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?