This is a post I’ve been thinking of writing for a LONG time. I’ve waited, and waited, and waited. Not because really because of fear, though I have felt it. Not because I wanted to stay on the sidelines, though at times I did. Not because I wasn’t sure, though I have long wrestled. I waited, because I honestly haven’t even known where to begin.
But, to not begin; to not speak, I now realize is one of these things I confess each evening in my prayers: “I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and what I have left undone.”
Without equivocation or qualification, I give thanks to God for the presence, example, and gift of women pastors, ministers, elders, professors, mentors, leaders, and teachers. Not just for those in my own life, but for those throughout time. We are better because of you. I would not be more whole and healed in my life without you. In short: we need you.
While this post may feel like a bit of a hot-take toward certain articles and posts that have been circulating recently, that is not really my desire. And, I do not desire to rehash tired arguments. I will leave that to others. I will simply say that I believe that the full-inclusion of women in places of leadership, authority, and gifting in the church and the world (and fruitful partnerships of mutuality between men and women) is the more faithful response to the full story of our Faith and a more beautiful witness to the world of God’s kingdom.
I was recently in a meeting with a group of women who are working to serve and love some of the most marginalized and vulnerable in our region. I had a moment as I was sitting at the table where I just realized how blessed I was to be in their midst. These are some of the most passionate, smart, strategic, gifted, and hard-working women (and people!) I have met. I felt overwhelmed by the fact that I got to work with them; that I had a seat at their table. That I was being led by them. This feeling of blessing was then commingled with sadness for others who are missing out on this opportunity for reasons of belief or institution or otherwise.
But rather than parse out the reasons for my support and belief (which again, others have done very well) I wanted to take the space to honor and thank some of those women who have had such a profound impact on me. They have led me and modeled for me what it looks like to be fully human and a lover of what is good in the world. Note: ***I will inevitably leave far too many out, and I commit to taking more time to share consistently how women continue to challenge and bless me. Forgive me and grant me grace, especially if you are left out. But this is a start. I’m beginning…
My mom helped to instill a vibrant and intellectually honest and curious faith in me from a young age. She took note of my needs while in middle school to homeschool me for a couple years to help affirm my thirst for learning and affirm the mind God had given me. She modeled faithful service and imaginative ways of using her gifts and talents in a variety of jobs and places of service in the church and community. She created space for my questions, she entertained my wonderings, she endured (endures?) the harsher edges of my idealism and fundamentalism with grace and love.
I think of my seminary professors who have profoundly impacted me. Dr. Rebecca Hancock, my Hebrew Bible professor who opened up the beauty and significance of these texts in a way that still challenges me, and who led discussions around the Psalms which have shaped my own prayer life. I think of Rev. Amy Richter, whose deep love for Scripture and pastoral heart gave me a renewed imagination for my own vocation. I still remember hearing her preach and seeing her interact with every single one of her parishioners after the service. I saw, in a fresh way, how robust preaching and faithful shepherding can go hand-in-hand.
I think of Dr. Tracy Radosovic who helped me rediscover the Gospels as stories to be told, not simply texts to be studied. Her fervor for seeing the proclamation of these texts as fully embodied, dramatic moments has influenced my own preaching to this day. And, of course, Dr. Pat Foasarelli, the “Double Doctor” as I call her, as she hold both an M.D. as a pediatrician but also a D. Min. as a professor, Associate Dean, and trainer of seminarians (yes, all-male Catholic ones, too!). Her depth of experience in pastoral ministry in her parish, her stories of working children living with HIV and AIDS, and her way of pushing us into deeper questions about practical ministry, continue to serve as a fuel for my journey. Her matter-of-fact personality and her sensitivity to the work of God in others as a spiritual director is a gift to so many.
I also think of my own spiritual director, Jackie, who helped guide me as a sort of surrogate grandmother, helping me make sense of the rublmings in my heart around vocation and life direction. The times with her, sipping coffee at her kitchen table and listening the Spirit together will continue to shape my life for years to come.
And there are the countless women pastors and ministers who have taught me (personally or from afar) in one way or another about God, ministry, preaching, and self-care (And I will inevitably leave someone out!). Sandy Boone, Toni Draper, Cathy Oatman, Christine Parker, Michelle Rader, Christa Burns, Mandy Smith, Barbara Brown Taylor, Fleming Rutledge…gosh I could go on.
And, of course, in my work now with HopeSprings, I have learned and grown so much under the leadership and direction of Erin Donovan. I am grateful for her philosophy of leadership, her passion and compassion for those we serve, and her faithfulness through challenging times.
(I have chosen not to include my wife here, because 1) that deserves its own post and 2) she is not fond of public attention from me like this! But, at the risk of violating my reasons, Kara, you are a gift, a means of God’s grace, and a wonderful life partner to me! And to my sister, Amelia…I will save my words for the endorsement or foreword on your first memoir or book, should I have the honor of being asked to write them! ;-))
So, at the risk of a reductionistic and overused phrase, I say again: thank you. And for all those women not named here who are wonderful friends and sisters: we need more than just your competence. Your competence is a given. Your qualifications are evident. We need your presence and your example. And I commit to doing all I can to honor you and open any spaces I can for you to continue to bless and teach us all. Not because you need my help, but because we need your voice.
Last week, I shared some incredibly raw and real thoughts and feelings I’ve been having about what I am seeing within much of the American Christian world. I was struck and humbled by how much my words resonated with so many (and upset some, as well!). I am grateful for the space it has opened for some of us to share our collective grief and pain. While the post was precipitated by a recent event, the feelings and thoughts were not simply about this one situation or “issue” (I really don’t like that word, by the way). Rather, in many ways, this was the culmination of a lot of pain and frustration that has been on a sort of “low boil” for awhile. In regards to how people tend to respond to us when we are in that place, I will have more to write…perhaps later this week.
I believe that my post was not a cry for a debate about a certain topic, nor was it simply a knee-jerk reaction or “hot take” on the latest social media outrage. It was my attempt at a sort of prophetic lament. This is a way of naming what one sees as inconsistent, wrong, and painful…and holding it up to each other and to God. It is a way of saying: “I see this. I feel this. It hurts me and others. It is wrong. We can do better.” In short, it is an expression of where we really are in our faith and life and a small step toward imagining something better. And we see this especially in the psalms. I’d encourage you to read some of them like Ps 31 or 88. Or even Ps 41 (which is an interesting mix of lament and thanksgiving, seemingly on the back end of some intense suffering).
D. A. Carson says that, in biblical lament, the authors do not try “to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God.”
I would also add, that such lament is not just before and with God, but it is amongst a community as well. And it is a KEY and necessary step in addressing any sort of action or response. In short, lamenting is is not giving up or losing hope. It’s looking at and letting out. It is the practice of naming what really is as it is.
Actually, I believe that when we refuse to lament, when we run away from that which is uncomfortable, when we “spiritualize it away”, or even settle for having abstract theological debates about topics, that these can all be forms of giving up. We jump from what is to how it can be quickly and easily resolved. So we respond like this: Here’s a verse. Here’s a book. You should just pray about it. You should just count it all joy!
Soong-Chan Rah in his EXCELLENT book, “The American church avoids lament. The power of lament is minimized and the underlying narrative of suffering that requires lament is lost. But absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart forget. The absence of lament in the liturgy of the American church results in the loss of memory. We forget the necessity of lamenting over suffering and pain. We forget the reality of suffering and pain.”
The practice and habit of lament helps to ensure that we are still connected to suffering and pain in the world, even when it isn’t our own.
There is so much more to say, but I will leave you with one quote from Walter Brueggemann’s ““The cross is the assurance that effective prophetic criticism is done not by an outsider but always by one who must embrace the grief, enter into the death, and know the pain of the criticized one.”
I’m not done. I’m not going anywhere. I am carrying my feelings and grief with me in the work God has for me in the world. In the end, we lament; not because we have given up, but because we refuse to do so. May we lean in to all that we feel, think, and experience as necessary and un-rushed step forward. May we still feel it, still wrestle, and by doing so, not give up.
***Reader beware: this is a raw post. If you disagree with some of what follows, I understand. If it upsets you, I’m sorry. I’m upset. This is me trying to figure out what in the world is going on around me and in me. I am trying to just name where I am right now and I’m trusting God is meeting me here. I’m still a work in progress.
There are sometimes when the frenetic activity of the world in which I’ve grown up in reaches a fever pitch and it really affects me. This world I mention is the Christian world in North America. It’s certainly been on a low boil for awhile. That’s probably not the best metaphor, but consider this: evangelicals love affair with and unequivocal support of Trump, patriotic worship services in megachurches where they sing “Make America Great Again, the deafening silence around unaccountable (and un-indicted/acquitted) police officers increasing the black body count, the ridiculous questions about whether Christian women can blog without male pastor approval, the fear-inducing rhetoric surrounding refugees and immigrants, the political litmus tests for ministry positions…
And now, one of the most influential pastors and writers I know, Eugene Peterson, says he would perform a same-sex wedding and the Christian Twitterverse loses their collective “mind”–many outright questioning his eternal destiny, pulling copies of his amazing paraphrase of the Bible (The Message) from bookstore shelves, and sharing how “disappointed” they are in him.
I suppose I’m disappointed, too. But not with Pastor Peterson.
More to the point: I’m embarrassed. I’m sad. I’m angry. And I’m sorry.
I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed that professors from my alma mater are suggesting that someone who disagrees with them over this issue are in danger of eternal torment in hell. (I won’t hyperlink to that one here…sorry) I’m embarrassed that the bookstore I used to work for years ago is preparing to act on the decision to pull copies of The Message Bible over this one interview. (They do this specifically when authors come out with a Pro-LGBT position, like Jen Hatmaker did.)
***PS Lifeway does still choose to carry a book by Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, who wrote The Deplorables’ Guide to Making America Great Again . Starnes also argues against the removal of confederate statues (comparing politically liberal people to ISIS), thinks Trump’s election was divine intervention, and calls immigrants “enemy invaders”. But yeah, keep selling his books and stop selling The Message (which is a paraphrase of Scripture-the product of years of ministry in trying to connect the Scripture to everyday people).
I’m sad. I’m sad that these sort of polarizing statements get the most press and that this is what we are known for: arguing over issues. I’m sad that more people in the LGBTQ community will have more (justifiable) reasons for keeping people of faith at a distance while still longing for personal and spiritual connection. I’m sad that true dialogue about our differing understandings around interpreting scripture cannot happen without throwing bombs and labels at each other. We are so afraid.
I’m angry. I’m angry with the hurtful words that so many spew at one another. I am angry that this keeps happening. I’m angry that we continue to have these litmus tests for fellowship and communion. I’m angry that it seems to be getting worse and not better. I’m angry that when I say I’m a Christian to my neighbors, they often associate me with this sort of hate, vitriol, and nonsense. I’m angry that we can seem to still be ok reading and endorsing the works of those who have come before us who fully endorsed slavery, treated their wives and children horribly, endorsed the extermination of different ethnicities and the physical punishment of people who disagreed with their beliefs, and thought of women as second-class citizens (i.e. Edwards, Whitfield, Wesley, the Puritans, Augustine, etc,) But this is the line in the sand? I’m angry that I continue to be angry and don’t know what to do next.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry if any of this hurt you. I’m sorry if it stirred up things for you. I’m sorry that the name of Jesus continues to be pulled through the mud. I’m sorry that we get it wrong way more than we get it right. I’m sorry to those of you who have been deeply hurt by the words of those on all sides, including my own. I’m sorry to my LGBTQ sisters, brothers, and friends who again feel like an “issue” more than a person because of responses like this. I’m sorry that your pain is compounded again and again. And I’m sorry for failing to be a loving and attentive neighbor to you.
In some ways, this feels like a break-up letter to my conservative, American, evangelical past and present. But more so, it’s just a letter of heart-break and disillusionment. In trying to follow Jesus as best as I know how, I am finding it more and more difficult to be in your world. I just don’t understand it anymore. It doesn’t make sense to me. And it hurts to read your words.
But I also feel a bit spiritually homeless; like I don’t quite fit in any of these worlds we’ve constructed for ourselves. Like I don’t belong in the right club or something.
I will make the turn, in the end, to actively choose to trust in the unfailing love of God. But I have learned that trusting God means trusting God with all that we feel, think, and see. This is my lament. How long, O Lord? And help me know what it means to trust you. And to trust while I’m still very much embarrassed, sad, angry, and sorry,
(Psalm 42, 52: Deuteronomy 11:13-19; 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2; Luke 17:1-10)
1 You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness *
against the godly all day long?
2 You plot ruin;
your tongue is like a sharpened razor, *
O worker of deception.
3 You love evil more than good *
and lying more than speaking the truth.
4 You love all words that hurt, *
O you deceitful tongue.
5 Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, *
topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
and root you out of the land of the living!
6 The righteous shall see and tremble, *
and they shall laugh at him, saying,
7 “This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *
but trusted in great wealth
and relied upon wickedness.”
8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; *
I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
9 I will give you thanks for what you have done *
and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence
of the godly.
As I was praying this during morning prayer this morning, the words seemed to fly off the page and stirred up a lot in me. I thought, “Can I really be praying this right now?”
The psalm seems to be addressed more directly to this tyrant.
I have to be honest: there are many of these descriptors that connect to how I feel about our current president. I don’t intend this to be a politically divisive post; I’m just trying to talk about where I am this morning and where God is meeting me (which can only be where we really are!)
Over the last months, I have felt much of what the psalmist names here. I see a boastful, arrogant leader who pays fast and loose with the truth and uses his words to hurt others. He trusts in wealth and trickle-down economics at the expense of the poor. This is putting it mildly, in my opinion.
But as the psalm goes on, this is a prayer for this tyrant to be taken down, or more directly, taken out. By God. It’s a prayer that God would demolish this leader so that the righteous would see what happens when leaders operate this way.
My first thought was, “Can we pray for this?” This seems extreme. Many commentators thing that this psalm was penned by David in response to the lies, scheming, and murder committed by Doeg the Edomite in 1 Samuel 21-22. He murdered 85 priests based on lies he spread to King Saul.
David had witnessed the evil which can come about when leaders (Doeg is said to be a lead shepherd in Israel) play politics and spread lies. It ends up in destruction.
I’m still not sure how I feel about praying these words, but I do understand the feeling. Perhaps God meets us where we are, even in our outrage and anger against those who perpetuate injustice. Perhaps, we can continue to call out to him and plead for those who lie, steal, kill, and destroy to be taken away.
And we can also commit ourselves to being people of mercy, knowing we need it as well. We can, more positively, proclaim the goodness of our God. We can be a voice for what is true and good in the midst of so many half-truths, full-blown lies, and boasts of what is evil.
Easter VI (Psalm 85, 86; Ezek. 1:28–3:3; Heb. 4:14–5:6; Luke 9:28-36)
28 Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking.
1 He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2 And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.” 5 Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. 6 And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7 You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.
8 But you, mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. 9 I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. 10 He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe.
1 He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. 3 He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.
So, the book of Ezekiel is pretty weird. A lot of imagery. Eating scrolls. Wheels in the sky. Dead bones. All the more reason, I think, for the LORD to make sure Ezekiel knows what his task his as a prophet: to speak what he sees and hears to the people to whom God has sent him.
As I was reading this today I was thinking about many in my life who have served prophetic roles; they spoke truth to me in a time where I most needed it. It was not always pleasant and I did not always listen. But the words do their work in their own way and in their own time. And I am grateful for those who were faithful to speak what they saw and heard to me.
I often am so concerned about how people will receive and respond to my own challenges and invitations. There are many times in writing sermons or rehearsing conversations endlessly in my head (anyone else do this?) where I would try to craft the words in such a way that I would imagine the greatest possible response from others. When you craft things in words, you can become pretty good at persuasion and even mild (or not-so-mild) manipulation of emotions. I’ve learned how to convince people.
But this passage causes me to pause in two ways. First, it reminds me of my primary responsibility: to speak what I have heard and seen, whether people listen or they don’t. This is hard, because it is lonely sometimes. When people don’t respond or don’t validate your words, it can cause doubt to creep in, “Did I really hear that right? Am I wrong? Is this even what I’m supposed to be doing?”
Secondly, Ezekiel eats the scroll. Weird, I know. But I wonder if it signifies the internalization of the message he was charged with speaking. Sometimes I am quick to hear something and simply regurgitate it: sort of spiritual bulimia. I think the challenge may be to allow the messages we feel and the impassioned words we hear from God to take up residence in us for awhile; to digest them. I wonder if many prophets are burned out because they binge and purge the words of God, not taking the time to be nourished by the words that are not just for others but are really for us, too.
So, for my prophetic-voiced friends: keep speaking! But keep feasting, too. And take a nap every now and then post-dinner before sharing the treasures you’ve found. It’s really good for you, and will be good for us as well.
(Psalm 80; Deuteronomy 8:1-10; James 1:1-15; Luke 9:18-27)
1James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 6But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
9 Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, 10and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 11For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.
12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 13No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.
Have you ever just felt totally stuck? There have been times where I have felt paralyzed by a situation or just completely at a loss when it came to a decision I needed to make. Some of you may be like in that you walk out every conceivable consequence or possibility which may result from a decision or conversation. It’s exhausting, right? So much time and effort is put into trying to figure out what might possibly happen. And then, there’s that point where you eventually realize you actually can’t control outcomes. How frustrating is that?
James, as he is writing this letter, is considering the lives of many who would have heard it. They were driven from their homes, likely by some sort of persecution–by things they couldn’t control. After urging them to choose joy (in light of what such trials produce, not simply the trials themselves), he says, if any of you don’t know what to do–if any of you need insight into the world around you–it is time to do one thing: ask God for wisdom.
If I’m honest, this step all-too-often a last resort, not a first impulse. It isn’t until I’m broken down, confused, and lost that I turn to God and ask for help and insight. Now, the remaining part of this passage which talks about asking without doubting can get us tripped up. Sometimes, people take this to mean that we need to be certain about what we are asking. For example, people will say things like: “You really need to believe God will provide for you or heal you or [fill in the blank]. You can’t doubt, or it won’t work.” I think that’s missing the point, and it is pretty dangerous. If God only worked when I was absolutely certain about something, he wouldn’t ever work!
Instead, our trust (the opposite of doubt, by the way) is in the One from whom we are asking. We believe that our God is trustworthy and the wisdom he shares with us is good and worth heeding. It would be like saying this: ask for advice, and then believe that the advice is worth following, even if it seems a little strange, difficult, or confusing. You can trust the Giver of the gift of wisdom, which means you can trust the value of gift when it comes.
What if we just took a small step toward God today of simply asking for wisdom? Is there something you can hold up today and say: “I don’t know what to do here, God, will you show me?” This is asking and asking in faith; faith being a deep trust in the One who loves us and is excited to give freely of wisdom to us.
A Prayer for Guidance
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and
light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all
our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would
have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save
us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see
light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.