I try to be the best (a prayer for pastors)

img_9824Sometimes
I try to be the best
at everything

(if not always)

to prepare the finest sermon
to pray the deepest prayers
to lead with calm confidence

to call down Your Spirit
on the world on the church
as no one ever did before

Sometimes
I try to be the best
at everything

(usually I fail)

to devise the proper approach
to evoke the needed feeling
to illuminate the truth

to bring in Your Commonwealth
of Love single-handed
as if no one else were trying

Sometimes
I try to be the best
at everything

(forgetting there is grace)

to try a new way
to fail miserably
to try again and again

Thank you for that

Amen

Squad Goals

elizabeth-warren-tweetThere were plenty of things about what happened to the Honorable Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, that got under my skin:

  • the way the old boys called her out to protect their friend and colleague,
  • the racist history of the nominee she opposed,
  • the fact that they silenced her while she read a letter by the late Coretta Scott King.

Yet nothing about it frustrated me more than looking at the list of the senators who voted to silence her by a count of 49-43. The senator we used to call “moderate” and “reasonable,” “centrist” and a great representative of my former home state of Maine, was on that list of 49. Susan Collins was not the only woman to vote to silence her colleague, but it was her name that lit my fuse. If women won’t let women do their work, what chance do we have of getting men to let us do it?

You see, it was not too long ago that a female colleague silenced me by hijacking the end of a meeting.

The circumstances were less public, but the assumption that a different voice should take priority was identical. Surprised, I did not try to get the attention of the gathering again. Cable news was not waiting for me outside the Senate chamber, as was the case for Senator Warren, but friends expressed their annoyance at what had transpired. I later learned that she doubted my capacity to lead the group simply because I did not match her assumptions about leaders. I was not tall, or loud, or strong.

It’s true that I am neither loud nor tall.

It’s also true that it’s not the first time that while leading this ministry, designed to offer resources and community for women in ministry, I have been undercut by a female colleague who made a remark about my height or my voice. I expect that kind of nonsense from men; a (tall) male colleague once joked that I should stand on a chair to be seen in a room full of pastors at a denominational meeting. Did he intend to undercut what I planned to say, or was he just horsing around? It didn’t matter. In that case I had a reputation, and others listened. In this more recent case, I must admit, I had to ponder the meaning of what I had been told. Why do women apply a standard to each other drawn from a masculine model for leadership, a model of height and volume as the measure of power and strength?

Sisters, we need to do better.

In a season when the world is in turmoil, and the church has struggles of its own, we have important work to do on behalf of Jesus Christ. We need to encourage, embolden, and inspire one another.

If I could, I would declare these our squad goals:

  • to elicit leadership that is not modeled on the tropes of white, straight, cis patriarchy;
  • to kindle more networks that highlight the effective and faithful work of women;
  • to exhibit respect for voices and accents that may not sound like ours; for energy that may not be on the same wavelength as ours; for strength that may derive from patience, intellect, warmth, and perhaps particularly persistence.

I continue to ponder the negating description offered to me. Although an intended compliment followed on the opening salvo, it never had a chance of landing. You don’t lift a sister up by putting her down first.

And you might miss something important if you impose the power of your voice, or your vote, to end the conversation.

(Originally posted at RevGalBlogPals – The Pastoral is Political: Squad Goals)

Sanctuary (a prayer for pastors)

O Holy God,

It has so many meanings

Sanctuary

A gathering place
A protected space
A safe haven
Holy of holies

There are real needs
There have always been
Yet it feels crucial now
To name them

To define and redefine
The term

Sanctuary

img_9810It cannot be
Privileged
Secluded
Restricted
For members only

Forgive us
When we use it
To withdraw from the world
To put our own safety
First

Then press us to
Create the protected space
Open the safe haven
Allow the gathering place
To let it be yours

Holy of holies

For those who need it
Desperately
Strangers
Wayfarers
Refugees

Today of all days and
Tomorrow and tomorrow

In Christ’s name
Amen

be-salty

Be salty (a prayer for pastors)

be-salty“Why so salty?”
Our boy asks this all the time,
when adults are hurried, frayed,
unwilling to play a game his way,
focused on something other than him.

I had to look it up,
discover it meant
what I would have guessed:
annoyed, frustrated, even angry.

Of course I have some real things making me salty now.

O God, really, I do.

I’m not alone,
yet aware that many
are late to noticing
how things really are.

We’ve been feeling bowled over, and
we’re getting organized,
but many of us have no track record.

Will we have staying power?
Will we cast a light, or hide ourselves?
Will we be salty,
or is it too late for us
to share your flavor?

Around us and among us,
there will be people who prefer to keep the lights dimmed;
they will say that too much salt is not good for them.

But bland salt will be trampled, don’t let us forget it.

I have to believe
that no matter how late it is,
it is never too late.
I have to believe
You will give us the courage,
the power,
to do what needs to be done,
if we will only take it.

Let us stand up on top of the hill to shine a light where it’s needed,
Let us bring so much salt to the table that everyone will ask, “Why so salty?”

Let us be salty,
for Christ’s sake. Amen.

Healing Spiritual Wounds: a review

1476538348
The Rev. Carol Howard Merritt

In her new book, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church (Harper One, 2017), Carol Howard Merritt tells her own story of moving from the punishing theology of her childhood to a new understanding of love, mercy and forgiveness. Yet this is not a memoir; it is a trail guide designed to help the reader make a similar journey. Recognizing our wounds allows us to undertake our healing, the healing God wants for all of us.

The Reverend Carol Howard Merritt grew up in the evangelical church. While attending Bible college, she made a turn in her theological understandings and became an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Her past books, Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation (Alban/Rowman and Littlefield, 2007) and Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation (Alban/Rowman and Littlefield, 2010), provided resources based in a deep understanding of cultural changes and generational shifts the mainline church seemed reluctant to acknowledge. Now she turns her gaze to the tradition that formed her, and to the injuries inflicted by a controlling, patriarchal system.

chm-quoteThe chapters are organized around areas in our lives that might need healing from wounds inflicted by the church: our image of God, our emotions, our broken selves, our bodies, our hope, even our finances. Howard Merritt shares pieces of her personal story as well as the experiences of others whose stories illustrate each concept. At the end of every chapter, she includes exercises designed for use by individuals or groups. The exercises employ scripture, art, encounters with nature, journalling and other forms of reflection. A range of questions prompt the reader to consider and reconsider events that may have been harmful. I found the prompts to be creative, gentle, and pastoral.

I grew up in a downtown Southern Baptist church that didn’t seem to differ much from the mainline downtown churches of my childhood, and I have done a lot of psychological and spiritual work over the past thirty years. I thought, as I began reading, “This book will be a great tool for others.” As I got in deeper, I recognized the places where I learned something new years ago that I accepted intellectually, but never at the heart or gut level. Any of us who grew up influenced by the patriarchy can find some good work to do with this beautiful book.

Carol Howard Merritt is an intellectual force in the life of the 21st century church, an artist and a mystic, and a genuine example of a faithful Christian who has done and is doing her work. This book is recommended for individuals and groups, for men and women, for anyone who has been hurt by the church or wonders what people mean when they say they have been hurt by the church. The book will be released on Tuesday, February 7. You can give the author a boost by pre-ordering a copy now.


I received a free advance copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. In the interest of full disclosure, Carol’s lyrical writing may also be found in the most beautiful foreword any book has ever had, in the book I edited, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor (SkyLight Paths, 2015).

Resist the powers (a prayer for pastors)

A little child, confused,
a father separated from his family,
a woman waiting for the one she loves,
these ordinary stories,
everyday for many,
have been escalated
by the powers that be.

Lord, what can we do?

We’re expected to speak,
to find a way to talk about Jesus,
and some will say,
do not talk “politics,”
do not tell us these stories
of ordinary people,
of families like ours.

Lord, what can we do?

Some of us left behind
dinner, children, sermons,
to find a way to airports,
to make the kind of noise
that no one can ignore,
pink hat wearers and
pink hat doubters alike.

Lord, what can we do?

img_0060Stop feeling helpless.
Organize your thoughts.
Take action. Speak out.
Claim your authority.
Do not be afraid.
Remember your baptism.
Resist the powers of evil.

Do it all for Christ’s sake,
in Christ’s name.
Amen.

Ferocious Humility

I note that the Left is, as we have come to expect, engaged in self-destructive internal wrangling, complete with name-calling and finger-pointing. We are not “on message” because that is not part of our DNA. We disparage the people who offer support to each other on the Right; their lockstep smacks of collusion.

Some voices say that we cannot afford to be so hard on each other in a time when there are forces we must resist, but I would amend that.

We cannot afford to forget each other in a time when there are forces we must resist. We must remember that there are life experiences and points of view different from our own, open conversation instead of assuming it will arise, invite relationship instead of taking it for granted.

The responsibility to act – to remember, to open, to invite – always lies with those of us who benefit from privilege, whether it derives from our race, our level of education, our economic advantage, our orientation, our gender identity, our ability, or our religious identification.

ferocious-humilityWhere can you open a conversation? It’s harder when, admittedly, we’re not all the same. We need to take the time to listen more closely, to ask and answer questions that may seem obvious but (maybe) are not, to be humble rather than defensive when we get things wrong, to commit to inviting new relationships, to be ferocious in our commitment to the greater good.

We all need to cultivate ferocious humility.