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Behind the Scenes A Theology of Scarcity

I have this voice in my head that whispers a repeating line, “It’s not enough. It’s not enough.” Most of this time this repeating line enters my consciousness on Wednesday mornings as I am walking back to my car after leading the chapel service at Transitions Homeless Shelter. I have walked with the homeless community in Columbia since our son was born almost four years ago.

This ever-changing, diverse congregation is the congregation that has challenged and taught me the most. In the midst of some of the most difficult circumstances, they hold onto hope. In the midst of what most people would consider scarcity, they are incredibly generous. Their faith has asked me to look deeply at some of my foundational, theological views. As I have reflected, I realize I have clung tightly to a theology of scarcity.

When I was growing up, I often heard that I was not good enough or generous enough to make it to God. Not only was I not good enough, I was born not good enough. The very essence of who I was, was sinful. This is why accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior was so essential. In seminary, I learned that this theological concept was called total depravity of the soul. I also learned that while I was raised baptist this theological concept was most often found in reformed theology.

What I hadn’t put together until now is that this theological concept actually crept into my very being and bloomed into a theology of scarcity. It starts by believing that you can’t be good enough and turns into you are not enough and that leads to you are not good. It starts by believing there is nothing we can do to reach God and turns into there is nothing we can do to change unjust systems and unfair treatment of God’s people. It starts by believing there’s a limited amount of money and blessings for a chosen few and turns into making and keeping money and resources away from other people.

I heard this all the time as I entered into the process of pastor search as a woman preacher.

“We wish there were more churches, but there just aren’t that many who will even consider a woman pastor and even fewer who will actually call a woman pastor.”

“We wish we could offer you more money, but there just isn’t enough right now.”

“We wish that we could offer you benefits, but that just isn’t in the budget.”

“We wish that we could offer you a raise, but we have to grow first.”

All of this speaks from a theology of scarcity. A theology of scarcity allows us to limit what God can do to what we can imagine. If there is anything I have learned from my journey into ministry, it’s that God is much, much bigger than anything we can imagine.

A theology of scarcity limits the kingdom of God to a capitalistic market that profits off the back of the underpaid and undervalued workers rather than working together towards a greater good. A theology of scarcity purports that the meaning of life is gaining more through rapid and vapid consumerism rather than giving generously every time we have more than we need. A theology of scarcity excludes people because of their sexual identity, gender, or race believing that God’s people are limited rather than believing that ALL humans are created in the image of God and hold the Divine breath within their very beings.

Most importantly, a theology of scarcity allows churches, denominations, and minister the excuse that this is “just the way it is” thereby never having to change their beliefs or their actions.

Slowly, but surely, I am operating from a theology of abundance.

There is more than enough room at the table for everyone. There is more than enough food, clothing, and shoes for everyone. We have more than enough and so we share with those who do have enough so they too know the right and abundant life the Spirit of God is offering.

This theology of abundance opens the heart and mind to welcome and include everyone. A theology of abundance gives without thinking or wondering if there will be enough because there is always enough. A theology of abundance worries not about what I am going to put on my plate, but whether there are enough plates for all who are gathered at the table to fellowship and commune together.

As I am renewing my mental patterns, I find my words and my actions changing each week at Transitions. Rather than worrying about whether I am doing enough or trying hard enough, I find myself whispering the words, “You are enough. You are enough. You are enough.” to God’s people gathered around the table to encounter a God who always offers more and more and more.

 

Behind the Scenes of Advocating for LGTBQIA+

As I sat in my ordination council, I knew that these were questions and conversations I would always remember. Although I hadn’t been given the questions before I met with my council, I wasn’t surprised when this question arose: “What would you say if a same-sex couple asked you to officiate their wedding?” I asked a clarifying question in response, “If they asked me to officiate their wedding in the church or outside of my role as pastor?” The committee person said, “In the church.” For me this question was one that was easy to answer, “I would bring it before the church because of our congregational polity, this is something the community would have to engage and discern.”

I knew that this was an important question. It was 2013 and many CBF churches and CBF ministers were wrestling with the same question as well as the impact of the answer to that question on their churches and the minister’s ministry. To officiate a same-sex wedding was to eliminate yourself from future positions in churches that were “just not ready” to engage the issue.

In 2015, I was asked by a same-sex couple if I would officiate their wedding. I explained that I would love to meet with them and talk to them as we journeyed together towards marriage. As we met, the conversation turned towards my officiating their wedding to getting married in our church. When they expressed their desire to be married in our community of faith, I knew I had to bring it before the community. We were a welcoming and affirming church. We had ordained women and LGBTQIA+ persons. I had been called as the first female pastor. In so many ways the church was on the progressive end of the CBF spectrum.  As we walked and discussed and prayed, I consulted mentors and denominational leaders as I facilitated these conversations hoping I was providing space for the safety of the couple and also the questions and struggles of the community.

When we decided as a community of faith that we would follow our welcoming and affirming words with the action of standing as a witness to this couple, I was overwhelmed with the power and love of being community together. I was 39 weeks pregnant with our first child and received special permission from my doctor to officiate the wedding.

To be honest, I didn’t think too much about the phone call I received asking me to keep our story and the journey we had taken from calling ourselves welcoming and affirming to truly being welcoming and affirming quiet. I knew the couple was both professionals and in South Carolina had to still be careful and I wasn’t going to share their story without them sharing it first. I was also very pregnant and was working out the details of negotiating a maternity leave policy that became an extended leave policy on the advice of several colleagues who had been diagnosed with cancer or autoimmune disorders hoping to lay the foundation for others who would need time to heal .

I didn’t think about that conversation until the six months after our son was born when I was at a CBF gathering. One of the session was about fostering the conversation about becoming a welcoming and affirming church. As I listened to the story of the people who were wrestling with the idea of maybe considering starting the conversation, I couldn’t help but think. We just did this. This is what just happened in our community of faith.

And that’s when I remembered that conversation where I was asked to keep our experience quiet because there were some churches that “just weren’t ready” to engage the conversation. Maybe it was because I was pregnant and a new mom that I didn’t recall or reflect on that conversation until much later. Maybe it was because having been raised Southern Baptist I was very used to being asked to stay quiet and to not talk or write about my experiences. Maybe it was because I was only two years into pastoring and cared very deeply about being accepted and belonging to the greater CBF community.

Now as I look back, I realize this silencing was what many others had experienced as pastors and as individuals. I began to wonder how many churches had asked pastors not to tell about their experience officiating a same-sex wedding? How many persons who were LGTBQIA+ had been asked to keep quiet about who they were? How many churches have kept quiet a request from a couple to bear witness to their love and their relationship?

I don’t know how many have been asked to keep their experiences, their identities, and their true selves quiet, but I know that I was asked to keep quiet.

And I know there are others.

On Serving Side by Side

Last week, I had the privielge of serving in worship and on a panel discussion with a group of ecunemnical clergy in celebration of Reconciling in Christ designation that Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary received two years ago. I have participated in similar conversations throughout my six years of ministry, but this is the first time I was representing a denomination who as a whole was welcoming and affirming.

The United Church of Christ ordained its first woman over 150 years ago and its first openly gay clergy in 1972 over thirty years ago. Again and again the United Church of Christ has been the first denomination to express extravagant welcome to all people. As I was sitting on the panel, I felt no angst in representing that I believe in wholly and completely affirming members of the LGTBQIA+ community. I felt the burden of my colleagues for whom this is a touchy issue and a difficult subject.

I also felt freedom because in my short tenure in the UCC, I can honestly say this isn’t an issue. It is who we are and because we aren’t spending our time and energy debating and discussing and defending, we can be about the work of offering hope and healing to all people.

I’m incredibly greatful for those who have gone before me who have established a foundation of extravagant welcome and a church of extravangant welcome who called me as their pastor.

#IAmWithAllTheHers

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I didn’t #PantsSuitUp yesterday on Tuesday to go and vote, but I did yesterday.

I did because #Iamwithallthehers.

I am with the hers who are shocked and disappointed because their candidate lost.

I am with the hers in the LGTBQ community.

I am with the hers of all races, nationalities, and ethnicities.

I am with the hers who are worried about their children, especially their daughters.

I am with the hers for whom the results of this election trigger painful memories of abusive relationships, sexual assault encounters, rape, and spiritual abuse.

I am with the hers who have been silenced, oppressed, and threatened to not share their stories of abuse, sexual assault, rape, and spiritual abuse.

I am with the hers who are in conservative communities of faith.

I am with the hers who are not in communities of faith.

I am with the hers who have endured sexual harrassments, unwanted sexual advances, and sexual assault in the wake of this election.

I am with the hers who are single.

I am with the hers who are stepparents.

I am with the hers who are thanking God because He heard their prayers and allowed their candidate to win.

#Iamwithallthehers

When We Withhold Communion

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Yesterday, as we worshipped together at ministrieslab, I offered an invitation to the table. An invitation to anyone who wanted to come. I offered the same thoughts that we offer each week, “It doesn’t matter when the last time you went to church was or what church that was, God’s table is open to all.”

There was a woman who hadn’t been in worship with us, but was waiting at the doorway for the next class. As we wrapped up with the Amen chorus, she ventured into the conference room. She complimented the pianist telling him how powerful his music was and how it moved and encouraged her. She came in where I was packing up the communion elements. I offered her the rest of the communion bread, something we do every week in case there is someone who is hungry and needs a bit more than a pinch of bread to sustain them. She shook her head no. I offered again explaining that she was welcome to it, knowing that to be homeless is to be vulnerable and being offered handouts is often offensive. She shook her head again. Sensing something in her eyes, a question or a hesitation, I offered one last time.

She explained that she wanted to take communion. The juice had already been given to someone else, but I told her I would be happy to pour the cup again, just for her. “I want to take communion, but people have told me I shouldn’t because you have to be a certain kind of person to take communion.”

I looked her in her eyes and said, “I’m a minister and I’m offering you this bread and cup to remember that we are all offered new life.” She took the smallest pinch of the body of Christ I have ever seen and dipped just a little into the cup. After she had eaten the bread dipped from the cup, she took the cup and raised it to her lips. She finished the small amount I had served just for her. As she handed the cup back to me, I said, “Thanks be to God.” “Amen,” she muttered.

When we withhold communion from people who need to be reminded of the sacrifice Jesus made on the night he was betrayed, we withhold new life from them. When we withhold communion from people because of their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, or whether they have a home or not, we are withholding God from them. When we withhold communion, we are withholding God’s love and God’s hope and instead offering them exclusion and brokenness.

When we withhold communion from people, we are forgetting, not remembering. We are forgetting that in the wilderness God offered manna from heaven to God’s people: the people who had faith and the people who were complaining, whining, and had no faith. We are forgetting that Jesus on the night he was betrayed offered the bread and the cup to the very person who was about to betray him. We are forgetting that in the midst of our own brokenness, we were offered the hope and healing in the body and blood of Christ.

Thanks be to God that we are welcomed to God’s table even when we tell others there is no seat for them.

When Ministry Is Hard

 

Ministry is hard when you have to stand beside and pray on behalf of a mom who has lost her 7 and a half week old reminding her that she still has to take care of her postpartum body that hasn’t even healed yet.

Ministry is hard in a political climate that is divisive, filled with name calling, and high stakes.

Ministry is hard in the midst of decline church membership, declining budgets, and increased expectations on time and responsibilities.

Ministry is hard when you feel called to serve, but can’t find a place to call you to serve.

Ministry is hard when you see over and over again the hurt and pain the church has caused so many people.

Ministry is hard when you are ministering to the homeless and hear people remark about how people who are homeless are just lazy because there are jobs available everywhere and you know it’s not true.

Ministry is hard when you find your privilege exposed and your assumptions revealed.

Ministry is hard as our culture looks to our churches for guidance on how to interpret the violence we experience much too often.

Ministry is hard as you navigate what it means to be someone who is called God’s word to God’s people.

Thanks be to God for those men and women who are ministers, especially when ministry is hard.

 

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.

 

After the Rain

Last night, I stood on our back porch smelling the post-rain air. The air was particularly sweet because it had been threatening to rain for two days. The herb garden Sam got started for me for my birthday in April had been baking on the steps of our front porch ready to soak up the rain that took two days to come. As I checked on them today, I realized the rain yesterday hadn’t been enough. They already needed to be watered again.

While I left CBF General Assembly renewed by the community and solidarity of those of us who are united in support of the entire LGTBQ community, it was like the rain my herbs got in last night. It offered a brief refreshment, but then the summer heat of reality came back as articles from people who believe that the hiring policy of CBF doesn’t need to be addressed began to appear. I want to believe in the Illumination Project announced by CBF conveniently on the Wednesday morning of the CBF General Assembly. I want to believe that this process will be a way to “provide more light and less heat,” to the LGTBQ question.

But those of us who have who have been baking in the heat of search committees and churches, who have lost out on opportunities to serve in churches because of our gender, our sexuality, because of who we are, are praying desperately for the refreshing rain of a community of faith who will let us grow into the ministers we are called to be. We were hoping we wouldn’t be told to wait, to continue baking in the heat while others search for light.

It’s a step in the right direction, but CBF has to continue to water and tend to ministers of the LGTBQ, ministers who are women, and ministers who are actively and purposely supporting ministers from these communities.

One scattered shower of hope isn’t enough.

A Fractured Reality

As more and more people begin to arrive in Greensboro for CBF’s General Assembly, there is no question that the press release this morning with a call from Suzii Paynter to work towards unity was meant to set the stage for the conversation about CBF’s discriminatory hiring policy. It sounds a lot like we are following in the footsteps of Methodists, except for one thing. While the Methodists are willing to admit that their process of discovery is in regards to the LGTBQ question, Paynter says:

We are introducing a process not for a single problem or for a single moment.

Her statement reveals the fractured reality CBF has been living in.

Because CBF does not kick churches out of their fellowship, there exists a wide array of churches along the theological spectrum. In fact some of CBF churches are still dually aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention, which had protestors at the funerals of the victims of the Orlando shooting. These dually aligned churches are hoping CBF will do exactly what Paynter’s words indicate: avoid the LGTBQ question entirely. The reality is by avoiding the question, CBF is hoping to maintain the financial backing of churches, ministers, and lay people from a wide range of theological understandings.

But CBF can’t exist in this fractured reality for much longer. Churches and ministers who support the LGTBQ community and who don’t or don’t want to address the question, will keep pushing for a clear answer on what CBF believes. As more and more ministers and churches push, the fracture will become bigger.

And maybe this isn’t a bad place for CBF to be because it mirrors the conflicted climate of the church. The possibility of losing funding or losing members over the difficult conversations of gender and sexuality is a reality that so many churches and ministers are trying to navigate. Maybe by feeling the pressure and stress that so many churches and ministers are bearing, CBF will look to a future that values not money above all, but rather the resurrection power of Christ to transform the world.

Hold On

For those of us who are preparing and traveling to CBF General Assembly, there is a question that is on all of our minds, “What is the future for CBF?” This is the 25th Anniversary of CBF and while it is a time to catch up with people and celebrate, it is also a time that we are all expecting a clear vision for what’s next.

CBF is no longer an awkward teenager testing boundaries and trying to find its identity. Instead, CBF is, well, a millennial. The millennials in attendance are not nones (they are attending CBF after all). These are millennials who have not given up on the church, but instead have answered calls to ministry. These are millennials who are pushing on leadership hoping to find a place to serve, a place to grow, and a place to be themselves.

Will CBF have a place for millennial ministers in their midst?

Maybe, but there is a hiring policy standing between many millennials and CBF. A hiring policy that taints the good work CBF does in caring for those in the midst of crisis because it asks members of the LGTBQ community to silence part of who they are. It is a hiring policy that excludes rather than excludes. It is a hiring policy that stands in contradiction to a theology of welcoming and affirming all people.

As we wait for General Assembly to begin, we wait hoping beyond hope, we won’t hear what we have heard for the past 25 years. We hope we won’t hear, “Hold on,” because we have held on for 25 years. It’s time to stop holding on, grasping an identity based on what we are not, and climb to the future that includes all people.