No Christmas Without Her: Tamar’s Story

In Jesus’ family tree, there are a lot of really obscure names, but there are also some famous people. Matthew’s account starts with Abraham. Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus all the way back to Adam. Either way, we learn that Jesus has to do with beginnings: God’s creation of the world, and God’s choosing of God’s people. Further down the line there is King David, linking Jesus with God’s promise that a descendant of David will rule Israel forever. This family tree is almost entirely made up of men, but there are five exceptions: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. 

First, there is Tamar. Tamar’s story takes up one chapter, Genesis 38- a brief detour from the longer story of Joseph. It doesn’t seem to be connected much to anything around it, which is enough for some scholars to question why it’s there at all. Tamar’s story begins when Judah, one of Jacob’s sons and Joseph’s brothers, settles in another place, marries, and has three sons. Judah’s oldest son is named Er, and Judah takes a Tamar as a wife for him. But then, Genesis 38:7 tells us, “Er…was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death.” Not how I believe God generally operates, but so the story goes. Read more

Starting a New Call: A Top 10 List of Dos and Don’ts

The words "Starting a New Call: A Top 10 List of Dos and Don'ts" appear in neon lettering against a background with a white hand holding a dandelion against a blue sky.

  1. Pace yourself. You are going to be tempted to go, go, go. Don’t give in to the temptation. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

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The Heroine’s Journey, Part Four: Experiencing the Boon of Success

This post is the fourth in what will be a series of ten exploring the kinship between the Heroine’s Journey as established by Maureen Murdock, my lived experience of ministry as a female clergy person, and a few familiar fictional characters. Each devotional will end with a blessing for the Heroine at each stage of the journey. In the previous post, we examined the third part of the journey where the Heroine has had to prove themself and their learning against challengers and obstacles. They experience triumph and continue in their journey.

The Heroine’s Journey, Part Four: Experiencing the Boon of Success 

Now that the Heroine has overcome the adversity standing in the way of their fulfillment, they have entered what I call the Uncanny Valley of Success. Here the Heroine feels both a sense of achievement and uneasiness about the role or position that they have attained. It is as if the success that they have been taught to value is not what it appears. Often some kind of feminine elder will kindle their feelings of misgiving. The Heroine can sense that the pursuit of the truth will be costly, so they hold their suspicions at bay.

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Dear Askie: I’m Changing Calls!

Dear Askie,

I have just accepted a new call! It’s very exciting but also very sad. You see, I’m leaving my current call after almost eight years. I love the people, and we have done some amazing things together. I want to leave well—for me and for them—but I am not really sure how to do that. I need to start telling people and planning for my transition. But I feel really stuck. Help! 

Leaving and Confused

The words "Goodbye," "Thank you," and "Hello" are in displayed in neon blue and pink against a dark backround.
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Four white candles sit in an evergreen wreath against a dark background.

Communion Setting for Advent

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.


In the beginning there was Love, Love so radiant it could not be contained–bursting forth as the sun, filling the sky with light, then breaking off into tiny pieces, into stars, to brighten the dark night sky.

In the beginning there was Love, Love so bountiful that it needed something to love, so it created the earth and filled it with all sorts of good things: sheep and horses, cats and dogs, fish and birds. Love made people in Love’s image–made us!–with lips to smile, lungs to laugh, and warm hearts. It didn’t take long for us to learn the opposite of love–we learned to beat one another with our fists instead of hugging one another with our arms and to offer words of hate instead of praise. Love’s heart ached because of the broken world, so Love spoke through prophets and priests, calling us back to our Creator’s embrace.

And so with your people on earth, and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn:


Sanctus                                                                                                                                                                                     FWS 2257b


When our hearts were too hard to hear the words of the prophets, Love came down to earth, in a form that we would recognize. So Love became Jesus, a baby to be cuddled and kissed, who would fall down and skin his knees, who would wrap his arms around those he loved. Love came down and lived among us, teaching us how to love one another. He filled the hungry with good things, gave words of comfort to those who were hurting, and spoke of the day when Love, not power or wealth, would rule the world.

But there were those whose hearts were still hard. They refused to believe such a thing was possible. So they tried to quench the Love of God, crucifying him on a tree, broken by a world of hurt and pain.

On the night in which he gave himself up for us, Jesus sat at a table with friends. He taught them that they must love one another just as he loved them. He taught them that everyone would know they were his followers and friends if they had love for one another.

Then he took bread, blessed it, and shared it with those around him, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Whenever you eat it, remember me.” When the supper was over he took a cup, again he blessed it and gave thanks, then shared it, saying, “This is my blood, given for you. Whenever you drink it, remember me.”

And so we remember as we gather around this table and proclaim the mystery of faith:


Memorial Acclamation                                                                                                                                                                      FWS 2257c


Pour out your Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and cup. May they be for the living body and blood of Christ, Emmanuel, God’s Love with us. By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Through your Son, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy church all honor and glory is yours, Almighty God, now and forever. 



Four white candles sit in an evergreen wreath against a dark background.

National Novel Writing Month with Young Clergywomen

Once upon a time, a group of writers gathered, furnished with journals and fancy pens, or laptops draped in fun stickers. Pastors and chaplains gathered together with church members at coffee shops, trying not to talk too much and thus impede maximum word count. Young clergywomen took their collars off, even if their stories still dripped with biblical allusions and theological questions, and they brought their Google Docs to the library write-in to make a few writer friends and get away from Advent studies cluttering their tables. These clergywomen were making community with other writers to draft a 50,000 word novel in one month. 1,667 words a day through the month of November– you know, that month when we are ramping up for the chaos of Advent in the sacred world and the holiday crush of the secular world. 

It’s called Nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month. There is a website to connect writers to communities defined by genre or geography and to share a little about the project, but the main point of the site is to log not the writing itself but the daily word count. For those of us young clergywomen Nanowrimo fans, writing is a spiritual practice and a contemplative experience. In a culture that is so focused on hustling, Nanowrimo is an invitation to sit and be still. While it may seem impossible to add something to an already busy life, writing can be a way to remember and to find the Divine. For those of us in pastoral ministry, November can become a time of chaos prepping Advent worship, and we often lose the contemplative preparation we are urging our congregations to engage in during the season. Making time for writing and creativity during the month of November ignites reflection and purpose as we prepare for Advent, the coming of the light to the world.  

There is also something freeing in focusing solely on word count. The words we write don’t necessarily matter during Nanowrimo. What matters is the act of writing itself. Our critical natures can take a back seat because it isn’t about perfection; it’s just about writing. Nanowrimo gives us the place, time, and community to let go of our own expectations and judgments and just create for the sake of creating. After all, this is not just an invitation of creativity: it is an invitation to join in the work of creating with Creator God. In the first creation story in Genesis 1, God speaks and the world comes into being. Throughout Scripture, God keeps speaking, inviting us to repent and change our stories, or to survive and live new stories, or to work with God to write stories of love and grace no one has imagined yet. Yet, too often we forget this invitation to creativity and instead just focus on getting through the next meeting or accomplishing the next task. Nanowrimo whispers of God’s creativity in asking us to explore and discover new worlds, new characters, and new stories. We– as adults, and particularly as women in ministry– don’t give ourselves the permission to engage with our imaginations often enough. 

And for many of us young clergywomen, writing allows us to explore parts of our identity we might forget when caught up in the tyranny of ministry schedules. One of us started writing in the midst of a struggle with infertility because she needed to remind herself of her ability to keep creating even if she couldn’t mother living children. Another of us started Nanowrimo out of loneliness. Nanowrimo gave her a community of other writers online and also helped her connect to her sister too, on whose advice about the plot she ended up relying. Another of us pointed out that Nanowrimo helps her release her drive for control. When she began writing a Nanowrimo novel last year, she wanted to shape it into a particular thing. But the work that took shape was unexpected and what it needed to be as she wrote to release frustration that she was experiencing in ministry. Writing, including fiction, allows us to reflect more deeply on our own reality and identity. 

If you are looking for a new spiritual practice, a new creative outlet, or a community of storytellers, grab your pens or keyboard and try your hand writing a novel this month!

The NaNoWriMo logo, which is a light blue shield with a coffee mug, computer sxcreen, pen, and stack of papers, with a horned viking helmet above the shield.

A Pastor in the Real World

The words "A Pastor in the Real World: An experiment in making meaning" in black text in front of a background of a typical board room, with a dark brown wooden table, black chairs, and white walls.

For years I have joked about what I would do with my life if this ministry thing didn’t work out. As with all jokes, there has always been a part to it that is tragic and true. In February of this year, I swore off congregational ministry. As a pastor, I experienced a type of trauma and pain that I never could have predicted. I did not want to put myself in a situation where that level of pain could be experienced again. In the throes of my grief, I couldn’t imagine a world in which I would open myself up again to love and inevitably be hurt by a congregation. 

As soon as I typed my resignation letter, I was looking for jobs in the real world — the world that felt so foreign after 10 years of congregational ministry, the world that so many of my peers inhabited on a daily basis, the world where employees were protected by legislation that would not allow what happened to me in the church to happen elsewhere. What could I do? Where would I fit? How could I repackage my qualifications to be relevant to the real world? My 3 1/2 degrees in theology did not appear on the surface to translate well to other fields.  Read more

My Utmost: A Devotional Memoir Book Review

A cup, open book, open journal, and smart phone sit on a wooden desk against a blurry cityscape background.

Sometimes I feel out of place in my denomination. I’m an ordained Episcopal priest living on the East Coast in a liberal area, but I was raised Baptist in the Midwest, very much part of the evangelical fundamentalist subculture. Even though I’m an ordained clergywoman of another denomination, there is much I value about my childhood faith and upbringing. Thanks to AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed, a sort of Christian version of Boy and Girl Scouts), I have a very strong knowledge of Scripture. Due to memorizing Scripture as a kid and preaching and teaching at my church now, I have a sound understanding of the Bible. While knowing Scripture is useful professionally and meaningful personally,, I still find myself feeling out of place and at odds, both with others in my diocese and with my friends and family back home. Something is not quite aligned. Something is not fully integrated.

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Famous Last Words, Part 4

“Famous Last Words” is a 4-week sermon series exploring the final words of various books of the Bible. In our fourth and final week, we look at the ending of the end of the Bible: the Book of Revelation. Although not always popular with pastors, Revelation tends to be very popular with your average run-of-the-mill Christian or spiritually curious person. Whether it’s the tantalizing promise of a glimpse into the end of the world or the vivid imagery, there is something intriguing about this book. Here we explore the end of Revelation and the promises and warnings found there. You can read previous posts here.

A stream flows down a slight hill and over rocks against a background of green mountains and hills.

Streams of water.

November 20, 2022 (Christ the King Sunday) – Revelation 22:16-21
RCL texts: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

Call to Worship
by Alison VanBuskirk Philip

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”


Jesus is the bright morning star.

Let anyone who sees say, “Come!”


Jesus is the life-giving water.

Let all who are thirsty say, “Come!”


May the grace of God be with us,

quenching our every thirst

and blessing our every story.

We come to receive living water.

We come to soak in God’s blessing.


Hymn Suggestion
Joy to the World (Text by Isaac Watts, tune: Antioch)

Light text commentary with preaching suggestions
by Ali Van Kuiken:

The Book of Revelation elicits strong reactions. Among patients at the psychiatric hospitals where I’ve worked, it inspires awe, fascination, and excitement. It’s many of my patients’ favorite book of the Bible. Among colleagues, there is some puzzlement and aversion, as they find the imagery too strong and popular interpretations troubling. Among congregational parishioners, Revelation is a source of confusion. What, then, should we make of this apocalyptic, vivid book? Is it a prophecy concerning the future? Does it describe the past? What does it have to do with me, today? 

Having grown up in an Evangelical home, I inevitably think of the Left Behind series whenever I think of Revelation; the name Nicolai Carpathia usually comes to mind. I also think of my college Bible professors, a husband and wife teaching team, dressing up as the dragon and using a hand puppet who represented the “whore of Babylon” to bring the images of Revelation to life.

Whatever we make of the specific plagues, seals, and bowls of wrath in Revelation, it is overall clear that it was meant to be a book of encouragement during a time of uncertainty, persecution and danger for Christians. When the empire seems to have the upper hand, the power, and the ability to inflict violence on one’s fledgling church community, one needs a new vision of God and God’s plans for the world to explain what exactly is going on and to maintain hope. Revelation gives such a vision. God is undeniably in control and, in fact, everything that looks chaotic and confusing here on earth is all part of God’s plan. The people of God need not worry. All will come right in the end. Whatever our suffering here on earth, the righteous will be vindicated and will find a place and healing in the new heaven and the new earth.

This is the context of the last words of Revelation, which includes a beautiful invitation to “come.” The Spirit and the bride say “come.” Let the one who is thirsty come. There is a communal invitation here to join in the same petition “come.” There is some ambiguity as to who is to come and who is being invited to come. Are we joining in the cry, “Amen, come Lord Jesus”? Or are we the ones being invited to come? There’s a case to be made for both. “The one who testifies to these things” says, “Surely I am coming soon.” This might be Jesus who is testifying by way of his messenger John, or perhaps it is John, the identified messenger bringing the contents of the book to the churches. The multivalency of scripture allows for several avenues the preacher could follow here. We can join with those desperately calling for Jesus to come again. And we can hear in that message an invitation to join with others to come somewhere new.

Perhaps this invitation is to come to the new, holy city, of which verse 14 writes that those who wash their robes will have the right to enter it by the gates. A place not all are apparently welcome, given the warning in verse 15 about who is not going to be allowed entrance. Such warnings no doubt sound harsh and hateful to our ears, ears which are so often attuned to messages of God’s love and the second chances given to those who have fallen. (Not to mention the judgments we may have about those judging others based on their choices.) Yet how we live our lives and the choices we make are precisely the important point in Revelation. When all hell breaks loose, what does that mean for us? We need to hold on, stay strong, stay the course. We can do so because God is ultimately the one in control. Don’t lose heart. Don’t stray. There are warnings and promises here.

Another warning appears in verses 18-19: not to add or take away from the words of this book lest God add plagues to us or take away our share in the kingdom. And isn’t it not also the case that those who add to the words of the Bible often add a message that becomes a plague to others? And those who take away the message of love and grace, do they not take away the opportunity for others to enter into their share in the kingdom?

What I see in this invitation to “come” is not so much our longing for Jesus to come back and rescue us, or even come and teach us once again. It is an invitation for us to come to Jesus, to that heavenly city where the trees with leaves for the healing of the nations grow. An invitation for us to come to the waters of life. We are not static people, waiting for God to do something for us. We have agency and choice and can choose where to move and where to go. The invitation at the very end of the Bible is for us to continue the story, to move toward God, just as the mothers and fathers of our faith have shown us how to do (or how not to do). And when we move toward God we will find that God is not static either, but has been moving toward us the entire time.

Prayers of the People Petition
written by Alison VanBuskirk Philip

God, you are the Alpha and Omega.

Thank you for being with us in our beginnings and endings and everything in between. 

Thank you that you intend for us to be people of hope, of joy, and of abundance. 

Thank you that you are making all things new. You are forming a new heaven and new earth where all shall be well. You invite us to lay down our troubles and worries by waters that renew and nourish us. 


God, you are the Alpha and Omega.

In our hearts and out of our hearts, may rivers of living water flow.


Abundant One, sometimes we thirst. Enter our parched places of confusion, fear, and scarcity. We name those places now in our hearts. Pause. Let the living water flow in and strengthen us. Let it soothe our troubled minds and weary hearts. Help us trust you to guide us toward endings that are rich with love. Give us rest, and let us lean on you.


God, you are the Alpha and Omega.

In our hearts and out of our hearts, may rivers of living water flow.


Living One, you are the author of our stories. You weave your story through ours. From the moments of Creation, through moments of upheaval and loss, through moments of renewed hope and calling; through all of it, you do not let us go. You are the foundation and the words on the pages. You are the Word who makes sense of our words. You are the one who calls us to come to the water. You are the one who speaks a vision of new life. You are the one to whom we turn with every question and mystery. 


God, you are the Alpha and Omega.

In our hearts and out of our hearts, may rivers of living water flow.



A Prayer for the Wave of Light

On what was supposed to be my daughter’s due date, we went up the hill on our farm. My spouse brought his banjo to play “I’ll Fly Away,” but our almost 2.5 year old toddler wanted to play music too, so some of the ritual and liturgy I planned for the three of us fell by the wayside. We did end up eating a picnic dinner and lighting a pillar candle with my daughter’s name and birthdate inscribed on it. We will light that candle again on October 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, as we remember her, our fourth child who was born too soon. 

A tall, white candle, in a glass with an intricate design in black and the name Autumn and the date November 18, 2021 written in gold, sits in a field of grass with a farm building in the far background.

A candle lit in remembrance of the author’s daughter.

Since my daughter’s death, I have often found solace in candlelight. I was unable to pray after her death, and, even when prayers of thanksgiving began to creep back into my mouth months later, I tried to swallow that thanksgiving away. I was still so angry. Am so angry. But the candlelight was an unuttered prayer, an attempt to reach out to my baby, to help her feel the warmth of love we felt for her. And to help me feel her love, and maybe even God’s.

Lighting candles for the dead is a ritual that is common in many religious traditions and cultures and has been long practiced in Christianity, despite its lack of Biblical origins. There is, however,  a story of God appearing as a pillar of fire to guide wanderers through the wilderness: lighting their path after the sun set and urging them forward, even over unfamiliar terrain. I have had many pregnancy losses and lost many people close to me, and still the terrain of grief is unfamiliar and lonely and even cold. I imagine a pillar of fire guiding me, illuminating the next step ahead, and warming us with the love that persists in spite of death.  

I think that is what the Wave of Light does for us Loss Parents on October 15. Lighting candles with anyone who gathers with us that night, and knowing how many others are doing the same around the world, guides us in our grief, illuminates a supportive community, and keeps us warm in our love.

I offer you this prayer if you are lighting candles for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day:

O God, who once traveled as a pillar of fire to guide the Israelite people,
help us to see you in the Wave of Light this night as well, guiding us.
You know the pain that our bodies and souls harbor after losing our children;
you know how lost and unmoored we feel,
and how angry we are with you.
As we wander in the wilderness without these children,
remind us that in your love,
our love for our babies and theirs for us will never end.
That love will be a guiding light for us throughout our lives,
calling us back to each other even when the flame seems faint and flickering.
Surround us with a community of support, who will speak our children’s names,
who will light a candle with us, and remind us that,
even though we are far from our children
and often feel far from you,
we are not alone.
Love journeys with us.