Posts

Is Your Pastor Sexist? Is the New York Times Sexist? Are You Sexist?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched our Presbyterian colleagues protesting Princeton Theological School’s plan to honor Tim Keller, who in his long ministry has argued women should be subservient to their husbands, a point of view that is also interpreted to state women should not be ministers.

Before I go any further, let me be clear: CBP/Chalice Press strongly disagrees with that stance, or with any stance that espouses inequality in any form whatsoever. There are many, many, many1 women doing incredible ministry that should inspire us all to step up our game. We’re lucky to work with them.

Back to the story. Traci Smith, author of the recently released Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home and a Princeton alumna, blogged about this and caught the attention of both Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News (she declined their interview request) and the New York Times, which didn’t reach out to her but quoted her blog instead.

Is Your Pastor Sexist?, by Times contributor Julia Baird, referred to “Rev. Tim Keller” and “Dr. Keller.” It then referred to Traci as “Traci Smith, a former Princeton seminarian who is now a minister,” and noted Christian author Carol Howard Merritt as “a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” No Rev. before their names.

Surely this was a mistake, right? Copyediting gone awry? 2

Traci and Carol both mused about that on social media, and their connections jumped on the bandwagon. I’m not one to fire off Letters to the Editor, but this was clearly an instance where we could offer our opinion as a publisher regarding one of our writers, as well as share a view on the world of ministry with some folks who might not necessarily understand how things work in the professional field. So this morning, I sent off this missive:

Dear editor,

Julia Baird’s opinion piece, Is Your Pastor Sexist?, contains several unintentional but extremely ironic sexist errors. The male subject of the article is referred to as both Rev. Keller and Dr. Keller, indicating the Times uses honorific titles. Two female pastors, Traci Smith and Carol Howard Merritt, do not have Rev. attached to their references, indicating the Times does not use honorific titles. Which is it? Surely this decision isn’t driven by gender?

It’s likely bad copyediting is the culprit here, but this oversight epitomizes the everyday challenge female pastors face in their vocation — sexism undermines the equally challenging work they do in a workplace that is all too often hostile to them simply because of their chromosomal combinations.

I see one correction already in the online version. If a story about sexism is inherently sexist, that probably merits at least a correction as well, does it not?

Sincerely,
Brad Lyons

A few hours later, an email rolled in from Matt Seaton, Staff Editor in the Op-Ed Department:

Thank you for your letter regarding Julia Baird’s Op-Ed essay “Is Your Pastor Sexist?” I am responding because your letter was forwarded to me as the editor of this article.

Times style usually allows for use of the title “Rev.” (for Reverend) only on first mention, and this was applied to the Rev. Tim Keller in this case. (Thereafter, he appeared as Dr. Keller, given his doctorate of ministry.) But honorifics are applied as context allows, not as a rigid rule.

Our chief copy-editor explained to me that the “Rev.” title was not applied to the other two ministers in the piece, Traci Smith and Carol Howard Merritt, because they were introduced in ways that would have made the addition of “the Rev.” awkward and clumsy, and because, in each case, they were both clearly identified as minister or pastor.

On second use of each of those ministers’ names, “Ms.” was the correct honorific, since neither of them, to the best of our knowledge, has a doctorate of divinity or ministry.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and taking the trouble to communicate your view to us.

Best, Matt

So the honorifics were cut because it would make the writing clunky. That’s weak. Very, very weak. Just rewrite the sentence! You’re not going to wear out your computer or need Tommy John surgery to fix that.

But it’s more than weak — it’s offensive.

I understand we’re talking about a few letters, but those few letters make a world of difference. Though their choice was intentional, their choice also subliminally subjugates female pastors in their vocation and in our culture.

CBP/Chalice Press is a ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which has for decades ordained women, and our first female General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins, is about to be followed by our second female General Minister and President, Teresa Hord Owens. We’re darn proud of that. Beyond that, we work with women and men, ordained and non-ordained, from many denominations, because we believe everybody has gifts from God regardless of whether they’ve gone through school or the proper training.

What I hear from my female colleagues in ministry is that it’s getting better but that the gender gap we see across society still exists in ministry – in the lack of respect shown to female clergy, in disparate compensation packages, and in the opportunities to lead at vibrant congregations. It’s going to take a lot of work to fix this, but we must fix it, and all the other prejudices in our culture, if we are to live in the Beloved Community.

It falls to all of us in the ways we talk about each other, the ways we hold each other accountable for our biases, the way we work on ourselves to erase those biases. But the New York Times, bless its heart – I sure hope it comes to its senses soon.

Footnotes

1. Many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many… well, you get the gist.
2. Baird reached out to Traci and said she hadn’t used titles, that they were added later.

Being the Church in Pre-Post Racial America

Young Americans

Young Americans

Rarely can a book successfully weave together complex theological concepts, social justice frameworks, and the stories of ordinary people of faith. Pre-Post Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines does just that. The book’s author, Sandhya Rani Jha, is deft at the art of storytelling. Her insightful analysis of the theology of racial/social justice-making plays a perfect melody against her counterpoint: a subtle but devastating critique of the ways we as mainline Christians are tempted to separate the (spiritualized) Good News from God’s call that we build the Beloved Community.

Jha does theology by participation, and through her willingness to locate herself, to tell her story, and to listen intentionally to the life stories (both spoken and unspoken) of others, she invites us to do the same. She lifts up both the deep theological roots of knowing and loving one’s neighbor, and the deep socio-economic roots of our systems of racial and class-based injustice.

It is these twin balances that define the book. Her essay “#Every28hours” is a Jeremiad in the truest sense. It comes after she sets the context with nearly a dozen stories of people committed to the work of justice, and just before her final three chapters, which are filled hope, wry humor, and deep optimism. She wisely notes, “We can’t get to hope without acknowledging what’s happening that robs us of our hope: despair is a necessary word, even though it is not the final word.” Amen, Rev. Sandhya. Amen.

Read more

Write a Book with the Chalice/TYCWP Partnership

3293117576_43be00bdf4_oIn the last several months, TYCWP Board has heard wonderful ideas for book proposals to Chalice Press. The Project has had an imprint relationship with Chalice since 2008, and Chalice has published seven books (find them here) with TYCWP. An imprint relationship means that the YCW Board helps Chalice read and filter proposals to send to their editing board for publishing consideration. For books that do get published, TYCWP receives some royalties, which supports the mission of the Project.

Writing a proposal and/or a book for a real-life publishing company can seem like a daunting process. TYCWP has several members who have successfully completed publishing a book through Chalice. Mihee Kim-Kort, author of Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology, offers her perspective on what to expect in the process of writing a book. Brenda Lovick, who serves as the Chalice liaison, crafted some questions for Mihee to consider.

Brenda: How do you know if you have a good idea to write a book?

Mihee: Ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they seem like epiphanies that drop out of the sky into your lap. Sometimes they’re like seeds. Sometimes they’re the tip of an iceberg, and the deeper you go you discover that there’s so much more to it and your very life is intertwined with it.

Talk with people that know you. You want to pursue something that is close to your heart, mind and spirit because it will take a lot out of you, and you need support. Ultimately, it’ll be up to you to commit – so no matter what the idea – go for it if you feel the fire in your bones. Put it out into the universe and see what comes back.

Brenda: How do you do it all?  Spouse, mom, career, and write?  Where do you find time to do it?

Mihee: I do everything kind of half-assed, honestly. That’s what it feels like. But, I try to integrate everything. I try to double up – if I’m writing a blog post that can be used in multiple places, that’s awesome. Or a germ of an idea might be found in a number of writings. Time is not very gracious or accommodating, but you do what you can do with the minutes or hours.

Ultimately, there’s no one way to do it. One day I’ll write for 15 minutes. Another day, a few hours. Maybe it will be in the morning. Maybe at 2 in the morning. It’s not easy and not everything will be good (actually, most of it is shit). It’s usually just not that pretty or romantic. But Anne Lammott writes some hard-but-good words about writing first drafts (in Bird by Bird, which I highly recommend for life, in general). All writing is not readable or useable, but writing – the practice and act of writing – is always good. You’re developing your voice, you’re developing habits, you’re shaping your craft.

Brenda: What makes a good proposal?

Mihee: Being clear as possible. Being passionate and authentic. Being thorough.

Brenda: What happens after your proposal is accepted?

Mihee: After you kind of freak-out, pass out, get drunk and celebrate or do whatever, you get down to brass tax and figure out the details about deadlines, time tables, and if you’re editing a book with numerous contributors, figuring out who’s writing for you.

There’s a lot of back and forth with one of the acquisitions editors and nailing down the actual book contract. At this point it’s helpful to have a second pair of eyes to look over the contract. Some signatures and mailing it off…then, you get yourself at your desk and start writing (if you don’t have a complete manuscript). There will be  instructions about format and footnotes – read carefully.

Otherwise take it a step, a sentence, and chapter at a time. Ask questions if there’s ever any uncertainty about anything!

Brenda: What do you think is the most important thing for a new or potential author to know before writing a proposal or book?

Mihee: Be gentle with yourself. Don’t expect to write a best-seller or manifesto or for it to be totally representative of who you are and your life right now. But, do be invested in it and expect it to consume most of your life. It’s going to be a labor of love. It’s an incredible experience and process, and if you have writing in your DNA then it’s going to be worth it.

Do you have an idea and want to submit a proposal?  To learn more about the process of writing a proposal, click here.

Book Review: Blessed Are The Crazy

“Blessed are the crazy for we shall receive mercy.” – Sarah Griffith Lund

Blessed Are The CrazyIf you have ever struggled with mental illness or loved someone who has, then you know that we have a cultural problem. There are many misperceptions; high-profile, violent events have become the face of mental illness. Yet most people with mental illness are not dangerous. People don’t want to be labeled; we want to be seen as “normal.” In our world, so many people are affected by mental illness but don’t have the tools and language to talk about it. Sarah Griffith Lund has written Blessed Are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family & Church, a book that will transform our perceptions and give us tools to deal with the reality of mental illness in our lives. She even proposes that mental illness is a gift.

This book is poignant, relevant, and profound. It responds to the stigma of what Sarah rightly calls “brain disease.” Sarah is a young clergy woman who is also trained in social work, and she has a very personal, beautiful testimony about mental illness. She provides genuine theological reflection about how individuals and communities can respond to mental illness in healthy ways. This spiritual journey teaches the reader true redemption and reconciliation from one who is deeply affected by mental illness.

Sarah offers several stories about mental illness that draw the reader into her personal experience. She shares about her childhood with her father who lived with bipolar disorder and how his brain disease significantly impacted the dynamic of her family. She continues her testimony with her oldest brother’s bipolar disorder and what she discovered through loving him and caring for him. Sarah then describes what it was like for her to offer spiritual guidance to her cousin who was convicted of murder, lived on death row, and was eventually executed. She reflects upon her own spiritual journey – from faith formation in her family, to atheist, to evangelical, to progressive Christian. She examines the life of Jesus as God entering a painful world and offering healing and forgiveness for all ailments. Sarah challenges the reader to think about how God is working through those who suffer from mental illness; she infers that we can learn and grow from greater understanding. The conclusion of Sarah’s testimony integrates her personal experience with practical ways that the church can bring hope to individuals, families, and communities overwhelmed with mental illness.

As I read Sarah’s book, I couldn’t put it down. Her words are comfort to me in my personal and public life. As a pastor to some who live with brain diseases, and as a woman who has struggled with her own depression and anxiety, Sarah provides a courageous testimony that frees me and others to be honest about our own “crazy in the blood.” What I love about Sarah’s book most is how bravely she writes about the complexity of her journey, and her experience of God in the midst of human brokenness. She truly has an insightful spiritual walk that can teach us all.

Blessed Are the Crazy is a valuable tool for pastors, lay people in the church, and unchurched people. I would be eager to use this book, with the study questions provided on Sarah’s website, with an adult book study group. I also plan to have extra copies of this book on my shelves for those times when people who live with mental illness walk into my office looking for comfort or hope. Sarah’s eager authenticity gives us hope that we are not alone nor do we have to feel alone. This book, Blessed Are the Crazy, can and will change the ways that we talk about mental illness.

Four Thoughts on Incorporating Faith Into Daily Family Life (For Clergy Moms and Everyone)

Seamless_Faith_cover_5th_proofThere is a proverb in Spanish: “En la casa del herrero, cuchillo de palo.” It means “In the blacksmith’s house, a wooden knife.”

In English we express the same idea when we say some variation of the proverb “The cobbler’s children are barefoot.”

In Chinese: “The woman who sells fans uses her hands to fan herself.”

In Arabic: “The potter drinks from a broken jug.”

It seems to be a universal idea that those with a particular expertise often neglect to use it in the most important ways.

As a mother and a pastor, I am constantly worried about this. Will I spend so much time caring for other people’s families that I neglect my own? What does it say about my family’s work-life balance when I ask my nearly three year old son where he’s going in his pretend car and he says, smiling, “I’m going to a meeting!”?

As many of my clergywomen sisters know, I recently published a book called Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life. (Chalice Press: TYCWP Series) It’s a lot like a recipe book that gives families easy ways they can incorporate faith practices into their lives. Lesley Ratcliff wrote a lovely review of it in April. Since then I’ve written and spoken a lot to families about how to use it to deepen their spiritual journey together. I’ve talked to ministers about how to empower families in their congregations to incorporate simple faith practices into their daily life.

It’s been a great joy to share the ideas with so many people, but the irony is not lost on me: when I take time to talk about my book or ideas I am, by definition, not spending that time with my family. I wake up at night sweating and wondering: Am I the cobbler? Are my children going to be barefoot? I know I’m not the only clergy mom who worries about this.

So for all of us I offer these four simple thoughts for incorporating faith practices into family life.

  1. You have time – Barna Research group put out a study last year that said 42% of pastors wished they had spent more time with their children[1]. Aside from working to keep to reasonable working hours, I would suggest that the quality of the connection matters as well. It only takes a few minutes to slow down and bless your children before bed. It only takes two minutes to say a prayer or sing a song. I just flipped through the practices in Seamless Faith and 8 out of the 50 can be done in less than 4 minutes. Nearly all can be done in less than an hour. 
  1. It’s an imperfect journey – Tonight I was singing the doxology with my sons. It was a beautiful moment of connection and a glorious experience of faith… right up to the part when my older son, Clayton, started screaming at the top of his lungs “Stooopppp with the church song! I want twiiiiiiiiiinkle!” Trying to practice faith at home is just as difficult any other aspect of family life and there are good days and bad days. We keep trying, we write off some moments as lessons learned and we move on. 
  1. You don’t have to teach or lead everything – One of the fundamental principles of Seamless Faith is that it’s a journey for the whole family. The best way to teach children gratitude is to practice gratitude together as a family. Parents need it just as much as children do. 
  1. You are forgiven. You are free. You are enough. We all know that the answer to the question “Who pastors the pastor?” is “another pastor,” so let me be your pastor for a moment: When you make mistakes in parenting your own children, you are forgiven. In Christ you have been given new life and you are reconciled to God not because of anything you have done, but because of God’s great mercy. You don’t have to do anything. You are enough.

[1] https://www.barna.org/barna-update/family-kids/644-prodigal-pastor-kids-fact-or-fiction#.U4VZsZRdWop

Breathe In The Breath of Life: A Lenten Breath Prayer

FOP2013_400God of all creation, you formed us from the dust and breathed life into us. Our breath is your breath. Your spirit moves within us and gives us life.

Too often we hold our breath, we are so focused on the immediate. Too often we feel choked by the tasks crying out for our attention.

Remind us, Creator, that we are yours, that every breath comes from you, that you sustain us and nourish us from the same earth which you used to form us, and to which we will one day return.

Remind us, Eternal Spirit, how to breathe. Fill us deeply with your powerful presence, open our mouths to inhale your goodness and your grace.

Remind us, O Redeemer, that you have set us free from everything that separates us from you. As we pause now to pray with each breath, help us to let go.

 

Breathe in the breath of life.

Breathe out, releasing your sins to God’s grace

Breathe in the breath of life.

Breathe out, releasing the assumptions that blind us to God’s truth

Breathe in the breath of life.

Breathe out, releasing the desire to consume things that cannot fill you

Breathe in the breath of life.

Breathe out, releasing yourself from the power of false idols

Breathe in the breath of life.

Breathe out, releasing the fears that lead you to doubt yourself and God

Breathe in the breath of life.

Breathe out, releasing your need for control.

Breathe in the breath of life.

Breathe out, and let go of all that separates you from God. Amen.

 

With the theme of “Letting Go,” the “Fellowship of Prayer” daily devotional from Chalice Press offers reflections by young clergy on how to free ourselves from sin, assumptions, consumption, idolatry, fear, and control. Then, we can truly celebrate Easter with the freedom of Christ’s death and resurrection. Print copies are sold out, but the e-book can be purchased for download at http://www.chalicepress.com/Lent-Devotional-Fellowship-of-Prayer-2013-EPDF-P1241.aspx

Bethany Fellows seeks to nurture new, young Disciples of Christ clergy in order to help them develop a rhythm of spiritual practices and patterns for a life time of ministry. For four years, Bethany Fellows attend two retreats each year, where they are offered peer support, mentoring, site visits, inspiring speakers, prayer, worship, and a time of silent reflection. More information can be found at http://bethanyfellows.org/

Sabbath in the Suburbs

“When you get to the heart of it, we were looking for a way to cheat time.”  My attention was grabbed with the opening words of MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s debut book, Sabbath In the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time.  This book chronicles a year in the life of a suburban family as they struggle to find more time for what is important.  The Dana family committed to a year of practicing Sabbath one day a week, one week at a time.  What potentially could have been a book about how this family became the Joneses we need to keep up with was, in fact, the opposite.  The Dana household created a flexible Sabbath that was “imperfect and cobbled together” as they tried to reclaim some of their lives from a world with increasing pressure and demands on their family time.

Divided into a chapter for each month, this book is a refreshing look at how one family put the pieces together.  There are ideas for practices, acknowledgements that some of the rules are made up as they went along, and a sense of experimentation that ran throughout.  As each month progresses, the family moves deeper into this practice, and the reader gets a sense of how Sabbath can happen in a world of busy-ness.  Unlike other books about Sabbath, this one provides concrete ways to make Sabbath possible in the context  many of us live in today.

Sabbath in the Suburbs may be written from the perspective of a dual career family in the Suburbs trying to cheat time, but it is for a much broader audience.  The discussion of Sabbath is theologically grounded and explained without feeling like a re-read of a textbook.   Dana’s style is peppered with good humor, song lyrics, quotations, humility, and grace.  From a pastoral perspective, I wish the book had come out last spring when the Sunday School class I was teaching studied Sabbath.  We said over and over again that we needed something more practical and down to earth than the book we were reading.  Dana’s book solves that problem.  Written with beautiful storytelling  and a good dose of reality, Sabbath in the Suburbs is approachable enough for a Sunday School class discussion, a parent’s group, or a book club in general.  Each chapter had a gift inside that offered a way to slow down, appreciate where we are in our lives, and claim (or reclaim) the practice Sabbath in a busy, modern world.

Note:  Chalice Press provided me with copy of the book to review.  There were no directions, or expectations made on their part as to what the review contained once the book was received.

Rev. Julie A. Jensen is the Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Cartersville, GA.  She serves on the Community Board for TYCWP, as well as the conference committee.  When she is not pastoring, you will find her cooking, knitting, or planning a play date with friends.

Photo credit: Chalice Press

Sabbath is My Kryptonite

This month’s Moms in Ministry article is an excerpt from the third book in the Young Clergy Women Project’s imprint with Chalice Press.  More information about this partnership can be found here. MaryAnn brought so much joy to the project as our conference leader at our 2012 conference in Chicago.  Please visit our website regularly to learn more about YCW books and the plans for the 2013 YCW conference.

Sometimes, the so-called mommy wars are waged over breast- feeding versus bottle, or crib versus family bed. Sometimes, they begin over baked goods.

It all starts in a very silly way. I post an offhand comment on Facebook gushing about the glory that is Trader Joe’s pumpkin bread mix. It has provided spicy goodness, fresh from the oven, on many a sabbath day this winter (not to mention random Tuesdays and Fridays). You only need an egg and some oil, as opposed to canned pumpkin and a bevy of spices I don’t always have on hand.

A friend responds dismissively, asking why someone would need a mix in order to make pumpkin bread, which after all is so easy. I feel an angry flash of Who asked you? followed by the briefest tremor of shame—if I really loved my family, I’d make them something homemade. Then I decide not to take the bait. To each her own, right? I celebrate pumpkin bread in all its forms. Later though, I feel unsettled. Our kitchen feeds five people several times a day. What’s wrong with using a mix when the result is just as good?

“I don’t know,” I tell Robert later. “It’s so stupid, but it hit a nerve. I mean, I agree with her. I do value the handmade and home- made. We live in such a cut-corners society. But the thing is . . . it’s kinda fun to find a good shortcut.”

“Maximum impact, minimum effort,” he nods, sharing his father’s famous approach to cooking. Both Robert and my father-in- law are whizzes in the kitchen.

“Exactly! Do I have to be judged for my approach to breakfast food? Come on.”

“Hey, it’s pumpkin bread. Don’t overthink it.”

While I’m glad he doesn’t share my angst, I know that the issue of domestic chores runs down gender lines. There are entire indus- tries devoted to helping people save time and offload household tasks. At the same time, there’s still a view of motherhood that values the loving hands at home. Working mothers in particular can feel caught between the necessity of delegating certain domestic chores and a feeling of guilt because they “should” do those things.

Sabbath is not making this conflict easier; it’s complicating it. On the one hand, it’s robbing me of an entire day of labor each week, which makes the time-savers feel necessary. On the other hand, the unhurried nature of Sabbath makes me want to slow down for the rest of the week and not cut corners. It’s a curious irony: Sabbath reminds me that I don’t have to be Supermom, but it heightens my desire to try.

I feel this tension as I consider what it means to be a “host,” to provide gracious space not only for guests who might enter our home but also our own family. The biblical practice is hospitality, a word that’s almost as old-fashioned and foreign to our ears as Sabbath. Yet hospitality is a deep and vital spiritual practice in the Jewish and Christian faiths and in other traditions. Scripture is rife with examples of people welcoming friends and travelers alike into their homes and lives. We are called to greet strangers as friends and to share abundantly with them, and Jesus offers harsh words for people who fail to show adequate hospitality.

In recent decades, the picture has been complicated by Martha Stewart’s magazine and other resources that equate hospitality with handmade place cards and expensive flatware. These magazines miss the point of hospitality. I’ve sat at immaculate dinner tables and felt like an unwelcome afterthought, and I’ve been served wine in a plastic cup and felt like a treasured guest. A spirit of hospitality cannot be faked.

Still, there’s no denying that, all things being equal, a spirit of hospitality comes through when someone has taken the time to prepare for the presence of another—and not in a slapdash way.

Much of my life feels slapdash. I love finding ways to save time—a new route to the church, a quicker way to put away the groceries. (If I were a superhero, efficiency would be my power. Sad but true.) Sabbath has forced me to face the shadow side. Why am I trying to save all this time? For what purpose do I hurry? So that I can do more and more stuff? To feel useful and efficient?

Sabbath-keeping makes the idea of saving time feel ridiculous . . . like we’re trying to cheat at a game, but the joke’s on us: this game’s rules are unbendable.

Maybe Sabbath is my kryptonite.