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On Missions

Last week I took six youth, one college student, and one young professional down to Conway, SC for Youth Missions Week. I am not a youth minister, but when I found that 25% of my current congregation was youth, I knew there was something missing in the life and work of our church. We needed our youth to have meaningful experiences. We need our youth’s questions and wonderings. We needed to invest in mission experiences and devotion times and jumping in pools and getting caught in the rain. These are the experiences that help our youth understand what it means practically to live a life as a Christian.

And so we packed up three cars with suitcases, food, and crafts and headed to the coast not knowing exactly what we would encounter. We knew of the good work Palmetto Missionary Baptist Church was doing with Palmetto Kids. We knew that partnering was powerful and so we showed up with willing hearts and willing hands to help pitch in. As it turns out, the teachers and youth groups that Palmetto Missionary Baptist Church usually have come to help them in the summers weren’t able to come this year: the same year we felt called to partner with them in their work. Crazy how the Holy Spirit moves and works things together, isn’t it?

As we taught and played game and painted and crafted, we were overwhelmed by the connection we formed with the Palmetto Kids. How could that happen so quickly? How could we do more to help at risks students? Our work was tiring, but inspiring. The faces of those kids, the laughter, and tears as we worked and studied alongside each other is not something we will soon forget.

This is church.

A Seesaw of Awe

This week our summer officially started as we had all three children. We spent our late afternoons in the pool of a generous neighbor who let us come swim and take a reprieve from the summer heat. My heart began to fill in ways it hasn’t in our long Spring of not having all three kids together as I watched them laugh and splash and play together.

Before I left for the pool, I asked Sam if I could wear my Apple Watch in the pool because I had heard that it had been redesigned to be able to keep track of movement and exercise underwater. He assured me that I could and I was amazed to see a notification come in while my wrist was submerged underwater. How in the world could I be getting a signal underwater? I was even more amazed at the fact that I could swipe down to read the notification underwater. Wasn’t submerging electronics underwater once the death wish from which technology never returned? I don’t pretend to understand the innovation that is going on in the world of technology, AR, and VR, but I know there are people much smarter than I who are pushing the limits of what technology can do and the problems technology can solve. I have the same awe for these innovations as I did for the robots that would come by my fifth-grade classroom from the robotics teacher’s students down the hallway who just happened to become my husband.

And then I started reading the news about asylum-seeking families being separated at the border and for the second time in the week I was speechless with awe. This was not an awe of innovation, engineering, and imagination. This awe was a speechless, helpless awe. How can a people capable of designing a device that can be submerged underwater and receive text messages and notifications also be the same people capable of claiming that families seeking safety from violence, abuse, and abject poverty earn the right to be separated from their families?

I will not pretend to understand what asylum-seeking families have already undergone in order to decide to make the dangerous journey to a promise of a better life. There is no way I can possibly imagine the fear, uncertainty, and sheer terror of having to uproot your whole family, your kids, and your life with the hope (not the certainty) of starting something new. I cannot because of my privilege.

Our family has just a tiny taste of separation as we share our older kids, but this is in no way the same separation as what these asylum-seeking families are undergoing. We know our children are going to a safe place. We know that they will have food and they will go to school. We know where they are and yet still many times as we are saying goodbye the separation is unbearable. Just recently our 2.5 was clinging to his older sister begging her not to go and there was nothing I could say or do to make it better. At that moment, I felt so helpless to offer anything that would help except the promise, “We’ll see her again soon, buddy.” But these families don’t have that promise. But these asylum-seeking families can’t offer that promise. They don’t know when and if they will see their children again.

I’ve been pulled back and forth on this spectrum of the awe of our capacity as humans to create and innovate and with our capacity to separate and distance ourselves from the suffering of other people with explanations and reasonings that those people deserve the suffering they are experiencing. Here’s what I know is true: we together as humans are smart enough and innovative enough to do better. We are reducing our abilities and our capacities when we demean and belittle each other. We are creating more tension and strife when we staunchly insist on defending our worldview and perspective. There is no question that we can do better, the question is will we do better?

My hope is that we will.

Because we certainly don’t know when we will find ourselves in need of asylum, shelter, and safety with only hope to guide us.

Living in the Shadow of Those Women

I have been thinking a lot about the women in 1 Timothy, specifically the ones referenced in 1 Timothy 2:11-14:

11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

What provoked these strong words from the author of 1 Timothy? What happened  that the transforms this epistle from general teaching to specifics?

To be certain as a woman who was raised Southern Baptist I was taught these words. These were the expectations of God for me because of my gender and indeed these were the gender norms I was born into because of Eve’s transgressions. For twenty-five years, I bore the weight of these expectations and the reprussions of these women and even of Eve for no reason other than the fact that I was female.

I didn’t, however, hear a sermon preached about 1 Timothy 2:8:

I desire, then…

No, these words from the author of 1 Timothy were not his own, but were from God because of the apostleship claimed in the previouse verses and because all scripture was God-breathed. There was no question asked about why this would be the desire of the author nor any discussion about why this instruction was given so clearly in this text, but in another epistles, like Galatians, the claim is:

28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

I’ve wrestled with this passage because as I voiced a call to ministry as a baptist woman, I knew I was going to encounter resistance. I knew my call to preach and pastor would result in difficult conversations. What I didn’t know was that in being who I was created to be (not who other people told me I was created to be), I would be a theological crisis.

By answering a call to ministry, I tested the understanding and interpretation of scripture. I have been condemned to hell and judgement too many times to count (and these are the nicer reactions) and it all comes back to these women. The women addressed in 1 Timothy and the women addressed in 1 Corinthians 14. Epistles weren’t generally written to try and dictate theology, but rather were written for a specific occassion or purpose. Once I learned this about the epistle genre, I couldn’t help but wonder what in the world was going on with this women?

Was there an intense mommy war going on about whether women can work outside of the home or whether they should stay home with their children? Was there an intense debate about whether it was better to breastfeed your own child or make use of a wet nurse? Did one woman call another woman a bad name or God forbid say she had put on a little weight? Was it an outside conflict that had entered into the holy and sacred worship space? Or was it something more specific, like what kind of wine should be served at communion or whether wine or grape juice should be used or maybe who was in charge of the altar flowers that week? It had better have been something so very important because the ramifications of the argument or disagreement in the stark reprimand that women should be silent in these two communities of faith have been felt for over two thousand years.

It’s hard to believe these women could have that much influence.

Then again, if I think about my own journey, it has been women, not men, who have delivered the harshest, most soul-cruching blows in my search to answer my call to preach and pastor. It has been women who have told me how to dress (and not dress) in order to look more like a man in the pulpit. It has been women who have accused me of “just trying to make a name for myself.” It has been women who have told me that I was wasting my time seeking a theological education when I should be out serving the Lord. Not to mention the women who have told me that my heels were too high, my dress was too short, my pants were too tight, or that I needed a little more blush because I looked too pale.

Certainly, I have had wounds from men as well, especially religious male leaders, but these wounds haven’t been the hardest for me. The wounds from the women, the ones who I hoped would support and affirm me not just because we were women, but because they too have experienced the uphill battle for equality in our sociopolitical context. Thanks be to God I have found love and support and encouragement in some women, but the soul wounds  still aren’t healed.

Maybe the women to whom the author of 1 Timothy was writing and the women in Corinth didn’t know the precedent they were setting. Maybe they didn’t have any way of understanding the vast impact they could have on women 2000 years later, but we do.

We know the way that theological intpretation can turn into dogma and doctrine. We know the devastation that comes when we finally understand what is happening and voice our concern together only to have our united voice and concern rejected. We know the powerful way that women can unite against another woman even when it means supporting and affirming an abuser and a misogynist. We know because we are living in the sociopolitical and theological aftermath.

We know our power. We know that we have the power to unite or to divide. We know we have the power to harm or to destruct. We know we have the power and yet again and again we use it against each other rather than to create something new and beautiful.

I’ve held anger for these women addressed in 1 Timothy and in Corinth and indeed the women who delivered those soul-crushing blows to me as I pursued my call, but if I’m honest with myself, I’m thankful for these women because they have helped me realize just how powerful my voice can be.

May my voice be one of reconciliation and healing.

Burning Low

As we gathered together yesterday for our BWIM SC Vespers service and to celebrate CBF SC General Assembly, I wondered if the other ministers gathered were burning low. Advent and Lent were very close together this year. Easter was early and it was one of the worst flu seasons in years. My colleagues were visiting people in the hospital, tending to children with the flu, and battling the flu themselves.  And as the Spring chilly air brought in the season of Eastertide, I wondered if my colleagues breathed a deep breath as well.

As I watched these candles drip and burn throughout the service, I thought about the demainds of high holy season calling ministers to offer hope and light and love over and over again. I realized the nearness of these two high holy seasons that left almost no time to rekindle between before the next one started had burned me low. The evidence of the Spirit in the swaying of the flame hadn’t left. The light of hope and love hadn’t left, but I felt myself fading.

And while I complained about the contraints of my physical body lamenting the fact that I caught the cold and coughing right before Easter Sunday instead of right after Easter, I realized how much I take for granted. I pride myself on my energy and my health rather than expressig gratitude to Creator God these privileges and blessigs. And perhaps this minister, five years into ministry, needed the reminder that my strength, my energy is not my own, but only through Christ Jesus and the resurrection.

May the God of hope and light rekindle you in the assurance that new life and indeed new strength can be found in Eastertide.

Spiritual Abuse and Hidden Lives

When I heard about the resignation the president and Chief Executive of the SBC’s Executive Committee, my atenea went up. Even before the story of the “inappropriate relationship” came out, I wondered if there was another story, a hidden story, that hadn’t been shared before. Many would claim that the #metoo movement has been a reckoning for white, males who have enough power and privilege to keep silent the women who they have abused, harrassed, and mistreated. Decades of stories are coming to the surface raising the question, what is the real story of how our society operates?

As these stories arise, the question of why the evangelical support of the president who has been accused of multiple accounts of sexual harrassment hasn’t wavered is becoming clearer. It’s because many of these evagenical leaders share the hidden life of sexual harassment and “inappropriate relationships” with our president shares. These leaders, like our president, hope that enough power and enough money can keep these stories hidden and out of the public eye. But these leaders, like our president are realizing their power is waning. They are losing the ability to keep up their public personas while keeping hidden the ways they have exploited and oppressed women behind closed doors. Keeping these stories silent while preaching and proclaiming the word of God and calling others to repentenace is spiritual abuse.

As a country, we reflect on the assassinaiton of MLK, Jr. fifty years later and we have to wonder what is the hidden life of our country? A country that would extinguish a voice of challenge and change at such a young age. A country that has decades of stories of abuse and harrassement rising to the surface. A country that has in its very foundation racism and sexism. We must learn to confront these difficult truths within ourselves and within our country if we have any hope of rebuilding.

Eastertide offers us the time in the church calendar to contemplate what resurrection and new life mean, but we will never get to the new life if we don’t first die to the selves that seek power and privlege and self-promotion at the expense of other individuals.

Robing Up

I didn’t grow up in a baptist tradition where the ministers robed. I knew it was a part of other faith traditions. I knew there was a rich history of why clergy robed and that it was a way to distinguish the person as a person who was not only trustworthy, but also a servant to people and communities. It was also a way that the pastor or minister recognizes that his or her life is dedicated not to individual gain, but to peace and healing in the world.

In my current minsitry context, I robe during high holy seasons and on high holy days. Being back in the routine of robing has been a minute of respite between the Sunday School hour and our time of worship. It is a moment of reflection: Are the words I am about to utter my own or God’s word for God’s people? Am I offering peace and healing? Am I following after Christ as I am asking these people to do?

This week my robe has been on the go as I preached at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and then at New Hope to celebrate Palm Sunday. As most things that are in my car (also known as the Great Abyss by my husband), my robe has been moved from the front seat to the backseat and back again. On Friday afternoon as we drove to Asheville, it ended up next to the car seat where Ben found it useful as a blanket during his car nap.

I looked at him and thought about the children and teens marching during the March for Our Lives rally. I thought about what a different world he was born into than I was. I couldn’t keep the tears from streaming down my face. I wish his reality didn’t include school shootings at elementary schools and a high schools and music festivals and bombs mailed in packages. I wish his reality didn’t include lock down drills and assault weapons. I wish with all my heart that there was something as a mother I could cover him with that would keep him and all other children safe so that they could not only grow, but thrive.

It is the same feeling of helplessness I felt as a teacher in high poverty schools. The same feeling that overwhelmed me as I discovered that some of my students didn’t have homes, some of them didn’t have beds, and many of them didn’t know whether they were going to have food for dinner or not.

As Holy Week begins, I wonder if just maybe there is something for us in the cries of these children and students and indeed in a toddler reaching for a ministerial robe as a blanket. Perhaps instead of demanding that our voice is heard and that our opinions are law, we should instead shift our concentration to covering our children with care and love and most of all safety. Maybe we should stop talking, stop debating, stop assuming, and just listen and repsond to their needs before our own.

Lord, listen to your chidren praying. Lord, send your spirit in this place. Lord, listen to your children praying. Give us love, give us power, give us grace.

Ashes to Ashes

Last week was full to the brim with responsibilities from all the different things I do for “work”: pastor, freelance writer, publisher, and part-time employee at Lutheran Seminary. It doesn’t usually happen like this. Usually the different vocations don’t collide into each other, but this week they did.

Thankfully, I had help from my incredible family who left me notes to remind me where in my office I had left the ashes on Sunday so that I would be able to find them again for our Ash Wednesday service. These little hints of connection reminding me that the work isn’t only our work. It is the work of a community and a family. It is the work of gathering together to emabrk on a journey of darkness hoping for the light of revelation and deeper connection to Creator God and to each other.

And in the midst of this reminder of darkness, I was invited to partner with Koinonia to draft a grant for their summer enrichment program. I had to brush off my old teaching and literacy teacher books. I had to gather data and analyze data, something I haven’t done for 10 years. As I sat at my computer, I thought about the way the experiences we have matter and come back around in truly miraculous ways. When I left the teaching profession to answer a call to pastor, I was heartbroken that I had wasted time and money pursuing a career I wasn’t going to end up in. I should have started sooner I told myself. I should have been a religion major in undergraduate. I should have…

But last week reminded me that when you answer a call to follow after God, nothing is wasted. No experience. No expertise. These ways in which we are unique and individualized make it possible to partner together to bring the kingdom of God here on earth in all sorts of communities and all sorts of articulations.

You are dust and to dust you shall return.

Lent reminds us of the fleeting nature of these physical bodies. We can spend that existence in “should have’s” or we can accept that God is calling us to deeper connection to each other and to Creator God. If we choose the latter, dust miraculously turns to life and hope and light in our work, in our vocation, in our families, and in everything we do. Let us walk into the darkness, not in fear, but in hope that we meet Almighty God calling us and inviting us to work to bring the kingdom of God here on earth.

Unexpected Turns

Last week, I found myself back in the classroom after two and a half years. Part of my position at Lutheran was to process applications for the Spiritual Direction Certification Program: a program and certification I had never heard of. Spiritual Direction has been a part of the Catholic tradition as well as central to Eastern faith traditions. While there are similarities between these faith traditions, “Christian spiritual direction is help given by one believer to another that enables the latter to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow intimacy with this God and to live out the consequences of the relationship.” (The Practice of Spiritual Direction, William A. Barry &William J. Connolly)

The more I learned about the certification program, the more drawn I was to the idea that one could train to help people to hear and find God’s voice in his or her own life. In a world that is so full of words and noise, there is great confusion. We can’t tell the difference between God’s voice and the voices of power and privilege. We can’t tell the difference between God’s voice and the voices of greed and oppression. We can’t tell the difference between God’s voice and the voices of religious leaders who misuse and abuse their positions of leadership.

Our listening skills have been overshadowed by our quick responses and heated defenses. We speak over people wanting only to be heard, rather than to hear. In our desire to be heard, we miss the opportunity to commune with Creator God who has always been willing to listen and converse with us. We seek affirmation from likes and comments and retweets because we can’t hear God whispering around us, inviting us to something deeper and more meaningful.

Perhaps what we’ve been desperately striving for is alive and well in listening and responding to the Divine at work among us. Emmanuel, God is with us, if we but open our hearts and minds.

What Did You Expect?

I find myself asking, “What did you expect?” as I enter the Advent Season this year. I expected to be a teacher until retirement. I remember clearly sitting in the new employee’s meeting at 22 and hearing that I could retire in 30 years. I couldn’t imagine being in the same job for the 30 years, but I could imagine teaching for 30 years.

Now I find myself planning and preparing for my fourth Advent Season as a pastor. I certainly didn’t expect to be a pastor and preacher.

But Creator God has a miraculous way of hearing the parts of our hearts that even we ourselves silence. The Divine whispers, “What if…” in a way that makes us dream of the unexpected and hope for things yet to come. Those longings speak to our souls, to that Divine spark nestled within us.

Advent is a season to give voice and space to those longings, to shed our expectations of how we thought things were going to go in our own lives and dream and anticipate new life. When we allow the Divine this voice and space, I can guarantee you will say, “I didn’t expect that.

Expectation, Anticipation, and Revelation

As we worshiped together during the first Sunday of Advent yesterday, I shared with my congregation how difficult it sometimes is to manage the expectations of what this season is supposed to be. This is the season of love, joy, hope, and peace and we are expected to eagerly await the coming of the Christ Child and yet for so many of us the season brings only expectations of grief.

I have struggled against the expectations of how I was supposed to behave as a woman raised in a conservative community of faith. When I expressed a call to live out my faith, I was met with the response that I would make a great minister’s wife and that my calling as a teacher was just as important as a call to ministry. Underneath these comments were the expectations of what I could and couldn’t do as a woman. Those expectations didn’t fit who I was and who I was called to be.

And as this Advent starts, I am feeling the weight of expectation to bring hope, peace, love, and joy, but as I shared yesterday I am filled with grief this season. I am filled with grief for friends and family who are celebrating this season without loved ones who they have lost suddenly over the past year. I am filled with grief for my youth who have lost classmates and encountered unexpected death much too soon. I am feeling grief and disappointment that the expectation we had that this Advent season would bring the birth of the Christ Child and another child for us will not be realized.

While I hold this grief for us and for those we love, the anticipation of the Advent season is beating in my soul. This anticipation can only be held alongside the expectation of grief because of the revelation that the Divine is among us and indeed with us. The Divine is still whispering that this season is a special season of revelation of how God is with us. God is with us in our grief. God is with us in our disappointment. God is with us in our joy. God is with us in our peace. God is with us in love.

And God is with us in hope.

Hope that invites us to shed the expectations of how we are supposed to act, what we are supposed to say, how we are supposed to worship, what we are supposed to sing and who we are supposed to be in this season. Hope that instead invites us to simply experience the presence and wonder of the Divine. Hope that anticipates without fully understanding what we are anticipating.

May this Advent upend our expectations with the anticipation of the Christ Child, the revelation of the Divine here among us.