pardon me, your sexism is showing

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Knocked up?

Usually a phrase reserved for teenagers and unplanned pregnancy but it seems to be the same attitude conveyed by some when they find out their female pastor is pregnant.

Recently, I received this text from a former student of mine who is now a youth pastor. In what should be one of the most exciting joyous times in life, this is on her mind:

“Do you have time to talk? I just talked with my pastor about taking my baby to camps and retreats and stuff and he said as far as he is concerned it is not an option because I won’t be able to do my job.”

As we talked she unfolded the backstory and full conversation. This is a church that officially professes to be open to women in leadership. In fact, they take pride in being progressive and welcoming. So far the church has been supportive of her and the other females on staff. But now with her baby in the picture, it seems the church has been caught off guard and is trying to figure out how to handle it.The following  have been expressed particularly regarding camps and retreats:

  • that the baby will be a distraction for both her and the youth;
  • that she will not have time to be present with youth and children if the baby is anywhere on the camp property (even with a dedicated babysitter for the week);
  • that she won’t be able to sleep in the cabins with the youth and children at camp (despite the fact she has never slept in the same room with the youth in past years at camp);
  • that she should have considered her job before becoming pregnant;
  • that breast pumps were made for weeks away from the baby during the summer;
  • that her husband should stay home from the multi-church youth retreat to take care of the baby (even when the other male youth pastors will have their wives and children at the retreat);
  • and that a baby would make it difficult for boys to relate to her and would turn them away from her leadership.

She was female when they hired her. In fact they celebrated that fact! She hasn’t hidden who she is. AND, if I may say so myself, she is remarkably gifted in pastoral and leadership roles. She has done, and is doing, her job well. She has a plan in place for extra support and is doing a great deal of work ahead of time to ensure no one is inconvenienced during her short maternal leave of absence.

This happens too often for women.

Anyone – and I do mean anyone – who has seen me speak, lecture, or been with me as I’ve led multiple mission trips overseas and camps stateside in the last six years has only seen me accompanied by an entourage of one or more.

I’m a mom. Not only am I a mom but I’m a mom of three children aged 5, 3, and 1!

I’m also a minister, preacher, teacher, and writer.

I always disclose the fact that I’ll need to bring at least one of my children. I say something to the effect of “I’ll have to bring a baby, we need each other and we just can’t be apart for more than a few hours at a time.” Most often, the quick response is that they would be delighted to have me and it’s a bonus to see a real live person modeling ministry and family together.

I know several male pastors and male youth pastors who have taken their babies and children to camp. It is often a highlight for their own family and for all involved. It is an up close and personal time for many youth and young adults to see an intact family seeking to honor God together. I have another former student experiencing exactly this. He is encouraged to bring his wife and new baby around because it is good for his family and for the church.

Yet, I know too many female ministers who have had conversations similar to the one seen in the text message above.

I am neither naive nor unaware of the challenges and difficulties of having a child and serving in ministry. Having a child changes the way you do ministry. I made those changes myself. Now, I am less often the one leading midnight karaoke or flying down the zip line. I may actually take a rest during free time in the afternoon when previously I would have worked on the evening’s program. I may actually have to ask for help and delegate more.

Mostly though, I stopped having to be in control of everything and learned to invite others more frequently into the ministry that I once thought was solely my responsibility, which, by the way, sets them free for greater ministry. I get to be present with my own children as my faith and skills are stretched. More opportunities are opened up for me to sit on a porch holding the baby while having a deep, Holy Spirit filled conversation when I would have been sorting t-shirts or setting up prayer stations. In short, having a baby present forced me to accept a pace that invited conversation and shared the load, helping me to see not only that delegation was possible but that it is closer to the model of being the body of Christ.

I am a better minister and do my job better with my children present than without.

What words of encouragement can we send to this youth pastor – and countless others – who are, have been, or will be in similar circumstances? What do we say to let her know that having a baby is NOT the end of their ministerial career? The initial opposition expressed by some at her church has led to much discussion and many committee meetings.  Some are supportive, some not so much, some are in the middle wanting to hear both sides.  Now they are trying to figure out what it will look like for her to be a minister and mom.

She has heard what I have to say. What do you say?

Slow down this Fall

True confession…I started this post 2 weeks ago. Ironic given the topic. I need to follow my own advice!

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Hey youth pastors…it’s fall. Everything seems to be kicking into high gear!! Gone are the lazy days of summer, in comes football, and kick offs, and new programming, and a whole new group of kids entering youth group. It’s exciting, busy, and the chill in the air makes everything seem just a little bit like something great is about to happen.

There is also a danger of falling into the trap missing the moment. Along with the excitement, comes everyone trying to out-program everyone else. Youth groups are no exception. Even if new activities aren’t being added, programming becomes busier, more intense, in many cases more desperate.

Here is what I mean. Youth ministers can spend so much time trying to make everything over the top, that they neglect their own spiritual life. We can only give out of our own faith history for so long. Even if you aren’t neglecting your own faith formation and spiritual growth, when the focus is on creating something huge, you don’t have time to be present for the countless small moments. You miss out on little conversations where big revelations occur.

So here is my invitation, instead of kicking into high gear to make things more chaotic, kick into high gear to slow down. I know, it sounds backwards. Being busy will just happen without any effort on your part. Being slow requires intentionality and priorities. It means taking an afternoon to pray, to think, to rest, and choosing what is most important for you, your family, your community, and the teens and families you serve. It might not look like work, but it frees you to do real work instead of looking like you are present when your mind is already on to the next thing.

There are a lot of slow activities you may choose. I was asked to write a fall post for Ministry Architects. Look for the link on the front page if you’d like to find some great slowing down options. Everything from a pick up game of softball to a technology fast, go for a moonlight walk or bust out with a little “Jesus in the Boat” nap-time for 15 minutes one night at youth group.

What’s your favorite way to slow down for your self?

What’s your favorite way to slow life down for your students?

Happy Fall!

Proximity and Violence

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Yesterday was the International Day of Peace. It’s been around since 1981 in case you missed it marked on your calendar. This is a day declared by the United Nations to be dedicated to world peace, in particular the absence of war and violence. International Justice Mission sent a petition around asking for signatures to urge the United Nations to protect those in poverty from violence. It’s as simple as this, those who are poor have less power and fewer resources and experience an inordinate rate of violence every day.

For Christians fighting poverty and violence should be a part of our every day existence. One way to do this is to move from proximity to embrace. I explain what I mean below in an excerpt from a paper I wrote for an upcoming conference. What it boils down to is this, we do violence to others when we think our not harming them personally is enough. We do violence to others when we refuse to listen or get to know anyone because we assume we already know their story. We do violence to others when we turn our heads and declare they don’t exist in our community because we don’t want to see them. We do violence when we settle for proximity instead of imitating Jesus and throwing our arms around others in embrace. It is difficult and it will change you. But isn’t that part of what Jesus has asked of us?

The conference is on Religion and Education in The Unmaking of Violence. While my paper focuses on disability, the principle is for everyone.

 

Embodied theology must also be lived out, requiring actual, real time interactions with one another. It must be more than creedal statements or vague declarations. The church needs more than proximity to those with disabilities for violence to be prevented. Arne Vetlesen argues, “there is no necessary correlation between human proximity and moral conduct…Proximity interacts with a number of factors; it does not by itself bring about, does not by itself account for, moral conduct or lack of it.”[1] We in the church must not only talk about including others, we must actually do so. Miroslav Volf discusses the inclusion of others at length in Exclusion and Embrace. As we seek to live an inclusive embodied theology we must understand “the will to give ourselves to others and ‘welcome’ them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity.”[2] Moving relationships from hypothetical declarations to proximity to embrace is a process but one necessary to unmake violence. Further, Volf assumes “that the struggle against deception, injustice, and violence is indispensable” as the will to embrace becomes a priority.[3]

The move from proximity to embrace establishes reciprocal relationships where those with disabilities aren’t just tolerated but truly integrated.”

[1] Arne Johan Vetlesen, Perception, Empathy, and Judgment: an inquiry into the preconditions of moral performance, (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1994), 275.

[2] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 29.

[3] Volf, 29.

Talk about discrimination

lestinnocentbloodJust because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

I talk with youth workers all the time about inclusion. Inclusion is woven into our very jargon when we speak of the gospel being for everyone. What we say officially however does not always match functionally.

As Ferguson has permeated the news, conversations of racism have risen again. A tragic reason, and long overdue, but the conversations are needed. What I am hearing from many young (african american, asian, hispanic, native american and white) leaders is that they know racism exists but that it is not their battle or that they just don’t see it. I couldn’t make this up. As I proceed to name a few places where I see it with them, it is as if a veil is being lifted. And then the floodgate is opened. Frustration or anger often follows. They begin to realize that they had be so socialized to see something as “normal” that they didn’t even see it as discrimination.

I hear this same comment when I bring up including people with disabilities. “Oh, yes, that is important but we don’t have anyone with a disability in our youth group / church / school / community”.

I hear this same comment when talking about including women in leadership. “Oh, we don’t have any women who are interested / qualified / called”.

And again when I talk about the gospel and those with different gender or sex orientations. “Oh yes, that is a huge issue in The church, but not my church. We don’t have anyone identifying / struggling / living with any of those issues.”

Inclusion demands that we talk, openly about all of these possibilities. Inclusion demands that we talk long before we know someone with a disability or can identify racism. You will do it imperfectly, do it anyway. You will make mistakes, do it anyway. You will receive pushback, do it anyway.

One of my very favorite books is “Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed” by Philip Hallie. It is the story of a small village named Le Chambon in France during the Holocaust. In this village, conversations of peace making, of the gospel’s inclusion for all had been taking place for 400 years. Long before they knew that they would be put to the test, long before they dreamed they may have a chance to extend life to anyone…Jewish refugees and Nazi soldiers…they talked about inclusion. It will blow your mind to see what a difference their deep seeded beliefs made when faced with a real life situation.

We are late to the party. We don’t have the luxury of 400 years of history shaping us to push hard for inclusion of all, to work for peace, to fight discrimination for a variety of people. To be imitators of Jesus inviting all to the table with welcoming arms.

Late to the party however still means that the party is going on. It’s not over and indeed, in this case I would argue better late than never.

What we do have is a choice of how to respond today. Our junior high and high school students see issues of discrimination every day. It is a part of the fabric of their lives. It’s time we adults figure out how to better model what God actually intended. It is time we learn to navigate the waters of discrimination on a variety of fronts so that all may know Jesus actually brought good news for everyone.

 

Did my time as a youth pastor

One of those stupid, “I didn’t mean anything by it” comments was made by a pastor again. It went something like this…”You’re going to love this guy! We both did our time in youth ministry and now he’s graduating to adult ministry in the church.” Really?! Did our time in Youth Ministry?! Is this what senior pastors really think of youth ministry?

 

This kind of statement comes with strong implications.

  1. Youth ministry is a punishment to be likened to prison.
  2. Youth ministry is something to survived or escaped, like prison.
  3. There is hope beyond the sentence of being a youth pastor to which all real ministers should aspire.

If you don’t like teens and never want to be a youth pastor, that’s ok. DON’T take the job as youth worker just because you can’t get any other ministerial position. If you go into youth ministry and then are called elsewhere, that, too, is ok. Go where the Holy Spirit leads.

But don’t ever, even for a moment, think it is something that is a rite of initiation, a punishment or something to be endured until real ministry comes along. Don’t talk about your days in youth ministry as if it were a holding pattern or a hazing for some greater fraternity around the corner. Not valuing youth ministry disrespects the teens you serve, their families, the church, the adults those teens become, and ultimately God.

So, dear senior pastor, you may not have meant anything by your comment of serving your time in youth ministry, but you communicated volumes. It didn’t go unnoticed. The teens in your church heard you. Their parents heard you. Other members of the congregation heard you. What you communicated is that teens are second rate. That one day they will be worthy of the best but they have to grow up first. Oh and when they do grow up, they get to reflect on the assumption that those who were with them in the most formative years of their lives never actually wanted to be there.

Parent focused abortion

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Having a baby is never supposed to just be about the parents. In fact, for many people the constant conversation becomes how they are going to do everything possible to bless their child in countless ways. But what happens when we make it more about the parents than the child or even the newly formed family?

Richard Dawkins tweeted that he would abort a down syndrome fetus. He then went on to clarify and expand on his position of aborting a Down’s syndrome fetus as not just an ethical choice, but the ethical choice. Sonoran Theological offers thoughtful insights reminding us all that our morality comes from a very different model. For more on this story, link below:

“Certainly, raising a child with Down’s Syndrome will alter the life course for the parents. Dreams will change. Careers may go unfulfilled. Social groups may shrink or change or both. Yet, such a life of service to another is cut from the same cloth as the call Jesus makes on all of our lives.”

The Harm We Have Done

IMG_4021 AngelSome weeks seem to cut deeper than others. This past week has been a steady stream of one heartbreaking account after the other. From the continued struggles for both sides in Gaza, to the deep sorrow over the suicide of Robin Williams and the intense conversations taking place around depression and mental illness to the anguish over Michael Brown and the continued struggle in Ferguson, MO; it feels like a boiling point is occurring.

What seems rather insignificant in comparison, but highlights that Christians are not faring any better at waging peace in the world, came the announcement of Acts 29 removing Mark Driscoll and Seattle’s Mars Hill. This has been accompanied by a great deal of heated debate over the past 10 days or so. I’d love to say I am surprised but this feels like a larger version of the deep struggles that have taken place at countless churches, ministries and academic institutions where focus is lost and power distorts.

Add to this has been my own journey of Surviving Christians. Not only am I talking about what I have personally experienced but the countless stories I hear from amazing people who quietly share about their own personal horrors committed by other Christians. It is one thing when anger, hatred, and violence is taking place in the world outside of faith. We are taught as children that we cannot expect those who don’t follow Jesus to live by a standard of peace. Yet, what do we do when it is those who profess Christ who are the abusers? Even worse how do we survive when those Christians who abuse are also those who are in authority as parents, pastors, or professors?

(BTW- I am still very interested in hearing from others. How have YOU survived? Has it been with faith intact? Inside of the church? Walking away from church? Are you thriving? Still in process? Stories, even difficult stories of resilience need to be shared. There are many still thinking they are the only ones.)

With this in mind I share from my favorite prayer book. Even with it’s non-inclusive language (since it is a product of over 100 years ago), the words are so meaningful today. I both love this prayer and think My God, for how many generations do we, your people, annihilate one another? When do Christians actually follow what you modeled? Have mercy!

Prayers of the Social Awakening, by Walter Rauschenbusch (The Pilgrim Press, 1910).

On The Harm We Have Done

Our Father, we look back on the years that are gone and the shane and sorrow come upon us, for the harm we have done to others rises up in our memory to accuse us. Some we have seared with the fire of our lust, and some we have scorched by the heat of our anger. In some we helped to quench the glow of young ideals by our selfish pride and craft, and in some we have nipped the opening bloom of faith by the frost of our unbelief.

We might have followed thy blessed footsteps, O Christ, binding up the bruised hearts of our brothers and guiding the wayward passions of the young to firmer manhood. Instead, there are poor hearts now broken and darkened because they encountered us on the way, and some perhaps remember us only as the beginning of their misery or sin.

O God, we know that all our prayers can never bring back the past, and no tears can wash out the red marks with which we have scarred some life that stands before our memory with accusing eyes. Grant that at least a humble and pure life may grow out of our contrition, that in the brief days still left to us we may comfort and heal where we have scorned and crushed. Change us by the power of they saving grace from sources of evil into forces for good, that with all our strength we may fight the wrongs we have aided, and aid the right we have clogged. Grant us this boon, that for every harm we have done, we may do some brave act of salvation, and that for every soul that has stumbled or fallen through us, we may bring to thee some other weak or despairing one, whose strength has been renewed by our love, that so the face of they Christ may smile upon us and the light within us may shine undimmed.

The latest Kickstarter Bible

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I am in favor of (just about) anything that gets people reading the actual Bible. I use several interpretations in working with children, teens, special needs friends and even adults. Think The Message, The Beginners Bibleor my current favorite The Jesus Storybook Bible

So I am both excited by and a little nervous about a Kickstarter project called bibliotheca.

The blog at Sonoran Theological offers some insight from a biblical scholar with a Phd in Bible. It’s not a slam on the project, rather great food for thought.

Mr. Greene shows examples of how he will update the language from the ASV, published in 1900 (New Testament, 1901 for the Old Testament). The implication is that it is primarily the language of the ASV that requires updating. Yet, his first point in the rationale for choosing the ASV over the KJV is that the ASV is several hundred years newer, and “much had been discovered about the languages & cultures in that span of time.” (This quote was taken from the Kickstarter page.) Please note, then, that there have been 114 years of scholarship since the publication of the ASV. And, I would argue, that we have learned much much more about the languages and literature of the ancient Near East, its culture, religions, and institutions during these past 100-plus years than we learned in the 300 years between the KJV and the ASV.

So what do you think?

Talking with stranger danger

p0908 013“I just told your daughter not to talk to strangers.”

“What?” I responded.

“I just told your daughter not to talk to strangers. She was on the other side of the structure playing with my boys and she said hello to me. I told her she isn’t allowed to talk to strangers and her mother would be very upset. I reminded her strangers were dangerous and if one ever talked to her she should scream and run. You’ll need to go over that with her again as she seemed very comfortable including my grandchildren and saying hello to me.” This was all said with body language and tone of voice that assumed camaraderie, shared values while simultaneously putting me in my place.

Halfway  through her reproach my daughter walked up and stood beside me listening. At the end of her reproach I thanked her for caring enough to say something. I then let her know we do talk to strangers. I let the woman know that it was important for my daughter to know that not everyone in the world was out there to harm her and she need not live in fear, though she needed to be wise. That she was to stay where I could see her, always be polite and be intentional about including others. I looked at my daughter and told her I was proud that she was polite and friendly and she had done nothing wrong. My daughter smiled, looked at the woman and said “nice to meet you” then asked if she could go play with her new friends.

Typically playgrounds are the land of the unwritten rules of acceptance between parents. We may not agree with each others parenting styles, but it is not the place to comment. It has been a place to learn to share, to introduce yourself, to help someone you don’t even know up when they fall and in general to make new friends, even if just for the hour.

This woman was annoyed with me. She clearly did not approve of my parenting choices. Her two grandchildren kept to themselves while the rest of the playground was abuzz with interaction. How sad for them. They were being taught from the beginning that “others” are scary, to be avoided. This woman listened to me for a moment then I could see her mentally checking out. Within a minute or two, she walked away, called her grandsons and told them they needed to leave now. The youngest walked away, shoulders slumped, tears in his eyes and kept looking back. It was evident he did not want to leave.

We often talk in my home about life being like a playground. Some people effectively say, “I don’t like your choices, or the way you included others…I’m going to take my ball and go home. In fact, I’m going to take my ball, the snacks, others and leave you there with “that” person who never should have been included in the first place.” It’s a terrible way to proclaim the gospel to others and the exact opposite of what Jesus modeled but it has become the accepted norm today. In fact, it is what too many college and seminaries are implicitly teaching. Be in community with our own, cloistered and protected within our high walls, send out money and do a good deed once each quarter and quickly run back to the safety of our place.

While I allow my children a fair amount of freedom, I don’t let them roam back alleys at midnight. I don’t take them to the park, grab a latte and get engrossed in my phone. I have nicknamed my husband “Safety Sam” because I tolerate risk more than he does. BUT even he has never worried about my choices regarding our children’s safety and he, too, wants our children to care for strangers.

When did we all get so scared of each other? When did we stop talking?

As Chfile0001422462530ristians, we should know and, quite frankly, do better. Jesus commanded that we share the good news with others. This means we actually need to engage with people outside our church. It means we talk to strangers. It means that people who are different, even very different from us deserve to be treated with the same kindness, dignity, and respect as those we know. And quite frankly, everyone is a stranger at some point!

Scripture talks about entertaining angels unaware when we are kind to strangers (Heb 13:1-2). Matthew 25 declares that we will be judged for our faithfulness based on how we treat strangers. We are told through the Old and the New Testaments that we are to reach out to prisoners, widows, orphans, the blind, homeless, the lame, crippled, lonely, cheating tax collectors as well as entitled rich leaders. In short, we are to extend hospitality to ALL people and specifically to strangers.

Of course this all stems from the care and concern parents and grandparents have for the safety and well-being of their (grand)children. And for those who were influenced by all the “stranger-danger” messages of the 1970s, it is understandable that we fear child abduction despite kidnappings being both at historically low levels (http://www.freerangekids.com/crime-statistics/) and the fact that only one in four kidnappings is done by strangers (http://www.parents.com/kids/safety/stranger-safety/child-abduction-facts/). What I question here is the actions taken out of this legitimate care and concern. The response does not have to be a rejection of all strangers – “scream and run away”. Nor does it have to result in hovering helicopter parents. Attentive openness suffices.

Maybe the playground is where it all gets screwed up. Not from the children, but adults who have forgotten that we need each other. Maybe those who don’t follow Jesus will do this, but for those of us professing to follow Jesus we must talk to strangers…even when they might turn out to be very different.

Faith Feminism: on being a theotokos, insults and football

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It all began when the only bad mark on my annual review was that I was spending too much time with students instead of going to lunch with my colleagues every day. The irony is that I did go to lunch with them once a week. And once a week I sat at a table, politely welcomed with an opening hello before the conversation quickly turned to football. I’m not anti-football. I just can’t talk about it every week for a solid year! This idea of collegiality was not what I expected. I had a rather romantic notion that when one was on a theological faculty with others who are considered both brilliant and godly that at least once in while we would discuss theology, ministry, the Bible…anything that had to do with our fields. I was very naive.

My time with students was much more interesting. Not only were they fascinated by what they were reading, studying, and living, but they wanted community. They wanted to wrestle with hard questions and talk about what it meant to live an abundant life! They were curious about things that did not fit neatly into the curriculum of any particular course but mattered for them as people of faith and ministerial leaders in particular. They pushed me to think and rethink what I held dear. I was sharpened as iron sharpens iron not because they didn’t respect me, rather precisely because they did. In turn I respected them and wanted only to offer the best of what I could. This meant a great deal of work on my part. Not only was I prepping for the actual courses I was teaching, I was constantly looking at theological concepts, church history, and practical theology shaping my own faith. I also had to think through how to share this with others in ways where they may not have the same vocabulary or stamina for really long dry books that seminary students and professors have. These times with students turned to meals, ice cream social, and game nights at my house. We developed a blend of constant theological conversation with a lot of prayer, laughter, food and community was built.

Ultimately, this was part of my undoing. I have been told by faculty members on more than one occasion that students are not who should receive the lion’s share of my attention. It is not politically expedient. It is not going to get me ahead in the traditional sense. I was told I was being too maternal by going to such lengths in investing in my students. I thought I was trying to bring about something bigger than myself.

The faculty’s critique became a compliment to me. Last time I checked, this is exactly what God calls us to do. (And just to be clear, I am not talking about the mistake too of us women make in never being able to take credit for anything. This is wrong and is a post for another day!)

God calls us to be a theotokos. Female and male, we are all called to bear Christ to the world. Mary bore Jesus, literally as an infant, bringing God into the world. Her calling was not any easy one; it was painful and cost her a lot. What she was able to do, however, changed the world! For some of us, we know what childbirth is actually like. For others it is a metaphorical reality. For all, the theotokos or model of bearing God over and over and over again in the world is exactly who we are to be. We are to bear God to those whom no one else sees. We are to bear God to those who wonder if God is real. We go through the pains of carrying truth within us and labor that others may know that God is real, that God loves them, that God demands justice, that God longs for relationship, in short…that God matters in this world.

As a professor and theologian, being labeled as too maternal was intended as an insult. It was intended to tell me that I don’t fit in. It was intended to harm.

On bad days, I want to scream screw you at those who have been so ivory-towered-arrogant. But on good days, I remember that I, too, have been in that ivory tower. And what they intended for insult, God meant for good. I’ll take too maternal any day over football!