Reflectionary

Run. Hide. Fight.

Wednesday dinnertime at the Manse is always catch-as-catch-can, given the back-to-back Handbell Choir rehearsals involving the rest of my family. I was not surprised this week to get a text from my wife, who passed our son in the rehearsal room, asking if I would take the starving 14-year-old out “for something fun to eat.” 

In the car, we talked about the day, and he noted that there had been another school shooting. I had just been reading about the student who died engaging one of the shooters in Colorado, and earlier in the day his mom and I had talked about the response being taught in some schools, to “Run Hide Fight.” As we stood waiting for our order in the short-handed Dairy Queen Grill&Chill, I thought, as I often do now, how vulnerable we all are. 

Over his 6-piece chicken strip basket, our son told me the strategy he had developed with his best friend, based on an elaborately imagined scenario taking place in their school cafeteria. These two 8th-graders have chosen the closest exit, the surest path out of the building, their destination to be a neighborhood close by where they could call for help. 

He also described the instructions students have been given to follow in a classroom. I thought of a mom on Twitter; her child reported the class was told to divide up, leaving the half closer to the windows more vulnerable. And what happens to disabled students in an active shooter scenario?

This is a kid who just a year ago heard our smoke alarm and stopped, dropped, and rolled, without realizing you only do that if you are on fire. I hate that he has had to grow up so fast and that this kind of worst-case scenario planning is his reality, yet I’ll admit I felt relieved that his inclination was to run and get help. And I recognize that even having these thoughts signifies our white privilege.

In a crisis, with fractions of a second to decide what to do, adrenaline fuels our responses. Two young men bravely fought at UNC-Charlotte and at the STEM High School in Colorado. I’m married to a person who runs toward trouble, and despite my limitations of size and power, I have readily inserted myself into situations of physical and emotional violence in the past. I’ve never been tested by the threat of a weapon, however, and do not know how I would react. I admire Wendi Winters, who charged the shooter in the Capital Gazette newsroom and saved her coworkers’ lives. The question is not whether sacrifice to save others can be noble; it is. Yet I worry that we are creating a culture of martyrdom that serves not God’s purposes but human ones, shifting the narrative to the courage of people who should never have had to use it.

We live in a slow-rolling crisis of gun violence in public places that threatens to numb us with its frequency. If we fear talking about it with our family members, our neighbors, our congregants, and even our colleagues, we allow people with pro-gun agendas to frame the narrative. We must find a way to incapacitate their arguments.

Will we run, will we hide, or will we fight? 


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

Reflectionary

I Go to Church

I love going to church. Except for 3rd grade, when I was expected to memorize the books of the Bible, I have always loved going to church. I’ve experienced a deep sense of God’s presence in the gathered community, found joy in singing both with choirs and congregations, made friends and encountered mentors, been comforted in times of terrible loss, and discovered my voice. I’ve also had my feelings hurt, wondered why bad things happen, and wished I could run away and never come back. This seems to me a reasonable aggregate of the human experience, with the the added benefit of incorporating a purposeful connection to God. 

As a little Southern Baptist girl, I aspired to marry a pastor. Later in life, and under different denominational influences, when I realized I had a call to ministry, everything made sense. I would be one of the people who helped make all those things happen for others. My great love in life became my work, and as part of it, I went to church, gladly, even when budgets were tight, or politics fraught, or justice undone. I believe in the possibility nascent in the gathered body of the faithful, and in the power God extends to us to make things happen. 

I’m smitten with this preacher.
(Photo credit: Kathie Carmines)

I still love going to church.

Almost every Sunday now, though, I sit in church as a worshiper, not a leader. Most weeks, I worship with the community my wife serves. I can count on hearing solid and often soaring preaching from both pastors on staff. The congregational singing is, and I do not exaggerate, amazing. I appreciate being part of a faith community that serves the wider world in tangible ways. I see the same people week in and week out and keep a neighborly eye on them as I know they do on my family. 

In the interests of full disclosure, however, I do avoid the few people who have been guilty of micro-aggressions toward our queer clergy family, sing the doxology inclusively despite what is printed in the bulletin, and don’t always like what’s on the church sign. And I’m not going to lie; sometimes sitting in the pew raises existential questions about how I am serving God, and leaves me feeling a bit bereft. 

Still, I show up on Sunday, not because I must, but because I may, and I desire to be in worship, and I know full well that there is no church that will do everything to my complete satisfaction – not even one I serve as pastor myself. At this point in my life, I want to give back to the Church that nurtured me by being present in a church that nurtures others, by offering my gifts when appropriate, by supporting the pastors and staff who work so hard and so faithfully. To all the pastors and program staff of all the churches, thank you for the work you do, often in the face of great challenges, and not just on Sundays. 

Thank you for making church happen. 


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

Reflectionary, The Words of Her Mouth

Hebrew uncertain

“The wicked rod won’t remain in the land given to the righteous so that they don’t use their hands to do anything wrong.” Psalm 125:3, CEB

A footnote, the letter “q,” directs me to the bottom margin for further explanation.

“Heb(rew) uncertain,” I read.

The meaning sometimes seems obvious to me, but I remind myself, “you bring your context to every verse you read.” 

Who’s to say what it means for our hearts to be right?  Who among us gets to say?

Uncertain.

I hold onto this: 

God is close by, protecting us; God will not abandon us to the rule of the wicked, or even to the tempting tools the wicked use.

What rod tempts us?

Take it away, O God. Take it away. 

Reflectionary, Year of the Body

Slumps

“Let’s do your slumps,” said the physical therapist, as if I had any idea what she meant. I had been in the pool for an hour, activating my core with every fiber of my, well, core. What are these “slumps” of which she speaks? The word summons up images of unremitting failure, as when a baseball player cannot hit the ball or the housing market drops off and does not rebound. 

It turns out it’s meant to alleviate sciatic nerve pain, which I didn’t even realize was one of the things I was trying to fix. I literally slump over, then stretch out one leg at a time and bend my foot to loosen what is so tight it hurts. This exercise, which sounded so counter-intuitive, requires me to do something I am trying not to do at all, by replicating a reflexive posture that I want to avoid in the many hours I spend sitting at my desk while writing, coaching, and engaging in the online work I do for RevGals. 

It was a new exercise for me, so of course I needed an explanation of how to do it and why, but I have to think there is a spiritual lesson here that goes beyond the obvious need for better communication. When I have one idea fixed in my head, what possibilities am I missing? What system, belief, or self-definition do I hold with every fiber of my core that could use a slump and a stretch and a little pulling back?

Today, I hope you will give yourself permission to slump a little from some upright stance and see what you notice. 


This post was originally published in the RevGals Weekly e-Reader.

Reflectionary

The Year of the Body

I am still waiting for my Star Word, and I rarely make resolutions, but for 2019, this is my declaration. 

2019 will be The Year of the Body. 

Well, maybe I should say, The Year of My Body. 

There are things I want to do this year, and next year, and the year after that, and they would be more readily accomplished if my body works well, or as well as it can work. This requires sorting through the mess in the back of my mind that my foremothers handed down to me: your body should look right and work right without any obvious effort, because after all, it’s primary function is as God’s temple, so please don’t be too embodied, just enough to house the holy.

I’m in Week 4 of my second round of physical therapy for my hip and lower back, trying to regain some functionality lost to arthritis, both rheumatoid and osteo. PT has a rhythm. First the routine seems too easy, and then it feels impossible to maintain – my current situation – and then I get the hang of it and feel strong and even powerful! 

And then it will be over because the insurance-approved sessions will run out, and I will  leave with recommended destinations for arthritis-appropriate exercise. Last time, I resisted. I’ll walk, I said. I don’t want to join the Y, it’s too expensive. Who has time for those water-based exercise classes? They all meet during the work day, anyway. 

The alternative, though, is circling back to where I was when I started four weeks ago. 

I want to think this wasn’t exactly what God had in mind, image-wise, in the beginning. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be gradually adding minutes on an underwater treadmill or doing sit-to-stands to try and regain flexibility. In this imperfect world, though, in the Year of My Body, I have to hope that God knows what it’s like to favor what is sore and to stretch what has grown stiff. I have to believe that even in my brokenness, I can still be a reflection of God. 

Help me, Holy One, to live in the body I have, to care for it as best I can, not just to house the holy but to see in it a reflection of you. Amen. 


This post was originally published in the RevGals Weekly e-Reader.

Reflectionary

Book Review: We Pray With Her

During the 2016 presidential campaign, a group of United Methodist clergywomen offered support to candidate Hillary Clinton, a fellow Methodist, by writing devotions and prayers to encourage her. We Pray With Her: Encouragement For All Women Who Lead (Abingdon, 2018) draws on the writing of seventy women. I am delighted that their work has been gathered into this book. 

The section sections focus on Call, Struggle, Courage, Resistance, and Persistence. The devotions interrogate our assumptions about scripture (Is it possible, as Rev. Elizabeth Quick writes, that Mary wasn’t at home on the day Martha complained about needing her help in the kitchen?) and bring the voices of famous women into the conversation, from Sor Juana to Audre Lorde to Jen Hatmaker. 

And their own voices are a gift, as they write frankly about challenges they have faced as leaders and women. 

What no one tells you about leadership is that things will change and with some change comes struggle. I was utterly unprepared when my professional and personal lives began to orbit on different planes.

Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames

The writers are defined as young, by which the publisher means under the age of 40, and the topics skew toward that age range. The prayers speak to particular situations in the lives of women, such as leaving a baby at daycare for the first time, or in a time of relationship difficulty, or when a parent is ill. Some prayers, though, speak to all ages of women in leadership. 

A Prayer at the Time of Burnout

God of mercy, I confess I feel like I am bereft of sinew, a bag of dry bones, and my spirit in ashes. I have tried to take it all on myself. I have failed to seek sustenance. Give me courage to seek help. Help me find a moment of Sabbath today, breathe into me and revive these bones. Help me trust that you will walk with me through this land. Amen. 

Rev. Sarah Karber

This book would make a wonderful Christmas gift, for women who lead in their work, and those who aspire to lead, whether they work in ministry or some other field. My only complaint is I would have loved a full list of the writers to be included. 

I received two copies of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I am delighted to have a copy to give away. Please leave a comment to be entered into a random drawing. 

Reflectionary

Book Review: Loving and Leaving a Church

Her story begins as did many of ours.

They couldn’t really afford a full-time pastor, but they were determined to have one anyway.

In Maine in 2002, in Maryland a few years later, in Missouri and Mississippi right now, our stories begin in church council rooms and on neutral pulpit weekends, in conversations with judicatory staff and congregational meetings. The Rev. Barbara Melosh relates her version in Loving and Leaving a Church: A Pastor’s Journey (Westminster John Knox Press, 2018). A second-career pastor, Melosh experienced a midlife conversion and became ordained in the denomination of her childhood, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Pastor readers will recognize the idealism we bring with us from seminary, the sense that we have something unique to offer that will surely change the church that so clearly needs us. In this case, a declining congregation in a shifting neighborhood responds to attempts at outreach in ways that will resonate in many quarters. While Melosh is aware that she is unequipped – it’s the title of the first chapter – she must grapple with the facts.

They didn’t care about my degrees or my theological insights, my years of experience as a professor, my story of midlife conversion or my passion for language. At most, they were prepared to put up with it all, it that was what it took to get a pastor in place. (p. 32)

As Melosh grew into her call, she faced a familiar array of challenges: an inadequate budget, a neglected physical plant, competition between pillar families, a failure of hospitality to newcomers, and a church basement full of junk. The reader feels her cringe of disappointment when a visitor turns around and leaves with her child as soon as she sees the Sunday School room, and also shares her embarrassment when an urgent request is forgotten in the wake of an unrelated church crisis.

In all accounts of her ministry, Melosh is unflinching in her honesty about her own passions and failures as she recounts the events of her ministry with the congregation she calls the Saints. Through common trials and local peculiarities, the first wedding and the hardest funeral, she risks writing what many of us would rather not have to admit even though our stories contain similar chapters. Her equal frustration with and love for the people she served emanate from the page. The book reflects her academic background in her research about the community, and in her care to be truthful even though some names and locations are cloaked with pseudonyms.

I highly recommend this book for readers willing to reflect theologically and practically on the life of the church, the essentials of ministry, and the reality that all pastors and priests enter into it as Barbara Melosh did,

Unequipped. I had prepared for years, and learned more in my years with the Saints. But I was not equipped for what mattered most. Not equipped to deal with the deep questions. Not equipped to stand with people at the edge of life and death as they raged or grieved. Not equipped for the suffering or betrayals or violence that came without warning to shatter an ordinary life. No one is, and part of the work was learning to do it anyway, to come with empty hands and open heart, and let that be enough. (p. 154)

Amen to that.


In the interest of full disclosure, I used to be in a writing group with Barbara Melosh, and I read some of the chapters in earlier forms. I purchased a copy of the book for myself. This review is cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.