church, Discipleship, Musings, Relationships, theology, women

I Give Thanks for the Presence, Example, Leadership, and Gift of Women

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.

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Musings

Don’t Use Your Imagination (like that)

As I belong to part of the generation that was raised by Mr. Rogers, I have been taught the importance of using my imagination. I was shown that is it can take me to a wonderful realm of small trains and creepy hand puppets. And for some reason, I always remember the episode that showed me how crayons were made.

Recently, the concept of imagination is something that has intrigued me again. Perhaps it is because it is not as socially acceptable at this age to use it, or talk about using it. We are all encouraged from an early age to use our imaginations. It is talked about it a good way. It is good, healthy, and right to use your imagination (even if it means you have an imaginary friend named Frank).

But could the use of your imagination ever be bad? Could it ever be really unhealthy?

W. P. Young in his book, The Shack, uses a conversation between Jesus and the main character to say something incredibly profound about imagination:

“Exactly,” Jesus interrupted, “You imagine. Such a powerful ability, the imagination! That power alone makes you so like us. But without wisdom, imagination is a cruel task master.” (emphasis mine)

Without wisdom, imagination is a cruel taskmaster.

Think about it this way: how much time do we spend thinking about the future? Many of us can plan out what we imagine will happen to us. We can trace different trajectories, see different outcomes. And for many of us, this develops stress and anxiety and worry. For others, it can be truly paralyzing, keeping us from engaging in the world around us because we are so afraid.

But in our imaginings, where is God? Do we imagine that He will provide for us like He has already? Do we try to think of creative ways in which He may work in us and around us and through us? Do we really think he knows better than we do?

If we are honest, we don’t include God in our imagination; because it is our imagination. It is our way to say we trust God when we really trust ourselves. It is our way of nominally confessing our dependence on him while leaning on our own understandings. Because, if we’re honest (and I am being honest here about myself) we think we know best and we are scared of what could come our way, especially if it means being out of control.

Proverbs 26:12-13 says it this way:
“Do you see a person wise in their own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for them.
A sluggard says, “There’s a lion in the road,
a fierce lion roaming the streets!””

Really? A lion roaming the streets? That is quite an imagination! But we do this all the time.

Now, imagine if we took that creative impulse and channeled it with these truths in mind:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph 3:21-22)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

So, yes. “Grow ideas in the garden of your mind.” But don’t worry about pests, crop production, weather patterns, or whether they are growing fast enough. Trust that if you plant them, God will grow them exactly how they need to grow. Those are all things you could never control, not even in your wildest imagination…

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Advent, awakening, worship

Catching Up on Advent

“I am so, very behind.”

For many of us, this can become as constant of a mantra as, “I’m so busy,” or “I can’t believe it’s already Christmastime,” or “I have so much to do.”

When we say things over and over again, they tend to become true, even if they don’t start out that way.

Regardless, I feel behind. And this, in fact, is true as it relates to the Advent season. The second Sunday of Advent has come and gone, and I have yet to really enter into this time intentionally. Well, that is, until today. And I believe there is some purpose behind it.

Fr. Richard Rohr has written a wonderful little book called “Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent”. I highly recommend you get it on Amazon here. I decided to pick it up for the first time this morning and try to catch up on the readings. And I am glad I did, because it brought together my entire Sunday experience: all bound up in the word “Hope”.

It was this passage that got me.

‘Come, Lord Jesus,’ the Advent mantra, means that all of Christian history has to live out of a kind of deliberate emptiness, a kind of chosen non-fulfillment. Perfect fullness is always to come, and we do not need to demand it now…When we demand satisfaction of one another, when we demand any completion to history on our terms, when we demand that our anxiety or any dissatisfaction be taken away, saying as it were, “Why weren’t you this for me? Why didn’t life do that for me?” we are refusing to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” We are refusing to hold out for the full picture that is always given by God. “Come, Lord Jesus” is a leap into the kind of freedom and surrender that is rightly called the virtue of hope. The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves…’Come, Lord Jesus’ is not a cry of desperation but an assured shout of cosmic hope.” (emphasis mine)

So, here’s to learning contentment in the midst our unresolved, fragmented, and often confusing lives.

What does it look like for you to hold to hope?

I encourage you to also read Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 1:5-25.

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