are you?” realize immediately that she seems to know you, but that you can’t place her. Say, “Please remind me how we know each other!” When she responds that you have never met, but that she saw your collar and simply wanted to greet another sister in the church, smile wide and embrace her.
  21. After this woman leaves, remain in line, waiting to pay for your pre-packaged sushi. Notice the tears welling up in your eyes.
  22. Breathe in.
  23. Breathe out.
cross in front of a sunburst

Enough.

As U.S. Navy Chaplains, we have the privilege of serving Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsman, and their families in every clime, place, and context. It is a humbling honor to stand with and for those who defend the Constitution of the United States. Our “ministry of presence” occurs aboard ships, cutters, and submarines; with expeditionary, construction, and amphibious battalions; ranging over air, sea, and shore commands worldwide. We live among our people, we deploy with them, and we preach and pray in some of the most interesting of circumstances.

cross in front of a sunburst

In the Shadow of the Cross

This chaplaincy is unique in the uniforms we wear and the places we go; however, there are a myriad of similarities with any parish or institutional ministry. We provide rituals and rites of our faith group according to our denominational guidelines, we counsel and facilitate religious practice for every service and family member of all faiths, we advise the chain of command, and we are subject matter experts on human care. The following reflection is based on an amalgamation of days and circumstances and reflects a typical spiritual and emotional experience for me as I continue to discover that My Job is really not at all about me. Read more