Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Pastor

 


How does she

become

what is

not

allowed?

How do gifts

grow;

gifts she is

not

allowed

to have,

much less,

God forbid,

use?

 

Where

is the model,

the mirror,

for her

becoming?

 

What energy

will be wasted,

what creativity

squandered,

in the effort

to prove

her right

to be

 

in the room?

 

I see you

daughter.

I call you

by your name:

Pastor.

 

Come forth,

dear one,

come into

every gift

that is yours

from birth.

You are the mirror.

You are the model.

Come forth.

 

Without

your faithful

presence,

we see

only a sliver

of the divine.


* for all of the female pastors I know, still struggling to gain access to the rooms of power, still sitting through professional conversations in which the validity of their ministry is questioned, still wondering if it's ok to be who you are. I see you, we need you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Difficult Women: St. Joan of Arc, Zinnias, and Me

 Art by Rachel Grant in the 2020 Women Who Rocked Our World calendar.


Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, and so they give their lives to little or nothing. One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it . . . and the it’s gone. But to surrender who you are and to live without belief is more terrible than dying – even more terrible than dying young. - St. Joan of Arc 


I’ve been sharing office space with Joan of Arc for the past month as she stares out at me from the August page of my Women Who Rocked Our World calendar. The artist’s image, paired with a quote, conveys an air of certainty and defiance, a sense of strength rooted in something beyond the realities of the world in which she lived.

 

A brief bio at the bottom of the page reads, “In a time when only men had power or choice, Joan of Arc commanded both. ‘I’ve arranged your marriage,’ her father said. Joan refused, changed into pants, cut her hair, and called herself Joan the Maid. She proclaimed her God-given destiny was to free France from the English invasion.” Joan led the army that restored France’s king in the early 1400s, only to be captured and executed two years later by a church heavily influenced by her former military enemies.  

 

//

 

I never had any real interest in Joan of Arc until I wrote a paper on her for a seminary class on Medieval Female Mystics. It was one of the few papers that pushed me beyond the bounds of the seminary library and sent me across the street, hunting through the dark stacks of Princeton University’s library. I read everything I could find and wrote an extensive paper based on the idea that Joan of Arc represented an early proponent of Liberation Theology. It was a stretch perhaps, a bit of a convoluted hypothesis, that produced the only B grade of my whole seminary career. All of that to say, Joan and I go back awhile, but I’m no expert on her story.

 

Reading the quote from my calendar, I realize the artist and author are doing something similar to what I did, coopting Joan’s story for a cause (feminism) that came much later than her brief and complicated life. In doing so, they raise an important point – Joan of Arc broke out of the expected feminine constraints of her day.  But they do so at the risk of confusing Joan’s motivation – Joan of Arc was called by God to deliver the French people living under an oppressive English occupation. This is the reason for her certainty, the reason for her throwing off expected social constraints.

 

//

 

I’ve been thinking lately about “difficult women.” Women are branded as “difficult” in our culture for any number of reasons – for speaking clearly, for refusing to bend to abuses of power, for advocating for change that is inconvenient to the status quo. The label “difficult” is meant to be pejorative. But I’ve been wondering lately whether the label, “difficult” might be more of an honor than a disgrace.

 

Joan of Arc, with her level-headed stare, and unwavering belief strikes me as a “difficult woman.” Her clarity, calling, and conviction are rooted in the voices of saints that she alone can hear. She has no proof other than her life, which she gives wholeheartedly and without restraint.

 

Which brings me to the Zinnias . . .

 

//

 

There are zinnias the size of salad plates in my garden this year - fat magenta petals flung wide atop of thick, green stalks. The stems are hearty and bristle with course hairs and the biggest flowers stand tall, with perfect posture, declaring themselves to the world.

 

I’ve been sharing heart space with those Zinnias this month, just as I share office space with Joan. I feel drawn to the garden to visit them. I feel loath to cut them for a bouquet or bring them inside. Those Zinnias stare me in the eye, as Joan does, in turns challenging and inspiring me with their clarity and certainty. My heart hears those zinnias proclaim, “My path ahead is clear . . . I was born for this.”

 

Those zinnias, like Joan of Arc, stand tall and confident because roots that dig down deep, drawing strength from unseen places, pushing past constraints, and living as they were made to, for as long as grace is given for them to do so.

 

I'm sharing space this August with Joan of Arc and those giant Zinnias. I’m listening to the invitation to grow deep roots, to live with clarity and conviction, to shine bright and uncompromising, like a woman in military garb, a zinnia in fuchsia standing with its face turned toward the sky. I'm letting the label, "difficult," fall where it may, and living as I believe, whatever the cost may be. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

What's A Pastor to Do?



But what’s a pastor to do when [she’s] got no people to pastor?*

 

I slipped an extra egg

under the broody hen

and marked the eggs

already gathered there

with a permanent marker’s

red x.

 

The hen settled down,

welcoming new eggs and old.

She puffed wide, her feather-bare

chest, radiating one hundred

and one degrees.

 

I picked five cucumbers

and weeded around the late-started

zinnias. I asked after zucchini

and green beans, peering between

large green leaves, but the answer was,

“not yet.”

 

I hung wet clothes on the line,

washed and dried over thirty-five

t-shirts. I went to the store for milk.

I cooked a chicken and helped

my son bake a two-layer chocolate

cake.

 

This is what I did

when I had no people to

pastor.



*This question, posed by a pastor in Winn Collier's novel, "Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church," got caught in my soul and sits there still. It's a good question, because asking (and answering it) well raises all sorts of other questions. Sometimes a good question can shed more light than even the best of answers.

 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Curiosity and Wonder Might Just Save Us All



“They’re acting like a$$es.”

 

This is what I told my husband in a quick, condemning whisper during the few seconds our four kids were more than an arm’s length away from us on the hiking trail. I’m not proud of my words, it’s not language I use often, especially in reference to my kids. But I want you to know just how bad it was.

 

Our long-awaited vacation had arrived, and I was ready for us to be happy, grateful and relaxed. I had bought into the cultural myth of the “happy family vacation” – the ones you see in pictures, where siblings with smiling faces stand with their arms carelessly cast around each other’s shoulders in front of a serenely setting sun. I’d forgotten how new spaces – even welcome, joyfully anticipated ones – unsettle carefully orchestrated family dynamics. I’d forgotten how anticipation often equals heightened expectations. I’d forgotten how hard family vacations can be.

 

And so, we found ourselves rumbling down a hiking trail like a gang of hangry bears. Kids fought, picked, and climbed on top of each other. They complained about the hike, the heat, their siblings. The words, “stop hanging on me,” “stop fighting,” “keep walking,” shot from my mouth on an endless loop. I believe, at one point, I announced, “If you don’t stop fighting, we’re going to walk the rest of the way single-file, in silence.”

Nothing worked.

 

That is, nothing worked until we jostled around a bend in the trail and noticed a doe standing in a clearing at the forest’s edge. “Look, a deer,” someone announced.

 

We turned and acknowledged the sight. Our walking and talking slowed. Someone noticed the flicker of a white tail just inside the forest’s shade. “There’s another deer in the woods. Look. See it?” One, by one, we paused and pointed, waiting for the flash of a white flag in the shaded forest’s deep green.

 

“Maybe it’s a fawn,” someone suggested.

 

Then, my husband added, “I bet, if we kneel down, it might come out.”

 

The six of us fell to our knees without argument or question. We knelt, facing the open field, crouched within arm’s reach of each other. Silence descended, save for a few whispered questions and observations. After a few minutes, the second deer tip-toed silently from the woods and we saw they were about the same size – likely a set of twins on their way to the lake for an evening drink.  

 

There was no arguing, no complaining, no pushing or shoving. The agitation of the heat, the bugs, the siblings vanished.  

 

“Maybe, if we’re quiet, they’ll come closer,” someone suggested.

 

We waited and watched the deer who waited and watched us. We spoke in whispers and the deer carried on their own conversation with flickering tails and cautious movements forward and back.


Those deer did what I could not do. Stirring up holy curiosity and wonder, they pulled us together and brought us to our knees. Divisions eradicated, we found ourselves stunned into a unity of awe. 


//


And so I pray for moments of curiosity and wonder to descend on our deeply divided world. That we would stop our fruitless chiding and bickering and fall to our knees. That we would learn to whisper questions and work in unison that the hope of the holy drawing near would be our unifying desire. 


Nothing else seems to be working.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Beauty Blooms in Framed Spaces


It is only in framed space that beauty blooms. – Anne Lindbergh

 

The haiku settles for doing, as I read it anyway, one very simple but crucial thing – it tries to put a frame around the moment. It simply frames a moment. Of course, as soon as you put a frame around anything, you set it off, you make it visible, you make it real. - Frederick Buechner

 

A rose bush dances 

in the middle window 

of my office’s far wall. 


Beyond the bush, our back 

door stands wide open. 

My daughter is sitting 

on the back step. 


Blond and fresh, 

she is bent forward 

examining something 

in her hands. 


Her limbs are long, 

her hair is long, 

and the sun spotlights 

her in the door’s dark frame. 


She is engrossed 

in the movements 

of an insect making 

its way between her two hands - 

climbing a finger, then falling 

back to her palm. 


In a flash of motion, she looks up, 

thrusts her hand forward 

and the insect flies away - 

a black blur across the wide 

sunlit space. 


Then, she too flies, 

off the stoop and out 

of the frame and I 

am left here, writing 

the picture of beauty 

I saw through the middle

window of my office's far wall.


This poem is shared with dVerse poet's pub

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

All the Colors We Need: Expanding Your Palette



"If you can segregate yourself enough, that you don't get to experience all the different cultures, and people, and beauty... then really, you're not just missing out on that personally, you're missing out . . . on a piece of the image of God. Seriously. You're not letting yourself see and experience the fullness of God if you continue to be ok with your world staying white." - Lisa Mays


Violet, Saffron Yellow, Paprika, Black – these are just a few of the colors I bartered from a friend a few summers back. She'd purchased the acrylics for a painting class, but never used them. They weren’t the colors I'd pick, but they were free and, just like that, I found myself in possession of an expanded palette.

 

Those colors sat in my paint box for a long time as I leaned toward my favorite shades of turquoise, magenta, chartreuse, and mango. My friend’s colors were darker than mine, richer, and bold. I shied away. In truth, I found it hard to believe that, faced with a wall of paints, someone would choose those colors. I certainly wouldn’t. I believed her colors were wrong and mine were right.

 

Until I didn’t. And I began to incorporate her palette into mine.  

 

//

 

I bought 4 or 5 new tank tops this summer, mostly in neutral colors, save for one in my favorite shade of turquoise blue. I saved that top like a treasure for a day when I knew I wouldn’t ruin it digging dirt in the yard or cooking. Finally, one morning, with plans to meet a friend, I pulled it on: my new, turquoise top. It wasn’t until I reached out to grab my favorite earrings, in a matching shade of blue, that I thought of my former co-worker, the one who called those same earrings green.

I paused, looked down at my shirt and thought to myself, Lisa would call this shirt green. I took a quick picture with my phone and texted it to her: “I was all excited to wear my new blue shirt today, but when I put it on, I realized you would call it green!”

She replied a few minutes later, matter-of-factly, “Yeah, it’s green.”

 

I don’t remember when it started, but at some point, after several conversations in the office where we worked together, Lisa and I realized we saw and labeled colors differently. The most shocking (to me) was my favorite blue that she saw as green. I was so fascinated that we could look at the same object and label it differently that I developed the habit of running into her office at least once a week with a color related question. “What color do you call this?” I’d ask, holding up a notebook cover or pointing to an image on one of her most recent pieces of graphic design, eagerly awaiting her reply.

 

Lisa told me how a paint store owner named a color of paint after her special request for a room the shade of her “teddy bear’s feet.”  She helped me see that pink (a color I adore) is in the same color family as red (a color I barely tolerate). She helped me see that greens can lean toward blues and visa-versa and that the line between the two might not be as clear as I thought it was.

 

Lisa and I, different ages, different races, bonded over the differences in the way we saw colors. She helped me see there was more than one way to look at things and that things, even as fundamental as colors, might change depending on your perspective.

 

//

 

How lucky I am to have friends who see the world differently than I do. Some help me embrace the darker, bolder hues. Others help me understand that the way I see things is only one way among many. I'm wondering - what colors are missing from your life? Who might help you find them?

 

Maybe my friend, Lisa, can help you too? Check out this video presentation Lisa gave last Sunday, talking about her experience of the world as a black person in the 1960s and 70s. She has such amazing perspective and insight and communicates in such a gentle, thoughtful way.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Free-Range Summer Days


Isaiah (age 8) has taken up baking. He bakes like a happy drunk, tripping around the kitchen, leaving a trail of small disasters in his wake. He dives into each recipe like a boulder dropped into a pond, no caution, all energy. We may or may not have all the ingredients, he may or may not add them in the correct order. He scoops two cups of flour into the one cup measuring cup and scrapes the excess off with a casual flick of his wrist. Flour coats the counter, the floor, his clothes.

 

Often, all of this happens before I’ve stumbled downstairs for my first cup of coffee.

 

The other week while I was out (napping possibly or at the store), I returned to discover all three boys had established vegetable gardens IN-THEIR-ROOMS. They scrounged containers from the recycling bin and planted seeds in soil they found God-only-knows-where. Solomon offered me a pride-filled garden-tour and the twins boasted the convenience of midnight snacks being so close at hand. They love their gardens and water them daily, but I’m having a hard time getting past the act of hauling dirt INTO their rooms. 

 

Speaking of dirt, we’re in the middle of installing an above-ground pool and, in the process, we’ve moved a bunch of soil from one place to the next. It turns out a dirt pile in the yard is even better than in your room and may just be the hottest toy of summer 2020. I’m only hoping they get as much use out of the pool.

 

The other day Isaiah was sitting on the edge of a once-buried cement goldfish pond, a treasure left by the previous owners. We’d planned to dig it up to make room for the pool, but it was built like a cold war bunker, all concrete and rebar, and after going through two jackhammers, we admitted defeat and moved the pool a bit further down the hill.

 

Isaiah, though, sat on the small concrete wall one morning, cutting at a piece of metal with a hacksaw. I guess I should have interrupted that activity, but he was so happy and it was his father who suggested the hacksaw after all. A friend was due soon for a playdate so I called form the back door, “Maybe you should put the hacksaw away. Your friend will be here soon.”

 

“Why,” he asked, looking up from his labor.

 

I paused a beat, then replied, “Well, some parents don’t let their kids play with hacksaws.”   

 

It was later in the kitchen that my daughter repeated the line back to me, laughing and I heard the absurdity. I posted about it then, online and people loved it like they love most of my free-range children's outrageous activities. Some friends comment, "Your kids are having the best childhood." By which, I guess they mean my kids have lots of room to play and explore and test their wills against the wild, wild world. 


I always laugh internally, though, when others (usually mothers) make comments along the lines of, "I admire how much freedom you give your children to create." 


Hah, I think to myself, You're assuming I have a say in the matter