So excited to be recognized as a Local Hero in the Winston Salem Magazine for the work I do with spiritual wellness!
So excited to be recognized as a Local Hero in the Winston Salem Magazine for the work I do with spiritual wellness!
Tennis became my favorite sport as a teen. Being a child of the mountains in the ’70s and ’80s, athletic options were fairly limited for girls. The equal opportunity of Title IX had yet to make it to my hometown. I discovered tennis on TV. I loved the international flavor of competition, the sportsmanship most players showed (I was never a John McEnroe fan), and admittedly, the cute outfits the women wore. There was no team on which I could play, but my Dad brought out some old wooden racquets, and our family would hit around on local courts.
My high school did have a boys’ team, and even though I kept asking for a girls’ team, no coach cared enough to make it happen. The tennis coach asked me to be the manager for the boys’ team. He even gave me a Letter as a Senior for tennis. (Yes, I achieved an athletic Letter, even though I never played one point in a match.) He was a kind man – I was very organized and took care of a number of things he was too tired to care about – and I guess that was his way of thanking me. I haven’t kept much from high school, but I kept that letter – it’s on a cardigan sweater, with my academic Letter on the opposite side.
I am glued to the tv, and now my computer, and even phone, when the Grand Slams occur 4 times a year. A few years back, my friend Tracey and I went to the US Open for a few days. It was definitely some of the best days of my life.
Saturday’s evening match at the US Open was decidely memorable. Teen phenom, 15 year old Coco Gauff, played defending champ, 21 year old Naomi Osaka. Gauff made a good run at Wimbledon, taking out her idol Venus Williams along the way. Yet, Osaka’s game was too much for young Gauff, and the girl understandably found herself in tears at the end of the match.
TV matches always offer a quick interview with the winner. The other player normally makes a quick exit to the locker room, letting the winner bask in the glow for a few minutes on their own. The loser oftentimes just wants to get off the court and go cry or be angry without thousands or millions watching them. Yet, Saturday night was special. The video above shows Osaka comforting Gauff, and even encouraging her to be interviewed with her. This move was not only unusual – it was unheard of. Commentators were floored by the compassion and generosity.
These two young women of color displayed dedication, extremely hard work and effort, kindness, respect, and resilience. Venus and Serena have paved a way for young women of color to make their way in the tennis world, and beyond. In the midst of a society where white supremacists are still quite prominent, and quieter racism is a daily thing, it took far more than just athletic ability to make a name (and even the greatest name for Serena) in one of the whitest of sports in the US.
Osaka and Coco understand that making one’s way in the world, especially in a world dominated by patriarchy and racism, takes courage, cooperation, and community. The mutual respect and support displayed Saturday night provides a powerful message for all of us. When we support others, and lift them up, especially if they are seen as our “opponent,” our world will be all the better. And we ourselves will be all the better for it. It makes us better and stronger people to show compassion.
I look forward to seeing many more matches with Gauff and Osaka in the future. I enjoy their playing ability, but I appreciate who they are as leaders and role models even more.
Last week was a whole lot like life in general – the truly wonderful intermingled with the truly awful. I was fortunate enough to be in Albuquerque during the time elected representatives of my denomination, the United Methodist Church, were at a called international General Conference – gathered to figure out a way forward from division over the issue of homosexuality. My denomination has a long history of focusing on social justice and progressive ideas. The fact that I, as a woman, am clergy is representative of that. My denomination also has a long history of trying to be an umbrella which is inclusive, even in terms of theological interpretation. We have been straddling this fence for so long that it is not tenable anymore. If we were only a national denomination, the decision to be fully inclusive and welcoming would have been made well before now. But we are not. And so a minority of conservatives, funded by outside sources which also have tried to shape our political landscape, have been able to band together with international delegates to pass a plan which is virulent in its condemnation and scope.
The fact is that our churches are filled with people who identify as LGBTQIA. I have more clergy friends than I can count across this country who identify along those lines, and some of whom have long-standing marriages with happy children. One of those colleagues said to me last week, “They will have to pry my ordination from my hands.” And in my over 20 years of collegiate ministry, I have sat with far too many young people whose families and churches broke ties or condemned them because of gender or sexual identity. How can anyone hear those stories from God’s children and support such legislation as barely passed in St. Louis last week?
This isn’t the end. Most of the legislation has already been ruled unconstitutional, and in all likelihood our Judicial Council will affirm the unconstitutionality next month when it meets. But the damage has been done. The fight for property and the name of what it means to be Methodist will continue, but the pain and suffering inflicted on my siblings cannot be undone.
The good part for me last week was being at the annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Chaplains. Close to 200 were gathered, and one of my joys was seeing all the young women who were present. It filled my heart to hear their stories, ideas, and vision for collegiate ministry. Our closing dinner took place Tuesday evening, on the heels of the final vote at General Conference. I was seated at dinner with some other UM clergy, and two young women from colleges in the Northeast. One is Muslim, and the other is Jewish. In the few minutes before food arrived, we had all been instructed to share with our dinner companions about positive things that had occurred from the chaplains’ conference. All of us UM ministers were so grateful for the support of the rest of the chaplains, and as I explained a bit of what was going on with the UMC to these two young women, I told them that the highlight of the conference was seeing so many young women, and especially of different faiths, present at the conference. I told them it gave me hope for the future. And I started to cry. The Muslim woman immediately reached out to hug me.
LR Knost wrote a poem that states we are all drops in the same ocean. When I see the goodness, the love, the compassion, the humanity from our younger generations, I see hope. When I see what we have in common, what binds us together, I see hope. When I see that the wisdom of the Divine Spirit speaks in more languages and manners that we can possibly imagine, I see hope.
There is much work to be done in my denomination, my church family. The Spirit of God will continue to move and work in powerful ways, regardless of what happens. And I will not abandon those who have been wounded so deeply. With the compassion my young colleague showed me last week, I will continue to reach out my arms to include, and love, and lift up each one of my siblings. I see hope…
“When we stay silent, we are just as much to blame as those we fight against, and fight is what we must do…”
These powerful words concluded another compelling episode of NBC’s show, Timeless. This amazing show is in its second season (and unfortunately, just a short season of 10 eps), and it just continues to get better and better. The diverse characters are fully realized – strong, goofy, intelligent, complicated, loyal. Women are changing the world – they support each other – and their lives do not revolve around a romantic interest (even when there is one present). It’s hard to believe each person isn’t actually a real person, even if they are the “bad guy.” It has action, humor, drama. But the best part is the social and human truth it embodies each week.
Last night’s episode was about the Suffragist Movement. Once again, the show uncovered forgotten history, and showed how women were treated as they tried to have their rights represented. We all know that being able to vote does not make one an equal citizen, but it is a crucial first step. As we have seen the rights of anyone in this country who is not a white male (and supposedly Christian) trampled in the past couple years, this show could not be more timely. The parallels between the various historical settings each week and what is occurring in 2018 hits almost too close to home. In the climax of the episode last night, these words were uttered, “When we stay silent, we are just as much to blame as those we fight against, and fight is what we must do…”
Silence is complicity. If we ignore the oppression of others in our society and do not make the effort to speak and to act, then we are just as bad as the oppressors. If we act like all lives matter, without realizing that black and brown ones suffer far more proportionally, then we are part of the problem. If we choose not to worry too much about women dealing with sexual harassment and assault and lower pay, then we are part of the problem. If we turn off the tv when we see a child ripped from a parent because of lies about immigration, then we are part of the problem. When we choose to ignore continual lies and inflammatory language from our highest elected official, then we are part of the problem.
It reminds me of that old bumper sticker, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” But anger is not enough. The anger needs to propel us to action.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and once again this evening I will lead a meditation and candle service for students. Many of these students are living in the aftermath of sexual abuse and assault. Others will be present because this issue has affected people they love. Working with women who have been impacted by this pervasive problem is one of the most important parts of my ministry – and also one of the most challenging. I have lost sleep, filled with concern and pain for young women who have endured experiences no one should have to endure. I have found myself at a complete loss for words, when students have hoped I would know the right thing to say. I have learned over the years that the most important thing I can do is to be present – to show compassion. And as I am present, I also know I can offer a word of grace.
The church has so often failed women when it comes to sexual assault and abuse. How many sermons have we heard about King David being tempted by the lovely Bathsheba? This biblical story is truly about a king, taking a young married woman who had no power to reject his advances. And how many sermons have we heard about Esther, wrapping King Ahasuerus around her finger, when in fact she was a political prisoner who was kept with numerous other women in a harem?
As do so many of us clergy nowadays, I decided to do a quick Google search about prayers for sexual assault survivors, seeing if some words of grace might appear on my computer screen. A few helpful things popped up, but most were simple prayers that begin with the phrase “Father God.” I know from my many years of working with women that praying to a male deity is one of the last things most of them want.
Even in the shadow of #Metoo, the church still believes a male head can take care of everything.
The biblical understanding of God is that God is above and beyond gender, above and beyond human constraints and understanding. Yet, the church remains comfortable with allowing a patriarchal world to dictate how we understand the Divine, no matter who it might harm. When will the church get out of its own way and encourage a connection with the Divine that is truly life-giving, compassionate, and helpful? And for the people who reply that perhaps a loving heavenly Father can bring healing – I do agree – but that should be at the individual’s instigation. It should not be the primary way she is forced to engage with the deity.
A significant number of women sitting in churches understand sexual assault and abuse all too well. They keep their stories buttoned up, tucked away deep inside, and listen to the images of a male figure taking care of it all. Let’s open up these stories, these images, and allow the Spirit of the Divine to flow as She will.
My Wandering Uterus is officially in print! I am excited that my chapter, “The Threshold of the Sheela,” is part of this collection. The book shares stories of women and their travels, and all the challenges, insights, and gifts such journeys entail.
I saw the call for submissions a number of months ago on the Facebook page of Byron Ballard. I first met Byron when she was a bookseller at my favorite bookstore in Asheville. The store had the best spirituality section in town, and I was a young minister who loved books. I often entered the store with an energetic toddler in tow. Byron would entertain him while I leisurely browsed. Once my son was old enough that he was not always with me, Byron would always ask after him and share how much she loved his little jean baseball cap he always wore. (I actually still have that cap in storage – it’s a fond memory of my journey of motherhood.)
When Bryon wrote about the concept for the book, I immediately knew my pilgrimage to Iona several years ago was a story I needed to share. My chapter tells of this pilgrimage, exile, a Sheela-na-gig, and my ongoing irritation with St. Augustine and his view on women. I hope you will purchase a copy!
A blessing for 2018:
Women-mothers are made of fire. We hold the potential to both burn and balm, harm and heal, inearth and illuminate, exhaust and embrace. It is this same fire that can mold fear into double-edged weapons with the intention to protect against the violence of darkness. This darkness will choose to harm you, like others have, attempting to destroy your light. But it will fail.
Daughters, your fire holds the potential to either burn or balm the cracks between your broken heart, to harm or heal the darkened skin across your arms, to inearth or illuminate hopeful visions of your future self, to exhaust or embrace the woman you ar e becoming.
May we women realize that we are fire. We must remember, more often, to feel its warmth.
There are a number of women saints who have intrigued me over the years. At this time of year, I tend to recall fondly stories of St. Brigid. She, along with St. Patrick, are the two patron saints of Ireland. Now it’s hard to pin down what is historically accurate about a woman named Brigid who lived 1500 years ago and what are mythical stories that developed.
And it really doesn’t matter. The Celtic imagination knows that truth and inspiration can be found in these stories, no matter what may have factually occurred.
One story about Brigid is that she was the midwife during the birth of Jesus. Now we know that Brigid lived about 450 years after Jesus, but that’s beside the point. The story of Brigid helping Mary give birth to the Prince of Peace provides real truth. The figure of Brigid herself is all about new life, giving birth, transitioning to a new way of existing.
Throughout most of history, wise women were midwives. These were women who understood nature and creation. They used the gifts of creation to help mothers as they endured the traumatic physical event of giving birth. Then they made certain this new little baby transitioned from the safety of the womb to a new existence in this world.
The message for this season of the year is about giving birth, symbolically transitioning to a new life. For each person here, we have all experienced transitions to a new life – a new birth.
Our first transition was a physical birth, just like the baby Jesus.
We had new births when we started school, and were students.
We had new births if younger siblings came along – and we birthed a new identity as an older sibling.
We have new births with celebration of birthdays – becoming a teen, a legal adult, a person of middle age, a retired individual.
We have births with new jobs and vocational opportunities.
We have new births when we enter into deep relationships which transform us and enable us to grow.
We have new births when we discover our calling in life, and take steps towards on that journey.
And at each point with the new births in our lives, there have been midwives – people who have used their gifts to ease the pain of transition and to help us be healthy and strong as we encounter our new lives.
During this Christmas season, I encourage everyone to think about how you can be a midwife. How can we be like St. Brigid, helping birth a new world?
We can seek to ease pain and suffering – whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual. We can offer words and actions of kindness and grace. As we celebrate the Prince of Peace today, we can share peace with others – and especially others who may not bring peace to us.
We can offer hope. We live in days when we are constantly bombarded by images and actions of violence, hatred, divisiveness, and fear. Hope can keep us moving forward on days when the awfulness around us can paralyze us. A midwife recognizes hope, encourages it, and helps others live in hope – no matter what we might encounter.
St. Brigid – whether she was a real woman, simply a legend which developed, or a combination of the two – inspires us to be midwives – to move forward to a new life, a new birth, a new way of being filled with peace, love, compassion, and hope. Let each one of us seek to be like St. Brigid – a midwife. Let us seek to help birth a new life, a new world, around us.
Today, as we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, I would like to close with the hearth prayer of St. Brigid.
Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.
Mothers of our mother, Foremothers strong.
Guide our hands in yours,
Remind us how to kindle the hearth.
To keep it bright, to preserve the flame.
Your hands upon ours, Our hands within yours,
To kindle the light, Both day and night.
The Mantle of Brigid about us,
The Memory of Brigid within us,
The Protection of Brigid keeping us
From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness.
This day and night,
From dawn till dark, From dark till dawn. Amen.
The news has been inundated this past week about Harvey Weinstein and his decades of sexual harassment and assault of women. When the story first broke, I wasn’t surprised. I know a great many women who were not surprised. This is par for the course in living life as a woman. (Yes, there are men who deal with this as well, but it is a pervasive issue for women.) John Oliver rightly chided the Academy for congratulating itself on getting rid of seemingly the one man who does this kind of thing in Hollywood.
Sunday evening brought forth a different way to highlight the pervasive nature of sexual harassment and assault in our society. This message filled social media –
Copied: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
It is really difficult to find a woman who has not dealt with this at some point in her life, and oftentimes on multiple occasions. It doesn’t matter how we are dressed, where we are, or what jobs we have (yes, women clergy deal with this all the time). And if we choose to report this, we know everything about us and our lives will be questioned as if it were our fault. We know people will doubt our stories, or think perhaps we just took things the wrong way. We know others will look at us with pity, instead of us as an autonomous individual who is competent and capable. And all that doesn’t even begin to touch on the nightmares or flashbacks – all the times we have to overcome fear or anxiety and attempt to trust ourselves or another person.
When I saw all the “Me, too” posts on FB, I continually tapped the anger emoticon. I’m angry. I’m mad as hell. The media keeps talking about being shocked, but this is a country who elected a serial assaulter as President, and wrote off his bragging as locker-room talk. This is a society that tells women they should dress in sexy and attractive ways, and then completely tears apart her clothing choices when she deals with harassment or assault. This is a society that encourages boys to be tough and powerful, and shames them when they are sensitive or cry.
The focus needs to be removed from the women, and placed on the men. What makes men think this is okay or acceptable? Certainly our legal system makes it easy to act in this way, and the falling back of Title IX (by a woman selected by Trump) does not help in the least. Men need to give other men loud and clear messages about what is appropriate and respectful behavior to women. And while I despise the men who say “since I have daughters I speak out about this topic,” we need to think seriously about the messages we give our children – whether or not they are our legal children. I have reared both a boy and a girl. It wasn’t easy talking about these things, but we did it. And we continue talking about these things. One of my goals for my son was to make him the best male feminist around. I knew it was critical to counteract the messages he received from society about how boys should treat girls, and what it meant to be a real man. As a mother to a son, I know I can do a great deal to help change this culture, one man at a time.
I hope people don’t just say they are shocked, or feel bad about the situation. I hope they get angry – angry enough to change our culture and our legal system.
As a young teenager, I began to realize that life was not always fair. That moment of realization is never easy for anyone, but my Mom offered the wise words of Robert Burns, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” I have not been so eloquent in helping my children navigate the difficult days of life. I’ve normally told them that life really sucked sometimes. (Sorry Mom – I know you taught me better.)
A few weeks ago, I learned that my friend, Merrill, was in her last days of life due to breast cancer. I met Merrill one year ago, when she was assigned as my mentor with the Haden Institute, where I had enrolled for the two year Spiritual Directors Training. I specifically remember when I first laid eyes on her. I recall what she wore (she was a cool dresser), and the way she tilted her head. I knew during those first moments that she was the perfect mentor for me.
Merrill and I had a couple really great conversations during that first long weekend training. There were numerous points of connection with our lives, and she just really “got” where I was in my life. From the very beginning, I knew I could be 100% me with Merrill, warts and all. I could do that because Merrill was always 100% Merrill. She was one of the most authentic people I have ever known. And that authenticity empowered me to be the most me I could be. In thinking about her life and spirit in recent days, The Velveteen Rabbit came to mind. The children’s book tells of a stuffed animal who became “real” because it was loved. Merrill loved life – she loved creation – she loved to dance and art and poetry – she loved people – and she was as real as they come. And this vibrant person empowered others to be “real” because of who she was.
Merrill died while our mentee group was assembled. We were together when we heard the news, and after tears and words, we chose to go to the stone labyrinth and journey its path. Merrill was a lover of the labyrinth, and especially encouraged others to dance along the walkway. As our group followed the path to our destination, a pileated woodpecker appeared on the ground just before us. After a few moments – just long enough for all of us to have a good look – it took flight, and then began making the cawing racket only this bird can make.
Merrill’s voice and presence were real, inspiring, and loud (symbolically!). She was far too young to leave us, but all of us who loved her know her presence will remain with us. She was the real thing, and I know many of us have been inspired and encouraged by her to be the realest we can be, too.
Here’s to the real – here’s to Merrill.
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writer, reader, minister, spiritual director and guide, wedding officiant
Author of books on death & grief, Christian meditation, Sabbath practice, and interfaith marriage