Saturday, May 14, 2016

She Speaks

Standing in my office, out of his sight line, I think I was as stunned as the person to whom he was speaking. I moved closer, hoping to hear what I thought certainly I’d misheard.

“I speak for Mother Laurie.”

A woman had asked a question of an older man in the church, a simple one at that, one that did not require the addition of my name for a complete answer.

But yes, he repeated himself. 

“I speak for Mother Laurie.”

Maybe in that moment I should have stepped out of the shadows and spoken for myself, but I didn’t. But I did find a chair and sit down, shaken by what I’d heard.

Because what I’d heard was not simply a man stepping well over his authority. It was - again - a man silencing me, a woman. Over the next days, weeks, months - and even years later, I’m still unsettled by the memory, the realization that one spoken declaration of entitlement slashed at the dignity of me as a woman, dismissed my leadership as a priest, and reduced me to nothing more than a girl for whom he felt authorized to speak without any authorization other than his own.

I, apparently, did not need a voice. He would speak for me. I wondered, did I need thoughts and opinions, or would he would provide them, as well? Why did he think this was an appropriate assertion to make?

When I’ve shared this account with other women clergy, they almost all draw a sharp breath. They, too, have known how effortlessly our leadership, our experiences, our very voices, are silenced by others in the church, often by men. Sometimes this silencing is probably unintentional. Other times it is well-calculated. Intention, however, rarely matters when we remove the voice of another by our actions or inactions. 

Speaking for others is almost always an act that leads to damage. We can speak our truths. We can even speak of our experience with others, but we must be very, very careful when speaking for others. Too often, we speak not for others, but for what we think others would say - which is almost never as rich and complex and true as someone sharing her own story. We speak for them to create responses to what we presume they will say that demand little sacrifice of us and almost no discomfort for us. 

Even when we have been clearly empowered to speak for another by the person’s implicit and direct communication, we must to do so judiciously and cautiously. And we must do so with the deep humility that however empathetic and aware we may be, we cannot fully understand the life experienced by another, especially the life wounded by discrimination, oppression, and hate.

When we decide on our own to speak on behalf of others who likely have very different experiences than us, we implicitly communicate we aren’t really interested in an authentic viewpoint; instead we are interested in our editorial comment on their experiences. When I hear the line echo in my soul, “I speak for Mother Laurie,” I hear words that have silenced women for eons.

Women, after all, have had commissions, committees, courts, task forces, and panels made up of entirely or mostly men called together to discuss the role of women in the church, in the business world, in society, in all the places we are. Men have spoken for us for centuries. Our voices have not mattered or carried as much weight because we were, after all, women. 

I’ve heard women make an observation in a meeting to no response, only to have a man make the same observation moments later to resounding, “What a great insight!” I’ve heard women who used their voices to speak truth to power told they were shrill or bitchy or bossy. When women are angry at injustice and at the sexism we face daily, we are often told to smile, to play nice, or asked if it’s that time of the month.  

For eons our voices were not heard and were diminished. Mary Magdalene’s proclamation of, “He is risen!” was diminished with, “Yes, but she was a prostitute and possessed by demons and not one of the 12 and a…woman.”

Stop speaking for us. Let women speak. Give us space to tell our truths and believe these are our experiences and hear us. What we say about our experiences may be uncomfortable to hear.  We sound angry because we are angry. After all, the church and its centuries of male domination have not been kind to women…or anyone who fell outside the narrow lines of power and authority.

Quite ironic for a community who confesses the faith of Christ, who preferred the company of those who fell outside the narrow lines of power and authority, and who talked with and listened to women.

Stop speaking to silence others and start speaking to empower others - all the others (and, in some way, we are all called to give voice to our otherness, to the labels and roles we have been given by society that have silenced our voices). Stop speaking to dismiss others and start speaking to demand the voices of those who have been silenced be heard and heard and heard again until their voices move us all to action. 

Start asking others their stories and listen. Start being aware of the messages we send when we presume to speak for others. Start honoring the voices of all the children of God.

Start saying, “No, I don’t speak for her. She speaks for herself.”





Monday, May 9, 2016

Unplug

Anne Lamott has a powerful quote attributed to her I’ve seen on Facebook: Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

Unplug.

In the past months, I have become more aware of the wisdom of regular unplugging, of keeping sabbath. This is a particularly helpful practice when relationships change and shift. Somehow we humans decided if we just keep busy, if we just keep tinkering with things, and if we just keep talking and processing, we can fix things.

Maybe it’s our need for control. Surely, we think, since we made the mess, we can fix the mess. Maybe our need constantly to be present and meddle with things says volumes about our lack of trust in the healing power of God. Maybe we think we can control the narrative of another person’s soul by constancy. Then, we think, everything will work just as we’d like it to work.

Life is often a series of things ceasing to work as we think they should. Patterns we’ve become used to shift subtly and suddenly we are on new ground. Relationships between people, both personal and professional, become changed, and the former ways we were in relationship don’t work anymore. Institutions we love grow into newness and change.

In the midst of all this, we can stop working well. We become panicky, perhaps. Even angry, that our old ways don’t work anymore. So we become very busy.

Our busyness may help, but I’ve found in the midst of shifts and changes, we would do well to remember the holiness of sabbath, of unplugging, of giving our souls space. When we don’t give ourselves and others space in the midst of change, we smother with our need to control. On more than one occasion I’ve seen wounded relationships that could have found new life deeply damaged because parties refused to give space and unplug, to remember sabbath time, and to allow God space in the midst of change.

There are times and moments in the midst of changes that demand our work and our action, there are also equal moments that demand we unplug, we give space to allow God to work, and we focus on our selves and souls instead of giving our energy to changing another. And being honest, much of our energy in the midst of changing relationships is devoted to changing the other. 

True unplugging and engaging in sabbath in the midst of change allows us to get through our, “If s/he will just do X,Y, and Z it will all be okay” (focusing on the other and projecting our own stuff onto them) and move into “Oh, how do I feel and what’s going on with me” (self-examination and self-awareness while listening to God). Sabbath and unplugging invites us to sit with God and ourselves and discover what parts of this company we enjoy, and what parts we might need to get to know better.

Sabbath disconnects from our egos and re-establishes our connection back to God. When we unplug, we begin the process of turning down the volume on our ego’s voice that tells ourselves and others how to behave to meet our wants and needs and to listen intently to the still, small voice of God reminding us that love does not control others. When we unplug, we disconnect from the things we think we need in our lives, including positions, power, and expectations, and reconnect to the thing we really do need in our lives - to be authentic, to be loved, and to love others as they are in the example of Christ. When we unplug, we offer ourselves wholly to the presence and guidance of God.

When we unplug, we engage in the work of the Spirit, mandated by God eons ago with the command to remember the sabbath and keep it holy.

This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen.

-from the Book of Common Prayer, prayer for in the morning.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Crazy Love and Change

"If you told me a year ago she'd be so collected, so attentive at a show, I'm not sure I'd have believed you," I told Crazy Love's new owner.

Crazy Love has been a resident at the barn for a couple of years. When she first arrived, she was not a full participant in the dance between horse and rider. She had her very own ideas about what she wanted to do, not walking being chief among them. She fussed and fidgeted, doing interesting mystery gaits and most certainly not responding to her rider.

But after months of riding her, of listening to her, of discovering her cues and allowing her to learn rider cues, she not only flat walks, but does her other gaits quite well. And she does it with different riders - no small feat. She's a great horse, one I love to ride. I know how far she's come as a horse, and I realize she's changed me as a rider.

While there are basic riding cues for horses, they are individual creatures. Some are smart and can almost out-think a rider; others are, well, more challenged between the ears. Some horses are great balls of energy, ready to go and go and go; others are convinced that walking three feet will exhaust them. Some need more finesse; others need more strength. Riding means, at one level, realizing how your cues, your approach to riding, needs to change from horse to horse.

How I rode Crazy Love in the first months of our relationship is not how I ride her now. She has changed, and I have changed. If I insisted on riding the horse she is now with the techniques I used way back then with her I-don't-care-to-walk self, I would limit her as a horse and likely be very unhappy with our relationship together.

Because I would be refusing to change as she changed.

Change, we know, is hard. Which is certainly counter-productive to life. Our experience with God through Holy Scriptures is filled with change - Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah, people move from slavery to freedom, Jesus moves from death to life. Women and men with sketchy pasts become guides for the people of God into and through change. Peter, who throughout much of the Gospel story is frequently reckless and clueless, changes into the Rock on whom the church is founded. Saul, persecutor of those early ones following the Way, is changed into Paul, the church's premier letter-writer, church planter, and perhaps first theologian.

Change is part of our relationship with God and with each other.

And yet we seem to resist change in our relationships, binding them with our own needs and expectations instead of allowing them to shift, move, and grow as we do. I've written on this subject before, but with the regularity in which change and resistance to change causes distress in people, it's an issue worth talking about, again and again.

I wonder how many relationships come to a distasteful and hurtful end because one or both parties become uncomfortable with growth and change and insist, over and over again, by thought, word, and deed, that things go back to what they were? I wonder how many people never allow their ideas and experiences with God to move past their initial encounter with the Holy One?

In my own experience in conversations with clergy, many of us reflect on congregants who become disenchanted and angry with us as relationships change because a church grows or shrinks, because the pastor we are in our early years is not the pastor we become, because changes in our personal lives (we marry, divorce, have children, or any number of other changes that occur in our real lives), or any number of reasons. People who begin to address issues in their lives, from familial histories of addiction to their own personal behaviors that are soul damaging, often find those who are closest to them become angry as they heal...because healing always brings change.  Relationships between parents and children change as children grow and parents age, and strife and angst becomes a partner in those relationships.

How many of us hold God in the tight constraints of early stages of faith, where God is a stern parent, a wish granter, and religious authority and insight is almost always out there and refuse to allow ourselves and our understanding of God to be changed with God's grace?

Holding our relationships in the containers in which they initially arrive into our lives may feel comfortable. Of course when we experience a relationship adjusting and changing, we may initially feel fear, sadness, and perhaps even anger.

Why is this happening? What now? And why can't we stay the same? may all be our prayerful laments.

We can resist the change, rail against it, and demand the other stay put in the conformable old container. But almost invariably those demands end with distortion and death of the relationship. If we are the ones who are changing more, we can be tempted to force ourselves to fit into something that no longer allows for breath and life to placate another's angst. And if we are the ones who are resisting the change, we can lie ourselves into believing we have a right to control another. And most likely, we are at times in both roles.

What if we followed the examples of women and men of faith and saw change not as evil, as the enemy, as something to be rail against, but a holy part of life.

People change, we change, relationships change. And if we refuse to allow relationships to shift, grow, and change, we certainly miss out. I wonder how many people stay focused on the cross on Good Friday and refuse to experience the change of Resurrection? The grace of God, amazingly, does not change, even when we are too wounded to move into newness and need to stay in our safe containers for a while.

In the midst of some changes in relationships related to my clergy life that are a bizarre combination hurtful and downright absurd, I rode Crazy Love one afternoon. She noticed my stress, as horses do. All the changes in my clergy life were impacting my riding life, and I was riding her with my wobbly and unsure soul, until she changed and decided to remind me of who she could be (in not a particularly good way), as if she wanted to tell me not to be tempted to respond to these changes by recoiling into a person I was not.

She shook her head and snorted, another reminder that she expected me to be the rider and person I was.

I shifted in the saddle and collected her in her bridle. Go forward, not back, I reminded myself as I cued her into a canter.

"There you are," heard her say. "Now, let's ride."








Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Fifty Days of Fabulous!

Lent is 40 days...plus Sundays. The Church also believes one God + one Son + one Holy Spirit = One, so math has never been the Church's strong suit.

But joy and resurrection following grief and death is the Church's strong suit. So now we are into the beautiful season of Easter, which, in most churches that follow the liturgical calendar, is fifty days.

Fifty fabulous days.

Many of us keep Lent by giving up something we enjoy; by re-committing ourselves to prayer, to study, or to some other spiritual practice that brings us closer to God; or by some other Lenten discipline.

Then comes Easter. We celebrate on Easter Sunday, sing Alleluia!, and ignore fish for a while on Fridays.

But what else?

How do we live into Easter? How do we allow resurrection to become real in us, in our lives? Do we simply greet the Resurrected Jesus, then return to our normal operating procedures, or will we allow Christ to grow in our lives in new ways?

How will you practice Easter?

How will you nurture the relationships in your life that may have been healed through confession and reconciliation?

How will you proclaim God's love to others in thought, word, and deed?

How will you experience newness of life in your own life, letting go of that which has died?

One way to join others in practicing Easter is to check out Fifty Days of Fabulous by Forward Movement. Full and fair disclosure - it's an online devotion that I write for, but I think it's one way we nurture the growth of Christ in our selves and souls. Each day has a respond section with questions, ideas, things to do - ways to practice Easter.

Yes, Lent is over, but Easter has just begun.

Let's celebrate for 50 fabulous days.