A Pinch in the Fabric: A Reflection on Ash Wednesday 2022

I was in 8th grade the first time I learned there was a Nazi in my family tree. My mom was helping me with a school project for my English and Language Arts class. We were reading The Diary of Anne Frank. I learned much later that my English teacher covered this topic only with those classes with whom she trusted the material. The assignment was to create a family album and to learn about our history and narrative. As we were talking about how my grandparents came to live in Cincinnati, Ohio, my mom pulled out the old photo. She hesitated before showing it to me. “I want you to know that I will understand if you choose not to include this in your photo album,” she said. “I’ll leave that decision up to you.” Mom knew how cruel middle school kids could be. I doubt she trusted my classmates as much as my English teacher did. Who knew how they would react?

There it was, in black and white: a great uncle in his Nazi uniform seated next to his two young boys in their brown shirts. Mom explained that this great uncle is a family member about whom the family rarely talked. I’m still not sure how it came to be in my mother’s possession. Yet there it was, and it could not be ignored. Mom and I talked about what an impossible decision families faced if they were unable to emigrate from Germany: either join the Nazi party or face starvation. Even as an 8th grader, I knew that we cannot erase our history. We must attend to our histories.

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Pancakes, Strangers, & BBQ: What I Learned About God’s Favorites from Reading Leviticus

Every January, I start off the year full of hope, perhaps like the rest of you, setting out in a new direction. One of my annual “fresh starts” is the intention of reading the Bible through the year. I begin in the beginning (cue Fraulein Maria, “A very good place to start…”) with Genesis. The poetry of God speaking creation into being over watery chaos always helps me to see the frozen January world with fresh eyes, marveling at the natural systems at work and play, promising myself I’ll honor the Sabbath differently this year.

By late-January, I’ve made it through the drama of Exodus and am waist-deep in the laws and regulations of Leviticus. That’s usually where I fall off the wagon and pick up again during Lent or when I’m craving some Gospel later in the year. But this year was different. The Spirit graced me with a lens of humor with which to read these rules and I found myself listening alongside Moses and Miriam for what the Lord required of that wilderness people.

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A Women’s History Month Blessing for Clergywomen

 

I grew up in a Christian denomination that still opposes the ordination of women, but this March I’m celebrating my first Women’s History Month as an ordained clergywoman. When I left my childhood church at the age of 18, it took me a long time to find a church home where women were recognized as leaders and teachers. It took me even longer to respond to my call to ministry. Like many of us, my path toward ministry was winding, and I’m a pastor today only because I had the support and example of so many incredible women along the way.

 

My ordination service last October was held at my new home church in Baltimore, a Disciples of Christ congregation I joined shortly after graduating college. It was the first Mainline Protestant church I ever attended, and I remember how amazed I was my first Sunday when women greeted me at the door, read scripture during worship, and presided over communion. I couldn’t wait to go back the next Sunday—and every Sunday that followed.

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Let the Little Children Come

My twin daughters were about two years old when my church, along with two others, began holding weekly evening services of dinner church. Most of the time the girls were perfectly at ease, sometimes helping to set the tables for dinner but often playing quietly in a corner, a corner I’m sure we are all familiar with in churches: the children’s corner. While there is something to be said about having a space that is intentionally made with little ones in mind, all too often these spaces relegate them away from the rest of the worshiping body, apart from the community. Some weeks were easier than others to get the girls to leave the toys and small kitchen in order to join the adults as we formed a circle to celebrate the Eucharist. Over time, as the novelty wore off, it became more difficult to engage them in the work of worship. There were some weeks that I wondered why I had even brought them in the first place; other weeks I considered leaving them at home altogether. If I felt this way as a pastor, I can only imagine how the caregivers of young children sitting in our pews or around fellowship tables must feel!

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Harry Potter as a Sacred Text

 

For the past several months, I have gathered every Monday with three other chaplains at a state psychiatric hospital in Trenton, New Jersey, to read Harry Potter as if it is a sacred text. This is precisely the sort of activity I would have rolled my eyes at years ago when the Harry Potter books first came into my awareness. As a homeschooled, Baptist child who thought she knew everything, I was quite certain that Harry Potter with its witchcraft and wizardry was diametrically opposed to the Bible and thus everything sacred. Whether or not it was appropriate to read Harry Potter was a topic of hot debate in my church with the more “liberal” (in the sense of engaging with the world rather than in any political sense) families choosing to read the series and more “conservative” families choosing not to. I was nothing if not conservative, so it wasn’t until my 21st birthday that I first gave the books a try. 

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I Didn’t Mean To Be Here

 

I didn’t mean to be here. 

 

Nothing in my Southern Baptist upbringing allowed me to picture standing next to a hospital bed wearing a badge with CLERGY written across the bottom. 

 

I can remember when I received this badge. It took a letter from my church explaining that I was a minister and that I would be making hospital visits. My leadership encouraged me to go through the process and I did, even though I didn’t think I would use it all that much. I wore this badge for the first time when I was trying to visit a parishioner in the cardiac unit of the hospital. I wandered along hallway after hallway for half an hour only to discover that I wasn’t even in the right wing of the hospital. I learned quickly to not only ask for the room number of the patient I was visiting, but also which elevator I needed to use to see them. 

 

This badge has allowed me access to families in their most vulnerable and heartbreaking moments. This badge has granted me access behind some doors on floors family members aren’t even allowed to visit. This badge has taken me to pre-op rooms and post-op rooms behind doors with a big, red sign reading, “STAFF ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT.” This badge lives in the glove box of my car because you never know when you are going to be called to come.

 

Here I am, again. 

 

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Lent is a Season To Tend Our Hollowness

2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

Lent is a tough season in the liturgical calendar. It is a time for preparation, which means that it is a time for spiritual discipline. Lenten discipline rests on three pillars: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, which I have come to understand as all variations of fasting. Prayer is a fasting from the ego. Almsgiving is a fasting from holding on.

Lent arrives like salt in the wound during pandemic-time. Our collective series of lockdowns, quarantines, and isolations over the last two years have been an unavoidable and necessary time of fasting. We fasted from showing up, eating out, paid work, vacations, parties, hugs, and growing friendships or networks. We fasted from variety itself. We fasted from charting and anticipating the future. Whether or not we had gravitated toward this spiritual practice in the past, we were all shoved into the deep end. 

During my fasting, the image of the clay jar kept rising to the surface of my thoughts. I had spent time in the past considering the spiritual implications of the outside appearance of the jar – its brittleness and plainness – but I realized that the boundaries of the jar are only half of the story. The other half is its hollowness, its emptiness. A jar is only useful as a jar if it is hollow, no matter its outside appearance. I came to see that who we are as human beings is as much the emptiness that we bring to the world as it is the claiming of our borders. God has called each of us jars into which They place the treasures of Christ. But the world also endeavors to fill us up with its “treasure” so we need times of fasting to empty out our hollow places once more. We tend to our hollowness by being quiet and still; by sleeping; by holding our ambiguity; by forming no hasty opinion; by observing, confessing, repenting, and listening; even by dying. Lent is a season to tend our emptiness.

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A Blessing For When You Say Something Stupid

God

I have done it again

foot in mouth

paving that fiery road in so many good intentions

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Review No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) by Kate Bowler

“Someday we won’t need hope. Someday we don’t need courage. Time itself will be wrapped up with a bow, and God will draw us all into the eternal moment where there will be no suffering, no disease, no email.

“In the meantime, we are stuck with our beautiful, terrible finitude” (191).

When History of Christianity professor Kate Bowler received her stage IV colon cancer diagnosis at the age of 35, it rocked both her world and the Duke Divinity community. Many of us looked up to her, and saw ourselves in her, and prayed fervently for her. I had just taken her “Women and Power in the Church” course, so it was quite the shock: You mean the glowing, brilliant, hilarious, young associate professor who challenged and inspired us had cancer growing in her body that whole semester and none of us knew it? They’re only giving her a year or two to live? 

 

It almost felt like a betrayal. 


But of course, it wasn’t betrayal, because promises of perfect health were never made to her—or to any of us—in the first place.

 

So what now?

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Non-Canonical Bible Studies: A Chance to Learn Together

 

It all started by questions provoked from the wisdom of Rachel Held Evans.  For our 2021 Lenten book study I chose “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2018).  I had been noticing a burgeoning interest amongst several of the congregants for more intense study of scripture, and I was sure Held Evans’ intelligence, insight, and wit would only add to that interest.  

At some point in the study, we got sidetracked onto the topic of ancient theological writings that were not included in the final canon of the Bible.  Most were aware of the Old Testament Apocrypha, but several were unaware that there were gospels of Jesus that were rejected from the canon.  And this group of adult learners, appalled by the knowledge that there was material for study and conversation that they didn’t know about, suggested we add some of those books to our Bible study.

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