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!

Surviving Christians-2

The very person who extended an invitation for a call to ministry was the first to tell me God does not call women to ministry. He was my first youth pastor. He was charismatic, dynamic and made it seem like almost anything in life was possible.

Part of our tradition held to the weekly three part invitation, 1) for salvation 2) for rededication 3) for ministry. As a young teenager, I heard the invitation every single week asking if God was calling me to ministry. It penetrated deep into my bones. It was a question that became part of the very fibre of my being. We were encouraged to think about this as a real viable option. This particular youth pastor moved to another state but his influence in my life was huge. Fast forward a few years and I did accept that call to ministry.

The summer before I began seminary, I ran into that youth pastor. I was with the teenagers with whom I was volunteering. We saw each other, hugged and did all of the obligatory “how are you?” “you look so good!” “I miss you!” I was so excited to tell him that I had listened all those years earlier and I thanked him for the invitation to ministry. He just stared for a moment and had the most peculiar look on his face. I asked what was wrong and he said “well…I am just surprised. I don’t think women can be in ministry. I never expected any of the ‘girls’ in the youth group to take me up on that. I still think you are great! It’s nothing personal, God just doesn’t allow you to be in ministry.”

I just walked away. I said nothing. I was so stunned.

Looking back I wish I had said something! I wish I had told him that he was wrong. That even if he didn’t realize it, God was working through him! I have so gotten over the notion that God does not call women.

God has, God does and God will continue to call women into ministry.

It took a long time for me to be able to say that with confidence. It took my finally realizing that it was more important to please God than to please any leader before me, regardless of how much I respected him or her or how much she or he had taught me. Sometimes surviving is listening and realizing others are a work in process as well and not everyone is right just because they say it with conviction and attach a verse or two as proof.

ps. I am looking for stories of those who have survived Christians in a variety of ways. The stories need to be told. Not to air dirty laundry but to tell others “you are not alone” and that surviving is a real possibility!! Feel free to contact me via comments or e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you!

Hobby Lobby discussion

You should take a little trip over to the Sonoran Theological Group blog in order to see the beginning of an interesting conversation regarding Hobby Lobby. The post starts by laying out the issues, then asks:

How should a thoughtful Christian respond when the issues are not so straight-forward? How do we avoid the “party lines” that reinforce rhetoric over dialogue? How do we engage this issue when it is so complicated and so many other issues vie for our attention?

While this post does not wrap up the topic in a nice little bow, it does open the door for further discussion. So, join in and leave a comment.

Surviving Christians

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Like a lot of Christians, I have lived through a number of rotten situations. Like a slightly smaller set of Christians, most of the rotten situations I have lived through were caused by other Christians. They have caused me to question my identity, my faith, and my calling. And because so many of the rotten things that have occurred in my life took place in the context of the church, I thought I had no choice but to tough it out. That became harder and harder to do.

The first time I heard that it was not only OK to leave a toxic situation but was actually described in scripture was after I was accused of heresy, of being a lesbian, and of being a troublemaker… The healthy scriptural advice I needed is found in Matthew 10:14, Luke 9:5 and Mark 6:11. Before I tell you how I began to survive, I need to share one situation I needed to survive. Well, one story, at least. And this story is less tragic for me than it was for several other participants in the narrative. You’ll see what I mean.

The downward spiral began when I received a call being told that one of the girls in the youth group where I served had just been “inappropriately touched” by a friend of her parents, who also happened to be a deacon at my church and the head of the finance committee. I went with her to tell her parents. Her father was understandably angry. Her mother was as well, but not in the way you might imagine. She looked straight at her daughter and said “I thought I raised you better than this! Don’t you know his wife is my best friend? How do you think she is going to feel? What good is telling anyone going to do? You should be able to handle your own business not drag others in to rescue you. You better not mess up my friendship.” I was floored.

I went with her to another family’s house that night. They listened, talked, and prayed with her. It was now my job to report the incident in order to protect her and others.

Our pastor had just retired so I went to our chair of deacons the next day to let him know I had to report the incident. I was after all a mandated reporter. He very gently told me that it was hearsay. It should be handled in-house. I asked to let the deacons know first. He told me that, as a female, I could not attend the deacon meeting but I could send a male representative. Unfortunately, as I was not married at the time, any male I told would constitute gossip so I could not tell anyone. Matter closed…for him.

I did call the police and made my report, but the young woman who was groped and fondled up her skirt recanted. She said I was making something out of nothing. It went down as an incident report and I was vilified by the finance chair and a few others in power at the church. What I found out in this process was that many girls and women had been groped by this man over the years, but all thought it was too disruptive to the community to call him out. He contributed a great deal financially and personally to the church so his indiscretions were overlooked. I was even pulled aside by a well meaning Sunday School teacher and told, “Everyone knows to avoid him, he has always groped women. Just walk on the other side of the sidewalk and you don’t get touched.” Somehow this was acceptable in this church. But not with me. Turns out he also gave porn to boys but no one seemed concerned about that either. Oh…and a year later I learned he had been molesting his own daughter for years. At the age of 13 she was stoned more often than not in order to hide the pain. Still, no one seemed willing to stand up to him.

My time in this church, after all the lies, betrayal, slander, and general angst, ended with the youth group miraculously growing…numerically and spiritually. This is why I stayed. I was witnessing an amazing ministry and believed that if this much good was present, surely something would shift and redemption would come. I had fantastic volunteer youth leaders, wonderful parents, and teens longing to grow more in their faith and put it into action. The time with teens was precious and I really thought I could withstand anything with Christ. What I didn’t see, what I couldn’t see, was that I was losing a lot of weight and getting migraines with the stress of what was happening in church leadership. I was gaunt, sickly and struggling.

After a year, I was pulled aside in the parking lot one night after youth group and told roughly, “We would like to offer you a raise if you would be willing to drop all accusations with the police. If not, we will have to let you go and we will say it is for financial reasons. Sometimes you have to look the other way in order to preserve the unity of the body of Christ.” (emphasis mine). That last part in italics is a direct quote. As if seared into my mind, that phrase surfaces on all too many occasions when I hear horrific stories that have happened in the midst of Christian communities.

And yet here I am. Years later. I am still in ministry. I still love Jesus and the church. I am not the only one to have survived Christians. In the last 20 years I have experienced terrible things. I have walked through even more with countless people. At others times, I have been a listening ear for others to share with me what they have experienced. Sometimes years after the fact; sometimes sharing their story for the first time.

There is power in story and knowing you are not the only one. There is power in hearing how others coped. There is power in learning how to move beyond surviving into thriving. Bullies, predators, and liars all count on one thing: silence by the ones they have wronged.

I want to offer hope to those who are currently struggling. To those contemplating walking away from the church, their faith or worse, their own lives, know this: there is hope.

I was taught as a kid to expect non-Christians to behave like non-Christians. In other words, if they don’t know Jesus how could they imitate Jesus (Eph 5:1). But what happens when they do know Jesus? What happens when it is a Christian or group of Christians destroying the lives of other Christians? These are the things about which we are not supposed to talk. Rapes by fathers, abuse by mothers. Pastors cheating and lying. Professors who are verbally abusive and liars. Church leadership who uses people like pawns. Ministries who dismiss long time employees for fictitious reasons. It all comes down to some form of betrayal. That which was to keep us safe, those who were supposed to be above reproach and trustworthy are too often the ones who torpedo the lives of the next generation. We need to stop the cycle. I no longer expect non-Christians to not imitate Jesus. Many imitate Jesus quite well whether they know it or not. I do, however, call those of us who are professing to follow Jesus to align our lives in such a way as to imitate Jesus intentionally, even when it costs us. Otherwise, what is the point?

What I am looking for are stories from others. Stories of Survival, even if barely. How have you coped? Where did you find hope? I’d love for those in the midst of struggle to know they are not alone. Post your story in the comments. Send it to me directly if you are not comfortable with comments. Use a pseudonym if you need. But share your story. If you know of someone who has a story to share, pass this along to them. Pass it on anyway, you never know who does have a story of survival.

I need your help to get this out there. I will be posting on this topic again. There are many stories that need to be told. We need a repository of hope.

 

Don’t know how to rest?

This is a guest post by Joyce delRosario, executive director of New Creation Home Ministries, a ministry for young mothers ages 13-22. She also happens to be one of my ministerial heroes, friend and the person who speaks deeply into my life to cheerlead and tell me when I am off track. Her words carry weight. Let them sink in lest you miss what God is saying through her. 

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Who Do You Work For?

Driving to a baby shower, staring at the bridge I was crossing and the San Francisco Bay on either side, I found my mind on overdrive.  I picked up my phone to catch every thought:

-Siri, message Sheila ‘are we still on for Friday lunch?’

-Siri, set reminder to email Debra about tutoring opportunity

-Siri, listen to my messages

-Siri, set event for Thursday at 1pm ‘meet with Gail’.

-Siri, call Dan and set day for table host meeting at his house.

And so on and so on.  My drive to the baby shower was full of commanding the lowest paid administrator in the world. Poor Siri. By the time I got to the shower I had given Siri…I mean me, a long list of commands that would take a week to accomplish.

Oh well, at least I can set work aside and be social right? As soon as I stepped in the door,  I was reacquainted with people who had come to my fundraising events from years past.  Sometimes we can’t take off our ministry hats even when we want to. Over finger food and cake pops, we chatted about kids and New Creation Home Ministries and all the usual topics.  Then the question came up, “When do you usually work?”  My answer, “I try to keep it Monday through Friday from 9 to 9.  But we’re a 24/7 ministry so that doesn’t always work.”

Their smiles turned to looks of concern. What?  I thought I was doing well by keeping it Monday through Friday.  I found myself trying to justify a failing argument, “It’s Silicon Valley. Everyone works a lot here…it’s in my DNA, my grandmother was in a hospital bed, working on her bookkeeping for the ministry she runs in the Philippines!  It’s in my blood!” I’ve justified my work habits in others ways too.  Remember Paul? I didn’t picture him resting much as he shared the Gospel to the world.  Plus, I’m single so I don’t have anyone pulling me to come home to.  What else do I have to do with my time?

And then there’s my Things To Do list.  This started in high school, when I used to carry a thick leather bound planner everywhere I went. Someone once challenged me that it was more important to me then the Bible. They were right and I did not change. Years later that leather bound planner is now neatly wrapped up in my phone and it goes by the name Siri. I use a calendar app and a reminder list to keep my thoughts straight.  I judge whether or not I have a good day based on how much I was able to accomplish.  When I wake up in the morning I give myself a set of goals to accomplish that day and if I miss anything on the list I have failed. Yup…failed.  The list is what drives me.  Every item I check off, my breath gets a little deeper and I am one step closer to putting my mind to rest.

The thing is, that list never ends. I drive to a baby shower and add 20 more items to tackle the next day.  If I’m honest, the list is everything.  My productivity is the way I judge myself, the way I value myself.  I realized that I am not working for the Lord.  I am working for myself.  What started out as a virtuous answer to God’s call on my life to be in ministry became a self -appointing, self-evaluating exercise in working to prove my worth. My busyness is the way people value me.  If I’m busy it looks like I’m changing the world right?  If I’m busy then at least that justifies why people donate to the ministry I’m a part of.  If I’m busy then I look more important somehow.  Important people are busy people. No one ever thought the dude taking a nap on the couch was important right?

But Jesus tells me, “Rest.”  No seriously.  In my quiet times just 2 days ago I heard God telling me to rest.  “My grace is sufficient for you”. And you know what I did? I retold that word from the Lord to my staff as I typed away on the computer in the office.

By this point you may be wondering what’s wrong with me.  Or you may be arm chair psychoanalyzing me.  That’s fine.  Leave your comments below and save me the therapy cost.

Yes I know the importance of Sabbath. Yes I know this is the expressway to burnout (I’ve been doing this same thing for over 20 years by the way).  And yes…yes I have burned out on several occasions.  And yes I do know that Jesus went away to pray.

Here’s the scary thing about this whole confession I’m doing; I have no idea how to rest. I mean it. I read books.  I watch tv and movies while laying on the couch. I go out with friends on occasion to dinner. I play volleyball on Sundays (Okay, not this year but I will soon).  I do quiet times with the Lord. I exercise on a regular basis.  I travel when I can.  The closest moments of refreshing, relaxing rest I have experienced are at the end of a yoga session when they have you just lay there still for a minute or two. But somehow none of this answers my true need for rest.

As I prayed about this problem on my way home from the baby shower I realized that my need to find rest is not about finding the right activity or inactivity to participate in.  It’s about working for the right person…and that person ain’t  me and I hate to tell you, it ain’t you either.  In order to truly find a proper rhythm of life and work I must understand and embrace the One I work for.

I realized that need to work is a need to find security in my worth. And my need to find worth in my work is an area of restlessness that I have yet to turn over to the Lord.  When I can turn over my identity and self-worth to the Lord and allow God to define my day, value my worth and order my steps then I can operate in a shalom far greater than any checklist can offer.  I heard it right before, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

I’m not sure I’m ready to let go of my checklist just yet or do away with any vision planning I have been working on. I am however ready to realign my org chart and work on remembering who should be directing my next step. It sounds easy and almost cliché to let Jesus take the wheel, but if we’re honest with ourselves it’s not.  Our sinful nature makes it difficult to easily let this happen.  I don’t want to wait till I have no other choice but to let Jesus take control.  Those instances always seem to be painful lessons.  Tomorrow is Thursday and I have every intention to rest in the One who calls me to work His way and not mine.

back from camp…

I suppose this is backwards as I should have posted that I was about to be away but sometimes life moves so quickly that protocol gets sidelined. Preparations to be at camp, working with some incredible people and prepping for my own children to be on the road for so long meant that something had to give. Sadly, this blog was it.

I am now back!

It has been an incredible time of ministry, of play, of prayer, of preaching and more God moments than I could count. It has also been a time of heartbreak, of pastoral care, of woundedness and the harsh realities faced by those far too young to already know what horrors can occur in the world.

I have a lot to process.

In between writing a couple of new courses, articles, working on a book as well as swim lessons, VBS, homemade ice cream and play dates I will blog. There are too many ideas and too many words for one post. I look forward to the summer!

In addition to my own writing I have a few friends who will be joining. God is doing amazing things in many places, we should share the love!

 

Seminaries must change

On one hand I want to tell every young person or every person thinking of ditching his or her career for ministry to run and run far.

On the other hand…I know how great it can be! I know it matters in the world. I know God is still active and calling people. I know the church was not my idea, or your idea…it was God’s idea.

Now what church looks like is a matter for another post. My point here, training is still needed. And maybe, just maybe we, who are trainers, need to figure out how to do it better for the world in which we live instead of the nostalgic fiction our institutions purport. Maybe that will help us stop blaming each other for the demise of something that I am not convinced was ever as good as others claim.

Looks like I’m not the only one having these thoughts.

Labyrinths, parenting and ministry

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This past Saturday was World Labyrinth Day. I know…you might be shocked you didn’t know before. In all honesty, they need a little better PR and a lot more confidence. Their very web page invites you to join hundreds of others around the world. Assuming it is indeed worldwide, go for broke and at least say thousands. I digress.

In what has become my typical style of travel, I had a little person with me. In this case, my 11 month old. We had a little time before the morning board meeting was to begin and our lovely babysitter would occupy his time. He was fed, happy and snuggled into me for a morning rest. I walked to the labyrinth on property at Scarritt-Bennett. It was a holy moment of getting to walk with my son, heartbeat to heartbeat, my breath mingling with his. I prayed. I prayed for him and with him. I thanked God for these few holy moments appreciating all that he is to me. It was me, my son and God and it was precious. It was a long, lingering walk and I drank in every moment of it, cognizant he would only be able to be held like this for just a little while longer. I planned to sit and bask in the presence of God and intimacy with my son as we entered the center.

And then the baby exploded. The moment my cadence paused, something triggered in his tiny little body and there was no turning back. He was loud. Really loud, arched back screeching! I tried bouncing, rocking, singing and even thought for about half a second of just walking back out the labyrinth hoping to recreate the tender quiet we had when we entered. No such luck. I looked around and we were clearly disturbing the peace.

I broke the golden rule of the labyrinth. The one that says live the process. Slow your pace. Depart as intentionally as you entered. And most of all, under no circumstances are you to give into the temptation to short cut or skip a path. I did it. I boldy walked across every line and made it out alive. I had done the best I could and realized getting half way through was…my best.

One of the most common questions I get now is how to balance being a parent and in ministry. It is so easy to look at others, seemingly crowds of others able to give more and do more than I am with kids in tow. I recognize there are times when I am passed over due to the assumption that I will say no because of kids. I am also grateful for those who accept me offering the very best I can, even when it is less than I hoped as I try to take care of my children while being a steward of the calling God has placed in my life.

I think of Mark 12:41-44 [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Her gift was not the most spectacular, but it was all she could offer. My home is always a little messy, and always open to others. We host people weekly. If it is a choice between being really put together and getting somewhere, chances are we won’t be quite put together but we will be fully present. We travel as a family. We work to find ways for them, even in their most tender years to be included in a ministry of their own. Giving out of what they have. All of my children have been on a mission trip. Each has been to camp multiple times. My sweet children fall asleep in corners of rooms where I am teaching or preaching or they sit coloring in random coffee shops so that I may meet and pray with people. I definitely move a little slower and that is just fine. I miss out on late night hang out times when at conferences tucking babies in bed instead. Often I get interrupted and that is part of being community and including little people. If I don’t include them, who will? And how will they learn what it means to align your life, your whole life around Jesus if I never let them be with me while I serve?

Too often I hear of wonderful people giving up on friends, life and most of all ministry when children are added to the equation. Find the rhythm that works for you. If you can make it all the way through the labyrinth in a peaceful zen like manner, good for you. If you have to run away before you even make it to the center, or if you are just able to walk by the labyrinth and know one day you will re-enter, good for you too. Wherever you land on this spectrum, give yourself the same grace God has already extended. Jesus said it well, you give the most when you give all you have. Don’t worry if it’s not the same as others or even the same as what you used to be able to do.

Parenting is not the end of ministry. The path in the labyrinth just gets altered a little.

Women in Ministry- CYMT style

My friends at CYMT.org have done it again! Great reads on women in ministry and I was lucky enough to be one of the people asked to write. Check out the wisdom from women who have been there, survived, still love Jesus and the church. Each has a unique story, each will leave you thinking and encouraged. Enjoy!

In the Streets of My City…

…an elderly woman sleeps nearby the Dunkin Donuts where I stop each morning to get a cup of coffee; a sunburned old man with a scraggly grey beard and tattered clothing greets me at the door of DD asking for change for coffee and a sandwich. Another brown woman sits wrapped in a blanket leaning her back against a trash bin, hand extended, begging. The other aged black man strides and rages, he’s small and wiry, fists raised in the air yelling at someone only he can see. A middle aged white man stands erect, holding up a sign “Lost job. Have 2 kids to feed. Please help.” Every morning as I exit the train I see the same man, the same woman, the same words, “Miss can I have a dollar?” And at 8:30AM one morning while I walked and watched, four men sat in a semi-circle in the underground transportation terminal passing a whiskey bottle between them. One paused, looked at the ground, vomited on the shiny terminal floor and then took another swig. These are the streets of my city. Where I experience daily assaults on my heart, pangs that ache. It just isn’t supposed to be this way. God?

Jesus said the poor will always be with you. And they are. Poor people are everywhere. Even when we don’t see them, they are there. However, the twist to those verses relayed by Matthew, Mark and John was that Jesus told his disciples that they could help the poor whenever they wanted to but at that moment in time the disciples would be wise to follow the lead of a particular woman who was using her precious and pricey perfume to bathed him and prepare him for his burial.

Was this woman poor herself?  If so, where did she get the extravagant perfume?  Why did she use it to wash and anoint Jesus? What did she know that the disciples didn’t know?

While Jesus was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wagesand the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”   Mark 14: 3-9

Theologians ponder this passage and have varying viewpoints but here I see that the poor and marginalized are not looked upon with pity by Jesus. They are viewed compassionately. Women were not central in society and I’m guessing this woman was probably poor; however she also had impact or agency. This woman perhaps intuitively knew that something was going to happen to Jesus. He would die. And she prepared him for that death.  Who is being helped in that moment? I suggest the poor and marginalized know something that others don’t. They prepare, incite, and warn. The desperately poor know a portion of life unknown to others. If we are wise we pay attention, learn, and heed. If we are not wise, we dismiss the poor, and miss someone or something vital. What are we being prepared for, and by whom? Watch and pray for the Kingdom is near.

Music Video “In My City, that’s where God Belongs”