That question hits me differently this year, in the midst of a pandemic, when I am concerned with the health of my family, friends, and neighbors I have not even met. We all want this quarantine way of life to be over, yet we also have pandemic fatigue. It is so hard not to hug, visit, or be together. It is so annoying not to travel. The long days of winter seem longer while cooped up at home.
The man is clearly in need of healing. He is at the Sheep Gate, at the pool rumored to be stirred up by an angel of the Lord sometimes, and the first person to get in that moving water is healed. Why would Jesus ask him if he wants to be healed? Of course he wants to be healed, and says a loud, “YES!” Actually, that is not how the story goes at all. Instead of shouting yes, the man tells Jesus that he needs someone to put him in the water, and that someone always beats him to it. Maybe that is the truth. Maybe it is an excuse. Maybe he has been ridiculed so much in his life that he is defensive.
Do you want to be made well? Yes, but not if I have to do anything about it. I am tired of wearing a mask, staying home, and not seeing other people. I am tired of not eating out, traveling, or even having a vacation planned. I am tired of hearing stories of people dying, of long-term consequences of having covid-19, and also hearing others denying the severity of the virus. I am tired of having loved ones contract covid, and worrying about others potentially contracting it. I am tired, because this has been going on for almost a year, and I have done my part and tried to make the best choices and follow guidelines. (I am sure I have failed at times.)
We all want the pandemic to be over, but then pandemic fatigue is real, and we start taking risks. We want to escape the frigid winter and go some place warm. We expand our pod. We dine in, unmasked while we eat. We hug, because we need each other. Do you want this to end? Yes, but I am tired of this way of life. We started this pandemic during Lent last year. In many ways, it seems like this last year has been a year of Lent, in the penitential and sacrificial ways of observing it.
Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite days in the liturgical calendar. Why? We remember that we are mortal – we have been formed from dust and to dust we shall return. Genesis 2:7 “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” It is a day that we remember our failings, and take a step in healing. Lent is the period of 40 days plus six Sundays leading up to Easter. It is a time of reflection, self-examination, and deepening our relationship with God. Sometimes people give something up or take something on to aid in their spiritual focus during the season. Every Lent, I think my life is going to be changed. Each year, when I allow myself to be changed, I am. When I fight the transformation, when I don’t allow God to do God’s healing work in me, then my life doesn’t change.
“Do you want to be made well?” I pray that we will not answer like the sick man, with fact or excuse. I pray that we will instead open ourselves up to healing. I pray that we will allow the healing work of God to transform us. I pray that we will all care for one another by wearing masks, by doing our part to not spread the virus, and by reaching out to those who are lonely. I pray that this pandemic will end sooner rather than later. I pray that I have the wisdom to always seek healing.
I am not one of “those” Christians. I do not want to be associated with a racist, patriarchal institution that spouts a theology of white supremacy and exclusivism. However, I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus, and an ordained pastor in The United Methodist Church (UMC).
Christian nationalism is a blending of Christian and American identities. The teachings of the Bible and the words of our constitution get mixed together, and for some Christian nationalists, being an American and a Christian cannot be separated. However, being an American does not necessarily equal being a Christian. Being a patriot requires loyalty to the Constitution and country, but not to a particular faith. Many Christian nationalists believe they have God-given rights. Many who would not consider themselves Christian nationalists, believe the 4th of July, Memorial Day, Veterans Day should be amplified in church services. Cultural holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day get mixed in as well. We sing “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,” but then “God Bless America” with a vigor of ownership. Christianity is not limited to one country. It is global. Somehow many believe that America is better than other countries because God deemed it so. We have whitewashed Jesus to look like someone of European descent rather than the Middle Eastern Jewish man he was.
I am an American Christian, but I am not a Christian nationalist. I am a patriot, loyal to my country, but also not afraid to critique it. Our current political division, with all the name-calling, inability to work together, and lack of civil discourse troubles me, both as a patriot and as a follower of Jesus.
Our country’s forefathers specifically did not make The United States of America a Christian nation. Religious freedom is in the Bill of Rights. The first Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Separation of church and state means no religious leader should use their pulpit to tell their congregations how to vote. It is certainly acceptable to encourage people to exercise their civic duty to vote, but endorsing a particular candidate or political party is not. I admit that it can be tricky as a pastor. I am guessing that many think they know how I voted. I have been more willing to join political conversations as I age. However, I would never tell someone what to think or how to vote. Nor will I have political yard signs, or work for a particular candidate. Because I live in Minnesota where we caucus, I do not even feel comfortable participating in that process because publicly identifying with a candidate seems wrong as a pastor. However, I know many of my colleagues are able to manage their private politics and public pulpit differently.
One of the beautiful things about our country is that we do not have to all think alike. We also should not condemn each other for thinking differently. Democracy and our election process does mean there are winners and losers. However, it also provides opportunity to come together to do the work of the people. All people, not just PACS and the 1%. Admittedly, I have lost a lot of faith in politicians who seem to be able to be bought and sold, rather than putting the best interests of their constituents first. I am weary of people who would rather be right than willing to do the right thing. The divisiveness makes me sad and angry.
Why do we as humans naturally divide into us and them? We need to unite against a common threat, it seems, instead of uniting as citizens of our country. America has always been a melting pot. Now we debate immigration policy as a partisan issue.
I am a Jesus-follower. I would prefer to identify myself in that way so that I am not identified with the Christians who stormed the Capitol. I do not want to be identified with those who claim to be pro-life but who built gallows to kill those who did not agree with them or do their bidding. Thank God for being in charge of Christianity! I pray that God will help us get out of the mess civil religion and Christian nationalism have caused.
Civil religion is “a public profession of faith that aims to inculcate political values and that prescribes dogma, rites, and rituals for citizens of a particular country.” https://www.britannica.com/topic/civil-religion. We watched it play out in the Inauguration. I enjoyed the pomp and circumstance, the music, and especially the poetry. I also watched the prayer service online the next day. It was interfaith, but mostly Christian. President Biden is Catholic, and he had a priest deliver the Invocation at the Inauguration. During his own address, POTUS asked the audience to join him in a prayer. Though I enjoyed both the Inauguration and the prayer service, afterward I felt a little uneasy. Just as I was uncomfortable with Christian nationalists, I was also uncomfortable with the use of Christianity amid the civic ritual.
I am a product of mainstream Protestantism, specifically UMC, which became that iteration in 1968, and has been declining ever since. My denomination is global, and therefore not a national religion. My alma mater was a Protestant liberal arts college, specifically PCUSA. I attended a Southern liberal Divinity School for seminary, that was no longer affiliated with any specific denomination. My faith informs my politics, and I would be naïve if I didn’t admit that my politics inform my faith. Politics encourages me to think of things that I might never think about in my private life. I am grateful for the UMC’s Book of Discipline that has guidelines for what the denomination believes in its Social Principles, that I can go to for not only my personal beliefs, but also to help congregation members who may have questions or struggles. I was taught to be a critical thinker, and to figure out for myself what I believe. In my tradition, we use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, Reason (my own mind and that of other theologians and leaders), Tradition (the Book of Discipline, church history), and Experience (prayer, and my own life). https://www.umc.org/en/content/glossary-wesleyan-quadrilateral-the
Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Common English Bible) He also taught the Greatest Commandment “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:37-40.
The way we as Christians treat our neighbors is not a good witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not loving in American right now. There are those who are fearful of the new Administration. There is much cynicism. There is much discrimination, and white supremacy needs to be dismantled. I hope that we will denounce all forms of white supremacy, systemic racism, injustice, by remaining engaged instead of silent. I hope that those of us who follow Jesus will work at loving our neighbor, ALL neighbors. I hope that we will put aside our partisan differences to work together “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.
May we live out our faith and demonstrate love of country without conflating the two. I realize that some of you may disagree with me. I welcome civil discourse in the comments. I also realize that by taking a side against Christian nationalism, some people will feel attacked. That is not my intention. I am sharing my personal beliefs and concerns. Though I feel strongly, I am humble enough to admit that I may not always be right.
One of my friends inspired me to choose a word for each year. 2020 word was health. I did indeed do a lot of work on my physical, mental, and emotional health.
I started last year strong with yoga, tennis, and strength class. The pandemic knocked tennis out, but home school also afforded me more time outside with the girls, and yes, tennis with them. B and I explored lots of new parks and went on lots of walks. This fall I took a hiking class. Though I did not lose much weight last year, I am physically stronger, which is important. I continue to have positive checkups with my regular doctor and oncologist. (I skipped cardiologist in 2020).
Mentally and emotionally I did some hard work too. Of course I continue therapy. I did have to quit coaching when the pandemic hit, because I did not have the bandwidth to learn how to do church differently, help with eLearning, and do all the things. One positive about the pandemic is how much it helped with perspective. I was able to make some difficult decisions to choose my emotional health, and I have no regrets.
2021 is starting out in the midst of the pandemic, with hope from the vaccine, but no date for when “Normalcy” may return. I was tempted to just keep health as my word, or modify to healing. Plenty of work left to do in all aspects of my health, of course, but won’t there always be more work to do in health? Instead, I decided that I might need to see what word I would receive. Maybe instead of choosing a word with intention, which is a fine plan, I should see what word would be given to me. I chose to listen instead of overthink.
The word for 2021 is PLAY. Ironically, it will be a lot of work to play. I am not good at play. Sure, I love board games, and have come to love puzzles. I don’t mind Legos or cars. I force myself to jump on the trampoline so that my girls collapse in giggles making fun of me. I have been so busy caring for others and doing what I thought was expected of me, that I forgot how to play. I lost the simple practice of knowing what I want and doing that. I do not seem to know what will make me happy. Being a stay-at-home mother affords me time in a different way than working part time. In many ways, I feel like I have less time. The days seem like a long list of shoulds that will never get done. In other ways, a mostly empty calendar gives me freedom of time I have never had before.
My therapist suggested I jump in a pile of leaves with my girls. The thought sounded revolting. I raked a pile of leaves. I jumped once. It did nothing for me. With the confines of pandemic life, I have both the freedom of time and the restrictions of place. I do not know how live into this new word other than taking it moment by moment. Looking inward, what do I want to do in this moment. Being fully present in this moment. Letting go of the shoulds, and instead focusing on what I might actually want to do is a mindshift.
In the brief days of trying to live into the word play, I learned that sometimes play comes when I do something that does not sound great at first. For example, I did not really want to play Just Dance, but it was pretty fun. I am grateful for all the family game nights since last March that have made me laugh hysterically until I sometimes literally need my rescue inhaler. My patient girls continue to invite me in to their play. I asked a few friends to help me. I welcome your suggestions, as long as you know that they might be read with an eye roll.
For the second time in my ministry, I am appointed to family leave. The first time was when my older daughter was one. As she grew and became more aware and fun, I struggled with the competing roles of mother and pastor, not unlike many working parents. It hurt when I picked her up from our wonderful caregiver, and she did not want to leave. It hurt when she was at a church meeting with me and then my husband picked her up on his way home from work to put her to bed. It hurt that she always wanted him, because he was the one putting her to bed most nights. Even as I am married to a well-adjusted preacher’s kid (PK), the fears of the horror PK stories would sometimes cause me to hold my breath.
It was so difficult to leave a church I loved, but I did not regret my decision. Those early years were fun, though totally exhausting at the time. With my issues with pregnancy, I was right in knowing that I could not care for a toddler, a church, and be pregnant all at the same time.
This family leave is different. My girls are 8 and 11, and so independent and self-sufficient. However, it hurt when I came home so emotionally exhausted and had nothing left to give them. It hurt when they needed me, and I had to go back to work. It hurt when I had to let go of a tiny hand or remove a child from my lap in the pew to go up front to lead worship. It hurt when, after worship, they want to tell me about Sunday School, and I ignore them to finish a conversation with a parishioner. Like my competing children, I often felt like my parishioners and children were competing for my attention. Whoever I chose to focus on, the other felt hurt. I knew which parishioners adored my children, and who felt jealous when I was mothering someone else, whether my own children or another parishioner.
Being a clergy mother is a beautiful privilege. However, it is not many jobs where you bring your family to work, and your family is expected to be present. Literally being all things to all people takes its toll. Sometimes that work of trying to do it all hurt my heart.
I hope both my congregations I left for family leave understand it is more about me than them. I want to do everything well, and the divided life of active clergy and mothering always make me feel like I do nothing as well as I could. I also hope when they receive a clergy parent, and especially a clergy mother, they will give her the space to occupy both roles in a healthy way.
The call to be a mother is sacred. The call to be a pastor is sacred. I do not feel like the calls compete, despite my choosing to step away from active ministry. Being a mother made me a better pastor. My capacity for love grew as my body swelled with my first pregnancy. I understood more completely God’s unconditional love for us.
Sundays are sacred for Christians, because it is our Sabbath. More than just a rhyme, Sundays are Fun-days. 2020 has changed our Sundays. Since March, most congregations have online worship. Many do not know when they will return to the building. My congregation went to livestream, so each Sunday I still went to church to lead worship. My routine changed considerably. I was able to arrive an hour later, and leave hours earlier. There were none of the typical conversations or check-ins that pastors need to have with people. I was surprised how quickly I adjusted to this new way of church. Watching my Facebook page, reading comments, it really did seem like people were gathered and we were experiencing worship together.
August 9 was my last Sunday at my congregation. Now I don’t know what to do with myself on Sundays. There is no need to wake up early to pray and prepare. Though we have aligned with a new congregation, each week we are choosing where to worship so I can hear different colleagues and see different styles. I preferred a later worship start as pastor; now as someone at home, I want to worship and then move on with my day. Except that I don’t really know what to do with myself. All the extra time on Sunday morning does not feel right.
I hope someday to return to active ministry. What that looks like, time will tell. For now, I will continue to adjust to a new rhythm. I will try to enjoy the slower pace, the lack of obligations, and support my colleagues instead. The focus on my family feels right, and I hope I will eventually settle into our new routine.
As I leave the school office to walk to my younger daughter’s classroom, I wonder who else I will get to see. This school, the closest elementary to my church, is filled with “my” kids. Not just the two I birthed, but many more from my congregation. The hallway is crowded, and I see Eleanor. I wave, and her face lights up as she smiles and waves back. There is Will. He is in line and focused like he should be, but as I walk by, I say hi, and he somehow becomes even cuter as he smiles. Nora probably saw me before I saw her. She smiles when our eyes meet. Finally, I arrive at Brynna’s classroom. There are no other church kids in her class, so now I am fully mother to just her. When she sees me, she runs over and gives me a big hug, and I am just as thrilled to see her and have her back in my arms.
I tell my husband that I almost feel like a celebrity walking the halls of our school. Unlike a celebrity, I am seeking certain little faces. When our eyes meet, I try to send as much love in the gaze as possible. I hope they see nothing but delight on my face when we pass in the hall.
I think we all need someone to be delighted to see us. We long to know we are loved. My call to ministry has always been to share God’s love with everyone, to help them know how completely and unconditionally God loves them. It is easy to share that love with all “my” kids. I have watched them grow, baptized them, given them Bibles, and talked about their favorites. I do love each one of them, more than I can put into words, and I know the capacity for such love comes from God. As a pastor, I am representing God to them. I love each one of them unconditionally, and I understand God’s love more and more every day.
In our baptism, we celebrate that God claims us as beloved children. When I became a pastor, I gained a new understanding of that love as I loved all “my” kids, who at that time were college students. No matter where I serve, I cannot help but love the people. True, some are easier to love than others.
I hope my young friends who were happy to see their pastor at school, felt the love I sent them. I hope they equate God with love, as we have tried to teach them. I hope that my biological children always see delight on my face and know how unconditionally I love them. Love is powerful, and sharing love is the way I can communicate God’s infinite love with others. God loves us even more than our mothers do, which as a mother, is incomprehensible. I am at my best when I am loving others and letting them know in my words and actions how much they mean to me.
I am thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for Lee Ann M. Pomrenke’s forthcoming book Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God. Each day of the blog tour, a different clergy woman will share a story of being clergy and mother. I invite you to check them out each day. #EmbodiedMotheringGod
You are good. The goodness of God is inside you, and the Holy Spirit prompts you to act out of that goodness.
The fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5: 22-23 is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” The Greek word ἀγαθωσύνη (agathosune) means intrinsic goodness, the goodness that comes from God. It is found only in biblical and ecclesiastical writings, according to Strong.
You are made in the image of God, you are God’s beloved child, and you are good. Goodness is different from kindness that way. You are good. You don’t have to do anything to be good; you just are good. Kindness is the action you take because of that goodness.
In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown asserts that “The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity.”
You are good. You are worthy of love; to give love and to be loved. You are enough. Many of us have had conversations about that feeling of unworthiness that creeps in that holds us back from doing what God has called us to do. God is in you; God invites you to be a co-creator with God not because God is good. God will equip you to do what God calls you to do.
It is out of the inherent goodness of God within us that we respond to God and want to serve God and God’s people. It is what makes us want to be good and do good. Because God created each one of us uniquely, we have different skills and gifts for how we share our goodness with the world.
You are good.
Diana Butler Bass was one of my college professors. In her newsletter (https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/another-monday), she quoted Marcus Borg in his final book Convictions– “The fruits of centering in God are many and intertwined, but the most important are compassion, freedom and courage, and gratitude.” Diana says, “These traits are central to the most important thing – “loving what God loves, participating in God’s passion for a different sort of world.” They are directed toward love of neighbor, a natural growth and being centered in God.
In the Gospel of Matthew 22:34-40, the Pharisees ask Jesus what is the great commandment of the law? Jesus reminds us what is most important: to love God with all your heart soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. The goodness within you makes you desire God, and fills you with love for others too.
Each of you is good. I love to hear your stories of how you have seen and experienced God at work. I believe that Psalm 23:6 is true: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life.
1 Peter 5:7: Cast all your anxiety on God because God cares for you.
Are you anxious? I know many of you are anxious about schools opening or not. Many of you are waiting to hear how you will be needed to care for family members based on school decisions.
Some of you are anxious awaiting tests or test results. Some are awaiting doctor appointments. Some of you are healing from procedures.
Many of us are anxious about covid-19 and the rising number of cases.
Many of us are anxious. The first time I was diagnosed with anxiety was when I was 4. I work hard at managing my anxiety. Perhaps that is why I have always had such an active prayer life. I am constantly turning over my anxieties to God (and too often, then taking them back instead of leaving them with God).
Whatever anxiety you may have, I encourage you to give it to God, and leave it with God, for God cares about you.
We keep hearing that we are in unprecedented times. Our lives have totally changed in the last few months. We have watched horrific murders and arson, and we have also seen our communities join together in love and care. We have seen people who refuse to wear masks, and also the way so many of you have made masks for each other and sent masks to the Navajo nation. I have seen information shared on social media to help us learn more about racism and how to be an ally, and I have been disappointed in friends and family members who do not want to understand. Instead of gathering, we have online worship. Instead of small groups, we have zoom meetings. Zoom exhaustion is a real thing, and I have it. It is wonderful to see people’s faces, and yet, I always leave the meetings tired.
I am weary. Are you?
I feel like our current world is much like Matthew 11: 16-19. We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’”(11:17) There is so much sadness, and judgment. Matthew reminds us that John the Baptist and Jesus were both rejected and ridiculed. Groupthink and culture wars happened in the ancient world, and they are happening right now.
I am weary. Are you?
Jesus calls all of us who are weary. Jesus promises us rest. Jesus provides us a safe place where we can share all of the burdens that are on our hearts. Jesus invites us to take a break and renew our strength and our spirits so that we can get back to work.
The 4th of July is always a fun holiday, though this year it will be different. You may have extra day off, of vacation, or maybe this year it just feels like every other weekend. We can use this holiday to reflect on how our country began. It was not an easy process. The Revolutionary war lasted 7 years, but there had been years of unrest prior to the war. The Declaration of Independence, that we celebrate this weekend, was the beginning of the war. Sometimes things have to change. But the change process is not always comfortable, easy, or even safe.
I can’t help but wonder if God is using this time of pandemic to help us change. We have opportunity to look at the way things were pre-pandemic, and decide what we miss and what we don’t miss. WE have the opportunity to change. 21 days makes a habit, and we have had a much longer time. What do you want to leave behind from the pre-pandemic world? What have you learned these last few months that you want to keep doing or carry forward? Then looking bigger than ourselves, what do we want for our community? What work do we need to do so that our community is a safe place for everyone? What justice work do we need to do on behalf of our brothers and sisters of color? On behalf of our LGBTQ+ friends and family? What work do we need to do to make God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?
As we reflect, we need to also prepare for action. We need to strengthen our bodies, minds, and spirits. We need to rest in Christ. We need to turn all of our fears, any feelings of resistance to change, any traces of hate or judgment that lie in our hearts for any side, we need to give all of that over to Christ. We need to release our burdens. We are not in this unprecedented time alone. We do not have to do the work that lies ahead alone.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (11:28-29)
If you are like me and feeling weary from living in quarantine, Jesus says come to me. If you are weary from what you see on the news, Jesus says come to me. If you are weary from physical, emotional, or mental health issues, Jesus says come to me. Jesus invites us to rest. To take a deep breath and recollect ourselves. Our souls need rest, and Jesus offers us that rest. We just have to allow ourselves time with him. Maybe you spend time with God in prayer. Maybe it is reading Scripture. Maybe it is journaling. Maybe it is going for a walk. Maybe it is signing up to come walk the labyrinth here at church. Maybe it is a nap. Give yourself permission to let your soul rest.