Susquehanna Morning

Susquehanna Morning

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

There's a Woman in the Pulpit: It's All About the Call

It was the summer of 2006. My mother had died about six months earlier, and my son was about to head off to college. My daughter was ready to begin her last year of middle school, and I? I didn't have a job.

A Call. I mean, I didn't have a call. Ministers don't have jobs, we have calls.

But who is a minister without a call?

That summer, I strained to find out. Having completed an interim pastorate in the late spring, I spent the summer restlessly poking around my denomination's matching website, where churches and ministers were (hopefully) brought together, the ecclesiastical version of match-dot-com. I needed a job-- sorry, a call-- within a reasonable radius of my home (that last interim had been an hour commute; I felt I could do 90 minutes each way if need be).

But there was nothing. Nada. Zip. Scratch.

I listened for God's call and I heard.... crickets.

I began to wonder whether I should open a wine shop.

I called the local public radio station when I heard they were looking for on-air weekend announcers.

I was doing yard work, and a Leonard Cohen song popped up on my iPod.

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

I wept.

Eventually my search for a call turned into my search for anything at all that might give me somewhere to focus my restless energy. The internet was handy.

There were these blogging clergywomen...

As I began immersing myself in the blogs of people named things like Songbird and Saint Casserole and Pink Shoes and Queen Mum, I realized with relief that I was not alone anymore.  (My nom de blogue was Magdalene, for my favorite biblical character, and then Cecilia, for the patron saint of musicians). Suddenly, I was reading of other women in ministry, or preparing for ministry, or between calls. I was reading about women who were balancing ministry with families and relationships and marriages. I was reading about women's challenges as heads of staff and associate pastors, and in all kinds of ministry settings, from hospitals, to tall-steeple churches, to colleges, to tiny rural chapels. Sermons were shared. Recipes too. Stories that made my belly ache from laughing and my eyes well up with tears. Stories of God showing up in their lives, and the lives of those they loved and served as ministers.

And I began to share my stories there too... the summer trip to see extended family, the interview for another interim position. (Phew! Wine shop Plan B averted.) The occasional sermon.

Mind you, I still didn't have a call. But I did have a community, and the fact that I had met almost none of these women face to face did not negate the sense of connection, the kindness, or the daily, almost hourly flashes of recognition: this is who I am. With or without a call.

The women who constitute the community that eventually became RevGalBlogPals have brought forth a book. There's a Woman In the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor was published this month by Skylight Paths Publishing. It contains stories, poems, and prayers by more than fifty clergywomen and women preparing for ministry. It contains offerings of hilarious good humor and heartbreaking vulnerability. It contains boots-(and pink heels)-on-the-ground, day-in-the-life nitty gritty stuff, and theological reflection that makes the heart sing. It contains tales that make you mutter not-so-nice words under your breath, and revelations that make you want to fall to your knees in wonder.

It's all about the call, and the incredibly diverse women who have answered it.

It's all about the call, and the lives that are shaped by it.

It's all about the call, and the loving God who sustains us through it.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Green Rice

We had a potluck at church the other night, and a presentation from a guest from  far-off land, a lovely gentleman who has more knowledge and insight about boots-on-the-ground disciple-building in his little finger than I have in my whole self. Some of us had already met him, and experienced his quiet and powerful presence at our bible study.

For a pot luck, and I usually try to bring something. I was casting about as I drove from church back to the house, and I wondered: how's that spinach from the weekend?

Last weekend I made a big pot of spinach and rice as my beloved likes it-- a childhood favorite recipe, fragrant with dill seeds, passed on from her Greek aunty, and which she has entrusted to me. But I was thinking of another recipe from my own childhood, a favorite called Green Rice.

My mother made Green Rice only once. My parents, hardworking small business-owners (they eventually owned two liquor stores), had signed me up for sailing lessons at something called the Margate City Yacht Club. Lest you think I grew up in Newport, Rhode Island or some such money-soaked place, the Yacht Club was a piece of waterfront property on the inland waterway. On it sat a crumbling Depression-era house, fitted out with furniture odds and ends donated by the families who parked their sailboats in the great big (maybe an acre and a half?) cement-paved parking lot. It was modest. Most of the families whose kids sailed there were summer residents, folks wealthy enough to have a second home at the shore. We lived here year-round, and sailing lessons were a luxury. My parents bought me a Sunfish, about as small a sailboat as existed at the time, and I spent five summers between ages 10 and 15 sailing it almost daily from June through August.

Back to the Green Rice. There was an Event at the Yacht Club, and it was organized by one of those elegant Philadelphia women who probably sat on the Board of the Symphony. She asked the mothers of the Yacht Club students to bring dishes to the Event, and when they agreed, she provided them with recipes, along with a lovely, kind of fancy handwritten note of thanks.

The note was signed, "Fondly, M_______."

I'd never seen anyone sign a note like that.

We were so out of our element. I was probably 11 or 12, and while I didn't understand all the intricacies of the social discomfort my parents experienced, I understood enough. That "Fondly" made my mother and me look at one another with wide eyes. Not because M_______ wasn't perfectly sweet and kind. She was. But... we were intimidated. And awed. And a little infatuated with it all.

The recipe was for Green Rice. You take some cooked rice (about 4-1/2 cups, for me that translates to 1-1/2 dry) and mix it with some chopped onion (2 medium), chopped fresh spinach or parsley (about 6 ounces, more is fine), a couple of eggs you've beaten up, and three cups of milk, as well as (gulp! it's for a lot of people...) a stick of butter, melted. You're supposed to throw in some shredded Swiss cheese, but I only had a gorgeous hunk of Romano, so I grated a ton of that into the mix. Place in a buttered casserole dish, and bake at 350 for 40 minutes or so, and then I grated more cheese on the top.

As I took the fragrant casserole from the oven I thought of my mother's nervous pride as she presented her own at the Yacht Club.

As I shared my casserole at the Pot Luck, I thought about this particular story of my childhood feeling so present to me in the cooking of it.

As I listened to the story of our guest, I thought of all the ways our lives are so radically different, and yet connected through the simple acts of eating a meal together and sharing stories.

Friday, April 10, 2015

On Doubt and the Week After

We folks of the Christian persuasion have all come through our High Holy Days, aka the Easter Triduum (the "Great Three Days"). I hear we ministers are all pretty tired, at this point, not just from a high-energy, somewhat high-pressure week, but also from the previous six weeks. In my case, that's six weeks of two services per week (I know, Episcopal friends... I am a wimp. Duly noted.). But more than that, that's preaching twice in each week.

Just to be clear, that's my choice. When I arrived at the church I love and serve, there was all kinds of openness to different ideas for Lenten series. For the past two years, I have decided to preach. A meditation, not a full-on sermon. Partially, I wanted to fill in the gaps in the gospels I have been preaching on Sundays, using the Narrative Lectionary (if you click the link, general info is on the sidebar). I have found this to be so rewarding, as I have struggled to preach through each gospel in a more intensive way for the first time.

At different points in my life I have felt a particular affinity for different gospels. This year, preaching Matthew, I have felt myself pushed and prodded to recognize and account for the sharp edge, the anger I read there-- anger borne of heartache, the tragedy of fractured community and fractured relationships. It's all over the place, but particularly powerfully expressed in the parables and the passion.

I'm not so comfortable with anger, but that's another blogpost.

To take a sharp left, what is on my mind this week is doubt.

The gospel appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary for the Sunday after Easter is always the story of the one dubbed "Doubting Thomas" by culture, but called "the Twin" by the gospeller. But the story isn't one of doubt, so much as it is the story of one who just happened to be out when Jesus dropped by. And, given the fact that the others were all hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Judeans, one begins to suspect that Thomas was the one appointed to go get provisions. He wasn't hiding. Once in a sermon I suggested he ought to be known as "Brave Thomas."

This year, preaching from the gospel of Matthew (and still with the Narrative Lectionary), imagine my surprise when that little word, doubt, appeared in this Sunday's gospel text.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. ~Matthew 28:16-17

Please note, the creators of this lectionary would strongly prefer that I focus on the "Great Commission," the "Go and tell and baptize" part of this passage. But I am captivated by the presence, the admission of doubt here. My honest, gut-deep response to this little revelation? Relief. I wonder whether these might not be among the most comforting words in scripture.

We walk by faith, as Paul has told us, and not by sight. So, for Christians of our era, we don't get the revelation at the tomb-- we don't get the earthquake, and the snow-white, lightning bright angel rolling back the stone majestically and then plopping himself down upon it with his good-news words, "Do not be afraid." And we certainly don't get Jesus, showing us his hands and side, and letting us cling to his poor battered feet.

So, for those who DID get all these things... everything from being called to follow, to witnessing his teaching and preaching and healings and exorcisms and feeding and parables and confrontations with the authorities, etc. etc. etc... for those folks to see, and worship, and doubt, is a kind of gift to us, a telephone line through time, as it were, telling us: it's ok. It's ok.

It's ok to wonder. It's ok to doubt. Even Jesus' nearest and dearest doubted. It's ok.

As a pastor, I wonder whether I say this enough? I know that the folks in my bible study have a sense of this, that they know scripture, in the very venerable tradition of our Jewish cousins, is to be conversed with, and struggled with, like Jacob with the angel, until it gives a blessing. Doubt is not a bad thing. It is a human thing, a product of our life experiences and our intellect, and it is not something to be ashamed of.

But it is also not something to be careless with. We can pray our doubt. (Maybe we should.) We can speak with our doubt, invite it in and sit down to tea with it. And we can acknowledge that doubt is not the antithesis to faith, but a very close relation, a sibling, to be loved and acknowledged, and not chased away, but treasured, because doubt has the capacity to lead us even more deeply into faith.

These are my first ponderings and stirrings on this gospel passage. It is a tired week to try to wrestle with something I feel is both very complex and very important in the life of faith. I doubt I can do it justice. (See what I did there?) But I write by faith, too. And so, I begin.