Good Can Come

Another Wednesday night meant another class to teach. Diving into the texts with the enthusiasm of a young child going for the baby in a King’s cake was how I wanted to spend my Wednesday nights. When I arrived in Corinth, I wanted more than anything to share my find with others. I wanted to see what treasures they had found. I loved the rich conversations emerging from shared moments of clarity. And now, it was Wednesday again and last week’s “ah-ha” moments were not as comforting.

Last week had been filled with blank stares. The last few weeks had not been the stuff of comfort. We had been studying the Pastoral Epistles with a companion study guide chosen before my arrival to Corinth. Wednesday night came to mean studying some of my least favorite parts of the Bible with study material that had never heard of different learning styles or this new fangled thing called “inclusive language.” My all-around lack of excitement had been contagious even to the most dedicated churchgoers (in other words, our older and more stalwart folks).

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Reflections on Advent: A Way of Peace

The quote from James Agee ties the images together: “In every child who is born, the potentiality of the human race is born again, and of each of us, our terrific responsibility toward life, and the utmost idea of God.”

According to the artist, “New life happens, even in the face of global warming, war, poverty, and interpersonal conflict. May our saving Lord Jesus Christ be born in us again this Advent season, so that we may respond to our broken world by creating a way of peace.”

Click on images to see full-size versions:

Taking Your Baby to Work

This relaxed attitude about parenting has made my balancing act of life a little easier. I think this attitude started when my first born began attending school with me. I was a full-time student three and a half years into a four year MDiv program when Meg was born (just in time to be baby Jesus in the Festival of Lessons and Carols). I took two weeks off completely and then finished the semester taking my exams and writing papers. Since I couldn’t imagine taking the whole next semester off, when February rolled around and classes started, I popped Meg into a sling and off we went. She slept and nursed and got passed around a lot. I often left her in one person’s arms and returned later to find she was ten sets of arms down the row.

There were things I had to let go of to make this school/parenting thing work, things like hovering over my newborn, housekeeping, New Testament (I did get around to taking it eventually), perfectly word-smithed sentences, and many hours of sleep, but I would not trade it for anything. Meg became everybody’s baby, and my husband and I loved it. We really felt like we had one huge extended family helping us raise our daughter.

Fast forward four years. Three months into my new job as the Associate Executive Presbyter of a small presbytery in Wisconsin, we found out we were expecting again. The pregnancy was not entirely unplanned, but came a little sooner than anticipated. Once you are working, in any profession, and you become pregnant, the number one question is, “What are you going to do when the baby is born?” Wise from having done this once before, I told virtually no one until I had a plan. Read more

Six Degrees: A Homily and Prayer Litany for World AIDS Day

Who is my neighbor? Who is NOT my neighbor?

We live in a world in which we are just six handshakes away from anyone else. Chances are that you don’t personally know any Australian police officers, the Chancellor of Germany, or a member of the English Parliament. But! Maybe you know someone whose cousin studied abroad in Australia and had a run-in with the police. Or maybe you know a German professor here who knows someone who’s related to someone whose friend works for the German government. You get the idea. Basically, many believe that every person on the planet is separated from everyone else by a chain of about six people.

The idea of “six degrees of separation” was first proposed in 1967 by sociologist Stanley Milgram. He asked 96 randomly selected people around the country to send a piece of mail to an acquaintance, who would send the mail along to another acquaintance, and many of these letters reached Milgram’s “target” person in Boston… through an average of 6 people. Some sociologists question the validity of this study and the theory all together.

But whether or not you believe in the theory of six degrees of separation… and if you can suspend your own attempts to figure out how you connected to Kevin Bacon for a moment… there is no denying we live in a highly connected world.

What are the implications of these connections?

Who is my neighbor?” the lawyer challenges Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.

If I’m supposed to love my neighbor as myself, who is my neighbor? Read more

It’s Not Too Late to Designate

Flip to a scene of Thanksgiving or Christmas festivities with family and friends gathered around, laughing and joking, preparing to finally chow down on turkey and stuffing and pie, until one lone person raises the question: “So, who’s going to say grace?” And the entire room falls silent in an attempt to de-volunteer.  Another holiday role emerges, less public but just as valuable: the designated pray-er.

The designated pray-er (DP), like the designated driver (DD), has become a crucial role for many families. The DD takes on sobriety in order to ensure the safety of all. The DP assumes a mantle of leadership and ritual that allows festivity to be carried out in the name of God. And both positions have the distinction of being cherished most by those who do not occupy them.

It’s easiest to find a DP if you can find someone in your family who actually enjoys praying out loud. Another alternative is to establish a DP based on someone’s position within a family. You might choose the matriarch or patriarch of your clan, or let the honor rest with the person hosting the meal. Others might cast lots for the privilege, or draw numbers from a hat, or come up with another equitable way to share the responsibility. If all else fails, there’s always the time-honored solution of waiting until the silence becomes unbearable for someone, who bursts out with, “Okay, I’ll do it!”

My family has been lucky enough to have a DP for as long as I can remember: my uncle. Sometimes self-elected, sometimes asked by the host or hostess, he is often the de facto choice. He is, after all, a responsible oldest-child type and the crown patriarch after his father passed away twenty-nine years ago. Not only that, he actually enjoys the responsibility. He owns it. He takes it very seriously. He IS
the Prayer Master. He frequently becomes emotional while engaging in prayer. One Thanksgiving, my cousin actually said, “My dad has disappeared into my room with the Bible and a dictionary…I’m not
quite sure what we’re going to get.”

So perhaps you can imagine what happened when I announced I was going to seminary to study to become a pastor. Perhaps you can imagine the way my emerging identity sent the established role of designated pray-er into a bit of a tailspin. Perhaps you can imagine the new confusion over who was going to be saying grace before family meals. After all, pastors become pastors because they love to pray in public, right? (Hint: Not always.) Read more

The Gift of Gentleness

My Christmas Eves are a little different these days. I generally spend the day in front of my computer, finishing the sermon I’ll preach for the biggest crowd of the year. No pressure, of course. As my family digs into dinner, I pass candles around a church 1,500 miles away. After leading the last worship service, I meander back to my dog and a darkened house – because I usually haven’t had time to hang up lights or other Christmas decorations during the rush of Advent; it’s a very good year if I manage a tree. I heat up some leftovers, pour a glass of wine, pop in a movie, and collapse on the couch. Then I wake up on Christmas Day and…go back to sleep as long as possible.

It’s not as pathetic as it sounds, I promise! By the time I’m done with the Christmas insanity, I am more than ready to just crash, and my dog is just about all the company I can handle. My Christmas Eve ritual has become a sort of Sabbath; I defend it even when I receive other invitations. This much-needed time of quiet rest has become one of my favorite things about being single and living alone. Read more

Verve, Faith, Chocolate, and Really Great Shoes

For a long time, in my mind, pointe shoes were the only shoes that mattered. In high school, I tried brand after brand, make after make, looking for something that would flatter my woefully flat arches. I
finally found Freeds of London. I religiously ordered shoes from a particular cobbler, whose mark was
stamped on the bottom of my sole. That brand and make of shoes accompanied me through hours of class, rehearsals, and performances. I spent a lot of time breaking them in and keeping them in good shape.

They transformed me into Sleeping Beauty; they turned me into the Dew Drop Fairy. They were my most important material possession. Oddly, my attitude towards all other shoes was as indifferent as my attitude towards pointe shoes was obsessive. In high school and college, I wore the same old school vans day in and day out (Hey, it was the 90s; don’t judge me). The object was comfort and little else.

And then I moved from the stage to the pulpit. As part of that transition, I went to divinity school at Yale in Connecticut; inclement weather and walking everywhere meant practicality won out. I wore unremarkable tennis shoes and cheap penny loafers. I bought a pair of bejeweled aqua peep toe heels on a whim my senior year. I got them with no intention of wearing them in the pulpit; however, sometimes, what I intend is not what I actually end up doing. I wore the peep toes one summer Sunday morning soon after I was ordained to the diaconate, just for fun. I didn’t do it to get a reaction, but, boy, did I ever. It seems as if every single person in that church had something to say about my shoes that day. I wore them again. And again.

It didn’t take long before I had more new shoes – pink patent mary janes with a 3″ heel, white ballet flats, green pumas. I don’t have that many pairs of shoes, but the ones I do have are… interesting. It got to the point where my picture in the church’s monthly newsletter was of my shoes.

For me, my shoes signal that I’m human, something that I found to be incredibly important in a profession where you are sometimes in a different category than everyone else, which I refuse to be. The fact is, people often think they know you when you’re clergy, particularly in the Bible Belt, where I grew up and now live and serve. People sometimes assume they know how you vote (Republican), what you do in your spare time (you have none because you’re always tending the flock), what you will find funny (jokes that involve religion – nothing remotely risqué), not to mention what about you think about issues such as the war, abortion, and homosexuality. My shoes tip people off that maybe there’s more than a clerical collar here; they’re my visual question mark to a world that desperately wants to pigeonhole. Read more

Silent and Still

The silence of my prayer was replaced with the noise of the narthex. The hymns were sung. The people were blessed. And now, it was time to share in the joy of being together as the congregation participates in the exodus from the sanctuary to the promise of the Parish Hall.

Babies wake up from the sermon, and the silence fades. The squeals of the children just released from Sunday School nearly drown out the mutterings of “good sermon” and “thank you for worship.” Familiar faces sojourn to coffee hour while insisting I must remember their names. My laughter mixes with the hesitant laughter of visitors. Hands are held. Hugs linger too long. Shoulders are touched. The silence disappears.

Only for a moment, the silence disappears. Only for a moment, there is a clamor of giggling children and a racket of slurping adults. The clatter continues until the Parish Hall empties and I am left to lock the doors.

And then it becomes silent and still once again. My distress grows worse, and my heart becomes hot with me as the silence returns. This silence is not like the stillness of prayer. Those are moments that I crave. I need that respite from the insistence of so many demands screaming incessantly. I need that sacred time to be still and know that God is in the silence. This is precious silence. It is not the same silence that greets me with the click of the lock in the church doors.

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What Not to Wear

We never got so involved in the game that we developed costumes, but if we had, this women’s clergy blouse I once saw on the Wippell site would have served the purpose nicely.

 

While I still reflect on my childhood novels, I no longer aspire to embody them, so a professional blouse that would look at home on a pioneer in the 1870s is not quite “the look” I want to present as a young clergy woman.

Finding clerical shirts as a young woman priest can be tricky. We want to present ourselves as professional persons, but also spiritual persons. We also want to present ourselves as modern and relevant. Is all this possible?

At times the deck seems stacked against us.

When I asked The Rev. Dr. Robert Prichard, professor of History and Liturgy at Virginia Theological Seminary about the history of the clerical shirt, he wrote, “Detachable collars were popular for any well dressed male from the middle of the 19th century until the 1920s. At that point, the Arrow Shirt Company introduced the fixed collars that we know today. Clergy, always conservative in dress, retained the older detachable collar style at least for Sunday dress. The only real mystery is why the clergy turned their collars around backward from the way that others wore them.”

This tendency towards conservatism may explain why the design of women’s clergy blouses are so different from design of a modern woman’s professional blouse. Most modern clergy shirts made for women today lack breast darts or curved panels, making women with smaller chests look like young boys, and larger women look shapeless. They are also designed to be worn with pants that fit at the waist, which very few pants now do. Read more

TYCWP Imprint with Chalice Press

The Pastor’s Bookcase

TYCWP Imprint with Chalice PressWhen visiting a friend’s office, I enjoy snooping through perusing the shelves. Sometimes I find something that is exactly what I need for a particular situation. Sometimes I’m reminded of old favorites that I had nearly forgotten.

This week we asked several young clergy women serving ministries outside of the parish to recommend resources that have been useful to them in the last year or so. Go ahead, snoop around, you know you want to! (Feel free to add your own recommendations to the comments.)

  • Scar Tissue, a novel by Michael Ignatieff, is recommended by Erica Brown, Assistant Chaplain at Northwestern University. The Rev. Brown lends it to students whose parents/grandparents have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Rob Bell’s Nooma Videos are recommended by two women ministering in higher education. Narcie Jeter, United Methodist campus minister at Winthrop University, notes that students love them (though they wish he used a tripod!) Jennifer Janney, Associate Minister to the University at Chowan University adds that they are “AMAZING for campus ministry.”
  • Narcie Jeter couldn’t stop at just one, and also gives shout outs to Jan Richardson’s In Wisdom’s Path and to  Alive Now for its poems, prayers and quotes. Finally, she points to Relevant Magazine’s weekly e-newsletter, confessing that she still hasn’t gotten around to reading the print ‘zine, but loves the e-letter.
  • Stacey Jutila works the night shift as chaplain to Children’s Memorial in Chicago. She recommends If I Get to Five, by Fred Epstein and Josh Horwitz. She notes, “This book is written by one of the first pediatric neuro-oncologists. He talks about the reality of brain tumors and
    their impact on children and families. He does a wonderful job of examining the social, medical, and spiritual aspects of pediatric cancer.” The Rev. Jutila also recommends Ode Magazine, which she says is “a wonderful international magazine that looks at issues of justice, peace, environment, spirituality and health.”
  • Former college chaplain Mary Allison Cates recommends Iona’s A Wee Worship Book. She notes that “the invitation to the table on page 84 is revolutionary and beautiful.”
  • Worship is also on the mind of  Callista Isabelle, Associate University Chaplain at Yale University. She lifts up Prayers & Litanies for the Christian Seasons by Sharlande Sledge. Chaplain Isabelle notes, “She uses imagery brilliantly, and I’ve used this book as inspiration for Sunday morning liturgies and evening services. The book is arranged both by liturgical season and thematically.”
    She also suggests Sustaining Simplicity by Anne Basye, “down-to-earth journal of one woman’s quest to live simply. Basye gives accessible examples and frames her struggle for simplicity theologically. There’s also an online guide for group conversations. My favorite part is the book is formatted as little scribbles and Post-It notes, so it looks just as scattered as my life but flows more
    smoothly!”
  • Kate Smanik-Moyes, the Helen Carnell Eden Chaplain at Wilson College, refers us to When Violence Is No Stranger by Kristen Leslie. She notes, “Working on the campus of a women’s college means I frequently work with students who have experienced acquaintance rape. I read this book almost every year just to remind myself of the theological and pastoral frameworks that can support my work with these students. In my humble opinion every pastor should read this
    book.”
  • Anne Turner is between jobs right now, having moved to a new region with her spouse. Her picks  during this liminal time are, “A tie between The Christian Century (because it makes me still feel like I can carry on an adult conversation,even if I do have to sing “I’ve been working on the railroad” to daughter Lucy between every page) and Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church (because I could compare her experience to mine and decide that, no, I’m not burned out like she was, despite my worst fears.)” Narcie Jeter also suggests Leaving Church.
  • Mira Hewlett’s work straddles two fields. She is part-time in religious life at Dickinson College and part time at a local parish. She recommends Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren, and Leading From the Second Chair by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson. She writes, “Amazing insights on how to work in a parish under someone else where one must work to implement the vision of others. But the lessons translate so easily and profoundly to any other ministry that involves a boss that it makes it a must read for those who desire to have the most impact within their role.”
  • How To Be A Perfect Stranger gets a nod from Kelly Burk, a young clergy woman from the Church of the Brethren, currently serving as Interim Director for Campus Ministries at Earlham College. The Rev. Burk also suggests the previously mentioned Leaving Church, noting that the memoir “touched me profoundly and gave me encouragement to follow where God was calling even when it wasn’t where the institutional church wanted me.”
  • Suzanne Vinson is a chaplain for a skilled nursing facility. She recommends Gifts of Many Cultures  by Maren Tirabassi and Kathy Wonson Eddy. Chaplain Vinson notes, “Great compilation of liturgy, prayers, writings and art from the global community. LOVE the resource. Use it weekly in creating worship services, for personal reflection, AND in leading spirituality groups.”
  • In addition to the previously mentioned Nooma videos, Jennifer Janney also suggests the Bonhoeffer classic Life Together as having “been the best words on community for me in a rural ‘out in the middle of nowhere’ place in ministry!”

We also asked this same group of women for personal or “just for fun” resources. Some women’s personal resources were other women’s professional resources, so they were mentioned above. Other sources mentioned (space prohibits comments on these) were:

  • Eat, Pray, Love a memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert (Mary Allison Cates and Suzanne Vinson)
  • Pride and Prejudice BBC miniseries on DVD (Kate Smanik Moyes, who comments that if you don’t like Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, she doesn’t want to hear about it)
  • Battlestar Galactica DVD (Anne Turner, who claims that she watches it for the religious themes)
  • Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen  and David Oliver Relin (Mira Hewlett, who calls it a story of faith, cultures, education, and vision)
  • The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine (Suzanne Vinson, who likes it “so far”)
  • Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (Erica Brown, who says there is “tons of good stuff” in this novel – about the plague!)