Friday, February 24, 2017


It has been over a month since I joined the local women's march. I have wanted to write about it that whole time but I have been taking time to process it. That day meant a lot to me and I continue to show up in all the ways I can. Even though the responses I have received from elected officials have been absolutely condescending, I won't give up, it's not my style.

Now before I get into the march itself or the why I marched stuff or even my reflection on the day and all that has happened since, I need to tell you a story. It is the story of my own journey with feminism. Now the word feminism itself has become polarizing people scoff at it. We all define it differently. I have always been a feminist, I didn't always know it, I thought for my early years I just believed in what was right, women being equal to men in status as part of humanity. When I was working through my Women in Religion course in my undergraduate studies I had to write journals. One day I pondered if I was even a feminist because I was being introduced to an angrier feminism than I had previously known and I wasn't angry. My very feminist professor wrote back, "If you aren't feminist neither am I." I did not often think about feminism in my everyday life. Then I went to seminary, now I went to a seminary where women are welcomed fully so I was offered much protection from the idea that women cannot be pastors. There is a very common idea in Christianity that women are not capable of proclaiming the Word. Seminary offered it's challenges to me in the area of feminism, again I didn't feel angry enough, I didn't feel liberal enough. I did a lot of listening, trying to understand. It would take awhile before I ever felt angry about how I was treated as a woman.

Born and raised on the East coast, I now live in the middle of the country. I have been a student of religion for over ten years, I love to study religion of all sorts. I am also an ordained clergy woman. I want to share with you some of the steps it took for me to be ordained. I was required to complete a Master of Divinity degree, to even apply for this degree I had to complete my undergraduate studies with a certain level of academic achievement. That is four years of education before I could even apply. This particular degree requires 90 credits of coursework plus internships, your average Master's Degree is 30-45 credits, sometimes 60. I completed a second Master's Degree in tandem with the M.Div for a total of 105 credits of course work, 3 internships, and 2 senior projects. I did this all while raising a toddler/preschooler. It was never for a moment easy. Then there were the denominational requirements: a full psychological evaluation, countless forms, essays, interviews, five Ordination Exams, preaching critiques, questioning on the floor of meetings for our governing bodies. I didn't just wake up and decide to be a pastor, it took intentional commitment, hard work, and the support of countless people. Two years ago with tears of joy, I gathered with a lot of my family and friends to celebrate my ordination to ordered ministry. It was shortly after my ordination that my family and I moved to the middle.

I was about two months into my position at the church when I went downtown with my family to buy some fabric. I wanted to make curtains for the house we moved into. I rolled my cart up to the the cutting table, an employee began to cut my fabric, and a customer engaged me in conversation. "What are you making?"
"Did you just move here?"
"Oh you must be a teacher!"
"Not exactly, I am a pastor." I have since learned saying, you could say that is a much better response.People think as a professionally dressed woman I am a teacher all the time.
"Oh well I go to a church that preaches the bible so women cannot be pastors."
"What church is that?"
She answers about the denomination, the membership, etc. I ignore her baffled and hateful comments toward me and my profession with grace. The employee gets super uncomfortable and offers to take me to coffee. My husband is standing there with veins bulging in his head and neck. If you know him, you know this is not something that happens often. Thank God, my kid is blissfully unaware.

I happen to know the denomination which she practices does not require near the amount of study or testing that mine does to become clergy. That doesn't bother me in my everyday life, it only bothers me in situations like this when people condescendingly tell me I can't do what I do because I possess ovaries and breasts. This was the first time I experienced this and it was the day I started to become angry at how I was treated as a woman. I wish I could tell you this is an isolated incident, it was not. It happens all the time, there are male clergy where I live that cannot make eye contact with me. I carry the insurance for our family, I regularly get asked for my husbands ID number in medical practices. I have to explain, no no no, I am the member and HE is the dependent. I should mention this happens in the wider community, for the most part the congregation in which I serve offers me respect as a human being. The message the culture I am surrounded by sends me is regularly, my work doesn't count, my education means nothing, my passing exams and such have no meaning. Not because I am doing a terrible job as a professional but because as a woman I am not qualified to teach the word of God. I could easily as a woman be allowed to do the other aspects of my job, like the administrative stuff, the pastoral care, it's just that pesky preaching thing that is the problem.

After these incidents I have little tolerance for anything less than full inclusion of women in all areas of life. I also happen to believe in the full inclusion of all human beings in all areas of life. This last election season made it quite evident that there was a large part of humanity that would no longer enjoy all the same rights as me. As a clergy woman it is my job to advocate for the "least of these" who ever they may be. As a follower of Jesus, I have to take very seriously his commands to love both neighbor and enemy. To care for the stranger among us. Basically I am called to love people. Loving people gets messy, especially when I am called to love the lady in the fabric store. My reality is that my theology keeps me in check, I can simultaneously want to slap a person (I wouldn't) and hear the echo of "love them".

My political leanings are pretty "left" because of how I interpret what it means to love. Many people like to tell me I am moderate, I am not moderate, I am pretty far left but I try not to be hateful in how I present my ideas. I think that tells us something about our current political atmosphere, I can present hard left ideas calmly and people thing I am not far left. The same is true on the right. I do not have the luxury of surrounding myself with only people who agree with me. My current geographic location puts me in the minority and I serve in a congregation, that means I serve people of all sorts of political and theological beliefs. I cannot ethically show preference among them.

That all said, I watched the election results as a nightmare unfolded. I never believed for a moment if 45 was elected as he was, that he wouldn't act on his words. I never believed he was all talk nor do I believe he cares about my neighbors. The problems are many but I cannot tolerate hate filled statements. The rights of immigrants, Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ, disabled people, and women are all important to me, because they are human rights. I am still a month later scared for the rights of my sisters and brothers who are different from me. I haven't been given reason to think so otherwise, just this week protections for transgender students were rolled back. People fighting for clean water are losing. The environment aka God's creation is losing. While none of these have an immediate direct impact on my life, I am determined to raise my voice until I can no longer raise my voice for those who are affected.

I wrote this right after I marched.
 I was invited to the Women's March on DC the morning after the election and seriously considered going but travel from where I live to anywhere is SO expensive. There is also the constant threat of winter storms delaying or stopping travel all together. This week I felt so distraught, like I needed to do something, so I started searching for a sister march close by. It turns out there was one just an hour away. I began to consider on Wednesday if I would go, by Friday I had invited two more to come with me and made a sign. I was going to my first march. I didn't take the decision to go lightly or the decision to wear my clerical collar lightly. While I don't have a party affiliation I do have a leaning and it leans the opposite direction from the majority of the congregation I lead. Choosing to march could have consequences professionally, even if I am allowed to abide my conscious. Choosing not to march would have had personal consequences, could I live with myself, could I answer to my daughter when she is grown? Nope.

Back to the present.
I have since read many critiques of the march some of which I needed to hear even when they made me uncomfortable. I should be clear, even though if you know me, I think you know this, my marching wasn't an endorsement of every speaker that was televised at every march. Heck, I probably would have disagreed with some of the people I marched with. I have struggled with all this since the march and the idea of unity. I have never felt more unified in my life than I did the day of the march, especially when I returned home to see people all over the world marching. I cried because for the first time in months, I didn't feel alone. While there was certainly some ways in which unity was limited, I cannot help but think millions, millions of people around the world is anything short of unity. I understand that there was some exclusion around pro-life marchers on the national scale. My understanding is that locally both "sides" were there but I can't be sure of who all was there. I can tell you that I marched with many women I would never see in my church life. Women who have been hurt by Christianity and the church. Women who have never met a clergy person like me, willing to love all of who they are, and not forcing them to conform to my own "moral" standards. The thing about human unity is it won't ever be perfect, because we are human: broken, hurting, imperfect. The unity of march day was not perfect but it was a step closer to finding unity, it was a glimpse of kin-dom living for just a moment.

I have hope after that day because I didn't just see women. I saw men, wearing babies. I saw families. I saw grandparents. I saw life long activists. I saw new activists like me. I saw Native Americans. I saw diversity. I saw love. My only regret from the day is not bringing my own daughter. Sadly, I think she is going to need to know how to do this. I didn't bring her because it was my first march and I didn't know how it would go. I didn't know if it would get violent or out of hand. It didn't. We even had police that stopped to help us cross a busy intersection, the same crowd that chanted many march slogans, including black lives matter, applauded that unscheduled police traffic help. We can assert any of these rally cries and still respect other human beings, I know this because I watched it happen. (If at this point you are wanting to counter with yeah but... you weren't violent, you didn't riot, etc I encourage you to instead contact me privately and ask me about my time with the Children's Defense Fund at the Haley Farm.)

The one question I am left with is why did it take me so long to march? There have been plenty of times before I could have marched for a variety of causes I hold dear, but I never did. I think a lot has changed, I am not scared anymore, it isn't new any more. In the future, I will march again, I am hoping to find a local science march. I won't be silent.

I am grateful for the privilege of being able to march on a Saturday morning, to raise my voice, and call for more love.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Meltdown in the Card Aisle

Valentine's Day and I have a torrid history. Like many a young girl, there was a time when I dreamed of prince charming swooping in with a heart shaped, cellophane wrapped box of cheap chocolate and over priced roses. That was a long time ago before the smell of roses reminded me only of funerals, since necrophilia isn't my thing, roses aren't romance in our house. I would take a few chocolate covered strawberries or caramels over a box of chocolate any day. There was a time when I thought Valentine's Day was full of romance and the stuff dreams were made of. That time is long past, while my house is currently covered in hearts, I am like the Grinch of the day. Honestly the hearts are for my kid and this year to maybe a little to remind me of the love that is in the world despite politically terrible times. Why should I be obligated to show my love in the form of sugar and greeting cards on February 14th every year? Isn't just my regular old love expressed through a thousand tiny gestures enough?

Let me tell you a story about Valentine's Day 1997. My mom had started seeing someone who was still very much pulling out the stops. He took our entire family out to dinner at a local tavern. My mom, me, my brothers, my niece, my sister in law. We were enjoying a boisterous dinner (the only kind my family of origin knows) when I started to feel really sick, like oh crap I am not making through dinner sick. My sister in law drove me home and rejoined the family. I changed into terry cloth mismatched sweats that were so ill fitting I could fit another person in them. I had a huge white scrunchy holding my hair abnormally high on my head, I hugged the toilet for awhile. Then the door bell rang, it was my now husband and his then best friend. In one of the more romantic gestures of our life together, he decided to ask me to prom on Valentine's Day. When I answered the door in my amazing outfit and sloppy hair, I did not expect to see my friends, let alone the one I "kinda sorta maybe liked". The invited themselves in, my outfit did not deter them. We started talking about answering machines and their prerecorded voices. Mid sentence Paul blurted out, "Would you go to prom with me?" I said, "Sure." and we went back to answering machines. My plans to go to bed were canceled because I had to wait up to tell the family I was going to prom. I think my mom was more excited than I was that I was going. And so began our life together, in between boughts of Valentine's Day vomiting I was asked to the prom. It was probably one of the most romantic Valentine's Days of my life.

Fast forward 20 years later, we are married with one kiddo, we have been through hell together. I find myself the week before Valentine's Day in the card aisle looking for a card that says husband. I am feeling lazy and frivolous. Cards are pricey but I work full time now, so I can buy one. I don't feel like making one. Husband you have the perfect butt... that won't work Paul's back just splits in half where his butt should be (don't worry I can say that, he can tell you about my "front butt"). Wild thing you drive me crazy... do you know what kind of sex we have? Baby making on a schedule sex. It is work, it is not sexy or fun or wild. Stereotypical gender role humor... funny yes but still not us. In case you missed it in one of the other hundred blogs, I am female clergy... so there goes that. I desperately looked for a blank one... nothing. Finally, I found one that didn't say husband, but had sentiments I at least felt were real, true. I nearly cried for a moment in the card aisle, I texted a friend my disgust. There are no cards that fit our marriage, we are failing. We aren't failing, really. Culture was just winning at that moment. I went on ranting about how stupid this whole thing is. I bought a card so I didn't have to write my own sentiment this year. Then I signed the card tonight and here I sit with a glass of wine, typing a much longer sentiment, one that is real.

There is no card that says, thank you for moving to Kentucky and then South Dakota with me because I heard Jesus call me to these places. Particularly South Dakota where we live in isolation like we have never known. Where the culture is programed to more often than not reject us. The winters are long. The political landscape makes our liberal Jesus freak selves rarities. Our families are thousands of miles away. There is no card that says, thank you for loving my difficult self through this infertility stuff. For putting up with sex that is more like making a bank deposit. And the depression. Or how exciting and sad it is that we will spend V-day getting a full work up at the reproductive endocrinologist. There is no card that allows me to say things like "Are you in so much pain you are going to barf, because you lose your mind when you barf, and we can't have you barfing on the table in public?" On that note, my eternal gratitude for your dealing with kid barf bears mentioning.

Our life is not romantic by the world's standards. Sometimes I let the world's standards speak too loudly. Sometimes, I wish I had the kind of life where roses and candy in heart shaped boxes would make me gleeful. This simply isn't our life and it never has been. So I was feeling pretty down about all this, about our love being too real for romance. I didn't mention all this but today I was chatting with my mentor who brought up a great podcast he listened to about love. (On Being, go check out this week's it is fantastic.) I listened to it this afternoon and for the first time in a long while I felt validated in the kind of love we have and encouraged to keep on doing the work of love. I realized that the only reason we have been able to love like this for so long in a world that tells us love is anything else, is because that same mentor has been whispering to me for years about what love really is, the work, the heart break, the loneliness. I don't think we would have lasted this long with out that steady reminder.

My husband asked me to his senior prom while I was sick as dog and looked like hell. It set the stage for our romantic life. Two years later, after ten years of illness my dad was dying. He was in a lot of pain, it was horrifying but I had seen this before. Paul hadn't and he sat in that hospital room and quietly turned green. My mom noticed and sent him home. I don't know that we have ever had a candle light dinner, but he turned green for me and a week later he would be sent to tell me my dad was dead. He drove two hours thinking he had to tell me, not knowing I already knew. Six years later, right before our wedding, my stepdad was terminally ill. I told him if he wanted to call it off for fear of his own life cut short, I would understand, he didn't. He walked with me feeling like every man I cared about would die. 8 months after we were married we had to move unexpectedly back to my mom's house, where Tim (stepdad and guy mentioned above) would go on hospice care. Paul didn't turn green this time but he shared the night shift with the rest of us. And two years later when it was my grandmother dying and I totaled our newish car drivnig down I95 to Florida to get my mom to her... he drove twelve hours to get to us and drive us the rest of the way. He grieved her like his own. When on a whim I wanted to visit a seminary in KY he was game and when I wanted to apply he encouraged me and when I was accepted, he left behind our friends and the life we had known for years. My sister in law dropped dead and he drove me to my family while he grieved deeply too. There was the kid's broken arm and surgery followed by the start of my anxiety attacks. There was the never having enough money to make the ends meet. There as the call search that left us on the verge of homelessness. Then leaving behind the community and city we loved to move to the great unknown middle. And those are just the big things, there are a million little things.

It is no wonder I can't find a card that says that. My best advice to anyone crazy enough to say yes to a life of working at loving a person. Find a person who will ask you out even when you just vomited. Find a person who will turn green for you. Find a person who will drive to three different Target stores, to find the Christmas ornament you saw two weeks ago. Find a different person to whisper in your soul, love is hard keep at it because I promise you there will be times you want to give up on it. I can't remember the last time I had butterflies in my stomach, it might have been our first kiss some twenty years ago. Today I can't remember what it is like to have sex, with out trying to make a human, I feel the polar opposite of sexy. I am not even sure I understand romance or love as the world puts it forth. But I do understand what it is to work at loving a person, who is as human and flawed as I am. I know I am not easy to live with. I am not easy to love because love is risky, love means risking heart break 1000 times, and doing it anyway. My heart has been so broken by other things, sometimes I don't want to risk love. Layer by layer my patient partner has helped me to disassemble my tower of protection that kept him at a distance for so long. All this is before I even tell you about the kind of dad he is, let's just say this April, he is participating in a daddy/daughter dance on stage in front of a sold out crowd for the dance recital in town. He hates to dance but for his lil' lady he is going well outside his comfort zone.

Today I am grateful for this kind of deep and committed love that embraces the mess of life. Ordinary no, I don't think so... me and you.