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Not From Around Here

“Hang on,” my friend Alissa said to me during a conversation over coffee on her couch. “I need to go take out the Herby Curby.”

I looked at her blankly.

“Did you just say… the Herby Curby?”

She looked at me blankly.

“Yeeesss…”

Then her eyes opened wide as she suddenly realized she needed to explain herself.

“Oh, right. That’s what we call trash cans – you know, those big ones that you take out to the curb? The Herby Curby?”

 

I had lived in Western Kentucky for a few months at that point, and this was the first – but not last – time I’d hear this. Come to find out, when that community first got curbside trash service, the waste disposal company had a commercial on local TV to explain to its new customers how to use the service, complete with a cartoon trash can named — you guessed it — Herby Curby.

While that continues to be one of my favorite stories from my move to Kentucky, after living — and serving — all over the country, I’ve realized that there are much more meaningful lessons that we have to learn from the different regions we’re in.

Michigan will always be home for me, but my spouse is an Army chaplain; thanks to the military I’ve lived in nine states in adulthood and have served churches in Kansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, and currently Texas. And what I’ve realized is that the differences in these regions runs far deeper than how much snow they get and what they call that stuff that comes in cans and bottles (which I will call “pop” until my last breath!).

Don’t get me wrong – I miss having roots. I miss having high school friends up the road, I miss my kids living near their cousins and grandparents. But there is something so valuable that comes from planting ourselves in communities and cultures that are not our own – even within the same country.

We clergy have a lot to learn from the churches we serve, particularly when they are outside our cultural comfort zone. That church in Kentucky not only taught me another way to refer to trash cans; they also taught me about being connected to the earth. They taught me about deep family connections, about being proud of your hometown unlike anywhere else I’ve been. They taught me about living out faith in friendships that last a lifetime.

It is a sacred call to be able to experience a culture different from one’s own, not just cohabiting the same space but breaking through the differences into the fabric of a collective identity. As my path and each church’s path intersect, all of our past experiences make us who we are. I showed up to Texas a different person than I showed up to Kentucky, because Kentucky was in my blood. I showed up to Kentucky a different person than I showed up to South Carolina, because South Carolina was in my bones. We breathe in the history and culture of one place, and breathe out who we are becoming.

As I reflect on what I’ve learned, these are some of the ways I’ve come to approach new communities:

Approach regional differences from a posture of listening. It takes some cultural humility, to listen and learn about what’s important in a community. I currently serve in San Antonio, and the community here has a deep and rich connection to honoring the past. Tell them about your home, yes… but really listen to them share about theirs. Listen to their stories not just of their family history, but the community history. If people are still giving directions referring to a corner store that hasn’t been there in 30 years, ask about why that store was so important… then hear their answers.

Do your own research! Yes, listen to the stories told over potluck casseroles and sweet tea… and also do some reading on your own about the historical roots of that area. Visit the city or county museum. Subscribe immediately to the hometown paper, listening to “the story beneath the words” of how they tend to think, feel, and act. Are there books written about the area, or published authors from there? Acquaint yourself with those works!

Integrate and appreciate, but don’t appropriate. While every place I’ve lived becomes a part of who I am, and it’s important to not talk like “an outsider,” it’s also important to honor that you are not from there… especially when matters of deep identity and pride arise. This is even more important if you are serving a population that has been historically marginalized and you don’t share that identity.

Have fun with it! While not every region has Herby Curbies, every place does have its own quirks, and it can be a lot of fun to laugh and learn about them!

Moving to a new area always carries uncertainty — but when we’re open to learning from them, we become better people and better ministers.

Now please excuse me, I have to go take care of my Herby Curby…

 

 

 

Altars and Altered: Looking Toward YCWI Conference

I love Atlanta and I love my YCWI friends, but the top reason I am excited for the 2019 Young Clergy Women International Conference is because I will be able to listen to and sit at the feet of Rev. Dr. Neichelle Guidry and Rev. Dr. Liz Mosbo VerHage. These two speakers bring a huge range of talent and prophetic witness that I think will help me better answer my call to share good news in difficult times.

Rev. Dr. Guidry has been one of my heroes since I heard about the WISDOM (Women in Spiritual Discernment of Ministry) Center at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. As Director of the WISDOM Center, Rev. Dr. Guidry invites, encourages, and challenges her female students to discern possible vocations in faith and social justice fields. I want to learn from her how to empower the women of color in my “congregation” (a small, private, liberal arts college) to explore their faith and purpose in the world, too. Rev. Dr. Guidry is also an inspiring preacher who I am confident will not only refresh my call but also rejuvenate my commitment to my own vocation.

Rev. Dr. Liz Mosbo VerHage energizes me as I seek to be a strong white ally for people of color. When invited to speak at the YCWI conference, her response included an offer to supply the names of women of color to invite instead of her. Her call is to racial reconciliation ministry, faith-based advocacy, empowering female faith leaders, and embodying the multicultural church. More importantly for the conference, her call is to help other women step into their prophetic journey in these fields.

I live in Memphis, Tennessee, a city that transformed the nation in the realms of of civil rights and music, and is on the front line of innovative ministry models. I really do believe that transformation is possible on a personal level, a regional level, a national level, and an international level. And I hope to God that reformation and transformation is possible on the church level. The Holy Spirit is going to do amazing transformative work through the workshops, embodied learning opportunities, fellowship, speakers, and keynote addresses at the 2019 YCWI Summer Conference, and I look forward to being transformed.

I believe God will use the incredible talent of Rev. Dr. Guidry and Rev. Dr. Mosbo VerHage this summer to show how worship transforms us to be agents of transformation in the world. At altars (and by altars, I mean the places we meet God: altars, tables, coffee shops, kneelers, hiking trails, workshops, hospitals, and maybe even the YCWI Summer Conference) we are altered. As I find my own prophetic voice and begin to stand up and call out for justice, I know that I need to sit at the feet of and listen to the modern day prophets in our midst. I’m looking forward to doing just that at the 2019 Young Clergy Women International Summer Conference. I hope to see you there! For more information and to register, visit our conference page.

Lawful and Beneficial: An Exploration of Faith and Academic Freedom

As we begin a new semester, and a new school year, after the summer we have had as a country, I am thinking about academic freedom. In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes twice that “all things are lawful but not all things are beneficial” (6:12 and 10:23). Paul was likely responding to a saying in the community at Corinth with the “all things are lawful” part.

There are, as with many Greek words, different ways to translate the second half: is he saying that not all things are edifying? profitable? expedient? helpful? I choose to translate it “beneficial” because I think that covers pretty much all those other options. All things are allowable, but not all things are beneficial. As a seminary professor and Christian, I think of this as a good way to consider the topic of academic freedom.

The academy (including Christian college, seminary, or secular state institutions), is a place where ideas should flow freely. Mistakes should be made, and even encouraged, so that everyone in the community (professors and students alike) can learn and grow. I often assign readings that I agree with wholeheartedly — readings that have challenged my thinking and broadened my perspective. I also assign readings that I don’t agree with, because they are important to have as part of the conversation in the class.

My students can expect to be challenged in their thinking in my courses. Read more