Wednesday, April 23, 2014

But You Can't....You're a Female. Seriously, dude?

It really should have pissed me off. I mean, really pissed me off. And the weird thing is, as I starting thinking that I should be mad, I also stepped back and realized it just wasn’t worth getting mad over. Damn it. That’s like a grown up thing or at least a step towards maturity (which I consider profanity).

For the first time in my ministry, I’ve been denied access to a pulpit. A dear friend is preparing for her husband’s death and the family has asked me to officiate at his funeral service. At a Presbyterian Church (PCA not PCUSA). After much hem-hawing around, someone – a male person – from the church called me and explained that their building policy prohibited a female from leading a worship service.


I was gracious. Even when this male went on to tell me that he would gladly rearrange his schedule in order to be able to lead the worship service. I was given the option of saying a eulogy but not the homily (that’s church talk for saying I could stand up and talk about the deceased but I couldn’t be the one to celebrate his life through the lens of scripture). And, still, I was gracious.

In the back of my mind, though, that generally obnoxious part of me that wants to rebel against being told what I can and cannot do, started revving up…and I stopped it. Weird. The thing is, it really isn’t worth getting mad over – though the family is plenty mad about it.

It seems all of the Christian churches in North America are going through their own struggles over issues related to ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Some have progressed much further than others and all involved are sure that their interpretation of scripture is the most authentic. We have expended tremendous energy (and anger) arguing for one side or the other on any of these issues to the point that all parties have been wounded.

Frankly, I think it’s a good thing. No, I don’t mean that inflicting pain and injury on each other is commendable. What I do mean is that we need to struggle through these things in order to let God redeem our work together. Considering that we just celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus, it makes sense to me that we are going through a bit of a death in our understanding of who we are called to be as followers of Jesus Christ. I have absolute faith that as that understanding dies, God will resurrect within us a new way of living out our life as beloved children of God.

I was surprised to receive a phone call from one of the pastors at a neighboring Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) mainly because his first words to me were an apology on behalf of the church that had denied me access to their pulpit. Obviously, he doesn’t need to apologize on behalf of someone else but I understood what he was feeling. This kind of struggle tends to paint a negative picture of the whole denomination, regardless of strand (PCA, PCUSA, etc) and often bleeds over onto all Christian denominations. I get that. It makes me want to apologize profusely for our universal inability to simply follow the primary commandment to love God and love our neighbor.

So, I’m not mad. We have a terrific church in Austin who is delighted to minister to this family alongside me. But, damn it. I do think I’d feel better if we could come up with another word besides “maturity.”

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Too many vowels but a great concept...Paideia

Ordinarily, I would be more tempted to clean out my refrigerator than I would be to watch a video of a college president’s inauguration address. Ordinarily. But, when a friend sends me the link with the added prompt of “check him out, he’s attractive, single, and local,” I thought the least I could do was watch a little bit of it. Congratulations, Southwestern University. You have both an attractive new president AND one with both humor and intellect. In all fairness, the previous president was a great guy, too…just not single. But anyway…

I’ve been at a handful of SU campus events and have seen the word “paideia” incorporated into both spoken and printed materials. I didn’t have a clue what it meant until I listened to President Burger’s speech. Even then, I clicked over to the transcript so I could make sure that I heard what I thought I heard.

Maybe I heard what I wanted to hear because, even reviewing the transcript, I’m hard-pressed to boil it down to a brief little definition…but it sounded to me that paideia was about connections between people and connections with ideas. He spoke about learners learning from teachers and vice versa. It sounded an awful lot like a community of people discovering, exploring, growing, and transforming together. In other words, it sounded a lot like what I envision in the church community.

As a pastor, I am well aware that I do not have all the answers to such questions as “what is the meaning of life?” or “what did Jesus mean by a desolating sacrilege?” or “where is it written in the Bible that so and so said this or that?” (btw, I am not your Bible trivia girl…ask Steve or get online and look it up). Actually, there are many, many things I don't have the answer to...get over your disappointment. I struggle just like you do. There are many aspects of our faith that I wrestle with…mostly I wrestle with those things that I learned or inherited growing up or as an adult that I now go…wait a minute. Is this right?

So, I need a community that creates space for me to discover, explore, grow, and be transformed. I need some paideia, too. I bet most of us do. Even if we can’t say that weird word with too many vowels…

Kudos to SU for their intentionality in creating such a community. I think your president is pretty cool and has some great insights on how to truly educate the whole person. Wonder what it would look like for our church community and this learning community to come together and explore creating space for paideia moments in a wider context? I’m thinking there’s a great big opportunity here.

Imagine looking at issues such as poverty in our community alongside students and educators in sociology. Imagine collaborating on such basic human needs as food, clothing, and housing in ways that honor and bring dignity to all parties. Imagine a dialogue on contemporary social issues that extends beyond bible thumping and considers the character of God alongside the human condition. 

I think SU is really on to something with this paideia thing. I also think it’s time we started exploring the synergies possible through partnerships with churches and educational institutions – not because we want to swell our membership rolls (don’t get me started on that) but because we live in a world that is in need of transformation on all fronts.

Turns out this might have been more fruitful than cleaning out my refrigerator…hmmm.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Warning: Expletives and Honesty Ahead

It’s rare that I get a non-fiction book and can’t put it down. And yet, such was my experience with Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book, Pastrix. If you don’t know who she is, let me just encourage you to do some googling and reading. I don’t think she’s old enough to be my role model but she is anyway…

I’ve finished the book and know that I will go back and read it again. Crazy thing, though…as I finished reading it, I was just annoyed. At myself. You see, I really did not want to go into ordained ministry. Throughout the whole looooong process of ordination, I honestly expected someone to finally look me in the eye, and go, really? You think you’re called to ministry? Ha! No way. You see, I know myself pretty well and I know that I am not one of those people.

I started the process after having a good long chat with God. That would be me doing the chatting. It went something like, “fine…I’ll do this, but I’ve got to be me. I can’t be all preachy and pious and serious and church-lady-like.” I figured since no one said “no” to me that meant God was satisfied with our little arrangement.

Except, I didn’t keep my end of the bargain. I sold out to some of the expectations I had as to what it meant to live into the vocation of ordination. I am mostly nice to people. I do not generally express my emotions using expletives or profanity. I don't even have a cute little butterfly tattoo on my ankle. I maintain a calm, perhaps even serene, demeanor. And there are times I just want to scream.

No, that doesn’t mean that I want to express all of the four letter words that are very much a part of my “normal” vocabulary at all times and in all places. It means, though, that I get tired of trying to live up to all the expectations (including my own) because I am NOT that person. I am so freaking human and flawed it’s not even funny. What’s really, really crazy about that is that I KNOW that God loves me anyway. That God gets my humanity and embraces it, that God uses my humanness to help me love more deeply because I can’t get there without going through the messy work of accepting my own shortcomings. So, I’m a little – ok, a lot – tired of being what some might call a hypocrite. Yes, it’s easier for me to just be easy-going and calm and nice and all that…but holy (expletive), it really means that I’m stuffing all that down in front of people only to let it out somewhere else. Stupid, if you ask me. Good for my continued appointment, but…really? Stupid.

I mentioned in last week’s sermon, when we were looking at the beatitudes regarding the peacemakers and those who are persecuted, that there is something about this vocation that invites a kind of persecution. I know, deep gasp on your end, but hear me out… First, I am a single, female clergyperson. If you were to invite me to a social gathering and introduce me to your friends by both my name and my vocation, I guarantee you all conversation will stop. There is a predictable and deafening silence that always – ALWAYS – follows. No one knows what to do with a preacher lady. And, as they give me that kind of deer-in-the-headlights look, I can also see the giant thought-balloon above their heads – did I say anything offensive? Should I hide my wine/beer/mixed drink behind my back? How soon can I move on to a more comfortable group of people?

Not to be offensive, but it is really starting to piss me off (see, I just can't let go…). And, yes, I know this is absolutely NOT what Jesus was talking about as far as persecution goes. As far as I know, no one is out to kill me because of my vocation. But (expletive), it makes it really (profanity) difficult for me to connect to people with any sense of honesty on either side.

So, yes, I was annoyed as I finished her book. Annoyed primarily at myself but also at you people. I don’t want all of your expectations. I want the freedom to just be me, with all my flaws and (expletive). I don’t want all of my expectations, either. And now I sound like a whiney (expletive)…and that irritates me even more.

Here’s the deal…I choose to live as fully as I can into who God created me to be, with all my flaws, all my shortcomings, all my gifts, all my annoying habits, and all my passions. Sometimes, it will not look like the ideal of a clergyperson. It may be that many times it won’t look like that. The thing is, God is working in and through me. I am not finished. But I cannot completely ignore all those parts of me that you might prefer not to see. That’s not fair to me or to you. So, I’ll be the me I am today and let God be at work moving me to the me I will be in the future. Meanwhile, you be you. God’s doing some cool stuff in your life as well. I’m pretty excited with what God can do in both of us…but (expletive) can we please just accept each other as is for now?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Busy, Tired, and Awed...

So, I’ve started my blog about 5 or 6 times tonight…I can’t figure out if I want to share how busy I am, how tired I am, or how awed I am. Frankly, none of those seem all that interesting to me…even the awe experience was quite selfish. Seriously, who really cares?

When I was in Victoria visiting mom, she shared with me a story about her homeless friend, Pete. He lives in his van and usually is parked at one of the truck stops on Highway 59. He told her about a man who successfully crossed into Texas from Mexico and hitched a ride underneath an 18-wheeler as far as Inez, Texas. It was the Sunday that cold front blew in. By the time the truck stopped, he was wet and freezing cold. He knocked on the window of Pete’s van and Pete freely shared what food he had, along with dry clothes.

No, we don’t need to talk about how busy or tired or awed I am.

After I left Victoria, I drove up to San Antonio to have a birthday celebration brunch with my eldest son and my future daughter-in-law. Josh (my son) was telling me about the certifications he had received that week – something about a simulator and learning how to evacuate from a helicopter if it hit the water (the certification allows him to go out to the rigs in the gulf). I was just amazed listening to him describe the various scenarios they went through in his training.

No, we don’t need to talk about how busy or tired or awed I am.

On Saturday, after leaving Mom’s house and meeting up with Josh, I got home and then met with a family to plan a memorial service for their patriarch. I had met with him, his wife, and his daughter just two weeks prior…and knew he was terminal. But, the prognosis was at least 2-3 more months. Yet, he died less than two weeks later. There is something I can only describe as holy that happens when I am invited into the lives of people who are hurting or grieving. We celebrated his life today and I honestly cannot imagine what it looks like to move forward after spending nearly 50 years with your childhood sweetheart. She will, I know. Her faith is strong and their relationship was such that she is equipped…but oh my. What an incredible gift to have had that love, that bond, for so long.

No, we don’t need to talk about how busy or tired or awed I am.

In between meeting with the family and officiating the service, my youngest son and I had to make that hard decision about our 21-year old cat. Jasmine – or Jazz – has been part of our family since this son was only 6 months old. This past year, she has certainly shown her age. Six months ago, she had a seizure and we thought, this is it. But, she pulled through. At least until this past weekend. She had another seizure Saturday night and just didn’t come out of it well…she was disoriented and weak. She woke me in the middle of the night and she couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with her limbs. So, after I finished with our morning worship services and returned home, Nate and I agreed it was time to let her go.

It was peaceful and quick…I don’t really think she felt anything other than the peace of knowing she wouldn’t struggle anymore. We brought her home and Nate spent the afternoon digging in our rocky, hard soil so we could bury her. And we did, last evening after our Sunday night worship service.

So, yes I’ve been busy and tired and awed.

Thank you, God, for filling my life with so many who mean so much…for giving me good reason to be busy and tired and awed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mother Theresa Liked It

Someone sent this to me earlier this week, as a follow up to Sunday’s sermon. We’ve been taking an in-depth look at the Beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel throughout Lent. This past week’s focus was on the merciful and the pure in heart. I was pretty upfront that this last one, pure in heart, was a tough one for me to interpret.

There are lots of ways we can look at it, and I wrestled with many of them…but finally, what seemed appropriate for me, at the time, was the idea that when we live out of the commandment to love God, love neighbor, and love self, we are more likely to respond to others in ways that reflect our understanding of God. It’s really simple. And, really hard. Because we – ok, I – have not yet gotten to the point where this commandment, this crazy love-attitude, is my knee-jerk reaction. I have to take the time to stop and think, to restrain myself from acting out of my natural human response.

The poem that was sent to me included a notation that it was penned by Mother Theresa of Calcutta. I don’t doubt that she could have written something like this but…I have gotten into the habit of verifying things, especially before I put them back out in cyberland. From what I can find, these words were originally written by Kent Keith when he was a 19 year old sophomore at Harvard College in 1968. Mother Theresa had the words (not the full text of Keith’s work) enlarged on a poster that she hung up on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, her children’s home in Calcutta. In response, those who visited assumed she had written it.

Even without her authorship, these words point us to an attitude about ourselves that frees us from the need for approval or acceptance from anyone other than God. I’ve read them several times this week and thought you might enjoy them, too.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.          

Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.                 

Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. 

Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. 

Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.

Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.

Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.

Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.

Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.

There's something about the last line that doesn't sit all the way well with me but I haven't figured it out yet. Maybe its the idea that me and God are all I need when, really, God intended specifically for us to be in community, to be in relationship with one another. So, I think it matters what between us -- not for approval or acceptance, but for the sake of responding to God's love.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sticks and stones...and even words hurt

Yesterday, I mentioned a monthly seminar some from our staff participated in on Monday. It’s possible you’ll be hearing me talk more about this over the next several posts (although, honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to write about until I sit down and face the white screen of “paper” in front of me…). We covered some deeply thought-provoking concepts and, as I work through them, they may become topics…as does today’s installment.


Here’s the quote that has stuck in my mind:

You do not build a society up by breaking the people within it down.


Immediately, I think of all the facebook posts that just make me cringe with their animosity towards some group or individual. And yes, do this enough, and I will just hide your posts. There is nothing helpful about ranting against a group of people, especially when you personalize it. We end up polarized and a polarized society is just a compilation of arguing factions all pointing their fingers at some other group. Hate wins.


As a people of faith – and no, not everyone on my “friends” list is a declared, card-carrying believer in Jesus Christ…or God, for that matter – but, for those of us who claim a Christian  identity, we are called to take seriously the commandment to love God, love neighbor, and love self.  This is the guiding principle for our faith. We can disagree on all kinds of things but we do so out of a stance of love. Or, at least, that’s what our faith calls us to do.


I have hurt people in my life. I guarantee you that I have not always operated out of that great commandment. I can not only get angry, I can employ sarcasm with a barbed and hurtful tongue. The more I grasp the love that God has for me, barbed tongue and all, the more I can step back and at least think before I spew. Most of the time. It’s something I have to work at…and sometimes, I do a better job than at other times. It is frighteningly easy for me to put my emotional needs ahead of my connection to God.


I share that to say that I get it. We struggle with our need to insist on our own way, our own needs, our own ideas, our own beliefs. But, the minute we tear someone or a group of someones apart because their ways, needs, ideas, or beliefs are different from ours, we are complicit in tearing down God’s people.


And that reminds me of another quote (no idea where I heard this but it has stuck with me for a long time)…

It is better to be in right relationship than to be right.


This is day 18 of the 40 days of Lent. What would it look like for us to choose to build up the people we encounter (or hear about on the news/online/etc) for the remainder of this season? What if we stopped finger-pointing and name-calling for the next 3 or so weeks? We are called to build up people, to love them just as they are – no matter how misguided and uninformed we may think they are. After all, God loves us just as we are…regardless.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Hurry up and wait

I am the baby in my family…the youngest of my generation on both sides of the family tree. Yes, there are advantages. Truly, I appreciate these advantages much more today than I did when I was younger…


But growing up? Everyone got to do things that I wasn’t allowed to do. The response to every request seemed to be, you can do that…when you grow up. To say I was impatient to be “grown up” enough to do things is a terrible understatement.


Looking back, I imagine I drove my parents crazy. I could ask mom but…no, I’d really rather not hear her take on my impatience. I’m sure I was a trial. It was a trial for me as well.


It seemed I struggled with patience and waiting at least until I was somewhere in my 30s. My guess is, I saw my children growing up so quickly and decided I could wait. Please. Amazing how quickly time passes from rocking a sleeping infant to hauling half the team to baseball practice to high school graduation. I learned to slow down and wait. Mostly.


These days, I find I am most impatient with myself or, rather, with becoming whoever it is God intended me to be. I am much more comfortable in my skin that I was in my early years…and, at the same time, I see myself as unfinished, not yet fully me. I’m curious about these next however many years and do have to sit myself down occasionally and remind myself to be patient…to trust and wait. At home and in my office, I have the words of Psalm 46:10 displayed as they have become my mantra..."Be still, and know that I am God." I need the constant reminder to be still...and to trust.


This morning, in a monthly leadership seminar several of us from our church staff participate in, I was introduced to the deeply mystical work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – French Jesuit priest, philosopher, paleontologist, and geologist (1881-1955). Our instructor shared this devotional, entitled Patient Trust, by Teilhard…and it struck a deep chord in me. May it do so for you as well.


Above all, trust in the slow work of God.  We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.  We should like to skip the intermediate stages.  We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.


And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.


And so I think it is with you.  Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste.


Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.


Only God can say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.  Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.