1. on 1.

September 8 unravelled a piece of my life that put me into action mode. Fix it. Save it. Hold it. Tape it together. It’s ok now, as I write now on November 16. It was never my little family at risk. And, in the two or so months since I’ve realized it was always my little family at risk. Because, what happens to us when things get difficult can often bring out the worst of our coping mechanisms.

In the midst of responding, I also attended a (previously) planned trip to the Why Christian conference in Chicago with the 1 day Enneagram immersion added on to the front. Many of my colleagues are Enneagram nuts and I love a method of understanding human behavior. The day was intense, simply from the constant receiving of information about the 9 types of personalities of the system. My number was presented third of the day, a part of the gut triad. As Susanne Stabile began describing my number, I began to feel nauseous. Like, woah, what it happening sick to my stomach. (Remember, I’m part of the gut triad.) As she continued teaching, I thought to myself, I better keep listening to all the numbers so that I make sure to identify with the right one. So, if you know anything about the Enneagram, you probably know my number by this point in my reflection. I’m a 1, the perfectionist, the reformer. The one who hears the voices of negative self-thought and the obsessive-taunts of ‘should’ circling my head, all. the. time. The best image I’ve come up with is the bubbling pink slime from Ghostbusters that emanates negative energy and overwhelms all it touches.

Identifying my number, and the wealth of reflection about best practices and hopeful responses to who I am couldn’t have come at a better time. It feels an awful lot like discovering what it means to be a child of an alcoholic household. That was ground-breaking for me and only came about due to a trauma that catapulted me into counseling for the first time. Speaking of being a child of an alcoholic household (and all that entails), being a 1 connects with being the oldest ACOA in a family. And, the negative coping mechanisms are similar.

For the past two months, I’ve squashed my feelings and absorbed as much as I can to make sure others are ok. (FYI, I don’t hide my feelings well. But, I think I’m squashing them nonetheless.) That’s lead to me having a couple (strong) drinks every night at home in order to zone out of that deep hole and relax. I know that’s not the way to respond in a healthy way. And, I did it. I did it cause it’s easy, because it’s familiar and because I felt cornered by emotions and didn’t want to confront them. This self-defeating behavior feeds my negative stream of consciousness about myself. And the cycle is awful. The shame and self-directed anger is awful. And, so now I feel a little closer to understanding my dad, the alcoholic who drank in seclusion every night when he got home from a job that wasn’t his dream and held tight to his promise not to be the parent that he had. So, he hid. And drank. I often want to feel close to him as he’s been dead since 2001. This really wasn’t what I had in mind.

Back to the Enneagram. I’ve committed to a detox of all things that feed my shame cycle. So, no  booze. No personal facebook. And I’m really beginning the reading of The Road Back to You. I intend on blogging my journey. Here we go.

That $ y’all

One recent Sunday night, I walked past the counter in the kitchen and noticed a new thing. This time, something was different when I left my paycheck and the deposit slip for Nick to deposit before work the next day. The paycheck, the reimbursement check, the deposit slip were all facing up on the counter, instead of folded in half or face down.

I don’t know if this was the first time this happened. Nick only occasionally runs by the bank for me. Usually those checks stay crammed in my purse until I make it the couple miles to a branch.

You may wonder why this is of note. It symbolizes a solid ground of trust where I now walk. Nick’s always been trustworthy. My ability to talk about money (instead of shutting down or raising my voice) and remember that it is tool has been a slow, long journey. But, I’m there. I’m so there. I’m there enough to not even subconsciously shame myself by folding a check or placing a deposit slip face down.

Money is a tool. Money requires a plan. Using money instead of money using me means gaining skills over many years. There’s always room for my improvement and learning. I’m not going to be teaching an investment portfolio class. But, I live now without a recurring shame around money. And that freedom is so damn good.

Reflecting on Katrina 10 Years Later

As the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, I’ve reflected on my own experience with the devastation. After the storm, I drove from Fort Worth, where I was in seminary, to Shreveport, where Hirsch Coliseum was a makeshift shelter for those coming in buses from New Orleans and the surrounding areas. My graduation from high school was in the same room that had now become home to hundreds. Inflatable mattresses in rows, parents in zombie-like states, and children playing in the walkways — I can close my eyes and can be transported back there with a simple, deep breath.

While volunteering, we did whatever was needed: organize donated clothing, input information to the Red Cross database, pray with strangers, play with children and get to know their parents. It changed me in ways I am still discovering. Most deeply, it brought to my attention the reality that those in poverty lacked means to get out of the city when the storm came in. This wasn’t some other country. This was my home state, my country. How could this happen? No matter our country, state or neighborhood, we all live in systems of inequity that feel like they are beyond our control. Certainly, they are beyond our control if we were to try to dismantle them alone or all at once. Even worse, sometimes scripture is used to keep us from working against inequity and poverty.

When we hear that Jesus proclaimed that “the poor will always be with you” (Matt 26:11), we can often resign ourselves to just taking care of ourselves. Those words can become a way to absolve ourselves of the responsibility to act. Upon closer look, Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 15, where  it is proclaimed that because there are people in poverty, we have a hand open to help always. In Matthew 26, a woman in poverty anoints Jesus and helps him prepare for the cross. In that moment, Jesus’ own poverty is revealed and it is clear that even the most vulnerable among us have the ability to reveal God’s love.

In reading Matthew 26, it is important to know that God does not will people to suffer in poverty. Too often, humanity refuses to engage in the work to upend poverty. As Christians, we proclaim with Jesus that the poor will always be with us because that word of God catapults us into action. Could we say it this way: If there are poor, they ought to be with us; even more, we should be with them?!

Many things happened in the time I sat on the floor playing or talking at Hirsch Coliseum. Friendships developed with a family from Gentilly, a neighborhood in New Orleans. We worked together to find their mama who had ended up in a hospital in Monroe, LA. We made trips to the store together. We laughed and we cried. As it came time for me to head back to Fort Worth, I received a gift from the women of this family: a bud vase, a partially used body spray that made it out of New Orleans in one of the women’s purses, and a $5 bill with a note written on it – Katrina didn’t take it all. With that gift, I felt the oil poured over my head, anointing me to work for justice and always find myself with an open hand to help.

This Sunday, worship will be different. It is my hope that we will find ourselves reminded that we are all anointed to unravel the systems of poverty and racism that keep our culture divided, weaving ourselves together in love. We will not upend systemic poverty in our city in this one Sunday, but by working together we will find the energy to keep making choices that empower us to say poverty, death, and even the cross do not have the last word — God does.

katrina didn't take it all

Interfaith Vigil 2-15-15

These are my remarks from the Interfaith Vigil held February 15, 2015 at Boston Ave. United Methodist Church in Tulsa. We remembered the lives of Deah Barakat and Yusor Mohammad and Mohammad’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Here are my words:

At Bethany Christian Church today, our gospel reading was Matthew 20:20-28.

We reheard the story of Zebedee’s wife, mother of James and John, who asks for her sons to have the seats on the right and left of Jesus in the kingdom of heaven.

Often, interpretation of this scripture focuses on the fact that these disciples were not prepared for what Jesus was to endure. That to have such an honor meant enduring the unknown to them and the known cross for the readers since the writing of Matthew.

Perhaps it is that I am the mother of an infant and sleeplessly see everything through that lens, but I can’t help but identify with James and John’s mother and see the text from another view. From the very moment they were born she, like scripture shares about other mothers and fathers and like I’ve done, I imagine she prayed blessing over blessing over blessing of her children.

Holy God, keep James safe. Vast Creator, give John joy. Purest love, might their hearts never be broken.

The mother of James and John did nothing wrong in asking for blessings of her sons. She did, however, give in to the temptation for ask for blessings that come at the price of others. You see, the scripture only mentions two seats. We cannot as a society, as people of any faith tradition, as human beings, pray only for the thriving of our children, for their preferential treatment at the cost of another. It is that kind of prayer that sacrifices others, simply for being other. It is that line of thinking that begins to make excuses for violence and bigotry because we aren’t the perpetrators or our children are immune.

Whatever our faith, if we pray for blessings that limit love to a favored few, we blaspheme that which we hold dear. It is my hope that the blessings I pray for my daughter are transformed by the Creator of all to expand to all.

As I imagine the prayers that Deah’s mother prayed over him at his birth, the ones Yusor and Razan’s mother prayed over them too, I join my voice with those grieving mothers and cry out to God:

We ache, Mystery of mystery, at the death of three young people. Why in a world so alive do people seek to limit your creation by killing? Why is a world so filled with variety do people demand we all be the same? Hold tight Deah, Yusor and Razan as we grieve, Mystery of mystery. Make known to us love when violent hate has overcome any chance of understanding. Amen.

The Lowest Common Denominator Seduction, a post for ethics class

The title of this post sounds a lot like a Big Bang Theory episode: The Lowest Common Denominator Seduction. The show always uses some math/science terms in combination with a pun or attention grabber to name episodes. What I aim to describe is both mathematical and religious, easy to jump on and difficult to avoid. It’s the phenomena of Lowest Common Denominator church. Or, as Dr. Melanie Ross described it, the “youth-ification” of the American church in her review of the “five shifts in terrain” of worship.

In her exploration of North American protestant worship, there were 5 shifts: liturgical renewal, evangelical youth ministry, Pentecostal/praise and worship, church growth and emergent. I was most caught by the connection between evangelical youth ministry in the 1940’s-70’s and it’s connection to the church growth movement. Over and over again, in my personal/professional life, I’ve heard a call to go basic, assume no knowledge of the faith, become seeker oriented if you want to grow. I hadn’t thought about this as a youth-ification of the adult church. Her framing helped me see that while the math might look good (as in growth from seekers) the depth of development needed to sustain congregational life can get lost. The goal of the congregation becomes width rather than depth. Both are needed for a thriving experience of the gospel.

In my own church, I am often taken by the seduction to go lowest-common-denominator in worship and preaching. There is nothing wrong with it’s inclusion, but I cannot stay there. In staying there, we run the risk of jumping into the most-common-denominator of the church growth movement where homogeneity was lifted up as the basis for growth. If the gospel is for everyone, then the post-colonial practice of “dynamic diversity” across all expressions of what the church does when together is necessary. (Combing two of Emmanuel Lartey’s principles from Postcolonializing God, dynamism and hybrid.)

If anything I am doing is one-dimensional it is death-dealing. If I am focused on worship, it must engage the variety of people who come in the doors. If I am dreaming for children’s ministry, it must create strategic opportunities for adults to learn too. If I am considering one voice about a given topic, I must seek out several more. Anything less leads to isolation from one another, which is, in my take, an isolation from God who is known most fully in the interactional and intersubjective work of being human in community. Is there anything less than that –interactional and intersubjective experience with humanity- that we see in the life of Jesus?

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?