When the World Is Fighting

When the World Is Fighting: Talking about War (and Peace) at Home

Excerpted from When Kids Ask Hard Questions, Volume 2: More Faith-Filled Responses for Tough Topics (Coming soon from Chalice Press)*

 

When the World Is FightingI have a vivid memory of sitting on the carpeted floor of my sister’s basement as she wrangled with her toddler. “Shock and Awe”—the phrase used to describe the United States’ initial invasion of Baghdad in 2002—was on the television, and I knew in that moment that my niece would grow up in a world very different from the one I had known.

My niece doesn’t remember a time when the United States wasn’t at war.

Nearly two decades later, the same is true of my own kids.

My husband is an active-duty Army chaplain, and he left for his first deployment the week after our wedding fifteen years ago. His second deployment began when our oldest was an infant, and his third when all three kids were school-aged.

My spouse and I spent a lot of time and energy discerning how much to tell them. Because we had been through deployments before, we had been down the road of communication blackouts, uncertainty, and misinformation. We didn’t want to shield them from reality, but we also didn’t want to scare them unnecessarily. His location was near Fallujah, so though his job as a chaplain kept him from direct combat, danger lurked. We walked a tightrope of giving them enough information to contextualize their experience, without so much that it would keep them up at night.

I do want to note here the privilege that comes from being a kid in the United States at this point in history. We talk about war as a thing that happens on the other side of the world, not out our own front windows. For many kids across the globe, going to school or playing outside is a physical risk, and that serves as the backdrop for how I think, talk, and pray about war and combat violence with kids in the United States. This is unimaginable for many of us, and it’s important to remember this context.

Even still, being a nation at war permeates our lives in ways we might not even realize. Before they could speak, kids in the U.S. were watching commercials with emotional coming-home celebrations and massive flags draped over football fields. They have grown up with “Support Our Troops” as a ubiquitous call. Though military kids are more aware of it, all kids live under the cloak of war, though we usually name it “patriotism.” Depending on how the adults around them do—or don’t—talk about it, they might not even be aware that we’ve been continuously at war since 2002, but they have experienced some of its effects on how we as a country interact with one another and the world around us.

But every so often, war floats up to the surface of our national awareness. Usually it’s because of an event: an attack, a bombing, a thwarted peace talk. Social media begins to fill with news stories and opinion pieces, followed by hashtags and photo frames and the questions on our collective minds: Will we go to war again? Who will go? What will it mean for us? Why is this happening?

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How to Boss Up

Daughter of the original post’s author, Joanna D’Agostino

One of the reasons Young Clergy Women International exists is to offer a space for young clergy women to seek support, share ideas, and build community. Last week one of us posed this question in our Facebook group:

I need some help preparing for confrontational conversations.

AKA: Help me Boss Up.

 

She went on to describe the challenge of approaching and responding to people in our congregations who offer criticisms without solutions or any expressions of gratitude woven in. Like many of us, she often folds under pressure, apologizes for things that aren’t her fault, or offers compromises that complicate the church’s work. Like many of us, she is doing intentional work to stop apologizing for things that she’s not sorry for and to stop giving away power to people whose behavior is inappropriate.

To help her with that, she started a list of phrases to keep with her as reminders of ways she can respond in difficult conversations. She asked the group to provide additional ideas.

It struck a chord. Along with adding wisdom and suggestions, many people commented that they were saving the list of phrases to come back to. The editors of Fidelia would like to share this list of collective wisdom.

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So You Want To Be An Ally: Showing Up Well for Pride

So, you want to be an ally? Wonderful!

To start, let’s clear up a couple of things. First, ally is not a term we get to give ourselves. It is one given to us by communities to whom we are proximate, and with whom we are in solidarity and doing the work. I actually prefer the term co-conspirator or comrade. There is something active in those terms that I like. After all, being an ally is an action and not an identity. Second, the A in LGBTQIA+ (sometimes LGBTQ+ for short) is not for Ally. It’s for our Asexual and Aromantic siblings.**

June marks the beginning of pride month. It is a sacred time in the calendar for the LGBTQ+ community. Every year I get asked some variation of the question, “How do I be a better ally to queer and trans folks?” I love that folks are invested in supporting our community, and every movement needs good co-conspirators. To that end, here are ten tips.

1. Get in the game. Silence is a choice. To quote the public transportation slogan, “If you see something, say something.” When you choose not to enter into a conversation or raise your voice when one of us is being harmed, you speak much more loudly than you realize. You communicate that you do not care about us. Speak out when harm is being done but also just because you can. If it feels hard for you to advocate for our communities with cranky Aunt Ida, imagine how it feels to a young, transgender teenager who is trying to come out, because staying in the closet is killing them. Most of all, fight for us, and speak up when we aren’t there to see you do it. What you do when we aren’t in the room is perhaps the most telling of all.

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Cracking the Closet Door

I recently preached a sermon about Nicodemus. As a refresher, he came to see Jesus under the cover of night to talk with him about God. In the Gospel of John, right before Nicodemus’ nighttime visit, is the story of Jesus cleansing the temple. I wondered aloud if perhaps Nicodemus was a witness to this event, therefore impacting their encounter. Perhaps he heard the words and witnessed Jesus’ actions, and that was what drove him to visit Jesus. I wondered if perhaps what he witnessed was keeping him awake at night, if it made him wonder more about what he heard and experienced, and if it finally drove him to speak with Jesus.

Before he encountered Jesus, I wonder if Nicodemus had avoided these thoughts being exposed. Up until the moment he had gone to see Jesus, he remained invested in certain narratives that validated his past; for too long he had glossed over the parts of him he was too afraid to expose. This was perhaps the part in his journey when he was questioning everything he knew to be true up until that point.

As I sat writing the sermon, I froze. The story felt too real. The conclusions I drew felt too familiar. I knew this story, because I lived it when I discovered I am a lesbian.

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A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Zoom

This prayer marks the transition from online back to in-person worship. You are welcome to adapt to your context.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Zoom

Holy God, we give you thanks that we can worship you together in-person in the church building as of next Sunday!

At the same time, we mark this last service together on Zoom, and we give you thanks for this software platform. Thank you for giving your people the talents and skill to develop this communication tool.

For over a year, Zoom has enabled us to safely have and be church from home in the midst of a terrible pandemic.

We give you thanks that we have had access to computers, phones, tablets, and stable internet.

Of course, it hasn’t always been easy – we learned a great deal along the way. There were those times when someone not being muted led to a phone ringing or a dog barking during prayer or the sermon.

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Virtual Worship, One Year Later

My daughter preparing communion at home, while we watched together on the TV.

March 1, 2020 was the last time my family attended worship in person.

The congregation I pastor held in-person worship on March 8, but since I was keynoting a camp retreat that weekend, we weren’t there; March 15 was our first virtual service.

Because of the specificities of our area, the congregation, and our building, we haven’t returned for in-person worship, and, well, we won’t before I move to another state this summer because of my spouse’s job.

There are both gifts and limitations of virtual worship, as we all are well aware by now. Much metaphorical ink has been spilled to discuss the ins and outs of how and why and whether and when and where to do virtual worship, so I’ll leave that alone for now, other than to say that, while I believe meeting virtually-only is the best and most faithful decision for my congregation, I am experiencing worship fatigue.

And… I’m the pastor. 

My spouse and I are actually both clergy (he is an Army chaplain) and both of our dads are pastors, so we are, ahem, a heavily “churched” family. Some of my earliest memories were from the church aisles, and I’m one of those people who found a church to attend every single week while I was in college. I’ve never not had a church home, and I even went into labor once at a Bible study… and didn’t leave for the hospital until the last “amen” was spoken.

And you know what I’ve discovered in the past year, for the very first time in my whole entire life?

It is LOVELY sleeping in on Sunday mornings.  

Like, absolutely lovely.

Okay, I’ll go a step further and fully admit it, my secret confession: There’s a part of me that is dreading going back to weekly in-person worship.

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Video Chat Life

Shannon and her child try to connect with loved ones through video chatting

I let my breath out slowly through my teeth as my baby kept screaming. I took out my phone and sent a friend a video chat of me, bags under my eyes, hair a mess, holding a tearful, grumpy baby at my desk. I didn’t speak, just gave her a meaningful look. She sent a video chat right back of her own tired eyes, messy hair, and fussy baby.

This moment was not one in which I lamented motherhood — I wanted a baby my whole life and had many losses and failed treatments to get this child, screams and all. Instead, this moment was one that illustrated my overwhelm as the only adult in my home for days on end, whose amount of work kept piling up even as I got less and less sleep. Many of us, especially those of us in communities with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, find ourselves in this unique kind of isolation the pandemic has created. So when I am at the end of my rope, I try reaching out, if only to send my friend a video of my kid crying.

Perhaps video chats of grouchy babies are not the best use of amazing technology, but knowing I had someone to whom to confess all of the Instagram v. Reality of my life grounded me. This fussiness will pass, my video chat reminded me. Fleeting, like this chat. And hers reminded me that I was not alone, even in pandemic isolation.

She is one of my clergy mom friends, and her baby is only three months younger than mine. A few other friends sometimes join us on these chats, some with babies a little older or younger than ours, one who doesn’t have babies anymore but who has some great stories about when hers were little.

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Book Review: Blessed Union

It is the season of love. The stores are filled with candy hearts, blossoms are starting to appear on trees (at least here in Texas!), and marriage is on the minds of many. Into this landscape bursts the Rev. Sarah Griffith Lund’s new book, Blessed Union: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness and Marriage, published by Chalice Press.

Griffith Lund previously published a book entitled Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family, and Church. This newly-released book serves as a companion to that, particularly about the way the marriage relationship is impacted by mental illness. Since we’re approaching the one-year anniversary of COVID-induced shutdowns, and we know that the pandemic has greatly impacted mental health, this book is particularly relevant.

Marriage is complicated. Every single marriage goes through times that are unique just to those two people: conversations no one else knows about, decisions that can’t be discussed with others. Some of these are necessarily kept private due to the intimacy of marriage. However, all too often these conversations are kept private due to feelings of shame and fear around mental illness.

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Winter Reading Suggestions from Young Clergywomen

Do you love curling up under blankets with a pile of books in the winter? Have you found more time to read – or needed to make time for your survival – in this pandemic? Young clergywomen (YCW) shared in our online groups some of what we hope to read this winter. Many of the books inspire our work as pastors (some accidentally), and many help us stop and breathe in the midst of such strange times. If you are looking for more recommendations for the year, check out some of these reads.

 

Books to read if you are looking for healing…

Loves…Regardless: Forty Devotions Inspired by Womanist Creative Thought and Theology by Donna Owusu-Ansah

This devotional is written for black women, celebrating #blackgirlmagic. The YCW who recommended the book is white. She wrote, “As a white woman reading this life-giving womanist text, my own soul soars as I remember my own belovedness and cultivate practices that lead toward wholeness.”

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I’m Not Throwing away My Shot

“Do you have kids?” the paramedic administering my vaccine asked.

Taken after receiving the 1st dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine (with appreciation for Virtua Health’s clever sense of humor).

“Yes. Two barrels of energy. They are 3 and 1.”

“A pastor and a mom? Wow.” She said, smiling. “I want to tell you something important. You’ll be scheduling a 2nd dose on the way out, and I want you to do something for me. Schedule the day after your 2nd dose as a PJ day for just you. Take off from work. Get a babysitter. Schedule yourself a sick day. You may feel a little under the weather with the 2nd dose (I did). And even if it doesn’t make you sick, you’ll still get a day in you pjs reading a book. You’ve been through a lot. You deserve it, Pastor.”

I started to tear up. She didn’t know me at all, but she spoke right to my heart. Paramedic as pastor. She was right: I totally deserve a PJ day after momming and pastoring and adulting through this past year.

Yet I wasn’t sure she was right on another point: Did I deserve the vaccine she had just put into my arm? On Monday (January 11, 2021), all clergy in my Presbytery received notice from our Executive Presbyter that one of our local healthcare systems was opening up the vaccine to all “clergy in the community.” By Thursday (January 14) at 9:30am, I had rolled up my sleeve to receive the vaccine shot in my arm. I could hardly believe that I had been chosen to receive the COVID-19 vaccine so soon in the distribution process. As a healthy (but super exhausted) 30-something woman, I figured I wouldn’t be eligible until Summer or even Fall. So many others need the protection from the deadly virus more than me. I don’t have underlying health conditions. I don’t have a job that puts me on the frontlines. I am careful and as safe as possible here in my little bubble, which consists of both home and church on one little block.

Yet I, like the rest of the world, have spent sleepless nights and anxiety-ridden days worrying about contracting COVID-19. My worries are twofold. First, I worry that I could potentially spread the virus to members of my church who are in the high-risk groups. My kids are in daycare and, while we are blessed with an amazing daycare with strict safety guidelines, it’s still a risk that could potentially affect my congregation. Second, I worry that if my family all test positive, my husband and I would not be able to care for our small children if we were very sick ourselves. No one could help take care of our kids because we would need to be in strict quarantine. These two worries alone have driven many of our life choices in these last 10 months.

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