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How long, O God?

The lectionary psalm this week is speaking to the concerns that so many people have with the current administration in our country. Children put in cages. Abuses of power. Insider politics. Secrets and promises.

While it is important and good in our call-out culture to speak out and speak up, we must also remember to “Take delight in the Lord,” remembering that the work we do is not our own work. It is work that the Holy Mystery is also working on. We are not alone in crying out for help. We are not alone in wondering when justice will roll down. We are joining the cries of this psalmist and indeed the children of God for generations before us.

37:1 Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, 37:2 for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. 37:3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 37:5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. 37:6 He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday. 37:7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. 37:8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil. 37:9 For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.

A-light-ment

Yesterday was the first day of Fall or the Fall Equinox. It marks the time when there was as much light as there was darkness. From here our days will start to have more and more dark in them. It’s a time that some people feel as if they are losing the light, but for me, Fall has always been a time of a-light-ment.

There’s something about the way the light comes through the kitchen window in the Fall that makes me feel calm and at peace. The sun shining straight into my windshield in the mornings reminds me of the new day and the new opportunities to offer light to the world.

Just as our cars need alignments every so often and our backs need adjustments after hours sitting in our cars and sitting at our computers, so too do our souls need a-light-ment. We need the reminder that the season is changing, that the trees will soon be letting go of their lives and storing up for the dark and cold of winter.

Although we may not like change or be ready for change, change still comes. Notice the way the light is moving. A-light yourself to the gentle breeze, see the possibility that a new season brings.

Waking up to Death

One of the hardest aspects of the Lenten season is to the constant reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return. As a preacher, I welcome the times in the church calendar like now where scripture lends itself to the promise and hope of resurrection and will come again.

For some, the Lenten season is not one that matches the church calendar but begins instead with the darkness of a diagnosis or the sudden decline of a loved one. These reminders in the middle of the church calendar catch us off guard. Because although we all know that we are dust and to dust, we shall return, we often push this realization to our subconscious.

We are life and death in one. Always moving towards death, but also living and breathing. It the paradox of our humanity.

When we have these moments when we are reminded of just how fragile life is and how much we can’t control how much time we have, we wake up to death moving this reality from our subconscious to our conscious thoughts. When this move happens, we tend to find time for what’s most important. We tend to treasure moments that would have been commonplace. We tend to worry less about clothes, money, and possessions because in matters of life and death those become unimportant.

For those of us who have lost someone, we love deeply and have found sleep, waking up to the realization that their physical presence is gone is so very difficult. And we have to wake up to the death of that loved one, again and again, day after day.

Waking up to death actually wakes up to life…and gratitude…and hope.

 

On Being a Revangelical

When I voiced a call to ministry, I found myself an outcast of my spiritual home of twenty-six years. As a woman who was raised Southern Baptist, my voicing a call to preach and pastor was beyond the fundamentalist theological views of my home church. From the vast number of women and men and nonbinary individuals who have shared their stories so openly, I know that I am not alone in finding myself wandering in a spiritual desert by coming out to who I was called to be. There is a whole community of people who are joining together to try to find sanctuary, ask questions, and share their stories in order to find wholeness and healing. This #exvangelical community has created books, podcasts, conferences, and all sorts of spaces for people who found themselves homeless.

Throughout my journey of being called to pastor and preach, I have followed this community appreciating the courage and vulnerability with which so many people have shared their stories, their lives, their pain, their abuse, and their trauma. Indeed there is something powerful about knowing that you are not alone and you are not the only one who has been disowned by a community of faith.

But I never identified myself as #exvangelical.

I could never put my finger on why exactly until recently. In the second Democratic debate when Major Pete made this statement:

“And for a party that associates itself with Christianity to say that it is ok, to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents,” he said, “that God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”

Something deep within me resonated with this statement because this is exactly where I have been stuck. I have never not considered myself evangelical. I believe in the gospel. I believe the gospel offers freedom and hope and healing and wholeness to all of those who have been oppressed, abused, silenced, ostracized and downtrodden. And I believe in spreading this message of hope.

I haven’t identified myself as an evangelical because of the political connotations associated with the term “evangelical.” I haven’t identified myself as an evangelical because of the way it has become synonymous with the religious right and the fundamentalist oppressive, abusive theology that has caused so much hurt and pain and disembodiment.

Between this statement and my partner’s parsing of the Greek meaning of the term evangelical around the dinner table, I am finally ready to say that I am evangelical or perhaps a revangelical, returning to an identity I used to wear proudly as I tried to convert my middle school friends and offer them eternal salvation.

I am no longer interested in converting people, but I am interested in continuing to accept the invitation of partnering in the wonderful, mystical, and transformative work that the Holy Spirit is doing here on earth within and among us.

The Best Books I Read in 2018

For the last two years, I have participated in the reading challenge on Goodreads. I’ve challenged myself to read 50 books. In 2016, I read 23. In 2017, I read 34. This year, I read 47. I’ll also challenge myself to read 50 books this year. It’s good to recognize challenges often take longer than a year to achieve.

Here’s the list of books I read.

While I recommend almost everything I read this year, I wanted to think about the five books I read this year that most impacted me and why. Books change us and challenge us to see the world and our own realities differently. These five surely did.

  1. The Hate U Give by Angela Johnson: Part of my commitment this year was to read from a variety of different perspectives, concentrating especially on female voices and underrepresented voices in the publishing industry. The Hate U Give is by far one of the best books to offer a new perspective through a first-person lens.
  2. The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd: I remember when I first encountered The Mermaid Chair and I thought to myself, “How did I not know this author existed?” I had this same experience when I discovered that she had theological writing I had never encountered. This book is especially significant and important for anyone who was raised with certain expectations of what it means to be female because it is her journey of finding the Divine Feminine. As she wrestles with who she has been and wrestles for who she will be, I found myself and my story again and again in her words.
  3. Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh: This year I started a certification program in Spiritual Direction. As part of that program, I read one book each month. With these requirements, I have encountered new authors and new ideas that have deepened my understanding and my connection to the Divine. This book in particular opened by eyes to just how noisy our lives are and how important silence is to balance out all the noise. Hanh points out how much we resist silence because of how noisy our world is and how we are missing something deep within because of all the noise.
  4. Blessed by Kate Bowler: Although most people know Kate Bowler for her book Everything Happens for a ReasonBlessed is her dissertation work. In this book, she recounts the history of the prosperity gospel and its influence in popular culture as well as religious institutions. As she makes her way through the story of this movement, so much about how our modern congregations view the world, giving, and involvement in the community becomes clear. If you think that this movement doesn’t impact you or your church, you’ll discover how much it actually does as you read this book.
  5. Raising Human Beings by Ross Greene: As our youngest has gained more and more independence throughout toddlerhood, it is important to us that we are fostering not only his physical and mental development but also his emotional development. This book is excellent if you are looking for ways to stretch those little daily decisions, interactions, and communications to a bigger philosophy of parenting.

Perhaps 2019 will finally be the year that I will reach that elusive 50 book goal, but regardless of whether I do or not, my commitment to read and to read as much as I can won’t change. Because it’s in reading other people’s words and seeing the world through other people’s eyes that our own view of the world expands to include other perspectives.

A Year of Strength

Setting intentions for your day, your week, your month, and your year serve to center your mind and connect your heart and your mind to each other. Many people use the approaching new year as a time to signal goal setting and intentionality. For some people, this manifests into a word or a mantra, something easy to remember,  repeat, and return to as life inevitably brings the unexpected.

For me, this process has always worked in reverse. I don’t choose a word at the beginning of the year instead about this time every year, the word that has followed me throughout the year finds me. Last year, the word grief found me. As I reflected on the amount of grief our family had experienced, I began to understand that what we had experienced and what we had walked through together would shape who we were as individuals and as a family.

This year has been a year of strength. I spent much of the first three months of this year running and training. I was able to move back up to running five miles at a time, something I hadn’t been able to do since I was in seminary. I began to understand in a real and deep way the role spiritual abuse has impacted me. I walked more closely to my incredible partner as I wrestled with my past and began to recognize triggers and address longheld hurt that I had buried deeply. I started a certification program in spiritual direction to engage the Divine in deep and ancient ways. We found out we were pregnant and wrestled through the grief and uncertainty and memories it brought back of our loss last year. This year has ended with an invitation to step out of my comfort zone and serve as the pastor of Garden of Grace UCC. Truly, this year has been one of strength.

After a year of grieving, these opportunities to experience the Divine and to connect more deeply to my partner and family overwhelm me with gratitude. Gratitude that the invitation to grow and learn still exists. Gratitude that the Divine still calls and invites us to participate in the bringing the kingdom of God here on earth. Gratitude that we are never alone in our journey and that even when we can’t comprehend or understand where our story is going, we are still surrounded with the love and presence of Creator God.

To be sure, this year has asked me to dig deep to places I didn’t necessarily want to go, but strength comes from the deepest and darkest places. There were tears and soreness and growing pains, but as I stand on the edge of a new year, I know I am walking into that newness and this new season stronger than I have been. This makes the journey worthwhile.

I can’t wait to see what 2019 holds!

A Season of Hope

As Advent quickly approaches, I am excited to share that on January 2, 2019, I will officially begin as the Pastor of Garden of Grace UCC in Columbia. We are excited about this new adventure that God is calling our family to embark upon. We are incredibly grateful for the journey we have shared with New Hope Christian Fellowship over the last two and half years and anticipate with great hope walking this season of Advent with them as they dream about what’s next.

I have learned in my five years of ministry that there is no way to predict or anticipate what’s ahead when you live a called life. For me, a former teacher, who prided herself on the detailed account of short and long-range planning this is one of the most difficult aspects of being called. And yet, again and again, I am overwhelmed that God has called me to this wondrous and mysterious work called pastoring.  Having being raised Southern Baptist, being a pastor was never a possibility or a consideration. It just wasn’t something women did. And yet, again and again, God calls me to lead and guide God’s people.

As Advent quickly approaches, perhaps the Divine is asking us to stop planning and predicting what will happen and instead stand in awe and wonder of the Divine in human form.

Nothing Could Be Finer…Unless You’re a Woman

I grew up in South Carolina and went to college in South Carolina. I’ve taught and worked in South Carolina for the majority of my professional career both as a teacher and as a minister. Although I love so much about the state, I am shocked at the number of people who don’t understand the realities we face in South Carolina.

South Carolina ranks #5 in domestic violence and is one of the top 5 states in the country for women killed by men. A recent report, just revealed that South Carolina is named one of 2018 worst states for women’s equality. Coincidence? I don’t think so. South Carolina continues to top charts in ignoring the reality that women in our state are in danger. They are in danger of losing their lives. They are in danger of discrimination, underemployment, and being looked over for promotions.

And none of this can change because women are severely underrepresented because we rank 49th in the political representation gap. Things will not change until we have more voices of women in leadership positions in our businesses, in our state house, and in our capital. Things will not change until we value the lives of the women in South Carolina as much as male counterparts.

There is much work to do.

A Season of Abundance

For the last three days, I have been a part of the MEI Grant program in Decatur, GA. As we have talked about the financial burden of young clergy, the changing dynamics of the economy, and the outlook for the role of the church and the minister on the future, I have been overwhelmed with new hope and new vision. It is so easy in ministry to be tunnel vision. We move from one week to another, especially when high holy seasons are so close together. There is always so much to do. I haven’t met a minister who says, “I think I am doing everything I can for the church.” We all want to do more and be more.

Ministers also have the pull of their families and many times other vocations (in fact, 21% of ministers, yes full-time ministers, have another job). This is not unusual to the current state of what it means to work in America, but the role of the minister is different. Whether you are full-time or bi-vocational, the ministry is a distinct profession because you are never “off.” There is no such thing as a part-time minister because of the great weight of walking people through the unexpected and predictable in order to encounter and experience the Divine. There is a reason why burnout among ministers remains so high in the first five years, not to mention that most ministers are in worse health than their congregations. Ministry is an isolated and often isolating call.

And yet it remains essential to the life and work of people and indeed to our country. While ministers carry the weight of being the presence of God through the good and bad, so too do we bear the weight of holding onto hope and holding onto to light in the midst of our current sociopolitical context. We are the ones people turn to in times of darkness and hopelessness. We are the ones offering the invitation to encounter the miraculous, transformative power of the resurrected Christ.

This time to be with other ministers who are working as hard as they can to offer this light and hope into the world has been refreshing and renewing. A certain and definite reminder that we as ministers are not alone that there is a rich abundance in fellowshipping together, learning together, and growing together during this Eastertide season of abundance.

Spiritual Abuse and Asking for Help

The people and stories I encounter in my ministry are not always easy ones to hear. They are weighty with pain and hurt. In these stories, there is almost always a point at which the person reached out to a religious leader asking for help and guidance.

A woman whose husband was physically abusing her was told that she needed to stick with the marriage because “God hates divorce.”

A woman who was being consistently being sexually harassed at church was told, “he is a good man and a servant of God. Your job is to submit to your husband.”

A woman was struggling with depression and wanted a recommendation for a therapist or a psychiatrist was told, “God is strong enough. You just need to pray more.”

Again and again, people reach out for help only to be told, there is no help. The dogmatic teaching doesn’t allow for divorce, victims speaking up, or needing help outside of the religious community. And instead of offering wholeness and freedom, the community of faith offers more hurt, more pain, and more isolation.

If you know that you know that you that you know that you are spending eternity in heaven then what you experience here on earth doesn’t matter all that much. If you have the peace that surpasses all understanding then you can overcome anything that you encounter.

This is spiritual abuse.

When we cling so tightly to doctrine over the people who are sitting before us bearing their souls, we are missing the gospel message. The gospel is not about continued and consistent hurt and brokenness. The gospel is about freedom and wholeness. This is why the Divine came to earth to offer new life.

When we focus so heavily on eschatological destinations, we miss out on living and being here on earth. We miss being in community with others who breathe the same Divine breath that we do. We miss out on seeing the miraculous transformative power of the Divine here among us working, changing, and offering hope to people desperately asking for help, asking to be seen, asking to be heard.

May our eyes be opened to see those who surround us and hear their needs, rather than explaining those needs away with an easy dogmatic answer.