note at Manchester bombing memorial

Death in the Family

note at Manchester bombing memorial

Manchester victim memorials

There has been a death in the family. As I write this, less than twenty four hours have passed since the bomb at Ariana Grande’s concert at the Manchester Arena. Twenty-two people have been confirmed dead, and an unknown number of people are injured. Social media is awash with connected stories. How a homeless man cradled a woman as she died. Ariana Grande herself tweeting a sense of feeling broken. Grande is twenty four years old; much of her following consists of young girls and women. Another article suggests that this was an attack specifically targeted at girls and women. There has been a death in the family.

There has been a death in the family. As I write this I am attending the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. For the Church of Scotland, and for the United Reformed Church, their respective General Assemblies are the highest and final decision making bodies for their denominations. In some respects, for those Churches, it is these Assemblies who are the bishop or the archbishop rather than any individual person. This morning the Assembly received the report and debated the deliverances (this is the term the CoS use for what other bodies would call a motion or a resolution) from their Church and Society Council. The pain of the world was held before us as we reflected on what happened in Manchester along with many other national, U.K., European, and global, social and political issues. I have lived through too many of these tragic events. As I remember other bombs in other cities, in other countries, and on other continents, the creeping feeling of numbness and disbelief that humanity could treat its own so dreadfully touches me yet again. There has been a death in the family.

There has been a death in the family. Much has been written and said about how human communities and how Christian churches deal with death and tragedy. Among the most well known writing about bereavement comes from Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and her theory of five stages of grief. As a Christian minister I have presided over countless funerals where I have proclaimed the Gospel Good News of hope and resurrection trying to enable those left behind to make sense of the gap now present in their family or community. There has been a death in the family.

There has been a death in the family. The question that I am left with, again, is about why this happened? On one level, the answer is simple, someone – and someone that I choose not to hate, or label with insults – walked into the Manchester Arena and detonated an explosive device. The group styled as ‘ISIS’ have claimed responsibility. But where is God? And if there is a God, why do these things happen, and happen to children and young people who had their whole lives ahead of them?

While studying theology at university I was introduced to the biblical genre of lament. Read more

Hospital bed

Pregnant, No Baby

Hospital bed

Hospital bed

Now I wish that I’d had the “abortion.”

He dropped my hand to run across the room. A pan, anything to catch it, but the blood was coming and the staff was too busy and there was nothing he had, ultimately, but his hands. I know those hands so well. He calls them “bear paws” for the way he claws rather indelicately but with force just so when there’s a knot in my neck or to steady our toddling daughter.

The clods of blood embarrassed me and I apologized out loud, to whom, I’m not sure, since the hospital staff weren’t there. In between episodes, I bent over with a towel or whatever I could find to sop everything up, but in time the bleeding became too much and bending over was unwise and I sat on the bed, causing more mess and I hate mess. Then came the pain with an intensity I hadn’t felt since my beautiful baby girl’s birth. I pushed the button for the preoccupied staff because: PAIN. But no one could come right then and my husband took my hand with his sweet bear paws.

Then the expunging surges my uterus proffered to get this all done began and he dropped my hand to try to go see what he could do between my legs, positioned like a midwife at a birth, checking, catching. I saw him look into his cupped hands at this Nerf football-sized clotted thing that he then carefully set aside, as the staff had asked us to do “for analysis” before they left for the other things.

A few weeks before, we were on the primary care side of the hospital complex, excited to have the ultrasound. There was a pregnancy sack, all of the things that say “pregnant,” a positive pregnancy test, but no heartbeat. The midwife was more shaken about it than I was and I found myself reaching out to comfort her when her voice got shaky. My pain was for later, for my secret space in a room by myself in some time with my God.

Faced with two options, one was cheaper. I am grateful to have health insurance through the Pension Boards of the United Church of Christ, the denomination I serve as a pastor. Our plan had covered our daughter’s simple hospital birth at 100% once our deductible was met. But, as I have known for years, as our insurance representatives reiterate consistently when asked why they do not cover dilation and curettage surgeries: “The United Church of Christ does not cover abortions or other elective procedures.” So our second option would be paid entirely out of our own pockets. My health plan did not prioritize my health. Maybe I did not, either.

In earlier, harder days, in between insurance coverage, I frequented Planned Parenthood for my routine women’s health needs. But those were hard days and I did not want to go back to them. Moreover, I was scared of the idea of an abortion. I have close family members who vote solely on whether or not a candidate supports women’s access to abortions, and I knew that if I went forward with one – even though there was no life in my womb – I would be at extreme odds with their position. I was too afraid to face the kinds of conversations that could ensue if I had that D&C. Read more

women protesting

Young Clergy Women, on Strike or Not

women protesting

Women Protesting

On March 8, 2017, in observance of International Women’s Day, activists called for American woman to strike from paid and unpaid labor, or to participate by joining a protest rally, not shopping or supporting women owned businesses, or simply wearing red to show support for women.

Clergy women made many different decisions about how to observe the day. The question for many came down to the nature of their work, family life, and questions about what the strike might accomplish. Fidelia’s asked them about their decisions. Read more

Young Clergy Women on Marching

On Saturday, January 21, young clergy women participated in the Women’s March on Washington, DC, and in sister marches all over the world. We’ve gathered some of their reflections on these events.

On the visibility of being clergy

  • I intentionally wore my collar to serve as a public witness as a faith leader: I had a conversation with a woman my age who has an advanced degree in Hebrew literature and Scripture, but did not go on to be a rabbi because she didn’t have female role models. She expressed gratitude that I was showing young women today that they, too, may be called to lead faith communities.
  • A reporter interviewed me and another clergywoman, and was surprised to hear that we were pastors. “Wait, you’re Christian, but you’re at this march?” I explained that I was marching because of my faith, not in spite of it: part of my baptismal call is to follow the example of Jesus, serve others, and strive for justice and peace for all.
  • I wore a collar to show that young women clergy exist, and that Christians stand for love and justice. My husband observed that when photographers saw a young woman in a collar, they ran over to snap a picture. It was interesting to notice how young women clergy were “desirable optics” for a reporter’s narrative. I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about that.
  • I had planned to wear my collar, but I start a new job next week at a non-profit that is primarily donor funded, and is supported broadly by churches and synagogues across theological and political spectrums. While I wanted deeply to participate, I also didn’t want my collar to get me on the front page of something and alienate church folks in a new city before I get to know them.
  • I marched beside my mother, also a clergy woman. I wore my collar because the reason why I march is my faith and my role as a faith leader: I was marching for congregation members who are queer and don’t feel comfortable being out at church; for undocumented parishioners who have sought help but come up against roadblocks; for the woman who had an abortion when she learned her much-wanted baby would not live and was in pain.
  • I marched with a group of fellow clergy women wearing matching jackets that said “Nasty Clergy Women.” The comments ranged from “Pray for me sisters!” to “I’m not religious, but that I could get on board with!”

Read more

Cemetery with flowers

Circling Around Grief, Celebrity and Otherwise, in 2016

Cemetery with flowers

Cemetery with flowers

2017 will be a year without Carrie Fisher. I am not sure what to make of that. Whatever changes and transitions have come and gone in my life, Carrie Fisher is one of those public figures who has always been around. Like most children of the 80s, I grew up on Star Wars. Princess Leia was my princess (even if my hair was, alas, far too thin to pull off any of her iconic looks).

Beyond Star Wars, though, Carrie Fisher was … Carrie Fisher! My college roommate and I went through a phase when nearly watched When Harry Met Sally on an infinite loop. Who else could make a line like “I promise you, I will never want that wagon wheel coffee table” into a touching expression of true love? And there was Fisher’s defiance of the patriarchy just by her public existence as a self-possessed, opinionated, middle-aged woman who was open about her mental health struggles. The audacity! Our world will be less without Fisher’s voice and presence in it (even if we do have one posthumous performance to anticipate in Star Wars: Episode VIII).

Fisher’s death late in December (followed by the almost immediate death of her mother Debbie Reynolds) marked the end of litany of celebrity death that felt endless. Beginning with David Bowie on January 10, there was speculation that an abnormal number of prominent public figures passed away in 2016. No doubt the false intimacy of online communities feeds into the collective cries of grief when we hear news of yet another celebrity passing. For good or ill the internet allows us to feel a connection with other human beings who would not ordinarily be part of our lives, giving us a connection to prominent public figures that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. In our collective expressions of grief or loss, however, social media also holds up what would otherwise be private feelings for public scrutiny. Read more

a child crying

A Message to the Margins: An Election Lamentation and Call to Action

a child crying

Tears

The United States of America has elected Donald Trump its next president. It’s sinking in as I type that.

We (the royal “we”) elected Donald Trump, a beloved child of the Most High God.

We elected a man who has painted immigrants, migrants, and refugees with the broad brushes of “rapist,” “drug dealer,” and “terrorist.” He has used ableist language in his stump speeches. He has generalized African-American communities as “hell.” He has called for Third-Reich-like treatment of Muslims in America. He has bragged about sexually assaulting women, even as a married man. He has called women vile names, insulted their natural bodily processes, and rated them based on how attractive he finds them (or not). He has eschewed the common gesture of transparency to the American people by refusing to release his tax returns. He has incited violence among his supporters by promising to pay their legal fees should they be arrested for assaulting anyone who protests at his rallies. He has been incendiary toward the LGBTQ community, people of color, Muslims, immigrants — you name the community, and he’s insulted them.

He is, again, a beloved child of God.

Yet, instead of categorically rebuking his behavior at the polls, we rewarded it: with the presidency. Read more

1908 Chicago Cubs

Hope After the World Series

1908 Chicago Cubs

1908 Chicago Cubs

The world was turned upside down for Cubs fans this week. Since their last appearance in a World Series in 1945, one of the truisms of Cubs fanship has been hope for the impossible: that this will be the year. With their World Series victory, does life as Cubs fans know it cease to exist?

The question of life as we know it ceasing to exist may sound cliché and existential, but consider the changes in the world since 1908, when the Cubs last won the Series, or, for that matter in 1948 when Cleveland last won the Series: cars are everywhere; humans have landed on the moon; and we’ve learned to send messages on tiny screens using just our thumbs. The world as we knew it, a century, or even decades ago, has ceased to exist.

Fans of long-suffering baseball teams have established a personal practice of hope. This has been true both of Cubs fans and Cleveland fans. To hope means to look forward. Looking back at what could have been only ends in disappointment. Read more

Protestor holding a sign saying, "No DAPL"

Sacred Land and Oil: One Pastor’s Response to #noDAPL

Protestor holding a sign saying, "No DAPL"

Protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline

My childhood in rural Alaska was defined by three things: my Christian faith, a connection to specific land, and big oil. My Lutheran grandparents homesteaded in Alaska in the early 1960s, and the 160 acres they claimed remains one of the most sacred spaces in my life. My mother’s family still lives on that land, her brother in the house that includes the original homestead cabin. The ashes of my grandparents now rest in the middle of that land, in the family cemetery.

I thought immediately of that holy plot when I saw the images of bulldozers leveling the sacred burial site of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota three weeks ago. My family’s burial site is protected by the local and state government: it cannot be built on or plowed under by law. Yet no such protection was afforded a site much larger, older, and more sacred than mine. I felt the wrongness of it in my bones.

Oil is also part of my family history. My dad worked on the North Slope oil fields for 35 years, building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and working in the well houses that pump crude from land leased by Alaska’s Native tribes to British Petroleum and other companies. I worked on those fields myself during college summers. In that time, I saw both the high standards of accountability to which tribal authorities held the oil companies for protecting the land, and the incremental and dramatic ways in which oil production changed that land and the lives of the (mostly) Native people who live on it.

Alaska is different than other places in the United States: in Alaska, Native people have greater economic and political influence. This is true in business, government, and also in the church. I understood from my early experience in the Lutheran church of Alaska that our Christian faith and Native beliefs had much in common, and I saw firsthand a beautiful confluence of Native and Lutheran traditions.

One of those shared traditions was honoring all of creation as sacred and worthy of equal dignity with humans. I remember a Lutheran mission trip in Southeastern Alaska where our ELCA clergy guides led us in asking the forest’s permission, using traditional Tlingit language and prayers, to use its bark for basket-weaving. In my childhood experience, it was clear that the “serving and keeping*” of the land (Genesis 2:15), described as God’s intention for human beings, was not a willy-nilly clearing of land, pumping it dry of resources to benefit the human race.

Instead, my Alaskan Lutheranism taught me about the mutuality of creature relationships between human, animal, land, air, and water. It impressed upon me the weight of making decisions that would affect the non-human parts of God’s creation. I have heard similar expressions of this mutuality from clergy involved in the protests and encampment at Standing Rock, though the responses of the bishops in my own denomination have been lukewarm and disappointing.

To me, it is clearly part of our Christian responsibility to stand with Native people and any others who wish to give the sacredness of land, air, water, and non-human creatures greater priority than economic and business concerns. It is part of how we honor the intention of our Creator in making us servants and keepers of more vulnerable living things. To do otherwise is to risk losing even more of what our God created good to climate change and other unnatural disasters. As a people who claim an identity sprung from baptismal water, standing in solidarity with protectors of water is our sacred duty and delight.

*I follow Dr. Ellen F. Davis’ translation of this verse from the Hebrew, which uses “serve” rather than “till.”