Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Prepare Ye...

It occurred to me today, as I looked over my blog post from last night, that the Advent connection in my words might not have made sense to anyone but me. For those of you who didn't catch the link, which I admit was a bit fuzzy, I'll explain.

Advent is a season all about preparation. And most of the time, we think that preparation is about what we're doing, how we're preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ, how we're preparing for Christ's return. But I think it also gives us a chance to think about how God is preparing us.

John Wesley taught about the concept of prevenient grace, that is, the grace that God offers us before we even recognize God's existence. We usually talk about it in terms of salvation: prevenient grace is God reaching out to us in love, drawing us toward Godself continually until we recognize and respond to that action. But I believe that God's prevenient grace is always at work in our lives, shaping, preparing, and calling us in different ways. Most of the time, we don't recognize how God's prevenient grace has been at work until later. It's much easier to recognize what God has been up to in hindsight than it is to identify God's fingerprints in the moment.

I've been trolling my catalogue of experiences lately as part of my discernment, looking for the ways God may have been preparing me for the call I think I'm discerning. Now, don't panic, I'm not talking about a change of appointment soon. But I think everyone whose vocation is pastoral ministry (and probably all Christians, actually) should be trying to figure out how God is leading them. So, I'm working on that sort of discernment. And I believe that my feminism may be part of the way God has been preparing me to serve, not only where I am now, but in future ministry settings.

So this season, I'm not just trying to prepare myself, I'm also trying to pay attention to how God is and has been preparing me. That's what some of my pondering of faith and feminism has been about, and it will explain in advance if I start rambling about things that don't seem to relate to Advent. (Oh, and it also gives me free reign to blog about whatever I'm thinking, without worrying too much about connecting to this season. SCORE!)

Monday, November 29, 2010

This Book Is Not Pink

This evening I was headed to hang out with a friend, so I grabbed the first T-shirt my hand landed on in my closet and threw on a hoodie over it. It wasn't until I was getting ready for bed and tugged the hoodie off that I realized I was wearing my feminism T-shirt.

I got the shirt in college, when I first started taking gender studies courses, when I was all fired up about shattering the glass ceiling and getting rid of the stigma around issues of sexual assault. I got the shirt when I first started experiencing the conflict between my gender studies classmates and the religion I so adored. I was just beginning to discern my call to ministry at that point, and I was nervous about how people would treat me.

When I told my classmates about my call and my aspirations to become an ordained pastor, they asked how I could be part of such a misogynistic institution. Why, they asked, would I want to work for people who had historically devalued women, and many of whom still pray to an angry father god saying "thank God I am not a woman"? I explained to them over and over again that the church had, at times, adopted harmful social trends, but that it was precisely my faith and the Bible that had taught me that God made all humans in God's image: male and female. I explained that I wasn't willing to surrender faith and Christianity to a history of misogyny, that I would stand up as a woman of faith and fight to make the church better. And, while they often did not share my faith or understand my decision, they respected me for it and affirmed me in pursuing it.

At the same time, I found myself debating gender issues with some of my more conservative friends. I brought up issues of rights and dignity and equality. And the discussions were civil and enlightening when they were purely academic. But when I told them I was called to ministry, most of them abruptly ended their contact with me, telling me I must be mistaken. Only one continued to talk to me, and he told me that he thought God might be calling women to ministry now because many men refuse to go. I was shocked to discover that he saw women as God's backup plan.

At that time in my life, when I was engaged in those debates, I was so impassioned. I'd wear my feminism shirt to church events just to push the envelope. It felt like rebelling, in a way, even though my church had no problem with women's ordination and, on the whole, was pretty good with gender issues.

I'm still a feminist, still passionate about gender issues, but it takes a different form now. I haven't worn my feminism T-shirt outside my apartment since I took this appointment. But I avoid masculine language for God and I try to bring different images for God into the life of the congregation. I've learned to tolerate being called cute as long as people still respect the authority my call gives me in the pulpit and around the meeting table. And I hope that women outside the church, feminists who see the church as patriarchal, misogynistic, and irrelevant, will see me, a young feminist woman in sanctioned leadership in the church, and will take a second look at faith. Maybe they'll see in me a counterbalance to the pink, gender-stereotyping books that dominate the religion sections in bookstores.

As I seek to live as both faithful and feminist in the local church, I read a lot of spiritual memoirs by women. I love them all, from the mystical words of Julian of Norwich and Theresa de Avila to Kathleen Norris and Anne Lamott and Lauren Winner. I admire both the strength and the deep faith they display in their writings, and I draw inspiration from them to stay strong. I also love that they are different: they don't follow the stereotype paths the pink faith-for-women books prescribe. They are authentic in their depictions of the struggles and messiness of life and faith.

Perhaps one day I'll write my own spiritual memoir, inspiring women of the next generation to be faithful anf feminists. If I do, I think I'll entitle it "This Book Is Not Pink", just to remind those who see it that there is room in the church for feminists. I can prove it, too, because I know there is room in the church for me.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.1

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent Again?

Ready or not, here it comes! Advent is upon us (again) and I just don't feel prepared. Which, I suppose, is ironic. But here I am, unprepared for the season of preparation.

Last year, I tried to keep focused on the joy of Advent by taking pictures of something each day that brought me joy. This year, since the season snuck up on me, I didn't think to take a picture today. And, while I could grab my camera and snap a shot of Charlie chewing on a toy, I want to try something different this year.
This year, I'm going to write instead. Since I feel unprepared for Advent and Christmas, I'm going to process my thoughts in writing, here on my blog. Every day.

Today, since Advent is a season of penance, we started worship with a prayer of confession. I love participating in the confession and pardon in a congregation. I love it because we, as a congregation, need it so badly.

As a congregation, we're a big family. And as anyone who spent Thanksgiving with family will tell you, families always have conflict, we're always a little dysfunctional. With many people and many personalities, we'll always end up disagreeing at times, and those disagreements will sometimes hurt us. So, in our congregations we always need to be forgiving each other and receiving forgiveness. We need to be practicing saying, "You are forgiven," and we need to hear week in and week out that WE are forgiven. As people who believe in a merciful God, and who are called to likewise forgive, we need to be practicing grace.

And I think this is perhaps most important for clergy. We work closely with the people in our churches, and in our leadership we sometimes ruffle feathers. We disappoint them sometimes, and other times they disappoint us. So, there is a certain beauty to saying, as a pastor, "In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven," and looking into the eyes of your members as they assure you, "In the name of Jesus Christ, YOU are forgiven."

In this season of Advent, as we prepare to welcome our Savior, we need to be practicing mercy. And as we prepare for visits with our families, we need to be practicing grace. Tonight, I'm praying to be better at both.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.1

Saturday, November 27, 2010

From the Road

It amazes me that I can be going 70 miles per hour down the highway, watching the snow stream past, and still blogging. But, I suppose, that is the wonder of technology.

I'm on my way back...home? To the place where I now live and work, certainly. But it's too weird to say I'm going home when I'm driving away from the place I called home for more than twenty years. The place I live now should be home, since I've lived there for more than a year, and it's where all of my stuff is, and where my dog is. But when I my family all lives far away, and the holidays are so focused on "family", it's hard to think of my solitary apartment as homey.

I'm going to need to work on home-ifying my apartment before Christmas.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.1

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mind the Gap

Once upon a time I was a regular blogger. Then I became a semi-regular blogger. Then, in the last two months, life got really, really messy. But, I do intend to get back to blogging regularly. I'm even hoping to do something special for Advent again, either through pictures or through a discipline of regular writing.

Now, for an explanation of why I haven't been blogging:
1) I work for a church and, as such, there are a lot of things from my work that I simply cannot talk about. And, lately, almost all of my time and energy has been consumed by work, leaving me with very little that I could, or was willing, to write about here.
2) I've been writing, but by and large it has been stuff that I wouldn't want my bishop to read. And, since this is a public blog, I try not to post things on here that I'd be unwilling to say in front of the bishop. I love you all, but there's no way I'm risking my job just to share my thoughts with you.

The two months since my last post have featured some exciting events, though. I had a birthday, saw some family members, and, probably best of all, went on a fabulous vacation. The trip started in Las Vegas, with a visit to my seminary roommate. I could say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but the truth is, I was remarkably well-behaved during my stay. I didn't pick up any men, I didn't gamble, and I didn't even drink. I did, however, get to see rainbows over the Grand Canyon, explore the Strip at night, see Cirque du Soleil, and take the dam tour at Hoover Dam. The best thing about being in Vegas, though, was getting to catch up with my old roommate, as she is one of the coolest people I know. I then traveled to Long Beach to visit two more friends. We relaxed, had adventures in L.A. and along the Pacific beaches, and spent lots of time laughing and catching up. It was a blessedly relaxing week, and I'm very, VERY glad to have gotten away and had some sabbath time.

Unfortunately, vacation ended and I had to hit the ground running, because Advent is approaching with unexpected speed. So, until I dig up a Delorian with a flux capacitor, it's going to be a rough few weeks. That's all the update I have energy for at the moment, but don't despair! I fully intend to blog more in the next few days.