The sooner we accept religion is irrelevant the sooner our collective focus can shift towards restoration. Yes, I’m a clergy person, and yes, I think religion is irrelevant. When Christians are arguing about the color of candles, when to start Advent, and what candles to light, it all feels ridiculous in the face of a climate catastrophe, genocide, and war. I understand many may cling to the order religion brings. I get the real human need for boundaries around rituals especially when the world is a mess. I know I’m in a privileged position as the leader of an alternative spiritual community: we get to make our own rules. We’re not bound by tradition but create our own to meet our needs in each season. To me that’s the ideal. To others, maybe not. I’m happy to allow room for everyone to practice their faith in ways that suit them as long as it does no harm to others. Which is why the arguing about rightness always feels frustrating. Read more
Every November, as many in the United States prepare their Thanksgiving turkeys and make plans to gather around the table with friends, family and perhaps too much food, the world also commemorates Holodomor, the devastating forced famine imposed on the Ukrainian people by Joseph Stalin’s regime in the early 1930s. This dark chapter in history serves as a solemn reminder of the resilience of the Ukrainian people and the enduring trauma they have faced throughout generations. Holodomor is observed on the fourth Saturday of November every year.
In the Girl Scouts, I’ve found a place where I don’t have to leave any part of myself at the door. In contrast to the church, which often adheres to a patriarchal structure, Girl Scouts provides a nurturing and inclusive atmosphere. I’ve never felt that I needed to be someone I’m not in this organization. It’s a safe haven, a place where all are celebrated for their unique qualities. As a young clergywoman, I strive to recreate the Girl Scout spirit within the church—a space that is welcome and hospitable to all, regardless of their background or identity. We just celebrated Halloween, the day when ghouls and ghosts come to life, but October 31 is also the birthday of Juliette Gordon Low.
SERVICE OF ORDINATION 2020
I wish you knew
What it’s like
How it feels
To watch your kitchen table tyrant
wrapped in a red cloak of victory Read more
For my Doctor of Ministry program in Faith, Health & Social Equity I was afforded the opportunity to choose any elective I wanted last spring. I chose to take a course titled, “Women’s Religious Leadership as Subversion” taught by Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber at Drew Theological School. Although the class was crafted and mandatory for our sister cohort focusing on Women’s Religious Leadership, I decided that, as a clergywoman myself, the content would be applicable to me as well. What a gift that class turned out to be!
Throughout the semester, we read several spiritual memoirs from women in religious leadership. There was a plethora of memoirs to choose from, so those memoirs we did not read personally we heard presentations and reports about from fellow students. I have kept the syllabus, stored forever at the ready in my OneDrive. It waits for me to pick up the next book on the list and find encouragement, solidarity, laughter, pain, joy and inspiration from these “Subversive Sister Saints” who have lead the way and blazed the trails upon which I now tread and those who are currently with me on the trail. Read more
It started with blinding pain in my abdomen—the kind that wakes you up in the middle of the night and leaves you bent over, groaning, on the bathroom floor.
It ended with—oh wait, it hasn’t ended. There has been no tidy conclusion, no ultimate resolution. It has been a journey with no end in sight. It has been a journey, I’ve come to realize, with no end at all. The journey itself is all there is. Read more
A few months ago I attended a CREDO conference, a week-long conference offered to Presbyterian and Episcopal clergy through their health and pension benefit. It’s something like a cross between a conference and a retreat that centers on four areas: spiritual health, vocational health, mental and physical health, and financial health. It includes plenary sessions, small groups, daily worship, and opportunities to consult one-on-one with the conference faculty members. There is pre-work and post-work inviting reflection on values and connecting those values with a “rule of life.” Much like a monk or a nun who lives by a rule, the conference offered an invitation to create our own rule (unlike monks and nuns who don’t get to write it themselves) and to implement it in our life.
I am no stranger to rules of life. Before joining the Episcopal church, as a Baptist-raised liturgy-leaning teenager, I went on a weekend retreat at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan and became entranced by the daily office. Upon returning to my parents’ home, I began to implement my own daily regimen of prayers, attempting to pray the entire Psalter in a month as the monks did. As with most of my spiritual and devotional innovations, it fell to the wayside, but the desire remained. I continued to feel a tug, a pull, to live a more structured spiritual life. Read more
The new year in American culture rings in the reminder of all the ways our culture wants to change us. Diets and special offers for gyms and workout programs flood our emails and social media feeds, triggering within us the idea that we need to improve.
Resolutions aren’t a new concept. In fact, the Ancient Babylonians made resolutions for the new year, but they celebrated in mid-March as the signs of spring and new life were beginning to appear. When the new year changed to January 1 in Ancient Rome, it was a deeply religious time, a time to look back at the past year and make commitments to change for the better spiritually. But over time in American culture, these ancient practices have shifted away from the spiritual realm and concentrate mainly on physical improvements to our bodies. Recently there has been a pushback to these cultural expectations of weight-loss and dieting with people recognizing that the weight-loss and diet culture is an industry that profits off of making people feel inadequate. Not only is it an industry, it’s a $58 billon dollar industry. Read more
The first thing my partner’s father asked after we told him I had cancer was, “Is Jo going to fight this?” It was a serious, intense question, one that we hadn’t even begun to think about. It was less than a week after the colonoscopy that showed a five centimeter mass at the top of my descending colon near my splenic flexure. It was less than a day after I received the biopsy results that showed that the mass was adenocarcinoma, moderately differentiated. For twenty-four hours, I had been focused on telling everyone that after months of symptoms with no clear cause, the answer was colon cancer. Fighting hadn’t crossed my mind.
My partner looked at me sideways before he answered his dad, waiting for my nod. I shrugged. “Yeah, she’s going to fight this,” he said into the phone. “Good,” his dad said, and led the conversation to questions about treatment and staging, what resources we had available, who we should talk to, what the timeline was. This was before the chest CT, the consult with surgical oncology, the dizzying flurry of information and instructions. This was still a month away from the six-hour surgery that would leave me with many incisions and arms that still don’t bend quite like they did before. We didn’t know anything about what the “fight” would look like, but we signed up for it all the same. Read more
Earlier this year, I was at an annual gathering of other local clergy in my denomination. Our speaker for our time together was Dr. Deanna A. Thompson, the Director of the Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community at St. Olaf College. She spoke on a couple of different topics, weaving in her experiences as someone who has been living with incurable cancer since 2008. You can read her story in her book, Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace (Cascade, 2012). On our last day together, the topic for Dr. Thompson’s presentation was “Gospel of Irresolution: Illness, Trauma, and Getting to Hope.” It highlighted how illness and trauma can lead us to a place of irresolution, a place where things are not neatly tied up in a bow, no matter how badly we want them to be.
As we begin a new year, I wonder if this isn’t an idea to lean into. Read more