Wanting More Than Crumbs – Women’s Equality Day

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Annibale Carracci [Public domain], Christ and Canaanite Woman via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday was National Dog Day!  People expressed much love for their pets all over social media.

Ironically – or maybe not so ironically – it’s also Women’s Equality Day.  Only 95 years ago and after many arduous efforts, women received the right to vote.

Now, I’ve never had a dog, and I may not be a dog person, but I believe in the well-being of our animals.  It’s nice to see so many people showing love of and care for their pets.

Yet Women’s Equality Day is not trending anywhere near the numbers of dog love.  In some ways, it’s understandable.  How often do we celebrate our pets?  Women are celebrated on various days in various ways throughout the year.

The problem which remains is that women are still compared to and treated like dogs – and not the ones we consider our lovable pets.  Think of politicians, pundits and celebrities who call the women that disagree with them “dogs.”  Or how many women will be treated like an animal while they walk down the street.  Names of all sorts, whistles and howls will be thrown their way as they walk to work, lunch or their next task.  Women feel more like an object than a breathing being.

Each time we turn around, we have people trying to rid us of reproductive health care options.  Still in this country, we make considerably less money than men.  In 2013, it was recorded that we make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes.  And minority women will make less money than we white women will earn, adding an additional gap to their pay.

Women face rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence at higher rates than men.  Women are brushed aside when reporting rape, and rape kits wait to be processed.  All around the world, women are mutilated, sold and bought, and given in marriage even though they’ve barely reached puberty.  It’s said that 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are given in marriage each day.

And while there are pets being treated far worse than women, some are treated with more dignity and humanity than women across our world.  Some dogs are fed well while some women starve.  Some dogs have the privilege of roaming properties; some women are shackled.

So maybe it’s time for us to be like the woman from Syrophoenicia in Mark 7 and stand up for our rights.  We deserve more than the crumbs under the table.  We deserve to be whole and healthy.  We deserve to have our voices heard, our bodies respected, and our work valued.

Some of us are closer to being considered fully human because we’re white and straight and able-bodied.  It’s still not easy being a woman with privilege, but those of us with more privilege have it easier.  We must remember that the fight isn’t over when white women have full equality and our minority sisters have not.  When that day comes, we still are not equal, and we still keep on working to make sure that Black women matter and lesbian women matter and Hispanic women matter and physically disabled women matter and transgender women matter.  When all women have equality, then we are all equal and we are all sitting at the table together.

The crumbs under the table aren’t enough.  We want to be seen as full human beings.   We want to be recognized by the Church that both men AND women are made in the image of God and by the State that BOTH are created equal.  We want and deserve to be at the table with men and not crawling on the floor looking for the crumbs.

 

A Teacher’s “Happy New Year” Prayer

 
As the sun rises on this new school year, loving God,
We ask you for dawn’s bright energy to shine upon us.

May our focus be on serving those sitting in our classrooms,
In our library, our cafeteria, and each space in between.
May your understanding open our hearts to the needs of those surrounding us.

We ask for blessings on our calling as teachers,
On our colleagues, our administrators, each soul who serves around our school,
And every student.

Give us the wisdom to understand how we can lift those who struggle,
How we can correct in constructive ways,
And to know what to say in the most appropriate times and places.

Bless our families at home, our friends in the community. Give us mercy on the days when we are distracted by other parts of our lives and strength when our personal lives seem like they’re falling apart. Keep our bodies, minds, and souls strong and healthy.

May this school year be one where we grow in the way we love our neighbors, in the way we learn from others, and in the way we understand your presence in our midst. Amen.

Marriage Equality – The Constantly Expanding Love of God

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This post was written in conjunction with the July 2015 Synchroblog on the topic “Gay Marriage.”

Years ago, I expressed my views supporting marriage equality.

My pastor at the time was not supportive of my perspective.  “I could help you change your mind,” he said to me.  I prayed.  I read Scripture.  I listened and read stories of the ever expanding love of God in gay and lesbian relationships.

And then I realized I couldn’t go back.  I couldn’t minimize my view of love.  Or family.  Or marriage.  There were no holy scissors big enough to eliminate the love which abides in lesbian and gay relationships.

I then chose to become a member of a United Church of Christ congregation.  It was a small congregation where everyone knew one another’s name.  When I joined, they hadn’t yet officially taken a vote to become Open and Affirming, but while I was a member, we voted in the affirmative.  The denomination had voted to affirm marriage equality in 2005.

I currently serve a congregation that is not Open and Affirming.  Without their approval, I will not perform a same-gender ceremony in the church’s sanctuary.

However, I will perform a same-gender wedding ceremony anywhere else.  Now that marriage is legal for heterosexual as well as lesbian and gay relationships all over our country, I feel it is in my theology of justice and equality that I offer this blessing to all people.

In fact, I’ve already done one.

In November 2014, I presided over the wedding and was blessed to sign a marriage certificate in Illinois for a wonderful couple, Debbie and Jessica.  I’ve known Debbie since elementary school, and I was honored to be asked to preside over their wedding.  My entire immediate family was on hand to watch me officiate the wedding for these two wonderful women.  Through Debbie and Jessica, just like the other couples whose weddings I’ve also officiated, I see how God is the God of expanding and just-filled love.

Photo of me presiding over Debbie and Jessica's wedding in November 2014.

Photo of me presiding over Debbie and Jessica’s wedding in November 2014.

They’re able to be their most truest selves – loving honestly, living authentically.  Isn’t that what God would want for each of us?

Marriage equality isn’t only a justice issue but also a pastoral issue.  When two people want to combine their lives together and form a covenant with one another in the presence of God and all of creation, the pastoral need calls for us pastors to tend to those whose hearts need care.

There will be many who believe that the Bible abhors same-gender relationships.  Yet relationships during the time when the Bible was written were ones where the men had most of the power, women were secondary human beings, and marriages were not exactly consensual for both parties.

I look at Michal, Saul’s daughter whom David won as a war prize.  Even after he deserted her and she was given in marriage to another man, David reclaimed Michal as property.  Most likely, Bathsheba didn’t have a choice except to marry David after he impregnated her (probably without her consent).  Both Leah and Rachel had to be “earned” by Jacob.  Vashti was banished because she wouldn’t provocatively dance for her husband and his friends.

From these examples we see that mutuality in today’s heterosexual relationships is much different than what we read in Scriptures.  Relationships have changed greatly even since mid-nineteenth or twentieth century Western Civilization.  This can only lead us to the conclusion that relationships continue to evolve and will continue to transform.  As long as two people can make the covenant they desire and both can agree upon, and both people can demonstrate respect for one another, then we, as church leaders, should support their love wherever it stands.

And maybe that’s the way God wants it to be.

From couples of all genders and colors and economic groups and religions and everything else, I continue to see a Divine love that’s always expanding.  I often wonder how relationships will look in fifty years.  Yet if God is the God of constant motion and the architect of love, then God will lead us to welcome love in all forms – even if it’s unfamiliar.

How will we open ourselves to new forms of family, relationships, and love?  How can we embrace what is said in Scriptures but also listen to the still-speaking God in our midst?

*****

The following are other bloggers writing on this topic for the July Synchroblog.  Many of these writers provide views very different than mine.  In a spirit of love and dialogue as covenantal members of the Body of Christ, I still encourage you to read each of these.  May God’s love transcend the differences we hold.  Amen.

 

Clicking Submit

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imageAs a perfectionist, there is nothing more difficult and terrifying as clicking the submit/publish/send button.

What if I wrote didn’t make sense?

What if they don’t like it?

What if I was wrong?

And the big one…

What if I made a mistake and can’t correct it?

Each day we send e-mails and wonder how responses will be after we click “send.”  When we haven’t heard back in a while, we wonder what must be happening.  When we publish a post we double check if there’s a terrible error or humiliating typo – even after publishing – because… well, we’re perfectionists.

After checking over important e-mails, posts, and documents over and over again, we finally click submit.  We must click submit or life would be unfulfilled and our work would never be complete.  God’s call would never have been answered.  We would be living in purgatory – knowing that life can’t go forward without clicking submit.

Our seminary papers and book proposals and e-mails about future happenings and blog posts would never happen if we didn’t eventually click submit.

So we jump into the cold water of the unknown, waiting for greatness or failure or some life-changing event to take place.  We wade in this frigid lake until some response happens, whether it is negative or positive.

And we hope that the Holy Spirit will take our words and shine whatever light is needed upon them and hope that positivity will endure.

A prayer when clicking the submit button:

Loving God of the future dreams and current realities,
As we click the “submit,” “send,” “publish,” and “click here” buttons, 
As we obsess over what happens when we make that final click,
We turn our filled minds to you.
After weeks of worry and reading the same words over and over,
Hoping everything is as perfect as possible,
We must let this go.

Allow us to release our work into the world.
May our efforts be fruitful,
Our futures filled with hope,
And may we sleep well until we hear the responses from our labors.

May the Holy Spirit light the way for our words and thoughts,
That what we’ve written will impact the world for the better
And we live into your call.  Amen.

Ministry is Not Safe

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This is a post I originally wrote for the RevGalBlogPals blog feature “The Pastoral is Political”.

Ministry often seems like a very placid vocation.  We engage with congregants as they heal from their surgeries.  We attend birthday parties and anniversary celebrations, officiate weddings, and baptize babies and adults.   Even the tedious paperwork, the sermon preparation, and the thousand hours of meetings are calm ways for us to serve God and neighbor.

Occasionally, we will stumble upon experiences which are more sinister and threatening: the times our physical, emotional, and spiritual selves feel like they are in danger.  These are moments when we feel our most vulnerable and questioning the calls we have accepted.

Recently, we’ve seen how fellow clergy in Charleston, South Carolina have been gunned down within their sanctuary during a standard Bible study.  Only days after this horrendous crime, news stories report black churches being torched and 20 women clergy in the African Methodist Episcopal congregations receiving letters threatening their lives and the well-being of their families.

I’ll be honest – if I was them, I’d be running far away from my church, changing my name, and hiding under my bed.   I suppose I’m much like Peter on the day of the crucifixion – ready to cling on to the known of this life rather than stand in the openness of peril that can come with being a pastor.

Through these recent accounts rooted in racism and sexism, we are reminded once again that ministry is not safe.

I don’t necessarily know how we forget this reality.  Jesus himself found that doing justice and showing kindness led him to capital punishment.  Most of his closest followers during the first century CE met the end of their life while practicing extravagant love and grace.

In the 1940’s, Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood against the powers of the Nazi regime.  Instead of staying in the safety of the United States, he returned to be in solidarity with those persecuted in Europe.  Due to the controversial nature of his messages, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in 1943 and executed in 1945.

Threats against the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. were nothing new during his mid-twentieth century ministry.  Yet even in the face of danger, abiding in the shadow-filled valleys, sitting in jail cells, walking in marches, Dr. King never was intimidated to cease his work.  His life was cut short at the age of 39 by a sniper in Memphis.

As Jesus said in Matthew 10 “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  I believe that those who place themselves, their reputations, and their well-beings at risk experience the presence of God in deeper ways than most of us ever will.

If we keep ourselves in the safest places in ministry and church life, we will never grow as clergy.  If we decide to preach on safe subjects week after week, never take part in rallies, or never speak in public or write opinions for newspaper columns, we will never understand the ministry of Christ.

At no point of our ministry are we completely free from hazards, even if we hide under beds, change our names, and move to other cities.  We can only stay safe for so long.  Not only is ministry unsafe physically, but our hearts and souls are in harm’s way as we place our most vulnerable selves on the line.  We love extravagantly, and when our parishioner walks away from the church, we blame ourselves.  When someone walks out of a sermon we’ve preached on a difficult subject, we question following the call of God.  We wonder what we could have done differently if a congregant commits suicide or a crime.  When we open our hearts fully to ministry, we will undoubtedly be hurt time and again when our loved congregants die and we no longer see their bright faces Sunday after Sunday.  We will lose a piece of our lives every time our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls are threatened, but then we will gain something greater in return.  Maybe we will see a glimpse of God’s presence as fear dissipates around us.

As Pastor Mary Rhodes, one of the women receiving a threatening letter said “Nothing is going to stop me from doing what God has called me to do.”  With faith and determination, these pastors continue in the valleys of the shadows of death knowing that God has prepared a table in the presence of their enemies.

Knowing that we can gain a new sense of Christ, ministry, and love, what could we do differently today to risk a part of ourselves for our ministry?  What can we do to stand firmly in faith even in the face of threats?  And in what ways can we support our siblings in ministry as they abide in the great shadows of threats?

For more information and to check out the fantastic writings of other clergy women writers, go to RevGalBlogPals.org.

The Sin of Symbolism

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Program title page, Sixth Veiled Prophet Festival, 1883 produced by the Compton Litho Company via Wikimedia Commons

Confession: As a young adult living in the St. Louis area around 1992, I nixed the idea of changing the name of the fair held during the fourth of July weekend.  Growing up, the festival now called Fair St. Louis was always known as the VP Fair.  Why change the name, I wondered.  IT’S TRADITION!  I cared more about what we’ve always done and less about any symbolism and meaning behind the name VP Fair.

I didn’t realize VP meant more than just the letters V and P…

As time passed, I learned more about the Veiled Prophet Fair and all festivities connected to the twisted tradition.  During their yearly Veiled Prophet Ball, young adult women from prominent families “come out” to society, with the queen nestled next to a veiled prominent older (almost exclusively white) man from the St. Louis area.  When reading about the history of the Ball, one can see the Confederate roots associated with the pomp and pageantry.

In 2014, The Atlantic wrote an excellent piece on the traditions connected to the Veiled Prophet organization, adding to my education of a deeply rooted classist and racist traditions.  Searching more on the organization, I stumbled upon their website.  The Veiled Prophet organization stresses the philanthropic and service work done in their name.  And while, undoubtedly, the organization has done wonderful things for the St. Louis area, the organization is haunted by racist symbolism in every corner – from the parade to the highly exclusive ball.

Whether it was our yearly online reminder of these annual St. Louis festivities, stories of removal of the Confederate flag, or dialogues, marches, and votes on the names of the Cleveland baseball team and District of Columbia football team that we had at UCC General Synod this week, we are examining the potential sins of symbols.  Each of these traditional icons have a history in oppression.  While those who honor the symbols today do not necessarily support or promote a culture of bigotry, implicitly, we are all responsible for the pain they are causing minority groups.

Each of the symbols I’ve mentioned continue to hold up an empire where some people are valued over others.  The icons say that our history was fine just as it was, never mind that some people were considered less than made in God’s image.

This is more than just being “politically correct.”  (I find it interesting how people of privilege always fall back on the hardship of political correctness – as if taking away a beloved symbol is worse than taking away one’s life, physical and economic freedoms, and dignity.)  With black churches burning, black Christians being shot in their sanctuaries, and black women preachers physically being threatened, it’s time for us to all gather together to make sure all people have their dignity intact – whether they are a racial minority, ethnic minority – including our Native Americans, woman or other gender minority, LGBT person, religious minority, or person with a disability.  It’s time for all of us to examine each symbol to make sure that the icon isn’t robbing someone of their worth.  It’s time for us to prioritize people over shallow and destructive emblems, and it’s time for us to seek reconciliation for our narrow-mindedness rooted in tradition.

 

Being Remembered 

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Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

For just a little while today, the voice of my grandfather lingered here on the earth.

Bits of his story were heard.  His struggles were uncovered.  His trauma validated.  The hearts of survivors and the souls of the victims were recalled for moments on the United Church of Christ 

Surviving the Armenian Genocide of 1915 remained with my grandfather from the time he was six years old.  Images of death flashed back into his head now and again throughout this life.  In his final two years, he abided in silence, confined to a wheelchair post-stroke.  I often wondered what he relived in his head, haunting him, as he waited to die.

…in everything by thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

So today, I thank my denomination.  For me, this was the most personal resolution brought to General Synod that I can remember.  This is my larger church body affirming what atrocities my grandfather saw and that my kin endured nightmares while awake.
Today, more people learned about this hideous piece of history.   My sisters and brothers tweeted and voted and spoke on a well-buried piece of history.

Rejoice!

Maybe my country won’t call this a genocide.  Maybe some people would rather focus on politics than justice.  But today, the people of God stood up and named it for the injustice that it truly was: genocide.

And maybe if we keep calling injustices what they truly are, they will never happen again.  

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

May hope abide.

The Shifting Relationship Between Parents and Kids

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There Dad and Michellereaches a point where you no longer see the dad of your teen years.  The dad who would ground you is gone.  The physically strong father has transformed into something even stronger – maybe not in body but in mind and soul.

And the energy between you and them have shifted.  The nurturer becomes the nurtured.

A few years ago, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  While the first few years weren’t too horrible, the last couple have been heartbreaking.

Watching my dad’s health on its roller coaster trajectory has opened my eyes to the reality of this part of life: he’s aging and our time together is limited.  Our interactions are different than the way we interacted twenty years ago.

So much has changed.

Now, knowing how Parkinson’s works, my dad may live with the disease for the next 10 to 15 years – or longer.  It’s not a death sentence.  But the disease won’t regress.  We won’t grow any younger.  Even I don’t have the same energy from twenty or twenty-five years ago.  Our new normal is a middle-aged daughter and an aging dad.

Being a pastor, I see congregants age and fellow Generation X members, not to mention friends, losing parents all of the time.  My heart breaks because I know I’ll lose my parents someday in the future, and that makes me sad.

I try to cherish every hug and “I love you” while I have them around.

So on this Father’s Day, while mom and dad are still around, I want to tell you here, in public, how much I love you both.  Thank you for your love, your guidance, your support and resources – especially when heading into the ministry.  Thank you for all of the trips we took to visit seminaries and for all the trips back to Florida to prepare for ordination.  Thank you for allowing me the two a.m. phone calls when I was worried about something or another.  Thank you for caring for me after my wisdom teeth, colonoscopy and laparoscopic procedures.  Thank you for reading me stories as a child and reading over my writings (for editing) as an adult.  Thank you for teaching me and, occasionally, being open to learning from me.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing between us, and I’m truly sorry for the moodiness at 14 and moments of frustration over the past 42 years.  Overall, I think we survived pretty well.  For the two of you, I’m always grateful and blessed.

me and dad ordination day

The Glorious Exhaustion of Pastoral Care

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Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There is nothing greater and, simultaneously, more draining than being in the midst of the squalls of grief that we encounter as clergy.

Recently, we had a few deaths in our congregation.  I loved the people who passed away as I had gotten to know each one of them.  Each death wasn’t sudden but, rather, an intense time of fading away for the dying and their families.

Being that pastoral care is probably in my top three to five passions for ministry, I try as much as I can to spend as much time as possible with the congregant ready to pass and their families.  If I can and they are awake, I bring communion to them one last time.  I’ll pray the “time of dying” litany in the Book of Worship with them and their kin.  Each time I visit them during those last days, I see them moving farther and farther from our world, drifting closer to that side of heaven.

These are some of the most sacred moments I’ve ever experienced.  God is visible as I watch their loved ones stroke their hands and kiss their heads a few final times.  Quite often, it takes everything I have to hold back the tears that are ready to gush forward from my eyes.

As pastors, we want to be as invested as possible in the lives of our congregants.  This means that the remaining hours in our day are weakened by our sapped souls.

Desks seem to pile up with papers and various other items.  Writing slows down.  Blog posts get place on the back burner.  (Usually writing is a energy-generating activity.  This particular season, I was even too tired to engage in writing.)  Maybe I forget a detail or two – names, dates, etc.  A steady stream of binge-watching Netflix becomes the norm because our minds are completely spent from our work.  Naps become the new norm.  Even though I’m an extrovert, I want more alone time to recharge.

Why am I so tired??? I would ask myself.  But I knew I was giving everything I had to my calling and knew I was exactly where God needed me to be.  I was giving life 100% of myself.  The grace of God would have to cover the rest.

Like I said, I feel incredibly blessed to be present for others in the midst of life’s messy moments.  But what I will overlook on occasion is that my self care needs to improve as I’m caring for other people.

As they say on the airplanes, place the oxygen mask on yourself before placing it on the person next to you.  If we’re not breathing, we are no good to anyone else.

Overall, I think I do well with self care.  And I know every great once-in-a-while, a rush of intense pastoral care comes into every pastor and every congregation’s life, and everything gets thrown off balance a bit.  I am blessed to have the example of Jesus, who made sure to get away to pray and rest.  But even with Jesus as model, it takes much for us to regain our spiritual equilibrium after spending our soul reserves quite quickly.

For those of you reading this who are not members of the clergy, at some point you will most likely become a caregiver.  The same rules apply.  Care for yourself as needed so that you can continue to care for your loved one.  Make sure to place the metaphorical oxygen mask on your face before placing one upon the person or persons for which you care.

Through the grace of God, the love of Christ, the energy of the Holy Spirit… and some Netflix binge-watching… spirits will revive once again.

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