Thursday, February 23, 2017

Release the Women

For the past ten years, Baptist Women in Ministry has promoted a yearly event called the Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching. During the month of February, Baptist congregations are encouraged to have a woman preach for one of the Sundays--a minister at the church, a divinity school student, a layperson from the congregation, etc. It is always such fun to see the pictures go up on their Facebook page. It has been better to be asked to preach, at least for me.

When the event started a decade ago, our church was very good at promoting it. And for our congregation to be one of the few baptist congregations in Wake Forest, this was very good for our community as well. But somewhere along the line, the emphasis disappeared. Our pastor would turn in the name of a woman who had preached in January or February so it would appear on the list, but there was not a mention of the reason for the Martha Stearns Marshall event.

For the past few years, nothing has been said. To say how disappointing this is does not go far enough. Where is the emphasis on our women preachers? Our daughters and sons need to see their example. We need to emphasize the equal calling of both men and women as our preachers. After all, our shared values for our church say that God gifts men and women equally.

Today I was reading Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, and she mentioned a Korean megachurch pastor Dr. David Yong-gi Cho who told other Korean pastors that their churches would grow if only they released the women to allow them to do what God calls them to do. As I pondered this account--and as I think about our own small church's decline--I cannot help but see the correlation in our lack of emphasis on women preaching. Sure women do continue to preach from time to time, but the full and equal gifts that God gives have not been emphasized.

In no way do I say it is a causation. I just find it interesting in the correlation it presents.

What would happen if all churches fully released their women to find their passion for ministry? For too long churches have relegated women to the nursery, the fellowship team, etc. Our own church has a vital ministry called Sew Buddies that came about because a woman was released to follow her passion. I think that there are others in our congregation that could be released. But if there is no support, no encouragement from the leaders, then it is not going to happen.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Success is Not a Christian Goal

George Barna loves to come out with a lot of statistics about Christian churches, specifically evangelical churches. For many years I have heard of his reports that indicate that churches are in decline, that people do not put as much importance on church-going as in years past, and that the way we worship needs to change in order to reach young people.

I have also heard in the past year sermons that seem to indicate that if our faith was great enough then the churches would be more successful and growing. My pastor preached a sermon titled "The Fear of Success" last year, and yesterday's lectionary text from 1 Corinthians 3 became a sermon on how we need to be mature Christians in order to grow our congregation.

But I have a big problem with this idea of success because of one fundamental question...

Where in the bible does it say that the goal of a Christian is to be successful? 

Our full-time pastors are pushed into growing congregations because their very livelihood depends on the offerings that are collected. It's either grow numbers or have people give more. As society shifts their church attendance to other things for any of a variety of reasons, we are left with churches that are struggling financially. It is no wonder I hear this topic of success come up these days.

The so-called prosperity preachers from television also preach a version of success. Most people can see through them--see through to the fact that while the preacher takes your hard-earned dollar, that same preacher is living in a mansion and owns multiple cars and/or a jet. Yet how is this different from the sermons I have heard about being a successful Christian?

If we look to the bible to see stories of successful Christians, we fall short. How many of the early Christians lost their lives--a sure indication that they were not successful. Even Jesus was killed. By the world's standards, he was not successful.

Let's stop fooling ourselves by saying a greater faith will lead to success.

The goal of a Christian is to be a devoted follower of Christ. It may mean a degree of personal sacrifice, ridicule, a path less taken. But the goal is not success. Faith is lived day-by-day; and many days we will fail. Our faith gives us courage to try again...and again...and again.

In the future, our churches will have to change. They will need pastors not reliant on a full-time salary. They will need Christians that pursue faith when the world is going to call them foolish. Our Christian worldview needs to shift from the pursuit of success to the holy and narrow path of faith. In that place, there is no fear.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

After the Confirmation

What now?

Many Americans are deeply disappointed today. Despite phone calls, letters, emails, town hall meetings, and social media blasts, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by an tie-break vote in the Senate. It seems a disgrace in itself that it is was a tie--there could be no more sign of the controversy than a tie.

What do we, the ones in favor of a strong public school system and education in general do now?

First, go make a few jokes to relieve the tension. Perhaps you can say that you are now a brain surgeon because qualifications and education doesn't matter anymore. Make some Delores Umbridge memes. Talk about grizzlies. Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. Then it is time to get to work.

Look and see how your Representatives and Senators voted. If they voted in favor of DeVos, see if DeVos had contributed to them. Remember how we called their offices in an attempt to influence their vote? Call them again--or email or write or Tweet--and let them know that you hold them accountable. Make sure to say your memory of their vote will be on your mind when he or she comes up for re-election--even if it is 5+ years until that election. If your Senator or Representative voted against DeVos, write a note of encouragement thanking him or her. It is important to let our elected officials know that they represent the people.

Also write or email DeVos. Let her know that she is accountable (her favorite word) for our public schools. She isn't going to care--she is looking for a return on her investment (in the campaign contributions she has spent), but it might be good to have an outlet for anger you feel.

Next, get involved with your own local school board. Attend meetings, run for open positions, at least read about what has went on in a  meeting. Your local school board affects you most. If you are paying the property taxes, they are using your monies. Learn the history of your county's school board (Wake County put out a great video just yesterday about the consolidation of Wake County and City Schools for instance).

Listen to the stories and research about why public schools matter. "This American Life" has some great episodes about where public schools are working and how they work best. Keep your ears open. If you see or hear research, learn about who financed it to see which way it will skew. Learn who lobbies for public schools and who lobbies against them.

Most of all, if you are in any way involved in a public school, support the teachers. Many are discouraged by today's vote and want to give up because the vote has been a kick in the face. It goes against everything they know and love. So get involved in advocating for our public school teachers. Join the PTA if you have a student in a public school. Volunteer in a public school and get to know the teachers and the incredible, life-changing work they do every day. If your child attends a public school, send in notes of encouragement to the teachers. Send in supplies. Send flowers and chocolate and giftcards to the local coffee shop. Never stop support of them in your discouragement. We know that any one of them is better qualified than DeVos, but they can feel your support through your voice. Use it.

Above all, don't lose hope. Millions are in the public school system and millions have been successful because of public schools. That track record is verifiable. Keep your eyes on truth and let your voice be heard.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Stop Scaring the Children

As a parent, you learn there are many fears that your children may have in life. The fear of thunderstorms. The fear of monsters under the bed. The fear of losing someone close to them. The fear of bullies.

Add a new fear: the fear of a president.

Today, my 8 year old son as waiting in carpool. When I drove up, I could tell he was not happy. Upon entering my car, he told me what a bad day it had been. "Was someone mean to you?" I asked. He didn't want to voice his fear aloud. I don't blame him--voicing it makes it real.

My son told me through his tears that he was scared of President Trump because Trump would build a wall and start a war.

My 8 year old is expressing a fear that I never would have ever entertained at 8 or even at 38.

Yet here we are.

President Trump, for the love of God--STOP! You are scaring the children.

Then I saw another scared child. One from this weekend. Apparently standing with her hands
handcuffed behind her back. I know of no child that age that stands with hands behind his or her back. Until I have proof otherwise, this child is in handcuffs. And why? I know any child would be afraid in such a situation.

Children learn a lot from what adults do, especially those adults who are in positions of authority. President Trump, I'm fighting you tooth and nail so my son will not be looking to you as a role model.

Instead, my son will be kind to others. He will not judge someone based on their skin color or their religious beliefs. He will continue to give loving hugs to the people he meets at church and at school. Ironically, if he did not know what Trump looked like and Trump went into our church or school, he would get a hug, too. A fact that breaks my heart. But he knows what you look like, President Trump. And I can say with confidence, that he would run and hide from you.

Every day for the last ten days I have fought for my son's peace of mind against you, President Trump. No action I have seen come from you in the last ten days has been a Christian one. In a world where I teach my son to think about how to be kind to others, you stand in my way because you think of no one but yourself and how you always have to look good.

Well you don't.

You look like a hateful, revenge-seeking dictator who will stop at nothing to divide America and conquer it.

So as I look to my bible, and I read Micah 6:8 from this past Sunday's Old Testament lesson: God has shown you, O Mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

So I told my son the same thing I did on November 9th when he woke up to the devastating news that you would be our 45th president: he must be kind. He must show kindness to all he meets. Many people will be sad for a long time. Some will also be angry.

But the kindness of one child can defeat you, President Trump.

Don't you know God uses the weak to confound the wise?

My son and others like him who commit themselves to kindness toward others will defeat you. As a Christian, I know how this ends. And I know the secret to living without fear.

In the meantime, you should be ashamed of yourself for scaring the children. Shame on you!

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Where Have All the Evangelical Southern Baptist Women Gone?

Last month, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention posted an article by Laura Thigpen that they had gotten from from her post on the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's Women Life webpage. The difference in the separate postings is in the title. The original post on the SEBTS website is titled "The Voice of Evangelical Women." The ERLC's title is "Where are the Voices of Evangelical Women?"

I'm not going to address the article for the SEBTS Women's Life page. I understand why they need an article like this because of what happened in the conservative take-overs of the seminary 20 years ago.

But why would the ERLC even decide to post this article? Isn't their leadership the ones that were responsible for these very voices being silenced?

I will tell you that there are more evangelical women speaking out now than ever before. Thanks to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other internet sources, evangelical women have a voice--even if their churches will not allow them to step behind a pulpit or teach men. We are talking. It is just that no one listens. And if they do listen, we tend to get mansplained.

However, for those in the Southern Baptist Convention who are perplexed, here is what happened:

Once in Southern Baptist life, there were strong women leaders. They were in Southern Baptist Churches all over the world. They taught the Sunday School classes; the mission classes; they stood up and prayed during worship; and, yes, they sometimes preached (though it may have been called a speech or something).

In my own life, I was a Southern Baptist girl from the time I was born. I went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I was inspired by both the men and women in my church to seek out what God was calling me to do with my life. I went through Mission Friends, GAs, Acteens, and came to the realization that I was called to ministry--though it would be another decade before that ministry gift would be revealed. I did everything that I was supposed to do, but because I was female the SBC cut me out.

On the very Sunday after the "Baptist Faith & Message" was adopted in 2000. I left my SBC church and joined one that was affiliated with the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. This was due to the one statement, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

And many other women left the SBC because of that very reason. There was no place for them. These are women poised to preach and prophesy, but there was no room for them at the SBC table. They were told to be silent or get out.

One day, I believe that the SBC leaders of that time will have to answer for what they did in silencing the voices of women.

So the ERLC is now asking where the evangelical women are. Did it ever occur to them that there is a reason that SBC evangelical women don't speak out? That there a reason that SBC membership continues to decline? It is selective amnesia at its best: they did it to themselves.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Highest Calling

"Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." ~Catherine of Siena

Once upon a time, I interviewed for ministry jobs. That's no big deal really. I have a Masters of Divinity degree. And no task ever feels so right as when I am standing in front of a congregation and preaching. I was a youth minister for a summer--just before I got pregnant with my last baby. But that didn't fit quite right.

When people came up to me after I preached a few weeks ago and told me that they enjoyed it, my mouth said thank you but my heart was saying that I was born to do this.

I finished divinity school 14 years ago. I was four months pregnant with my first child when I walked across the stage. It seemed pointless to look for a ministry job when I had a baby on the way. But I did send out a lot of resumes then and in the years that followed. I had a few interviews, never for a pastor position--still waiting on that interview, my own deep calling. But the interviews always ended up with someone telling me that I shouldn't be looking for ministry work. My children were too young; I should be home with them.

Those words still cut me today, and my youngest is now 8. When they were first said to me, they seemed so benign, yet they "tasted" wrong in my mind and in my heart. It took me a long time to realize that not living up to my highest calling was setting a bad example for my sons. So many Christians believe that the highest calling of a woman is to be a wife and mother. The progressive churches I interviewed with--ones that are not on the conservative end of baptist life--still believed that myth: that a woman's highest calling was to be a wife and mother. Why else would they write me off so quick.

However, I am here to say: my highest calling is so. much. more.

Seasons come and go in a woman's life--indeed in anyone's life, male or female. Maybe it was too difficult for a church to see past my babies. Maybe they thought the logistics of running a household would be too much for me (though marriage is a team, right?). Maybe they didn't think of what they were saying at all--at least in a theological sense. But those words have stayed in my mind, replayed every so often, making me feel less than adequate--even though my youngest is 8 now.

So...I reject the attempt to put me in a theological box. I am called to preach the gospel. I am called to be prophetic and thoughtful, to bring theological meaning into this world gone mad. Even if I don't have a church to preach in, I will still prepare as if I do. I will learn even more about my craft; I will read and listen and think.

To the churches that wrote me off, you were wrong.

To the world that says that I should settle, you lose.

To Christians that say motherhood is my highest calling, you don't know my God.

What prompted this post? Jenny Rae Armstrong posted a quote to a Facebook Group I belong to: Biblical Christian Egalitarians. The quote says:

Since last Friday when it was posted, I have been praying about my life and how to be a bit more courageous with my calling. Today, I post this because it is time to shatter non-biblical notions of what I am called to be. I will not bow down to the idols anymore.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Allergy Plans

My youngest child starts Kindergarten in the morning.  They stagger-entry the children, so they only have 4-5 in each day this week.  Then on Monday the whole class will be there.  Which is why I have spent today chasing down forms and meeting for over an hour with the school nurse--because we need a plan to deal with his allergies.

There are many things to consider when sending an allergic child to public school for the first time.  I have to have forms filled out to check the medicine into the school.  I have to tell them if I want the medicine also in the classrooms (I do).  I have to get a special sticker to put in his lunchbox.  I have to discuss how and when he will wash his hands before and/or after he eats, whether he will sit in a special seat for lunch and snack, and what the process is if he has an anaphylactic reaction.  There is a lot of paperwork involved.

But this little child of mine is a good advocate for himself.  His teacher has experience with allergic reactions and is trained to use the Epi-pen if it is needed.  My son knows how to ask if something has nuts in it and to refuse if other children try to offer him food. 

For a mom like me, here is my big adventure--sending my 5 year old off to school despite my anxiety, my worry and fears.  But isn't that what all parents are called to do? 

I have looked at my boys with the idea that I am here to raise them up and let them go.  That process comes through different events.  Already my 5 year old is quite independent in some ways.  I have been freed from the ever-persistent care of a baby.  I don't have to watch my son every minute of the day to keep him out of trouble. 

I am excited about sending my son off to Kindergarten.  He is going to learn so much.  He is on a journey to adulthood with a really big step in the morning.