Handmade soap

Beautiful and Useful

Handmade soap

Handmade soap

“It’s part chemistry, part magic, part artistry,” I tell my four year old loftily. He nods like he cares, as we plunge the stick blender into the bowl of water, lye, and oils. Carefully, we readjust our safety goggles as the mixture emulsifies, beginning to turn into soap. This is the second batch we’ve made today, the fifth this week. It’s much more than we need (though I do sell about two-thirds of what I make), and I can tell I’ve hit my threshold for stress when I deep dive into crafting. One summer in high school I made fifteen pairs of shorts in two weeks when my boyfriend was out of town. Moody teenager in my household always translated into new craft projects.

My professional work these days is as a pastoral counselor. I absolutely love working full-time in a group non-profit counseling center. I have a diverse client base, and I specialize in counseling children and helping people who have survived trauma. It’s interesting, and each day has something new in store for me to learn, experience, or help someone process.

But being the holding vessel for people’s hardships also takes its toll. I have a long history of eating my feelings, and have to be careful not to eat my clients’ feelings, too. Crafting helps with that, which is why I sew, knit, and make soap from scratch. Sometimes when I guest preach, I even manage to work a few crafting references or stories into the sermon.

Crafting shows up in many Bible stories, though for most of those folks, it was less a hobby and more a survival skill. Yet even so, there’s still a beauty to crafting for survival: people have always wanted to create things that are beautiful and useful. Beautiful and useful is what I’m aiming for with the soap.

If you’re going to be successful at making soap from scratch, there are a few important terms you must remember. They all relate to the fragrance or essential oils that are part of the soaping process. The terms are: performs normally, accelerates trace, and will discolor. Read more

Faithful Families: An Interview with Traci Marie Smith

Faithful Families has new material, expanding on Seamless Faith. Which faith practice were you most excited to add?

Though it is a sad practice, I was grateful to write a practice for pregnancy loss. It’s something that was requested in more than one workshop and small group discussion. Losing a child before birth is heart wrenching and awful and it’s hard to know how to talk about with other children. Also, the church hasn’t done a great job of opening up opportunities for families to grieve and remember together. ​I was also excited to add a practice on tolerance and the golden rule for families that are interested in raising children to be kind and knowledgable about religions other than their own. ​

As you’ve shared your books with parents, churches, pastors, and Christian educators, what has surprised you? What stories have you heard of how faith practices have helped children and families to learn and grow? Read more

Ask a YCW: Baptism Edition

Dear Askie,

Six months ago, my wife and I were blessed with our first child, a beautiful baby boy. We want to have our son baptized at our church, but our pastor is making things difficult. She keeps saying that the baptism needs to be on Sunday morning during the regular service, but that doesn’t really work well with our family. We wanted to have the baptism on a Saturday afternoon, so that we could have just family and a few invited friends there, and take them all to a celebratory dinner afterwards. Our pastor says she won’t do a private baptism, only one during Sunday church. How do I explain to her that it would be so much nicer and more intimate for our family to have a private ceremony? We’ve offered to let her pick the time on Saturday, and we’re more than happy to pay any costs, but she still won’t agree. How do I get her to stop being so unreasonable?

Sincerely,
Frustrated Dad

Read more

Just Ask A Hillbilly

It’s nothing special. Just an old photograph—the focus is a little fuzzy and it’s certainly not the best angle. There are eleven of us gathered around a Sunday school table, and if I had to guess, the oldest is no more than five. I am the youngest. It might seem like nothing, really, but for me, it is a portal into another time—1988, another life ago when I was a little girl in a small town in the mountains.

I don’t live there anymore, but when I visit my parents, I still run into the oldest two children in that photo. Out of the five children that I still recognize in the photo, three are married. Two of them have kids. When I see her, the mother of the one who doesn’t is happy to complain about the fact she has grand-dogs instead of grandchildren. My own father loves telling stories about the kids of one of the others.

And then there’s the fourth child in that old photograph. She died in a car wreck after our freshman year of college. The roads of eastern Kentucky are unforgiving, so it took a long time to find her car. She had left her boyfriend’s house in anger, and, in these hills, running off the road meant that her car ended up down, down, down—all the way down to where the creek runs. The road she was riding on bears the same name as the creek where her car was found: Crane Creek. It’s the same road the school bus travelled as it wound its way between our homes and the little school I attended as a child.

I’ve been reflecting a lot about my early years in eastern Kentucky lately. I recently read Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance’s memoir, set in Breathitt County, Kentucky and Middletown, Ohio, not far from Greenup County where I grew up. I know the world he writes of, which is why I also know that the beauty of that world has been nearly erased from his story.

I think of this as I look at that old photograph. The death of the young woman from that photo was my first encounter with the death of someone my own age. And it has never fully left me. Read more

What Language Shall I Borrow?

I can still feel a bit of burning embarrassment from the conversation that happened nearly 12 years ago. My dad, a pastor and theologian, helped me pack up and move all of my belongings from Massachusetts down to Louisville, where I was about to begin seminary. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, we somehow got on the subject of hot button issues at seminaries, and he mentioned the use of gendered language for God.

Many students came from traditions that held firmly to male images and language for God. Some prayers always began, “Father God…” My seminary, along with others, encouraged a more expansive use of language for God, engaging images that were more traditionally masculine and feminine or gender-neutral. Students would be encouraged to recognize and draw from the rich and expansive store of such language in the Bible. And for some students, that bordered on blasphemous – or even crossed the line.

The sting of embarrassment came for me as I remembered the application essays I had so carefully written and edited. My internal debate wasn’t whether or not I could use “he” to refer to God; it was whether the “h” should be capitalized. I had come from more conservative theological traditions, and most of what I had seen was God as He. At the same time, that capital letter seemed to thrust a masculine God at me in a way that just didn’t seem right. If asked, I would have said in a heartbeat that I didn’t believe that God is male. And yet, there it was, burned in my memory – repeated references to God with male pronouns in my first introduction to my future professors.

The conversation on language for God was not a new one, just one to which I had not yet been exposed. Beyond seminary, many students who learned to exercise care in their language went right back to the familiar and comfortable pronouns upon graduation. Others of us were serving in church contexts where throwing in feminine pronouns might have gotten us run out of the pulpit, so we at least avoided using masculine language. Given my own commitments, and recognizing the constraints of my context, that was my practice, though I occasionally and intentionally used female imagery with some gentle education. Read more

A Liturgy for Leaving

Like many 21st-century churches, the church I serve is a “nested” congregation: it has no building of its own, and rents space from another congregation. Some churches arrive at this kind of arrangement after selling their existing buildings. Others are new church starts, building a congregation from scratch.

Worshiping communities sharing space can be a wonderful thing. It can also be complicated. And, sometimes, it just doesn’t work. My congregation recently ended its relationship with its host congregation, and transitioned to a different space. The transition was challenging, marked with conflict, grief, and resentment. Although “the church is not the building… the church is the people,” as the old Sunday school song goes, it is difficult for the people to say goodbye to the place where their children were baptized, where they were married, where they grew in faith and discipleship.

This liturgy concluded our final worship service in our old space. It would be appropriate for congregations in a similar situation, and also can be adapted for other situations, such as moving out of a house or decommissioning a ministry.

One: God said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
All: May we go with the God who calls us to new adventures!
One: When Rachel departed from her home and family to make her home with Jacob, she took with her the teraphim, the household gods of her childhood.
All: May we carry with us what has been good, holy, and true from our time in this place.
One: God led the Hebrew people out of Egypt and toward the promised land.
All: May we go with the God of liberation!
One: The Israelites were taken from their homes into exile.
All: May we go with the God who consoles the displaced.
One: Jesus sent the disciples out to preach the Good News to all creation.
All: May we be inspired and imbued with purpose and joy.
One: Jesus told the disciples, “If anyone will not welcome you, shake off the dust from your feet.
All: May we leave behind us all bitterness and disillusionment.
One: Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”
All: May we thank God every time we remember this place.
One: Go forth to be God’s church in this time and place, as the Holy Spirit may direct.
All: In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; one God, Mother of us all. Amen.

I Need a Hero: A Review of Wonder Woman

The author and fellow YCW The Rev. MaryCat Young, post-Wonder Woman.

After seeing Wonder Woman, I nearly got a tattoo. I imagined a WW, the size of a postage stamp, on my left shoulder. But I had an infant to feed, a babysitter to pay, and no time for the tattoo parlor. I left that theater, though, a changed woman – tattoo or not. If you read no further: go see Wonder Woman. Here’s why.

I never realized I needed a hero. Or, rather, this kind of hero. I have Elizabeth Warren, my grandma the WWII nurse, and Jo March. I’ve never felt that my vision for myself was restricted by all of the Batmen and Supermen out there. (Michael Keaton was my first Batman, which may explain my heretofore complete lack of interest in superheroes.)

More to the point, as a Christian, I never realized I needed a hero, because I have Jesus. In dozens of children’s sermons, I have lifted Jesus up as the superhero-par-excellence, emphasizing miracle stories and Jesus’ secret weapon (spoiler alert: it’s LOVE, guys). I have encouraged boys and girls alike to direct their admiration to the hero of the Gospels.

And yet, my thirty-four-year-old self wept in awe in a dark theater in Manhattan as I watched Wonder Woman, and saw myself in her.

I saw myself in the little girl, Diana (Wonder Girl?), watching the Amazonian women train for battle. These women were FIERCE, their thighs the size of fire hydrants. These women were LOUD – no meek sexy-cries for these ladies. They sounded like athletes. They WERE athletes. And, they were dressed appropriately! I almost walked out of a theater a couple of years ago when I saw the newest Jurassic Park, where some director made poor Bryce Dallas Howard – ostensibly a research scientist – run in high heels from ferocious mutant dinosaurs for two hours. No. Just no.

Wonder Woman wears appropriate footwear. We watch as she grows up on the island of Themyscira, training with her mother and aunts. We also learn the backstory of the Amazons: that they were placed on the island by Zeus to prepare for a future time of war brought about by Ares, when the Amazons would be called upon to destroy Ares and restore peace to the world.

War, in the form of handsome pilot Steve Trevor, crash-lands near the island. Diana hauls Steve out of the ocean, in a scene that nicely reverses some childhood imagery from The Little Mermaid. Unfortunately, he is followed by the Germans, whom the Amazons engage in fierce battle on the beach. Read more

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

The Work We Leave For Others

One of my favorite podcasts is ‘Judge John Hodgman,’ in which comedian John Hodgman pontificates over somewhat trivial disputes between friends and family members. It’s a funny, well-produced, and often thought-provoking romp through pop-ethics in all the best ways. If you haven’t listened before, it’s well worth your time (and may I recommend the episode wherein Hodgman judges how often a pastor’s beloved must attend church with her?).

Over the span of hundreds of episodes, some aspects of Hodgman’s ethic have become “settled law.” For example, “people like what they like,” meaning: you can’t force someone to like (or not) like something just because you do (or don’t) like it, we all have our own preferences, it’s part of being human. My favorite bit of settled law is this: be mindful of the work you leave for others. I think on this advice often, when I’m tempted to put back a grocery item in the wrong aisle (because it’s just so convenient for me…) or when I grumble about putting my children’s books back on the book shelf for the umpteenth time in a given day. It is sage advice: be mindful of the work you leave for others. It’s not revolutionary or unique or even all that new, but it is wisdom which bears reminding.

And so we come to the question of women in ministry…you knew I’d get here eventually. There are several dozen things I wish people knew about what it means to be a woman serving in a profession where you can be legally discriminated against based on gender, but for today, let’s look at the settled law: be mindful of the work you leave for others. Read more

Race and Gender: What Being a Woman Preacher has to do with Racial (In)Justice

The author

The author

I am a woman.

I am a woman who preaches.

Though we are not many, one of the greatest gifts of knowing other women called to preach is when we are able to sit together, share a meal or a drink, and talk about the complex and difficult realities of being a woman in a world/field/church wherein men have ruled for centuries.

When I’m alone, it’s too easy to question the anger that surfaces when men consistently cut me off or (consciously or otherwise) insist their voices have a louder hearing. When it’s just me in the room, I too quickly reject the painful emotions of not feeling heard or seen, or I suppress the frustration of having to jump through yet another hoop in order to secure a seat at the table. But when I’m with my sisters, when I’m surrounded by other women whose reality mirrors mine, I am free. I can shed the felt need to hold it together or represent all women or not show too much emotion, and I can simply feel all that I feel and name all that I experience and find it/myself validated.

There is nothing like it.

The reason I desperately need community with fellow women preachers is because they see through a similar lens. They encounter similar experiences. They hear what I hear, and none of us has to convince the other that any of it is real. This is not the case outside such a circle. As a woman who preaches, I hear and see and experience life in a particular way. I notice and observe certain realities—both subtle and overt—that others don’t. This is not a critique; it is simply true.

We are called “speakers” instead of “preachers.” Our “sermons” are sometimes labeled “lessons” or “presentations.” We are allowed to speak, but only if a man remains on the platform with us. We’re asked to sit as we teach in order to show deference to male authority. We are given the title “coordinator” when men performing the same tasks are referred to as “pastor.” We are allowed to teach on certain topics but not others, irrespective of our training and education.

And on, and on, and on. Read more