What’s Next?

Smith College MomThis morning, we get in the car and travel to a small town in Massachusetts, which will be over-filled with parents and other relatives gathering to participate in graduation ceremonies at four colleges. Our daughter will graduate from Smith on Sunday morning, and in the ongoing competition for who had the best speaker. Mine years ago was Garry Trudeau at the height of Doonesbury fame; #1 Son had then-Senator Obama in 2008, with Secret Service agents on the rooftops surrounding the ceremony. We all think LP wins with Oprah.

Passionate about her major, Japanese, LP will leave in July to be an Assistant Language Teacher in the JET program for a year. Or two. Or five. Although we still have one child at home, we’re clear that this is a new phase in our family life. All three of the older children are far away, and they are game pieces in motion, one of our sons swapping the East Coast of the US for the West, and the other preparing for the reverse. I keep changing the cities in my Weather app. Maybe it’s a little silly to get alerts about pollen in Los Angeles when I’m sitting at my dining room table in South Central Pennsylvania, but it reminds me that wherever we are, we all live under the same sky. And what do I expect after urging them to pursue the things they love?

A friend who served as a missionary in South Africa once told me that her aim there was to put herself out of a job, to empower the women she worked with to support themselves with the sewing and crafting her ministry helped enable. That feels like the work I’ve been doing as a parent, slowly getting out of the way, trusting that these children – no, these adults – can make their way in the world, as reasonably good members of the human community. It’s both a help and a challenge to have an understanding of call. My children watched me wrestle with my call to ministry, accompanied me through my theological education, gathered at my Commencement 15 years ago this week. Their feelings probably resembled mine now, some mixture of relief and pride and “what’s next?”

What’s next is this: Go out there and be the person God made you to be.

It’s a good word for a big day; it’s a good word for every day.


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader, May 18, 2017.

Bible Sisters (a book review and giveaway)

I am always looking for devotional material. I particularly like books that will carry me through a season, whether in my life or from the liturgical calendar. Looking back I remember that I read a particular book in a Lent of discouragement or during a summer of discernment. A good devotional can be a support and a partner in the walk of faith. Bible Sisters: A Year of Devotions with the Women of the Bible (Abingdon Press) offers a year of companionship, and because it is undated, the reader can begin at any point on the calendar and have a companion for the 365 days to come.

Scroll down to enter the giveaway!

The author, the Rev. Dr. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks, brings her scholarship and life experience to bear in each of the brief reflections on a short scripture passage, tailoring the material to the lives of women today. I’ll confess I immediately thumbed to the back to look for indexes and liked what I found, listings both by scripture and by name (or “The woman who…” in the case of unnamed women). Some women who appear in major Biblical stories appear on more than one day, giving both the author and the reader a chance to look at the same story from different vantage points.

Having recently led a retreat on the stories of the women who anoint Jesus in all four gospels, I was interested to see how Brooks included them, and from there I skipped around to find other favorite Bible women. I especially appreciated Brooks’ take on Martha in Luke 10:40, where she begins, “I have always felt that in the telling of the incident, Martha was not treated fairly.” She brings us into the moment with Martha, whose efforts to bring order out of chaos are unaided by her sister.

If you don’t know your Hebrew Bible women well, the book will be an education.

I would recommend the book for anyone curious to learn more about women in scripture as a devotional practice, and ready to learn from a scholar. This is not a “Jesus Calling” book that tries to speak for God but rather like talking with a smart friend about women long ago who faced the same kinds of challenges we strive to meet with faith today.

To enter a giveaway of the book leave a comment here or on my Facebook page, or retweet the post link, before 9 p.m. Eastern on Monday, May 22nd. I will use a random number generator to choose a winner.

Brooks is Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Preaching and director of the Styberg Preaching Institute, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois, and she is an elder in full connection, New York Conference, The United Methodist Church.


Many thanks to Abingdon Press for reaching out to RevGalBlogPals with copies of the book for review. I received two copies (one to give away) in return for my honest review.

Deliberate Acts of Kindness (a book review)

Ever wonder how to get started in some kind of volunteer service? In this increasingly unchurched era, many people who might have plugged in through a faith community in the past don’t have that obvious set of connections, yet they feel a pull to do good. We see it in the generosity expressed through donations to GoFundMe and Kickstarter. People have an impulse to help other people. But how can we know where to start?

Meredith Gould,  author of Desperately Seeking Spirituality and The Social Media Gospel, offers a road map to the service seeker in Deliberate Acts of Kindness: A Field Guide to Service as a Spiritual Practice (ClearFaith Publishing). This is a revised 2nd edition – the first published in 2002 – that takes into account the rise of social media and new means of communication. For my readers who are already plugged into the life of the church and its web of service opportunities, the information shared may seem unremarkable, but that simply points up how out of touch folk engaged in the institutional church can be from those who don’t see a list of volunteer suggestions in a printed bulletin each Sunday morning. Where can those service seekers begin?

Meredith Gould

Gould has it covered, from a brief introduction to the broad theological stances of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, to tools for discernment, to pragmatic assessments of whether a particular service opportunity really is the one to which we are called. Have you started volunteering and been asked to serve on a non-profit board? Gould supplies a great list of questions to ask before agreeing. Finally, she explores the shadow side of service in some depth. In this time of great need combined with a decline in church participation, she offers an important resource to be shared with both the young unchurched and the rebooting “dones” searching for ways to be of use without doing so through membership in a church.

The length of the book does not allow for depth in the descriptions of different faiths. I would be interested in further discussion with the author about her description of Christian beliefs around heaven and hell, for instance, which are not as firm as she describes on my progressive end of the theological spectrum, where Christian Universalists reside.

While this is a great guidebook for someone just beginning to seek out service opportunities, I think it’s also a great check for churches wondering if they are using their volunteer hours well. What gifts do we have collectively? Where can they best be put to use? Are we serving from a genuine call, or have we gotten into a rut or become resentful of a long-standing commitment?

The book is valuable as a practical resource, but also as a deeper tool for discernment. Contemplative writing exercises throughout the book are well worth the cost ($18.00 for a slim volume), worth pursuing as an individual 0r as a tool for a church group trying to figure out where God might be calling a particular institution right now. As always, I find Meredith Gould’s matter-of-fact approach to her topic deeply helpful.


I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Let us pray, Great Holy (a prayer for pastors)

Let us pray,
Great Holy,
for your servants
up in the night
wondering how
to best express
your love,
with an ear out
for sick children.

Please,
have an ear out
for us.

Let us pray,
Great Holy,
for ourselves,
up early,
full of plans
for how to serve You,
counting carnations
and sorrows,
one eye open.

Please,
keep an eye
on us.

Let us pray,
Great Holy,
for this world
full of troubles
for the the oppressed
and the hungry
and the homeless
and the terrified,
all birds in your nest.

Please,
spread your wings and
comfort us.

Let us pray,
Great Holy,
for the change-makers
and the talk-walkers
who inspire us.
Make us more like them:
forthright, courageous,
truth-telling despite risk
unsafe, but secure.

Please,
give that push
to us.

In Christ’s name. Amen.

From this thin place (a prayer for pastors)

Holy One,
From this thin place I pray:

For the women who

Gathered here

Long ago

Living together,

Away from their worlds,

Yet in yours, devoting

Their lives to prayer and service;
For the women who

Gather here

On retreat

In temporary community,

Away from our worlds,

Yet in yours, sharing

A time of prayer and respite;
For the women who

Need a break
Right now, 

But do not have it,

In the midst of their worlds,

Which are also yours, serving:

Their work continues.
Grant us all

Times of renewal,

And the will to take them,

To center ourselves

And return refreshed

To serve you wholeheartedly

In the work that never ends.

In Christ’s name. Amen.

Out of Steam (a prayer for pastors)

Dear God,

Some days, some weeks
we struggle to serve you.
We are flat out of steam.

We are grieving
for lost colleagues,
friends and family.

We lament decisions
by authorities and
individuals.

We wonder at the rise
of certain kinds
of people.

We know too well
why your gifted ones
languish.

We are dismayed,
disheartened,
flat out of steam.

Our fires burn too low
to keep us
going.

We need you, Lord Jesus,
and the gasp
of recognition.

We need you, Great Spirit,
and the heat of
Holy Flame.

We need you, God of all,
for the stoking
of our hearts.

Light your fire in us
and under us,
we pray.
Amen.

Later in the day

We’ve had a very low-key Easter Monday at my house, with our 12-year-old, Mr. Dimples, in the middle of what is a terribly-scheduled Spring Break for a clergy family. The weather was beautiful, full-gloried springtime. We’ve been out with the dog numerous times, admiring the crabapple trees and the tulips in the neighborhood, and I sat on a bench for a while at the park, watching kathrynzj pitch to Mr. D.

Now it’s evening, and the baseball noise floating from my living room emanates from the PlayStation 4, which is startlingly realistic. The crack of the bat sounds almost exactly right. When it comes around every year, in a real game, it’s as much a sign of new life as the daffodils.

On Easter Sunday, later in the day, we watched our favorite team, the Nationals, play the Phillies. When our hero, Bryce Harper (I mean, we named our cat after him), came up in the bottom of the 9th, the Nats trailed 4-3, with two men on base and 2 outs.

He worked the pitcher to a 3-2 count. This is basically the point of baseball, to make you swing so hard between despair and hope that you declare you will give it up forever…

Then, “kkraakk!” sang his bat! (Click here if that’s your thing.)

He stood and admired the ball as it sailed away. It’s bad form, but who could blame him?

When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. (Luke 24:28-31, CEB)

It may seem sacreligious to compare Cleopas and his companion, let’s say Mrs. Cleopas, to baseball fans, but we are so far from their moment that it’s hard to capture their emotions in a palpable way. We read up on how far it really was to Emmaus, and ponder whether it’s a metaphorical destination. Buechner has described it (paraphrasing here) as a place representing our lowest moments, but even that feels detached to me. How can we get out of our heads and feel that swing between hope and despair?

Jesus worked Mr. and Mrs. C like an excellent batter works a pitcher, stretching it as far as he possibly could.

Then, “kkraakk!” sang his bat!

And in the fleeting moment before he disappeared, I feel sure he admired his handiwork.

Dear Jesus, dear Jesus, I love the way you work. Keep working on me. Amen.


I read and blogged about Luke as my Lenten discipline in 2017, and this is the last post in the series. The full list of posts can be found here.