Rewriting History

Taking the next step…

A sermon preached on Exodus 1:8-2:10, at Wesley Memorial UMC on August 27, 2017.       

        I wonder if those midwives saw it coming.

        When the Pharaoh shows up to speak to them directly, are they ready? Have they noticed the nervous decrees coming from the king’s palace, first forcing the Hebrew people into work gangs with harsh overseers and finally enslaving them (vv. 11-13)? What complaints and laments have Shiphrah and Puah heard as they spend hours at the bedsides of laboring women – women with husbands still out in fields and making bricks and forced into “all kinds of other cruel work” (v. 14)? Do they know their history – how it hasn’t always been this way between the Hebrews and Egyptians? Do they see how close the injustice and oppression are getting to their own door and the work of their own hands before they hear the Pharaoh’s knock?

            Let’s say they do.

            Let’s say they know it will come to this, eventually, this murderous decree in which they will each be complicit: “When you are helping the Hebrew women give birth and you see the baby being born, if it’s a boy, kill him. But if it’s a girl, you can let her live” (vv. 15-16). Let’s say they see it from a mile away and they know exactly how bad it will be and what they will be asked to do. How long do they watch it get closer? How many hushed conversations do they share with one another before the knock sounds? Do they rehearse different scenarios or do they know all along that they will lie straight to his face and save every last baby?

            Do they know the next step after that?

            I imagine they know they’ll get away with it for a little while, birthing being the domain of women. It will be easy to birth the babies without the king or his men seeing what happens. But after that, when Pharaoh’s snoops notice girl and boy babies, what then? Are Shiphrah and Puah ready with the next step or do they find it along the way?

            This time he calls them in to his house and challenges them directly: “Why are you doing this? Why are you letting the baby boys live?” Well, sir, Hebrew women are much stronger and they give birth before we even arrive on the scene (vv. 18-19). And, birthing being the domain of women, he doesn’t have any information to the contrary so he buys it.

            The next time, he takes another course. He gives up on the midwives and goes straight to his own men, commanding them to throw live baby boys into the Nile to drown (v. 22).

            But justice is a team sport.

            Though none of them is named at this point in the story, we move now to the family of Moses. His mother gives birth to him and, like God surveying the light and the waters and the animals at creation, she sees that her baby is good and she keeps him hidden and safe with her for three months (cf. Genesis creation and Exodus 2:2, as noted by Karla Suomaia at Working Preacher).  When she thinks it’s too dangerous to keep him hidden any longer, she puts him in a waterproofed-with-tar basket and floats it in amongst the reeds at the river’s shallow edge (2: 2-3).

            And while the baby is floating there the Pharaoh’s own daughter happens to be bathing nearby and she finds the basket. And she feels sorry for the baby. The prescribed response for someone in her social and family position is to have the baby killed or at least to show the basket of insubordination to her father. But she steps out of her prescribed role and feels sorry for the baby, and her response is compassion (vv. 5-6).

            At which point, the baby’s sister, who’s been nearby, watching protectively ever since her mother gently placed the basket in the river, steps up to the Pharaoh’s daughter. Helpful royal subject that she is, she offers, “Would you like me to find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” (v. 7).

            This is a handy solution for everyone involved: The baby goes back home, of course. But maybe the Pharaoh’s daughter judiciously buys some time. Would her father kill the baby himself if she brings him home that day? Does she know that in a few months, when the baby is a toddler, he will be out of danger?

            The last leg of the insurrectionist journey – at least in this part of the baby’s story – is the day his own mother hands him over to the daughter of the Pharaoh, right into the family of the man who wanted him killed before his first breath. What does she do when she gets back home? Does she hatch plans to free him from the palace or does she hang around the gates hoping for a glimpse of him as he grows up? Does she know what she will do if she ever sees her boy again?

            I’m asking a lot of questions because this story demands it. (Be suspicious of anyone who wants to tell you once-and-for-all, case-closed, exactly what a biblical text means.) This story is the against-all-odds origin story of the man we know by the last verse of the passage is Moses – the man God will continue to call out of the water and into new lands and up mountains and across deserts, leading a nation behind him. It’s a foundational story, on which a huge swath of the Jewish and then Christian story builds.

            And right there, at the very beginning, are Shiphrah and Puah. Without them, the rest of it can’t happen. Notice how crucial their bravery is. Notice how they are able to influence the beginning of a nation from their precise social situation, in the course of their every day work.

           Do Shiphrah and Puah see it coming? Does the baby’s mother know what she will do after those first three months? Does his sister know what she will do next, from her perch by the riverside, waiting to see who will happen upon her baby brother? Does the baby’s mother break her own heart every day she nurses her own son while wondering what will happen when he is weaned?

            I don’t know about y’all, but I have a fondness for plans. I like knowing the next step. I find comfort in the thought that my efforts are “going somewhere.” Even if you have a more relaxed relationship to planning, you know our culture loves the idea of “cost-benefit analysis” and “demonstrated results.” As a people, we tend to be reluctant to risk when we can’t see the payoff. Even when it comes to something we are passionate about, we might want to study it a while longer and be sure that if we set off in a certain direction, we will get where we think we are headed.

            This is what intrigues me about Shiphrah and Puah. I don’t think they have this luxury or this hang-up. They seem guided by their knowledge of and relationship with God, so that it is crystal clear to them that they will never be killing babies for Pharaoh. I doubt the rest of the story is clear. I doubt they have any idea of their next step until they take it.

            I want to be more like Shiphrah and Puah. I’m afraid that if I were in their situation I might say very “reasonable” sounding things like, So I don’t kill the babies and then what? Someone else kills them anyway – and then comes to kill me? How does that help our cause?

            Or, closer to home: So we take down some statues, and then what? What part of history do we “rewrite” next?

            But they don’t have to know the next step – only the one right in front of them at that moment. And they take it. They do everything in their power, at each point in time where any bit of power is in their hands, to do the next right thing. And when the story moves away from them – when the power to act moves into the womb and the hands of the baby’s mother – she does the next right thing. And then her daughter and the Pharaoh’s daughter each do their things. The ball gets passed – inelegantly, surprisingly, in a completely unplanned fashion – from one woman to the next, resisting and refusing to cooperate with evil, one decision at a time.

            Justice is a team sport and it’s also a marathon, not a sprint. Shiphrah and Puah don’t complete the mission – just their mission. It’s the combined efforts of all of these women, one by one, over time that moves the needle of justice and begins the building of a nation.

            None of us needs to know where this will end in order to risk for Love. None of us needs to be an expert in American or Confederate history in order to listen to the pain spoken by our black and brown and Jewish and LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I don’t have to know, specifically, what I’ll do next week in order to take a step for justice right now. And if obscure Hebrew midwives like Shiphrah and Puah have enough power to start something important enough to become a nation, then so do we.

            Whether you saw it coming or not, whether you joined the counter-protests when the white supremacists marched here two weeks ago or not, there is a faithful next step. You do not have to know what city council should do or how to fix Virginia’s open carry laws. You do not have to re-learn and broaden your knowledge of history before you make a move, though reading might be one next step. On August 12th, Jan was stationed at the jail and our United Methodist colleagues Robert and Phil were providing safe space and medical care at First church; other ecumenical colleagues like Seth and Brittany were on the front lines, staring evil in the face. We are not all called to the same next step. Justice is a team sport and it’s a marathon. There will be more headed our way. If the invitation to cooperate with evil can find its way to Shiphrah and Puah, it will pound on our doors, too. Again.

            I don’t just mean the doors of our town. The church has work to do. The United Methodist church has been complicit in the evils of racism, once splitting into northern and southern churches over it and, even earlier, birthing the AME Church by our refusal to recognize Richard Allen’s call to preach. We have been content to offer charity when we’ve been called to work for justice. We are all called to be midwives for God, helping to bring about the kingdom of God and to live here in this community as if that reality is already here in its fullness. We are all already set free to do this justice work. In Christ, we have been made one family: neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3: 28)… Which does not mean Yeah, we’ve treated one another poorly in the past but Jesus fixed all that. Nor does it mean that the church has already arrived. Evil pounds on these doors, too. And sometimes, as in the culture at large, we can’t hear it or we call it by other names like “law” or “custom” or “how it’s always been” or “what the bible says.”

            We are set free to live radically loving, rule-breaking, decree-defying, justice-flowing lives – and we are called to start from exactly where we are without much time to plan and with whatever tools we have on hand. Right where we are in the birthing room, the board room, the lecture hall, the barista counter, the cookout, the family dinner, the school PTA meeting…

            Without Shiphrah and Puah and the women who took the ball after them, we might have an entirely different story. It’s the same here in Charlottesville and in our country right now.

            We’ll be writing history, one way or another. One step at a time.

            All you have to know right now is which direction Love is.

            Thanks be to God!

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Photo © Woody Sherman, used with permission.

No need to slap anyone in the face, I promise

I wrote a review of my friend Jason Micheli’s fantastic book and it’s up today at The Presbyterian Outlook. Especially if you’re the type of person who thinks you don’t like cancer books and you just might smack someone in the face if you have to read a “Christian cancer book,” I recommend you give it a try. No cliché’s, just honest theology in real circumstances. Thanks for clicking over to read the review – I hope it will convince you to read this beautiful, hard, life-filled book.

Jesus Promises They Will Hate Us

 

Walking into Oceti Sakowin Camp with the sun rising, Standing Rock Sioux Nation, 11/3/16

A sermon preached on Luke 21: 5-19 and Isaiah 65: 17-25, on November 13, 2016, at the Wesley Foundation at UVA.

As I think you all know by now, last week I traveled to North Dakota, to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. I had been watching the news for more than a month, learning about the multiple Native tribes who had come together to camp out on the prairie to protect the water of the Missouri River, where a company from Texas has been making its way across four states with an oil pipeline (called the Dakota Access Pipeline), including plans to tunnel under the Missouri River, just north of the Standing Rock reservation. I had read about the original route for the pipeline, which was supposed to cross under the river north of Bismarck (about an hour’s drive north of the reservation). But the people in Bismarck thought that sounded dangerous and risky to them and their water, so the plans changed to avoid that town – but not to avoid the risks to water contamination all together. I had read about the peaceful prayerful protests and about indigenous people from all over the globe traveling to North Dakota to support and stand with the Standing Rock Sioux. Since last April, thousands of people have been camping and protesting and trying to protect the water. In the last month, a highly militarized police and security force began shooting rubber bullets at peaceful protestors and at even at their horses. A private militia hired by the oil company set dogs on protestors, some of whom were mauled. Authorities in riot gear have used pepper spray and sound cannons on peaceful, prayerful protestors exercising their first amendment rights – protestors and water protectors who are bathed every day in prayer and who pray daily for those officers. Authorities have locked up journalists who have tried to cover the events and have thrown over 400 people in jail on contrived charges in attempts to intimidate them into stopping and disbanding. In jail they have needlessly strip-searched people in order to humiliate and further intimidate them. They have shipped some of those in custody to jails several hours away, to make it harder to get back home again or find rides when they are eventually released, sometimes on bail as high as $1500 per person. When their court dates come around, they will be required to travel hours back to those other towns to appear. Police are using helicopters and drones constantly circling overhead and they have road blocked the main highway between the reservation and Bismarck. They constantly stand guard at the roadblock with additional forces keeping watch from the nearby ridges.[i]

As things came to a head and became violent in this past month, the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and other Native groups I’ve been following began asking explicitly for more people to join them. We need numbers, they said. We need them to see we won’t go away and we aren’t alone. Please help us. I kept reading and following and praying. I didn’t really think about going. It’s the middle of the semester. It’s a really long way away. Wouldn’t it be better to send them money for winter supplies? It didn’t seem reasonable or feasible. Then Rev. John Floberg, a feisty crusty old Episcopal priest who’s been serving in the communities on and near the Reservation for 25 years, sent out a call to clergy. It’s time to come, he said. I know it’s inconvenient and this is short notice but this is it. They need us. We can provide a protective witness for their struggle. He was hoping to get 100 clergy and over 500 of us answered the call. But I told colleagues and friends who were going “no” at least twice before I changed my mind. I told God “no” more than that. But it wouldn’t leave me alone. All the same “reasonable” things popped up – money, time, effort, inconvenience, family commitments… As I pondered and said “no” and delayed, the airline tickets kept going up. Wouldn’t it be better to send them $1000 for food and warm clothes and winter camping supplies? What am I going to do? But the Holy Spirit would not leave me alone and the people of Standing Rock kept saying, We need help. We need you to come. At some point in that epic week of wrestling with God about this decision, I realized that, unlike so many many things in the world, this is something I am qualified to do. I am a person who prays; I am a visible sign of the church; I have a body and I’m able and well enough to travel. I don’t know what to replace pipelines with or how to implement renewable energy plans. I don’t know how to map an alternate route for this pipeline. I couldn’t convene a meeting with President Obama or film a documentary about this struggle. But I was absolutely qualified to put on my clergy garb and say “yes” to my far away neighbors who needed help I could provide, and spend some money and travel in the middle of the night and stand in the middle of the prairie with them and pray.

I am not telling you this so you will praise me or come tell me after worship how amazing it is that I went. I do appreciate the support and prayers from Wesley folks and others in Charlottesville as I answered that call, but that’s not why I’m telling you this now. I’m trying to let you in on, as best I can, how inelegant and clumsy and wrestling-match-like my discernment was – and how blessed I was by choosing to go where and when I was asked, to offer what was asked of me, and not to rationalize or monetize my way out of it.

Most importantly, I am telling you this in the hopes that when you hear someone’s request or see someone in need of help and solidarity, you won’t take as long as I did to wrestle it out.

The pipeline may or may not be stopped or re-routed and you may or may not think pipelines are a bad idea – but there are not “two sides” to this situation. For Christians, the only side is to stand up for and to stand with those who are being beaten and jailed and harassed and intimated without any just cause.

This sermon is not about the election, exactly. It’s about how Christians are called to act no matter who is in power, no matter how prosperous and peaceable the times, no matter how war-torn and uncertain.

Luke records Jesus saying, as the disciples admired the stonework and the architecture of the temple, “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” When Luke writes down those prophetic words of Jesus the temple’s destruction is already 15 years ago for Luke’s own audience.

Jesus says, This is impressive and beautiful but it will be dust. It will not stand the test of time. It will be destroyed. He stands in the shadow of the empire and the religious institutions of his day telling his band of followers that everything will crumble and war will break out and they will be arrested and persecuted – but that, even in the midst of all that, God is still counting the hairs on each of their heads. By enduring, holding tight to God alone, they will “gain their lives” (v. 18).

Jesus does not promise wealth or peace between the nations of the world. He does not promise that the institutions and the things they love about the current regime will be spared. He promises natural and human-made destruction, famine, health epidemics, kingdoms collapsing, prison, religious persecution, and betrayal by loved ones. Jesus promises that people will hate us because of him.

 

Since Election Day incidents of hate speech, graffiti, and intimidation, targeted at Muslims, Blacks, immigrants, and women, have increased. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center and as of 5pm on Friday night, there were over 200 such incidents since Election Day. People have been approached in the street, found graffiti on their apartment doors, been directly put down and threatened in school cafeterias, and more, told to “get out of our country” and “If you aren’t born here, pack your bags.” A Black woman was standing at a traffic light in Louisiana when a truckload of white men pulled up and shouted at her, “F*** your black life!” They laughed and chanted “Trump!” as they drove off. According to Inside Higher Ed, at New York University’s engineering college someone defaced the door to a designated Muslim prayer room, by scrawling “Trump!” across it. Even before Tuesday’s results, we here at UVA have experienced a spate of hateful speech and harassment directed towards Jews, the LGBTQ community, Black students, Muslims, and women. We have seen enough of this here that a collection of student organizations has come together under the name Eliminate the Hate and they are sponsoring a week of activities and events on Grounds this week, to speak out and up against this rising tide.

In the middle of another tumultuous and destructive time, Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 65: 17-19):

For I am about to create new heavens

and a new earth;

the former things shall not be remembered

or come to mind.

 

But be glad and rejoice forever

in what I am creating;

for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,

and its people as a delight.

 

I will rejoice in Jerusalem,

and delight in my people;

no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,

or the cry of distress.

 

Isaiah wrote these words to the war-torn remnant of Israel who were finally returning home after 60 years as captives in Babylon. They are words of hope but they must have been a teary and anguished hope to the people’s ears as their eyes took in their destroyed homes and vineyards and towns. Nothing was intact or as they had left it. They had to start over again. “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind”…”be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating”…It must have seemed impossible to those returning exiles that they would forget what had happened, that standing in the rubble of their former lives they could ever forget the world-shifting loss or that moment or any of those long 60 years. It must have seemed insane to stand in that situation in that moment and be told to “rejoice” in what God was creating. Where, God? Exactly where in this mess is your beautiful handiwork?

But God promises that the houses and vineyards they build will not be in vain. They will make it through to live in them and to harvest the fruit. Their hard and faithful work of rebuilding will not be in vain. God promises to answer before the people even ask, before they call out again.

Spoken into a broken time of uncertainty and great fear, Isaiah proclaims that even though you may not be able to see it yet, God is still working. What looks ugly and destroyed is the fertile soil for what grows next. Hang on and hope, because here’s what you will see soon.

Sunrise over Oceti Sakowin Camp, Standing Rock Sioux Nation, 11/3/16

One of the things I noticed at Standing Rock was how the Native people referred to others as “relatives.” There is a loudspeaker in the camp and as the morning was getting started around the sacred fire, someone came on and said, “Good morning, relatives!” When indigenous people from around the world arrive at Standing Rock, they say, “Our relatives from New Zealand and Hawaii are here.” This deep recognition of their connection as indigenous people, across country and landscape, is the basis for this huge gathering of tribes (nothing like this has been seen in more than a hundred years).

Since I returned home, I’ve been following Lyla June Johnston, a Navajo woman who spoke to the clergy group and joined us in our prayer and protective action. She impressed and humbled me when she described the Walk of Forgiveness she was organizing for the Sunday after we were there. She talked about how important it was for all of us to join them in their stand and encouraged those of us who are white, descendants of colonizing settlers, to be proud of our own family lineage but also to admit to what our people have done. She said, “Your job is to acknowledge what happened and Native peoples’ job is to forgive.”

This week after the election she posted this prayer to Facebook:  “Creator may you bless my dear uncle Donald Trump. May you help him to heal. May you help him to feel Your Love. May you help to ease his fears and help him to sense Your True Blessing. Help him to forgive himself and others so he may be free. And most of all, just give whatever blessing you would have for Your son, and my uncle. May we continue to retain our nature in the spirit of Your unconditional and restorative love and forgiveness. May we continue to work for health and justice with love for the unhealthy and the unjust. #NotMyPresident #JustMyUncle #Ké” [K’é means kinship]

This is the result of seeing one another as relatives. This is what a Christian prayer ought to sound like. This prayer has meat on it and it’s more daring and courageous and faithful than the mere lip service we sometimes give to the theological understanding that we are “brothers” and “sisters” in Christ. This is the kind of prayer that seeks to create connection and solidarity with some people – and might also make others hate you. Just as Jesus promised.

I don’t think it is a surprise to many of us that we live in a divided country. But it seems this week that we were surprised by just how divided. Almost no one thought Trump would win the election. No one thought the vote would be half and half.

However you voted, half of our brothers and sisters, our relations, voted differently than you did. What I’ve heard most Americans saying this week is “They” didn’t know how many of us there were, or, “They” didn’t know how dangerous their vote was. I have not heard most Americans this week confessing that we have been just fine up until now not knowing or caring about those other relations in that other half. Those aren’t my neighbors.

Rev. John Floberg, who called us out to Standing Rock, reminded us on the night before our protective witness with the Native people, that the police officers we would see across the divide, that barricaded highway bridge, were not our enemies. He reminded us that on the cross Jesus did not rebuke, he forgave – with his dying breath. So, John Floberg said, “We greet the officers with prayer and love and compassion, too.”

This is hard.

Those stones are beautiful but they will be rubble one day. This will not stand.

My life is not in the Democratic Party or even my personal shero Hillary Clinton. My neighbor’s life is not in Trump or the Republican Party or Bernie or any candidates or parties. Our lives, patriotic and democracy-inspired as they may be, are not in these United States. Or in the dream of moving to Canada or making this country “great again.”

Our lives are in Jesus Christ.  They will hate us because of Jesus. Keep going. All this destruction and despair? Raw materials for the beautiful new creation of God.

This is not the time to keep your head down and wait for the uneasiness to pass. This is not the time to think I’m not a racist/ I love Muslims/ I don’t sexually assault women/ I welcome immigrants / I care for the disabled and then be done with it as if you have completed your task. This is not the time to think I’m happy with my vote and I’m nice to people and that’s enough.

The election may or may not have gone in the direction you hoped for – but there are not “two sides” to this situation of increased, targeted hate crimes and speech. For Christians, the only side is to stand up for and to stand with those who are being harassed and intimated simply because they are Black or Muslim or immigrants or people with disabilities or women or….

This is not the time to put your head down in prayer and hope it will pass. This is the time to lift your head up, take in the destruction you see, and stare straight in the face of hate while you proclaim and enact and witness to Love.

Love in these times means refusing to eliminate half of our country when you consider who your neighbors are. That means you don’t have “elite” and “uneducated” neighbors; you simply have neighbors with different life experiences than yours and if you don’t understand those, it’s time to learn and to meet some new people, and work on loving them. Love in these times means resisting and standing up to hate in its many insidious forms. Speak out, stand with, and offer to walk alongside those in this community who are targets of bigotry. Literally, offer to walk with students in unsafe situations around Grounds. Use the Just Report It system. Call for help. Keep watch when something seems off. Do not remain silent when people are degrading and demeaning and intimidating and targeting others in speech or action. State unequivocally that hate speech and “us” and “them” commentary is not OK with you. Attend the Eliminate the Hate teach-in to learn about your own blind spots and to walk across some of our community’s divides to meet your relations.

No matter how uncertain and fearful the times, no matter how unfamiliar the landscape, no matter how unknown and un-relatable our neighbors, our relatives – God is creating a new heaven and earth, right now. In the middle of this huge mess. Believe it.

The only temple that will not fall – not even in the face of death itself – is Love. Let’s work with God to build it.

Thanks be to God!

 

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Photos are my own.

 

Endnote:

[i] This is a compiled account from months of reading and following the news. A few good places to learn more and follow the ongoing stand are: https://www.facebook.com/Indigenousrisingmedia/

http://www.democracynow.org/topics/dakota_access

http://standwithstandingrock.net

http://ictmn.lughstudio.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/DAPL-Magazine-2016_PREVIEW_r1.pdf

http://westernjurisdictionumc.org/wjumc-bishops-send-letter-to-president-obama-in-support-of-standing-rock-sioux-nation/

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-showdown-at-standing-rock-20161108-story.html

 

 

This summer I went swimming

swimming in lake george_2016

Almost anything can be a spiritual practice, if you let it. It’s about the practice – the routine and prioritization of it, the days upon weeks turning into months of it – in the presence of an open spirit, willing to learn and be led. Molded, over time. Swimming is like this for me. I’ve written before about how swimming helps keep me focused on the present moment, and how flip turns are teaching me about energy, rest, and resilience.

Well, this summer I went swimming. A lot. A very few stormy days I swam inside at the gym, but most of the time I swam outside. I was a regular in the lone roped-off lap lane at our neighborhood pool, I practiced with a group in a lake in Richmond, and I competed in my first open water swim in another lake near Charlottesville. (And came in third in my age group. And got a medal. But who’s keeping track?) When we visited family at another lake in New York, I recruited my husband to kayak alongside me as I swam so boats wouldn’t run me over. In South Carolina, I swam in the bathwater warm ocean, but the best swims were in the outdoor lap-swimming-only pool that was cooled. (Yes, they “air conditioned” the pool and it was so scrumptious I don’t really care how non-environmental that may sound.)

To throw yourself into something you love is, simply, delicious. Giving yourself over to its rhythms and routines, watching yourself with curiosity to see where the love will unfold and take you. Allowing yourself to be unreasonable and devoted, depleted and good-tired. This is what I did this summer, when there were very few rules and obligations, the expansiveness of summertime and sabbatical overlapping. I absolutely organized my days around my swims.

And it was worth it.

Part of what sustained spiritual practice teaches you is how much you need it. I am not the same swimmer I was in May. I am not entirely the same person.

pre race cgl_july 9 2016

It may surprise you, but the open water swim was not the most daunting thing I did this summer. It was the open water practice swim I joined a couple weeks before that in Richmond. I had to drive over an hour away to a place I didn’t know, to meet up with people I didn’t know, to try out swimming in a body of water I’d never seen, while wearing my bathing suit in front of complete strangers. Buttons were pushed. I almost bailed. I woke up that day feeling nervous about it, uncertain about whether I could keep up, whether I’d be able to site the buoys, how thin and athletic all the other swimmers would likely be. I wasn’t sure I’d even like open water swimming, so wasn’t this kind of a waste of time and money?

I talked myself down. I recognized all those demons and agreed they could even be right. And I agreed to go to this one practice session anyway and just see. If I hated it, fine, no obligation to continue or do other open water swims after that. But I was not going to bail based on fear, anxiety, lack of confidence, and what ifs. (During the academic year, it would have been much easier to bail. The time and money concern trolls would have had a lot more sway if that evening’s jaunt to Richmond had been sandwiched in between meetings and a buzzing phone.)

I was glad I went. Not everyone there was athletic and skinny. I was not the slowest. I loved it when we swam straight out into the middle of the lake to make a loop around an instructor standing on a paddle board. I loved it even more when the complete stranger I got paired up with said to me after one lap, “You go first and don’t worry about me. I could barely keep up with you.”

Spiritual practice involves repetition and new territory, ritual and change.

I was never particularly worried that I might have drowned, but when I heard Lucy Kaplansky’s “Swimming Song” for the first time late this summer, I recognized my own bravery and playful pride, swimming my way up and down the waters of the east coast. Kaplansky sings, “This summer I went swimming. This summer I might have drowned, but I held my breath, and I kicked my feet, and I moved my arms around.” Sounds simple and it kind of is, but simple can also be hard.

Spiritual practice takes trust and bravery, allowing yourself to be held up by something you are participating with but that’s not you. This is also one of the “tricks” to open water swimming, especially when you get scared or unnerved by the vastness and the murky depths. The key is to remember, “The water wants to hold you up.”

1-mile medal_cgl_july 9 2016

Today the cicadas are singing summer towards the door. We are experiencing an unusually temperate and humidity-free start to the week and we got to open up the windows again yesterday. It won’t last long. By Friday it will be sweltering, but that won’t last long either. Fall is on the way.

I’ll get in a few more swims in the neighborhood pool before it closes for the season. And I have designs on a quarry, where a new friend swims as late into the fall as she can. I’ve started wondering about open water swims for next year. In the meantime, after a summer of peripatetic swimming, I will log a lot of miles in the gym, same place each day, but never the same “river”—or swimmer – twice.

 

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Photo credit: Photos ©2016 by Woody Sherman. Used with permission.

Adding the flip turn

Practicing open water swimming in the lake. No flip turns required.

Practicing open water swimming in the lake. No flip turns required.

Flip turns have a mystique about them. Walk up to any pool and watch folks swimming laps. Your eyes will immediately go to the swimmers who do flip turns at the walls. It doesn’t matter if they are faster than the other swimmers, they will look fiercer because of the flip turn. Conversely, if, instead of doing flip turns, you saw Katie Ledecky or Michael Phelps sticking their heads up at the walls, gulping air, turning awkwardly half out of the water, then plunging back in for the next lap, they would seem significantly less fierce.

On swim teams in junior high and high school I did a lot of flip turns. Even with the flip turns, I never looked particularly fierce but they were a regular part of my swimming. When I started swimming again a few years ago, I gave myself permission not to include flip turns. It seemed like a good deal: expend my limited energy on the strokes and the laps themselves and give myself a little extra breath and time at the walls. I made this decision intentionally and unapologetically. The goal was more swimming, not “perfect” swimming. During these past few years, I have reserved the occasional flip turn for special circumstances, like the time I felt strong and energized hitting lap number 100 and joyously flipped at the wall to celebrate it.

Lately, I’ve been adding the flip turn back into my freestyle laps. I’m not entirely sure why. I’m considering an open water swim this summer but flip turns are completely unnecessary in lakes, so that’s not it. This most excellent and inspiring ode to the flip turn encouraged me but didn’t push me over the edge. I think it’s just time. Like it was time to get back in the pool a few years ago. Back then, I gave myself permission to swim without flip turns. Now, I’ve given myself permission to flip again (and sometimes, not to flip – as with the earlier deal with myself, I’m not after perfection and I’m not requiring all or nothing).

One of the things I hope this summer’s sabbatical will show me is how to distinguish between the need for rest and the need for persistence. How do I know when I’m hitting a groove I should explore and stick with, versus knowing when to back off, versus knowing when to go harder even though I’m already losing steam? Maybe I’m seeing part of the answer in swimming.

When you hit the wall you have several choices: 1) call it a day, stop swimming, and hang on for dear life, 2) grab as much air as you can every single second your head is out of the water while you turn around inelegantly but practically, then push off and carry on as best you can, or 3) make the turn as smooth and seamless a part of your stroke as possible, flipping around and using the wall itself to propel you in the next direction. They are all valid choices. I’m thankful for my unapologetic miles logged choosing #2. And really curious to see where #3 sends me.

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Photo credit: Screen grab of video shot by P. Chambers, June 2016. Used with permission.

Hidden

Before I even started this blog, I wrote a few pieces for an online publication called catapult. The thoughtful themes and diversity of voices was an appealing place to begin writing for a broader audience.

Topology is a brand new magazine from the folks who used to put out catapult and they are running a few “throwback” pieces from the old magazine this fall.

This month they are featuring a piece I wrote in 2013 about living on the margins as a family dealing with autism. I hope you’ll click over and take a look.

Time for a big hit

The RevGalBlogPals group sends a weekly email with encouragement, highlights from blogs around the group, and a short article and a prayer for the week at hand.  I wrote this week’s article and prayer (below) on the theme of fall break — for which I am very ready!  I hope it reminds you to enjoy a break soon.

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When my dad was growing up on a tobacco farm in Southside Virginia, the family ritual was to take a mid-morning break right there in the fields. My great-grandfather would say, “I think it’s time for a bit hit,” and that was the cue to sit down for a few minutes for a snack, which was always the same: a Pepsi and a pack of Nabs. Simple and satisfying, enough to go on until lunch.

In campus ministry, the first big hit of the year is fall break. We start fast and furious in mid-August and steamroll our way to the third week of Advent, when exams end and my congregation leaves me until the season after Epiphany. It’s startling how much can fit into the first six or so weeks before fall break – and how tired I can be so early in the year, so far from Advent 3.

I have been tempted to use the weekend without my usual preaching gig to get ahead, and then to keep at my desk Monday and Tuesday while the university is a ghost town, to get more things done. Instead, I give myself full permission to be off these precious four days when students are off. My husband and I often take a short trip and indulge in ways we usually don’t, like last year’s ridiculously long naps in a hotel right on the beach. I make no apologies.

The thing about a big hit is you know when you need one. In my ministry and my life, I’m trying to trust that and give myself what I know I need when I need it. I’m constantly surprised at how easy that sounds and how hard I find it to do. So I’m thankful that this weekend the university has called for a big hit and we are pointing the car towards the mountains, with napping, hiking, slow meals, and something bubbly to drink in our very near future. Simple and satisfying, enough to go on until Advent.

God of the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest, remind us of how we are made in your image. You are not too busy or important to rest and relax, and neither are we. Give us the rest we crave and the fearless hearts we need to accept this. Amen.

How long?

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A sermon preached on Mark 5:21-43 at Wesley Memorial UMC, at the end of an extraordinary week.

It’s interesting to me how time feels different, depending upon who you are and how you are.  Like the way “just a minute” sounds like a scam when you’re a kid, waiting on a parent’s attention.  Like the way “just a minute more” with a departed loved one sounds like a blessing beyond imagining.

In Mark’s gospel, we hear two stories of healing, both involving 12 years of time:  Jairus’s twelve-year-old sick daughter and the woman who’d been bleeding for twelve years.

When you’re a parent, twelve years is not nearly long enough for your child to live.  Twelve years old means she’s on that cusp of childhood and adolescence.  Though she may think she’s more grown up than she is, she’s still a child.  To be contemplating a funeral for a twelve-year-old is unthinkable.  It’s not enough time.

When you’re a woman with a medical condition, twelve years is a very long time.  Twelve years without relief from menstrual bleeding.  Twelve years of sickness with no cure and no more money left to spend on one if she found one.   Twelve years outside the norms of family, and religious and cultural rituals.  Twelve years with a lifetime more sickness and isolation in sight.

Both of these stories are about Jesus giving more than what was asked for.  Jairus comes asking for healing for his daughter, who’s very sick.  When Jesus is interrupted by the hemorrhaging woman, on his way to Jairus’s house, the daughter dies in the meantime.  The men who came with Jairus to find Jesus say We can leave this teacher alone now.  It’s too late.  She’s dead.  The time for healing is past; it’s time for mourning now.  Let’s go home.  But Jesus goes along anyway and ends up not only healing her but restoring her to life, resurrecting her.  Jesus gives more than Jairus even knew how to ask for.

At twelve-years old, Jairus’s daughter would have been entering into marriage soon, as it was customary to marry off young girls between 12-15 years of age.  She was just about to enter into her next important roles and relationships, as wife and mother.

At twelve years into her continual bleeding, the woman would be without any regular social connections, religious life, or male contact.

Life held limited opportunities for women at the time of Jesus – to put it mildly.

Girls were expected to marry young and bear children, especially male heirs.  Girls and women had very few rights and Roman law placed women under the custody or control of men, first your father, then your husband.  If a young woman wasn’t married by the age of 20 or if she didn’t bear children, she’d incur penalties, a state tax to be paid by her family for the drain of her life.  For enslaved women in that culture, it was even worse, of course.  They were considered property, and could not marry at all, though they were subject to any and all desires of their masters and of male slaves, with the master’s permission.  Any children born to them were the property of their masters.  Jewish women were subject to both Roman laws and Jewish purity laws.  Regular monthly menstruation was considered an “unclean” time and had to be followed by a seven-day purification each month.  During that whole time of a woman’s monthly period and the purification that followed, she couldn’t leave home, sleep in the same bed as her husband, sit on the same furniture, or go anywhere in public, including the synagogue.  (http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/fifth-sunday-after-pentecost7)

That’s the way it was for women.  So consider what it was like for this woman.  It’s likely, if she’d ever had a husband, that he was long gone – they wouldn’t have been able to even touch each other for twelve years.  Bleeding continually for twelve years would have put her so far outside of normal, she probably couldn’t imagine ever getting back.  She never had much power in the culture of her day and now she had nothing at all.  Really think about the state of mind she must have been in by this point, funds exhausted with no cure in sight, body exhausted with no comfort to be found in society’s regular interactions, spirit exhausted enough to reach out in faith so desperate and hopelessly hopeful that it was the only thing left to do.

Time couldn’t have felt more different for Jairus and the bleeding woman, before they got to the point of seeking out Jesus.

Jairus was a religious leader in the Jewish community.  He was a man, wealthy, connected, important.  He had a daughter about to be of marrying age so he was almost ready to hand her to the next man in her life, a husband.  For twelve years, Jairus felt secure in the course he was on and what lay ahead for his family, his daughter.  Meanwhile, for twelve years, the woman who never had much power to begin with, helplessly watched her relationships and connections and possibilities for life seeping away with the flow of her blood.

Whatever the previous twelve years were for each of them, the moment they come to Jesus they are each in the same spot at the same time – desperate enough to try even this.

And faithful enough.  Did you notice what Jesus says?  The bleeding woman left the confines of her “unclean” house and reached out to touch Jesus’s cloak as he passed by.  Standing in the midst of “clean” folks in a place she’s not meant to occupy, she fesses up when Jesus realizes someone’s touched him.  She falls down at his feet and tells him everything.  And Jesus says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease” (Mark 5: 34).  Daughter.  He not only heals her illness, he redeems her standing in the community, claiming the woman whom moments before no one would touch, much less claim as their kin.  Her entire life is redeemed.  This is not just a stop to the blood, it’s a start to her future.

Jairus’s desperation and faith are evident in the fact that he himself goes to seek out Jesus.  He’s the kind of man who would have been accustomed to sending people to do his errands and carry his messages.  But this request couldn’t be entrusted to anyone else.  He wanted it that much.  He was willing to forego his powerful position and act as his own errand boy.

The power of this story is that these two were always in the same position, though neither they nor their communities nor the disciples knew it.  They were both, always and everywhere, desperate enough to need Jesus and the wellness/wholeness/saving only he can give.  At twelve years in they came to the same desperate fork in the road, gave up on convention, neighbors’ advice, self-reliance, and gave themselves over to faith and hope.

This is a week when we have known forks in the road.

This time last week I was about to leave Annual Conference in Roanoke.  I was packing my suitcase to go to Roanoke when I heard about the shooting at Emanuel AME Church.  All last weekend, I carried my phone around so I could keep up to date on news from Charleston.  When I saw the online petitions asking South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag, I supported the sentiment but wondered if we were distracting ourselves from the pain of the shooting.  I wondered if removing that hateful symbol would do much to remove hate itself.  I wondered if some of our more stubborn states would ever do it.  A week later and Wal-Mart has stopped selling them.

A century and a half is a long time to hold onto a symbol of hate and oppression.  One week is a short, powerful time in which to forgive and insist on another way.

Twenty-four hours is a short time between seismic Supreme Court rulings.  It’s a lifetime when you’ve been waiting to marry the one you love.

2000 years is a long time to spend explaining why women weren’t treated well in the time of Jesus.  It’s even longer to be holding onto beliefs like that – two minutes today is too long to endure or accept second-class treatment.

Time feels different, depending on who and how you are.  So does healing.

Healing began in some new and unexpected places in our country this week – praise God!  There’s more to do.  There are miles to go.  But it feels like more of us are heading in the same direction together.  It feels like the bleeding has stopped and we aren’t alone and outside of the crowd anymore.  We suddenly/at last noticed we are in the same place as every single one of our neighbors.  Equally desperate and in need of healing; equally blessed.

This time last week, marriage was legal for all our citizens in some states but not in others.  Today we can all marry the one we love.

This time last week our Virginia Annual Conference was voting to petition the General Conference to remove language from our Book of Discipline that refers to homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”  When I got in the car to drive home, the vote hadn’t been tallied.  By the time I reached Charlottesville the news was out that Virginia voted to ask General Conference to take the language out.

How long, O Lord?

One day, one drive, one week, one lifetime…

The genius in Mark’s storytelling is that this is all one story:  Jairus (and his daughter) and the bleeding woman; rich, male, power and poor, female, powerlessness.  In Mark’s telling they are interwoven into one whole story.  They are brought to the same spot – desperate hope – and taken to the same place – healing and redemption.  This is the Good News of Jesus Christ:  we are all in the same story of healing and redemption, no matter how else we are tempted to see it.  No matter how we count the time.

It doesn’t matter whether you think twelve years was the blink of an eye or a long time coming.  What matters is recognizing Jesus when he calls out to bring you back into the fold of the family, back to life.  It feels like healing beginning in the place of deep woundedness and sickness.  It sounds like “Daughter,” “Son.”  It looks like we are all in this together.

Thanks be to God!

On President Obama, this extraordinary week, and the holy breast pumps of grace

 

I spent most of last week on retreat with my writing group, half of whom are nursing mothers with babies in tow.  When I made it home late yesterday, my husband and I went straight to the computer to watch President Obama’s eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney.  Perhaps if I hadn’t just been witness to a week of breastfeeding, I would have heard it differently, but I hung up on his repeated phrase “we express God’s grace.”

He couldn’t have done a better job speaking Methodist, with his sustained emphasis on the undeserved, unearned, unmerited grace of God we all receive.  (And I was proud to see the United Methodist Church sitting in solidarity with our AME sisters and brothers, represented by South Carolina Bishop L. Jonathan Holston on the front row on stage – yes, geeks like me can spot the cross and flame logo and the bishops’ insignia on a stole in the background of a video shot.)  As President Obama spoke, circling back around to God’s grace in our lives, I heard something I haven’t before.

I usually think of God’s grace flowing – gushing – continually into the world and into each of our lives.  Sometimes we notice, sometimes we don’t.  Either way, it’s always there and we can actively participate in it or resist it or halfway notice it, or not.  What I never thought about before hearing the President preach-speak is how we might be able to participate more directly and persuasively than I’ve considered in the past.  We might be able to squeeze out another ounce of grace when it seems to be running dry, like a mother pumping breast milk for her newborn.

When President Obama first used the phrase, he said, “by taking down [the Confederate] flag we express God’s grace.  But I don’t think God wants us to stop there.”  I heard “we express God’s grace” as We are exhibiting God’s grace, demonstrating its existence and power.  Which surely we are….But as he repeated it I heard it differently.  A little later he said, “The vast majority of Americans – the majority of gun owners – want to do something about [the epidemic of gun violence].  We see that now.  And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country, by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.”

As he repeated, “we express God’s grace,” I began to hear the verb “express” differently.  I started to think about breastfeeding and how the milk doesn’t just gush on its own, especially when a mother is trying to express (literally, press out) milk into a bottle for her child to drink some other time.  A breastfeeding mother who expresses milk needs to spend time and give attention to getting her milk from breast to bottle.  She has to push, pull, suck, and squeeze to help it flow from her to where it’s needed.  From what I understand, sometimes even with a breast pump, a mother has to wait through several minutes of sucking-pumping for the milk to start flowing.

What if, in some times, places, and circumstances, God’s grace is like this?  What if it’s not just gushing all the time like an open fire hydrant?  What if it’s ready to do that but needs some active participation from us?

I am not saying God is completely stymied without the likes of us.  That open fire hydrant of gushing grace is an image that still works for me.  But I have known places and people where, even though I witnessed God’s gushing grace drenching us all from head to toe, someone in the crowd didn’t seem wet or sensible to their drenched state.  Surely God’s grace was flooding that Wednesday night Bible study last week when a group of the faithful welcomed a stranger and invited him in.  Obviously the grace of God flowed through the families of those who were killed, as they offered forgiveness in the midst of their deep pain and loss.  But it’s not obvious to everyone.

There are times and places and people who seem to need more than the ocean we’re already swimming in.  Those times and places and people need us, to point to and live out and express every last drop of God’s grace – not just to witness to it and live gracefully and graciously, but to squeeze, prod, suck, and push until every single drop of grace lets down into the situation at hand.  Like mothers who want to be sure every ounce of precious milk gets to their hungry helpless babies, God enlists us to help express grace into the world and the lives around us so it gets to every hungry helpless child of God.  We are the holy breast pumps of grace.  It’s not a sexy job and not as beautiful as the babe at the breast, but it still gets the milk to the sucking puckered mouth.  It gets the job done.  And sometimes, when the baby’s sleeping or not hungry right then or the mother needs to be somewhere else at feeding time, expressing milk is the difference between feeding and not feeding, between flow and drying up.

I love to hear Barack Obama sing and his rendition of “Amazing Grace” was stirring and soulful, but to my ears, what he said about grace was even better.  We are witnesses but we are also tools to help get the job done, the breast pumps expressing (pressing out into the world) the grace of God.  We are expressing God’s grace when we answer hate with love and forgiveness, when we recognize how the past is killing the future, when a group of United Methodists in Virginia votes for a new way forward, when we choose to care for everyone’s health and safety as a basic human need and right, when we recognize love looks just the same on everyone and rejoice in everyone’s right to marry

For a breast-feeding mother, every day brings a hungry baby, so even though this week has been extraordinary, every week brings opportunities to express what God gives.  Keep it up.  Keep pressing out every bit of grace you know, into a world in desperate need of knowing it, too.  Keep pumping.

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photo credit:  By Beukbeuk (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Oh, UMC. A Lament.

Last weekend I had the honor of serving as celebrant for the wedding of two recently graduated alumni.  I’ve known both the bride and groom for their entire undergraduate careers, and their wedding brought three reception tables’s worth of Wesley students and alumni to town.  After they were married at the church, we spent a gorgeous early summer evening, sun descending, shadows gathering, on a luscious winery estate lawn, sipping drinks and enjoying the company and the occasion.

Late into the evening, as shadows gave way to stars, and it couldn’t get any more delicious, Meredith* said, “Can I ask you a question?”

I was sitting next to my husband, flanked on one side by an alumna from last year and on the other side by Meredith, who just graduated in May and who will be coming back to grad school in a year.  It so happens both of these alumnae are gay.

Wesley students visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, GA.

Wesley students visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, GA.

Meredith said, “I know you can’t do a wedding for me and, obviously, it’s a ways off because I don’t have anyone in mind, but at this point, I don’t have another minister.  You know me best and you’re still my minister.  Even if you couldn’t be the one to marry me, would you do my pre-marital counseling?”

I have known Meredith her entire undergraduate career and, before that, her sister.  I am booked to be the officiant for her sister’s wedding next year (to yet another Wesley alumnus) and was about to meet with that couple for their first pre-marital meeting this week, which is partly why Meredith was asking.

She told me she’d spent two hours on the phone with her sister earlier in the week, talking about how excited she was to start planning for her wedding and marriage.  Meredith, who grew up in the church just like her sister, and who did the hard work of making space for a faith community during college (just like her sister), and who is determined to keep growing in her discipleship into her adult years and her future relationships, including marriage (just like her sister) – this beautiful young beloved child of God did not even ask me, her pastor, if I’d do her one-day wedding.  Even her question was trimmed down to size for compliance with our current UMC Discipline.  All she asked me is if, even though it may not be possible for me to be the celebrant at her wedding one day, could she please spend time with me preparing for it?  Meredith, whose discipleship and faith community has been as similar as possible to her own sister’s for their whole lives, and who learned well the Church’s own teaching about the importance of having a pastoral spiritual guide and a gathered community of faith for life’s passages, didn’t even ask me for what she really wants and needs.  And deserves.

It sickens me to say she learned those other lessons our Church is teaching, too – that not all of what we do and say is meant for her.  I feel sick to my stomach and teary just writing this.

Imagine how difficult it was for me on that beautiful night, in the midst of our beloved gathered community, to hear Meredith ask for such a small crumb from the children’s table (Matthew 15: 21-28; Mark 7: 24-30).

Now imagine how hard it was for her.

She made it easier on me than she should have.  Both she and the other alumna were kind and generous in the conversation we had, but that moment dampened the evening for me – not that she brought it up, but that she had to at all.

There is no amount of forethought and hypothesis that can predict what you’ll actually do, given the right situation.  Though this is still where I stand, I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep standing here.

Oh, UMC, don’t make me do this!  Don’t make me choose you over God’s own children.  Don’t make me choose the Gospel over you.

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*Meredith gave me permission to use her name and to write about this, and said, “I hope the UMC can get it together by the time I want to get married.”  Me, too.

Late to the party and invited to dance: Delight and the new RevGals book

First time holding the real live book in my hands.

First time holding the real live book in my hands.

I’m a relative newcomer to the RevGals and to blogging.  When I started Snow Day two years ago and announced it to a former-student-turned-colleague she replied, “How 2002 of you.”  Yeah, yeah, I know I’m late to the party.

In 2005 when RevGals began officially, many of the Gals were keeping their blogs anonymous.  As editor and contributor Martha Spong remembers in her There’s a Woman in the Pulpit essay, “The Worst Communion Ever,” many only knew one another by blog names.  In 2013 when I participated in a summer writing workshop at Collegeville there were two other RevGals in our twelve-person workshop that week.  Each of them had been part of the group and reading along on the blog for years.  One had gone on the first continuing education cruise.  They talked about the other women in the RevGals group like they knew them.  At the time, fresh to blogging and to the group, I was surprised by this.

By last year when I made a trip to the Festival of Faith and Writing, I had met a few RevGals through Facebook and chimed in on the posts asking who’d be going to the Festival and might want to meet up while there.  It still surprised me when, trying to leave early and discreetly from a Festival lunchtime chat hosted by RevGal Ruth Everhart, she spied my nametag, stopped mid-sentence in her presentation, and blurted out, “You’re Deborah Lewis!” Since I was at a writing festival, I wondered how many people in that room were thinking I must be someone they should know, the Deborah Lewis, famous writer.

I’m pretty sure no one did.  But versions of that moment are part of the fabric of the RevGals community.  Seeing one another for who we are – pastor, writer, mother, sister, queer, straight, at wits’ end, thriving, faithful, revolutionary – seeing one another for more of who we are than we can often share in our day-to-day ministry is at the heart of this community.  In long-held traditions like our weekly “Ask the Matriarch” column on the website and in less formal Facebook group posts and prayers, we can plop down in a comfy chair with a cup of something good and ask anything.  We can listen when someone’s had a horrible encounter and we can offer a word of compassion.  We can pour it out without worrying too much about sounding pastoral or professional.  We can be our whole, wonderful, wise, working-for-Jesus, womanly selves.

My essay, in print. Damn, that looks good.

Of course this is exactly the kind of group that would put together an excellent book full of reverent and funny reflections, encouragement and honesty, about this calling we share.  Ruth Everhart’s wonderful essay, “Swinging,” opens the book with the faithful family call and response of “stupid-heads” during a languid front porch afternoon.  Stacey Simpson Duke’s “I Rise Before the Sun” quietly affirms the beauty and necessity of engaging some place other than our ministries, as she realizes, “Knitting is a valuable practice on its own terms, which reminds me that I am a valuable person on my own terms, and not just because I do valuable things.”  (Full disclosure:  Stacey is a dear friend and my former seminary housemate but I would love her piece even if our friendship didn’t pre-date our RevGals connection.)  Jan Edmiston contemplates “What They Will Remember,” urging pastors to consider our own need for full lives and healthy practices, for ourselves and for the pastors who come after us.  Katie Mulligan claims to have been “reluctant” to write her poetic and inspired “Queer,” so I can only give thanks that she let it out in all its biting, funny, compassionate, injured, healed, prophetic glory.  When she writes “I am called to dance by the one who delights in me” it’s an invitation to join in.

I am delighted with this book.  I gobbled up There’s a Woman in the Pulpit as soon as it was available on Kindle.  I immediately went to my own essay (“The Weight of Ash”) and snapped an Instagram picture.  I marveled at seeing my words on the screen and, the next week, I breathed in that wonderful new book smell when the paperback arrived in the mail (and snapped some more pics).  But I already knew what I had written.  What kept me up late into the night were the words of my sisters, the RevGals.  I recognized some and was introduced to others, but through a long night of dive-in reading, I recognized in every one a kindred spirit, a sister and a colleague, another writer trying to put together a few words to reflect the mystery of God and the strangeness and the many blessings of the call we all try to follow.

 

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Disclaimer: I have written one of the essays in this book and I received one free copy as my contributor’s compensation.   Other than that – and some pride and excitement – I have not received any other compensation for this blog post and review of the book.

Get your book!  There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor is available from Skylight Paths or at Amazon via the RevGalBlogPals site.

 

There’s a woman in the pulpit…and her book’s on the bookshelf

I’m excited to announce the publication in April of There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor (SkyLight Paths Publishing)

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

#WomaninthePulpit

It is a joy to be included in this collection of stories and prayers written by more than 50 of my colleagues who are members of RevGalBlogPals and who represent 14 denominations, 5 countries, and more than a dozen seminaries.

“In ministry, we constantly balance the sacred and the ordinary, juggling the two as expertly as we manage a chalice and a [baby] bottle. Even as we do things as simple as light the candles, set the table, break the bread and pour the wine, we invite people into a holy moment…. The women [in this book] not only have a wellspring of deep wisdom, but they also have the ability to dish out their knowledge with side-aching humor…. I am thrilled that their great wisdom and intelligence will be bound into the pages that I can turn to, lend and appreciate for years to come.”                           —from the Foreword by Rev. Carol Howard Merritt

Intended for laypeople, women hearing a call to ministry and clergy of all denominations, these stories and prayers will resonate with, challenge, encourage and amuse anyone who has a passion for their work and faith. A group reading guide will be available on the SkyLight Paths Publishing website – consider choosing it for your book group!