Call to Action: A Review of Women Rise Up: Sacred Stories of Resistance for Today’s Revolution by Katey Zeh

I first met Rev. Katey Zeh before either of us were ordained, at a training around sexual health and reproductive freedom on college campuses. We continued to run into each other through our organizing work. I reached out to her when trying to figure out if there was a way my annual conference of The United Methodist Church could support the organization she was on the board of at the time (and now serves as the interim executive of), Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, in the wake of a misinformation campaign in the denomination against RCRC.

Because of the connections we had made previously, the conversation turned to my personal life when she offered me support in the wake of my second miscarriage. She was one of the first people who was able to articulate to me the deep grief not just of the loss of a loved one but the grief of an incomplete family, or a family that looks nothing like the one for which you had hoped. From this woman whose activism and pastoral care has touched my life comes a book called Women Rise Up: Sacred Stories of Resistance for Today’s Revolution, in which her activism continues to inspire me and her writing offers me care I didn’t realize I needed.

Women Rise Up is an exploration of ten different stories of Biblical women in conversation with current realities of women’s experiences and struggles, from human trafficking to purity culture, from immigration to entrepreneurialism. Zeh explains: “I yearn for stories of resilience, of women overcoming systems of oppression who found ways to survive and even thrive despite the constant threats to their bodies, their humanity, and their livelihood.” She did not hear many of those stories preached when she was growing up in church, but she has seen them in her organizing work and in her own life.

Unlike some celebrations of Biblical women, Zeh is clear that even when she celebrates their bravery, these women are complicated. Sarah is celebrated as a mother of faith in many churches traditionally, but she perpetuates the abuse she received from her husband on her slave Hagar. Rachel also abuses her handmaid, and Zeh reminds us that Rachel does not name her son Benjamin but rather Ben-Oni, “Son of My Sorrows.” Moses’ mother, she reminds us, is a clever hero, but one who still underwent a devastating reproductive loss even if it was to save her child. Rev. Zeh strives to read the stories of these women in new ways, ones faithful to scripture itself and to our own complicated lives. Read more

Rachel Held Evans

Remembering Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans

Thank you, Rachel.

Last Saturday, Christian author Rachel Held Evans died suddenly at the age of 37. She was a prolific blogger, author of four books, conference organizer and speaker, and was known for her public voice on social media as a progressive Christian, ally, and advocate. Rachel was loved not just because she was courageous and tenacious; she was also willing to admit fault, apologize when she was wrong, and listen and learn from people in marginalized communities. Her death is a devastating loss to the Church, the world, and her loved ones; she leaves behind a husband and two young children. Although she was not a young clergywoman – she was a layperson in the Episcopal Church – many of us in YCWI feel we have lost one of our own. As was evidenced on twitter under the #rememberingRHE tag, Rachel’s life irrevocably changed countless lives around the globe. Today we are sharing some of the many reflections we have received from young clergywomen about how Rachel’s ministry has impacted their faith lives and their ministry journeys.


“What do you do when from a young age, you have a sense that you don’t quite belong where you are? In my church growing up, men were the elders, the bible study leaders and small group facilitators. They were the ushers, the baptizers, the communion servers, and the preachers. I attended a Christian college that did not permit women to hold positions of leadership over men in church settings. My freshman year, lost and confused as to what in the world I should do with my life, a career test revealed that I had pastoral leadership skills. This test result was laughed off by an advisor with the suggestion that I could always pursue ministry to women or children.

I stumbled through my early twenties, always feeling a little heartsick, never able to escape the sense that I didn’t quite belong. Until the day I picked up that first book written by Rachel Held Evans. As I read her words on those pages, as I pored over her blog posts, my heart began to truly heal. It was through Rachel, through her honest questions and passionate truth-telling that we evangelical misfits began to find each other. Rachel helped us heal from past wounds inflicted on us by the church. Rachel helped us discover our voices. Rachel helped us define our sense of call. Rachel helped us find our place at the table.” –Sarah Sparks-Franklin

____________

“When there were no words, Rachel had words. When we couldn’t understand, she framed divine wisdom. When we needed God, Rachel pointed and we saw. Thank you. Your impact is much more than you could have known. May it be so with all of us. I am grateful for RHE, a beloved daughter of God.” –Katy Cuthill Steinberg

____________

“I found her when I was looking for a book for a women’s book group. A Year of Biblical Womanhood hadn’t been released yet, but I followed her blog posts while going through those experiences. When the book was finally published I devoured it – and so did the women of my church. It brought us closer together. I watched and read as she publicly and vulnerably wrestled with supporting the LGBTQ community. She finally made her choice and ‘came out’ as a strong ally. It was the same time I was beginning to really come to terms with my own sexuality, and her openness, grace, and compassion were some of the key things that kept me going.

In the fall of 2014 I got to share with her what that meant to me. She spent over five minutes talking with me and listening to my story, even though she’d already been standing and talking to the long line of people in front of me for over an hour. She asked questions, engaged with me, truly seemed to care. Then she told me something I’ve never forgotten: ‘I’m going to pray for you for the next two days.’ It was so oddly specific I could tell she meant is as truth, not an empty platitude.

I haven’t yet read Inspired. Now I will read it with care, savoring the sweetness of each word, knowing that it will be the last time I get to read a book by Rachel Held Evans for the first time.  She has been my dialogue partner and companion in faith for the last eight years. In many ways she’s been the closest thing to a pastor I’ve had since I became one, even though we didn’t know one another personally. I don’t know what I will do without her voice. My heart is broken. Her brilliance and heart leave a huge hole in the church and the lives of so many. Eshet chayil, Rachel, woman of valor.” –Megan Elliott

____________

“Like so many other women in my age group, Rachel Held Evans is a big reason I went to seminary in the first place. I met her a few months after my first class and she was so kind, gracious, and encouraging. As I profusely thanked her for her impact on my life, she smiled and said, ‘I am amazed by you women out there DOING IT. I write, but you all are pastors and that’s amazing. You impact MY life. Just keep going out there and doing the good work.’ And while she underplayed her own important work, her words ring true: We are all in this together, and when we each do what were called to, the world is a better place. Eshet chayil, Rachel. You are a woman of valor. May we carry on your legacy.” –Sara Nave Fisher

____________

“Rachel profoundly changed my life. Her careful work to take apart the quilts of evangelical Christianity and weave them into a new tapestry of faith gave me a Jesus and a language when I badly needed them. Through her, I found my voice as a progressive evangelical and a woman in ministry. I was able to claim God’s call on my life in a new and bold way. I was able to live into the queerly beloved identity I was always meant for. I was and am brave because of her.

Years later, when she was going through a difficult period of being heavily targeted online, we traded messages and she allowed me to encourage her on the journey for a while. Rachel was as real, open hearted, and full of grace as anyone could be. She broke open the church and tore down its walls for countless people. Her loss is devastating for so many of us. Woman of Valor always, RHE. It seems we hardly knew you. We love you and we will miss you. Rest in peace and rise in power.” –Heidi Carrington Heath

An adult hand handing a Nilla Wafer to a child's hand

Grace and Vanilla Wafers

An adult hand handing a Nilla Wafer to a child's hand

A view that became familiar over the course of the morning.

This morning my ravenous, growth-spurting twins decided that Mini ‘Nilla Wafers were the only acceptable food in our house. I doled out four—one for each hand for each twin, and they made their way back into the playroom to play and enjoy their snacks. Every few minutes they returned. And one at a time I placed the wafers into their tiny hands.

After a few rounds I realized that something about this felt awfully familiar. I felt like I was distributing vanilla wafer communion right there in my kitchen. No, I hadn’t blessed them, and I didn’t even necessarily glance up from my work every time the little feet thudded back for more.

But with one outstretched hand after another, I recognized in my children the same persistence with which the people of the church return each week, hands outstretched for a wafer at the communion rail.

And the simplicity of what the twins did taught me more about what happens in the Eucharist than any lecture on eucharistic theology ever has. Each time those babies came back to me, it was because they knew I loved them and would meet their needs. Again and again and again. They came back to me each time with a trust I could only hope to muster as I approach God each time I receive the Eucharist. When I stretch my hands out to God the way those little hands stretched out to me, do I truly believe God will meet my needs? Do I trust in God’s love for me?

There is only so far that this comparison goes, of course, because eventually I will stop giving them ‘Nilla Wafers. Unlike a mom concerned for her children’s sugar intake, though, God will never stop giving.

Each time we return to the communion rail, God meets us there. And while those papery communion wafers aren’t quite as delicious as vanilla wafers, they nonetheless remind us, again and again, that God’s love and provision for us will never cease. This is grace. And it is sweet indeed.

fire at Notre-Dame de Paris, Paris, France

Fire at Notre Dame: What do we grieve when our symbols burn?

fire at Notre-Dame de Paris, Paris, France

Notre-Dame de Paris, Paris, France

People around the world watched in shock at the beginning of Holy Week as images out of Paris depicted the Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames, the famous spire eventually crashing down into the burning interior. Immediately, people took to social media to post their pictures and memories of being in Paris, walking around and through the iconic, enormous, stone sanctuary. French or not, Christian or not, this was one of those tragedies where it became easy for the Western world to unite in grief.

There is much to grieve. There is much with which to empathize. This landmark may never be the same again in our lifetime. Something has shifted. In a world that seems to be in constant, tumultuous change, what does it mean when something that seemed so certain is revealed to be so vulnerable? Having grown up in a town where we were able to see the Twin Towers on a clear day, I remember acutely what it feels to see a landscape and geography changed so quickly and devastatingly.

We can weep with architects and artists who mourn the loss of this work, the time and energy that has gone up in flame. Many will never get to experience the treasures within the cathedral, which is heartbreaking and unfortunate.

But what else? What else are we grieving?

As clergywomen, while we may not serve or worship in congregations with as much history and grandiosity as Notre Dame, we can imagine the logistics of leading people through Holy Week and Easter services after their church building has burned to the ground.

Those of us who have experienced similar catastrophes in our worship spaces – fires, floods, collapses, rebuilds – know the emotional and physical work that priests and other religious leaders will now have to do in order to put things back together. This will become the defining task of their ministries for the foreseeable future. We get it. We feel the weight and the pain of that endeavour.

Yet, underneath these immediate reactions of grief, some of us began to confront mixed emotions. Some spoke to the irony of this all happening during Holy Week – the final days of a season that starts with ashes and ends in resurrection. It feels like a horrific visualization of so many of the themes we wrestle with in those holy days – mortality and immortality, institutions that oppress and freedom in Christ, destruction and hope. Read more

Altars and Altered: Looking Toward YCWI Conference

I love Atlanta and I love my YCWI friends, but the top reason I am excited for the 2019 Young Clergy Women International Conference is because I will be able to listen to and sit at the feet of Rev. Dr. Neichelle Guidry and Rev. Dr. Liz Mosbo VerHage. These two speakers bring a huge range of talent and prophetic witness that I think will help me better answer my call to share good news in difficult times.

Rev. Dr. Guidry has been one of my heroes since I heard about the WISDOM (Women in Spiritual Discernment of Ministry) Center at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. As Director of the WISDOM Center, Rev. Dr. Guidry invites, encourages, and challenges her female students to discern possible vocations in faith and social justice fields. I want to learn from her how to empower the women of color in my “congregation” (a small, private, liberal arts college) to explore their faith and purpose in the world, too. Rev. Dr. Guidry is also an inspiring preacher who I am confident will not only refresh my call but also rejuvenate my commitment to my own vocation.

Rev. Dr. Liz Mosbo VerHage energizes me as I seek to be a strong white ally for people of color. When invited to speak at the YCWI conference, her response included an offer to supply the names of women of color to invite instead of her. Her call is to racial reconciliation ministry, faith-based advocacy, empowering female faith leaders, and embodying the multicultural church. More importantly for the conference, her call is to help other women step into their prophetic journey in these fields.

I live in Memphis, Tennessee, a city that transformed the nation in the realms of of civil rights and music, and is on the front line of innovative ministry models. I really do believe that transformation is possible on a personal level, a regional level, a national level, and an international level. And I hope to God that reformation and transformation is possible on the church level. The Holy Spirit is going to do amazing transformative work through the workshops, embodied learning opportunities, fellowship, speakers, and keynote addresses at the 2019 YCWI Summer Conference, and I look forward to being transformed.

I believe God will use the incredible talent of Rev. Dr. Guidry and Rev. Dr. Mosbo VerHage this summer to show how worship transforms us to be agents of transformation in the world. At altars (and by altars, I mean the places we meet God: altars, tables, coffee shops, kneelers, hiking trails, workshops, hospitals, and maybe even the YCWI Summer Conference) we are altered. As I find my own prophetic voice and begin to stand up and call out for justice, I know that I need to sit at the feet of and listen to the modern day prophets in our midst. I’m looking forward to doing just that at the 2019 Young Clergy Women International Summer Conference. I hope to see you there! For more information and to register, visit our conference page.

Group of people holding hands around an A-frame wooden church sanctuary

Bind Us Together

Group of people holding hands around an A-frame wooden church sanctuary

Singing “Bind Us Together Lord” as the benediction

I’ve almost finished my first year as senior pastor at a church that is unlike any other I’ve had the privilege to be a part of. Our vision statement is “To be a house of prayer for all nations,” and while we may not have all nations yet, together we worship in Burmese, English, French, Spanish, and Swahili. It is beautiful and energizing. When I first arrived church members told me, “In heaven, people are going to be from all over the world and praising God in different languages. We might as well start practicing now.”

I don’t want to romanticize my church, of course: please remember that it is a church, which means it is made up of people, which means that life lived out together in faith can be messy. There are still disagreements and misunderstandings, and now we can have misunderstandings across languages and cultures as well. We are not a church of one single political or theological viewpoint.

We are made up of refugees and immigrants as well as people who’ve lived their whole lives in Kentucky. We live into the tension of having people hug and greet one another on Sunday and post articles about “building the wall” on Monday. And for those church members, they experience no contradiction in that. They see their political beliefs around immigration as separate from the love they show to the people right in front of them. Read more

A Curse Word and A Cocktail

A Portion of the author's Hinge profile

A Portion of my Hinge profile

I swiped left after left. Conflicting political understandings. Anti-religion. Doesn’t like cats. I definitely swiped left more than right. The swipe right list is not long, but it has weight. A message popped up from a mutual match. He quoted Bret Easton Ellis when he found out I was from Los Angeles, which made me both laugh and wonder what he really thinks about being from LA. We decided to meet for a drink at my local bar. I chose this bar because I know the owner and bartender and made a deal with them long ago – as women often do – that if the date was going wrong or I felt unsafe, I could order a specific drink and they would make sure I got away and home safely. The need for this is imperative this day and age, but that is for another article.

He arrived and we ordered drinks. The conversation was fun and breezy. The type of new conversation that is engaging and enjoyable, devoid of any immediate emotional commitment. I knew why. He didn’t know what I did for a living.

I’m not a fan of dating apps. I will admit that I am on a couple to keep myself “out there.” I don’t have anything against them, but I’m an Enneagram 3 and a Gen-Y woman, so the imposter syndrome comes from all angles. I always anxiously ask myself after setting up my profile, “Who will they say that I am?” Some answer with inquiry, support, and kindness, others have been less so. Unfortunately, I’ve boiled it down to this: the men I have met on dating apps have taught me they aren’t ready to date a female pastor. So, I curate the best photos, the wittiest comments, and the most clickable tagline to present my best, most authentic self, all without saying what I do. Which makes me feel phony.

Now this is not all dates, but in my personal experience, when I do put my job on my profile, I often get two types of guys. The first I can deal with. The first is the guy who is religious but very conservative. Which is to say, our theological worldviews do not align, and we would not be a good fit. He often thinks that I am a “helper” in my church, not the “actual pastor.” Or he thinks I’m not an actual pastor. The other type of guy that I have experienced on several occasions, has a sexual obsession with my job and the apparel that comes with it. The first guy is easy for me to thank for a lovely dinner but share that this isn’t going to continue for lack of compatibility. The second reminds me that in many places I am still not valued as a whole person called to this job by God. The number of times I have been asked if I “wear my collar to bed” by a complete stranger is more than I care to count. So, I leave it off my profile.

The guy I am having drinks with at the bar works in sales, and loves his job. I tell him that I am in my second career. My first career as a theatrical marketing producer making movie trailers is an easy sell. But then the question happens: “What do you do now?” I decide to tell him the truth.

When I disclose my vocation and subsequent occupation to a new person, I always do two things. The first is that I take a drink of an alcoholic beverage. It seems like a simple thing, but drinks are all a part of my plan on dates, on how to best share this part of myself. My drink is not for me, it’s for them. Its purpose is to break down the notion of me that they carry in their head that they may not even know they have. So, I take a sip of my drink and tell them, “I’m a pastor.”

Chances are that in the conversation leading up to this moment, I have already used a cuss word. I find swear words holy, cathartic, and honest. They are a part of my everyday vernacular. But once I take my drink, and share my truth, I always cuss right afterwards. Something like, “And I f***ing love it.” Because I do. That is when I can truly breathe…but also hold my breath. Read more

woman in silhouette with arms raised standing in grass in front of a sunset or sunrise

The Attempted Intimidation of Mary Magdalene

This is a poem based on Matthew 28:4, 11-15, reminding us that if the resurrection is for real, we have to #believewomen.

woman in silhouette with arms raised standing in grass in front of a sunset or sunriseYou didn’t see what you saw.
You think anyone is gonna believe you stayed on your feet when the big strong men didn’t?
You think anyone is gonna believe you saw a dead man alive again?
Everyone knows women start crying and lose their minds.
Everyone knows women make stuff up.
We can pay the soldiers to tell a lie and everyone will believe them:
Dead men stay dead.
It was all in that pretty little head of yours.
So sit down, shut up, don’t make waves.
You know what happened to Jesus.

stone cross on ball with spiderwebs

We are Three

stone cross on ball with spiderwebs

The question of “how many siblings do you have” became complicated in French class: how do you say, “I have one living sibling” en français?

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
’Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

-from “We Are Seven” by William Wordsworth

 

This year, 2019, National Siblings Day occurred the week before Holy Week. National Siblings Day is, many suspect, a holiday completely made up by social media companies in order for people to get on whatever profile they use and post more photos of users who happen to be related. It’s like the 21st century equivalent of a “Hallmark Holiday” – made for the purpose of a company proliferating itself; some people find it meaningful or fun, others let it pass by unnoticed.

To be honest, I don’t take much notice of it. I see other people posting about it throughout the day, and I realize what’s being celebrated.

I live 1500 miles from my immediate family, in my first church call, which I share with my spouse. In this digital age, I have not been at my parents’ house long enough in the last few years to scan the thousands of pictures of me and my brother and sister when we were young: big glasses whose glare hides eyes from the camera, graphic T-shirts that are entirely too big, hair that is untidily coifed in strange hairdos from a bygone era.

For many the connection between Siblings Day and Holy Week are coincidental.
For me, they are building toward a painful, hopeful climax.
You see, we buried my brother on Good Friday.

As a theologically-minded person from a young age, I marked my springtime by Holy Week and Easter usually involving a huge church play each Holy Weekend. At college, there were different traditions, and I was looking forward to entering them.

When I was 20 years old, the Monday of Holy Week my brother was killed in a car accident. I wonder if Jesus felt like I did, going toward Good Friday: that it was simultaneously the longest and shortest week of my life. Everything was askew, my feelings dulled and heightened. I missed both Holy Week rituals: the Easter play at my childhood church, AND the Tenebrae that was taking place at my college. The question of “how many siblings do you have” became complicated in French class: how do you say, “I have one living sibling” en français? Read more

picture of fruits of the spirit passage from the book of Galatians in the Christian Bible

Notes to Myself: Commitments for Talking Politics with Care

picture of fruits of the spirit passage from the book of Galatians in the Christian Bible

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…” ~Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

Monastic rules of life have drawn Christians through the ages to the spiritual disciplines. New monastics often look to one of the most well-known – the Rule of Benedict – and then write their own rule of life to order their lives in community. I have never been terribly successful at thinking of the Christian path in terms of discipline. In fact, at the mention of living the spiritual life “by the rules,” my inner self goes running for cover.

However, the fraught reality of public discourse in our time demands more discipline and less venting, more intentional, measured speech and less passion. In fact, it requires every bit of spiritual discipline the Christian can muster (and then it pleads for more from the Holy Spirit). Amidst the ever-widening crisis of public discourse, I have found it necessary to set down a rule for myself about speaking to and around my children. We all have steam to let off these days, but heaven knows we all need to speak with a little more care.

I have found three motivations for this care-filled speech at work in me, nudging me to speak with intention. First, I understand the pastoral office to be a listening office. This is ironic, I know, since few other professions boast 15 to 30 minutes of public speaking to a more-or-less willing audience every week. Even as I must preach the audaciously good news of Jesus without apology, I must also use language that does not blindly parrot phrases from political parties, denominational in-fighting, or other popular influences. And yet, to pastor is to move people along the path toward God and the Kin-dom of Heaven (the place where, in Christ, we are all kin to one another). The pastor is always inviting and always listening, so she must choose her words with care.

Second, I confess that I deeply want to avoid alienating people. This internal motivation is possibly the least important of the three, but nonetheless the most pressing to me. It is a desire for everyone to continue belonging to one another, especially when and where I am in charge. As a natural-born mediator (conflict avoider), I have little capacity for conflict when it might lead to alienation. I am not the first minister who likes to be liked, but this is a character trait which must be examined daily to be transformed from approval-seeking to the truer virtues of kindness and gentleness.

The third motivation involves my children, and to some degree, older generations of my extended family: I want to maintain open dialogue with my children and my family’s elders. One day my children will disagree with me on some of life’s most important issues. At that point, it might be too late to begin trying to mind my manners in discourse. I hope to have spoken in such a way while they were young that dialogue will still be possible when I am old.

Given these motivations, I would like to share with you my commitments for participating in public discourse, particularly related to political speech: Read more