Day 188: In the company of wise women

Today, I am going to be in the company of wise women. As I grow older, it is becoming more and more important that I make time for such activities.

About a year ago, a friend and I talked about our experiences as women clergy — both good and bad — but mostly about how isolating it can be. We work in solo pastorates, or in campus ministries, or in entrepreneurial ministries — and we rarely have colleagues. If we do have colleagues, they are rarely other women in ministry. We wanted to change that. We wanted to create a space to be together, to share, to love one another, to uphold each other, to be companions for each other on our respective journeys. We started by gathering monthly virtually on ‘GoToMeeting’, and are for the first time gathering together in person. I can’t wait to be in the company of wise women.photo

There is something very special about women’s wisdom that is often forged out of our experience of community. Women, I believe, are more communal creatures than men — we have a much more profound sense of ‘ubuntu’ (the Swahili word which means, “I am, because we are.’) Women have a sense of needing to be in the company of other women with whom we can share our joys and our struggles. We need to know that we are not alone, that the struggles we share are not new, that this too shall pass. When we come together in this way to share our hopes, our fears, our dreams and our struggles, something beautiful happens. We forge community. We are community.

If you need a community like this one, find one — or start the conversation. We need each other, and we need to remember that we are not in this life alone. We need to experience ‘ubuntu’ in the here and now. We need to be in the company of wise women.

 

Day 169: God loves me more (or not.)

Have you seen the blog posts about the “one thing” that Christians should not say? While I don’t wholly disagree with the sentiments, it does bring to mind the emails that I get about the “one thing” that you should not eat if you are trying to lose weight, or the “one thing” you should do if you really are. (OK, so yeah, I get those emails…) I’ve decided to try and not write a “ten best” or “five thing” blog post regardless of their popularity on Huff Post (and I’ve read plenty of them, so please don’t be offended if you have written one.) I’ll readily admit that I have hopped on plenty of bandwagons in my life and this is just one that I have decided to let pass me by.

So back to the “one thing” that Christians shouldn’t say. First off, I hope I have forgotten more things that Christians shouldn’t say than most people can think of. I’m full of them. If you haven’t read these posts and you don’t know what I’m referring to, there have been a number of posts recently saying that Christians should not say that they are blessed. The reasoning behind this is that it is bad theology (which I don’t disagree with, by the way) and when we say we are blessed, we are in reality saying that somehow, some way, God chose to bless me – and not others. In essence, God loves me more.file000834482034

Ok, ok, I get it. I’ve been lucky more than blessed. I was lucky enough to be born to good people in a good neighborhood in a time when you didn’t have to mortgage your future to get a college education. I was born white and straight in the US at a time when there was significant advantages to being born white and straight. I was lucky that I was able to get my post-secondary and graduate degrees on scholarship, and the most college debt I ever incurred was for one ill-fated year at Cornell in a PhD program. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have always been “education debt-free.”

But my husband and I live a life that requires our complete reliance on God and belief that God will provide. Gavin is an interim pastor in the Presbyterian Church, and so is looking for a job every 2-3 years – and his work is, in essence, to put himself out of a job. But he works with these congregations to help put them in the best place possible to call their next installed pastor.

In my work as a spiritual life and leadership coach, I have to rely on God that those who need my services will find me – one way or another. I do what I can and then rely on God for the rest. There has always been a steady stream of clients — which has indicated to me that I am to keep on this path, knowing that this is what God has for me to do.

It’s not always easy to live into that trust in the midst of so much transition. But we have been blessed. Not because God loves us more, but because when we have relied on God, God has not let us down. In many ways, for us to call that “luck” rather than God’s blessing or God’s faithfulness dishonors the way that God has continued to show up in our lives, reminding us that we are where we need to be to further God’s work in the world.

So rather than debating whether saying, “I’m blessed” translates to “God loves me more,” can we talk about other things that Christians shouldn’t say – like “it’s God’s will” when a parent, child or spouse dies tragically, or telling anyone whose sexuality and gender expression are outside the “norm” of heterosexuality and traditional gender expressions that they are going to go to hell?

These are things that a Christian should never say.

 

Day 150: A Tribute to Dr. Angelou in her own words

I woke on Wednesday to the news that the woman that taught so many of us to love ourselves was no longer a part of this mortal world. I was deeply sad, and yet so very grateful that I had heard her speak, read her poetry, witnessed her poetic moment at President Clinton’s first inaugural, and loved her words. As I said, she taught me to love myself — warts and curves and all.

She was ours, she belonged to this world, for a time. Just for a time. In that spirit, I share with you her words.

Just for a Time 

Oh how you used to walk
With that insouciant smile
I liked to hear you talk
And your style
Pleased me for a while.

You were my early love
New as a day breaking in Spring
You were the image of
Everything
That caused me to sing.

I don’t like reminiscing
Nostalgia is not my forte
I don’t spill tears
On yesterday’s years
But honesty makes me say,
You were a precious pearl
How I loved to see you shine,
You were the perfect girl.
And you were mine.
For a time.
For a time.
Just for a time.

(from The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, New York: Random House; 1994, p. 135.)

 

Day 138: Moving. It’s what we do.

“I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can
begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.” 
― Judith MintyLetters to My Daughters

There is no other way I can say it. Moving sucks. I know this in my bones. This will be move #18 in my nearly 31 years of adult life. That is counting going to college as one move (not counting summer jobs in different parts of the country) and only counting “living” somewhere if I actually moved my all my stuff.

My husband and I move for a living. He is an intentional interim pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and very good at it; my work as a writer and spiritual life and leadership coach is completely portable, so I move with him. The good news is that we can move anywhere. The bad news is that we do. Thankfully, we are best friends.

We move into a community and dig right in. There is no time to lose. We visit the sites that most people who live there never go to — because they always can. We become a part of the community. We make friends. We build relationships. We are completely unpacked within days of arrival. (Can you imagine if we didn’t? We’d always be living out of boxes.) We live in the now — not thinking about where we will be 5, 10 or even often 1 or 2 years from now because we can’t think that far ahead. When we say that “God only knows” where we will be 5 years from now, we mean it.

We have entered the transition phase of this interim position. The church will likely soon be ready to call its next installed pastor (and no, I don’t know anything for sure) and we will be looking to move to a new location. I am particularly savoring the flowering of the lovely dogwood in front of our home, as we will likely not be here to see it bloom next year.

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I often say to people that, “This is what we do.” It is. Gavin has been doing it for 16 years, and I have been on this journey with him for the past seven. Now that this interim is nearing its conclusion, I too will have to move on, say good-bye, pack our things in a moving truck and go to the next place.

It’s hard to say goodbye. You meet people, and if you are like me, you kind of fall in love with them, and then you leave and it feels a little like ending a summer romance. Even though you knew wouldn’t last beyond Labor Day, it still hurts when it’s over. It’s hard to say good-bye. But you do it. Or, I should say, we do. It’s what we do.

This morning in church I cried. This is nothing new for me — I’m a crier. And I do it often. Real tears. I’m easily moved to tears. (But you know, I come from a long line of criers, and I’m pretty sure it’s genetic. I can cry crocodile tears and not make a sound.) I thought about moving and these amazing kids that were confirmed today and leaving these people who I love and this house that I love and this tree that I love, and it’s all hard. All of it.

But it will be ok because this is what we do. And more than that, this is what we are called by God to do. That may not make much sense to you, but all I can say is that in the end, it will all be ok. Or maybe even better than ok. We’ll probably fall in love all over again.

Because this is what we do.

 

 

Day 130: Coming to terms with Mother’s Day

“Kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.” —Barbara Kingsolver

I’m not sure I’ve ever written about Mother’s Day. Actually, I’m pretty sure that I haven’t. I’ve preached on Mother’s Day twice. Once I was in Ghana (who knew their Mother’s Day was the same as ours???) and second was last year. I don’t hate Mother’s Day anymore and I don’t not go to church. I used to. It was easier to stay in than to be wished a greeting that felt like an accusation.

I love my mom. I am thankful to God everyday that I can still pick up the phone and talk to her. But I can understand why Mother’s Day is painful for those who don’t have a good relationship with their mom, or those who have lost their mother’s to death — or for those Mother’s who have lost their children to death or estrangement. There are lots of sore points to navigate — it’s in no small measure an emotional field of land mines.

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My pain was based in never having had children and being a step mom to children who could not have cared less about me. First, let me say, that despite how that just sounded, I don’t harbor any resentment toward them. Their parents were divorced when they were tweens, they did not have a good relationship with their father, and here I was — exactly 11 years younger than my new husband, and 11 years older than my stepdaughter (my stepson was 2 years younger). Not a great recipe for familial bliss. Having teenage step-children was a great antidote to wanting to bear children of my own.

We were divorced eight years later. When I remarried in 2011, the idea of children was already off the table, as I was 46 and my husband was 48. And even though neither of us had children, we couldn’t imagine having children in our late 40’s — assuming it was even possible. Plus, I had already come to terms with the fact that this was no longer in the cards for me.

That didn’t really make Mother’s Day any easier. And it still doesn’t. There is a part of me that still cringes when someone (well meaning) wishes me a Happy Mother’s Day. There is a part of my heart that still hurts. No, I don’t wish my life were different (it’s pretty fantastic) and I don’t begrudge giving all the Mother’s out there a day. (And by the way, contrary to what I read recently, not everyone has a “day.” Just ask my single girlfriends who are not administrative assistants, or girlfriends, or bosses.)

But every year it gets a little easier. Every year, I get a little older and there are fewer baby showers to attend — in fact, I just recently performed the marriage of the adult child of a college friend. And I’ve gotten used to saying that I don’t have children — that we don’t have children. I love my husband and I love my life and one day I might even love Mother’s Day. Maybe.

My husband’s mother died many years ago, and on Mother’s Day he gives all adult women in his congregation a carnation. It’s a lovely gesture — one that I truly appreciate. He reminds all women that by virtue of our baptism, we are all mothers and sisters, daughters and aunts in God’s family. He reminds us of the mothering that we do to children not our own, the “mothers” who loved us, and the “children” we help raise.

Of course, I love my Mom and am so thankful for her everyday. I’m glad she is still a phone call away and so wish she didn’t live so far away. I am thankful that she was there everyday when I came home from school and that it was possible for her to do that. I am thankful that I had a mom who took that role seriously and loved us even when it wasn’t easy. Especially when it wasn’t easy. Thanks, Mom.

And thanks, Gavin, for helping me to remember that mothering is a verb, and you don’t have to have given birth to do it.

 

 

Day 128: #BringBackOurGirls…Why I care

Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It’s time to . -mo (Michelle Obama on Twitter, 5/7/14)

There has been a lot written over the past few days and weeks about the 234 young women abducted by the Boko Haram in the rural Nigerian village of Chibok on April 15, 2014. Why the fuss?

These young women were the best and brightest that their villages had to offer. They were defying social convention in order to get a secondary education. They were not only the future of their country’s women; they were (and I pray, are) the future of their country.

But what about the thousands of women and girls who are daily abducted and trafficked around the world? This does not take anything away from any of the many efforts around the globe that are trying to end the tragedy of the trafficking of women and girls. This does not ignore them. If anything, the egregiousness of this act highlights the price that women and girls pay everyday for doing the most radical of things — becoming educated.

When I was in Ghana in 2006, I attended the graduation of young men and women from the Baptist Vocational Technical College — a residential high school for young men and women who had been redeemed from fetish priests in their community. They had been given by their family to the priest to pay off some particular sin and to buy absolution. These children were then essentially slaves of the priest, until they were redeemed through the efforts of the local Baptist congregations and brought to the school to be educated, because they were no longer welcome in the families who gave them up. It was inspiring to meet these young women and men, hear their stories and celebrate the ways that they are working to make a better life for themselves.

At the graduation of the Baptist Vocational Technical College in Ghana in May 2006.

At the graduation of the Baptist Vocational Technical College in Ghana in May 2006.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr from his Letter from the Birmingham Jail:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

I can’t sit idly by in NY and not think that what happens in Nigeria affect me. It does.

But so do so many other things. Those young men and women who are being killed on the streets of Chicago and Detroit and New Orleans and St. Louis by guns and drugs and hopeless and lack of opportunity for a better life — they all matter, too. The 20 children and 6 staff who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School count, as do the children and young adults who have been affected by school shootings and violence all over the country. Violence matters. All of it.

Imagine with me for a minute if those abducted were 234 young women from a high school in the US — let’s make it a prestigious all girls school like the Brearly School on New York’s Upper East Side. Or better yet, let’s think of a prep school in the middle of a cornfield (or close to it) — Culver Girl’s Academy in Culver, Indiana. Can you imagine the media coverage of an abduction of this magnitude of young women anywhere in the US? Do these young women deserve anything less because of where they were born or the color of their skin?

It has only been because the social media world said we will not be silent that the news media world picked up the story. This is not unlike the Trayvon Martin case in that respect. It was only after the story about this young man’s murder in Florida circulated on Facebook and Twitter did the national news pick up on the story.

We are living in a time where social media has the power to drive the news media. This is the democratization of what is to be considered, “news.”

So I am praying that the Nigerian military with the assistance of others in the international community can find these girls and reunite them with their families and with each other. I am praying that somehow, some way the hashtag #bringbackourgirls will do just that.

 

Day 125: Happy Cinco de Mayo!

“Fundamentally, I started writing to save my life. Yes, my own life first. I see the same impulse in my students-the dark, the queer, the mixed-blood, the violated-turning to the written page with a relentless passion, a drive to avenge their own silence, invisibility, and erasure as living, innately expressive human beings.” 
― Cherríe L. Moraga

Cherrie Moraga – Poetry.

In celebration of Mexican heritage and pride, take a moment today to check out the poetry and biography of Cherrie Moraga at the link above. Amazing.

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Day 121: Celebrate May Day!

You built a factory out there, good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads that the rest of us paid for. You hired workers that the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. (Elizabeth Warren)

By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class. (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

The more that social democracy develops, grows, and becomes stronger, the more the enlightened masses of workers will take their own destinies, the leadership of their movement, and the determination of its direction into their own hands. (Rosa Luxemburg)

‘The Accursed’ is very much a novel about social injustice as the consequence of the terrible, tragic division of classes – the exploitation not only of poor and immigrant workers but of their young children in factories and mills – and as the consequence of race hatred in the aftermath of the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves. (Joyce Carol Oates)

We believe in loving our brothers regardless of race, color or creed and we believe in showing this love by working for better conditions immediately and the ultimate owning by the workers of their means of production. (Dorothy Day)

The most powerful recent innovation in government is when states aggressively use community colleges for retraining. In Michigan, where large numbers of workers were displaced from the manufacturing industry, we created a wildly successful program: No Worker Left Behind.  (Jennifer Granholm)

Most arguments for instituting or raising a minimum wage are based on fairness and redistribution. Even if workers are getting a competitive wage, many of us are deeply disturbed that some hard-working families still have very little. (Christina Romer)
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Day 119: On Race and the NBA

“…“white supremacy” is a much more useful term for understanding the complicity of people of color in upholding and maintaining racial hierarchies that do not involve force (i.e slavery, apartheid) than the term “internalized racism”- a term most often used to suggest that black people have absorbed negative feelings and attitudes about blackness. The term “white supremacy” enables us to recognize not only that black people are socialized to embody the values and attitudes of white supremacy, but we can exercise “white supremacist control” over other black people.” ― Bell HooksTalking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black 

I was sickened to hear the sentiments of Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling over and over again on the television and internet these past few days. The hatred implicit in those statements is nauseating to me. Not because they are isolated feelings, but because they are so often not spoken. They are thought, but not expressed. But that doesn’t mean that if they are not spoken, they aren’t real. They are very, very real whether or not individuals are willing to admit having those feelings.

Racism is real, and it most often rears its ugly head as white supremacy in interpersonal relations. Not that racist attitudes are the sum total of our racism — there are lots of institutions that view the world with these same hierarchies (both explicitly and implicitly) — but that this is the way that we most often are confronted with racism in our society. Whites are often treated as though our lives are more important and more valuable by our societal institutions — higher education, criminal justice, public schools, police, and many more.

And no, the fact that the US has twice elected a President who is not white does not mean that there is no longer racism in the US — any more than saying that if you are white and have a friend who is not white, then you are not racist. We live in a racist society, and therefore unless we are actively engaged in anti-racist thinking and dismantling racism in our society, we are racist. And even if we are doing the aforementioned things, the best we (white folks) can hope to be are recovering racists (myself included). It’s a part of our DNA as Americans — it’s a legacy that we can’t just wish away.

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With Dr. A.G. Miller, a fellow pastor and brother in the struggle to combat racism. We were together on a “Justice Journey” in 2008.

I, for one, am glad that the NBA owners took the step to ban Donald Sterling from the NBA for life. He shouldn’t be able to earn money on the backs of folks who he so openly disdains. But don’t make the mistake of believing that you are not racist because you would never ever say those things, or contribute to those feelings. If you live in the US, you live in a country where those things are said everyday. And a lot of “good” folks are unwilling to call out ignorance and hatred when they hear it, so it goes unchecked.

But racism is more than just verbalized racial prejudice. It’s structural as well. We need to acknowledge that our prisons are full of black and brown men and women — not because they are somehow morally bereft, but because they are more likely to be caught and serve prison sentences for their crimes than their white counterparts. That’s racism. That’s white supremacy. That’s the privilege that white folks have over brown and black folks in this country.

I hope you will join me in welcoming this conversation. We need to have it. Where do you see racism in your midst? How do you feel about the NBA’s actions and the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Michigan lower courts striking down of affirmative action for being unconstitutional? What troubles you about this aspect of our life together? I look forward to your reactions.