The Little Mermaid and Historical Trauma, a post for my ethics class

ariel_forkIn the Disney movie “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel aches to be “where the people are.” The song “Part of Your World” has been a defining reference for me and how I do ministry. I’ll often reply to questions about how to equip people to follow Jesus with saying that we need to be where the people are. Pastors are often in the black hole of their offices. I can’t understand what life is like without being with the people. If I don’t watch out, once I get to the surface, I’ll end up calling a fork a dinglehopper and using it to comb my hair.

That being said, the act of knowing and defining is tricky business. What I’ve noticed is that often people know something intimately (unlike Ariel and all the people stuff) but need a name to call it. Naming is powerful. In fact, God speaks things into existence and then Adam’s first job is to name the animals. Scripture, ahem, speaks to the power of speaking.

There’s an experience of memories that aren’t ours but that shape us and become ours that needs a name. That is even more so in communities that have been oppressed. At the Women and Worship conference, Judy Aaron introduced the term “historical trauma.” Oddly enough, I’d heard someone use it just the week before and thought about the concept but never explored the term until Judy’s workshop. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, PhD defined Historical Trauma as “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding across generations, including the lifespan, which emanates from massive group trauma.”

Judy Aaron speaks from the Native American tradition and led the workshop through an exploration of what it was like for her to navigate the “Indian world and the white world” growing up and as an adult. Her own discovery of the definitions and framework to talk about it seemed to me to be liberating as she presented what it means to be in both worlds, constantly, as a United Methodist pastor and a person in Oklahoma.

As I reflected on the power of naming and defining for generations of wounding, it deepens my commitment to be where the people are, not only in the physical space of their lives but to meet people where they are with the woundedness we cannot see. All of us have wounds, but when individuals and families come from marginalized communities, we often want them to give up their fins and take on legs without even a bandage to acknowledge the gaping wound. We demand that they adapt to us, to act as if hurt doesn’t exist because “we didn’t do it.” Our role as followers of Jesus should be to meet people where they are without requirement of adaptation or expectations of a fresh dressing to hide wounds.

As much as I love The Little Mermaid, the movie has deep problems about what it means to be human. Her transformation cost her everything that had made her. And exploration about what that says about women is another conversation. For now, I focus on what that says about the other, those who are different in some way. (We are all different in some way.) We cannot ask anyone to be a blank slate for us white folks. People come with their dinglehoppers and I don’t get to ask them to make it a fork.

Seeing Ourselves, the Biggest Lesson from My Advent Video Series, post for ethics class

During Advent this year, I created a video reflection to accompany the devotional book by our denominational publishing house. I was desperate to find a way to engage folks in this holy season. Or, even more honest, I was desperate to reclaim the holy season from the consumerist frenzy. You don’t get to steal my Advent, capitalism. **Said with furiously shaking fist!** I learned a few things. I made this video to talk about some of the things I learned.

Of the lessons learned, one of the most startling was becoming aware of how uncomfortable I am with viewing myself. As noted in the video, there is scientific reason behind it. You can listen to a Radio Lab show about it, here. There are also the sociological and psychological reasons for it. Namely, that as women we aren’t encouraged to be ok with who we are without a sense of refining, e.g. make-up.  Culturally, we are encouraged to present our selves as perfectly as possible, refined by instagram filters and 50 shots to post one selfie.  In an effort to do that, we lose the very self we are trying to express.

As Colleen Kwong proclaimed the value of art in worship at the Women and Worship conference, she highlighted that it “holds a mirror up to see ourselves.” She was speaking about the art we use in worship. The art we choose even for the front of a bulletin reveals our values and commitments. The art we create becomes reflections of who we are.

I would not lift the video series I did as art, anymore than text on a page could be considered art. Using a different medium than normal, though, allowed me to see myself in a new way. See myself without refinement and opened the door to discover which “me” has more value.

In church life, there is pressure to do everything perfectly well like the megachurch. (Those are the pastors writing the best-selling books, right!) So much so that the things we do well get brushed aside because they are as polished as the latest YouTube sensation repackaged for the evening news. Art is not art because it reveals perfection. Art is art because it reveals life. What could we be if our goal was to reflect ourselves rather than what we think people want? I don’t want a flat mass produced poster of Monet’s water lilies. I want to see the layers and layers and layers of paint piled up on the canvas, even it is just for one afternoon.

Soul II Soul and the Magnificat or The Inescapable Boombox: Post for My Ethics Class

6318851744_d53aff8dbaWhen I was in third or fourth grade, I got a small red boom box for Christmas. It was the late 80’s and having your own boom box made me the quintessential preteen of the time. My parents knew I was growing up, I thought. I got a boom box!!! I’d spend hours listening to the pop radio station in Shreveport. I’d hear teenagers call in during the evening hours and be reminded not to curse because they were on the radio. It was scandalous! And fun! Maybe Shreveport was a little behind the street performance culture that made the boom box so exciting to me, but it made the “real world” accessible and both more mysterious and less mystifying at the same time.

One song that stuck out was Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life.” I thought, yes, back to life, back to reality. I can’t wait to be a part of reality. The song is an exploration of figuring out what someone wants of us and what they need. Assumed is that the person of interest actually wants and needs us. Is wonders what is reality and what is fantasy. You can find the lyrics here. You can watch the video here. I was convinced that what I lived was not real life because I was not an adult. That is another post.

In the Women and Worship conference, we explored reality, what is real and where we are. By attending the conference, we acknowledged a reality that was caught in the eschatological tension of the what-is, the not-yet, and the in-breaking of God’s activity in the world. Chiefly we explored the desire for the fullness of humanity to reflected in the church, both male and female and something beyond gender limitations.

As Rebecca Ferguson explored the Magnificat in worship, I felt permission to explore what is real. She said “imaginative reality does not mean fiction.” If I were to imagine the reality to which I’d like to return, what would it be like? In terms of the conference, that would be a universal church where women’s voices are equal. If I were to return to life, meaning that which sparked at the simple speaking of God at the beginning of creation, it would reveal a church where women’s voices have never been squashed. What a mighty reality that would be!

Turning back to Soul II Soul’s lyrics, I excitedly ask “however do you want me?” to the church, to God, to my fellow humans, knowing that whatever we say may just create an imaginative reality that we do not have but is in no way fiction. Living into the mystery, I can demystify the ache to be church, to be pastor, to be women, now.

Overhearing: A Post for my Ethics Class

As I have reflected on the whole of the Women and Worship event and Remind and Renew conference, my chief question regarding ethical discernment shifted from “what is happening?” to “who is this for?” Mindy lifted up the necessary and complex idea of ‘overhearing’ from Lee Butler. It occurred to me that I was one part full participant of each event and one part over-hearer of the events, both vital roles to discover what I could learn in the overlapping contexts. The mixture of the questions and discerning my participant/over-hearer set the context for some of the ethical dilemmas experienced in the conferences. It also opened the door for me to see how people were experiencing the conferences themselves.

The Women and Worship conference was an event organized by women scholars and theological educators for women in leadership in congregations. There was an assumed common experience and common theological framework that rested chiefly on the other-ing of women in church, particularly in worship, and discerning the ways that we can reclaim wholeness of women’s identity as separate and fully integrated into the church.

The opening of the door to men to attend was in one way an opportunity to bring advocates to the table to hear voices. It was an act of gracious hospitality. Hospitality, however much we desire it to be simple, almost never is. In other way, the invitation to men changed the dynamic of the experience in such a significant way, away from what seemed to be the goal. Would something to planned like it again, I believe men should not be invited. While men made only a small number of the attendees, their voices were heard significantly. And that is not just a reflection of how men’s voices carry. With a position of charity, I heard their statements and questions as encouragement of women’s inclusion, of equality, an important voice for the church. Systemically and most likely unintended, it felt like the men in attendance needed to say something to validate and affirm what the women were saying. That need alone, when no one was being threatened as they might be in a congregational setting where equality is not lived out, undermines the basic premise of equality. I don’t need a man to validate my authority unless it is under attack or that person wants to affirm me out of relationship that exists. I don’t need a man to shout for equality at an event by women for women.

When I mentioned this phenomena in our class, Josh spoke up and said he understood his role to be over-hearer. This wasn’t his exact words, but his sentiment. It meant a great deal to me. His clear understanding of who he was in the moment encouraged me to consider that daily. Who is this for? What kind of participant am I, for me, according to the purposes of the situation and what does my voice do when offered? What will my voice do simply by being offered, regardless of what I say?


When do I just need to overhear what is being said?

The Ethics Cha Cha

“I forgot how fun ethics are!”

This exclamation has been nearly shouted several times in the past week. I’ve engaged ethics in a classroom experience through a Doctor of Ministry program at Phillips Theological Seminary. As our class explores Ethics in Christian life and work, we reflect on both real life and a novel to discover the ways in which we organize our lives.

While a neat calendar and labeled closets are certainly a fun way to organize life, the way we’ve considered organizing is much more nuanced and firm. The juxtaposition of those adjectives may seem counter to talking about the organizing principles of our lives but they feel perfect to describe the dance that is discovering ethics.

The dance is what is so fun to me. It’s a dance that uses the whole stage; a dance that requires both flexibility and incredible core strength. Among the skills that are required, or dance steps that make it work, are understanding the basic entry points that allow us to talk about ethics. Those three major entry points are goals, rules and virtues. Every person (and every group of people for that matter) is negotiating these three frameworks for ethics as they make everyday decisions.

Through the reading of the Saramago novel Blindness, we discovered that decisions even as simple as who we will help making their way to the restroom brings to the surface our core ethical commitments and how we are able to adapt (or not) to the world around us. As larger real-life questions arise, like who gets to live, die or eat, awareness of how we process our ethical commitments and the implementation of them becomes a more complicated dance. The choreography is clouded with multiple movements and balancing footwork. Any efforts to simplify limit an individual’s making-sense of behaviors and habits that allow survival, albeit without the living out of those multiple core ethical frameworks we each have.

As the class moves into our second week, I am eager to discover the dance we do with worship. How much of the stage will we use and how many steps do we need to know?

I’m Sorry. Preggo Pastor Post

The woman’s “I’m sorry” comes out of her mouth before she knows it’s even happening. It buffers what she’s about to say, giving permission to excuse her. It undermines and depreciates her very identity. It’s culturally indoctrinated, and when it’s not there women are often accused of being aggressive, forceful or the dreaded “B” word.

Earlier this week, I decided to intentionally talk to the little one. This is something I hadn’t done before. Routinely, she gets check-ins from me about a kick or move or dance. I pat my belly and tell her I love her or celebrate and giggle that she’s really getting her groove on. My intentional conversation started with (STARTED WITH) an apology about how I don’t talk to her more. That other moms probably talk to their babies in utero a lot more and how she deserves to be talked to more.

Um, what?! It actually took me a day or so to realize what I had done. First off, I’m making assumptions about how other women do their pregnancy thing. Second, I’m assuming that everyone else does it better than me, as if there is a perfect way to do it. Third, and most importantly, I have NOTHING to apologize about to this sweet baby girl. So what if I haven’t talked to her in bursts of philosophical, motherly truths of life while she’s growing in there. So what if my talking has only focused on being responsive to what she’s doing. There will be plenty of opportunities to offer real apologies to her as she teaches me how to be a mom, or I drop her on her head, or whatever.

I don’t want my daughter to ever develop a habit of apologizing because she is. And making sure she doesn’t… well, that starts with me.

My Statements about Marriage Equality

The first time I was asked to make a public statement in support of marriage equality was for the Engagement Party for Same Gender Couples that All Souls Unitarian Church threw. To be honest, it was a complete surprise to be asked by Rev. Marlin Lavanhar. I’m still pretty new to town and just honored to be the Pastor in an Open and Affirming church, Bethany Christian. I get to be a part of a community that shares the good news that God loves everyone just as they are, inviting us into deeper relationship with God and one another. Could it get any better than that? Here’s the statement I made at the engagement party that took place February 12, 2014.

“First, I’d like to thank Marlin Lavanhar and Tamara Lebak for the invitation to be a part of this holy event. It is an honor to lend my voice to fight for marriage equality.

“In the first creation story in Genesis, when God ventures to create humanity, we hear these words ‘let us make humankind in our image.’ I hear in these words God’s deep desire for relationship with humanity. It is so deep that we are made in God’s image with the same inescapable desire for relationship, whether that be friendships, families, or marriage. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he too responded out of that inescapable desire for relationship: love God, love your neighbor, love yourself.

“The fight for marriage equality is coming to a legal head. We will soon discover legally what so many faithful people have already discovered, that marriage is a right for all who choose to enter into that adventure. When we deny the right to live in relationship, to be married to a certain group of humans, we are not simply denying them a legal formality, we are denying the image of God within them, the inescapable desire to live in relationship. When we deny the right of marriage to a certain group of humans, we are denying the very spark of God within them and the will of God for all to thrive in loving relationship.

“Therefore, I stand for marriage equality. Will you join me?”

The second time I was asked to make a statement was the the announcement of the filing of an amicus brief of which I had become a signatory. The amicus brief is in favor of moving forward to open marriage for all people, regardless of orientation. The press conference was yesterday, March 17, 2014. My statement is below. You can see a segment from the local news about it here.

“It is my honor to be here, invited by Toby Jenkins and Oklahomans for Equality, to give a Christian voice to the fight for marriage equality. I am in awe of Sue, Gay, Mary and Sharon in their continuing bravery and commitment to move our state and country forward.

“Today, we celebrate another step in the journey toward marriage equality. Some might say that this is a civil issue, asking why the church would get involved. Others, seemingly loud voices, say marriage is a religious sacrament that should stay the way it is in Oklahoma and the broader United States. For myself, and many other faithful, religious people, we support marriage equality for both civil and religious reasons. Like the Civil Rights movement of the last century, marriage equality needs the voice of the church because this is a justice issue. God’s justice, often referred to in the Bible as shalom, is God’s effort to make sure the needs of all people are met, leading to the thriving of life in love.

“As people of faith, we are called to work along side the Spirit of God, making sure every person has what they need to thrive, including access to basic civil rights like marriage. Marriage’s modern purpose is to bind legally, and when people choose to do so, before God, two individuals who have become interwoven by the loom of love. All those woven together in loving commitment should be able to enter unencumbered into the adventure of marriage with its joy, challenges and blessings.”


The Hard Work of Making Something Beautiful

Once upon a time, I danced. Well, you can find me dancing often. (When I can’t pray words, I’ll sing or dance or stretch.)  From 3 to 17, I was in classes: ballet (mostly), tap, jazz, modern. It provided a grounded assurance to my life; a regular place to go and be, especially as a teenager. Even with all those years, I’d never consider myself very “good.” It wasn’t because I didn’t work really hard or enjoy it. Maybe it was a bit of the lack-of natural physical talent thing and the fact that I have a terrible time memorizing. I’m beyond clumsy; more than once managing to create a domino effect with the apples in the grocery store. I still don’t know my times tables but tell me a story and I’ll likely never forget.

Ballet taught how important the body is; that standing with your shoulders back and down can help you walk into any situation with poise, even when your heart and mind are doing somersaults. Ballet taught me many lessons. Here are six that are pretty well summed up with the photo below by Jordan Matter. His photography moved me to think today.

1. Anything beautiful in this world comes into being after hard work.

2. Hard work doesn’t always end up with something beautiful, but it still matters.

3. Most people will never see the hours and hours and hours that it takes to create something meaningful.

4. It’ll get dirty, ugly, and painful to make the wild eyed dreams we have come true.

5. You must let go of or have taken from you certain ideas (or toenails!); allowing sacrifice to open the door for greater creation.

6. Be flexible. Have an incredibly strong core.

Jordan Matter’s photo in the Series: Dancers Among Us

She kissed my hands.

“She kissed my hands,” I said.

“Do you wear a ring?” she said, referencing the Pope’s ring.

“No, kinda,” a little chuckle in my reply. “It was one of the most intimate moments of my life. We prayed and she kissed my hands.”

That’s a little snippet of my counseling session yesterday. I routinely tell her about the things that happen in church and she tells me, just about every time to write them down. I’m taking her advice.

One of the major elements of my call is visiting those who are older in our community. It could be that those days with my great grandmother prepared me for this. I’ve got some good stories with her, but this is about the people I care for now. Often, I find myself looking at the calendar and realizing it’s been a month or more since I’ve seen everyone and instantly change my schedule to go visiting. Visiting is the best. It’s also heart wrenching and holy, glorious and ghastly.

There is the 104-year-old woman who is sharp as a tack and funnier than you. No insult intended, but she’s got a dry wit and sparkling eyes that are irresistible. She and her husband were the first two people baptized in our baptistry. She loves traveling and could tell you about the car trips down Route 66 and to Florida and more. She and her family could teach classes about how to care for one another. Recently, her throat muscles have given her fits resulting in therapy and a new diet. The new diet included thickening all liquids. Do you know the joy of a glass of water? It’s cool, quick journey down the throat? This 104-year-old couldn’t have it for several months. Yesterday, I walked in to see a real glass of water, not yellow tinted, lemon flavored, jello-just-before-it-sets consistency water. We celebrated the simple joy of water.

There is one couple where he suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s. For years, they’ve lived separately in the same facility. Two years ago, he was still himself personality wise when I would visit. He didn’t know me, but I always explained who I was and he shared stories. Now, I don’t see him when I see him, if you know what I mean. There is his body and I speak to him, but he rarely replies. It is gut wrenching. My focus with his wife is to hear the stories of their life. We look at many of the same photos every time I visit. Those stories become more vivid with each telling. She has a name that embodies her personality: gentle, kind, encouraging. She loves the beach, going there on more than one anniversary trip.

It is my practice to hold hands when I pray with people. Recently, I read an article saying that we might consider holding hands in worship simply because that might be the only time in a given week that some would have the chance to experience the gentle touch of hand holding. What a great sadness and an opportunity to share love. It’s an instinct for me. Oh, I’m thankful for that instinct…sometimes.

Last week, as I prayed with my dear one who loves the beach, we joined both sets of hands. I spoke words to God for us. At “Amen” she leaned over and kissed my hands. Knowing what was happening, my instinct was to pull away quickly. I’m not the Pope, although I do wear a ring on my right ring finger, a sign of God’s call. With an internal struggle, I received this blessing from her. I’m still processing that holy moment. What do I do with such an incredible, intimate moment? Perhaps, say “Amen” again.

2. TWO.

730 days. 2 laps around the sun. Here we are, on the first day of the third year with Bethany Christian Church.  (Nick says nobody says things like that, first day of the third year.) It’s been two years together and my mind is a swirl of thankfulness and wonder.

As I reflect on what it means to be in this community of faith, a memory from my ordination stands out. At the end of many Disciples ordinations, there is a moment where the ordinand stands up to say a word of thankfulness. My words were “thank you for letting me fail.” (This was the first of many times as an ordained minister where I said something utterly outrageous unintentionally. It’s also why I should script the majority of my public speaking.) What followed was an explanation of that odd sentence. I thanked them for taking risks with me, for me, and providing room to discover for myself what it was to go to seminary, work in church and love God’s people. Here I am again, wanting to use the same words.

In the two years we’ve been church together, we’ve had some very clear Kelli-fail moments. Remember when we sang that song on Pentecost that nobody knew with all the flats and sharps and nonsense? Don played to finish it out but the rest of us just looked at other in confusion. We laughed about it and I learned that Don must have veto right to hymns.

Or, here’s another one: Remember that time when my sermon wasn’t very strong and it was clear that we all knew it? (Choose your own memory, because it’s been a huge, continuing learning experience to preach every week.) Instead of pointing out the gaping holes, you were kind enough to share words of encouragement about something else in worship that worked well.

Or maybe this, how about the dozens of times I’ve asked why we do something a certain way and you took the time to explain the history of our congregation, ignoring the fact (that I now know) that why often implies a sense of judgment. The judgment wasn’t there and you trusted me even when it could have been perceived differently.

In these two years, because of your grace, I’ve become a better pastor, a fuller self, and an individual in love with God’s people. Because of your grace, people come into the doors of our church and find genuine welcome; just like Nick and I did the first time we visited, before you were even receiving papers (resumes) from perspective ministers. (We learned quickly there is no incognito at Bethany.) Because of your grace, we’ve seen glimpses of the realm of God here in Tulsa, in our sanctuary. Remember when Charles and Kelly let us be a part of the blessing of their wedding rings in the midst of worship? Remember when we needed to reintroduce a children’s moment in worship because there are children here every week?

Thank you, Bethany. I love you from the bottom of my heart. Here’s to more grace, more love and more memories.