Saturday, December 22, 2012

Breaking Up with Beth Moore

I am breaking up with Beth Moore. Since I am the wife of a Southern Baptist pastor, this may seem like blasphemy. I can assure it is not. Really, it's okay.

So here's the deal. I was a former card-carrying member of the Beth Moore groupie fan club. The first Beth Moore study I participated in, I also led because the original leader had to back out at the last minute. The study was A Woman's Heart: God's Dwelling Place about Moses and the tabernacle. I was riveted. I was hooked. I spent so much time in my Bible and felt like I learned an incredible amount about biblical history and the character of God. So, then I led anotther one and another one. In the meantime, I also attended my first Living Proof Live conference in Lebanon, MO. I've since been to Living Proof conferences in various place around the US. I don't know how many, but I would suspect around 7 or 8.

When we moved to Wisconsin in 2007 for my husband to plant a church, he took a year to study the area and see what and where the needs were. During that time, we visited church after church after church. We had family church at home on Sundays for the four of us, but we really had no church home. While it was good "research" it was also exhausting and we felt very disconnected from a community of believers. We certainly became aware of the need and purpose of Christian community. During this time, I was craving that connection with likeminded people and decided that I would look for a Bible study in the area that I could get involved with. It turned out that the church we visited that next Sunday was just getting ready to start Beth Moore's Believing God study, one I hadn't done yet.

I joined this group and it was awesome. Two of the women were PWs from this church and it was nice to form a friendship with them. My husband already knew both of their husbands. Two of the other women in the study were church members there and then there was another random woman---a seeker, if you will. The first time we watched the accompanying DVD I realized that Beth Moore doesn't translate well. Sure, we speak English in Wisconsin, but the homespun humor and the "darlin's" just don't work in the upper Midwest Everyone enjoyed the study and got a lot out of it, but it seemed to be IN SPITE of Beth Moore, not because of her. The seeker especially, seemed a litle disturbed by the presentation.

Fast forward to our little church plant about 1.5-2 years later and we do our first women's Bible study. We picked Anointed, Transformed, and Redeemed: A Study of David by Beth Moore, Kay Arthur, and Priscilla Shirer. I had done several Kay Arthur studies in high school and I wasn't at all familiar with Priscilla. We had a smalll motley crew of me, and 3-4 other women from our church plant. Three of them were believers and one was not, but was a faithful church attender trying to figure out what she believed. As with all Beth Moore studies, this one had extensive homework requiring 5 days of study per week. All the other times I had done a BM study I had been a stay at home mom or worked very part-time. Lesson number one I learned was that a BM study is not realistic for a woman who works full-time outside of the home. While I know that some women do it, for me it came down between family time or time doing homework. One might argue that I still need to be spending time in my Bible and that's true. However, there's a difference between spending time in scripture and doing silly homework/busywork like writing a specific verse three time or going on a biblical wild goose chase looking up random verses that really don't pertain. As the nonbeliver in our group stated, "That was a $hitload of homework and I can't get it all done." The homework requirement wavers between encouraging legalism for those doers like me or becoming defeatist for those who can't get it done. And so, so much of the reading is just personal stories from Beth Moore that aren't crucial to understanding the scripture.

Even though I am a native Southerner, born and bred in Alabama and having lived in the south all of my life, when I look through my Midwestern lenses, Beth Moore is not relevant. Her homey humor, "beloved," and "bless your heart" sayings don't translate. I would watch the faces of native Wisconsinites as they watched her DVD. They thought she was cheesy and as much of an over-the-top caricature as Jeff Foxworthy. And then there's her "girl banter" in which she jokes about the trouble of being female. I can remember a particular DVD is which she describes visiting Africa for the first time and sleeping in a tent (gasp!) and realizing that there were no outlets to plug in her curlers, straightener, etc. (double gasp!). "You girls, know what I'm sayin', right? We wouldn't be caught dead without our face on and our hair did." Hah! Most of the Wisconsin women I know can shovel snow, chop wood, and milk a cow without batting an eye. So many of my students grew up on dairy farms and were out milking cows by 5 am, shared a room with 4 other siblings, and didn't have a car until they graduated from college and bought their own. Concern about curling their hair in Africa would not rank in their list of concerns. And quite frankly, she's very patronizing to women and holds very, very strict gender stereotypes. Finally, as a church planter's wife, I have realized how much religious-speak peppers Beth Moore's speech. We spend much of our time with people who have no experience in the church and have limited exposure to the Bible. Beth Moore is hard to follow because of all of the religious language she uses and spiritual assumptions she makes.

So Beth, I'm breaking up with you. Your niche is in the south, but people up here just aren't buying what you're selling.

11/18/13 Thank you all for your comments to the post, but positive and negative. I have learned a lot from many of you. However, others of you have been hateful and non-constructive. I love to engage in healthy debate with people who can argue effectively from both sides of an issue, but I will not allow you to "come into my living room" (my blog) and hurl insults. Therefore, no more comments to this blog are being accepted.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Minister of Belonging: A Tribute

Robert and Jonathan--on of the last photos of the two of them taken shortly before we moved to Wisconsin

Jonathan Wilmore, a dear family friend, died yesterday. He was one of the oldest living people in the United States with Gaucher's Disease of his type and he died peacefully in his sleep three days after his 30th birthday. I am so glad that he got to celebrate a milestone like 30 on what would be his last birthday and it fell on such a great date--12/12/12.

Our family first became acquainted with Jonathan, or "Johnny B" as he was commonly known, when my husband, Robert, was serving as a youth minister at Parkview Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, LA. Jonathan had recently completed a laity leadership course at another local church. When it came time for the award ceremony, Jonathan was told that they would just give him his certificate---no need to walk across the stage and be acknowledged. Why? Who knows? But it hurt Jonathan, he came to our church, and a mutual friend asked Robert if there was a place for Jonathan to serve in the youth ministry.

Johnny B working with Hurricane Katrina refugees

Youth ministry games
It is rare to find a photo in which Jonathan isn't flexing or...

...arm wrestling. He was always in awe of his own muscles and strength. He would drop and do push-ups on his knuckles and arm wrestle anyone, anytime.

So here's what you need to know about Jonathan. Because of the Gaucher's Disease, he was short. Actually he had long legs, but he had some skeletal problems and severe spine curvature which significantly diminished his overall height. He wore bilateral hearing aids and had some significant vision problems which resulted in several eyes surgeries and coke-bottle glasses. Jonathan talked...a lot! And loudly. Oftentimes, the filter from his brain to his mouth didn't function very well and he would say whatever popped into his head. He was impulsive. He didn't always think about consequences. He had some fears and anxieties, especially a fear of heights. And did I mention that he was loud?

But here's the thing...

Jonathan was loving. He was innocent. He adored people and fed off of the energy of crowds and human interactions. He was winsome. He had a great sense of humor and was a big fan of practical jokes, particularly when he wasn't on the receiving end. Jonathan was joy personified. As I have seen people post of Facebook and Twitter about him, as well as personal messages and calls we have received, Jonathan's circle of influence has mentioned how much Jonathan taught them about Jesus. Jonathan loved each and everyone of us. And he taught us how to love, even when it was inconvenient and uncomfortable. I'm sure that Jonathan had days when he was in pain--bone pain, pain from infusions and transfusions, pain from surgeries and procedures. However, I can't think of one single time when I ever heard him complain. Ever.

So, Robert created a job for Jonathan--The Minister of Belonging. This wasn't merely a title. Although Jonathan wasn't getting paid, this was a hardcore volunteer position. Robert created a job description and (flexible) hours. Jonathan's biggest responsibility was welcoming all of the youth on Wednesday night and at other events. He also helped plan and set up. He even went on hospital visitation. Yeah, Jonathan really liked the ladies and was a big hugger. Because of his height, his face was usually chest level with the teenage girls, so Robert had to talk to him a time or two about side hugs and verbal greetings, but that was Jonathan. All of the youth loved Jonathan. He attended most events, was their biggest cheerleader, and loved to be in the midst of all youth activities.

Robert and Jonathan about to go on hospital visitation. Johnny B thought it was hilarious that they accidentally wore matching shirts

And then at the hospital, they met a woman with a green striped shirt, so Jonathan insisted on getting a photo with a random matching stranger

Jonathan became an important ex-officio member of our family. Although he was too old to be our son (in his early 20s when we first met him and we were in our mid-30s), he still functioned as a big brother to our two boys. This relationship was complete with wrestling, arguments, annoyances, tattling, and other brotherly type shenanigans. Because Jonathan's birthday is December 12 and our youngest son's birthday is December 13, they even had a joint birthday party one year at Jonathan's request.

Me and my three "sons" at the Bayou Bonfires in the River Parishes. On this particular night, we visited relatives of one of my co-workers who had an open house. We lost Jonathan briefly and found him helping himself to the buffet of complete strangers :-)

While Jonathan was exuberant and fun, he was also exhausting. When going with him to the mall or the hospital, he was terrified of heights and was totally unashamed of asking to hold a hand. One of my favorite photos (that unfortunately I can't locate), is of Josh, Jonathan's pastor, holding hands with Jonathan at the mall. Two heterosexual guys, one in his 20s and the other in his 30s, holding hands in the mall because that's what you do when someone you love and care about is scared. Jonathan pushed us all beyond the boundaries of "proper behavior." And sometimes Jonathan's unabashed good intentions would result in socially inappropriate actions or (loud) conversations in public. He was always receptive to learning though and would take the gentle instruction of his friends in stride. 

When Robert and I learned about Jonathan's death last night we cried, then we began to laugh with tears streaming down our faces as we recounted "Jonathan stories." We talked about him needing to hold Jesus' hand in heaven ALL the time because he is scared of heights. We smiled, thinking about Jonathan being the ultimate Minister of Belonging in heaven now. We laughed, wondering if he would try the patience of Jesus at times and if he would be hugging all of the women.

As a believer in Jesus Christ and one who knows that Jonathan was a believer who lived out his faith in everything he did, I know that Jonathan is free now. I know that he is not in pain. I know that he has a new body that can hear, see, and move perfectly. I know that he is at rest and perfect peace. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt those he left behind who love him. 

He left a grieving mom and other relatives, as well as many friends. We moved to Wisconsin almost 5 1/2 years ago and I haven't seen Jonathan since that time. However, we'd have occasional Facebook conversations. We are probably going to Louisiana in May when Robert graduates with his D.Min. and I fully anticipated getting to see Jonathan then. Now I won't. That sucks! Even though he hasn't been a presence in our daily lives these past few years, knowing that he isn't around anymore makes me very, very sad. I cried last night and off and on throughout the day today. Fortunately I can grieve with hope knowing that for Jonathan, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor 5:8).

Jonathan, you were so loved by so many. You impacted every life you touched in significant ways. You showed us the face of Christ. You have been a bright star in our lives. I am so very grateful for the opportunity to know you and spend time with you. You taught Robert and me such important lessons and I am thankful that our boys had the privilege of knowing you as well.

The poet Emily Dickinson once said, "My friends are my estate." 
You died a very wealthy man.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I've Been Outed!

For a couple of years, I have been in a book club with women at the university where I work. It is a wonderful, eclectic group of ladies from academia, advising, student affairs, etc. with an age spread from late 20s to retirement. We are very laid back and meet every 4-6 weeks, covering a wide variety of books from contemporary fiction to classics and young adult fiction to biographies.

The fact that I am married to a pastor has never come up. I don't hide it, ever, but there has never been a reason to discuss what my husband does for a living. The book club knows me simply as Pam...or the chick from the south...or the one who loves Jane Austen...the professor in Communicative Disorders...or the woman who thought we should all go to the movie and see The Words. They don't know me as Pam, pastor's wife. However, last time we met, I was outed and now things are somewhat changed.

I have previously posted about how people sometimes act differently once they know that I am married to a pastor. Like I have super special access to God or I am extra holy or I'm judging everything they do and say with my special Holy Ghost Radar.! I can be as selfish, petulant, condescending, irreverent, obnoxious, and petty as the next person. We're all in this together. What it does mean is that I try my best to follow a radical Jesus who loved the unlovable, pushed the status quo, and believed in social justice. And...I am married to a man who does the same and "professionally" encourages, teaches, and "disciples" (if you wanna get into religiousese) others to do so as well.

So the last time we met, my book club discussed The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose. (Side-note: This should be required reading for all college students, Christian, non-Christian, atheist, agnostic, purple-people eater, doesn't matter. It's an excellent book and deserves a forthcoming blog post all of its own). At any rate, since the book is so much about the Christian faith and the stereotypes, fundamentalism, and subculture that go with it, it was natural that I should bring up the fact that I am a practicing, growing Christian and am, in fact, married to a pastor. Everyone took the news very well :-) and I was relieved that I could tell that they weren't re-scanning through every previous conversation to see if they had ever said anything that I could have taken offense at. Whew! We had a great discussion about the book, faith, how to talk about faith, etc.

So today the book club met again. Since we selected a book during Banned Book Week, we decided to read a "challenged" young adult book and settled on One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones. The book was challenged, in Fond du Lac, WI no less, due to “sexual content was too mature for eleven- to fourteen-year-olds.”

It was a great read that I personally didn't feel was at all too sexually mature for the target age group. The 15 yr old protagonist talks about making out with her boyfriend and maybe letting him get to second base. If you think that teenage girls aren't thinking and talking about such things...then you are in deep, deep denial. At any rate, that is very much an aside to the story anyway. It's a lovely and beautifully written tale of a teenage girl who moves from the east coast to the west to live with a father she has never known after her mother dies. It is funny, touching, and very real. I kept imaging my 13 or 14 year old self reading it and I know I would have adored it then and I did so now as well.

At any rate, that's neither here nor there in relation to the real topic of this post. Now that I've been "outed" as a pastor's wife, others tend to perceive me as an uber-Christian. (Well, maybe those who don't know me intimately-hah! My closest friends and family know the real truth). I was about 20 minutes late getting to our meeting today because of my class, but when I arrived, before I barely had time to sit down, one of the women asked me, "So, with your faith, how do you feel about banned books?" I don't think anyone else was asked that question, unless it happened before I got there. I wasn't offended at all and was happy to talk about how my faith does affect what I read, how it read it, and what I do with what I read. However, the fact that I got this question and no one else did, indicates the slight shift in perception.

And maybe they were shocked by my answer. I LOVE banned books and I try to read a few every year. (Unfortunately, I forgot to wear my "I Read Banned Books" bracelet today.) I was then asked a follow-up question about how I feel if people are offended by the fact that I read banned books and am so open about it. My answer? I don't care. It would be a lie to say that I don't care what others think of me. I'm human and I do care. Also, I don't want to intentionally be offensive. It's just that I honestly don't care if someone thinks less of me because I have read and enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, Brave New World, The Color Purple, and Huckleberry Finn. If you disagree with me, you have actually read the book, and you want to engage in a civil discussion, I'm all in. If you just want to pass judgment because James Dobson, the American Family Association, or Unplugged said it was a "bad" book and you haven't read the book or explored it any further, then I don't care what you think of me.

Next on my list...a re-reading of banned book The Great Gatsby.

Monday, September 17, 2012

How does an elementary school gym become a church?

Pretty much like this:

My most awesome husband made this video last night and posted it on his blog, but I wanted to share too. It is the same group of hardcore dedicated Threads (what the members are Tapestry Church are called) who do this each and every week. You know, those background people who do really important stuff that no one really knows about--well, here they are in action. Also, a huge shout-out and thanks to Washington Elementary School for allowing us to store all of our equipment in their gym week after week. It makes the weekly set-up and take down soooo much easier!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nothing in Return

Robert and I were talking the other day about an organization on which he serves on the board of directors. It's called Touch Twice United (TTU) and it helps churches to provide significant outreach to the community by organizing a day of clinic that incorporates free medical care and dentistry, as well as things like haircuts, mechanic work, family photography, and clothing. All necessities and little normalizing "luxuries" that many families can't afford. Robert was telling me of a church who used to be pretty involved with TTU, but had recently severed their relationship.I couldn't imagine why since I knew that previous clinics at this church had been very successful and ministered to lots of people. Then he told me. The reason? The church couldn't do as much direct evangelizing as they wanted.

While on one hand I do understand that (evangelical churches naturally feel that evangelism is important...and I agree). On the other hand I think that simply meeting these physical and material needs IS evangelism.
Matthew 25: 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I  was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (emphasis mine)
Meeting needs of clothing, healthcare, hygiene, and transportation for "the least of these" is important ministry first and foremost, but it is also a type of evangelism because it involves sharing the love of Christ. Maybe not in words, but in actions. The importance of these actions, that result from an inner life of faith and love to Christ, are mentioned throughout the New Testament, e.g., love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31), evidence of discipleship is love for one another (John 13:35). And while I am a big fan of verbal evangelism as well, I am very much opposed to much of the Christian "bait and switch" that goes on in many churches. You know the big, free community event that is advertised as a community cook-out or a free clothing drive, then when people come they are given a Jesus hard-sell and pressured to come to Christ. All they were coming for was a hamburger or new-to-them school clothes for their kids and now they feel confused, embarrassed, and well as duped.

There is a time and place for tough conversations and discussions of personal faith issues in a evangelical faith community certainly. I personally believe that relational evangelism with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family is the place for those discussions as I am not a big fan of "cold call" or street evangelism for many reasons that I won't go into here. However, I think we also sometimes minimize the work of the Holy Spirit through simple acts of kindness and love to others. Just helping someone get a painful cavity filled for free is a huge ministry and I think Jesus is very much glorified by that. Looking a homeless man in the eye and saying his name without judgment as you serve him a meal is loving Jesus. Sometimes that is enough. For now.

I was reminded of these things this weekend. We have a Spanish and ESL teacher, Natalie, in our church who worked with a lot of children of migrant workers in summer school. She started talking with Robert about these kids and a group from church ended up taking a group and teaching them how to play disc golf. Through our association we have access to a block party trailer that contains bouncy castles, a popcorn machine, a snow cone machine, and other goodies. We decided to get that and host a block party for the migrant worker families.

Migrant workers in the US are certainly among "the least of these" according to the general population. Many migrant workers live below the poverty level, but because of the transient nature of their work, they are often ineligible to take advantage of programs to help those in poverty like food stamps, welfare, and Medicaid, even though they pay taxes and social security. Although approximately 77% of migrant workers are Mexican born, they are here legally, but remain the subject of racial profiling, prejudice, and suspicion. You can read more about them here, here, and here. Due to the impetus of Natalie our church set on a mission to celebrate and esteem them so we threw them a party.

We had a good group of kids of all ages, but mostly teenagers, attend. I was kind of surprised and a bit disappointed that none of their parents came until I found out why...they were all at work. Migrant workers often work 7 days a week and don't have a lot of workers' rights like 8 hour days, weekends off, or workman's compensation for injury. While I talked with a lot of different kids, I spent the most time talking to Frank/Francisco, a charming and well-spoken 14-year-old 8th grader whose favorite subject is math. He told me how they all live in south Texas near the Mexico border from December-June and then return to Wisconsin every June so the parents can work at farms and the local Del Monte plant down the road from my house. He has his Texas school and his Wisconsin school and the two schools coordinate his education. He is two grade levels ahead in math and the schools are collaborating to keep him caught up with each other. He has two sets of friends: Texas friends and Wisconsin friends, in addition to the cousins, siblings, and friends who migrant between the two. He has been a migrant kid since he was two years old and it's the only life he's ever known.

So we had a party. These people aren't prospects for our church because they live in a Wisconsin community 15 miles away from our church 6 months of the year and the other 6 months they are in Texas. Unlike VBS or big church community events, we didn't have them fill out contact cards so we can count them in any numbers or encourage them to attend our church. We just simply spent time with them, fed them, ate with them, played with them, talked with them, and had a good time. 

Nothing in return.

I'm pretty confident that Jesus was there in our midst and that He had a good time too.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Are Democrats Welcome at Church?

A couple of nights ago I signed off of Facebook until after the election. I love Facebook, so it wasn't an impulse decision. Facebook keeps me connected to friends from high school and college, extended family members, former neighbors, missionaries, and former clients, students, and youth ministry kids, as well as former church members and co-workers. We have lived in 5 states and traveled quite a bit, so FB keeps those friends and family scattered all over the world as close as my iPad. I love knowing the dailyness of people's lives, as well as the milestone events and occasions.

So, why am I taking a leave of absence from Facebook? Politics! I am so tired of the insensitive comments, cartoons, and links plastering my newsfeed. I have blocked and hidden some people who routinely post inflammatory and hurtful things, but it's not enough to keep the vitriol from creeping in on a daily basis. I'm sick of it! The biggest problem is the vicious things being posted are causing me to think ill of people I love and care about. I don't want my impressions of people to be tarnished because of their lack for forethought in posting something that they probably aren't thinking much or at all about how it affects other people, so I need to walk away. I find myself thinking not-so-nice thoughts about people I really like because I think what they posted was cruel, ignorant, or intolerant...even though I know that they themselves are loving and giving people.

This behavior is occurring on both sides of the political spectrum, with conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. I don't want to give the impression that it's just Republicans at all because it's not. Democrats praise MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, the Democratic National Convention, and bash FOX news, the Republican National Convention, and all things Romney and Ryan. It is just the opposite with Republicans. There is a very obvious line in the sand. Quite frankly, as a southern transplant living up north it appears to me that the Civil War is still being fought. As the RNC was in session my southern friends were so inspired and motivated while most of my northern friends were mocking Romney and the parade of speakers, as well as Ryan's marathon time. The opposite happened this week with my northern friends praising speeches by Clinton and Deval Patrick, while my southern friends proclaimed they were nauseated by the proceedings and questioned how much money Michelle Obama's wardrobe costs. However, in this post I am singling out Republicans. Why? Because conservative Republicans compose the "religious right", the tea party, and let's be honest, the membership of almost all evangelical Christian churches, especially in the south. And even more particularly, WHITE evangelical churches.

All of this political posturing and ranting on Facebook (and yes, I shamefully admit that I have been guilty of it as well, although more in the past than recently) got me thinking...

Are Democrats even welcome at church?

One of my evangelical Christian friends posted this in the last couple of weeks

What if I was a Democrat neighbor of this person? Let's pretend we have a friendly neighbor relationship. We talk while doing yard work. Maybe we check each other's mail when we are out of town. Perhaps we've grilled out and eaten together once on Labor Day. I see this on my neighbor's Facebook page and then he invites me to church. This seemingly innocuous little captioned picture basically says that liberals aren't worth even existing. Basically, we could all get along fine if all liberals were dead. And you think I would want to go to your church? That one little posting has the potential to destroy a relationship.Other Christians I know, many of them in vocational ministry, have posted "jokes" about watching Obama drowning, as well as derogatory posts about Democrats as a whole.

Or some evangelical Republican Christians welcome liberal Democrats to their churches because they "know" that Democrats are lost, backslidden heathens. After all, Jesus even said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17), so Democrats make up a great mission field. However, this may come as quite a shock, but being a Democrat and being a evangelical Christian are not mutually exclusive. There are plenty of liberal Democrats who love Jesus too. This causes the religious right to say, "Well, how can they love Jesus and not vote Republican? Democrats are FOR abortion. God hates abortion." As a moderate, I am pro-life, so I ask "How can Republicans be for capital punishment?" Since I'm somewhere muddling in the middle I "get" the questions that Republicans ask of Democrats and vice versa. I think we have to remember that while our faith has to (or should) influence our political opinions and voting record, there is not one "right" candidate. I haven't seen a dove descend from heaven and land on anyone in the political realm. Jesus did not live a sinless life as God incarnate to die a horrific death for political dogma. He did it because He unconditionally loves each of us. That includes Romney, Obama, Bush (both of them), Clinton (both of them), and yes...even political figures like bin Laden, Hitler, and Castro.

Here's very well written post by Eileen Newsome, who I am proud to say is a member of our church. A couple of things you should know about Eileen, aside from the fact that she is witty, gregarious, and loves Jesus. She is working on her master's degree in social work, she has worked for years at a crisis pregnancy center and she lives a life of service to others. She wrote:
It’s possible that you don’t know this about me – but I am incredibly passionate about abortion, euthanasia, and the surrounding issues. I work in the right-to-life movement in the summer putting on leadership camps which inspire many youth to get involved and be a part of the change we wish to see. We stress teaching them to think critically and debate effectively. Something we teach campers is to always ask the opponent – what if you’re wrong? I firmly believe in the importance of being asked this question. Recently, I read an article solely saying that we cannot truly believe something unless we’ve allowed the possibility to come into our minds that said belief is wrong.  
So in the midst of political uproar, I ponder the legitimacy of being an incredibly pro-life, future social worker, and voting republican. Ooo, what a sentence. 
Last night, I spent about three hours reading in one of my social welfare policy books and hearing all the craziness of the “religious right” … especially in regards to the tireless efforts to take away everyone’s reproductive rights, of course. So first, I find myself fuming at the textbook first for misrepresenting me. Then second, I find myself fuming with this textbook when I am reminded that it’s liberals who care about feeding the poor, educating children, taking in the homeless, and treating the ill.  While I do not find it to necessarily be the government’s responsibility to do any of the above, I have a little message for the religious right – Jesus said train up a child, feed the poor, house the homeless, care for the sick. And we. are freaking. not. Thus, the crisis calling for bleeding hearts to advocate that the government do these things. It’d be very nice if religious, republican voters would all take care of the poor, the children, the ill, the homeless, and we wouldn’t have this problem of whether or not that’s even the government’s role. But we do have this problem. This topic could be an entirely different post itself, but point being: please never wonder if I don’t consider these things or care about these things. I am just outraged as you are that “the top 1/10 of households account for more than 50% of all income” (Netting). 
So I question. I ask myself, am I wrong, the way I’m voting? Are the people who care about these issues right, about my issue? Are they right, about the right-to-life? What if I am wrong? What are the implications? Well, let’s say my vote decides the election. I vote for the R’s and social welfare policy takes hit. The poor remain poor. The hungry remain hungry. The ill may die. That’s not very pro-life.
Oh...she's also only 22 years old...and this eloquent. If only we could all be so humble, so thoughtful, and so willing to learn from each other. Eileen is so much wiser than most people twice her age.

As always, this post is getting very long.. The crux of the message is this:
  • Is the temporary glee we get from making flippant remarks about "the other party" worth it? 
  • Is announcing religious right agendas from the pulpit isolating the democrats and moderates in your congregation? 
  • Does every evangelical Christian adhere to your exact political ideology and if not, can you consider that maybe they are right, you are wrong, and/or that it's okay to disagree and we can still be in love with the same Jesus? 
  • If a liberal Democrat attended your church would he/she feel welcome or as the presidential election heats up, will he/she hear snide Obama jokes around coffee before Sunday school?

We should embrace our freedom in this country: our freedom to vote and our freedom to openly discuss political opinions. However, we need to remember that not everyone currently IN our churches and certainly not everyone outside of our churches holds to the same political ideology. By assuming that others do...or assuming if they don't then they are wrong...we are at risk of making political agendas more important than Godly agendas. Love God. Love others. That's what Jesus told us to do.

P.S., This blog posts automatically to Facebook. If you comment on FB I will not see it, so if you want to comment, please do so directly on the blog, Thanks!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Adult Temper Tantrums and Missed Moments

My youngest son, Noah, and I just got back from a spring break adventure in which we traveled by train from Chicago to Washington, DC, to Orlando. Then we flew back to Chicago and drove home. The primary purpose of the trip was to visit family in Orlando, but since we had to go through Washington we decided to spend a little extra time there. The train experience was less than blissful. It was fun during the awake times, but miserable for sleeping. I am sure that if we had had a sleeper car it would have been grand, but they are very pricey. We're tough...we can take it. (At least that's what I thought.)

In DC we had spent the whole day sightseeing which translated into a lot of walking and a lot of standing. We were wiped as we boarded the train. As we were directed to our car the conductor asked how many and I told him two. He said that he was out of seats together, but he would give Noah and me two aisle seats across from each other. It's a bummer not to be seated together any time, but especially for an 18 hour train ride in which we were sharing snacks, cards, etc. No problem. I was seated next to an older guy who looked to be in his late 70s or early 80s. Actually, he was in MY aisle seat. I politely told him I was traveling with my son and asked if he would mind swapping to other aisle seat so that my son and I could sit together. In his heavy New York accent he proceeded to tell me no, that he wouldn't swap seats. At this point, I was incredulous. He continued on and told me that he had recently had hip surgery and he needed to sit in THIS particular aisle seat so he could stretch out his leg. I changed my tactic and informed, again politely, that actually the aisle seat was my seat. (Also, I knew that they had seats for people with disabilities and medical problems that would be better suited to him). He insisted that he was in the right seat. I looked back at Noah and shrugged, squeezed past the old guy, and sat in the seat by the window. Not gonna lie...I was ticked. I crossed my arms, set my jaw, turned my back to him, and stared out the window while seething. He kept talking. "I'm sorry ma'am, I've just had this hip surgery. Here, I'll show you" (and proceeded to hand me some doctor's business card as proof). I curtly told him, "That's fine. I believe you." I did, in fact believe him. I was just miffed that I didn't get my way. Basically, I was acting like a petulant two-year-old.

One would think I would have been compassionate in this scenario. After all, I work with people with disabilities. I have also had back surgery and know how rough prolonged recovery from major orthopedic surgery is...and I was half his age. That all didn't matter though because I was tired from the day and I didn't get my way. So I did what any other self-respecting woman would do. I sulked and pouted. I leaned back and closed my eyes, more to ignore him than to sleep. A guy came by passing out pillows. The gentleman next to me gently tapped me and asked if I wanted to pillow. I mumbled out a "no" and turned my back to him again. I'll refuse a pillow and my own comfort--that'll show him! What an idiot I was!

The conductor passed through the train and punched everyone's tickets. When he realized that Noah and I weren't together, he asked the old guy to swap seats. The man launched into his hip surgery story again. Then the conductor asked the pregnant woman next to Noah if she would move. She did. (I didn't ask her because I felt too defeated after being shot down by a "gentleman."). We swapped seats and I got situated in the window seat next to Noah, still feeling rather grumpy. I decided I needed to let it go and doggone-it if I didn't hear that small, still voice that can only be the Holy Spirit. (How do I know? It came out of nowhere and interrupted my personal agenda.) So what did the Spirit say to me (through the twinge of conscious, not an audible voice)? He told me to get out of my seat, go apologize to that man, and listen to his stories.

The irony of this is that I love a good story. I blogged about it at length on my other blog. I'm usually all about chatting up people in airplanes and the like. However, I didn't want to apologize to this man. That would mean admitting that I was a stranger. I argued about it for a few minutes with Jesus. We had a heated debate in my head. He won, of course. In the meantime, this guy was talking and talking to the pregnant woman that he been moved next to him. He was telling her about his wife, where he was from, etc. He was talking and talking...just like I knew in my gut. He was lonely and needed someone to listen to him. Maybe even hear his surgery war story. As I was just summoning my courage to get up, apologize, and eat some crow, the conductor came back and moved him to a better seat with more leg room. My opportunity was blown. This time, I was remorseful that I didn't get to make amends and that I acted like a spoiled brat. Missed moments like this make me so thankful for grace...and forgiveness...and love.

So, Mr. Hip Surgery Guy on Amtrak from Washington to Orlando on Sunday, March 18, I'm sorry. I was a jerk. I'm sure you are a lovely person. I regret not treating you with more compassion and I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and listen to your stories. Please forgive me.
A Work in Progress

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Your Husband Does What?

It's often a conversation killer. I'm at some social gathering of acquaintances or thrust into a social milieu of some sort in which I know few people, if any. We are making small talk. It's the usual: What do you do?, Do you have children? How old are they? Where are you from? Are you married? What does you spouse do?

When I utter the words, "My husband is a pastor," there is a moment of silence, then a quick "oh really?" as a comment. Often I see the person scanning back through everything he or she said. I know what they are doing. They are trying to determine if they said something offensive, told an off-color joke, or uttered some sort of profanity. It happens about eight times out of ten, that someone begins to apologize to me for something that he/she said before it was known that my husband is a pastor. As if it should really make a difference. When the apologies start, my standard line is usually, "You know, I'm not the Holy Spirit."

While I am not a particular fan of vulgar jokes ( I sure was in 8th grade though!) or profanity, what I really hate is when people change who they are because of who I am married to. I am still the same person I was before you found out I was married to a pastor. I know it's shocking! After all, I am not wearing a jumper, I do wear make-up, and I am an educated, professional woman. I just blew your stereotype. And for the record, this pastor guy, with whom I share a house, a life, and a bed, is a pretty darn non-stereotypical human himself. He runs marathons, loves zombie movies, and one of his favorite songs of all times is Roxanne by The Police--about a prostitute. We're regular folk. He and I still have disagreements, we both get in bad moods,  we have forgotten to pay a bill or two on time. He leaves the toilet seat up and I leave my shoes lying around. We think ill of others sometimes and simply find some people annoying and disagreeable. So don't feel like you have to be perfect around us, because the Lord knows (really) that we certainly aren't. I would much rather have someone be genuine around me than to pretend to be someone they are not because they think it makes them look better. I'm not an idiot--I can usually see right through the veneer of perfection and pseudo-piety.

This past summer, I was with a group of fellow professors and we were all at the "still getting to know each other stage" when the inevitable came up. One thing I love about professors is that they generally don't bat an eye at such things and everyone just carried on as usual. That's beautiful. There was one though who said, "I'll bet you really know how to cook," to which I replied, "I like to think that I do, but I certainly don't know what that has to do with me being married to a pastor. I cook because I enjoy it and I do it for my family."

I just found out a couple of weeks ago that there were concerns about me starting my job at the university where I work. Many of our offices are in pods. We all have our own individual offices, but they may open into a separate outer office, hence the pod. So my "podmate" told me that he just found out that two of our other colleagues were worried about us sharing a pod. They were concerned that he would be too crass for me. We both had a good laugh about that because we make great podmates. We actually have very similar theoretical views on a lot of professional and academic issues and have presented together a few times at our national convention because of it. We talk shop frequently throughout the day and also discuss many, many non-work related issues as well. Ironically, he and my husband have developed a friendship because of their mutual interest in zombies, music, and fixing up cars. Yeah, he drops a few four-letter words here and there, but it doesn't really phase me and I am thankful that he doesn't edit himself to be something he's not.

Conversely, when I was working on my doctorate, one of my professors called me in to go over a paper I had written. After we talked about my paper, he started asking me why I was going to school part-time instead of full-time. I explained that I carried the health insurance for my family, so I needed to keep working my part-time job. He started going on and on about how my husband needed to "be a man" and work extra hard so that I could attend school full-time. He was ranting on and on and then took a breath to pause and ask what my husband did. When I told him that Robert was a youth minister (at that time), he flushed and stammered and began to say things like, "Oh, that is such a noble profession. He is doing such fine work. I totally understand why you are going to school part-time and it sounds like that is a good idea...." ad nauseum. He was backpedaling so hard it was all I could do not to fall on the floor laughing.

Moral of the story? It doesn't really matter what my husband's job is. You wouldn't act differently is he was a physician or plumber or librarian or chef, so don't act differently because he's a pastor. You are still you and I am still me. We need to be authentic with one another to form real relationships. And I'm not judging, nor do I have a super-special relationship with God that's different than what you or anyone else can have, if you choose to do so. Let's just be real...together.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


One of my PW friends posted a link to this blog post on Facebook the other day, titled "It's Not You...It's Ministry" by Rochelle Palmer, another pastor's wife. I read it and then thought that is didn't describe me or my experiences as a pastor's wife AT ALL. So, do I think this woman was not telling the truth? No. Do I think that her experiences are uncommon? No. From friendships and acquaintances (acquaintanceships?) with PWs all over the world, I think that what she wrote represents the norm.

So what does that mean for me?

I'm an outlier.

While there are a few different definitions for "outlier," I am going with the statistical one, which is: a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.

Here's what I want to "talk" about. In her blog post, Rochelle wrote about speaking at a "Leading and Loving It" conference for pastors' wives. She shared and 139 stated this:
“My husband is held responsible for things over which he has no control. . . My husband takes criticism for his sermons and it gets personal…Someone in our church is gossiping about my children…People criticize every parenting decision I make…I am expected to listen to everyone else’s stories about their kids, but no one asks about mine…People in my church are interested in what I can do for them, but no one is interested in me…My husband seems to have increasing responsibilities but not an increasing salary…Sometimes I resent the church because my husband misses social and family gahterings (sic)because he has to tend to a family in our church…There is a woman at our church who dresses provocatively and flirts with my husband (That’s right, ladies, we see you.)…Sometimes I listen to my husband preach and I resent that he sounds so holy when I know his sin-side…I have trouble finding friends…Sometimes I wish we were not in ministry…I am so lonely…I feel like I am doing life alone.”
Now I'm sure that none of the PWs said ALL of that is true for them, but at least some or most of those statements. I'm going to deconstruct them one by one for me personally.

1, My husband is held responsible for things over which he has no control. . . My husband takes criticism for his sermons and it gets personal.

Have these happened? Absolutely! He has been held responsible for things that weren't in his job description, that he didn't know about, and that someone else was supposed to be doing. Why doesn't this get my hackles raised? Because it happens to every person in the world. I am a professor and I took a group of students to Brazil for a study abroad program two years ago. On the course evaluation form two students gave me negative marks for the weather. Being blamed or held responsible for things outside of a personal realm of control are a fact of life for being humans and living on earth. Just deal with it. 

As for getting criticized. Oh, that happens too. We had a family pull out of being a host home at the 11th hour because the title and theme of the DiscipleNOW was "Jesus is for Losers." (He is!). They didn't like it.  He got an anonymous irate letter because he used the word "fart" in front of teenagers. Some people delight in being petty. Some people have legitimate concerns and it opens the door for discussion of bigger, underlying issues. When you have a large group of people there are diverse opinions, ideologies, backgrounds, etc. so it is a simple fact of life that not everyone is going to agree 100% of the time. Reframe it as an opportunity for growth and personal reflection. I also have learned this truth...When my husband has been criticized, I usually take it much more personally than he does. Therefore, it's really my issue to deal with.

2. Someone in our church is gossiping about my children…People criticize every parenting decision I make…I am expected to listen to everyone else’s stories about their kids, but no one asks about mine.

To my knowledge, this has never happened. Now if people have gossiped, it was totally behind my back and I was oblivious. That news never made it back to me. While certainly not perfect, my children have been pretty well behaved and we have, as of this writing, not had to deal with any kinds of crisis issues. However, they are not grown yet 15 and 17 years old), so that realm of possibility remains. However, people have always asked about my two boys, commented on them, told me funny stories about things that they said or did in Sunday school, VBS, nursery, etc. If anything, esp. when they were very young, I felt like they were doted upon, given special gifts, had offers of free babysitting, etc.  No one has ever conveyed unrealistic expectation upon me as a mother or my children's behavior. I have always felt supported and nurtured in parenting at every church we have served.

3. People in my church are interested in what I can do for them, but no one is interested in me.

Again, nope. Since I have made an effort in general to get to know people and know about them, the favor is generally returned.  I really don't know what else to say about this one other than being involved with others usually returns full circle in my experience. If it doesn't, at some point then I think you have to tell the other party that your needs aren't being met/reciprocated if you truly want to develop a relationship with them.

4. My husband seems to have increasing responsibilities but not an increasing salary.

Yes, but this is the case for almost everyone else in the world (os at least the US) too. Again, in my job, my responsibilities (course load, research expectations, committee work, etc.) has increased and with statewide budget cuts, my salary has decreased by 10 %. That's life and it doesn't just happen to pastors. 

5. Sometimes I resent the church because my husband misses social and family gatherings because he has to tend to a family in our church.

If that's the case, then I think the husband has his priorities screwed up. This isn't the fault of vocational ministry. This is a problem with the pastor's thinking, Messiah-complex, workaholism, or something similar. My husband has always been clear that OUR family comes first. All of the churches at which we have served have been strong advocates of that as well. If a pastor's family is not a well loved and cared for priority, then there is no way he can be an effective minister. 

With that said, has ministry ever caused my husband to miss family and social gatherings? Yes, but very rarely and only in special circumstances. I remember once when he was a youth pastor in Louisiana we were with our families in Alabama for Thanksgiving. He got a call on Thanksgiving Day that a young woman (not a church member, although her MIL and FIL were) had been killed in a car wreck. Robert had baptized her, married her and her husband, and done some counseling with them. He was the clear choice for the funeral and he was needed to help this 20-something year old father deal with overwhelming grief at suddenly becoming a widower and single father in the blink of an eye. We got in the car and headed back to Louisiana two days earlier than we had planned, missing time with our families. However, that is a rare crisis example and I was in full support of going back. A smaller issue would not have shortened our holiday stay.

6. There is a woman at our church who dresses provocatively and flirts with my husband (That’s right, ladies, we see you.)

Oh, yes! This has happened. Usually my husband has been clueless until I tell him and then he'll suddenly realize. Fortunately there has been the provocative dress as much as the flirting. However, when I alert my husband that my female radar has gone off, he is very respectful of that and works on distancing himself from the woman in question or directing her to other people. He has always been good about not being alone with other women, always leaving his office door cracked or having a window open when he is counseling women, etc. This has been more challenging as a church planter because he doesn't have an office and I can't always be there to be the third party, so he does all of his meeting in public at the same place.

7. Sometimes I listen to my husband preach and I resent that he sounds so holy when I know his sin-side.

This has never happened to me. It happened with a senior pastor we served under and I knew that he was a liar and involved in pornography. I had bile rise into my throat when he preached and it was a supreme act of will to sit in a pew every Sunday and listen to him preach when I knew what was going on. However, while I know my husband's "sin-side" better than anyone, I know how he really is in his heart. Of course he sins, like everyone else. And he tracks snow and salt on the carpet because he didn't take off his boots, leaves popcorn bowls around, and is slow to put away his clean laundry. (For the sake of full disclosure, I am a bigger offender on being slow to put dishes in the dishwasher, keep my sewing stuff and projects strewn about the house, and am a reticent duster.)  But, he is a servant. He picks up the slack. He is an encourager. He is giving. He ministers to our sons and me all day, every day. He is the most compassionate, giving, and servant-minded person I know. He is always putting himself second and others first. That's what I know when he stands up to preach. Dirty socks kind of pale in comparison to that. And...I know that I'm no saint either. In fact, I'm the one who wrestles more with selfishness, judgment, and my big mouth.

8. I have trouble finding friends…Sometimes I wish we were not in ministry…I am so lonely…I feel like I am doing life alone.

I have posted previously on PW friendships here and here. For the most part, I think that PWs who have trouble finding friends are either: (1) not being friendly themselves, (2) not putting themselves "out there" and being vulnerable enough to develop a friendship, or (3) they have bought the lie that PWs shouldn't have friends in the church or can't ever have "real" friends because they can't fully open themselves up or no one else will ever understand the true experience of being a PW. I think it is not only possible, but a good thing to have friends in the church community. I also think it is a great thing to get into the community and have friendships there. Even during my SAHM years, I volunteered teaching ESL to Spanish speakers, volunteered in my oldest son's classroom, and took some courses (sewing, cake decorating) in the community. It takes effort, persistence, and putting yourself out there to develop friends. I would posit to a PW who feels like she is "doing life alone" that she bears  at least50% of that responsibility. With that said, sometimes it take a long time to develop true friends...even years. We lived in Missouri for 3 years before I felt I had true, soulmate kinds of friends. It is more difficult to make friends in a smaller town where everyone has grown up together, known each other since kindergarten, and knows each other's life histories. However, it is possible with patience, prayer, and lots of metaphorical door knocking. (And sometimes other transplants to the area will make the best friends).

This post is already long, but this explains my outlier status. I also feel like an outlier because we have never been fired from a ministry position and 97.2% of all of our ministry experiences have been positive. We have left on good terms, with parties, gifts, and tears. We have kept in touch with friends from every part of ministry. When I hear about PWs who have had some terrible times in ministry, sometimes I feel guilty that we have had such good experiences, but then I remember that guilt is from the enemy. So instead, I am thankful that I am an outlier. I don't know why it has happened that way, but I am blessed.