Multiple Choice, please

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Last week I was sharing a lunch table with Amos & Alma Yong discussing disability, parenting, food, education, committees, and a variety of other topics. We were at the Theology: Disability and Ministry conference held at Fuller Seminary SW. A small group of us having been meeting since Winter and it was an amazing time! Dr. Yong was the keynote and it would be an entirely different post to mention all of the other great people involved.

Among many thoughts still marinating for me is this…Dr. Yong came to discuss his thoughts and writings on disability. He is know for writing on Pentecostal perspectives. He is currently blogging on the Holy Spirit. He had an article come out last week regarding evangelicals and heresy. His interests are wide. He has taken the time in a variety of areas to research, reflect, live, think, and formulate thoughts as well as articulating them for the rest of us. I am struck by how human this is.

In the last several months I have read and been drawn into a few conversations with people who are singularly focused. I have even had conversations with publishers who ask/say things like “what is the ONE thing you are known for? That is the only area where you should be trying to write.” I am realizing that while there is something to say for having focus and knowing something well but, there is a danger too. It seems to be bringing out the worst in a host of people. There is an arrogance and a blind, mean spiritedness that is present. There is a further sense of who is in and who is out. There is a stifling of the beautiful complexity of humanity and simply being interested in more than one thing. There is a building up of walls around racism, sexism, ableism, violence, abuse, youth, ministry, music, and well…you name it.

I have long said that when it comes to identity, our identity in Christ, we must stop pathologizing particularities. We can celebrate diversity and name it as important and needed. It keeps us humble. It opens conversation. And quite frankly, it makes us much more interesting. My hope is that as we move forward, writers, teachers, pastors, bloggers, and all of us are afforded the space to be more holistic. To not feel the squeeze to be “that” person who has opinions on only one topic.

I’m grateful for that one lunch; For a quick introduction to someone whose writings on disability I already admired, but who as a person I appreciate more. I am encouraged that my discussion with the publisher was off… I don’t have to find my ONE thing. May we all learn that sooner than later. It’s how we can connect and learn instead of building camps that refuse to speak because your thing is not my thing. Maybe it’s because as a theologian, a mom, a teacher, a wife, a minister, and a writer I am always multitasking. Or maybe because I am finally settling into my own skin and understanding what it means to be human that I am rejecting the singular expectations from others.

Hook up apps

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I’ve spent the last week and a half in a class on crisis issues in youth ministry discussing abuse. We’ve talked about physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and spiritual abuse. We’ve talked about mandated reporting, impact on families and communities, and what is the role of a youth worker. I’ve been teaching this same class for nearly two decades and it never gets easier.

So what is the role of a youth worker? Dean Borgman in Hear My Story asks is this “Do we need to work together to stop the dangers young people experience — and to heal their hurts?” When asked this, my class offered a resounding YES! And then stared blankly, sitting silently. As they began to open up, they struggled to say how hard they thought this task would be. The finally said while they felt like we should do something, they felt helpless. Then came the conversation of perhaps not being as helpless now as they were a few weeks ago. The conversation that maybe they need to learn more so they may speak out more.

I tell my students that long after they graduate they need to continue reading. With that, check out this link on apps for hooking up. For many of us, we are settled in life and this is not even on our radar. The recent rise in STD’s and young people finding themselves in dangerous situations however says that we need to be aware of what is our of our typical worlds. Whether you agree with the conclusion of the article or not, it’s worth the read! As you read ask yourself, “Do we need to work together to stop the dangers young people experience?”

 

 

 

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!

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.

 

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.

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

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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.

 

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.