Posts tagged ‘women’

October 30, 2012

What Makes You Happy?

Recently a friend and I were having the conversation about the fact that women (of course some men too) do a really crappy job of telling people what they need. We’re really good at saying, “What can I do for you?” or giving a passive aggressive piece of advice to our partners or friends, but when it comes down to saying, “I’d really like you to do ___ for me” we stink. We hold back what is true about us. We just don’t know how to ask for what we need. We often just go on doing and doing for others hoping that one day they’ll return the favor by reading our minds.

Maybe it is part of the mothering complex that seems to come with the female personality or maybe it is just generational or parenting issues, but regardless, it has been a long time since I’ve heard a woman confidently say, “This__ makes me really happy.”

It’s a tell tell sign, I think of how out of touch we are when we simply don’t know.

But, we think we do. We are a nation of consumerism after all. We can get loans for what we want like new granite countertops and stainless steel refrigerators, so our kitchens are as nice as our neighbors. And things get worse when we look at what we do to our bodies. In fact, if the stats were revealed, it is true we spend billions of dollars a day on beauty products, get skinny pills and new clothes which are the latest style. It’s not that we aren’t turning our attention inward– it is just what kind of attention it is. We are shiny on the outside with no idea of who we are on the inside.

As my friend and I kept talking along these lines, we both agreed it is intentional act to be able to know what makes you happy and what you most need. It’s not like you can wake up every morning and always know. “I’d like to do __ today.” It’s not always that we as women have this kind of freedom of exploration. We think we don’t have time to know what makes us happy. Isn’t it our job to make everyone else happy?

Yet, I think if ever are going to move past the plastic interactions with each other and find peace for our souls (that I think most of us really want), then we’ve got to take step back and simply be able to answer the question. Easier said than done of course. Sacrifices will be required.

To be able to know what makes you happy is a lifestyle of awareness. It’s a lifestyle of paying attention. It’s a lifestyle of trying new things, taking risks and being able to say “yes” when something brings you joy. And, we can’t feel guilty about such a journey.  The Divine blesses us when we love and respect the beloved creation that we were made to be. And a funny thing happens, I believe, when we begin to live this way: we have something leftover to give away.

Author Leo Buscaglia once said: “You can only give away what you have … If you have love, you can give it.  If you don’t have it, you don’t have it to give.”  So why then are we so focused on filling ourselves up with what will not fulfill us or give us anything in the first place?

For me, one thing that makes me happy is blogging. It’s something I do for myself. (And if any of you happen to enjoy it great). Blogging and other forms of writing are on my happy list along with long uninterrupted conversations with good friends, diet coke from the fountain with just the right fizz, pulling out my passport for a trip, tweeting during major world events, and being at home on the couch in the fall with a fuzzy blanket and a fire going.

I am a writer to my core, so having this place to share, learn the discipline and simply get out thoughts in my head is a gift. Though so many find blogging to be a chore and stop before they get going, for me it is something I eagerly look forward to doing. It makes me happy, but even more important, it brings me joy (the difference between happiness and joy is a conversation for another day).

But, I never would have known this if I hadn’t pay attention or allowed others to pay attention to me in more intentional ways. People who say, “You’ve been writing, haven’t you? . . . You look happy” have encouraged me to not let the fears of “I can’t” get the best of me when it comes to creating prose. I need to keep writing on my good days and on my worst. It’s a nonnegotiable.

So, today, what makes you happy? Go ahead and do it. Or make plans to do it soon. If you don’t know what “it” is– figure it out. You’ll be glad you did.

August 16, 2012

Reading, Re-reading and Dreams

In our consumer driven everything culture, we often treat reading as just another thing to conquer, to finish, to master. In seminary, we marked our progress by how many textbook were on our shelves. Colleagues ask me at conferences, “How many books have you read lately?” Congregants ask me: “What books can you teach us more about?” I’ve often fallen into the trap of reading just to be done with something or just to teach something.  And then, that is it. I cast the book aside.

Not all words written down on a page are meant to be treasured (fluff beach reading, for example). However, sometimes words do hold lasting power. And just need us to pick them up again to find the gems.

I’ve found myself doing a lot of re-reading lately instead of picking up new texts. Books can be like old friends, coming back into our lives to provide comfort or simply reminding us who we are. And I think this is true of fiction and non-fiction alike.

Several years ago, I picked up at a fall DC library book sale a copy of Renita J. Weems’s memoir, Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt. How surprized I was to find this book! Though I was not going through a season of doubt at the time, the title sucked me in. Seemed like an honest text (I’m always looking for these) worth the dollar price tag (what a steal!).

I was familar with the author’s name. Weems, a preacher, scholar and formerly a professor at Vanderbilt University, also wrote, Battered Love which I read in my Women, Theology and the Church class at Duke Divinity.

That September, I remember speed reading through it, feeling so happy as if I’d found a long-lost soul sister. Weems, coming out of a conservative tradition that didn’t necessarily affirm her gifts for ministry, writes about her struggle to stay connected to spiritual wisdom, even as her well ran dry and her faith shifted. After finishing it, I was quick to recommend it to friends (as I usually do when a treasure is found) and put it on my shelf again in the “has read section.” I didn’t touch it for years.

However, in picking it up again this summer, I’ve read slower. I’ve stopped myself to process some of her nuggets of truth in short chunks. I haven’t rushed. And, yesterday, I came across this reflection about the meaning of dreams which was perfectly instructive to my life right now. I keep having the most vivid dreams in color and in details that I can actually recount in the morning. And, I hoped for some wisdom to begin to make sense of them. And so how perfect that Weems wrote:

Wherever dreams come from, and I don’t pretend to know where that is, it’s a place within each of us, down within our souls, a place that won’t take no, shut up, not now, you again? for an answer. It’s a place that demands our attention and resolves to get it, whether with laughter or terror. It’s a place within which insists that we remember the lives we have lived, says Frederic Beuchner. It calls us to remember memories emotions, remember moments, remember things we’ve tried furiously to avoid or to forget. Dreams beckon us into a still room within us where it is safe to remember where our journeys have brought us. It’s safe because it is safe because it’s a place where we can face our fears, anger, and dread and see them for what they were and are: feelings that needn’t last forever. It is safe because no one , God is has access to that room, save you and God. And there in that room filled with our greatest anxieties, God meets us and beckons, “Come, it is time to be healed.”

Each time a dream has enough current in it to awaken us, God is speaking to us through some chamber within us, beckoning us to come in. It’s time. It’s time to remember. It’s time to lighten up. It’s time to sort through. It’s time to heal. It’s time to let go. It’s time to learn how to laugh at ourselves.

Thank you Renita Weems. I’m thinking more about some recent dreams of mine as I ponder your words, hoping that as you say they might lead to more healing in me and others too.

You see, sometimes, reading can be the gift that keeps on giving.

April 10, 2012

When the World Doesn’t Look the Same

When the World Doesn’t Look the Same

Easter 2012: Mark 16:1-8

I don’t know if you are like me, but when I make my choices in entertainment, especially in movies, one of my favorite weekend pastimes, there is only major requirement I have.

And that is: I like a good endings. I hope for  loose ends tied up. I want an ending where I feel like the story I’ve invested my 10, 12 or in some cases $15 was well spent. The alternative to this often is frustrating isn’t it?  Investing hours of your time into a storyline, only to be disappointed in the end that you don’t know what happens!  Stories that don’t end in the imprisonment of all the bad guys, kissing and making up for all the “they are so perfect for each other couples” and the most hopeless of characters coming to their senses and making some good choices: I simply don’t like them.

We go to movies to escape the drudgery, the monotony and the unsettling parts of our lives and so “happy endings” in somebody else’s life seem to be such a big part of it. Without all plot lines settled in the end, we feel gypped.

In the same spirit, if we came to church this Easter morning hoping for a proclamation of the gospel where all was well in paradise, where we get the 100% perfect happy ending that we’ve been waiting for throughout the Lenten season, I have sad news for you.  In Mark’s account of the resurrection story, we don’t get it. We are left with a cliff hanging end of unforeseeable proportions. Without some further exploration of this text, we might feel like we are missing our Easter ending too.   

Though we read of the stone being rolled away, Jesus not being in the tomb and the angel appearing to the women saying, “Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here” which calls for us to shout words of joy, “Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed” Mark’s account gives us no tidy ending. In fact, we are left with response that most preachers like to avoid at the end of verse 8.  The women, who heard, the news, “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Though there’s this amazing, all-inspiring story of Jesus not being in the grave and an angel, yes dressed in a white robe telling Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome that Jesus was not there.  . .

And though the good news that Jesus had been predicting all along in his years of teaching and preaching– that yes, I’ll be crucified but on the 3rd day, I’ll arise from the grave– is coming true . . . Christ is risen (Christ is risen indeed).

And  though the women are told specifically in verse seven, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” and are given everything they need to take the next step . .

Scripture tells us that the women do nothing. They do nothing. For it is in terror and amazement of what has happened that these women say nothing.

Jesus does his part. The angel did his part. And the women were given the opportunity to respond and follow the orders. But they don’t.

And for this reason, all seems lost. All seems ruined. How about this story for a happy Easter, celebration! It is a real downer, right?

Seems like a complete sour kind of ending doesn’t it?

Such is why countless translators through the years have sought to insert an alternative ending to Mark chapter 16. If you have your Bible with you open it to Mark 16 now (or if not make a note to do so when you go home today). What you will notice is the presence of section of scripture that is known as the “alternative ending.”

And though most of Bible translations contain these sections, almost all Biblical scholars agree that the addition of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene, to the two believers traveling along the road, the giving of the Great Commission and the ascension story were all most likely added 200 years later. For none of the earliest gospel manuscripts contain them.  In fact, if we study the original Greek as it flows from verses 1-8 and then verses 9-20, we find distinct changes in tone and tense of verbs. All in all, in all thoughtfulness, we can assume that Mark meant to end his gospel at verse 8.

But what a shame! It would be so much easier to have verses 9-20 to get the happy ending that we all crave.  It would be nice to have the later commentary on the story because it wouldn’t force us to talk about resurrection in terms of how the women experienced it– in terror and amazement.

It seems so un-church-like doesn’t it to think about Easter in this way? Shouldn’t have the women been shouting, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” to all their friends? Shouldn’t they been overjoyed to share Jesus, their teacher wasn’t dead? Shouldn’t have they been able to recognize in an instant how this proclamation was going to change their lives– for if Jesus had conquered death, didn’t that mean something good for them too?

But none of this was clear. None of it.

And although some Biblical commentators want to stop us at this point and make parallels between the response of the male disciples (all of those guys who fled the scene and didn’t stay with Jesus at the cross) and the female disciples (saying, hey the women messed up too– see women weren’t up to the task of following Jesus either)– I believe all of this thinking completely misses the point.

Because, really the resurrection was a lot to take in. More than these women could have ever imagined on the adventure of following Jesus.

I ask you this morning– have you ever had an experience in your life that surprised the heck out of you? I mean, really, really surprised you in a mind-blowing, “I never saw this coming” kind of way?  An experience that maybe you hoped for or even prayed for but never thought in a million years would actually come true?

Well, if you have, then, I believe that you understand how truly bewildering it was for the women to find the empty tomb that early morn.

Sure, they’d heard Jesus mentioned this was going to happen. Sure, maybe even they’d been around at the home of Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus was raised. But, deep in their hearts, it was hard to believe that such was going to happen to their beloved teacher and friend. No, Jesus couldn’t rise again. No way! Resurrection wasn’t natural. No way. Death was a final event after all. We are born, we live and we die. It is just what human beings do. How could Jesus not be in the tomb?

Eyes crusted over. Hair uncombed. Shoes on but going through the motions of walking yet not quite sure where they were going.  Tears stains still on their cheeks. Tears in their eyes ready for water works to pour at anytime as the simplest of words of memories ever-present to set them off again.  The flood of shame, of uncertainty, of anger of loss: why did this happen to their Jesus?

They were lost in a sea of unanswered questions, of last words that should have been said, that needed to be said. They were caught up in the power of grief as it came to strike them and sought to bury them too in pain that was more than they knew how to bear.

Of course they were in shock. So of course they were afraid.

One commentator even unofficially diagnoses the women with what we know in modern times as post traumatic stress– both from the trauma of the crucifixion and of the jarring news to their tear stained faces that indeed Jesus was not there. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.  It was such good news that they just couldn’t take it all end. The women were speechless.

If you happen to be a fan of YouTube, you might already be familiar with a video of Sarah Churman that has gotten millions of hits since its posting in September of last year. Sarah was born with a rare genetic deformity that means she’s missing the hair in her inner ear that transmits sound to the brain. She was fitted with her first hearing aid at age 2, but even with that technology she could only hear some vibrations and loud noises. She compensated throughout her life by becoming adept at reading people’s lips. She’d worked so hard to compensate in other ways; the thought of being able to hear just seemed out of the realm of possibility

But in late 2011, Sarah was fitted with a device called the Esteem Inner Ear Stimulator, an implantable hearing aid for the specific kind of hearing loss Sarah suffered. On the popular YouTube video, you can see a video of Sarah Churnam hearing for the very first time at age 29.

I have to say that it is quite moving to watch. As Sarah hears for the very first time her own voice: her laugh, her tears, the sounds of others around her, it’s a reality she never could have imagined, not under any circumstances, not in any amount of time.  Not in her wildest dreams did she ever believe such would come true, but it does. And in response, she weeps. And weeps and weeps.

Imagine hearing for the first time the sound of her husband. Imagine hearing the chatter of your child for the first time.  Imagine all of this.

And when it happens, Sarah is stuck dead in her tracks for minutes, upon minutes. Smiling. Full of joy but paralyzed to move toward anything at first. Sarah’s life would never be the same.

And, likewise, paralyzed in their tracks too the women who heard the news of the resurrection were overwhelmed too. Everything they knew, believed and staked their lives on? changed.

Resurrection of their Lord begged them to consider.  What if Jesus was the real deal: God with us? What if Jesus’ healings all those years had really come from God?  What if the kingdom of God, the abundant life they’d be hoping for was real?

Resurrection clouded their view from what had always been. Resurrection shifted their gaze from their own pain to what God could do in their pain, how God could restore their broken spirits. Above all, resurrection meant they were going to have to spend some time re-learning the stories on which they’d based their life.

What if the end was not the end?

What if new life could come from the most unlikely of places?

What if God could be trusted to care, and protect and guide them their entire life through and beyond too?

And, what if God trusted them so much and all of the Christ followers to come– like us– to keep the story going?

What if the ending was not about Jesus saying or doing this or that, but people like us being a part of the world not being the same?

Then, if resurrection was real,  everything was going to have to change.  No more shrinking into the back of the crowds. No more taking the worst news at face value. No more being a second class citizen. No more being exclusive of people who looked just like them. No more.  In resurrection the world did not look the same.

And, though the ending of Mark’s gospel is still an unresolved cliff hanger, so we want to ask ourselves, what did the women do next? How long were they afraid? How long did they not say anything to anyone? With our 2000 year plus perspective,  history tells us the rest of the story. And the rest of the story is that we know the story.  We know the story because eventually they did tell the story. And upon each telling and re-telling of the good news: “Christ is risen; Christ is risen indeed” the world never looked the same. We are living the story now.

I know this morning, I’m telling most of you a story that is not unfamiliar to you at all. In fact, you hear it every year. You’ve sure got Jesus is risen thing down. You know it well. You could recite it to a friend easily, just like I did with the children sermon this morning.

But, what I wonder is resurrection real for you, more than just a word that floats off your tongue in the spring time? I need to tell you today that resurrection, my friends, is not a noun and just an excuse to have a holiday celebrate, but it is a verb that asks of us action. And it is a verb that is meant to be inserted into the sentences of our lives not only on days like today but throughout all the moments of our lives.

We are called to action because of the gift of the resurrection. We are called to the action of being storytellers of the change. To be active bearers of this good story to our families to our friends, to our communities, to anyone who will listen.

At times, this story as each and everyone one of us experiences it, is going to overwhelm us. Sure, we might just have to be quiet for awhile in awe of what life altering news might do to our plans. Sure, we might even have to do some running away from time to time to get the  enormity of emotions out of our system so we can begin to act on what we see and feel.

But, regardless our call is to tell. Our call is to be the story. Our call is to keep writing and writing the chapters of the gospel tale so that the goodness of Jesus Christ that we’ve experienced it can be experienced by others too.   

Today: I tell you because of the resurrection, we’ve got chapters to write together, we’ve got a story to finish. Come again next week because we’ve got to live out resurrection together.

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!


March 20, 2012

Book Review Week: Traveling with Pomegrantes

“I realize what a strange in-between place I am in. The Young Woman inside has turned to go, but the Old Woman has not shown up.”
― Sue Monk Kidd

“I’ve tried to shield myself from life and inhabit my own small, safe corner; but there’s no immunity from life.”
― Ann Kidd Taylor

“I realize I’m trying to work out the boundaries. How to love her without interfering. How to step back and let her have her private world and yet still be an intimate part of it. When she talks about her feelings, I have to consciously tell myself she wants me to receive them, not fix them.”
― Sue Monk Kidd

Such were some of my favorite quotes from the book I finished about a month ago called Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story. Traveling is a book that gives its readers a snapshot into the relationship shared between Sue, the mother in her early 50s and Ann the daughter a recent college as they both navigate through life transitions. And as they do so, figure out what the next step of their relationship with one another might be as well.

I was first introduced to the author Sue Monk Kidd almost 10 years ago during a time in my life when my theology was in transition. A friend passed along the book, Dance of the Dissent Daughter. It was a time in my life I really had no idea what feminist theology was all about. At that time, reading this text opened my eyes to many of the oppressive male imagery in scripture and in Christian tradition. This book became a conversation tool, among many others, that helped me say “yes” to the serious study awaiting me in seminary. I wanted to figure out how female images of the divine fit into (or not) what I had already been taught about God.

So, being a fan, I was eager to see what Sue Monk Kidd”s latest memoir had in store for its readers, but this time with chapters from her daughter, Ann. And though the book felt emotionally intense at times (as if you are literally reading their journals), with breaks for thought and reflection, I paged through it quickly and soon passed my copy on to a friend.  As a budding writer myself, I appreciated the call story both Sue and Ann experienced in their travels to write and the call to write together. Their journey of renegotiating boundaries, passion, relationships and hope read very authentically to me. I believe the experiences of many women are found in these pages– just with different details. And, I left my experience of reading it as any good book does– as if I’d made new friends that I hoped would share more of their story with me one day.

Most of all Traveling with Pomegranates made me think about these bigger picture things:

1. The desire in all of us for deeper relationship with “mother” and “daughter” figures in our lives as women. We are never too old to want a mother or a daughter in our lives.

2. The importance of shared wisdom passed on between the generations even as differing of perspectives make it hard for us to relate sometimes.

3. The joy that rises from the gift of travel. Sometimes it takes us getting out of our normal environment to really see our lives as they really are.

4. Doing with your life what is a “necessary fire” within us, not just what pays the bills.

5. Courage to not just do things the way they’ve always been done. Who says we are not the one to blaze a new trail?

6. The difficulty we all have of saying “no” when this “no” comes at the cost of what others expected from us. We are pleasing creatures. But if want our soul to live, we must break free of the obligations and the shoulds.

7. Writing takes time and drafting and more drafting as well as being with other writers.  The more you get into writing, the more you realize you the only way to get better is to write more. And some more.

Anyone else read this text and want to chat about it?

Next up tomorrow:  In the Santuary of Outcasts by Neil White

March 19, 2012

Book Review Week: Bless Her Heart

I don’t know if it is my new addiction to the Kindle app on my IPad or just the season of spring, but I’ve been on a reading kick lately of some really wonderful titles that I think many of you, blog readers, might like too. So, I’ve decided to devote the next five days to informal book reviews and reflections.

And first up today is a newer release especially for those of you who are young clergy women or want to know a young clergy woman in your life a little bit better. Bless Your Heart: Life as a Young Clergy Woman by Ashley-Anne Masters and Stacy Smith is a e-book I downloaded and completed over the weekend.

I’d remembered fellow female clergy, especially friends from the Young Women’s Clergy Project, excitedly promoting this title when it came out more than a year ago. A colleague’s Facebook status read of her enthusiastic praise of the text saying something like, “Finally there is a book about someone who understands me!” So, I sat down to see what all the hype was about.

I was a little disappointed in the style of the book– all stories came in the first person but we never knew who “I” was. (And so, I had trouble following if the stories shared were of the authors or of other clergy they interviewed said). And, really felt like the scripture sections of the chapters were a big too simplistic for the topics. But, overall, I am glad this book was written and I’m so thankful to the authors for taking up this task.

I couldn’t help but recall as I read, several of my own stories about clothing, dating and what it means to have a social life as young clergy woman. And with each recollection, this book helped me grow in gratitude for my own journey. Though there have been hard times of misunderstandings, lack of respect and “How in the world could YOU be the pastor?” I know I’m in exactly the right vocation.

No matter how times have changed, almost all of us female clergy, like Smith and Masters write, have stories about comments on “inappropriate shoes,” “not being in the office long enough to the tastes of the secretaries” or “honey, you are as cute as my granddaughter.” This book read to me like a testimony that while we as young clergy women might have different tastes in footwear, Sabbath keeping or hair color than our male or even older female colleagues, we still are clergy, gifted and eager to learn as we serve. So many of the stories told within speak to a growing edge in young women must climb in their efforts to claim their authority, exude confidence and individual style in a religious world that wants us to conform, and balance family and work roles. We all are a work in progress, no matter our age or gender!

I also became grateful because of how much less “green” I feel now in my soon to be 6th year of ordained ministry.  I have grown much over these past six years, especially during my tenure at Washington Plaza, a place where I have been lovingly supported by church leadership, given opportunities to experiment, and always taken seriously as a spiritual leader (no matter my age). 

If there is anything I would want to share with my young clergy women sisters after reading Bless Your Heart, it would be, keep going. This is what I know: it will get better. Not necessarily better because societal attitudes about young clergy change, or all senior pastors suddenly become instantly supportive of maternity or family leave or that because all young clergywomen who want jobs find them. But as we stick around the ministerial life, we change. Our voice becomes stronger. Our focus becomes clearer. And our ability to let go “all of those stupid things” people say to us quickens. No matter what kind of ministry space we find ourselves in, we know who we are and we know who we serve and who we don’t! So the next time an elder says to us “Bless your heart” we smile with our hands held high and say back “bless yours too!”

Next up: Traveling with Pomograntes by Sue Monk Kidd

February 28, 2012

God Calls Us to Live in the New

Guest blogger: Jayme Cloninger

On February 19, Washington Plaza Baptist participated in the Baptist Women in Ministry’s Martha Stearns Marshall day of preaching by inviting Jayme Cloninger to preach, a recent college grad who is a friend of Pastor Elizabeth.

Jayme currently serves as a human rights advocate for the Enough Project on the Raise Hope for Congo Campaign in Washington DC. Jayme grew up as a small town girl in Denver, North Carolina, where her heart for global missions and social justice grew in her involvement with local community development work and her three trips to South Africa. After attending Samford University in Birmingham, AL (where Pastor Elizabeth also attended), Jayme followed her passion and vision for faith and human rights to help mobilize the faith community and grassroots efforts to influence US Foreign Policy towards the Democratic Republic of Congo. Jayme is thinking of going to seminary sometime in the near future.

I’m proud to share her sermon here! I know you will be blessed as you keep reading. We all think Jayme has a bright future in ministry ahead!


Thank you for sharing your Sunday morning with me and for this opportunity to participate in a declaration of truth found in Isaiah 43. As Pastor Elizabeth mentioned, in honor of Martha Stearns, a pioneer for women in ministry from the second half of the eighteenth century, this month, Baptist Women in Ministry are inviting young women to preach a sermon at a local Baptist church. And so, here I am, a young female, giving my first sermon. A place I never thought I would ever be.

I grew up in a traditional home, where I was homeschooled for all 12 years, and attended a pretty conservative Southern-Baptist church. Jokingly, I often refer to myself as a recovering home school evangelical.

For my parents, homeschooling was an opportunity for them to raise their children with a “godly education.” As a result, my faith is very much interwoven with my love for academia. Education and faith were seen as two tools for breaking generational sins. Both my parents come from broken homes with alcoholic parents, sexual abuse, poverty and so much more. Higher education was not an option when the reality of life called them to care for their younger siblings. And so, when the time came for them to raise their own children, they looked to faith and education as the gateway to redeeming the generational sins that have for too long tainted our family history.

Reconciliation for a broken past and hope for a better future are two things both my parents eagerly seek after from the Lord. In telling my mom that I would be speaking from Isaiah 43, it shouldn’t have surprised me when she  immediately began to recite the verse from memory, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Following the promise recited, my mother asked, “Jayme, did you not know that Isaiah 43 is my favorite chapter in the Bible? Did you not know that I pray those words for our family everyday and have done so for thirty years?” I couldn’t hold back my tears. In that moment, chills ran down my spine, for I could truly sense the Lord’s renewing spirit in not only my life, but also in the life and story of my family.

As with each of you, my story will continually evolve, a fluid journey of past, present and future. When we look at our past circumstances, we often get caught up in over-analyzing what was, in the hope of creating a solution for the present that will allow us to avoid the same bad situation in the future. In doing so, we allow our past circumstances to define our current situation.

Now, let me pause here and ask a question: Do we really want to be a people who orient our lives according to the past? Is that the hope that we have?

This is where we find the people of Israel in Isaiah 43. A people who allow their former transgressions to determine their lack of present hope, blinding them to the faithfulness of God.  Here Yahweh calls out the promise of deliverance in saying, “I am about to do a new thing.”

The Lord declares that “now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” In the present moment of despair and exile, God reminds His people of his continual faithfulness. For the presence of God never left, it was continually in the midst of exile and despair.  

If the truth of God’s faithfulness and redemption was true for the people of Israel in their dark season of defeat and captivity under Babylon, how much truer are those words for you and I in our present season in life?

God calls on Israel to adopt a new way of life. A way of life that is not bound by their sins or their transgressions. As the Lord moves through history, from the story of Israel, we witness hope come to fruition in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ. Thankfully, with the life of Christ we can actually experience the new. For as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, all things have become new.” This new creation, this new way of life is a life redeemed. A life bound no longer by death, but by a resurrection.

This morning, I would like to spend the rest of our time together discussing what it truly means to live in the new, to live a life bound by the resurrection of Christ.

Such a conversation is timely with the transition from the season of Epiphany into Lent, and for those who has participated in the sermon series God Calls, and the study on spiritual gifts. As you have walked through Epiphany, you have wrestled with its practical implications for your individual lives. This season of Epiphany has been a time for us to celebrate the revelation of the mystery of Christ.

Pastor Elizabeth has walked with you through a large discussion on how God calls each one of us to live out the gifts God has given us. I to have been on this journey with you. Reading and following Pastor Elizabeth’s blog and having numerous follow-up conversations with her and other friends. In the initial sermon on God Calls, we reflected on what it means to care for oneself, and how to glorify God with our bodies as agents of service and love.

From the story of Jonah, we learn that God Calls you and I to “those people.” God commissions you in love and deed to care for all people.

In the study of the Spiritual Gifts and the sermon on God Calls you to Listen when No One Is, we see the life of Samuel and how the Lord developed in his heart the ability to listen keenly to the Spirit and to use his spiritual gifts for the Kingdom. Here we are challenged to use our Spiritual gifts, as did Samuel, to bless others.

In the previous two sermons, there has been an underlying theme of renewal. As Pastor Elizabeth pointed out, with both Israel and our present lives, “because God was God– the ruler of all, the Lord of all, the Creator of all things, even in exile, even in these undesirable circumstances— there is a call for renewal. A call to begin to consider anew the most troubling circumstances in light of who God was and is.”

So what does it actually look like for each of us to live in the new, even in the midst of our own moments of exile?

We may be surprised by the answer.

As God parted the Red Sea and brought Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness, in their second exodus, God promises to “give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” The water in the wilderness is God’s faithfullness to continually redeem and make all things new. God is not bound by the previous exodus to usher in a new act of salvation. As God did for Israel, God will surprise us with his ways for redeeming our past and present.

As did Israel, we often fall victim to our own works to live out the new. Our problem solving skills not only burn us out, but as we read in Isaiah 43, we end up burdening God with our self-attempts at righteousness. We often miss the core of experiencing the new, connecting with the eternal.

As Paul Tillich put it,There is something that does not age, something that is always old and always new at the same time, because it is eternal. That which creates the new is that which is beyond old and beyond new, the Eternal.”

In The Shaking of the Foundations, Tillich continues to explain that with the life of Christ, we now have the opportunity to live a life that represents the very thing that transcends the old and the new. Love.

Through the mystery of Christ we are revealed a new kind of love, a love brought through self-expenditure. A love that took on our human nature to overcome our transgressions.

In living out this new, we have each been equipped to carry out this love for the edification of the body of Christ and the service of the Kingdom. With your study of the spiritual gifts, you may now realize that you are a perceiver, server, teacher, encourager, giver, ruler or been given the gift of mercy. May this love become the revelation of the new in our lives.

It is easy for us to talk about using our gifts as we sit in a church and have room to reflect on their meaning. But what happens when we are back in our moment of exile? Our moment of defeat?

As someone who is an advocate for justice and human rights, I daily seek solutions to broken situations within our society. I serve as a community organizer for the Enough Project, an anti-genocide and crimes against humanity organization. Specifically, I focus on the conflict in eastern Congo, a place known to be the home of worst war since World War 2, claiming over 6 million lives. It’s a conflict perpetuated by a corrupt government, struggle over natural resources, where rebel group control and battle the different mines and in attacking other local mining communities, use rape as a weapon of war.

For me, as someone who is far removed from the conflict and who works inside the beltway to make Congo a priority for US Federal Government, I daily battle with the cynicism that there is no hope for Congo.

I started this job in June of 2011, and in the first half of my time at Enough, I was overwhelmed by the history and situation of Congo. When you think you have a solution to a problem, you usually will cause another.

After about six months, I began to finally meet a lot of the Congolese diaspora community here in the United States, opening the door for new friendships to be cultivated. These relationships give me hope.

The Congolese community mobilize themselves around practical solutions for the crisis in their own country. Despite not being able to directly care for their friends and family in Congo, they are using their time here in the US to raise awareness and pressure the US Government to take stronger action on Congo. The diaspora model for us what it means to live in the new, advocating for hope and peace, in the midst of the worst trials and moments of exile.

Just as the Triune God advocated for the freedom of Israel in exile, and his deliverance through Christ, so too are we to advocate for hope and justice in the midst of our community’s darkest season in life. In our new creation, we are to model the same love Christ has lavished us with. For Paul continues to write in 1 Corinthians 5, “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

As ambassadors of Christ, we have been given the tools to live out the new and to advocate for God’s continual redemption in and through the world. Adam Taylor, the director of advocacy for World Vision, writes in his book, Mobilizing Hope, “God has made us for a profound purpose. When we sit on our gifts or make a litany of excuses for why we aren’t prepared or able, we block the manifest glory of God that is within us. Trying to tackle injustice based on our limited abilities means playing small. Instead we must tap into the renewing power of faith to overcome the barriers that get in the way of transformed nonconformism.”

And so, I pray that as you transition from the season of Epiphany into Lent, that the eyes of your hearts will be opened to the power of the spirit in your life to equip you to live in the New. To live a life bound by the resurrection of Christ. For as Tillich eloquently said, “Love is the power of the new in every man and in all history. It cannot age; it removes guilt and curse. It is working even today toward new creation. It is hidden in the darkness of our souls and of our history. But it is not completely hidden to those who are grasped by its reality. “Do you not perceive it?” asks the prophet. Do we not perceive it?

August 7, 2011

Being at Collegeville Part 3: What’s Your Voice?

When you are a child, it is ordinary to say, “I want to be like ____ when I grow up.”

We watch, we imitate, and we learn by being around folks who inspire us the most. It’s the tools of how we figure out who we most want to be. Though usually our first ideas have something to do with being a fireman or a police officer or wonder woman. I always wanted to be a woman who delivers the mail, though you see how that turned out.

On the first day of our sessions with Richard Lischer, he said the first steps to becoming a good writer are admiration and imitation. And for this reason, we were asked to bring to class a selection of a poem or story that was particularly moving to us and our writing style. Words like “all I wanted was to be born with a good set of lungs” or “it is like touching a dented cup” flowed around the room and we all considered the ways in which our writing could be as the prose of those we liked the best. The morning of these reading brewed over with delights of ear all around.

In our everyday lives, we’ve all read a book or seen a performance or heard a speech when the person who is speaking sounds exactly like someone else we know. It’s familiar, but maybe too familiar. So in the end, while useful as a learning tool, imitation, it doesn’t provide our world with anything new. We don’t see God in any fresh wind of the Spirit sort of ways.

There comes a time when art must come from within and rest upon individual voice. Who am I? Who are you? And how through what I say, can you tell us a part?

One of the themes that has run throughout several of my conversations, especially with the other female pastors at the Insitute this week has been of how much women struggle with voice.

In a culture when so much is expected of us: wife, mother, professional, writer, friend, you name it, we are much more likely among our male colleagues to shrink back when it comes to letting our voice shine through. We take associate positions when we really want to preach. We say “ok” to youth trips for back to back weeks, even if this means neglecting our children. We don’t dare voice our ambition or dreams for fruitful work because we fear it might hurt someone’s feelings. I could be oversimplifying, I realize, but there’s something to this voice thing that we should pay attention to.

I speculate this problem occurs because we don’t want to come across as the “over powering” or “bitchy” females. We are so thankful to be where we are, that we dare not ask for more. Or, simply we just don’t know what our voice is because we’re afraid of what we might have to do with it, if it was finally heard. And, as the church, we are left without voices, lots of voices that we need to hear the most.

But this week, I’ve been learning that my writing (and my preaching for that matter) will not soar to the heavens as it could, if I don’t continually keep finding and hanging onto what makes me uniquely me. If I don’t recognize my voice and use it, God doesn’t have even a first draft to work with.

So, what’s holding you back? Speak! Write! Be!

When I grow up, I want to be a writer. How about you?

July 28, 2011

A Word to My Sisters

When I began the journey into the strange world called being a Baptist female pastor, I knew there would be challenges. I knew there would be folks who would throw the Bible at me wondering if I believed in the same gospel as them. I knew I would have trouble finding positions to serve that my male colleagues would obtain with ease. But, what I didn’t know is that some of my toughest critics would be my sisters, those who had come before me or joined the ranks of being a woman in ministry.

I once worked with a female supervisor who made a very big deal about wearing closed toe shoes in the pulpit. No exceptions during the time I worked under her. What was the big deal about open toed shoes– too sexy? I laugh about it with this colleague now and wear open toed shoes in the pulpit regularly. And, I’ve never heard complainants about my shoes being a distraction . . .

I have a colleague my age who was told once by an older female supervisor that she had to always wear pantyhose to church– even if she wore pants and even in the summer. Why? Don’t dare show one’s skin as a female? I have been known not to wear hose to church in the summer especially as I regularly preach in a robe over my clothes anyway. No one can see my legs after all, so who cares?

I supervised a female seminarian once who had just finished her initial preaching class the semester before with a female professor at a Baptist seminary. When I asked her some of the most memorable things she learned, she was quick to say:”We spent a whole session without the men in the room with the professor describing what kind of bra we should wear when we preach.” What??? There are no words for this.

The more I’ve learned about the “backstories” to these encounters of mentoring, the more I’ve also heard that the older women who teach such things usually don’t exactly know why they believe so strongly in these practices. It is just what they do. It was another woman who put the fear of God in them about shoes, hose and bras for preaching that they felt the necessity to put that same fear into their younger colleagues.

To all of this, I say it must stop.

To be a woman in ministry is not to become less of a female or to try to achieve some level of perfection so that we reflect well on our older mentors as one blog post yesterday seemed to suggest.

We, as women need to stop being the worst critics of one another.

Sure, appropriate dress, appropriate speech, appropriate presentation of our appearance are important professional development learnings, but my sisters, let us not take out the struggle of how hard it has been to get where we are on each other. There are some expectations that go beyond the realm of what it means to be human.

My sisters, practice kindness wear fun shoes while you do it.

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