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This is My Story

I was born and raised up in a red state. I grew up in a community of faith where the men running for local offices were prayed over and had hands laid on them – the same practice for the men who were elected as deacons and the men who were ordained to the Christian ministry.

Some of these men had affairs, were accused of sexual misconduct against women. They were forgiven and given a second chance and a third chance and… In the same community of faith, women who were in abusive marriages either sexual, verbal, or physical were counseled by men to stick with it because of the sanctity of marriage.

I grew up in this community of faith where men determined whether my shorts were too short, my shirt too low, my bathing suit too revealing. I was taught the most precious thing I had to offer a man was my purity. I was taught that the worst thing was losing that purity. I was taught to be a “lady in waiting,” “to be submissive,” and “to prepare myself to be a good wife and mother.”

I grew up in a culture of Friday night football where young boys were held up as heroes. I grew up in a culture of Saturday football where coaches were spiritual guides and male college athletes were celebrities who could got what they wanted and girls were expected to give that to them.

I went to a conservative liberal arts school in South Carolina where I dated Southern gentlemen who opened the door for me, called me darling, and then joked with their fraternity brothers about whether I was a girl to “marry, screw, lose.”

I grew up thinking that women couldn’t lead, preach, or desire to do either. When I discovered at 25 that this wasn’t everyone’s story or experience, I was shocked and heart broken and then I was angry at the culture and community of faith who had created this worldview.

I remember sitting in disbelief with the understanding that there were communities of faith, there were local communities who didn’t treat girls and women the way I had been treated, but rather encouraged them to become who they wanted to be and find their own identities. And then the question that rattled in my mind and heart was simply, “Why didn’t you tell me there were safe places to grow and explore? Why didn’t you come find me?”

Last night’s presidential election didn’t shock me. This is the America I grew up in.

If you are disappointed and shocked, I’ve been there. You didn’t know the America I grew up in existed. You grew up in communities of faith and families and communities who supported and encouraged you and taught you could be anything. Thanks be to God for your experience.

But that’s not what many of us grew up in. That’s not my story.

This will not be the last time now that your worldview has been shattered that you will be disappointed, hurt, and overwhelmed. You will feel more and hurt more because your eyes have been opened to the reality that many of us have been living in for a long time. You will be disappointed when communities of faith who say they support women go with the male candidate again because you understand this contributes to white male privilege. You will hurt as you hear stories like mine. Stories of people from the LGTBQ community who have been told they cannot serve in faith communities because of who they are. You will hurt when you hear stories of sexual assault, rape, and spiritual abuse in communities of faith who have vowed to be open and affirming and cover this behavior up without dealing with the systemic culture that allows for this to take place. You will awaken in middle of the night with the understanding that there are children in your community who are starving from hunger.

This reality is not a pretty one, but when our eyes our opened we are moved to action. When we act, there is hope for transformation. And when we get to work in the reality in which we live, you will get to know more stories, more people who are fighting just as hard as they can, not to change things, but to transform this reality you have just awoken to.

On Being a Woman Ministering to a Homeless Population

Part of my story is that my gender has always been an issue in my call to ministry.

It was a theological conundrum when I voiced a call to preach because of the faith communities in the baptist tradition who don’t believe my call, my ministry is of God, from God. It is a question I have had to approach with the churches where I have preached, served as interims, and engaged in the pastor search process: “And would I be the first woman pastor? Would that cause conflict?” My gender has always been a part of where and when I push and where and when I hold back waiting, reflecting.

Since May, I have been ministering to the homeless population in Columbia and have never once felt that my gender was an issue. There are no questions about whether I am called to ministry because we are in the midst of ministry. There are only smiles and warm greetings when our son accompanies me in our worship or service. There are no questions about my authority to teach or administer communion.

But sometimes when I share the work I am doing outside of this open and affirming community, there are hesitations. “Is that safe?” “Did you say there were all men in your chapel service last week?”

The unspoken question hangs in there air, “Are you sure a woman should be ministering to the homeless? What if…” This unspoken question laced with assumptions that those who are homeless are dangerous and unpredictable.

But these are mothers, fathers, grandfather, grandmothers, sisters, brothers, wives, and husbands.These are people just like me who need a community of faith that doesn’t judge, label, or exclude. People in need of hope through worship and the bread and the cup that Jesus offered his own disciples.

Thanks be to God for this dangerous, unpredictable community of faith that challenges my privilege while giving me great hope.

 

Why I Won’t Try To Convince You To Support Women in Ministry

A couple of days ago, I was speaking to an older gentleman about my call to ministry. I told him about voicing a call to ministry and pursuing and obtaining a seminary degree. I told him about some of the challenges I had met along the way as a woman from a Southern Baptist background who voiced a call to preach. At the end of our conversation, he said, “You have dissuaded me from believing that women can’t be pastors. I’m still working on it, I’m old school I know, but your story helps.”

I was surprised because I hadn’t been trying to dissuade him or convince him of anything. Instead I had just been sharing my story. His words have followed me and helped me understand that part of my ministry will always be being a baptist woman in ministry. Because of this part of my identity, I will often find myself in conversations with people who disagree that women should be pastors or agree.

If I know the conversation about whether women can be ministers is going to be part of my journey and part of my story, then I can make my call to ministry about convincing people I am called and I am a minister, filling my time with defenses and debate tactics, and being on guard ready to give an answer about why I am truly called or I can concentrate on living into my call, doing the work God has called me to do, and being the hands and feet of Jesus. I’ve giving up on trying to convince anyone to support women in ministry. There’s too much ministry to be done to those who have been outcast and ignored. There’s too much hurt in need of healing. There’s too many chances to offer hope in the midst of so many hopeless situations.

We spend much too much time as ministers, as churches, and as members of society trying to convince and convert each other to our way of thinking. If instead we concentrated on being ourselves and listening and respecting the people we encounter giving each person a space and place to tell their stories, then perhaps we would end up dissuading and transforming people without even meaning to.

Wouldn’t this make our calls and our ministry and our churches radically different than the dissent and hatred we hear every day?

When Church Walls Prevent Us From Being the Church

As Ben and I were enjoying our afternoon Panera coffee break (he just had water), we met an Assembly of God minister who was interested in what we were doing at ministrieslab. He explained that church starting had started to be a conversation in the AG church and church starters were encouraged to find a theater or a school to meet in. Then he asked, “Where are ya’ll going to meet?”

I responded, “We’re not going to have a place. We’re going to be the church and pop up in the midst of need.”

He considered that for a minute and then drew the connection to the early church movement. I smiled as he continued to reflect on the changes in church and the emphasis on having bigger and bigger congregations and buildings. He concluded his reflection by saying, “But a lot of those churches don’t have missions as their center. They just want to have more people.”

“Exactly,” I agreed. “Whether we like to admit it or not, having church walls has changed our perception of church. Most people believe church is a place to go to and not a way to live your life.”

In working with the homeless population in Columbia, I’ve heard numerous stories of people who have invited the clients to church, but they can’t go to church because of their limited mobility. It made me think of the number of times I have been invited to church and these invitations have always been to a certain place at a certain time on a certain day, but didn’t Jesus command us to go?

Church walls confine our ability to dream about the future of the church. Church walls ask us to label and separate children, youth, and adults into age-based Sunday School classes. Church walls confine our ministers to office and office hours limiting their ability and mobility in the community.

Church walls limit our creativity in thinking about the future of the church. Perhaps it’s time to break down some of those walls that exclude and label and dream of what we could do if we were the church instead of if we went to church.

Because ministrieslab doesn’t have a building, Ben and I met a fellow minister at a coffeeshop. A fellow minister with whom we got to fellowship and who also provided a donation to the work we are doing.

Want to join us in our mission to pop up in the midst of need? We’ll come to you.

On Pastoring a Church in Which I Am the Minority

For eight weeks, Sam and I have been co-pastoring ministrieslab,a church popping up in the midst of need. This week, as we gathered for our weekly service at Transitions, I was struck by the overwhelming task of preaching on the Good Samaritan as a white woman in community of faith in which I am a minority.

What could I say?

I had no words for the violence experienced. I had no words for the systematic discrimination exposed. I had no words for the lives lost. I had no words for the way we were all able to be witnesses these deaths through technology over and over again. I had no words for the way I had been challenged and reminded of my own white privilege throughout the week.

And in the midst of being tongue-tied, a question came from one of the people in our community. He asked me about my journey into the ministry. I told him about not being accepted or affirmed because of my gender. He was shocked as were some of the other people gathered that there were churches who did not believe women could preach.

And as we worshipped and prayed and mourned and feasted on the word, I was reminded of my call to pastor. I was reminded of my call to preach. I was reminded that when we don’t listen to the still, small voice that calls us to take up our cross and follow after Christ, then we end up walking on the other side o f the road when people are in need. I was reminded that when we truly see each other, then we bear each others burdens: burdens of despair, of grief, or hopelessness.

As we concluded the service, the same man who had asked me about how I became a pastor said while looking me straight in the eyes, “Thank you for coming and blessing us today.”

“Thank you for coming and worshipping today,” I responded.

But what I wanted to say was, “Thank you for seeing my need. Thank you for seeing my wounds of rejection and being excluded and tending to them. Thank you for reminding me of what it means to be a good neighbor regardless of our race, our gender, or our religious beliefs.”

On Needing Each Other

Whether I like to admit it or not, I need help. I need help as I learn to be a stepmother. I need help as I learn to be a mother. I need help as I continue to learn how to pastor. I need help as I continue to encounter the disappointment and discouragement that comes with being a Baptist woman who is called to be a preacher.

I need you, women who have traveled this road longer than I have, to continue to tell your story with openness and authenticity. I need you to tell me why you didn’t give up hope and why you’re still Baptist when it’s so difficult to be a Baptist woman in ministry. I need you to share your experience. I need you to revisit those dark and difficult places that brought you to where you are today. I need to hear your story.

And I need you, who find yourselves in positions of power and privilege, not to let guilt over that place of privilege distract you. I need you to be brave and risky. I need you to use your power and your privilege to speak for those who find themselves on the other side of power and privilege. And if you do, I promise to do the same should the roles be reversed one day.

We were meant to live in community with each other. We were meant to hold each other’s stories. We were meant to work together to bring the kingdom of God here on earth.

Let’s get started.

Freedom for Some

Yesterday, many churches joined the worship or God with the worship of country as the lines between church and state were blurred with the singing patriotic songs and the parade of red, white, and blue in sanctuaries. In blurring those lines, we forget how many people are not free to be themselves in our country and communities of faith.

God of grace and love, in your mercy hear our prayers:

for those who are not free to express love freely for threat of losing their jobs,

for those who are reduced to their gender or sexuality ignoring their talents and abilities,

for those who speak on behalf of your name, Creator God, judging who are your children and who are not,

for those working three jobs tirelessly trying to feed their children,

for those giving up their own food to feed others,

for those whose EBT debit cards are empty before the end of the month,

for those who work this holiday and every holiday so others can celebrate,

for those grieving the loss of loved ones from gun violence,

for those grieving the loss of loved ones from gun violence who have heard that their loved ones’ death shouldn’t take away the freedom of others to buy assault weapons,

for those who feel trapped, oppressed, unheard, and unseen trying to pursue the American Dream that does not exist,

May we remember in the midst of our celebration those who aren’t free living in a country where people believe everyone is free. Amen.

 

Worship When Life Has Not Gone As Planned

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The call Sam and I felt to start ministrieslab to pop up in the midst of need is indeed a call from God to minister to God’s people, but I didn’t realize it was a call to question my own privilege. Privilege that blinds me to need. Privilege that causes me to think I know how to help people. Privilege that makes me believe I know how to plan an authentic and engaging worship service because I hold a MDiv.

Privilege that’s challenged me every week over the past eight weeks as I walk into Transitions Homeless Shelter. As I walked in today, our pianist was practicing, but this week it was different. He had gathered a chorus with him, a chorus that gladly agreed to sing as part of our service. As they ran through Amazing Grace, more and more people came in the open door and set down as I set the Lord’s table for communion.

And with the music, came worship.

Worship not that I had planned, but that the clients at Transitions led. Worship that came from their hearts, their concerns, their voices, their experiences, their needs. Worship led by God’s people. Worship that transformed my understanding of what worship truly is.

I come from a tradition of carefully-crafted worship services with orders of worships, written calls to worship where the leader and people’s parts are clearly labeled, and where those who lead the service often don’t worship because they are concerned about ensuring that everything goes as planned. Today, I didn’t have to start the worship service, but instead I was invited into worship with this community of faith.

There is a beautiful truth that exists in this integrated community of faith: life has not gone as planned. In this community of faith, race, gender, and sexuality don’t matter because the truth that we are all in need transcends all those labels. It reminds me a lot of our chapel experiences at Gardner-Webb School of Divinity that invited us to worship together, black and white, old and young, male and female, and all kinds of different sexuality.

Perhaps instead of planning worship so carefully, we should instead plan on placing ourselves in the midst of need. Because there in the midst of need, we will surely find the presence of God.

 

 

The Importance of Naming Spiritual Abuse

As I hear more and more stories of spiritual abuse, I am discovering that many people who are victims of spiritual abuse shy away from saying they experienced spiritual abuse. I understand their sentiments because to name yourself as someone who has experienced spiritual abuse is to identify a community of faith as a place where spiritual abuse has taken place. If you have experienced spiritual abuse, then you know the consequences of questioning this type of power.

So, thank you, to those readers who have shared their stories with me. It has made me feel like I am not alone, but more importantly, you have done powerful work for those who are in the midst of spiritual abuse because you have named their experience as something real. By naming and claiming your experience as spiritual abuse, you have given life to the truth that spiritual abuse happens and is happening in communities of faith.

When God asked Adam to name the creation in the Genesis 2, it was a demonstration that Adam held dominion over these creatures, dominion that Creator God had entrusted to Adam. In the same way, those who lead God’s people have been given called to name what God is telling God’s people about themselves. When ministers and spiritual leaders, name one of God’s creations as unworthy or excluded the process of naming becomes labeling. Instead of this act of naming being life-giving, it is life-draining.

Using God’s calling as a minister to promote some as more worthy and more important is spiritual abuse. Naming this act of spiritual abuse, reveals the misuse of dominion and how easily naming can become name calling.

To you who have been called names by religious leaders and followers of Christ, hear now the word of the Lord:

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

You Have Access

On Thinking Religion this week, Dr. Thomas Whitley and the Reverend Sam Harrelson talk about the access to information we all have at our fingertips. (How they get to this point is a really fascinating trail that’s worth listening to!) We all have the opportunity to read from a wide range of perspectives and we should. We should read about Donald Trump’s conversion experience and we should read about those who wonder if he’s conversion is a political stunt. We should read and we should read a lot about the future of technology and social media and how it is changing our jobs, our families, and our churches.

We should also understand the impact that these changing dynamics have on how we communicate with one another and how we form our religious ideals and beliefs. Even if you think that your absence from these forms of communications makes you immune to the conversations being held in the virtual world, the conversation is going to leak into our face-to-face interactions.

My move to co-pastor with Sam to create something different, a church without walls that has the flexibility to pop up and respond to need is an affirmation of what I believe is the future of the church. This is what ministrieslab is. If you’ve been in church recently than you know the conversation has shifted from going to church to being the church. This isn’t just a clever preaching takeaway, this is the future of the church. And if you think it’s not relevant that church news has been a part of Huffington Post, then you’re missing out on the importance of where we find ourselves in American church life.

All signs point to significant changes in the way church exists in America in the next five years. The question is where will you find yourself in the midst of these changes?

I know where I’ll be. I’ll be popping up in the midst of need with the person I love the most in this world.