Women Who Inspire Me: Ruth #RallyRevGals

As August winds to a close, the RevGalBlogPals are sponsoring a #RallyRevGals Blogging Contest. The challenge is to write about  a woman who has been a positive influence on my ministry (whether or not she is/was a pastor). You can read more about it here…

I thought of several women. Pastors, teachers, counselors, mothers, sisters, friends… and I won’t get to blogging about all of them. But when I think vocationally about who has inspired me and helped me take that first formational step into ministry, I first thought of Ruth.

Ruth is an Episcopal Priest. In addition to her seminary training, she has a PhD in education. She has worked in parish and education settings. She mentors, prays, and encourages. She brings a quiet authority to her preaching of the Word.

I first met Ruth through my husband and other friends who knew her from Contemplative Prayer practices. She provided a gentle grounding for the group. She is well-read, an author and a congenial friend. Many times around our table we would sit and laugh and talk for hours.

When I was in the process of discernment about seminary, Ruth was one of the people I turned to for counsel. We would sit together and talk about the challenges of vocational ministry, particularly for women. Though she is someone who has never married, her counsel to me, a wife and mother, was simple: “Ask. Listen. Allow God to show you.” And it worked.

Another aspect of Ruth’s influence on my life was to help me unpack what it meant to be “female” and “feminist” and “pastor.” The three were not at odds with one another, and they were not irreconcilable either! She invited me to allow things to be held in tension, to NOT solve the impossible, and to learn how to sit with the unanswerable. She provided me with this example as she ministered during the fracturing of The Episcopal Church. We laughed at one image of being calm in the midst of a crisis, like a duck floating on the surface of a lake, but paddling furiously underneath!

It was a perfect groundwork for the Calling of a chaplain.

Our paths do not cross as often these days. In fact, it’s been so long that I don’t have a current picture of us to put with this blog post! Thanks to the traffic and craziness of the Beltway, it would be well over an hour to get together. However, we use that old-fashioned method called “letters” to stay in touch. She remains, even by letter, an inspiration to me. I continue to be thankful for her and to pray continued blessing on the work God calls her to do.

The next time we’re in touch, I’ll tell her, “I blogged about you.” And she will probably laugh and say, “you’re KIDDING!!”

No, I’m not kidding, Ruth. You’re an inspiration to me. Thanks be to God for you.

 

Blessings: A different perspective

Offering a priestly blessing

Offering a priestly blessing

I was touched by a pastoral act I performed yesterday… giving and anointing those who came forward for a priestly blessing. The blessings I used were based on Numbers 6, one loosely based on Jeremiah 7, and others which were in liturgies or prayers that I have used before.

It was an honor to be asked to offer these personal blessings to members of the congregation. Many are dear friends. Many had their own burdens and heartbreaks that were unknown to me, but I could see in their eyes or on their faces that they wanted to hear and know the blessing of God in their lives.

Don’t we all want to know God will bless us? Don’t we all sense we need a touch of the Divine in our lives, each an every day? The problem is that our contemporary Christian culture equates blessings from God with material things. This is so far from the truth!

What greater blessing can I offer someone? The blessing that I offered affirmed God’s promises are true… now and always. I wanted them each to know how deeply they are loved by God, and how God cares for them providentially and personally.

In the act of offering this blessing, I was blessed. As I spoke words over others, I heard them for myself. And when tears rose in their eyes, they were in mine as well.

There are days that I wonder at God’s Call on my life. But today — today I have it strengthened deep in my heart.

Thanks be to God.

 

~–oOo–~

 

These are the blessings I used:

May your ears hear the uplifting and the encouraging.
May your hands help those in need.
May your heart be humble and receptive to the things of God.
May your mind be strong, disciplined, and balanced.
May the grace of the Lord, the spirit of God and the peace of Christ be with you always. Amen.

The Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord’s countenance lift you up and give you peace
In the name of our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,
Amen.

In the Name of Christ,
I bless you with the promises of God.
In the power of Holy Spirit,
may you be healthy and strong in body, mind and spirit.
May God’s angels be with you to protect and keep you always.
Amen.

May God be your strength and your source of power
May you know God’s salvation
May God lead you, protect you and defend you
All of your days.
In the Name of our God, Amen.

Vacation memories in photos

It was lovely. Quiet. Fun. Full of pranks. And over far, far too soon. Here’s some photos…

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Friday Five: Random End-of-Summer Edition

So yesterday I hosted the RevGals Friday Five. It was the kind of day that I never got back to my computer to play it myself – OR to respond to posters. But here we go…

There’s no real theme today, just some random topics. Have fun and don’t forget to post your link in the comments!

1. True or False: You can wear white shoes after Labor Day*.
I think it is more about what you are wearing. Here in my part of the world, it’s pretty hot until close to the end of September. So I will likely break this fashion “rule” and wear my white flats a little longer.

2. If “the dog days” are in August, when are “the cat days”?
Probably some time when you need a warm and cozy cat lap cover. A snowy day in January, perhaps?

3. Share a memory from your life of going back to school.
I remember having trouble getting my body onto “school time”. While we were up and at ‘em, there was less pressure to get up and get out the door, dressed and ready to roll. Since I’m not much of a morning person, it wasn’t fun.

4. My dad had a rhyme he used to tell us: “I eat my peas with honey; I’ve done it all my life. It makes the peas taste funny, but it keeps them on my knife!” What’s the strangest use for honey you’ve ever heard of?
One summer I got a horrible sunburn on my back. The family I was staying with were “natural medicine” people. Among other things, they believe that you could stay healthy by hosing out your nose and sinuses (think of a neti pot with a jet pack.) Anyway… the lady of the house smeared honey on my sunburn, assuring me it would heal it over night. It was a disaster. The honey stuck to my shirt and I had to get in the shower to release the honey form the shirt off of my back. Yeah. Weird.

5. Post a picture from this summer that shows us one of your favorite memories.
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Walking on the beach at sunset with our lovely, brilliant daughters and frequent friend. :)

BONUS: Summer gardens! Got one? What are you growing?

Flowers, mostly. I didn’t get veggies in this year.

*For those of you not in the USA, Labor Day is a national holiday and is the first Monday in September. It marks the unofficial end of summer.

Christian bumper stickers? Not on my car!

A few weeks ago I had the misfortune (or fortune?) to be driving rental cars. On Tuesday morning, there was an unexplained “hot” radiator indicator in my car, accompanied with a funny whine and the smell of burning rubber. (The whine could be attributed to children. Me without coffee. Or bad music. The burning rubber smell is NEVER a good sign.)

I don’t play around with funny car stuff. I drove straight to the garage and got a rent-a-wreck. (The name of the rental car company has been changed. But the bottom line is the car sucked.)

My mechanic was puzzled. The temperature gauge issue went away, but the noise did not. I took my mechanic’s word as Gospel. “We changed the oil and could find nothing wrong.” The car had an oil change, and Wednesday afternoon, I got rid of the junker. Gladly.

And then… Thursday my battery started draining power. Rather suddenly. Fortunately, having owned a Dodge Omni (worst electrical system in a car  EVER) I knew what to do… Turn off the A/C, turn off the GPS, and keep it rolling. It wasn’t too bad until I had to put it in Neutral and gun the engine to keep the car from stalling at every traffic light. In rush hour traffic. I managed to jolly it along and coast into the repair shop, just as the engine died.

As I suspected, it was the alternator. That funny whine was the binding of the alternator’s core. And the burning smell? We just don’t know. Maybe the belts were slipping or binding as the alternator died.

So four out of five days that week, I drove a different car than normal. My new employment requires many more miles in the car than my previous job. I can’t get by on public transportation. These temporary jalopies were a necessity (and even as junkers, they beat the alternative — walking over 20 miles in 90 degree heat!)

There was something these cars didn’t have. Something that helps me drive with Grace:

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Yup. That little fish is a not-so-subtle reminder that how I live and act (and drive) are a part of the way I demonstrate my faith to the world around me.

I tend to drive with little patience and (occasionally) a lead foot. I realized that in my rental car, I am anonymous. My address and name aren’t connected to the license. But I also realized why I never put the symbols or bumper stickers on my car… I didn’t want to be held responsible for how I drive! (truth!)

I’m taking a little more time as I drive, trying to remember my manners and consider the other drivers. It’s not my default way of driving… but I’m trying to improve.

It’s not just bumper stickers but all the externals that we wear or show as visible signals of being Christians. Does God need another t-shirt wearing, loud, rude group of diners being a “witness”? Or a cross-wearing customer who berates the server when the cook messes up her order?

Surely not.

So I’m keeping the fish on my speedometer… trying to remember to live with Grace.

Soft Falls The Night

Soft Falls The Night

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Soft falls the night
and in the deepening dark
I hear the peeping of the frogs
the softening whine of crickets
and the palms rustling and rattling in the breeze.

The noise accelerates,
as if to beg.
Perhaps the sun will slow its course
and give a few more moments of daylight.

But no.
The darkness spreads
and for a moment,
I forget the light will return,
the sun will fill the eastern sky
and poke into our windows.

The Light will come.
The Light WILL come.

Soft falls the night
and I
stand in wonder, watching, praying, worrying
for those who forget
the dawn.

When darkness closes in

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There are times where life seems so very dark. When possibilities disappear, and loneliness overwhelms. The dawn seems never to come again.

Depression.
Addiction.
Violence.
Suicidal thoughts.

These illnesses take over and produce tragic results.

Anger.
Prejudice.
Discouragement.
Hopelessness.
Pain.

They suck away hope.
They breed violence and war.
They cause mistrust and over-reaction of law enforcement to unarmed teens.
They produce enmity between groups of people, either nations, neighborhoods, or classes of people.
They result in greed, thievery, and abuse of funds.

And good people die.

More than our circumstances, there is a way through. It may not be “the same as before.” In fact, it is likely that things are now radically different.

Please hear me… God knows. God hears. You are NOT alone.

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.
Jeremiah 29:11-13

Reach out for help.

If you are struggling with addiction or suicidal thoughts, please get help. Don’t let the death of Robin Williams, or thousands of unnamed individuals’ deaths be forgotten.

If you or a family member are survivors of violence or abuse, please get help. Don’t let the death of Michael Brown, and thousands of others be for nothing. What has happened to you is appalling. But you are worth the time and energy to get support and find healing.

Suicide Prevention Lifelines
Drug Addiction Help
Victims of Violent Crime
Abuse Survivors
Women Against Gun Violence

Breathe Deeply

As the tide rolls in and out in the salt marsh
and the egrets dance in the waving grass
Breathe deeply
Know that God is near.

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When the seagulls gather to gossip and feed
and the waves push in, scattering with the foam
Breathe deeply
Rest in the beauty of the Creator.

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As the sea oats rattle in the evening breeze
And we hear the thunder’s rumble across the marsh
Breathe deeply
God holds you in the storm.

sea grass

When sundown comes and you stand with friends
And watch the colors fade into darkness
Breathe deeply
Remember how much you are loved.

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Girl Scout Barbie? No thanks.

barbiegs

from the Mattel website

Girl Scout Barbie? Are you KIDDING me?  

At first I thought it was an article from The Onion. Sadly, no. (Though they did have fun with it at Barbie’s expense.)

This is a carefully crafted marketing decision by Mattel. And the Girl Scouts.

 

You know, I could ignore the Barbie junk that seems to be everywhere in the toy aisles. I could rationalize that it’s just a joy, just a doll. But when the Girl Scouts decided to “pink” up with Mattel and their Barbie brand items, I had to draw the line.

It matters because of how Barbie represents the feminine body image, the ways in which females interact with society and the work place, and the commercialization of a non-profit group for girls and young women.

See more of my ViewPoint article published at the EEWC website here!

 

 

Grief and God

In late June, I had the opportunity to present a workshop on Grief and Loss. It was good for me to think about and put into words some of the things that I know to be very important. It was also a cool event – meeting up with other Christian Feminists at the EEWC Gathering!

Among the topics I touched on were some of the new paradigms for viewing grief and the mourning process. The most important point to me (aside from the obvious one that all of us will experience grief at some point in our lives) was the emphasis on learning from grief, not thinking it is something we have to get past. It’s a touchy point, because so many of us get stuck on the platitudes of well-meaning people.

Our grief stories are important.

In the process of reflecting, writing and talking about them, we discover where the pain has continued to nestle, and where we still “love with a limp.” It’s not that we have to act like everything is OK. Instead, remembering that we have been broken, we invite God into the process of reclaiming some of our former selves, even if the shape has knicks and dents and cracks.

kintsukuroiI used the example of the Japanese art of kintsukuroi. Instead of hiding the broken places, the artist uses a resin that has gold dust in it (or sometimes silver or platinum). The philosophy of this process suggests that the breakage and repair become a part of the object; transformation rather than perfection is the goal.

There are stories in the scars; beauty in the broken and repaired. We are still useable and needed, even if our brokenness shows. We do not have to be pre-grief-perfect!

Our culture struggles with this idea that grief can be good, that the pain of loss can be transformative. In the Christian subculture, there is a pervasive need to chirp happy little phrases like, “He’s not in pain now.” or “God must have needed another angel.”

Not only are these phrases unhelpful (we know that death means an end to suffering), but at times they are theologically wrong!

  • God does NOT need another angel! (Angels are created beings, like humans, and I think that God knew how many were needed.)
  • “You can have another baby…” (Ahem. “Can” is a medical opinion and I don’t think you’ve done the exam to make that judgement.)
  • He/She is in a better place. (Soteriology and eschatology aside, the person grieving is missing the PRESENCE of the person who died.)

So WHY do sincere, loving, well-meaning people say these things??

I suggested to my workshop participants that there are several reasons:

  • To “fix” things - They see that someone is hurting and they genuinely want to help
  • Personal distress - It brings up old wounds and they don’t want to go there
  • Misunderstand “grief” - Many, MANY people think grief has a timeline. It does not. (Simplistic answer for simplistic people.)
  • Pressure – They want things to get back to normal. In reality, what we are learning through grief is how to get to a “new normal.”
  • Foot-in-mouth disease -  We’ve all done it. Said exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. We grow from it, forgive, and move on.

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I ended my workshop with a short service of remembrance.

It began with a video I created with an original reading set to music by Yiruma.

On the front table were candles and a set of river stones wrapped in cotton fabrics and tied with a jute twine. Inside each package was a small heart with this instruction:

Keep me as your remembrance stone.
When you are ready to let me go,
give me back to Creation.

Participants were invited to select a wrapped stone and share with us the life event or person that was still a source of grief. The stories which came up surprised the participants, some of whom were friends and never knew the depths of grief that others were experiencing.

The stones were then taken home by each participant, and they were encouraged to leave the stone some place, either mundane or deeply personal and significant, when they had come to the place that they were ready to move on. There was no time line. That was not important. Rather, each person would work to a place of readiness to leave the most intense period of grief behind.

The cloth wrapping around the stone and the jute will decay. The paper will dissolve. But the stone, like the memory of the one we grieve for, will continue.

We concluded the service with a responsive reading written by Jan Aldredge-Clanton and a blessing written by Sally Coleman. 

It was amazing to watch the Holy Spirit do the knitting work of transforming love. I put the pieces out there, but God put them together.

soli deo gloria