Sunday, November 1, 2020

Please Check On Your Clergy And Worship Leaders...We Are Not OK.

This is the conversation that I wish would happen on a regular basis these days, well, since mid-March: 

House of Worship Member: "Hey, how are you?"

Clergy-Person/Worship Leader: "I'm ok."

House of Worship Member: "No really, how are you...?"

Clergy-Person/Worship Leader: "Uhmmm...I'm hanging in there...I'm doing my is hard."

House of Worship Member: "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Clergy-Person/Worship Leader: "Honestly, pray for me an my family...and just keep asking how I'm doing, I really appreciate that. And I wouldn't say no to (a gift card to local coffee place/dinner for my family/extra time off in the future/etc)."

This is the conversation that actually takes place: 


Clergy-Person/Worship Leader (to self): I'm drowning. I can't do this. I am so inadequate at everything right now. Can I hide under my desk for a few hours? I wish someone would acknowledge just how hard this is. (Or at least, this is part of my inner monologue.)

Of course, the reality is that no one is ok right now.  

As a nation, we continue to live through a pandemic and a non-response/negative response by our Federal Government.  Which has made things much worse.  Not only is it anxiety and anger producing, but it's harder to navigate in our personal lives and work lives.  We are living through (another) time of civil unrest grounded in racial injustice and oppression and the continued sins of white supremacy.  We are anxious about the growing climate change crisis that is very real and has very real consequences (including, but not limited to wild fires and major storms).  We are parents to students who are navigating virtual school or the anxiety of in-person education or of older students who have been sent home from college.  We are taking care of older parents who may or may not be in care facilities who we are not allowed to visit.  We are carrying the financial burden and emotional toll of a spouse who has lost their job due to the Covid economic crisis.  We are carrying the weight of worry about our own chronic illness and/or carrying the weight of worry for those we love who have chronic illnesses.  When family members and friends die (from the Coronavirus - 231,000, to date - or because of other issues) we cannot get together to collectively grieve their loss and celebrate their lives.

Those are just a few examples of why life is so hard right now.

(And let's be completely, 100% honest, our friends and colleagues who are, who are married to, or have children who are BIPOC or LGBTQIA+ are struggling waaay more than any of us.)

Your clergy and professional worship leaders are feeling all of this stuff too...because guess what, we are people too. We are also struggling, worried, anxious, dealing with personal grief, and anger and all the other emotions that everyone is dealing with in these wtf-times...AND we are also trying to help our members who have had loved ones die, find ways to grieve; we are assisting members and others find resources to food and healthcare; many of us are doing our best to educate about white privilege and white supremacy; we are worried that worship membership and giving will decline to a point where we won't have a job anymore; we are anxious that every time we have to make a decision regarding the safety of others in our professional setting, it will set off a whirlwind of negative and angry comments; we know that when people need to vent their feelings of heartbreak and grief, many times their anger will come out on us; and we are doing our best to not lose hope and/or lose our own tempers.

In normal non-wtf-times, your professional worship leaders care for others.  That's what we feel passionately called to do. And in our interactions with our people we receive affirmations in the ways we engage with members who we see regularly, who extend us care by means of a friendly chat or a silly interaction or sharing a book recommendation.  We share in hugs and hand-shakes weekly as people arrive or leave worship and we hear things like "good sermon," "great job with the kids today," "Thank you for (fill in the blank)," etc.  

So, we are continuing to do that thing that we do, that many of us feel deeply called to do, which is care for others, but we are receiving very few to no affirmations and relational interactions.  

Also in non-wtf-times, we (hopefully) take breaks/practice sabbath rest. But in these Covid-times, taking time off (real sabbath rest) is extremely difficult to come by because we are always "pivoting" to the next step in the worship/ physically re-gathering plan.

And here is another key difference with clergy and worship professionals: we are in one of those fields where many times, we provide a service for people who voluntarily participate.  Those of you who attend a house of worship like a temple, church, synagogue, and mosque, do so because you want to feel a connection to something larger than yourself, but your participation is completely voluntary.  You get to make the choice to go into those spaces in normal non-wtf-times and in this new Coronavirus-ridden abnormal time.  You choose.  Your professional worship leadership many times, do not get the choice to go into these places, and yet, we feel deeply called to serve in these places and with our people.  

However, now things are different.  You still have a choice, but we are feeling that our choices and our bodily autonomy are becoming more and more limited and controlled by your need, desire, demand, to gather physically together.  Your choice to physically gather results in us being forced into spaces where many of us don't feel safe. (To be fair, there are many professional worship leaders who feel fine with the choice to be in close proximity to their people and/or they feel confidant that their worshipping populations are following proper safety protocols.)  

This lack of affirmation and relational engagement, lack of rest, and lack of personal choice and bodily autonomy (on top of all the other human feels that are normal in this new abnormal) are taking its toll.

I haven't asked colleagues to take a formal poll nor have I conducted any official studies of any sort, but I can share from my interactions with friends and colleagues who work in Houses of Worship and other places that provide spiritual care, both in person and on social media, we are struggling. 

In a private Facebook group of church leaders, someone recently asked the question, "So, how are you doing? No, I mean how are you doing, really?"  Of the 90+ responses to the question, do you know how many responded positively..? 



Responses included: "struggling and grieving," "tired of feeling like a failure in every aspect of my life," "I'm really not ok," "over-functioning to hold back feelings of despair," "bracing for impact," "overwhelmed all the time," "depressed and anxious," "totally drained," "sad," "burned out," "deeply hurting," "trying to make it through this still wanting to be a pastor," and the responses just went on and on. 

Because your professional worship leaders are not ok right now.

We are carrying the emotional burdens you are carrying during these stressful wtf-times...AND many of us are feeling the extreme stress of the necessity to put our very bodies in places of risk of the Coronavirus to do our jobs/live out our calls...AND we are deeply missing our relational interactions and affirmations...and we are beyond exhausted.  

Because we are not ok right now. 

This is not a "who has it worse" post...because as, aforementioned, no one is ok right now.  Everyone is struggling and everyone's struggles are valid.  

This is just a reminder, if you haven't checked on your clergy/worship leaders in a while, and even if they are still smiling and trying to maintain a positive spirit in public, they are not ok either.  They are struggling please, check on them. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How Evangelicals Have Been Hoodwinked: Rapture Theory, US American Politics, And The Potential Destruction of Israel And Palestine

The history of the Holy Land is long and bloody and complicated.
Unfortunately, US American politics has added tremendously to the complications by believing the BS that is the Rapture Theory.

And BS, it is:

In 1827, John Nelson Darby, a disgruntled parish priest in the Church of Ireland, fell from a horse and was seriously injured. In the cases of many near-death experiences, he began to question his life and faith. Over the course of five years he developed the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine “wherein Christ will suddenly remove His bride, the Church, from this world to its heavenly destiny before the judgments of the tribulation.”

In 1831 John Nelson Darby left the church and was no longer committed to the priesthood in any fashion.

Around the same time, Margaret MacDonald, of Port Glasgow, Scotland, had an unusual dream, some would call it a trance or an utterance given to her by the Holy Spirit, which further bolstered Darby’s theory.

KEEP IN MIND: this dude, Darby, made the Rapture Theory up ALL BY HIMSELF.

In 1873, Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, was appointed US District Attorney for Kansas, but that same year Scofield was forced to resign "under a cloud of scandal" because of questionable financial transactions, that may have included accepting bribes from railroads, stealing political contributions, and securing bank promissory notes by forging signatures.

Later, Scofield defrauded his mother-in-law out of her life savings; he was convicted of forgery and in another case was sent off to prison; he openly carried on with other women; abandoned his wife and family and never sent them a dime of support; when his wife finally divorced him he married the woman with whom he was living; he called himself Doctor (PhD), yet he never went to any college which could convey that degree...and in October 1883, Scofield was ordained as a Congregationalist minister...and in the early 1900’s he began working on the Scofield Reference Bible which contained annotated notes to support the Rapture Theory made up by Darby.

Friends, the Rapture is NOT Biblical.

The “Rapture” is considered to be an event in time that will signal the return of Christ to the world. Some folks will be raptured, or “taken up,” to heaven to leave others, who have not followed Christ, on earth to go through years and years of torment. Those who believe in the Rapture also typically believe that the people who will be raptured, have already been chosen.

Actually, according to Rapture theorists, the numbers tend break down like this; only 200 million people are chosen, which may seem like a lot, but it’s LESS THAN 3% of the ever growing world population. So after 2000 years of spreading the message of Jesus, according to Rapture Theory, 97% of us will not be taken up into God’s glory...and that is a pretty high failure rate for Jesus Christ the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

That’s pretty sad.

And so to advertise something like the rapture to people on street corners, not only is it false, but it’s not hopeful.

And what does this have to do with the Holy Land?

It is believed that the Jewish people must control Israel (make Jerusalem the undisputed capital of Israel) before Christ can come again.

I REPEAT: Rapture Theorists believe that the the Jewish people must control Israel before Christ can come again.

By the United States proclaiming to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, we have now officially taken sides in ways that have destroyed any possibility of a two-state solution and completely delegitimize the United States as an arbiter in the peace process


Not for peace...but because the concept of a theory that was made up by one dude suffering from PTSD following a near-death experience and one dude who was an immoral criminal looking to make a buck by writing a Bible less than 200 years ago, has corrupted our sense of Christianity, our sense of who Jesus is, and yes our US American Politics.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

This Photo Terrifies Me

A high school friend of mine recently found and posted this photograph on her Facebook feed.

This photo absolutely terrifies me.

And it's not because I find it at all embarrassing to see my soon to be seventh grade self with that hair (I'm the one at the very top in the blue shirt).

It's because I have no recollection of this moment. None at all. Not the moment this picture was taken, not the birthday we were gathered to celebrate, not the balloon fight we had just prior to gathering for this photo.

To be fair, this group - or pack, as my mother called us - spent a lot of time together both in and out of school and at various houses, celebrating birthdays throughout the year and having water balloon or snow ball fights frequently over the course of middle and high school, so one could argue that it would be easy to get one or more of those social gatherings confused or mix the details of one party into another.

And this photo is also over 20 years old.

But I'm not quite 40.

It terrifies me because I honestly have no memory of the events surrounding this photograph.


There are other moments in my life that are gone too. They just don't exist in my memory any more.

I remember several years ago my sister was recalling a family story where she and I were doing something crazy...but I don't remember at all what it was that she was telling me I had once did with her because not only is the memory of that event in the past gone, but my short term memory of being told about the event didn't quite take hold, so I've lost the initial memory and even the memory of being told the specific memory. (And when my sister reads this and then asks something like, “but what was I telling you about?” my honest answer is that I have no clue.)

My memory is screwed up. I actually have much harsher words to describe how I feel about it, but let’s just stick with “screwed up.”

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2006 and for me that includes physical symptoms (numbness and tingling in my extremities, an intentional tremor in my hands, and poor balance, to name a few), mental health symptoms (depression and anxiety), and memory issues.

Most of the physical symptoms I have learned to live with and compensate for. I take medicine that is supposed to stop the progression the disease and I take medicine for some physical symptoms and medicine for my depression and anxiety.

However, there is no medicine to bring back lost memories. There is no medicine that helps me remember the end of TV shows or movies that I have seen multiple times in the past. There is no medicine that helps me retain more than three or four pages of a book that I’ve never read before. (Which is one of the reasons why I love Harry Potter so much and why I’ve read those books upwards of fifteen or twenty times each, because I know them by heart, but I can still enjoy the characters and the plots that I’m reading without getting frustrated at myself for forgetting the chapter I just read.)

My screwed up memory is the thing that bothers me the most about having MS.

I know, I know, it could be worse (and yes, there are people with MS who have much worse symptoms and that sometimes includes much worse memory problems), but the thing is, when I’m only thinking about myself and what MS does to my life, my body, my mental health, and my memory, it really doesn’t matter to me that it could be worse, because, frankly a lot of the time it just plain sucks that I have MS.

I hate that I considered myself a dancer (ballet and some jazz and tap) from first grade all the way through high school graduation and now I struggle to walk a straight line.

I hate that I was decently athletic through high school and part of college and now I’m honestly afraid of being able to stay balanced on a bike.

I hate that I acted in plays throughout elementary and high school and into college, memorizing line after line and monologue after monologue written by other people, and now I can’t memorize a twelve minute sermon that I researched and wrote myself.

I hate that people can’t understand or don’t try to understand that I have chronic health issues simply because I “look so good” and look “too young” to be sick.

And so you may be wondering how, after living with this diagnosis for over ten years, I have come to peace with all of this.

Well...I haven’t come to peace with it on some days and on other days I have.

The nature of the disease is that no two consecutive days are the same for my symptoms so no two consecutive days are the same with my acceptance.

I know that in the midst of it, I am blessed to have my best friend and husband be incredibly patient with me day to day as I ask the same question about the same thing (TV show, scheduling issue, technology question, etc.) again and again. I am blessed to have family and friends who are not just patient, but don’t constantly ask me how I am feeling or treat me like I am sick. I am blessed that I have doctors I trust (who have assured me my memory probably won’t get worse), I am blessed that I have found an online community in a secret Facebook group of other young clergy women with chronic illness who just “get it” when whatever the “it” is needs to be said.

However, what I simply want while living with this illness and all of the chaotic issues that accompany it, is that you please don’t assume. Don’t assume about anyone, but please don’t assume that because of external assumptions you make about me that I’m not struggling with symptoms and/or that my symptoms aren't bothering me. Please don’t assume that even when I “look so good” there aren’t days that my body is screaming at me on the inside in multiple ways. Please don’t assume that I’m being lazy when I take a sick day even though I don’t look sick or when all I do on my day off is sleep (truly, all day from 9:00a-4:00p). Please don’t assume, as much as I love and respect you, that I’m going to remember every moment we’ve shared.

For now, I am healthy, given the fact that I have an incurable autoimmune disease. Being healthy with MS still comes with some pretty significant health issues, but I’ll take what I can get.

And even though I don’t remember the events surrounding this photo at all, I will revel in the comments made by my peers who were in the picture with me and, without having to remember, I will know in my heart that were having a fantabulous time.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Untold Stories - Sermon from June 12 - 4th Sunday After Pentecost

Luke 7:36-8:3

7:36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner." 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "speak." 41 "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" 43 Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." 48 Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50 And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

8:1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
This is my Bible that I bought, or maybe it was given to me, the summer I started working at Lutheridge - in 1998.  It has obviously been used...I have highlighted my favorite verses and stories, I have kept little remembrances of Bible studies shared with campers and in churches, I have folded and unfolded pages to mark is well loved.

I have always felt like the stories in the Bible are my stories, they are our stories, because they tell us about our ancestors in the faith, and these stories tell us about who we are now...these are stories but they are also truth.  Just because something is a story, doesn’t mean it isn’t true...these stories tell us the truth about our ancestors, they tell us the truth about God, they tell us the truth about ourselves.  

I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God.

I also believe and know that there are a lot of stories that are missing from this book.

You see, there are 188 women referred to by name in the Bible...compared to the 1181 men referred to by name. Only 14,000 words are spoken by women in the scriptures, which means that only about 1.2% of the words in the Bible are said by women
(Bible Women: Their words and why they matter - Lindsay Hardin freeman).’s the thing...the Bible, the word of God inspired by the Spirit, was written in over a vast period of time, but still, it was written in a particular time, in a particular  place, to some particular people - though the time periods and the place and yes, even the audience, change, it was still written with some particularities in of those particularities is that the writers were all men and they were all living throughout time periods that were steeped in a patriarchal culture; which is to say, the culture they lived in, from the home to the government and everything in between was controlled by men.

I am not trying to put a negative spin on this.  Simply stating the facts.  Women were considered “less than” and in some cases, weren’t regarded at all.  This the the culture that our Bible came from - male dominated...male ruled.  I still fully believe with my whole heart that the Bible was and is inspired by God and there are many, many places in scripture where I know God is speaking to me - Old and New Testaments, alike - however, there are a lot of stories in the scriptures that we don’t hear, but that doesn’t make them any less true.  And just because those stories aren’t found in scripture, it doesn’t mean God ignores them or sees them as less than or disregards them.

This morning, we have several stories of women who are disregarded or seen as less than simply because they are women and their stories weren’t seen as important.

First Bathsheba - we know this woman, don’t we?  We’ve heard the story of David and Bathsheba time and time again, haven’t we?  But what do we really know about her in comparison to David?  Our reading this morning gives us the second part of the story of David and his sin, but if we were to go back several verses we would read that David was being a creep and he was spying on Bathsheba while she was taking a bath on her roof as a part of the purification ritual following her menstrual cycle.  

David, liked what he saw, and even after he learns that Bathsheba is the wife of of another, a man in his army, no less, scripture says, “he sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.”  Later, she finds out she is pregnant, so David does everything he can to cover his transgression...even sending Bathsheba’s husband out to the front lines where he knows the fighting will be the heaviest and the opponents the toughest.  Bathsheba’s husband dies on the front and she mourns the death of her husband.  Then David takes her as another one of his wives.  

Bathsheba, never has a voice in any of this.  Not only do we not hear her side of the story, but it is easily assumed that her affair with David was not her choice either.  David sent to messengers to bring her to the castle after noticing her beautiful, naked body while she was taking a bath.  We could ask a couple of questions here - why was she on the roof, of all places, taking a bath?  Why didn’t she say no to the messengers of the king?  The answer to the first is a simple matter of victim blaming, it doesn’t matter where she was taking a bath; the second answer is that no one, especially a woman with little to no control over her own autonomy said no to the king, the power structure was not in her favor at all.

Maybe you learned somewhere along the way, like I think I did, that Bathsheba was some sort of temptress...but I think when we really look at this story, it is one of another voiceless woman in scripture who was the victim of the power structures of her day and the king himself.

Then, several hundred years later is the story of the sinful woman who entered Simon’s house.  What do we know about her?  That she is a sinner?  Yes. That she longs for forgiveness of her sins and she knows Jesus is the messiah who will forgive her?  Yes.  That she is a prostitute?  No.  Although, I’m guessing this is a part of the narrative you grew up with, I know I did, that she was a prostitute, because, of course, there is no other way for a woman to sin...there is nothing else a woman could do to seek the Lord’s forgiveness so boldly...I’m I selling the sarcasm here?  

Let’s see...I sin on a pretty regular basis...I’m human, I sin...I’m a woman so my only sin can be prostitution?  No, that’s not right...that has never, ever been a sin that I have committed (and the sin of the cycle of abuse and brokenness that prostitution is not solely the fault of the woman...but that’s a sermon for another time).  This is all to say that nowhere in scripture is there any evidence at all that the woman in our Gospel this morning is a prostitute.  It’s just not supported by scripture and we don’t have any specific historical information about this woman, because she’s a woman, so let’s just go ahead and acknowledge that her sin is probably something other than prostitution.  

And then the last three verses in our Gospel may be the most overlooked “Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources” (Luke 8:1-3).

Because did you know that women followed Jesus?  It’s the twelve that get the most written action about their stories, because men, but there were women who followed Jesus and supported him and the disciples out of their own resources.  These were probably independently wealthy women, which is saying that they probably held quite a status in their culture as women with their own money and resources, which was close to unheard of, and yet we just get these three little verses about the amazing women, who believed in the message of Jesus, who gave up their way of life to follow him, and who gave up their money to support him and the disciples.

One of these women, was Mary Magdalene.  But please let this be heard, despite popular church tradition (and musicals like “Jesus Christ, Superstar,”) Mary Magdalene was NOT a prostitute.  You see, the early church, the church the first couple of hundred of years after Christ, had no idea what to do with women of faith.  Still being a patriarchal society, the role of women within the church was severely restricted and the Church was looking for the best role model for women of faith, and women seeking faith, so the men of the early church, took several different women from the scriptures and smushed them all together into one archetype of the ultimate sinful woman in need of redeeming by Jesus and that’s why we think know know Mary Magdalene to be a prostitute and the one who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair.  

It’s just not true.  

Mary Magdalene was plagued with seven demons and Jesus cured her, so she became a follower of Christ who supported him out of her own pocket.  Mary Magdalene who became known as the “apostle to the apostles” because she was the first to share the good news of the risen Lord...she was not a prostitute.  You may be glad to know that the Pope made an official apology to St. Mary Magdalene and pardoned her of the title of prostitute…in 1969.

So...within the predetermined lectionary of readings this week, it is hard week for women who should have their voices heard.  Within the current events of this week, it is a hard week for women who should have their voices heard.  

Maybe you haven’t heard, because it didn’t take the national news by storm, but the Latvian Lutheran Church, voted by super-majority at their annual meeting to no longer ordain women.  They’ve been ordaining women for over 40 years, and now, they have revoked that right to women who feel called to the rostered sisters around the world have been grieving this week, because now more women in the faith have had their voice take away.  

And remember those girls kidnapped by Boko Haram over two years ago?  DO you remember them?  Their story has slipped past the headlines too, because it’s been too long for our 24hr news cycle.  219 of those girls are still missing...and did you know that more get kidnapped on on regular basis.  Those girls, who are now living lives of utter hell, where are their voices?  Where are their stories?  

Yes, it has been a tough week for women.  

Even “Emily Doe” the young woman who was the victim in the Stanford rape case, even though she made her voice heard this week, breaking the internet with her eloquent letter to her attacker that went viral, even she, wasn’t heard by our justice system.   

My friend, Colleen Montgommery wrote and shared this on her FaceBook feed this week:
“O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when the named sin of David is the taking of the little lamb Bathsheba not the sin that David committed against her.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when an unnamed woman is a pawn in the Pharisees game, when her character is slandered, even if her faith has set her free.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when the contributions of Mary, Joanna, and Susanna are forgotten.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when the ordination of women is taken away from my sisters in Latvia.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when the potential of a young man is more important than the crime he committed against a young woman, his "mistake" more important than her horror.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman.”

This has been on my heart.  These are some of the stories that I have wept over...the stories of Bathsheba in the Old Testament, the sinful woman assumed by all of time and history to be a prostitute in the Gospel, the patriarchal notion that "forgets" how many women supported Jesus and the disciples out "of their own resources," the women in the Latvian Lutheran Church, the kidnapped girls, Emily Doe, and all the women in my life and throughout the world who are silently carrying their stories of pain, victimization, and abuse.

But their stories don’t end in silence.  

Bathsheba and David would have another son, who, of all of his sons, would take David’s place on the throne.  Bathsheba would become the queen mother, which is the most prestigious role a woman could hold in her day.  Does that make the ways she was wronged, less wrong?  No, but I do think there is a bit of justice in the way she is elevated at the end of her life.

The sinful woman in Luke, hopefully we can all carry forth justice for her story and change the way she has been labeled as a prostitute, but most importantly we know, that when others refused to see her or were ashamed of her presence, Jesus saw her, loved her, and forgave her...just like Jesus was constantly seeing and giving voice to those who most needed it.  Jesus saw the importance of women in ministry, even if the writers of the Bible didn’t want to admit it and the early church glossed over it, and parts of the world still deny it, Jesus saw it and sees it.  Jesus loved them and included them so that their witness would have voice in the world for the sake of the Gospel and that’s justice.

For women all over the world who feel called to be leaders in the church, Jesus sees and knows who they are too and though it may take time, there are people empowered by the Spirit calling forth a change.  That’s justice.

Those girls...those 219 girls...may they know that they are not alone.  May they know that there are people all over this world who are also empowered by the Spirit to keep their stories alive and advocate to bring them home so that they too can have justice.

Emily Doe, in a way she poetically, created her own justice where our system failed her, her letter to her attacker was undeniably, the most moving thing I have ever read.  If you haven’t read it, please do and let it inspire you to be in conversation with others about this rape culture that we live, let it inspire you to pray for and move to seek justice for all other women in this country - one in four - who have been and will be violated in their lifetimes.

This week has been hard for women...hopefully men you have felt it too as members of the human race and brothers in Christ with those who have been hurting, where one member hurts, we all do.  This week has been hard...and yet there is hope.  

There is hope in how many women have opened up publicly and to each other about their stories of sexual assault so that Emile Doe can feel less alone, so that their voices can be heard too, some for the first time.  

There is hope that, politics aside, this country has its first ever female as a presumptive nominee of a major political party.  There is hope that women’s voices in politics are starting to be heard.

There is hope every time we share the unspoken stories; every time we stand with those who feel unheard or mislabeled or ignored.

There is hope that Emily Doe has chosen to remain anonymous, but not quiet, as she has released another public statement: “I remain anonymous, yes to protect my identity. But it is also a statement, that all of these people are fighting for someone they don't know. That's the beauty of it. I don't need labels, categories, to prove I am worthy of respect, to prove that I should be listened to. I am coming out to you as simply a woman wanting to be heard. Yes there is plenty more I'd like to tell you about me. For now, I am every woman."

There is hope that we, all of us, who feel unheard or feel less than or are mislabeled, there is the hope and the knowledge that Jesus sees you.  Jesus knows you.  Jesus claims you and your story too.  When you need it, Jesus forgives you.  But most importantly, Jesus loves you, and that’s justice.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

An Open Letter to Governor Pat McCrory

Dear Governor McCrory, 

My heart is heavy and has been for weeks. Actually, it's more than heavy, I'm truly heartsick over the rushed passing of House Bill 2, what is nationally being called "the bathroom bill."  

From my perspective as a white, cisgender, mother of one young son, there is so much more wrong with it than just the blatant discrimination against people who are transgender - people who identify with the gender that is opposite of what they were assigned at birth. The truth is that LGBTQ (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Questioning) youth and adults are statistically much more likely to be harmed in a public restroom than any other population of people.

According to many national studies, including this one by the National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender youth and adults live with a higher risk of bullying, physical and sexual harassment, severe depression, attempted and completed suicide attempts. These facts alone make me sad and heartsick...and now, with HB2, you have succeeded in further marginalizing an already at risk and victimized group of people. You have also infringed upon their legal right, and the right of any other minority group, to pursue claims of discrimination. 

This makes me sad. 

However, another piece about HB2 that makes me me mad, is that, once again, I feel like a group of men (because our North Carolina political leadership is mostly men) have come together to legally tell me, as a woman, what I should be fearful of and legally tell me, as a woman, how they are going to take care of me from this so-called perceived danger of transgender women using the same public bathroom I may be using with my young son. 

PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO THIS - women in this country, and yes, in North Carolina, are more at risk in THEIR OWN HOMES than in a public restroom.  

If you are serious about my safety and the safety of all women in this state, please start taking domestic violence seriously. Here are some staggering statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

- Every 9 seconds in the US, a woman is assaulted or beaten.
- Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.
- 1 in 5 women in the United States has been raped in their lifetime and almost half of those victims, were raped by an acquaintance or intimate partner.
- 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.

Children in this country, and yes, in North Carolina, are more at risk of being preyed upon by SOMEONE THE FAMILY ALREADY KNOWS than a stranger in a public restroom.

If you are serious about the safety of children in this state, please start taking child abuse and neglect seriously.  The statistics from National Children's Alliance about reported child abuse in North Carolina in 2013 make it obvious only about 8% of abusers were unknown by their victims, which means that 92% of abused children knew their perpetrators.

Conversely, spokespeople from the Transgender Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, and the American Civil Liberties Union have no statistical evidence that a trans person has ever attacked a cisgender person in a public restroom. The National Center for Transgender Equality has "not heard of a single instance of a transgender person harassing a non-transgender person in a public restroom. Those who claim otherwise have no evidence that this is true and use this notion to prey on the public's stereotypes and fears about transgender people."  Laws like HB2 and others are vehicles for instilling fear of trans and gender-nonconforming people.

The statistics speak for themselves. Governor McCrory and North Carolina law-makers, please quit legislating out of ignorance and fear.  

If you are serious about the safety of women and children in this state, then find ways to educate about sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse. Find ways to teach our young people about matters of consent and rape-culture. Find ways to educate about sexual assault on college campuses. Find ways to educate whole families and communities about child abuse and neglect. Fund organizations that are working to educate on these issues. Fund organizations that are working with the victims, children and adults, of abuse and sexual violence.

There are ways that you can legitimately work to keep women and children safe in this state. HB2 is not one of those ways. HB2 does nothing more than perpetuate the myth that transgender and non-gender conforming individuals are child predators. HB2 does nothing to protect women and children in restrooms, it does nothing to protect anyone, in fact, it may actually put transgender people in more danger, (but that has yet to be proven).  

As long as you stand by HB2, as a voter in North Carolina, you will never have my vote. 

Rev. Naomi Sease Carriker
Charlotte, NC


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

No, My Son Is Not Lucky

It seems to be inevitable that when people find out that my husband and I adopted our son, we hear comments like "he's so lucky he got you" or "what a lucky boy to have you for parents."

While I know that these comments come from a genuine positive place of recognition of our (mostly) happy little family and I'm flattered that people notice that our parenting skills do rock, phrases like these make me cringe on the inside, even if I do a good job of hiding that reaction from the one giving the "complement."

The truth is, my son is not lucky.

To call him lucky really denies some serious pain and grief that has already occurred in his little life. To call him lucky really denies that the first year and a half of his life was filled with sorrow that no child should ever endure.  To call him lucky really denies that even his time in utero was not healthy. To call him lucky really denies a huge part of his story that is not filled with care and joy and all the other things that babies need in order to survive and thrive.  To call him lucky really denies all of these events that will forever shape and form him, even if he cannot remember them.

Am I glad that we have him?  Yes.  Am I filled with joy every single day because he is my son?  Yes!  Am I glad that he chose us (because he really chose us just as much as we chose him)?  Yes, absolutely!  Are we lucky?  Sure, in some ways we are, in mostly the same ways other families are, but it's not luck or God's blessing that brought us together.  

We were brought together because some adults who were not really ready to have a child, or raise a child, or care for a child (because they couldn't even take care of themselves) had a child.  We were brought together because some other adults (doctors, nurses, and a whole team of medical staff) intervened so that my son would have fighting chance.  We were brought together because some other adults (Children and Youth Services) realized that my son's situation was dire enough to have him removed from that situation. We were brought together because some other adults took our son into their home for a temporary time to be his parents (his foster family) and help him start getting the care and love that he so desperately needed and deserved.  

We were brought together because the system in our country that is place to care for children in need worked and it worked relatively well, but within that short time before we were brought together by some really, really loving and compassionate adults who were making up for some really, really crappy decisions made by his birth parents, my son was far from lucky, he was far from blessed, he was in his own little hell that I carry in my heart always.  A hell that I couldn't protect him from because I wasn't his mommy then, a hell that no child should live through, a hell that does not make him lucky.

And so what is he?  He is a fighter.  He is brave beyond any words.  He is beautiful and artistic and sensitive and joyful. He also might be one of the strongest and most courageous people I know because he not only had the strength to save himself by surviving a terrible situation, but he also had the courage and the strength to learn to open up to love and to be loved by others.

So, if you're looking for the right words when in conversation with an adoptive family, try this, "thank you."  Thank you for living through the stress of adoption.  Thank you for working through the system to forge a family.  Thank you for bearing your own pain (because there might be A LOT of grief within the adoptive family too) and thank you for bearing your child's pain to be the loving parents that you are.

Adoptive families are not formed by luck, they usually formed by a lot of pain and heartbreak, but ultimately they are formed by love.

No, my son is not lucky, but he is loved beyond words.

Monday, December 21, 2015

I Became A Mother In A Parking Lot

Motherhood is such a loaded word. 

How different mothers live into motherhood is always going to be very different, even when it's sort of the same. 

How mothers become mothers is a little more similar than different.  The baby has got to come out of the female body - vaginally or cesarean.  Of course, where and how babies are born differ in so many ways, depending on culture, geography, socioeconomic status, preference, and many other factors, but the truth is, there are two ways for a baby to come into the world.

Most mothers I know experienced this sort of introduction to motherhood - pregnancy, labor, delivery, and infant. 

A fewer number of mothers I know had a much different sort of labor and delivery.  

As a mother through adoption, my delivery occurred in a parking lot of a park and ride off of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  This was the same parking lot that my husband and I had met to pick up or drop off our son from and with his foster family for several pre-adoptive visits prior to his permanent home coming.  This parking lot wasn't special, it was just a simple matter of accessibility.  It was about the mid-way point between us and my son's foster family, so that's where we met.  

We came to know this particular parking-lot really well. 

However, on December 20, 2013 there would be no trip back to trade him off once again.  This time, we were picking him up to bring him home for good. 

We met in our usual spot, but this time everyone piled out of the cars as we moved the few things he had into our car, took pictures, shared hugs, and said thank yous and goodbyes.

My husband sat in the backseat with our son on the way home.  As I drove on the Turnpike, watching occasionally and cautiously in the rear-view mirror at my growing family, it struck me that I just became a mother.  

I was a new mom and, though the labor and delivery were much different, I was definitely feeling all the feelings of a new mom: 

I was overjoyed. 

I was excited. 

I was terrified. 

And I cried as I watched my family in the backseat - joy and fear, excitement and intimidation - I cried because I had just become a mother in a parking lot.