Leaven

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” Matthew 13:33

A fresh sourdough loaf made from the author’s starter, Sid.

A fresh sourdough loaf made from the author’s starter, Sid.

My mom baked bread when I was a young child. I can still remember the bread pans overflowing with honey-colored dough and the steam rising as she cut the first slice. But as I grew, and as our lives grew busier, somewhere along the way the hot loaves of honey wheat bread were replaced with loaves of cracked wheat from the grocery store. Still, the memories of my mother’s bread led me to want to try making bread myself. My own adventures in bread baking began in high school when my gadget-loving dad provided me with a bread machine. Although the bread from the machine was definitely tastier than the store-bought variety, I quickly lost interest in the process. I wanted more of a challenge, so I decided to make honey wheat bread the way my mom made it. The ingredient list was long: yeast, cottage cheese, honey, milk, and two kinds of flour. But it never called for leaven.

Though I was familiar with Jesus’ parable about leaven, at the time I didn’t understand that leaven was more than just Bible-speak for active dry yeast–the only kind of yeast I had known it in its scientifically isolated form. So my bread baking went on as usual until I happened upon a documentary about sourdough bread and the fermentation process used to make it. The documentary described the way that bread was made throughout the world for centuries before scientists were able to capture yeast and put it in a powdered form. I was mesmerized by the ancient bread-making practice that unfolded in the documentary, and I was determined to try it. Read more

Channeling Your Inner Leper

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” ~Luke 17:11-18

4101881178_fefea807b5_zI think a lot about the lepers these days. In my current ministry setting of waiting tables at a restaurant, I am asked for a lot of things every shift. A. Lot. More napkins? Sure. Another Coke? Absolutely. A seventh basket of chips and salsa (yes, seven!)? I’ll be right back. It’s my job to meet these needs the best way I can while doing what is right for the customer. So I grab a clean fork when you drop yours on the floor and remember the lemons and deposit them on the table with a smile. The words I only hear sometimes are “thank you.” I get ignored, I get looked at, people are rude, or stare at their phones not even noticing that someone has just set a plate hot enough to boil water on their table. I would venture to say that about 50% of the time, the people who sit at restaurant tables do not say “thank you” during their entire visit. Which is why it is so noticeable to me when they do.

So I think about the lepers. Especially that last one – the one who took the effort to go back to Jesus after he had received what he desired to say “thank you.” As the text makes clear, the leper is an outsider and one who is very different from Jesus. Which, to me, makes the act even more noticeable. I wonder how Jesus reacted, internally. Did he smile inside? Did he feel a sense of accomplishment? Did he feel valued and noticed? Those emotions are ones that many of us feel when someone says “thank you.” Read more

The Granting of Passage

Photo provided by the author

Photo provided by the author

I travelled abroad for the first time when I was six. Along with my parents and my then two-year-old brother we went with some family friends to stay in a large house in Brittany, France. From what I remember, the house had a big yard that was perfect for playing in (especially water fights!), we spent a lot of time on the beach at the end of the road where I learned to swim, and we walked up to the local boulangerie each morning for fresh bread – trois baguettes s’il vous plait – being the key phrase to remember.

My father drove us from our home in south London via the Portsmouth to Cherbourg ferry to the village of St Marguerite. It felt like it took forever. But it was straightforward. We drove to Portsmouth, sat (or in my case, played) on a ferry for a few hours, and then drove to our final destination. My parents had applied for and been granted one of those family passports that enabled us to all travel on one document. The passport was blue and the clerk who issued it had filled out the salient details by hand.

A passport is exactly what it says on the cover – a pass port – a document that enables the holder to travel internationally, ‘without let or hindrance.’ Or at least that’s what it says on the inside of my British passport anyway. A passport enables the holder to travel with the stated protection of their government asking that the government of the territory to be crossed allow safe passage. Interestingly, the earliest mention of a passport occurs in the Bible, in the book of Nehemiah,

Then I said to the king, If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may grant me passage until I arrive in Judah Nehemiah 2.7 NRSV.

When I recently travelled to Greece to meet refugees and visit agencies supporting refugees, I became very aware very quickly of the privilege it is to hold a passport that enables me to travel freely. A British passport allows the holder visa-free travel to 156 countries. According to the United Nations there are currently 206 sovereign states in the world so a UK passport holder can travel freely to just shy of 3/4 of the countries in the world; that same person can likely obtain a visa to visit most of the others without too much difficulty. Provided, of course, that one has the cash to pay for a ticket to travel and to cover the cost of the trip.

While in Greece most of the refugees that I met came from the following nations: Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is perhaps no coincidence that according to the passport index these are the five weakest passports in the world (weakest meaning that holding one allows for free travel to the least number of states); an Afghan passport holder can travel freely to a mere 24 nations, Pakistan 27, Iraq 30, and Syria and Somalia 32 a piece. These were people who, even on a good day, do not enjoy the same privilege of being able to travel that I have.

Which country any of us end up being a national of is mostly down to luck. I did not choose to be British anymore than Ameera*, a refugee I met, chose to be Syrian. That was decided for each of us according to who our parents were, and the country in which we each happened to be born. The fairness of that reality is currently a much-contested political issue as the European Union debates the current migrant crisis, and the people of the United Kingdom go to the polls to decide whether or not Great Britain will remain a member state in the aforementioned European Union. Personally I would not like to see my British passport become ‘weaker’ but I think I would like Ameera’s to be ‘stronger.’ One of the difficulties of course is that Ameera’s government is in no position to protect Ameera from harm when she’s asleep in her own bed never mind when she’s living in a refugee camp in Greece. The UK government, for all its faults, doesn’t for the most part do too badly at ensuring the security of the people within its jurisdiction.

So with my passport and credit card in hand I can book a ticket, board a plane, and travel pretty much anywhere in the world “without let or hindrance” and expect at least a reasonable welcome when I arrive. Billions of people in the world do not have that advantage – and that’s what I mean by privilege here – an advantage. Hundreds of thousands of people in the world are currently living in refugee camps, and they have the least advantage to travel at all. Not all refugee camps are ‘locked’ – in fact the government camps in Greece only ‘restrict the liberty’ of the refugees that they host for the first 25 days after they arrive in the country. Refugees are people fleeing war, drought, famine or other threat of life and limb; whatever else they are, they are not criminals (or at least they are not criminals by virtue of being a refugee). They deserve to have their story heard, their case heard fairly and justly, and if a reasonable legal process agrees that they are wherever they are as a result of fleeing war, famine, pestilence or persecution, they deserve to have the opportunity to build a new life for themselves and their loved ones. And what is wrong with that.

I will never take my passport for granted again. A question that I have now been asked several times is how joining the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland trip to Greece has changed me. This is one way. I love to travel, I find it energising and life-giving. But I now know a tiny bit of the privilege of being able to travel freely, and of the advantage of being able to travel because I choose to do so, and not because the only choice I have is between death and taking my chances somewhere new.

*Not her real name

reed on pink background

O Gentle Savior

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen one in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him,

and he will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout or cry out,

or raise his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break,

and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

Isaiah 42:1-3

reed on pink backgroundThe pastor read these words from Isaiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench…,” and suddenly I was listening. Read more

Called to Tell the Truth

Spotlight-1

From ‘Spotlight’

While there is a trend among colleges and universities these days to downsize journalism programs, for many of us journalism is “trending.”

For instance, the most downloaded podcast of all time, Serial, has a former newspaper reporter as its host and a small staff of researchers with backgrounds in journalism. The podcast’s tagline is simple: one story told week by week. In the first season, host Sarah Koenig investigated the story of a man named Adnan Syed, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his girlfriend 16 years earlier.  In the recently completed second season, Serial dug into the story of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, who walked away from his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban for five years. These were heavy stories that took hours to tell. Koenig interviews experts about cell phone towers and maps of rural Afghanistan and other topics that seem boring. In the hands of seasoned journalists, those facts became fascinating.

While walking the dog earlier this week, I paused in the middle of the road to listen more carefully to the last episode of the second season. Koenig talked about blame and guilt. Forgiveness. Complexity of the human mind. She admitted, as she did in season one, that her questions still outnumbered her answers. What I heard was not a journalist–but a theologian. Read more

black and white image of a winter night - snowy road, tree and house

While It Was Still Dark

black and white image of a winter night - snowy road, tree and houseEarly in the morning, on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.

My father died of pancreatic cancer a few years ago. He was relatively young, only 58. The night before he died, I kept watch with him. His body started shutting down. I had sat at the bedside of enough dying people to know that when people die after a long illness, their feet and lower legs seem like they’re dying first. His feet turned purple and cold. It would not be long. I sat with my dad in the dark of the night. The rest of the house was quiet. So quiet. I could hear every gasp, every rattle.

It was the middle of January, and a blizzard raged outside. My husband drove through the night to be with me, but the snow piled up along the shore of Lake Michigan, delaying his arrival. Pain wracked my dad’s body. The hospice nurse couldn’t make it out in the storm, and I had already given all of the narcotics in the emergency comfort pack that she had left earlier that day. My dad was anxious, not about dying, but about what was happening to his body, and about the pain.

I could do so little to make him comfortable. Read more

Mater Misericordiae

The Church and Sexism: What We Can Do

I live on the Maine/New Hampshire border. The radio in my bedroom gets better reception from Maine’s NPR affiliate, the one in the kitchen tunes into the New Hampshire station. Which means, recently, that I wake up to Maine’s Governor LePage saying that one of the big concerns of the heroin epidemic is that (black) drug dealers are impregnating (white) women; as I pour my coffee, I hear about the NH state legislator who suggested that women who breastfeed in public should expect to have their breasts and nipples fondled.

Mater Misericordiae

Mater Misericordiae

Mornings have been rough around here.

Even without the racially-charged language being used in Maine (horrifying in itself, but a post for another day), these stories have been a constant reminder of the continuing objectification and sexualization of women in our culture. Each morning I am told anew that women are two-dimensional building blocks for the construction of men’s multi-dimensional identities.  Read more

Getting ready for Zumba

Finding Holy Ground

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 5Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ 6He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Exodus 3:1-5

 

Getting ready for ZumbaFinding New Ground

I’m not a dancer. Well, not really. I remember taking a ballet-tap-jazz class at our next-door neighbor’s house during elementary school. There was a studio in the basement and I loved the ways my tap shoes made noise as I stomped my feet. But my family moved a lot and it was not until seminary that I returned to the studio for a beginning ballet class. For ten weeks, I stretched and plied at the barre and practiced jumps across the floor. It was not exactly graceful, but I loved it. And now, ten years later, I find myself in a new studio, on a new floor, looking for a new place to stand.

I am in the midst of transitioning; Read more

log cross on log cabin wall

Even the Sparrow

log cross on log cabin wall

“Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.”
Psalm 84:3

Sometimes we puzzle over the strangers who enter a church we’re serving. Some visitors are outgoing and eager to open up. But others? Even after seeing them a few times, we wonder: Who are they and where do they come from? What are they seeking? Are they church shopping? Just visiting the area? Or stopping for respite in the midst of a crisis? They may leave suddenly before we learn their stories.

In 2012, I was the stranger entering a church. I was living in Philadelphia with my husband and our 15-month-old son. We had just moved from our home in Alabama for my husband’s job, leaving behind our family, friends, and my career as a minister. I was starting to enjoy life as a stay-at-home mom, and loved living in a big city. But one day without warning, my husband told me that he wanted a divorce, and suddenly I found myself single and jobless with a baby, in a city 800 miles from home, with no family or friends nearby.

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Bringing Up the Rear

ocean water crashing on rocks

Trouble the waters.

I Corinthians 15:1-11

  1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy,that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)

3-9 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.

10-11 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it. So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it’s all the same: We spoke God’s truth and you entrusted your lives. (I Corinthians 15:1-11 MSG) 

A woman preacher is a woman in trouble.

There is that troublesome God who plucks us from the simple linear life that we created for ourselves and calls us into ministry.

There are those troublesome insecurities, that voice that rings in our heads “who am I to stand in front of people and speak. I am nobody.”

There is that troublesome glass ceiling that women have been hurling stones at for generations but that pesky glass is strong and hard to crack.

There are those troublesome stereotypes. The covert and overt messages that say “if you are going to be a woman preacher you have to look a certain way. Talk a certain way. Stand a certain way. Be a certain way.”

And then. And then. And then:

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