Wednesday, March 08, 2017

On Swallowing Camels

*Trigger Warning -Sexual Assault, Abuse

A few minutes ago, I had to stop in the middle of a telephone survey because I started to cry.  The woman conducting the call paused with me, and asked gently, "Are you ok? Do you need to stop?"
I know I sounded less than ok when I squeaked,  "Please keep going."

I'm a weirdo who really likes taking surveys, so when I got a call around dinner time last night, I told them I wouldn't mind participating, but they would have to call me back when I was free.  And they did.  I didn't really know what the survey was about, but they did tell me up front that it would have some personal questions and I would probably want to be alone when I answered.

I was assured of the veracity of the agency taking the survey and the privacy of my answers, and while I won't say who it was, I will submit that they are an agency on the chopping block for funding from the current administration. And it's not Planned Parenthood.

After the usual questions plotting me in the grid of gender, age, income, racial background, the real nature of the survey came into focus.  The woman reminded me that I could stop participating at any time, or I could refuse to answer.

At the same moment Relevant's article on Why You Should Be A Christian Feminist appeared in my feed on Facebook.  But the survey questions yanked my attention away from the headline and brought me back to the questions:

"Have you ever been followed or made to feel threatened in a public place?"
"Have you ever been pressured by compliments or gifts that you did not want?"
"Have you ever been approached in a sexually threatening way that you did not want or encourage?"
"Have you ever been hit, choked, kicked, or shoved?"
"Have you ever been raped?"
"How old were you when someone touched you in a way you did not want or encourage?"

These were just a few of the questions.  There were many more.  They were surgically worded, but very explicit in content.

Most of the questions were not about me.  Most. I can talk about the clumsy and unwanted advances of teenage boys who should have had better training about consent without dissolving into tears.  I can talk about being ogled. I can talk about being followed. I can talk about being detained in conversations with men or boys I didn't want to talk to.  I can talk about men or boys talking to me in ways that were pushy, manipulative, vulgar, and too familiar.  I can talk about those things because they have happened so frequently to us, that all the other women I know would nod knowingly and move on to other topics.

It was while answering the brutal questions that were NOT about me that the sob rose in my throat. The tears surprised and embarrassed me. I hated that the survey-taker might be thinking I was crying over my own painful memories.  "No, not me." I answered, while I thought, "But someone I know....
Someone I love...
Someone I wanted to protect...
Someone I thought I was protecting...
A friend...
A friend's daughter...

With each new question, the list of women who had experienced violence and violation at the hand of a man grew longer and longer.

Today is International Women's Day and I had no particular plans to mark the day, but I was ready to support my friends who would find creative ways to observe the day, from the author I follow who's baby girl was born on this day 2 years ago and would no-doubt have some good words, to the academic who posted a picture of himself wearing red in support and solidarity.  

There's another story that has been clogging up my newsfeed this week.  Franklin Graham is calling ya'll to boycott the live action Beauty and the Beast movie because of a minor character being gay.  Wanting to think the best of my former tribe, I tried to assume it was only extremist who would be joining this call to action, but soon enough I saw guys I went to high school with sharing their dismay and chagrin about Disney's "gay agenda" being sneaked into their favorite entertainment dish like an unwanted vegetable.  At first it amused me, but as time passed, I began to grow angry as I foolishly "read the comments section."   Apparently, these people are convinced that a single exposure to the existence of a gay person in a two hour movie could be so detrimental to their offspring, that they need to avoid this movie and the whole Disney corporation while they are at it (Good luck with that, by the way. )  This exposure issue had me confused at the logic:  You are afraid that if you take your child to a two hour movie that shows a gay person...not a main character, but frankly one that is not even all that likable...your child will develop a sympathy for gay people?  Or rather, an acceptance of them and their "lifestyle"?

And yet, according to a recent poll I read, 74% of white evangelicals support the current President. How much exposure will your child have to this man in the coming four years?  What will they observe and come to accept because of his example?  How many teachable moments are you hoping will come about to talk with your kids about power, pride, lying, boasting, name-calling, injustice, being inhospitable and without mercy?  You have your dukes up to fight about a fictional character  but when will I see you speak up about the wrong of a very real and powerful leader of the free world?  

You strain at gnats and swallow a camel.

If you know me at all, you already know that I don't believe it is a sin to be gay.  And I'm not an fundamentalist evangelical any more.  Franklin Graham doesn't speak for me.  But those are my roots and I still care about the people from my past life.  I want to tell you plainly that you have a metaphorical booger in your nose and you look ridiculous and I'm embarrassed for you.   Because you have used your platform to call attention to a gnat instead of the camel.

Use your pulpits to say what I never heard from you while I was growing up: Get up and tell the men in the room that God is angry when a man hurts a woman,
when a husband hits his wife or she's not allowed to say no to sex with him,
when a teenage boy forces a girl to do something she hasn't given consent to.

Use your Facebook feed to decry abuse and manipulation that your churches have sheltered and allowed under the heading of "submission." Apologize for shaming victims and covering up pedophiles for "the sake of the gospel," and ask for forgiveness.  Clarify that the Bible you love and teach does not wink at the objectification of women or the dominion of them.   Preach that no matter what a woman says or does, she isn't "asking for it."  Support your President's politics (if you must) but clarify that you do not support his treatment of women. Speak up on behalf of over half your churches.  Imagine what it would be like if none of the women showed up at your church on Sunday and consider how well it would run.  You won't let a woman in your pulpit, so it is your job to speak up on her behalf. 

Here's the truth: I would leave my daughters alone in the room with any gay man I know,  but never with the current President.

The last question of the survey was this: Do you think people can be taught to help prevent sexual assault, intimate partner abuse, domestic violence and rape?

"I strongly agree. "

Friday, March 03, 2017


I grew up in Fundamentalist Christianity, and that tradition does not allow women to be ordained or to have a leadership role that would result in women teaching men.  I am not a part of this tradition any more and have not been for more than a decade.  I find myself wondering at times what my life might have looked like if I had not been required to take such a scenic route to my life's work, but ultimately I come back to a place of gratitude for my journey.  I married into ministry because that was the only on-ramp there was for me, and I "so happened" to marry a truly egalitarian man who never bought into the constraints placed on women, even in the early days when we were both committed fundamentalists.  I always served shoulder to shoulder with my husband in our churches, even in a church that tried very hard to limit my involvement, telling me they didn't expect a "two for one deal."  I suppose that was honorable of them, but those years were frankly miserable because I was cut off from what mattered most to me: tending to the well-being and health of the church.  Back then, I wormed my way into being church secretary just to stay as close to the action as I could.

Nothing pleases me quite as much as accurate words. I long for a specificity that must be exhausting for people around me to watch me snatching at. In the years while we planted Vintage, it was always awkward to find a word or phrase that expressed what I was in the church, and my people struggled with me. They introduced me to their friends as "My Pastor's wife. But more than that. My friend. And also....Kind of my pastor too."  I chalked it up to the ever-bizarre role of being a pastor's wife, which always seemed to me to be only really like a First Lady in its level of involvement. But in time, and after a variety of experiences where words failed me, I came to the realization that the reason the words "Pastors Wife" didn't accurately describe me was because I was more than that and always had been.  It would be another three years before I could put meat on the bones of that realization.

The church has a tradition of recognizing people who stand out in their midst for their ability and calling to lead them.   The process of ordination is different in various denominations and has various levels of intensity.  Many mainline denominations like Episcopalians, Anglicans, etc. require formal training in a seminary to be ordained, while most "low church" gatherings only require the ability to successfully navigate an ordination council convening with them to examine their life and doctrine.  In my case, based on my twenty years of experience serving the church,  my requirements were to present a paper citing my belief system and a defense of that paper in an exam that was lovingly dubbed "a witch trial" by my charming congregants.  A small group consisting of a three teachers and two former pastors served as my ordination council.  They reviewed my paper and prepared follow-up questions which I answered in a public forum. When their questions were exhausted, the public crowd was allowed to ask some questions. That was a fun night!   I didn't know the questions ahead of time, so just before hand, I got nervous and started cramming, but once the questions started coming, I was just having fun.  The council recommended my ordination to the Oversight Team that serves like trustees, deacons or elders of Vintage and they formalized the ordination with an installation service.

I'm fond of exaggeration to prove a point, but I use no hyperbole when I say that the day of my service will live in my memory on par with my wedding day.  My husband and children were fully supportive and present.  A friend from a former church came for the weekend to celebrate with us, and a series of video greetings took my breath away with their words of confirmation, encouragement, excitement and participation.

For many years, I joked that if I ever met Brian McLaren in person, I would punch him in the face.  His book A New Kind of Christian was the match that lit the fuse that exploded our life as fundamentalists. The resulting destruction sent us hurling into life in Arkansas with a house in foreclosure and my imagined future burned to the ground. Not even my irony-loving soul could have guessed that a few years later, Brian would be sending a greeting, speaking words of blessing and confirmation not to my accomplished husband, but to me, as a pastor in my own right.

My fellow enneagram 4, Mark Scandrette sent a message, giving me the beautiful phrase, "spiritual midwife" as a description of my calling.  Mark has been a friend for years now, and his books have helped us give birth to new ways of thinking and gathering.  But maybe most important to me, Mark has always talked to me as an equal, even before I realized my own calling.  In all our visits, he included me in the conversation.  This might not seem like much, and I suspect he didn't even know he was doing it, but for a girl who grew up in the shadow of men, being included and welcomed into theological conversation about the life of the church meant a great deal to me.

The room lit up when Jerusalem Greer appeared onscreen.  Not only is she a friend of Vintage, she is a role model, a source of joy and inspiration, and a personal friend.  This Preacher Lady, author and fellow Arkansan caught my eye years ago at a conference and I quietly began stalking her blog.  There is no doubt that her simply being Jerusalem made space for me to crash through the glass ceiling in my mind.  I finally let her in on the secret that I am "totally picking up what she is putting down" when she came to speak at Vintage a year ago.  I played nicely with others and shared her with my friends, but hearing her heart and just chatting for a short time told me that this was a sister, a colleague, a companion on a journey that I needed.  Our lives in the work of church prevent us from all the time it would take to have all the conversations that reveal all the ways we would end up saying, "Me too!"   But sometimes you just know a member of "the tribe that knows Joseph."  Go read her new book. Get to know her.  She's delightful.

My high school English teacher went on to become an Anglican priest and was recently ordained herself. What was the mad respect of a student for one of the best teachers ever has bloomed into a grown-up friendship.  Her greeting reminded me to "listen, listen, listen," which is really to love my role as student like I reveled in being a student in her classroom years ago.  A private chat later revealed that we share a love for some of the same authors and for the exquisite beauty and reverence of liturgy.  When someone who has known you as one kind of person but makes room for you in their imagination to be something else, that is a special grace.

My college roommate is one of the most generous souls I have ever known.  She is a world of kindness and still has the best sense of humor, which is a rare combination. She rejoiced with us, spoke such wise and loving words to our church, and was the single person to recognize my husband for the role he played in being the kind of man who actively encourages his wife to  have her share of what he has enjoyed all these years without the slightest hint of insecurity.  She noticed and she rejoiced. Not everyone who "knew me when..."  can or did or would be so excited with me.  This too is grace.

And then my siblings showed up like an Army of Enthusiasts.  My sister-in-law, Cathy, who is as loyal as Samwise Gangee and fifty times as strong and brave. My brother, who hinted at the feeling of a wedding again when he toasted me as "high voodoo princess" followed by my sister, whom I adore for so many things, not the least of which is being Nadia Bolz Weber's doppleganger in appearance, strength, and vocabulary. Finally, my youngest sister brought down the house with a custom remixed tune played on her ukelele. (Her original debut album was just released by the way.) They have known me the longest. They have the most reasons to call my ordination a joke.  But instead, they showed up with support, love, laughter, and song.

The ordination council and Oversight Team laid hands on me and prayed over me after presenting me with my framed certificate, and tears fell down the protective glass.  These people believe in me, recognize me, support me and agree with what the Holy Spirit has brought about.  They are the witnesses, willing to invest their time and energy in formalities, recognition and a thirteen page paper to boot.

They join me in recognizing more than anything that people who have left a narrow Christianity behind are still going to need a pastor.  People who can't go to a church that teaches that only men have a calling to teach need a pastor.  People who can't sit under a pastor whose teaching bears the ugly, poison fruit of authoritarianism and abuse are going to need a pastor.  People who celebrate an end to slavery and the end of inequality as equal progress are going to need a pastor.   People who look another person in the eye and don't mentally categorize them as "dangerous" are going to need a pastor.  People who have released their own mental idols of how God has to act are going to need a pastor. People who have studied scripture for more than fifteen minutes without wearing patriarchy-tinted glasses are going to need a pastor.  They will need a pastor who believes that when we pray "Your Kingdom come"  it doesn't mean we keep acting like the Kingdom will be split into traditional gender roles for all of eternity.

And I am that pastor.

*A very special thanks to Michael and Julie Drager for the beautiful photographs!

Monday, November 07, 2016

What's Working at 42

Today, I am 42. Which frankly, with a two year old underfoot, feels pretty much exactly like 32 did.  But, as I was thinking on this around 5:30 am when my body was trying to convince me it was 6:30 am (thank you, Time Change),  I couldn't help thinking of some of the things that are really working for me at this point in my life that I didn't have 10 years ago.   In no particular order, here's what I thought of:

1. Sabbath.  Without question, the regular practice of Sabbath taking has changed my life.  Collectively, as a family, we have a day that we treat with gentleness and affection.  We rest.  We protect it.  Sometimes it's still hard to pump the breaks when all the other days are so full, but the benefits of declaring in faith, "The world can go on without my help for a few hours"  is one of the most important things I do.  I've written about Sabbath on my blog several times: Here

2.  Stitchfix. Every other month, a get a box of 5 clothing items.  Every pair of jeans they have ever sent me fit.  If that isn't an advertisement, I don't know what is.  Knowing what to wear is confusing and overwhelming at times.  Caring for other human beings really cuts into luxurious shopping time.  Putting too much pressure on my clothes to express my identity has always been a real problem for me.  For those reasons, I'm grateful for this service. It's not always perfect.  Sometimes, you get a new stylist and it doesn't work as well.  But all in all, this is a time-saver and a confidence-boost for me.  Click here if you want to try it.

3. Sulphate Free Shampoo.  My friend Natalie told me about this.  I was so tired of washing my hair every day and feeling so greasy and gross if I didn't.  This is just straight up time back on my clock that is otherwise wasted.   Read more: Here.

4. The Enneagram. The Enneagram is an ancient personality tool that has been utilized by various faith traditions for thousands of years, passed on to subsequent generations via oral tradition.  In the 1970s, it was written down in a book forms and has become popular again recently as we look to the past to teach us more about the future.  I've been aware of the Enneagram for about 5 years now, but recently I read and taught a new book that was written by Ian Crohn and Suzanne Stabile called The Road Back to You.  They have a podcast that is a great resource as well.  The reason the Enneagram is different from other personality tools is that it is not stationary. Your personality is affected by stress and seasons of growth, and this tools helps you to identify ways to support that growth and health and how to manage your stress better.  I have used it extensively in parenting and in my marriage in the past few months and it has given me some confidence in decision-making and helping to understand the complexities of the world and the people in it, especially during this election cycle.  The Enneagram helps you to find compassion for others who are very different from you because it helps you to recognize how we all have different basic fears that are driving us.   You can take an introductory test here. 

5. Therapy.  We see a therapist once a month.  At first we went for an acute problem, but it is now a safe place for us to check in and get some care for our souls.  Together, Robb and I care for a lot of people and problems.  It's too much sometimes.  I am so grateful for a trusted counselor that helps us keep things from building up into emotional messes.  Our therapist is not a "Christian counselor."  For us, that was very important.  It's too easy to slip into church-y talk and expectations and hide behind that language instead of dealing with real issues.  We firmly believe that all truth is God's truth, so we talk about regular things without throwing Christian language over it to somehow baptize our experiences. I'm also super leery of applying spiritual practices to psychological problems. I've seen too much disaster result from that. So bring on the psychological theories and the new language it has given us to talk through our experiences.

6. My Tribe.  Like no other time in my life, I lean into the strength my friends give me.  They are a sounding board, a mirror, and a safe place like no other.  We utilize the technology of private Facebook groups to create the intimacy that is not possible in the larger format of Facebook.  I downloaded the free GROUPS app on my iphone and have the settings modulated to allow my closest tribe to access my time and attention whenever there is a need, and to block out all other distractions until I'm ready to interact with them.  Not every person in your life deserves access to your time and attention at the same volume.  I also meet once a week for coffee with my people at a local coffee shop.  That time is sacred time and I am sad about how many years went by without this meaningful time of connection.  I'd be lost without it now.

7. Yoga.   This has become a healthy expression of faith and humility for me.  I still need to lose baby-weight from two years ago, but in the last two months of doing yoga at least 3 times a week, I was able to get into my pre-pregnancy jeans.  There is something about it that helps me to simply feel better.  I crave better food and I remember to breathe and feel less anxious.  I follow a Youtube channel which I can access on my phone or laptop wherever and whenever I want to.  I try to get my time in on the mat before I start my days.  Check out Yoga with Adriene Here.

8. Susan's.  Weekly dates are important, but with four kids and some crazy schedules, a Friday night dress-up date isn't always realistic. What works for us is Saturday mornings at Susan's Restaurant.  Having things you can count on takes the pressure off in so many ways.  You can count on good coffee. You can count on amazing pie.  You can count on excellent service. You can count on the time together to talk about all the things that need to be talked about.

9. The Divine Hours. It's been several years now since I first heard about the spiritual discipline of the Daily Office.  This is a series of set hours of prayer  that the church has practiced for thousands of years.  I didn't not grow up in a Liturgical tradition, but as an adult, I have come to love the hours and seasons of the church calendar.  If the year is made up of seasons, the days are made up of hours, and I begin each day with a moment of liturgy utilizing Phyllis Tickle's books, The Divine Hours.  I admit that being faithful to mid-day, evening and compline prayers is still something I aspire to, but at the very least, I am committed to a practice of reading and prayer before I pick up my phone to check email.  It helps me orient my days and my life according to what I really believe.

10. Getting older. I know the old joke...the only thing worse than getting older is the alternative.  But seriously, I think that like a lot of women, I spent a good chunk of my life feeling insecure, doubting myself, fretting about my choices, waiting for permission, being too concerned about what people think, and just generally missing out.   That ole Proverbs 31 woman used to bug me.  But when I read, "She is clothed with dignity and strength; She laughs at the future."  I know I'm on the right track.  I never wanted to be the kind of woman who grew older by shrinking up into a tiny ball of grumpy fear.   I'm looking at some major things right now. Potty training. Launching a kid to college. Transitioning into a new job.  Navigating a weird stage in marriage.  And you know what?  I'm up of for it.  If I can do what I did in the past, I grow large enough to handle all the next things.  There is a confidence at this age that is better than any age-defying, color concealing, tummy tucking product that could ever be invented.

So that's my 10 things that are working for me right now.  Take whatever works for you!

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