Yesterday morning, I voted in the California Democratic primary. I voted for Hillary. And if you still want to read rather than throw rotten tomatoes at me, please do. This is less about politics than it is about what it means to be female in roles that are historically male. I know more about that situation than I do about politics. So, Republicans, please put aside your tirades about what you can’t stand about Hillary and Democrats in general (you all have your own problems to deal with right now). And Bernie Sanders supporters? I am in total agreement with Robert Reich on this, and that’s all I’m gonna say about it.
I’ve had moments of being on the fence between Bernie and Hillary, but what pushed me over the edge was, I’ll admit it, gender bias. Watching the primaries roll on for months and months, it became clearer and clearer to me that the deck is stacked against Hillary because she’s a woman. I don’t think Bernie Sanders did it intentionally. (I think a few of his supporters did.) I expect nothing less than month after month of subtle, and sledge-hammer, attacks by Trump on Clinton based on gender.
But, over and over, little things added up. And I know a little about what it means to be an early woman. In 2003, I graduated from seminary in a class of about 45 MDiv students. If memory serves, 5 of us were female. Those are slightly better stats than the 15% of women in Hillary Clinton’s graduating class from Yale Law School, but not by that much. In 2003, I was the 23rd woman ordained in the Christian Reformed Church in North America (which had started ordaining women in 1994). I really don’t consider myself a trailblazer, because there were other women ahead of me in those numbers who went through much more than I did. But, still, I dealt with things like being the first woman ever to preach in a pulpit; only getting a student internship one summer when the seminary could quietly offer the church a financial incentive; scrambling to find opportunities to fulfill my required Sundays of student preaching (often because the few churches that would take a female student in their pulpits were asking if they could please have a man since they were getting all the women). I was actually barred from preaching in the pulpit of my home congregation while I was a student (until the old ladies of the church banded together and called out the male leaders of the church on that one). I had a very hard time finding a position that was a fit for my gifts. So, in a very teeny tiny way, I get what it’s like to be start breaking maybe not the glass ceiling, but at least starting to lob a few things up there to start it cracking.
I left that denomination in 2007, because I’d found a call in the Presbyterian Church (USA) (which just celebrated 60 years of ordaining women.) But even in denominations with a longer legacy of ordaining women, there is still an incredible amount of sexism. (This book is on my reading list for this summer.)
Hazel will grow up, I sincerely hope, with her first memories of a President of the United States being a woman. She was toddling around my ankles while filled in that square next to Hillary Clinton’s name on my ballot.
I get nervous about dynasties in American politics, but honestly, maybe that’s what it takes right now for us to overcome the implicit bias of our culture against women (I wrote this about the dynastic aspects of this about a year ago.) I get nervous about the fact that we seem to have a political ruling class in America, but, again, I think the first woman to pull this off will likely have to be a part of that establishment. Political and policy implications aside, it’s a big day for the United States when we have a woman who is about to be a major party’s nominee for President.
And it means more to me than I thought it would.
Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
She sees Him nothing twice at once, who’s all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall,
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive yet dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she’s seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen;
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, she’s in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angels’ Ave and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God’s court of faculties,
Deals in some times and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fixed Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the other is and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both.
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or ‘twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone:
Or as though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.
The most I have to think about today is what to make for dinner. (Well, that and how to get the dishes done and squeeze in a trip to the zoo because the active 5 year old is showing signs of cabin fever, or if we need to stay home because the toddler seems a little under the weather.)
Maybe we’ll make bread, so that I can at least break it at the table, and hand it out to my small congregation. I am still disoriented by a life that is not completely swallowed up by Holy Week (because that is the reality for most church clergy), but this year, I’ve got some small people who aren’t going to make it through a worship service that starts at 6:30pm. Eventually, that time will work for them.
But tonight, at least, the centerpiece of the evening at church would be the meal. And that’s the centerpiece around here anyway. The sacred and the mundane.
And besides: food is not all that mundane. I read this passage by M.F.K. Fisher this morning, handily included in readings for Maundy Thursday in this series.
People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?
They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft.
The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and then the warmth and richness and the fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.
I tell about myself, and how I ate bread on a lasting hillside, or drank red win in a room now blown to bits, and it happens without my willing it that I am telling too about the people with me then, and their other deeper needs for love and happiness.
There is food in the bowl, and more often than not, because of what honesty I have, there is nourishment in the heart, to feed the wilder , more insistent hungers. We must eat. If, in the face of that dread fact, we can’t find other nourishment, and tolerance and compassion for it, we’ll be no less full of human dignity.
There is a communion of more than our bodies when when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?
Everyone’s weighing in on the primaries today, and honestly, I have no particular credentials as an expert on this, but I’m trying to sort it out for myself, and writing (along with a glass of milk and a pastry) helps me sort, so here goes. If it helps you, too, feel free to join me. I’m not saying anything new here, but it’s helping me to put these things together. (And it’s not really a sermon except for maybe the place where it winds up, but before that, it’s only a little bit churchy…)
Since I do know something about church leadership, that’s where I’ll start. There’s this funny thing about how churches function: when they are searching for a new pastor, intentionally or under the surface, they will often look for a subsequent pastor who is different than the predecessor. For instance, the classic stereotype is “Reverend Smith was such a wonderful people person. But we need someone this time around who can really dig into the administrative tasks of leadership.” Sometimes this is a way to make sure the congregation can work on some things that went uncared for previously. But other times it’s a reaction to something that made the congregation uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s a legitimate discomfort: “Reverend Smith never kept a close eye on the budget and we really need someone who will pay attention to that.” Other times, it’s a discomfort of the “disturbing the comfortable” variety: “Reverend Smith really pushed us to work on our relationships with each other, to the point of reconciliation. And that was hard work, and we really don’t want to do that anymore.”)
In recent article, William Saletan puts forth the the idea that while Obama has led as an “adult”, Trump’s leadership style is akin to that of a “child.”
Trump validates the maxim that in presidential primaries, the opposition party tends to choose a candidate who differs temperamentally from the incumbent. Obama is an adult. Therefore, Republicans are nominating a child.
Another way of putting this: Obama, as a leader, has the ability (not always, but often) to make decisions that don’t make everyone happy, that don’t have to follow the lead of the crowd, and that aren’t made just to help him feel “together” with the crowd he’s talking to. He stays calm and deliberate under pressure (to the point that people get annoyed with him for being too calm).
Meanwhile, Trump as a candidate seems to be willing to say whatever makes the crowd happy (or, well, worked up, but not against Trump). My five year old (who listens to more NPR in the car than I care to admit), put it pretty well the other day, “I don’t like the Trump. He’s always angry.” (The kid is wise. Maybe it is all the NPR.)
This is what Systems Theorists call “differentiation of self.” Here are descriptions of of what that looks like from The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family:
People with a poorly differentiated “self” depend so heavily on the acceptance and approval of others that either they quickly adjust what they think, say, and do to please others or they dogmatically proclaim what others should be like and pressure them to conform.
A person with a well-differentiated “self” recognizes his realistic dependence on others, but he can stay calm and clear headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism, and rejection to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotionality.
Obama, I think. (I know some people disagree with me on this, but that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.)
In addition to the pendulum shift in leadership styles, we’re also seeing a pendulum shift related to what Jim Wallis calls “America’s original sin.”Racism, and more specifically, White Supremacy, are the big lie that our country has been telling itself from the very beginning. For all the good things about this country, that’s the rotten, unseemly thing deep down in our collective heart. And it’s going to take a very long time to weed it out.
(By the way, I’m not immune to misstep of quoting a white guy on this. I wonder if there’s a person of color who has made this observation before Wallis? Probably. And, yes, you should call me out on that. As I said before, I’m not an expert in politics nor am I in race relations, but I figure it’s more important to talk about race and make mistakes than it is to just not talk about it at all.)
I remember, a little over seven years ago, sitting in bed, watching the Obamas the night of the election. I could have gotten in the car and been there in about 45 minutes, but I had a toddler and we opted to stay put. So I cried at home, because it seemed like, finally, finally, things were getting a little better in a country that is so very scarred by racism. We had a black president. Things were changing.
The last eight years have, though, seemed pretty awful in terms of race relations. (I don’t need to list it off. You know the story.) I don’t know if I’d say we haven’t made progress as a country, though. Maybe having a black president has brought racism and white supremacy up to the surface again. And, while painful, if it’s at the surface, it’s easier to see, and to point out. (I’m not saying, by any means, that makes racism OK. What I am saying is that this task of rooting it out of America’s soul is going to take a TON of work.)
This helps me understand that we’re looking at a long arc of history. Slavery is a bigger part of our history than emancipation. The relative freedom won in the civil rights era is a tiny piece of the big picture.
The pushback against Obama, I have no doubt, is at least partly (and probably more than partly) grounded in racism. Sometimes unconsciously, and often well above the surface. And so the politics of the last eight years have gotten more and more entrenched in “us and them” language, with “us” usually being white people and “them” being people of color who are threatening “the America we knew.”
Trump rips the veil right off of the “us versus them” dynamic. And white people who feel threatened by the change join in the pushback against Obama because they like that Trump “says what he thinks.” Trump, and the racist crap that comes out of his mouth, or is implied by his actions, is the perfect pushback candidate to Obama.
I keep scanning article after article analyzing the primaries and the political state of the country for The Big Answer, because I feel like if I can make sense of this mess, I’ll feel better about it, or at least see a clear path that does not lead to President Trump. (And, honestly, I don’t care if his policies are the most moderate of any of the Republican candidates. I don’t care if he’s going to backtrack on that hateful stuff he’s pushing once he hits the general election. For one thing, a huge turn around signals to me that he’s a terribly undifferentiated leader, and he’s going to be a disaster. But the biggest thing? In as much as his hateful spew is a reflection of the state of America? Oh, no. We have got to be better than this as a nation.)
All those articles are starting to feel like a very crazy-making rabbit hole, though, and I probably won’t find an article that makes sense of this mess, so I might need to follow the example of those like my friend Liv, who says that today she’s backing away and going for a walk in the woods today, before I go completely crazy. (This might mean folding laundry for me.)
Meanwhile, I also notice that I’m thinking a good bit about American history, too. I notice that we’ve gone through some pretty awful stuff as a country, and I’m pinning my hopes, as an American, on things like the fact that the nation survived (with scarring, but still) a civil war, and the Teapot Dome Scandal, and the Great Depression. The Constitution is a pretty amazing document and I think we can get through a mess. I hope, that is.
And in an even broader sense, as a Christian, I’m thinking along the lines of Psalm 146, especially verse 3:
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
God willing, we aren’t going to wind up with President Trump. But even so, God will still be the one in charge. Regarding that walk in the woods, the third verse of “This Is My Father’s World,” for all the male God-language, seems pretty appropriate:
This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad!
And then, I when I get back from the woods (or the laundry)? Well, I’m not giving up. Trusting that this is God’s world doesn’t let Christians off the hook when it comes to action.
I have friends who are are good Christians, and sincere Republicans. And I hope they’re just as convinced in the meantime that the hate and divisiveness which are so out in the open in Trump’s campaign are just unacceptable ways to lead, the type of leadership that, no matter the policy platforms behind it, is no where near leadership as God intended. I know I do have conservative friends who see that already, and I am praying, hard, that you all are able to move your party around. I’m committing to deep and pretty much unceasing prayer for all of you in the next few months because you have an important job and some big decisions right now, and I don’t want your party to disappear (it takes a right wing and left wing to fly a plane, correct?).
For me, an avowed Democrat, it will be relatively easy to vote Democrat in the presidential election. I was going to anyway, no matter if it was Bernie or Hillary. But this might well be the first election when I do something like participate in phone banks. Until then, I’ll keep pointing to the stuff that Trump is doing that’s absolute crap, even if I’m preaching to the choir. And, bigger picture, it doesn’t hurt to keep poking and probing at the horrible, horrible rot of racism and white supremacy, both in the national heart and wherever it’s buried in my own.
If I am certain of one thing, reflecting on this election season, it’s this: I’m convinced that the healing of the soul of our nation could be very much up for grabs this time around.
Oh Jesus, Leader and Wrangler of the Disciples,
you know what it is to put up with bickering about silly things, like who sits where, and who eats what, and gets more of the good stuff.
Help me to have patience with my own small flock: when they bellow at each other like Sons of Thunder; when they throw books at each other; when they threaten to cut off people’s ears.
Give me the strength to pry them off of each other, and the wisdom to know when it’s time to send one of them on a sojourn in the wilderness (a.k.a their bedroom) to realign their priorities with life in the community that is our family.
In the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who always get along.
This year, I’ve been working more closely with the confirmation process at my church than I have in awhile.
One of my concerns with confirmation is the pattern many of us in the mainline church have fallen into of expecting youth who have often been pulled from worship for a children’s time or have not attended worship much to suddenly, during their confirmation process, understand what’s going on in worship.
So, for my confirmands, I wrote a series of lessons, essentially workbook entries, that are a guide to the five major parts of the worship service: Gathering; Word; Response; Meal; Sending.
Each of my confirmands is working through one of these sections a week with an adult mentor (mentors have the same workbook as confirmands). They meet for a few minutes before worship, sit together during worship (and are encouraged to whisper to each other about the unit they are working on that week), and then spend about 20 minutes together after worship following up. (I suspect the mentors are also accidentally learning a bit about worship, as well!)
Seeing these pairs of mentors and confirmands sitting together in worship is one of my favorite things right now. I’m calling it “Worship Together.”
I’ve linked to a PDF of the materials I created for this. While it’s written for my context (a Lutheran congregation), I suspect it could be adapted pretty easily for other congregations, and even for other traditions (after all, I am a Presbyterian minister trained and ordained in a Reformed tradition…) If this might be useful to you in your ministry, please use it! I only ask that you give me credit and let me know that you used it. (It’s protected by a Creative Commons License.) If you really want to make me happy, let me know how it worked for your group!
Click here to find a PDF of Worship Together
My less-used-than-I'd-like daily planner.
This is my daily planner. It was part of a kick starter campaign and I wanted it. It integrates the church year with the calendar year, and has space for reflection and planning and journaling.
Weeks of it are blank at this point.
But there days here and there that I’ve filled in, and reflection pages that I’ve used. And when I have used it, it’s been monumentally helpful. I’ve made some really important decisions with the help of this planner.
I’m a horrible daily practice person. My current lifestyle exacerbates this. (In the world of child-rearing and keeping house, I’m much more Maria than Captain Von Trapp.) I actually mapped out, in January, what I wish my daily schedule was like. It’s wonderful.
6:00am: run or yoga
6:45am: shower and dress
7:00am: 15 minutes of devotions and previewing the day
7:15-9:00am: the morning rush (getting everyone to school)
9:00am-2:15pm: the tasks of the day
2:15-5:30pm: be present for the kids’ afternoon
5:30-7:00pm: meal and clean up
8:30-9:00pm: prep for a new day
9:00pm: reset and rest with Erik
But life around here is a moving target, and I can rarely fit this schedule into my day. Here, for example, is how yesterday went.
5:30am: Hazel wakes up
6:30am: Two more kids awake, one with a wet bed.
7:00-8:00am: breakfast and getting people out the door
8:00-8:20am: drop Zora off at school and Erik off at the train
8:20-10:00am: run errands with Abram and Hazel because Abram doesn’t have school and we need some supplies for a project to keep him occupied and we need milk
10:00am-1:15pm: crafts with Abram; making a mess in the kitchen with Abram; make dinner ahead of time; clean up after Abram; feed people lunch
1:15pm-2:35pm: get Abram and Hazel out the door for Abram’s preschool parent teacher conference, drop Abram off at preschool afternoon care, run to the post office
2:35-3:15pm: pick up Abram and Zora, get to Zora’s swimming lesson
4:30-6:30pm: learn that Zora is ready to try out for the swim team, but tryouts don’t happen until 6:30pm and if we don’t try tonight, she has to wait at least a week for another time slot; consult with Erik and ask him to meet us at the train station nearest the swimming facility; take kids out for pizza; meet Erik; play at park
6:30-7:15pm: Zora tries out for swim team
7:45pm: home and get everyone in bed
Yesterday was particularly nuts, but you get the idea.
I’m learning to live with this reality, that I don’t live in a world where everyday is able to fit into the same schedule.
And I figure I’d better extend myself some grace to live in the shape of the days I’ve been given. Which includes some grace for the fact that the blog has been sitting here for over a week.
If you ask me, when I’m in full-on-clergy mode, I’ll tell you that Ash Wednesday is a wonderful liturgical tradition for kids. It’s the sort of church ritual that they can actually touch. Someone puts dirt on their heads. They will ask questions. You can have deep theological discussions about it on the way home. Fascinating.
The perennial problem, of course, being that Ash Wednesday never seems to fit well into the schedule of people who have other things going on.
Today, for example, I am occupied from the crack of dawn until 9:30am with little people waking up and getting a couple of them off the to school. Then the baby (who is now really toddler who naps best in her crib) needs to take a nap (she’s been deprived of a good nap time for a couple days), which I’ll have to wake her up from when I have to do the first school pick up at noon. A few hours later, we pick up the big kid from girl scouts, and then we have a weird hour and a half window of time before her swimming lesson. By then, it will be time to prep dinner, and around 6:30pm, the energetic five year old will transform into a crazy person who needed to go to bed 20 minutes ago.
Most churches around here have a 7:30pm Ash Wednesday service. Mine included. Erik and Zora will likely go. I’ll stay home with the people who are melting down at that time of night.
A few places have a noon service (note that noontime school pick up…so we can’t pull that off); and I even found a 4:00pm, but it’s during a swimming lesson.
My dream scenario is that a neighborhood pastor thinks of it to do ashes to go somewhere convenient to those of us dropping small people off at school. My perfect dream scenario is that I should be that local pastor: last year this time I was thinking that I should really talk to the school and position myself on the sidewalk wearing my clerical collar and bearing ashes. But the logistics of how I’d drop my own children off and manage that toddler for the hour overwhelmed me.
Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be, if Lent is a sort of spiritual Spring cleaning to make room for Easter. Perhaps I should have rescheduled the day, canceled a swim lesson, decided we would go without a nap, planned to retrieve people from school at a different time. I’ll admit, back in the day of full time pastoring, when I had the luxury of great childcare, and hours to devote to arranging my schedule around church, I was inclined to think everyone should reschedule their lives around the churchy stuff.
But more and more, I realize how difficult it is to break the pattern and rhythm of our own lives (and the lives, in my case, of the three small people with whom I am currently tasked). And more and more I wonder if we forget that spiritual practice has to happen in the warp and weave of the other stuff we have to do: this is so easy to forget when you’re the professional who (almost literally) lives in the church building (aka “the cloisters”). There’s a particular power about holiness that can break into the ordinary stuff.
The best we’re doing around here is lighting the purple candles on the table to mark the change of seasons. And maybe, during that nap, I’ll give myself a few minutes to read through the scripture passages I’d hear if I could go and sit through an entire Ash Wednesday service.
(Apparently, Ash Wednesday and kids has been on my mind before…)
This Lent, instead of taking something away I’m going to add. And take something away, sort of.
I miss the golden age of blogging (which, in my universe, was about 8 years ago). Much as I love short-form social media for staying connected, my Facebook posts and conversations are little dribs and drabs throughout the day, and I miss thinking in broader strokes. Those little dips into the adult world where many of you are thinking deep thoughts (or, sometimes, jus wonderfully silly thoughts) are a life-line for me during days when I’m mostly absorbed with taking care of my kids. This is why I don’t go in for the full Lenten Fast from Social Media: it’s how I’m best able to stay connected to friends in far flung places, and people I can’t get together with face to face more regularly because my social calendar in this season of my life is largely filled with the needs of the small people who live in my house. I’m grateful for it.
But I miss the way blogs let people interact with more extended thoughts back in the day. And I miss pushing myself to spend a little more time thinking about something, crafting a thought, and bringing it through to it’s end. I miss the comment threads on blogs, and the way I kept up with people through their thoughts and more expanded views into scenes from their daily lives.
I miss the way that a blog post allowed me to think in paragraphs instead of sentences. My writing has gone sorely out of practice.
So, this Lent, I’m going to try to channel some of that social media time into longer form writing, mostly for the sake of my own brain, in the hopes that it will be a reminder to me of the sense of self that I got from writing more regularly. I might dip into the social media world less frequently during a given day, and channel that effort into the blogging. If you want to follow along, I’d love to have you here. (And, yes, of course, I’ll be linking it up to Facebook, maybe even Twitter!) But I’m not telling myself this will be daily: I’m aiming for four times a week.That’s a little extension of grace to myself.
Here’s Zora, on her way to her first soccer camp.
She’s 8. I saw kids there who were 4 who clearly have been doing this since they could walk.
So now I’m worried that I’ll come back in the afternoon and find her disappointed because everyone is way ahead of her. And it’s all my fault.
Here’s the thing. I’ve deliberately kept my kids out of sports, with a few exceptions. Abram and Zora take swimming lessons every week, all year, for the last two years. They’re not the cheapest lessons, but they are really well done, and I figure swimming is a life skill. Zora says she’d like to do a children’s swim team, so we’re working toward that. She does a beautiful streamline and crawl stroke already, better than I can do (which isn’t saying much). Abram is not 100% fond of the water. But, that just convinces me even more that he needs this.
Zora takes a music lesson once a week, too. We always wanted her to take piano, but it’s guitar right now, because we have a teacher we adore for her. (Last spring, my childhood piano teacher died and I realized that it was just as much about the person teaching as the instrument. So we’re sticking with this teacher, because he’s a lovely human being.)
And that’s it. That is the sum total of the extracurriculars for my kids.
I’ve chosen to do it this way because there’s more time for me to hang out with them, we can go hiking on Saturdays or sleep in because there are no games to go to. Honestly, this is mostly about me being a bit of a lazy parent. I’m kind of protective of my schedule as much as I am of theirs. I actually think parents who have their kids in lots of stuff must have more energy than I do, and I admire them for that effort.
This week, I needed some backup for childcare. So Zora’s off to soccer camp.
And this might be the week that I discover that we are too late for her to pick up a sport because everyone else started so early. Who knows?
Or maybe I pick her up this afternoon and she has discovered a lifelong love of a sport. And we’re going to have to say “buh-bye” to lazy Saturdays.
Parenting. Such a crap shoot.
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