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.
(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.
(Psalm 119:1-24; Daniel 2:17-30; 1 John 2:12-17; John 17:20-26)
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
A friend of mine recently made a print of this icon depicted above with the phrase “As we are one” underneath it. The original was created by Russian iconographer Andrei Rublyov in the 15th century. It is meant to depict the Trinity, as he interpreted the visiting of the angels to Abraham and Sarah as a theophany, or revealing of God in the three persons of the Trinity. Now, the print sits on my prayer altar in my home study, a reminder of the invitation and prayer of Jesus for people like me: that we would be one with other followers of Jesus and that this oneness would be same sort of unity as experienced in the Trinitarian life of God. No small prayer, to be sure.
Since beginning my studies at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute, my desire to see and embody more expressed unity in the Church has grown. I have had the privilege of learning alongside sisters and brothers from a variety of streams and traditions. I have been challenged, encouraged, sharpened, and blessed by this experience. In short, I think I have had a deeper encounter with this Trinitarian life of unity for which Jesus is praying.
As much as we catch glimpses of unity and deepened relationships with other Christians, we often see much expressed disunity. We have become professionals at fragmenting the Church and building walls around our respective denominations and tribes. If we are to take Jesus’s prayer seriously, this lack of unity is missionally irresponsible. Jesus connects our expressed unity to whether others will believe that Jesus was sent by God to love the world.
Where is the disconnect? Why is it that many who are the most passionate about people hearing and believing in the good news of Jesus can also be the most fractious and divisive? Why is church unity often pitted against evangelism rather than being seen as integral to it? How can we preach a message of reconciliation while living so unreconciled to other followers of Jesus, even where we disagree theologically. Hank Hannegraff’s (The Bible Answer Man) recent conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy and the negative responses of many to him and to this Tradition are very demonstrative of this hostility. (No link to the story, but feel free to google it)
Where can we join God in the movement of love toward others? The mission of God to love and redeem the world is rooted in God’s own life of unity. God is interested in bringing all that is not God into communion with God. This is God’s mission. What might it look like for us to participate in this life of unity, which is available to us as those who are in Christ.
Third Week of Lent
(Psalm 80; Jeremiah 7:1-15; Romans 4:1-12; John 7:14-16)
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever and ever.
Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are safe!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, says the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh.And I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim.
“God is here.” This is a phrase we often use in holy moments or in worship gatherings. It is a way of calling attention to God’s presence amongst God’s people; Jesus being true to his promise of being in the midst of his people. While leading in corprpate worship this last weekend, I recounted a conversation I had with another pastor in the area (who also happens to be a scholar on the Holy Spirit and Worship) about why we need to pray prayers which invite God to be with us. “Isn’t God already here? Why do we have to ask God to be somewhere where God is already present.” He responded by saying, “We don’t have to…but, as God’s children, we get to.”
In light of this passage this morning, it causes me to reflect: is God really present in those places where we simply assume God’s presence? Might it be that God could be absent?
This is the accusation and correction brought by Jeremiah to God’s people. You oppress the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. You have pledged allegiance to things or ideas or beings that are not God. You continue to break the commandments with license, trusting that the Temple is more of a place for you to come and be comforted in these sins than it is to truly offer worship to God.
Could it be that God is withholding God’s presence from our times of gathered worship, and is instead inviting us to “amend our ways” and act in justice toward one another. Next time you are tempted to say that a worship service didn’t move you or connect with you, perhaps consider your relationships, your desires, and your neighbors. Assuredly, this will create space and need for God to dwell in your midst.
Is God present? Have you invited God to be present? We get to, and God is respectful, often not coming to parties to which he is not invited and which are not about his ways.
February 22, 2017
Epiphany VII (Psalm 119:145-176; Ruth 2:1-13; 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:17; Matthew 5:21-26)
I was so taken with this part of Ruth’s story this morning:
1 Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favour.’ She said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’ 3So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. 4Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you.’ They answered, ‘The Lord bless you.’ 5Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘To whom does this young woman belong?’ 6The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, ‘She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7She said, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.” So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.’
8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.’ 10Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?’ 11But Boaz answered her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!’ 13Then she said, ‘May I continue to find favour in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.’
Ruth is an alien in a foreign land. She has come from Moab to Bethlehem with Naomi. They have nothing left. They have lost family and provision and are going to the only place they know to go for sustenance and refuge.
So Ruth decides to take advantage of the opportunities available. She knows of Boaz, a kinsman to her husband. She goes to the field, gleaning what is left over. This, of course, was a common practice for the poor, the widow, and the foreigner. And Ruth certainly fit the bill. And she hopes that someone may end up showing favor to her.
The example of Boaz in this passage is fascinating. He notices her and asks about her. No doubt there were plenty of people gleaning the field, so much so that they could become invisible to the owner of the field or even the other workers.
He also then approaches her, bestows dignity, and welcomes here continued presence, even at his own expense. Boaz calls her daughter and invites her not only to continue to glean, but offers above and beyond from his own resources.
This is overwhelming for Ruth. She breaks down and asks, “Why have you shown me such favor? Why do you even take notice of me?” Boaz’s response is simply this: “I have heard and know your story and I want for God to bless you.” And Boaz is being used by God to bless her!
Today, whether we realize it or not, we have the opportunity to love the foreigners in our midst. This not about political positions. This is about noticing and loving our immigrant neighbors, many of whom are much like Ruth. They have experienced great loss of family and resources even before coming to our place. They have deep needs: physical needs, a need and desire to work, a need to be noticed and loved, and a need to be valued and included. In short, our immigrant neighbors need the exact same things we all need.
I often say that to love someone is to at least know them. This is what we all want, isn’t it? Have you taken the time to get to know the stories of your neighbors? Have you taken notice of the new family that has moved in down the street? Have you taken steps toward those who may be experiencing heightened fear during this time and offered your love and support?
What would it look like today for you to bless the foreigner among you?
I wanted to share one more reflection on Psalm 37. When reading it as a part of the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer, Psalm 37 is split into two parts. I want to focus on the second part today. You can read part one here.
Here is the full text below:
9 The LORD cares for the lives of the godly, *
and their inheritance shall last for ever.
20 They shall not be ashamed in bad times, *
and in days of famine they shall have enough.
21 As for the wicked, they shall perish, *
and the enemies of the LORD, like the glory of the meadows, shall vanish;
they shall vanish like smoke.
22 The wicked borrow and do not repay, *
but the righteous are generous in giving.
23 Those who are blessed by God shall possess the land, *
but those who are cursed by him shall be destroyed.
24 Our steps are directed by the LORD; *
he strengthens those in whose way he delights.
25 If they stumble, they shall not fall headlong, *
for the LORD holds them by the hand.
26 I have been young and now I am old, *
but never have I seen the righteous forsaken,
or their children begging bread.
27 The righteous are always generous in their lending, *
and their children shall be a blessing.
28 Turn from evil, and do good, *
and dwell in the land for ever.
29 For the LORD loves justice; *
he does not forsake his faithful ones.
30 They shall be kept safe for ever, *
but the offspring of the wicked shall be destroyed.
31 The righteous shall possess the land *
and dwell in it for ever.
32 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, *
and their tongue speaks what is right.
33 The law of their God is in their heart, *
and their footsteps shall not falter.
34 The wicked spy on the righteous *
and seek occasion to kill them.
35 The LORD will not abandon them to their hand, *
nor let them be found guilty when brought to trial.
36 Wait upon the LORD and keep his way; *
he will raise you up to possess the land,
and when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.
37 I have seen the wicked in their arrogance, *
flourishing like a tree in full leaf.
38 I went by, and behold, they were not there; *
I searched for them, but they could not be found.
39 Mark those who are honest;
observe the upright; *
for there is a future for the peaceable.
40 Transgressors shall be destroyed, one and all; *
the future of the wicked is cut off.
41 But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the LORD; *
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
42 The LORD will help them and rescue them; *
he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them,
because they seek refuge in him.
The main trust of this psalm is this: God cares for those whom God loves, so God will care for them, protect them, provide for them, and deliver them. One of the large ways God does this is by being just and dealing accordingly with the wicked. The righteous, then, can live in such a way that shows they truly believe this to be true about God, by way of generosity, living peaceably, dwelling wherever they are, and entrusting themselves to the strength and power of God.
I wonder, though, how many of our decisions in life are motivated by a deep, unspoken belief that God is not working for our good, that God doesn’t really care for us, God won’t provide for us, and that God has left things up to us to take from here.
Yes, I realize this is a blunt statement and certainly doesn’t jive with our stated professions of faith. I can already hear the cries of “Deism!” and “Heresy!”, with which I certainly agree. Be that as it may, I think this psalm speaks to our struggle to truly believe (at a core level) what we confess or profess to believe (at a surface level). And we can see this in our fears and actions. We are not really believing what we confess to believe.
When there is injustice around us (and it certainly abounds!) I know my first impulse is to get angry and wonder,”What are we going to do about this?” This is not a bad question at all. But, if it is not tempered with, “What is God doing about it and what will God do about it?” then we may need to step back and ask ourselves, “How can I actively trust God’s presence and work in the world to right this injustice?” Notice, this is very different from “letting go and letting God” (I have a whole rant on that phrase I will spare you from, for now!). Nor is this just pure activism. It is active and faithful presence, rooted in the beautiful reality of God’s greater care for justice than my own.
Quite simply put, God cares more about justice than we ever could, and God can bring about justice in ways we never can. So, this can free us to live generously, compassionately, peacefully, and faithfully; knowing we are participating with God in this powerful and restorative work in the world. God will help. God will rescue. God will deliver. And God invites us to join in this work! What a privilege!
My question today is: When I see the wicked prospering and evil abounding, even amongst those who claim to follow Jesus, how can I engage from a place of deep trust in God’s work and desires, not simply from my own anger or fear?