Saturday, March 28, 2015

Episode 35: Friends Who Lead the Way

Naturally, my body holds a lot of anxiety all of the time.  And it sometimes manifests itself in less than reasonable ways....

That oil change I forgot to get last will almost definitely cause my car to breakdown on the middle of the interstate and I will surely be pummeled by a semi.

That cold bug I came down with....probably pneumonia; I'll probably be dead by Tuesday.

And then there's Diane-my dear friend, sister, and fellow lover of life. We met in divinity school and ever since she has been gently teaching me to set down my anxiety and simply live.

This past week Diane and I spent five days in the mountains of North Carolina.

Our time together involved a beautiful hike. A hike with waterfalls and gorgeous views. And, about half way up, a hike that got somewhat strenuous and slippery with a snake thrown in for good measure.

My anxious self was ready to turn around--I'm no mountain climber and while my Chacos are pretty fabulous they're still attached to my less-than-graceful, prone-to-falling feet.

But Diane just kept climbing--she didn't point out the ridiculous nature of my fear; she didn't preach about how I should be different--she just scrambled up the mountain ahead of me and kept going....

and as I've done so many times before, I thankfully followed--still a bit hesitant and anxious but ready to trust in the strong, amazing friend who was leading the way.

Before it was this particular hike, it was my gradual immersion in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)-- I wasn't really Disciple enough I told myself (I never went to summer camp after all)--but there was Diane, walking in front of me, as I made my way into regional assemblies, General assemblies and ultimately ordination and service in this denomination that is now my home....

Before it was this particular hike, it was my slow (and still slow) foray into running--I'm not really athletic enough, not strong enough, there's no way I can do this my anxiety whispered--but there was Diane, jogging in front of me, as I slowly shuffled my way mile after mile.

With Diane leading the way we found ourselves atop a beautiful waterfall, feet hanging over the edge of a rock, awash in sunlight, joyfully munching on the snacks we'd packed. She never said a word--she just put one foot in front of the other--and I walked alongside.

I am thankful for this dear friend and sister of mine who with her walking and her living reminds me to live fully, to take risks, to keep climbing.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Episode 34: Dear 2014, I'm so very glad you're gone.

Dear 2014-

I didn't see it coming but my, oh my, you were a doozy of a year.

Sarah and I went on a three hour hike today. We went, in part, because we love to hike. My real motivation though was to take as many steps as possible into this new year and leave you far behind.

Personally, you asked me to grow up a bit this year. I am more seasoned than when 2014 began; I know what it is to cry because life feels daunting and out of your control and I know what it is to get up the next day and keep walking, step after step.

I have become more acquainted with the word "cancer" than I'd like to be as those near me have learned that it resides within them. There is nothing redemptive here; no pithy joke that allows me to skip over the messiness of our fleshy existence; cancer was quite a bump in our 2014 road.

We didn't meet our someday-baby in 2014. I had hoped we would ring in the new year as exhausted new parents. Our family full with the addition of a new baby boy or girl. That was not to be. I know it will happen but it is still heavy, still sad. The waiting is still difficult.

We said goodbye to many friends--friends who are still friends though now, with the states in-between us, after work dinners and spur-of-the-moment adventures are no longer possible.

And on a larger note: our world is battered and bruised. You, 2014, were the year some within our country became aware of the systemic violence and racism that folks of color were already so intimately acquainted with. I continue to struggle to learn what it is to be an ally. Often, my words and actions are inadequate. I will keep trying.

So much hurt, a whole lot of pain, weak points and real grief. You were a doozy 2014. It's tempting to say something here--something about how much I learned or why it was all worth it in the end (a lot and I'm sure it will be) but instead I'd like to simply say "goodbye."

I will keep walking, journeying through this life of ours, and I am glad, so glad, that you are behind me.

With not much love,
Jamie Lynn

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Episode 33: Dear Preacher-Man

Dear Preacher-man,

(I did just write "preacher-man," it's true. This is not to deny that there are, in fact, called, gifted preacher-women. There are. I know so many that my heart cannot hold them all. This letter, however, is not for them. These words are for our preacher-men, those who preach while also wearing the power and privilege traditionally associated with a body identified by society as male). 

Your body does not look like my body. We do not begin at the same starting point and we are not marching toward one destination. And so, as a woman in your pews from time to time, I'd like to offer you a few pieces of homiletical insight:

The pulpit is not your confessional. Preacher-man, I admire your vulnerability and your willingness to share the places where you are broken and in need of God's grace. We are indeed all broken as you say. But your sin is not my sin and your confessions are not my confessions.  When you speak of your tendency to control things, I can only think of the places where I have felt helpless in the face of sexism or disempowered by implicit and explicit homophobia. When you call me to deflate my ego and condemn my pride, you make the assumption that I struggle beneath the burden of control and access to power. Be careful preacher-man, be careful  (and read this).

You do not speak for me. You are wise preacher-man, I know. You are learned and you have read the commentaries and studied the scholars. But be careful. You know Greek and Hebrew, it's true. But you do not know what it is to feel the hand of a stranger slide up your back because they feel entitled and permitted to touch you as they please. I have seen your commentaries, the whole series (hardcover and impressive, I know).  But you have never been denied an opportunity because you "remind someone of their granddaughter" or are just "too cute" to take seriously.  Be wary when you speak in absolutes. Use caution when you enlighten me about "what the bible says" lest I need to remind you that your body is not my body, your bible is not my bible. Context, preacher-man, context.

Embody God's word with care. When you point your finger at me preacher-man, I cannot help but think of the countless men who have pointed their fingers my way before. When you talk of God's judgement and your face is twisted in anger, I reflect upon those who have devalued me, cornering my personhood with their aggression.

Preacher-man, I am thankful for you. There are so many good versions of you out there whom I love, respect and value. They are gentle and kind. You are my friend and my colleague. Behind your pulpit you have such power. All I ask is that you wield it carefully, thoughtfully, and with great love. Your sins are not my sins. Your body is not my body. Your understanding of God's word is not mine.

With Great Love,
The Woman in Your Pew

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Episode 32: On why we must keep dancing...

Last Wednesday night nine college students, two clergy women, and a social worker serving the Department of Mental Health gathered to discuss systemic oppression and institutional brokenness for two and a half hours.

Heavy conversation? Yep.
Heart breaking? Absolutely.
Overwhelming? Uh huh.

Did it end in a two minute dance-off and a giant, love-filled group hug with the retiring social worker in the middle? It sure did. After discussing the intersection of racial and socioeconomic oppression as it is made manifest in some of our largest government systems, dancing was, after all, the only logical next step.

"Where is the hope" one of the students asked-"it all feels so big" another one added, "and I feel so small."

I've been thinking a lot about smallness my friends, about the way another's words, a system's brokenness, an institution's places of hurt, can bruise and wound, dehumanize and injure. I can't make all of that pain go away even though, Lord knows, I try. We try. We will keep trying.

But, I can--and we did--dance.

Because, as the prophet and poet Alice Walker reminds us, "hard times require furious dancing."

And without our "faith, without (our) determination to believe in liberation and & kindness, without (our) dancing" the gospel might not have any space to break through.

And so, we danced, right there in the State Hospital where our class was being held. We hugged, right there, in the midst of the heavy truth of our conversation, and we will keep on dancing still. Will you join us?

The world has changed:
Wake up & smellthe possibility.
The world has changed: 
It did not change without your prayers 
without your faith
without your determination to believe in liberation kindness; 
without your dancing through the years that had no beat.

-Alice Walker

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Episode 31: Ten Couples Turned Our World (and we woke up married...again)

My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, And my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait./You fixed your sight on the servant's plight, and my weakness you did not spurn, so from east to west shall my name be blest. Could the world be about to turn? 

The Canticle of the Turning. Sarah and I chose this hymn as a part of our ceremony two years ago. On that chilly October day 70 beautiful voices joined in robust four part harmony (God bless those Mennonites) and we sang of a world that was about to turn. Standing there in the chapel at Bethel College, the turning seemed possible but was still so distant, so hard to make out, so far away. 

My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of you justice burn. /Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, And the world is about to turn. 

There's a lot of turning left to do. There are lots of tears left to dry, so much hurt in our world. But in our little lives, in the complexity of Sarah and I's beautiful and ever growing covenant with each other, the world really does seem to be turning and turning rapidly. 

Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me, And your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the end of the age to be./Your very name puts the proud to shame, and to those who would for you yearn, You will show your might, put the strong to flight, for the world is about to turn.

Ten brave and beautiful GLBTQ couples stood before a Missouri court and demanded their rights. And while salvation does not come from our legal system and hope does not rest in the laws and bindings of our country--our rights do.  And now our state must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states. 

And just like that we had rights, here, in the state where we are building our home and praying our tiny family into existence. Praise be to God.

From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your justice tears ev'ry tyrant from his throne...This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound, 'Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God, who is turning the world around.

It's step y'all, a beautiful, significant step.  Thanks be to God. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Episode 30: On Holy Fierceness

Last year in one of my courses, an intelligent, dynamic young female student began her statement with the following: "well, I don't know if this is right but...".  I immediately stopped her and asked her just why she felt the need to preface her (intelligent, right on target) comment with words of self-doubt. (Don't worry, I asked the question gently--she wasn't embarrassed). And then, as a class, we spent the rest of the hour in what may have been the most important subject matter we covered all semester: why have women been taught to diminish themselves? Why are they often encouraged to step away from holy, confident, bold, fierceness?

"I might be off target here but...."

"This might sound crazy but...."

"Maybe I'm wrong but...."

Later one of my students asked me why I had stopped our conversation about feminist theology mid-sentence to focus on "mere" conversation patterns and my answer was two-fold.

The first, most obvious answer: feminist theology seemed like the perfect time to have a meaningful conversation about the ways women have been taught to dismiss themselves before they even begin to offer their thoughts.

The second answer, the one closest to my heart and my journey: well, her name is Rev. Dr. Alice Hunt.

Dr. Hunt was the Academic Dean during my time at Vanderbilt. She's now the President of Chicago Theological Seminary in Chicago.  Once, while waiting to board a plane and head to Mexico for an immersion course, I stepped aside and let several folks (who had been quite rude and aggressive toward our class) step in front of me because I could sense that they wanted to. Alice leaned over and simply asked me a question: Why. 

"Jamie, why did you let them step in front of you? You have every right to be in line and get on that plane."

Months later, in a conversation with classmates, Alice stopped me mid-sentence, right after I had said something along the lines of "well, this might not be right but..." and with the same firm voice, asked me again: why. 

"Jamie, why do you dismiss yourself? You are smart; you are intelligent; you should speak." 

This past semester, as I heard this fiercely intelligent young student of mine begin her own self-deprecating remarks, "I don't know if this is right but..." I felt the question, perhaps the most important question,  rise to my lips, why....why diminish yourself? 

Why say anything other than words that proclaim your strength, your competence, your worthiness in these theological discussions? 

In that moment, I found myself giving thanks for the women who have taught me and for the holy fierceness they model--in their teaching, their preaching, their living. There are so many of them after all, so very many.

Alice. Viki. Terri. Ellen. Melissa. Janetta. Helen. and the list could go on ad infinitum.

Here's to holy fierceness y'all.
Holy fierceness that often walks in the room rooted firmly in both gorgeous heals and prophetic boldness.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Episode 29: Homophobia, Jam, & Faithfulness

There's a part of me that's Mennonite. It's the part of me that fell in love with a Mennonite girl, that lives simply and is moved to tears by four-part harmony. It's the me committed to peace and potlucks, Jesus and homemade jelly.

Like most traditions, Mennonite Church (USA) has been talking a lot about homosexuality. The talk, for the most part, feels rhetorically violent, exclusive and unhelpful. I'll state the (very) painfully obvious: it hurts to be told you're not wanted.  My chest aches as I watch so many I love be alienated by the traditions that formed them--"issues" debated over their very bodies, scripture up for grabs at the cost of their families. Recently conversation has felt more difficult, more divisive, perhaps even hopeless at times.

In the wake of some particularly hard conversations around sexuality at the denominational level that unfolded the week before last, Sarah preached a sermon that brought me to tears as we worshiped with the good people of St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship (a congregation that welcomes all with great joy). You can read her sermon here. To see Sarah, this called and beloved woman of God, offering a sermon, clearly living out her call to congregational ministry in a tangible, prophetic way, it made me cry and it got me thinking...

What does faithfulness really look like? 

What do you do when your tradition labels you as "out of line" and counter scriptural? What happens when your body, your family and your life are deemed unfaithful by one of the traditions you love and claim?

What does faithfulness look like then? 

Faithfulness takes all shapes and forms but for me, it looks like filling up baskets with zucchini from our garden. It's knitting dishcloths and baking bread on Sunday mornings.

Faithfulness is strawberry jam, made with loving hands, waiting on your shelves in the basement to get you through the winter.  It's gathering with dear friends around a dining room table and singing a prayer before supper; it's choosing to love and give even when you're told you are not welcome.

Sarah and I won't be accepted by all the churches which bear the symbols of the denominations we love; our family will be judged unfaithful by some, but thank goodness it's not ultimately up to them.

Thank goodness our human efforts--our living, our loving, our seeking peace, and striving to follow Christ when we can--thank goodness they are enough.