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Pressing on to the Kindom of God

Group of people marching down the street with signs.

The author joins a caravan seeking shalom in her city, marching in solidarity for justice with immigrant neighbors.

Two years ago, I wrote an article for this publication on the significance of the United States having elected our first female President. I wrote it before the election, obviously, but hedged things in such a way that it could still be tweaked and published in the very unlikely event of Hillary Clinton losing the election, which, of course, is exactly what happened. After the defeat, even the “also ran” article hit nerves too raw, and in the end, it was all scrapped.

The past two years have unleashed and unmasked so much in our society. White supremacy, nationalism, and all kinds of fear and hate have been emboldened and empowered. The hate has been deadly. At the same time, there has been a greater public resistance than any I have seen in my lifetime. I joined the throngs in the Women’s March in Washington, DC. “The Future is Female” shirts started popping up everywhere. The #metoo movement has seen progress in holding powerful men to account for sexual assault, though we still have a long way to go.

A fire has been lit for many women who are mad as hell and not going to take it, to borrow from the movie Network. The 2018 midterms saw the greatest number of female candidates in any election, the greatest number elected, and resulted in a number of firsts: the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, one of whom is the first Somali-American elected to Congress; the first two Native American women elected to congress, one of whom is lesbian and a former mixed martial arts fighter; the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts; a Latina who became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

There is much to celebrate in all of this, as our elected representatives start to become just a little more representative of the diverse population of the United States. It’s a start. And yet. Lest we get too comfortable, or too self-congratulatory, I have a message for my white sisters: we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Read more

“Out of the Bathroom, Into the World”

The author (bottom left) and her youngest daughter (top right) pose with Board Members of Young Clergy Women International, 2017.

“You need to develop a pastoral identity. It comes with time. Don’t worry, it will come.”

One of my dearest seminary professors told us this over and over, and I believed him. It would come: I would be able to see myself as a pastor, the more time I spent learning, watching other pastors, performing pastoral tasks myself.

The problem was this: there were precious few pastors who looked like me. I went to the seminary of a denomination that was early in its process (lo, these many years ago, way back in 1999) of ordaining women to ecclesiastical office, a denomination that had resolved its differences for the time by allowing a provisional, regionally based version of women’s ordination. There were 55 students in my MDiv class. Only 5 were women. There was one woman on the faculty of my seminary, and she wasn’t ordained herself. By the time I finished seminary and was ordained, there were fewer than two dozen ordained women in my denomination, and precious few who had, like me, gone straight through college and seminary into ministry as their first career.

During those four years of seminary, the safest place to think about myself as a pastor was the women’s bathroom. The seminary building, designed mid-twentieth century with exclusively male seminarians in mind, had no women’s bathrooms in the area where the classrooms were located. But over by the administrative offices, there was a large women’s restroom with an attached women’s lounge, a holdover from a time when the only women in the building were secretaries. That was the safe place for the handful of us women who were students. I laughed and cried and hoped and dreamed with my classmates in that space. We were honest there, most honestly ourselves, but we had to put up a facade when we left the bathroom lounge.

And so the bathroom was really the only place at my seminary where I could work on my pastoral identity as a female.

I learned to be a woman pastor in that bathroom. But I still had a murky picture of my own identity, because I had precious few places to look for examples. Read more

“I Believe the Women”

With great understanding,
Wisdom is calling out
as she stands at the crossroads
and on every hill.
She stands by the city gate
where everyone enters the city,
and she shouts:
“I am calling out
to each one of you!
Good sense and sound judgment
can be yours.
Listen, because what I say
is worthwhile and right.
I always speak the truth
and refuse to tell a lie.
Every word I speak is honest,
not one is misleading
or deceptive.
-Proverbs 8:1-8 (CEB)

detail from Adoration of the Shepherds, oil on canvas, 1609

The allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct continue to mount in every sector of society. In response to the allegations against Senate candidate Roy Moore, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I believe the women.” These four words hold extraordinary power, and the fact that they are so extraordinary points to how necessary they are.

The word of a woman is often questioned – including by women themselves. In the wake of #metoo, one thing we’ve seen is just how much women have internalized our victim blaming culture. Many have been reluctant to name sexual misconduct for what it is, or have felt partially responsible for it because they had been flirting, too, or they had enjoyed a drink with a friend. There is an inner voice asking, “Was this somehow my fault?”

In a culture that prizes women who are nice, sweet, and submissive, calling out harassment is strongly discouraged. For many women, speaking out would be detrimental to their careers or advancement. There is a pressure in many industries for women to be able to keep up with the men, to prove that they aren’t too emotional, too difficult, or any number of negative stereotypes that would prevent them from fitting in to the dominant culture. Louis CK’s sexual misconduct opened up dialogue among female comedians, who find that “not being able to take a joke” when it comes to sexual misconduct is a real career killer. Where men continue overwhelmingly to dominate certain industries, where “locker room talk” is actually the talk in whatever rooms of power – board room, green room, Senate chamber – women are under pressure to prove that we can take it, that we can hang with the best of them, while allowing the dominant rape culture to define the “best.”

Certainly, there have been, at times, false accusations made. But the vast majority of allegations of abuse and harassment are not false. Women have very little to gain in accusing men – particularly the rich and powerful – of misconduct. When women do speak out, our word is doubted, our character maligned, or worse. Women who have spoken out against powerful men have received death threats and lawsuits. It’s no wonder so many keep silent. Read more

My Sisters, the Ghostbusters

345487149_9a3d3e1b2a_zWhen the Ghostbusters reboot was announced, I was pretty sure I’d want to see it, at least when it came out on streaming: I love the first movie. But when the hullaballoo over an all-female cast hit social media, I knew I’d be there with bells on. Even if the stars had been women other than Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, and Kristen Wiig, all of whom I find incredibly funny, I was ready to support my sisters in this movie.

I say “sisters” deliberately, because for about a decade now, I’ve been convinced that comedy has become the dominant secular prophetic voice in North America. Depending on which sociologist you consult, I’m either a very young Gen Xer or a very old Millennial, and for people in my age bracket, the desk of a comedy host (Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, SNL “Weekend Update”) has become the closest thing there is to a pulpit. And I feel a special kinship with the current generation of female comedians who, if they’re not my sisters, are at least my cousins.

And if a group of men were going to get cranky about the Ghostbusters cast as women? Well, you’ve got to support family. Count me in for opening night! Read more

The author's family

It Mattered: A Lesson in Gender and Ministry

The author's family

The author’s “trinity” of support

Most of 2009 is an ugly blur to me, but one weekend in October stands out in my memory. My mother, godmother, and aunt drove up from North Carolina to Kentucky, where I had recently moved, to help me. My husband and I had moved in January for his new position as a seminary professor. I had become a mother, a resident of Kentucky, a seminary graduate, and a stay-at-home mom all in the month of January 2009. As my son turned 9 months old, I had been invited to preach for the first time since arriving in Kentucky on the same weekend my husband would be out of town. I do not feel as though I made the transition from seminary student and hospice chaplain to stay-at-home mom very gracefully. I had all kinds of needs, some of which I didn’t even know. It was obvious to my mother and her two besties that with my husband out of town, someone needed to care for my son while I wrote and delivered my sermon.

They made a road trip of it, and on a Thursday night in October 2009, these three women who were so important to me and to one another arrived at my house: Marjorie (my mom), Nancy (my godmother and the wife of my childhood youth minister), and Cheryl (my aunt and childhood music minister). A trinity of love and spiritual nurture from the days before I was an ordained minister. Read more

Coattail Justice

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

My early morning running buddy and I, both of us committed Democrats, have an ongoing dialogue about Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate: she is adamant that Hillary is the best choice for the Democrats in 2016. I’ve always countered with, “I don’t know. There’s something dynastic about it: it feels un-American to me for a family to have two shots at the White House.” We’ve been able to get a good half-mile out of this conversation several times in the past couple of years.

So, when Hillary Clinton finally announced her candidacy in April, I was surprised by my reaction to the news: I really want Hillary to win this one. The fact that my daughters will grow up regularly seeing women (me and others as well) as religious leaders brings tears to my eyes. I’m ready to feel that way about a woman president, even if she may have gotten a boost from a small dynasty, because sometimes justice begins with factors that level the playing field.

I was among the first 25 women ordained to ministry in the small Reformed denomination I grew up in. I graduated from seminary with a class of 55 M.Div students, only five of whom were female. We were still healing from three decades of fighting over women’s ordination. Occasionally, we were still fighting. Most of my professors and classmates were supportive. But there were times when it was a very hard place to be a woman. And through the whole process of education and call and ordination, my female colleagues and I had to take our advantages where we could find them.

Many of us were given scholarships by a group that had been pushing for women’s ordination. We often came back from weekend preaching assignments to report to each other that we had been the first female to step into the pulpit in a particular congregation. And when we were ready to look for church calls, we had to read between the lines to figure out which few congregations were truly open to considering women.

A good number of us were pastor’s daughters. I kept my maiden name when I got married a few months before I started seminary for a number of reasons, one of them professional. If I kept my last name, I would be the third “Rev. Schemper” in the denomination. And while my father is among the more liberal ministers in his generation, my grandfather was widely respected in more conservative circles. I figured it couldn’t hurt, if I was ever in a sticky church-polity match up between liberals and conservatives, to have the name as a reminder that “Reverend Schemper” was my grandfather.

The church where I did my first internship received grant money on the condition that they accept a female intern. There were several of us who spent a summer pastoring this tiny church that could never have afforded an intern, but the fact that the church was granted money was kept quiet because it looked unseemly.

A few of my friends were able to ease into a first call because their also-clergy-husband took a co-pastoring position with them, and it was perhaps just a little easier for a church to call its first woman-pastor when they were also calling her husband.

Sometimes I wondered if it was unseemly to take these advantages. Shouldn’t I just be breaking ground on my own merits? But there were plenty of obstacles, and to be honest, I was perfectly willing to grasp onto a few coattails if it meant an easier ride into the call to ministry. However, if anyone had suggested to me that any of my female classmates were making it through the ordination process only by working these so-called advantages, I would absolutely bristle. They were strong preachers, had wonderful pastoral care skills, could mediate their way through difficult conversations, and were so certain of their sense of call (you wouldn’t put yourself through this if you weren’t). I couldn’t be prouder to be part of such an amazing cohort of strong women.

And this is what I’m coming to understand about HIllary Clinton. It would be dishonest to claim that she doesn’t gain advantages from having been first lady. But even with that boost, whether you agree with her politics or not, there’s no doubt that she has qualifications and accomplishments that are all her own.

Sometimes, as women who are breaking ground, we do ride a few coattails. But it shouldn’t diminish who we are and the validity of what we are called to do. I’ve extended that grace to myself when I think about my own path to ministry, and I’m ready to extend it to Hillary as well.

On Healing and Time

Shorigin_2448288816e had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed. (Mark 5:27, 28 NLT)

This unnamed woman in Mark 5:25-34 is my soul sister.  As a lonely teenager, isolated and invisible, I took comfort in Jesus’ awareness of her: he picked her out in the mob pressing against him and honored her courageous act of faith and trust, an act as simple as touching the hem of Jesus’ robe.

Recently this woman’s story has grown in significance, as I not only relate to her loneliness but to her pain.  The story has become more meaningful…and more challenging.

Illness – stomach pain and unrelenting heartburn – attacked over two years ago.  Doctors disagreed on the diagnosis and argued over the best way to treat the illness.  Despite my best efforts to change my diet and sort through opposing medical opinions, my health deteriorated.  I lost too much weight, my skin took on a grayish quality, I couldn’t eat without feeling sick, and my body stopped making estrogen, a source of grief for me and my husband as we had been trying to conceive.  The stress of it all debilitated my spirit and my sense of self.

Mark shares few details about this woman; he does not even give her a name.  We know she hemorrhaged for twelve years before encountering Jesus; we know she suffered at the hands of many doctors, who drained her savings.  We may extrapolate that her unrelenting bleeding isolated her from community members who cared about ceremonial cleanness.  Likely she was told by religious leaders that her suffering was God’s judgment of her sin.  We also gather she was desperate enough to try something crazy, pushing through a large crowd in order to touch the garment of a well known healer, believing that touching Jesus would heal her.

This season of illness has allowed my imagination to wander through the gaps in this woman’s story.   I expect that her suffering at the hands of doctors was not only physical but emotional.  Countless times, I read about or was told by a doctor of a “silver bullet” treatment plan.  If I paid for an expensive blood test to identify food intolerances, I would see progress; if I would try the Paleo diet, my gut would heal; if I went for acupuncture weekly, I would experience relief; if I would simply take an acid reducer, or conversely, not take the acid reducer but instead supplements, I would be well.  Once I acknowledged that I had stomach issues, I encountered fellow sufferers, and I learned about surprising strategies that worked for others – aloe vera, acidophilus, yoga, even electro-shock therapy!  I never went as far as trying electro shock therapy, but I did try everything else, with no great improvement.  Whenever a new solution did not work as quickly as I hoped, my discouragement deepened.  After awhile, my hopes faded.

For this reason, I am astounded by the woman’s willingness, after twelve years of failed solutions, to garner enough hope to touch Jesus.  What made her confident that this audacious act would work?  It impresses me that she was willing to risk drawing negative attention to herself if touching Jesus did not work.  If she remained unhealed, she could have been blamed for making this popular rabbi unclean.

My heart rejoices that this crazy display of faith worked for the woman; after twelve long- suffering years, she finally experienced healing.  My heart also aches, because this has not been my story.  Many people have prayed for me over the past two years.  Some have laid hands on me and anointed me with oil.  Several months ago, I admitted to my spiritual director, “I feel like God is ignoring me.”  I have wanted a miraculous healing, defined by immediate, long lasting relief from pain.  I did not care at first whether God or diet or medication caused the healing.  I just wanted to be well.

Instead, healing comes slowly, at a tortoise pace.  I took a seven-month medical leave of absence and only recently returned to my work as an associate pastor in a large Presbyterian church.  I take six medications and several supplements every day and carry around pill-boxes like my older congregants.  I diligently guard my diet, my exercise, and times of rest.  If I fudge in my self-care, my body reacts immediately.  My resilience grows day by day, and I am encouraged by improvement.  My skin is no longer gray, I am slowly regaining weight, and I am less stressed and know myself better.  But, I am not well yet.

Rather than rooting myself in the outcome of this woman’s story – in her miraculous healing – I return to where I started as a teenager, with the conviction that Jesus notices my suffering and does not ignore me or leave me to face my pain and frustration alone.  God’s presence travels with me, in moments of clarity, in glimpses of healing, as well as in discouragement and doubt.  Through it all, I continue to come back to this soul sister, grateful for her trust and her courage.

Making Church a Safe Place for Everyone

Making Church Safe for Everyone FS May 2014When, O Lord, will we be able to look past whatever sex organs, body shape, clothes, and see each other as people—as your children, as beautiful and beloved brothers and sisters?

A few weeks ago I ran across an article, “How Women Can Make Church a Safe Place for Men”[i] by Dannah Gresh. The basic premise of her article is to say that men lust over women and that women are capable of reducing that lust.  Her goal here is to teach women to eliminate distractions which may force men to lust, thus helping our Christian brothers not to sin. She wants women to dress modestly so that men aren’t distracted by hemlines and what lies beyond them.  She wants women to understand that men are weakened by these things and she wants women to be accountable and responsible for the presentation of their bodies in worship.

Gresh is part of a ministry called Pure Freedom.  Their mission is, “to equip men and women of all ages to live a vibrant life of purity, to experience healing from past impurity if it exists in their lives and to experience a vibrant, passionate marriage which portrays the love Christ has for his Bride the church.”[ii] Her lifework is evident in the article and is, in ways, admirable.  However, the article seems to miss the most basic of Christian teaching: God’s Word of love and grace for our lives.

That Word begins with creation, the very humans which God created in God’s own image.  The people created to be in relationship with the entirety of the world.  God made people.  God commission people to serve and they were naked.  Before Adam and Eve sinned nakedness wasn’t an issue.  Gresh says that sin is, “missing God’s intended purpose” for us.[iii]  That’s a solid definition.  She goes on to insist that the presentation of the human body is sinful, that it must be covered in order to keep the sin of lust to a minimum.  That’s where she lost me.  God’s intended purpose for humankind was to exist and care for the whole world — for men and women to live in relationship with God.  Humankind wasn’t just about body parts, but about loving relationships.  In an attempt to cultivate a pure worship space Gresh equates love with sex, devalues the humanity, shifts blame, and misses the good news.

My discontentment with Gresh’s work begins in her scriptural analysis for the article. Gresh writes, “men have a God-given craving for a woman’s beauty.  Proverbs 5:18-19 says, ‘Rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always. May you be ever intoxicated by her sex.’”[iv] This translation replaces the Hebrew noun for love with sex. This noun can be used to express human love, “of man toward man,” as in Psalm 109, or “love for one’s self,” as in 1 Samuel 20, or “between man and woman,” as in Proverbs 5, and can even indicate “God’s love to his people,” as in Hosea 11 and Jeremiah 31.[v] For example, if Gresh’s translation better reflected the Hebrew translation, then we ought to consider that in Jeremiah 31 God would have loved the people with an everlasting sex rather than an everlasting love. Love has multiple connotations and the Hebrew language can wrap all of those in one word.  Love isn’t sex.  Love may involve sex but the two aren’t interchangeable.  Gresh is right in that some men have a God-given craving for a woman’s beauty.  But the love of beauty isn’t just sexual. It is spiritual, mental and much more than we comprehend.  The feeling of love can’t be fully expressed in sex.  In Hebrew, English, or any language and in life: love is more.

In further disappointment, Gresh is caught proof-texting with Ephesians 5.  She uses verse 3 to say that women hint at sexual sin by wearing low cut shirts.  That isn’t what this text is about. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,  2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  3 But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints.  4  Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving.  5 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”[vi]  This is about giving thanks to God and imitating God (which doesn’t mean eradicating temptation rather living in loving relationships).  This text claims that the person who is the fornicator, impure,  or greedy has no inheritance in the kingdom—not the person who is being coveted or desired.  Gresh twists that to say women are to blame for the impure thoughts men might think about women. In her work, men come across as incapable of living with their desire for the temptress.

We are brothers and sisters in Christ, made in God’s image, both body and soul.  Gresh writes as if beauty is the sole attribute humans find attractive and seductive. This is false.  People are attracted to talent, kindness, compassion, and as the snake and tree in the garden shows us, intelligence.  God doesn’t hide temptations, but Gresh claims women should hide temptations from men.

Women and Men, God has made you in God’s image and when you stray from that image God re-creates you in the image of Christ. Brothers and Sisters, hear the good news: you are more than skin and bones. Brothers, you aren’t helpless. Sisters, you aren’t temptresses.

The church isn’t laden with impurity because of a low-cut shirt, but because of our condemnation of those we are called to love.   Read beyond scripture’s few verses about sex and the body. Read those commandments to love your neighbor (which appears no less than nine times). Be less concerned with the skin covered by our garments and more concerned with the ethics: treatment of the people who make clothes, sustainability of garment materials, people who suffer the elements without necessary clothes. Making the church (and world) a safe place for all begins with our trust that God loves, forgives, creates, and re-creates us to be for the world signs of the love of Christ who gave himself up for us.

This Sunday, I’ll put on my clergy collar and jeans, not because these cover the body God created, but because these reflect who God created me to be: one who listens for God’s Word and speaks out for love. Put on clothes which show you are God’s own image — as beautiful and beloved, created and re-created sisters and brothers in Christ.

[i] Dannah Gresh, “How Women Can Make Church a Safe Place for Men.” http://www.charismamag.com/life/women/9703-how-women-can-make-church-a-safe-place-for-men, accessed May 13, 2014.

[ii] “Mission,” www.purefreedom.org/meet/mission/, accessed May 14, 2014.

[iii] “According to its Hebrew and Greek definitions, sin means missing God’s intended purpose for our lives.”

[iv] “How Women Can Make Church a Safe Place for Men.”

[v]   Francis Brown, SR Driver, Charles A. Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, hbha, page 13 line 160. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. Massachusetts,  2004.

[vi] New Revised Standard Version

Rev. Katie Chullino is the Pastor of Centennial Lutheran Church, Englewood, CO, she earned her MDiv from Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, IA, and her BA in Religion from Wartburg College in Waverly, IA.  Currently, she lives in Englewood, CO with her husband, Chili, and their 80 lb Akita mix, Loomis. When they are not doing ministry, they love to hike, cook, eat, work on their 1974 International Scout II, and to learn new things–like snowboarding, crocheting, and playing the ukulele.

Photo Credit:  Photo by César Viteri Ramirez, Atracción fatal / Fatal Attraction.  Accessed May 15, 2014, https://flic.kr/p/egJbAc, used by Creative Commons License.

 

 

Litany For Her

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I own a piece of art that isn’t worth much money but, it’s a conversation piece.  Handmade with small patches of fabrics varying in colors from red to the brightest orange it hangs on my wall. This gift is a modern version of American quilting.  On the black border you’ll find a hand stitched  words, “Follow the path with heart.”   My Aunt gave it to me when I graduated from seminary.  I carry it with me like the stories of the women who encouraged me to follow the path of Jesus with heart. We are woven together by faith and love.

One fateful night my friend Annie and I spread our books out on a kitchen table. We made piles with our notebooks and plugged in our laptops.  Coffee cups lined the table.  We lived on coffee.  Midterms loomed over our heads.  Feeling lost and overwhelmed by all the theological terms in our first year of seminary we decided to camp out. She was housesitting for a local family. The large windows let in light and air we couldn’t feel in our cramped dorm rooms. Quizzing each other never worked so we asked questions in the attempt to contextualize the large terms. Sparks flew. Laughter encased us. After a few quiet moments I shouted out a question, “Do you think Jesus has a body in heaven?” Annie scrunched up her face, sighed, and said, “I don’t know.”  In the bright light of a kitchen I would never see again we taught each other about theology and friendship.  To this day we reference that night almost ten years ago now.

My women friends in seminary surrounded me with prayer like a warm blanket that radiated the scent and glow of home.  I gathered with Bridgett, Annie, Kim and Aisha for prayer in our dorm rooms.  Kim always knew how to center us around God’s presence.  She could throw out jokes like the best of them, but when it came time to talk to God she knew how to welcome the holy into the most ordinary of circumstances.  With Kim I learned how to tap into the spirit of God that sustains me.  After finishing our finals one year we drove around the town of Princeton with the windows down shouting, “Hallelujah, we made it!”  When Bridget made dinner in her seminary apartment she gave me permission to be myself in a unique way.  Her faithfulness to God shined through in her encouraging words.  I saw her heart grow day by day.

The first time I heard Aisha sing my heart melted.  She is a jazz vocalist blessed with an undeniable gift. And when our friendship grew over the years in seminary I learned the story behind her voice.  We found a safe space to be the artsy and spirit filled women God made us to be.  I’ll never forget the courage I found in her friendship.

Meredith and I share more than a name.  The second year of seminary an effervescent group of women moved in on my floor.  I felt enlivened by their energy and desire to change the world.  It was over countless meals and endless cups of coffee I found a kindred spirit in Meredith.  She’s taught me to love my sometimes irrational and always searching self.

Truth is, I could decorate an entire wall with names of the women who were like steps on a staircase of faith for me in seminary.  Each one challenged, nurtured, and encouraged me in unique ways.  Meredith, Aisha, Bridgett, Kim and Annie are the women I can call in the middle of night with any question in my heart.  They light my path.  They show me that I don’t have to be perfect to serve God.  I learned how to listen to God amongst the noise because of their voices in my ear.  Each step I take on this beautiful and crazy journey of faith and vocation I take with them beside me. With God’s love we will go far.

I realized then that even when our arms drop off for a moment or a connection is missed, we are still standing in this thick river of Love that connects us. I also realized that if we’re standing together, it’s hard to walk away … Even when we slip or need a rest, we are not taken out of the River. We have a place and there are grace-filled arms all around to help carry us. We don’t stand in our own effort, but we stand in a divine Love…The Source is not our humanity that is finite (and can burn up pretty quickly), but it’s from a Greater Love that passes all understanding.

Not only do we stand in thick Love, even the atmosphere around us is Love. It’s grace and anointing. It’s kindness, patience, goodness. Faithfulness, humility and self-control. I’ve learned along the way that this kind of Love empowers. That when I know I am loved—even in my mistakes—I can move ahead in confidence. I know the Love is not dependent on my actions or perfect performance, but instead, this Love covers. It graces. It protects. It connects. So, my dear sisters, this Love we’re called to stand in, is rivers deep. It stretches far and wide, for as many of us would come and stand.

Idelette Walker, from SheLoves Magazine

Rev. Erin Hayes serves as the Pastor to a multicultural church in Rahway, NJ. Serving in Rahway helps her use her Hungarian and African-American heritage in many ways. She was nurtured in the Baptist church and became ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA just shy of a year ago. After 10 years in ministry in various churches she loves the challenge and blessing where she serves now. In her free time you will find her hanging out at the local Crossfit gym trying to find a way to work it into a sermon.

I am Mary and Martha

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I worry about stuff. I wonder if I’m forgetting something. I get tiny palpitations when the phone rings (“Am I in trouble? Did I do something wrong?”). I sometimes get stressed as early as 3 sips into my morning coffee about whether or not I’ll be able to “get everything done” in a given day.

This morning, about 3 sips into my morning coffee, I read in Luke 10 about Jesus’ interaction with Mary and Martha. It’s a great and short story, and I recommend reading it really quickly.  I have read this little story a number of times but this morning, for some reason, it was real to me. Jesus comes to their house, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to his teaching while Martha is stuck with all the work, Martha asks Jesus to make Mary get back in the kitchen and help, and Jesus in a nutshell says no.

It was real to me this morning because I felt like I was in the story. First, when Jesus responds to Martha. True to form, Jesus answers the question beneath the question. He speaks to her anxious heart, hiding behind concerns about Mary helping with housework. In other words, she comes to Him about Mary and he responds to her about Martha. And instead of chiding her for tattling and not minding her own business, He comforts her. He says her name twice, which my husband just told me was an especially affectionate and tender way of addressing someone in their culture. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better share, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Jesus comforts her, calls out her sin, and instructs her all in one sentence. This morning, I felt like Martha in the story, and I felt the powerful freedom Jesus’ words brought to her. I heard, “Hannah, Hannah, I know you. I know what’s really eating you alive and causing you to gnaw your fingers to the bone. But don’t you know, you don’t have to live that way? The heavy burden you carry is not one I’ve given you. I release you from your expectations and invite you just to sit and enjoy Me. Let Me take care of the details. That is all that’s really necessary.”

Jesus doesn’t dialogue with Mary in this story, which might be why there haven’t been as many “Chicken Soup for the Soul” reflections on her. But this morning, I felt like Mary in the story, as well. See, I’ve written a lot on my blog about my anxiety concerning budgets, grocery lists, and to-do lists, but I haven’t written a lot about my anxiety as a seminary student. A female seminary student.

I didn’t start school expecting to feel this way, but in the last few years I’ve begun to notice that in many ways, I am in a man’s world. Often I am the only woman in the room or seated at the table. Being fairly loud and obnoxious, most of the time I can be brave about it. But every now and then, I find myself thinking, “Jesus, am I just elbowing my way to Your table, inviting myself to sit in and listen in on something that’s not really “for” me? Do you just tolerate my presence like I’m the kid sister in the corner, listening in?” Every now and then, I feel like the third (or twenty-third) wheel in the world of Christian ministry and theology.

But then I read this story and realize Mary probably had it even worse. I read recently that the most shocking part of this whole scenario is not Martha being left to work alone, but Mary having the audacity to enter the “man’s domain” of her culture and sit at the Rabbi’s (teacher’s) feet with the men. Imagine the eyes burning a hole in her back. Imagine the courage she must have had to sit there anyway, and the desperation she must have had to hear more of Jesus’ words, no matter the cost. That is how I feel about being in seminary. It may be awkward at times, and I may feel uncomfortable or even feel eyes burning a hole in my back at times, but I want to hear what Jesus has to say. I must. Even if it means being the twenty-third wheel, it’s worth it to me if it means I can get closer to Jesus.

But then I see how Jesus handled Mary’s situation, “It will not be taken away from her.”  I see that Jesus – Jesus — defended Mary’s spot at his feet next to all his male disciples, and I realize that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. The Rabbi says I have a right to be here. I realize that He has called me to Himself, He invites me to sit at His feet, and He declares it won’t be taken away from me. I realize, “He doesn’t see me as a third-wheel. I’m not an outsider to Him.”

This morning, I felt like Mary in the story, and I felt the powerful freedom Jesus’ words brought to her. I heard, “Hannah, Hannah, I know you. I know what’s really eating you alive and causing you to gnaw your fingers to the bone. But don’t you know, you don’t have to live that way? The heavy burden you carry is not one I’ve given you. I release you from others’ expectations and invite you just to sit and enjoy Me. Let Me defend your right to do so. That is all that’s really necessary.”