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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.

That’s not a compliment. That’s sexual harassment.

It was not long after Ben was born that I was attending a minister’s conference. Ben was in tow, but it was still wonderful to be able to speak about the changing dynamics of church and congregations and to feel like a professional again.

I was riding high on conversations with good ministers when someone stopped in one our conversation and said, “Wow, look at you, you’ve lost all the baby weight. Good for you.” I forced a smile on my face and made my way to a different part of the room.

There was no part of the conversation I had been in that he had joined that had to do with weight loss or post-partum recovery. The conversation this male colleague joined just long enough to make “an unwanted or obscene sexual remark” was about that how to rethink giving patterns as ministers.

“But he was offering you a compliment.”

No, that’s not a compliment. That’s sexual harassment.

His comment revealed that not only had he checked out my body in that professional conference, but he had enough knowledge of the way my body looked before I had our baby to compare before and after. I had not made public any goals for weight loss on social media. I had not been discussing post-partum weight loss in that setting or in the conversation he joined. He didn’t see me as a colleague in ministry nor did he, in that moment, treat me as a colleague in ministry.

Why didn’t I say something? Because as a young minister just getting started in what purports to be a welcoming and affirming Baptist world, I didn’t want to cause waves. This is where reporting sexual harassment is difficult for those who experience it. Inevitably, there are ramifications for the person who reports sexual harassment and because sexual harassment occurs in a professional setting, those ramifications directly have to do with job security and income.

Sexual harassment won’t stop occurring until those with power and privilege step up and take a stand for those who have little power in the systems and networks of professionalism. Sexual harassment won’t stop occurring until we come to an understanding that sexual harassment happens everywhere: in churches, at minister’s conferences, in doctor’s offices, in business offices, in Hollywood, and in the tech industry.

Will we have eyes to see? Will we have ears to hear the stories? Will we have mouths that say enough is enough?

Staring Into the Light

As Ben and I were walking this morning, we rounded the corner and Ben started to whine. He had his hand over his eyes and I realized the change in direction put the sun rise directly into his eyes. It made me think about looking directly into the poverty, homeless and need that exists in our society.

It’s almost too much. It’s too much to consider that another Category 4 or 5 hurricane could hit another part of our country. It is too much to think about the fact that we have food and homes while others don’t and so just like Ben, we often shield our eyes from the reality, but looking away or shielding our eyes won’t change the needs of neighbors.

It will still be there when we open our eyes shaded by the comfort and security of our own privilege. Maybe it’s time to head into the light, as bright as it is because there in the light is where we find Jesus healing those who are sick, eating with those who are outsiders and preaching to anyone who will listen.

 

You are special. You are loved. You are God’s child.

Today began our Youth Missions Week at New Hope. We are so excited to be joining with Koinonia offering arts, crafts, and songs to the students gathered this summer. This morning we read God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and were reminded that we are unique and special and that we are all a part of God’s family.

We asked students to complete the sentence, “I am special because…” It was amazing to see how astute they already are about how they are different than anyone else, but as we were working on the crafts, I noticed that the adult and youth leaders began to make their own. Maybe it was the finger paint, maybe it was the book, maybe it was that we all need this simple reminder:

You are special.

You are loved.

You are God’s child.