Talking About Race

I wondered, yesterday, about posting a few sentences about my discomfort in speaking in a varied racial context.  It’s a difficult topic, one with which I have become less, rather than more, comfortable over the years.  As with pretty much everything, the more you learn, the less you know.

I grew up in a family (in a rural, all white, Midwestern community) in which overt bigotry and discrimination were not tolerated.  I remember well the shock I felt when I discovered in junior high that my maternal grandmother was vocally and unrepentantly racist.  My mother was long gone by that point, so I couldn’t ask her about it; all I could manage at that juncture was to absorb that my extended family and my immediate family were two distinct entities with respect to questions of race.

But the lack of overt racism in my family concealed something just as insidious — an unarticulated attitude that “there are no differences among us,” which disguises, at least for white people when in the majority, a belief that “everyone is the same to the extent that everyone is like us.”

As the decades passed, I learned differently.  Even in our universal longings ~ for love, for kindness, for peace, for justice ~ we differ in that we hope and speak and act from different experiences and different perspectives.  My own dream is always to celebrate our distinctiveness while growing in relationship, but I am finding it harder to know how to do that in honest and generous ways.

My own primary experience of having been the “outsider” was my six years of teaching in an Orthodox Jewish school, in which I was one of about five Christian teachers in a faculty of about 50, and in which every student was either a Conservative or Orthodox Jew.  It was a period of learning to listen and hear differently, and learning to understand in my bones and heart rather than merely in my intellect that my community and individual perspectives were not family rooms in which to lounge with the relaxed confidence of being a member of the dominant culture, but posed significant challenges to all of us in this world.

When I served a church in the same neighborhood as the one in which I participated yesterday, our congregation was joyfully diverse ~ but we only had two years before we closed, and had only just begun to explore our back stories together.  My last and present churches are nearly 100% white in communities similarly constituted, and questions of race barely ripple the surface.

The more we learn, the less we know.

 

Women’s Ministry

I was a little nervous.  Maybe more than a little.  A friend and colleague from my days in another church and community, a pastor with whom I had shared monthly gatherings as part of an ecumenical ministry group, had invited me to spend today as one of the speakers for her annual Women’s Week-end.  “What do you want me to do?” I asked insistently.  “Just tell your story,” she responded.

I was a little nervous.  For one thing, I don’t really do that ~ tell my story, out loud, in big public settings.  I went to a Biblical storytelling conference last winter; a compelling educational week, filled with ideas new to me, with exciting ideas for ministry, and with a community of gracious, generous women clergy.  Several of them signed up to tell their own stories one evening.  I wasn’t one of them.  I guessed, mostly correctly,  that the participants would be telling stories with good endings; stories, that is, in which everyone is still alive at the end.  Not one of my stories.

For another thing, my friend and colleague is African American and, while I knew her church to be genuinely and lovingly diverse, I wondered whether anyone would care about what I had to say, or how I would say it.  Black preaching is different from white preaching.  The black clergywomen I know exude an inner and fearless power that . . . I don’t.  (A lot of white clergywomen do, too, of course.  But my style is different.  Very WASPy in a reserved sort of way.) Also, black churchwomen tend to wear hats ~ elaborate hats.  I don’t have any hats.   I am good with as much diversity as possible, but I was actually quite nervous about the hat issue.

Ah, well, I sighed.  I would go.  I would be myself.  I would tell my story.  No hat.

What I discovered was another group of tremendously gracious and generous women.  Black and white.  Older and younger.  Women who preach and pray as if they are on fire.  Three women from my former church came, and was it ever a great gift to spend several hours with them!  I met a college student who is majoring in Human Rights and impassioned about the issue of sex trafficking, and is a woman on the move to make a difference in the world.  I learned about a couple of significant church outreach events ~ for the past two weeks, for instance, instead of a children’s Vacation Bible School, the church held an event for girls 7-17 designed to bolster self-esteem, build community, and have fun.

And at the end, a lovely woman about my age came up to me and grasped my shoulders and told me something of the stories of suicide loss and devastation in her family.  Heart-wrenching stories, in which some people are dead and some are alive.  Like my story.

I left out some things which I had intended to say.  It was clear to me that, if I am going to do this sort of thing, I need to make some improvements.  I was, in fact, the only white clergywoman there, and there were, indeed, a few women wearing hats.

But I am so grateful to have been offered another opportunity to reach out, and to have learned, thanks to a pastor who was once down the road from me, that perhaps I do have a story to tell that might make a difference to someone.   And I got to hear some women preach and sing and be generally awesome, and that was very, very good.

Thank you, Pastor D!

 

La Gaspésie – I

GaspePeninsulaRegions

Long ago, probably decades ago, National Geographic inaugurated a new publication, Traveler, to which I immediately subscribed. The first issue included a feature on the Gaspe’ Peninsula (la Gaspésie en francais), north and east of Quebec City. I was enchanted by the pictures of one of those realms seemingly at the end of the earth which I love so much, and tucked the name away in my memory as a someday destination.

In the last year or two, Quebec Province moved to the top of my travel list, partly because I had devoured the Inspector Gamache mystery novels, and partly because it had occurred to me that travel on this continent, much of which I have not yet visited, held advantages over the hassle of transoceanic flight.

Several weeks ago (the time frame keeps condensing itself), a friend from my boarding school days, herself still a New Englander, mentioned on FB that she was planning a dream road trip to Gaspésie. I had not forgotten that article! ~ and asked, mostly in jest, whether she would consider moving her trip up a week and loping a day off, as the new schedule would exclude Labor Day week-end.

The upshot of that little joke is that I am flying to Boston four weeks from today and the two of us, who have not laid eyes on one another since our high school graduation in 1971, and have mostly become friends thanks to FB postings on our class page, will immediately head north.

I am surprised at myself! ~ but the years are speeding by, most of the world still awaits, and people from all the different parts of my life keep popping up on FB with intriguing stories and dreams of their own. There’s a lot not to miss!

It’s Been So Long . . .

since I’ve attempted to blog with any regularity.  Presumably the desire is striking me at the moment because I have far too many commitments, most of them requiring me to write a great deal, over the next few days even to consider taking time out to write for fun!

  • A funeral which will take most of tomorrow
  • Participation in a women’s event which will take most of Saturday
  • Worship and a meeting which will take most of Sunday
  • Several meetings which will consume Monday
  • Another funeral on Tuesday
  • An interview Wednesday afternoon and evening . .  .

I’m not sure how all of the above has crammed itself into one week.

And yet, that old urge to write, long dormant, is emerging from a wintry season.

About what might I write?  I wonder what would happen if I were to assign myself some topics so that I might move forward again?  We shall see.

 

 

 

 

 

Friends

Tonight I am reflecting gratefully upon the presence of friends, friends with whom we share different things in different circumstances.

For me, today . . .

I went to my home church for the Pentecost service, and spent some time before the service  talking politics with two guys with whom I have served in various capacities.  These days, we are all part of a group making occasional visits to our U.S. Senators and Representatives, trying to be present and advocate for justice where we can.

At lunchtime, my husband and I went to a bridal shower of a young couple at whose wedding I will co-officiate in three weeks.  We have known the bride-to-be and her parents since she and our daughter were first graders together, and as families we have weathered some long nights in tandem over the years.  What a joy to see this young woman and her fiancé, whom we are just getting to know, delighting in one another and in their anticipated future.

I spent some time online with a friend trying to help her as she tried to help yet another friend ~ unknown to me, in a distant state, and talking suicide.  By the time we finished talking, the distant friend was headed for a hospital with another friend.  There was nothing joyful about any of that, but there was a sense of knowing what steps to advise someone to take that was oddly satisfying, and the hope that a life may be saved.  If it is, we won’t know, but that’s a good thing.

After dinner my husband I joined friends on a porch to relax and talk for a couple of hours ~ a summer event that has been going on for . . . well, a long time.  Many of us have known one another for nearly thirty years.    We know each other to laugh over the fact that some were itching to get home to the basketball game and others asked, “What game?”

Church friends, Montessori friends, suicide prevention friends, neighborhood friends.  It’s a rich life that we have here.

Sermon Series

preaching

Today’s RevGals Friday Five asks about ideas for sermon series.  A couple that I’ve done during the summer:

  • Favorite Hymns
  • Water, Water Everywhere ~ based on the Presbyterian Women’s excellent study on water themes in the Bible

Taking a look at this summer’s texts, I think that if I were preaching regularly I might do one of these series:

  • Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible
  • All In: The Book of Romans (I thought I might try to tackle Romans three years ago, but wow ~ what a LOT of study would be required!  That might be something I could do on my own this summer in preparation for future possibilities.)
  • The Jesus of Matthew
  • In the Beginning: A Genesis Series

I guess that’s six, not five.  Maybe an opportunity for one of them will present itself.

Bible Sisters ~ Book Review

bible sisters

It has been my privilege and delight to teach a number of Bible study classes over the years ~ as a member of Methodist and Presbyterian congregations, and as a pastor to Presbyterian and Lutheran congregations.  In addition, as a spiritual director to Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish individuals, I am often called upon to provide scriptural references to someone seeking to explore various dimensions of his or her spiritual life.

No matter the context, it’s often a challenge to conduct a discussion on women’s experiences in the Bible.  There are the Big Ten to Fifteen or so (I made those numbers up): Eve, Sarah, Esther, Ruth and Naomi, Bathsheba, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, the Woman at the Well, the Woman “Caught” in Adultery, the Syro-Phoenician Woman ~ many of whom, my experience tells me, are only dimly recognized by even our most faithful church participants.  And then there are the hundreds of women, often unnamed, referenced only in relation to a man or men or community or activity.

Bible Sisters, compiled by The Rev. Dr. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks and just published by Abingdon Press, makes a start on rectifying the lack of knowledge of women in the Bible which pervades many of our congregations.  It’s a devotional book, with 365 entries, numbered rather than dated (so that readers are not bound to a calendar).  Each entry suggests a short Bible passage, usually only a verse; a brief reflection; and a brief prayer.  I was not able to determine any rhyme or reason to the order in which the devotions are arranged, but there are indices in the back, alphabetically by name of character(s) and chronologically by book in the Bible,  which could be used to organize an individual or group prayer or study time.

This book is designed for ease and solace, rather than for deep study or challenge.  The most controversial events in the lives of women or teachings on the roles of women are either glossed over or avoided altogether.  Bathsheba’s rape is acknowledged, but the consequences are referred to as “the shame of her first pregnancy.” Yael (Jael) warrants two days, but the violence of her murderous action is not depicted.  Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the resurrected Jesus is depicted in a context of her sorrow and weeping rather than her joy and proclamation. Pauls’ admonishment to women not to exercise teaching authority over men makes no appearance at all.  And the brevity of the passages cited means that all context is omitted, so that answers to readers’ questions must be sought elsewhere.

Human lives are complex ~ and that includes the lives of Biblical women.  The layered depths of their lives are missing from this text, so that the reader or group seeking nuance or provocation must look elsewhere. However, with the names of so many Biblical women lost to time, and their frequent appearance as little more than faint shadows along the margins of history, it is a boon to prayer and study that obscure and overlooked women find a place in this book.  This devotional is a good beginning.


 

 

 

 

I received two copies of this book for review purposes, and was not compensated for this review.

Northfield, Part I

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In the fall of 1968, my father, and probably my stepmother as well, although I don’t remember whether she was there or not, dropped me off at the Northfield School for Girls in western Massachusetts.  I was assigned to a 1950-60s dorm, a nondescript red brick building on the edge of a campus strewn with majestic Victorian and solid turn-of-the-century structures, and a roommate from the Massachusetts coast, with whom I became fast friends for the short time we were together.

I had chosen Northfield from a sea of school catalogs presented to me because it had a domestic work program (which we somewhat affectionately referred to as “the dummie program”).  Every day we donned long smocks and white caps to work in the kitchens or public areas of our dorms.  Among the catalogs directed my way in rural Ohio, filled with girls in expensive clothing seated at expensive desks and riding expensive horses, Northfield stood out as an island of solid practicality.

I had no idea at all about its the school’s founder, 19th-century evangelist D.L. Moody, or his original goal of providing women for the mission field with the best possible of academic educations, and then, across the Connecticut River, boys of little means with an education equivalent to that found in the most elite prep schools, peopled by the sons of bankers and lawyers.   I did not know that many of my classmates would be scholarship students, the daughters of teachers and ministers, or what that might mean in terms of the campus atmosphere (one distinctly lacking in a sense of economic privilege).   Boarding school in that era, with its universal cinder block bedroom walls, its lack of student vehicles, and its uniformity of dress (jeans and jean skirts, clogs and sandals,  turtlenecks and sweaters) tended to have a leveling effect upon its students.

Northfield was a tough place for me.  I was already experienced in boarding school and summer camp life, and made friends easily.  But the academics were hard ~ I was immediately dropped back a year in Spanish, and could barely keep up in some of the advanced classes to which I had been admitted.  I didn’t make the basketball team or receive even a non-speaking part in the fall play.  And school counseling being what it was in those days (not), and me being at perhaps my lowest point in lifetime maturity (age 15! ~ although 14 or 16 might have been worse), I did not seek out, and no one offered, the kind of support that would have encouraged me to see a tutor, increase my basketball skills in a gym class, or spend some time on the stage crew in order to learn the ropes (no pun intended) of a high school drama program.

The late 1960s were also upon us, and cultural changes slow to make their way to Ohio descended upon New England’s boarding schools almost as swiftly as they appeared on college and university campuses.  For us, it was everyday life.  For our teachers, I was to learn later, the changes in clothing, music, and recreational activities (!) were swift and incomprehensible.  I recall my French teacher’s angry announcement one spring morning: “I don’t care WHAT changes have been made in the school dress code!  You will not display bare toes in MY classroom!”  Of course, it being 1969, she might have discovered far more consequential matters with which to concern herself, had she not been so distraught about sandals.

 

To be continued . . .

(Imageof Billings Hall, where our French and Spanish classes were held ~  from http://www.northfieldopportunity.org/photogallery/)

 

Being Sick

 

Well, that worked out well.

 

I’ve been down for now eleven days with the virus from hell.  Yesterday, the head nose ear throat pain finally gone, but feeling as if a relapse might be imminent, I spent the morning leading a group discussion and then returned home to crawl under a blanket and stay there, too exhausted even to ponder the piles of small tasks that remain undone.

 

The consequence was that I awoke at 4:30 this morning and, an hour later, unable to go back to sleep, began to stir.  I read for an hour, took care of a pile of laundry and ironing, and ate some cereal and berries for breakfast.  I had to throw out most of the blackberries that I had purchased so hopefully a few days ago, walking slowly through the grocery as I began to glimpse the promise of recovery.

 

What I have been pondering is this business of being so sick.  The last time it happened, over a year ago, I had just begun a new call as a pastor, and Lent had quickly arrived, which meant an additional service each week at a time when I was already challenged by getting to know new people and new ways.  No wonder I fell ill!  And, unwilling to take time off in my first month, I plowed through the weeks that lay before me, taking several more of them to recover, while trying to conceal how thoroughly miserable I was.

 

This year, no new roles lie before me ~ perhaps a great stress in itself.  But there is a disturbing commonality between last year and this.  In both cases, just before I was felled by illness, I had been feeling particularly energetic and content, and in both cases I had added  a slightly more demanding exercise regimen to my life ~ a bit more walking, and a few trips to the gym.  It seems that my immune system may have had, in both cases, all that it could do to handle the additional workouts, and succumbed quickly when presented by an unfamiliar virus.

 

It’s quite discouraging to discover that I may have reached a point at which my body will accept only the slightest increase in stress before it reaches a breaking point.  I know that the life of all-nighters and even frequent late evenings out is long gone, but I am stymied by bow quickly I can be ambushed by a simple virus.

 

I am resolved to begin walking as soon as possible, and to practice more in the way of healthy eating.  But for now . . .  more sleep!

 

 

 

 

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