Every once in a while the realization hits that you are actually witnessing something or someone who is paradigm shifting for your life. Births, finding a calling, a friend on the playground who becomes a friend for life, a teacher who opens your eyes to possibility, a first date with a spouse, or the death of loved ones. All of these fall into that category. Even less frequently is the realization that there is something or someone who is paradigm shifting far beyond your own personal life.
Phyllis Tickle has been that for me and for countless others. Today is her 80th Birthday! In true Phyllis Tickle fashion, she would be both stunned that so many people care, and delighted. She is not so vain as to demand or call for attention, and not so falsely insecure that she would make anyone feel bad for celebrating. In fact, she so enjoys a celebration that to be in her presence is often a party itself. She loves life. She authentically enjoys people. She has modeled what it is to be both a woman of God and a real life woman, loving her family, church, and career. She has done so with grace.
I am often asked about recommendations for reading. In particular, I am asked about women. While there are many from which to choose, there are few so thought provoking and accessible. She is that rare writer who is both. In her writings, she invites you into conversation in ways that many authors cannot. In fact, this is characteristic of her in all areas. I have met and spoken with her twice. The first time including a lengthy conversation with Phyllis and my friend, Will Penner, years ago. The second time was this past January in a much more brief fashion at C21. In both settings, she was generous with her time, warm, and engaged. As much as she has wisdom to share, she opens space for others to do share, too. She has done this repeatedly in her life not only influencing others but encouraging generations behind her. Her faith is not one that bemoans change or decries the insights of the young. It is one that tempers, that listens, and then joins as we all look to the now and not yet. Without neither fearfulness nor trepidation she skillfully names the realities of Christianity and the church that so many only sense or are fearful to breathe out loud. You can find these writings in her most recent books.
One final point of gratitude. She is a lay eucharistic minister in the Episcopal church. She is active in her church and is clearly creedal. Listen to her heart as she throws open the conversation to a wider audience. Here is what she has to say in her most recent book: “As Christians, many of us are increasingly surrounded by fellow Christians who aren’t ‘Christian’ in the old, traditional, creed-defined way– who, in other words and by their own admission, aren’t Christian in the old tried and true ways as those ways have been understood for almost two thousand years, or better as we understood them right up until about five or six decades ago. (p. 28-29)” Difficult to tell from one small quote, but what this means is that creedal or free church, traditional or emergent, she is a welcoming presence filled with wisdom allowing wildly divergent paths to come together in faith.
For those who are worn out on faith, who wonder if there is the possibility of longevity, who feel judged and long for conversation…I invite you today to celebrate today, not only the life of Phyllis but what she has done with her life. God receives the glory. It is we who receive the blessings from one portion of her life’s work.