Godless Politicians Can Save Their Thoughts and Prayers

If that title sounds cranky, it’s because it is. I am. I’m fed up.

I’m fed up with mass shootings, and I’m fed up with the political inaction that inevitably follows them. I’m fed up with the idolatry of guns in my country, the United States of America. I’m fed up with the false equivalence between any reasonable discussion of gun regulation and banning all guns. To quote my beloved deceased dad, “There is too much stupidity in this world.”

But what I’m really cranky about is how my religion has been ambushed, stolen, and pillaged, then twisted and used for political gain.

As an Episcopal priest, it’s my job think deeply, prayerfully, and biblically about how we live our faith, and teach and preach this on a regular basis. On the Sunday after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which was the first Sunday in Lent – a season of penitence – many churches across the country read the conclusion of the story of Noah and the flood: the part where God beholds the mass destruction God has caused, has utter regret, and vows to never again bring this kind of massacre upon humankind. God seals the deal with a new law, or covenant, and symbolizes this new policy with the rainbow, the sign of God’s promise to never again allow this sort of death and destruction rain down on creation.

Prayer for America

Too many politicians who claim to be Christian – who claim the faith I have committed my life to – react to massacres in the complete opposite way from the way that God does. The godly response when one beholds mass destruction is to cry out in anguish, regret that it ever was allowed to happen, and vow, by way of a new law, to never let it happen again.

On February 14, Ash Wednesday, the day the church remembers our mortality as a way to begin the penitential season of Lent, parents with ashes smeared on their foreheads mourned the deaths of their slaughtered children in the (then) latest, but most certainly not the last, mass shooting in our country. I waited as the inevitable response followed: the heated social media posts about gun control versus the Second Amendment, the impassioned cries from parents and loved ones of the massacred victims begging to our politicians to finally do something, and, worst of all, the “thoughts and prayers” that politicians hand out like candy when tragedies like this occur.

Thoughts and prayers? Save it. It’s just insulting. Read more

Making a Life from a Living in a Rural Church

Parsonage flowers in May of 2017 next to Port Royal Baptist Church

They will invite you to

live with them, really

live with them. Do, if you can.

You will learn, in time,

a spirituality

with a little give to it.

How else can the people live

between variable sky

and forgiving earth,

and belong to both,

and to one another?

 

Your salary, which will be

considerably smaller

Than some of your urban

or suburban counterparts,

but measurably larger

than some who pay it,

must go to good.  It should

stay, as much as possible

in the community where you work,

Local doctors, local food

from farmers you love,

or will grow to love

as you learn from them

how to taste and see

that the Lord is good,

the place is good, the

hands reaching out to

you are good, and

they mean you well.

 

Your work, which will not be more,

if you are well-loved,

than what they ask of themselves,

will be seasonal.

And you must learn to trust

the gifts of each season,

and plan for spring, as

your people do. And trust, foremost,

that seasons do and must pass,

that weathering them will

strengthen all the best

in you.

 

Despair might set in if you let it.

Do not let it.

Determine in your own mind

to go out and find the good

in your people, in your place,

and in your life together.

Trust that it will be together

that you will see the Lord.

 

Your call, and your fellow workers, and

the culture around you will shock you.

Let it. And yet,

explore each inner scandal in

your heart with love.

Make no quick decisions.

Bless people as they come

and if they should go.

Those who return

and those who fall away

will surprise you.

 

It will take years, but not

as many as you suppose

before you can be the prophet

dancing, as you must,

along and across and back past

the line that marks outsider

from insider. [Stay years.]

And if you stay, you

will learn to speak the

dialect, and yet

you must introduce

new words, but,

with a little wisdom,

the right ones. Read more

How Playing Princess Made Me a More Perfect Pastor

Megan Torgerson Then & Now: Pastor & Pageant

We all joke about what we didn’t learn in seminary, but in my case, plenty of people joke about what I did learn. While I was in seminary, I learned how to walk in 4 ¼ inch heels, apply false eyelashes, pick a flattering lipstick color, spray adhesive to my rear so my bikini bottom didn’t ride up, sing an aria, and institute world peace.

The summer before my second year at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, I competed for and won the title of Miss Minnesota. I had to ask my professors if I could miss the first month of class for the following semester so that I could compete for the title of Miss America. The night of the pageant, my classmates gathered in a classroom to watch me introduce myself and then promptly get cut from the competition. But don’t worry – Miss California was also a seminary student, and she made the top five.

People seem very confused when I tell them about this other part of my life. No, I didn’t compete in those weird child beauty pageants. No, I never dreamed of being at Miss America. No, I don’t have any fashion sense. But more than that, people seem to have a hard time reconciling parish pastor and pageant princess. Honestly, I have always thought the two go together perfectly, and not just to justify my side gig.

My joke has been that they’re basically the same except for the clothing, but I’m not sure I can use that line any more. Both jobs involve archaic, specialized garments found only in particular shops and maximized for visibility. I mean, no one really wears an evening gown outside of a red carpet or black-tie gala. But then, no one wears an alb or chasuble or cope…well, anywhere, really. The two wardrobes don’t cross over, but they still have a lot in common in their singularity and expense.

After that we can talk about the real similarities.  Read more

“I just don’t know how you do it all…”

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” – Romans 12:4-5

The author with her sons before worship

“I just don’t know how you do it all…” It’s a refrain I hear so often from the members of the congregation I serve that I thought I ought to share my great wisdom with a broader audience: I don’t.

Most mornings are a rush to get my two young boys ready to go for the day. The youngest eats breakfast once he gets to daycare, thanks to the kitchen staff and daycare providers who prepare, serve, and clean up for breakfast and lunch each day. Great thanks be to God for them. The oldest gets a choice of breakfast foods that can be taken in the car, and he’s usually still finishing it when we get to his preschool down the road. The other day his primary teacher and I watched him stuff 3/4 of a mini bagel in his mouth after I kissed him goodbye. Mom of the year.

Some days are harder than others, and sometimes there are tears at drop-off. I rely on the loving care of Ms. Jackie and Ms. Ginny who are ready to help improve his morning transition. I repeat my goodbye and head out of the door, knowing that all will be well. Sometimes I find myself in tears, and post in a facebook group of pastor mamas, “This pastor mama stuff is hard.” They quickly respond with love and affirmation, and I keep moving through my day.

I come to work in the context of a wonderful, active, and supportive congregation. I marvel at the volunteer leaders who give so freely of their time and talents in order to do the work of ministry together. Things get done, and often not by me, and yet I still hear, “I just don’t know how you do it all.” Read more

Fungibility: A Vocabulary Lesson for White People

The author

The nerd force has always been strong with me. When other kids were competing in sports events over the weekends, I was competing in storytelling contests to see who could recite a story from memory with the most accurate detail. Middle school found me occupied with a group called Future Problem Solvers, who were given the task of “solving” invented, but based in reality, situations from ecological catastrophes to diplomatic disasters. (Designing the t-shirt for that group was the pride of those years for me.) During college, I ignored my chemistry homework in favor of reading theological tomes like David Bosch’s Transforming Mission for fun.

So, it should perhaps come as no surprise that I find myself to be something of a quasi-professional nerd these days: a full-time student, with a backpack to boot. Pastoral care conversations in parishioners’ homes have been swapped for intense chats with authors who don’t so much as offer me a glass of lemonade. During these chats, I’m frequently bombarded with words I’ve never heard of: leitmotif, interdiction, dehiscence, interlocutory, and thantalogical (and that is only in one article, alas). One word keeps cropping up again and again, especially in my studies of African American theology and ethics: fungibility. It sounds kind of cute, doesn’t it? The first images conjured for me were of gerbils who were the life of the party (fun-gerbility), or the special talents of fungi. But this word, despite containing “fun” within it, is not in the least bit fun. As I often do with confounding words, I consulted the oracle (Google) and discovered this:

“Fungible: being something (such as money or a commodity) of such a nature that one part or quantity may be replaced by another equal part or quantity in paying a debt or settling an account.”[1]

But here’s the rub: fungibility wasn’t being used to talk about bitcoin, or pennies, or bartered boxes of Girl Scout cookies. It was being used in my readings to talk about Black bodies. People as fungible: interchangeable, profitable, which made them understood not as people at all. Read more

Sabbath, Rest, and the Voices Inside My Head

“Would you ever consider doing something like this?” I asked. I was sitting with my friend Jeff in the balcony seats of the Wilbur Theater in Boston.

“Nooo!” he replied.

“Do you think Hannah would?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said. “What about Luke?”

“No way,” I answered.

It was intermission at a Mainstage production of the Moth, the live storytelling movement that had taken NPR and audiences across the country by storm.

I had never even heard of it.

Hannah is Jeff’s spouse, and Luke is mine. The four of us are friends from seminary and our two families vacation together every year. We were in Boston for our time together that year, where Hannah and Jeff live, and Jeff had bought tickets to the show after getting hooked on the Moth podcast and reading the first printed collection of stories. Neither Luke nor Hannah were feeling well that night, but Jeff and I went anyway, which is how we found ourselves on that balcony during intermission, discussing the similarities and differences between storytelling and preaching, and speculating about whether our spouses would ever do something like this.

“This” was to prepare a story – a true story, and your own story – on a set theme, and then to share it with a live audience. Notes are not allowed, there’s a strict time limit, and you can’t even wander the stage; the mic stays on the stand. It’s just you and the audience and your story.

I had only begun to understand how it worked – and to understand the draw – about an hour before.

“Would you ever do something like this?” Jeff asked.

“Yeah,” I answered. Something had clicked. I was getting nervous from the very idea of it, and my breath was already catching in my chest. “I think I have to do this.”

Conclusion of the 2017 Twin Cities Moth GrandSLAM

I went home and began to research how the whole thing worked. Moth StorySLAMs are amateur night in cities around the country, where anyone can throw their name in the hat to tell a story, and ten names are drawn. After ten StorySLAMs, the winners face off on a bigger stage at the GrandSLAM, with new stories under a new theme.

I was heading to a writing workshop in a few weeks. I had a piece prepared to workshop, and I volunteered to go first so I’d have the rest of the week to work on my story for the StorySLAM a few weeks later, which seems ridiculous in hindsight, given that there’s no guarantee your name will even be drawn. Read more

#BelovedCommunity

Hashtag my trauma
Publicize my drama
Go ahead, paparazzi me and my mama.

Don’t understand
The supply and demand
For our vulnerable blogs
And sensational vlogs
Voyerism or loneliness?
My addiction to the blue screen
My thumb scrolling fast and mean,
A desire to know and be known
Yet the tandem desire to be left alone

Get one mention in Sunday’s sermon
And his/her/their pain goes viral
Tweeting for a few days
But what’s the homiletical plot?
Does the preaching change the lot?
Did we give an altar call,
eyes closed,
heads bowed,

Alleviate affliction, humble the proud, did we end with the cup and the bread, somehow praying for the sick and remembering our dead?

Did you have a moment of reflection for their rejection,

Did we have a what next, a call to action?

Is anyone on their feet, or is it social media reactions?
Am I the hands and feet? Or the typing fingers of the body,
Will we see each other face to face and meet?
Will we let ego keep us separated and haughty?

Or is the virtual perception, my new reality, our only connection.

Maybe I need the church to help me feel,
Your blog to help me heal,
But maybe and I think you know it, too,
We need to touch and pray like we used to do,
Then go out and serve
Instead of remain
Impotent outside of a web domain
Nothing wrong with the internet
But human contact Just might yet
Be the way we were meant to be
Somewhere inside of the beloved community

Acting Womanish, Being Womanist, Living Womanism.

The author

Understanding your own identity is an ongoing process. Family ideals and traditions typically shape much of your childhood identity. As you grow into young adulthood, there are defining moments that continue to form you, and you begin to become more of who you desire to be. The stages of life redefine us, until we settle into a comfortable core identity that we will hold fast to and defend at all cost. For me, my identity was first defined as a young, Black girl growing up in Houston, Texas. It was many years later that I discovered the vocabulary to understand and explain the core components of who I was, who I am, and who I will continue to be as an adult.

Acting Womanish

Any young Black girl who has ever dared to talk back to an elder, or question a directive she was given, has probably been told she was “acting womanish.” Acting womanish means having the bold audacity to speak up in the face of injustice. It means daring to have her own opinions and thoughts, and rejecting the “go-along-to-get-along” expected mentality. Acting womanish means trying to “be grown” before your time. I remember my mother telling me to “stay in a child’s place” and “you actin’ womanish” in response to my speaking up too much and too often about things with which I disagreed. I also remember being told to save my arguments and disagreements for conversations with my friends; it was not the place of a child to correct their elders. It was a rather strange and delicate dance to navigate: be smart, be great, be the best you that you desire to be, but do it from within certain constraints. Don’t act womanish.

As children do when given such constraints, I learned to be quiet and contemplative. I learned to take mental notes of my disagreements with parental directives, and save my well-developed arguments for the privacy of journals and diaries. Rather than face possible consequences for “acting womanish,” I would wait until I became a woman to speak my piece, and speak it I did.

Being Womanist

August, 2005, was the beginning of my true development and understanding of myself as a grown woman. It was then I started my first year at Brite Divinity School on the campus of Texas Christian University. Concentrating on Black Church Studies, I had the honor and pleasure of taking classes with a Womanist Christian social ethicist who helped me discover my Womanist voice: Dr. Stacey Floyd-Thomas. Most pivotal were her words to me in that first year: “Dwalunda, you are Womanist to your core.” Read more

Exceptional

“Oh, but you’re one of the good ones.”  

I heard this from adults for most of high school. Usually pronounced with bittersweet bewilderment, it would be followed by a conversation about the surprise at my presence. As a teenager I was highly involved in the Church. (My call and ordination maybe shouldn’t have been such a surprise to me.) Church was both refuge and fun for me. As a young overachiever who was a bookworm and enjoyed learning, I first heard these words with hope. I wasn’t, as I sometimes feared, unpopular because I was unlikeable. If I was exceptional, perhaps I was misunderstood—and what teen doesn’t like the idea of being misunderstood.

Too quickly I realized that exceptionalism did not make me less lonely. Whether it was for not being popular or not being ordinary, I was still isolated.  

As my peers and I began to mature, and I found more friends my own age, I gained new appreciation for the slight that had been offered to my equally accomplished and committed peers. It was, I increasingly discovered, easy to surround myself with peers who share my values if not my faith. My knowledge of which did not stop the comments. I kept hearing about my “exceptionalism” for the decade I spent being the youngest. The youngest person at a meeting, the youngest priest in the room and the diocese.

I am no longer the youngest priest in the diocese—though I’m often still the youngest person in the room. But I still hear how “exceptional” I am. Now that it is not rooted in my age, it catches me off guard more often. It sneaks up in conversations as they turn to refugees and immigration. It doesn’t start with the bewildered sadness in these conversations. Far more often its confused anger. “Those people” who come here and are a drain on our system, by stealing jobs or tying up resources. I am an immigrant. Read more

Redefining Possible: CrossFit, Transformation, and 5 AM Trips to the Box

Kettlebells

It is a little before 5:00 on a Wednesday morning, and I am driving through the dark streets of West Hartford, Connecticut. There are very few cars on the road–few of us crazy enough to be ought and about. Where would one be going at such an ungodly hour? Well, it is time to come clean. I have caught the bug: I do CrossFit.

If you had told me a few years ago that I would be getting up in the pitch black to go and lift weights and do push ups, I would have given you quite a quizzical stare. I like my sleep (a lot), and given my medical history, I didn’t think I would ever be lifting anything heavier than my toddler.

When I was thirteen, I was diagnosed with bone cancer. The year of chemotherapy and the numerous surgeries that followed taught me a lot about my body and left it permanently changed. The tumor was in my left collarbone, so after the chemo shrunk the tumor, my left collarbone was removed. Because of the mobile nature of this bone, there is not yet (nor may there be in my lifetime) the technology to replace this bone. They cannot put in a rod or a donor bone the way they would if it were a vertical leg or arm bone. This means all the muscles in my left shoulder are now attached to each other rather than my collarbone, which means I don’t have the same skeletal stability in my shoulder that most people do. For instance, I cannot just align my skeleton and “rest” in plank position. On top of that, one of my chemo drugs can have long-term effects on my heart. My doctors have been cautious about how much anaerobic exercise I do. Can you see why I might be skeptical of doing something that involved lifting 50 pounds above my head?

Over the years, I have sought out fitness options that help to strengthen my shoulders and to just keep me in good shape. I have done yoga and rowing. Both of those were great in many ways, but somehow they weren’t exactly the right fit. Then, I started working for a bishop who is passionate about CrossFit. His stories about it intrigued me. One day, I saw a Groupon for a Box (what you call a CrossFit gym) in my town… and so I tried it. I haven’t looked back. Read more