Groundswell Interview: How to Walk with Young Adults Through A Faith Shipwreck

Posted on March 23, 2015

Thanks to Heath Mullikin over at the Groundswell podcast for a lovely interview. Heath is an attentive and enthusiastic interviewer. He asks great questions that open the way for meaningful conversation.

In my interview with him we talked about how to walk with young adults through their faith shipwrecks. Above all, I believe we have to be faithful to follow the questions. In doing this, Jesus can step into our darkest moments and meet us in intimate ways.

I hope you enjoy the conversation!

Groundswell Interview

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“Uh-oh – That’s too Bad”: Or What I Did When A Male Student Twice My Size Challenged Me In Class

Posted on March 5, 2015

You know, it’s tricky being a petite, female professor. Most of the young men I teach tower over me, and easily outweigh me. Over the years, I’ve had to find interesting ways to handle them when they openly challenge me in class. It’s not that they necessarily challenge me more because I’m a woman. Just that once they do challenge me, I have to walk a tricky line as a woman exercising authority. My best strategy has been to use Love and Logic on my students. Yes, the parenting method. Take for instance, today: It’s a blizzard outside. As I type, snowflakes are falling in wet curtains that sting when the wind whips flakes into your face. Of course, it’s a snow day for Noelle and Nathan. After a semester of two-stepping our way past two-hour delays and snow days, I decided just to bring the kids to class with me this morning. Dwayne planned to take them after lunch. So, Noelle and Nathan hunkered down in the corner of my classroom amid a fort of toys, coloring books and tablets. They were saints, my children. Quiet as cotton balls. I could hardly believe it. Meanwhile, my first-years decided today was a good day to act up. This, caught me off guard because while I frequently put up with non-sense from my kids, I rarely put up with the same non-sense from my students. But there we were, the snow piling up outside, my students taking the last quiz of the semester inside. I did what I always do: wait until everyone is done, then ask, “Who needs more time?” Inevitably, a few hands shoot up. “Okay, take 30 more seconds,” I say. 60 seconds later, I told everyone to switch their quizzes and get their books out in order to grade the quizzes together. Everyone complied. Except Fred – let’s call him – a six foot two, big Italian-American, good lookin’ kid. Hunkered over the page, Fred’s curly brown hair dropped over his quiz. “Fred,” I said. “Switch your quiz.” “Just a minute,” He said. “I’m focussing on a question.” I blinked stunned. The other students turned into snow banks – silent, still. “Fred,” I said again, trying to stay calm. “If you don’t switch your quiz now, you’re going to get a zero.” “Hold on,” he replied. I could hardly believe it. My heart pounded. I felt the blood rushing to my temples, but I also had a reply on the tip of my tongue, thanks to Love and Logic. I was just off-kilter having to use it on this grown young man sitting before me. “Oh, that’s too bad,” I said, pushing myself up from my seat and walking toward him. “I’m so bummed you’re making that decision.” With that, I took the quiz from him and returned it to my desk.  In retrospect, I should have thrown it in the trash with flourish. But who has time to think of such theatrics when your adrenaline is pumping? “Alright, let’s look at these quizzes,” I turned to the rest of the class, forcing myself to sound bright. During class, Fred and his crew revolted. They talked loudly about work and parties. I told them to get back to work and move onto the next activity. They got up and left for the bathroom. I ignored them. Then after class, I called Fred up. “Look, you have to cooperate with me,” I said. “It’s not fair to the rest of the class if you get more time.” “What’s with the three minute quiz all of a sudden?” he pushed. “I waited for everyone to be done. You had extra time to finish.” But really I wasn’t going to go down that road with him. “Listen, this isn’t personal. It’s not going to effect your grade in the rest of class. You just have to cooperate with me.” He mumbled and slumped out of class. The whole thing made me feel yucky inside. Much like I’m sure any of us might feel when we find ourselves unexpectedly challenged by someone who could snap us in two.  Through this entire thing, the kids were a dream. We gathered up the toys and trudged back through the snow to my office. “Mom!” Noelle observed, kicking snow with her feet. “You talk to your students like you talk to us.” “What do you mean?” “When they don’t trade papers and stuff. You say the same things to them you say to us.” I wasn’t aware she had even heard my interchange with Fred. For all I knew, she was engrossed in her game. But, of course, Noelle caught the emotionally charged moment. Perceptive as a shard of glass, that girl. She cuts right through the chitter chatter and hears what’s relational, what’s real. “You’re right,” I said, and despite the yucky spot the whole interchange with Fred left in my chest, I laughed all the way up to my office.

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My Father’s Library

Posted on February 16, 2015

This Christmas, my dad lead Dwayne and me into his study and motioned to the bookshelves lining every wall.

“I’m trying to clear out some of my books. Help yourself.”

I stood motionless. In a single sweep, my father opened the treasures of my childhood and adolescent interior worlds to me. In my father’s library, I met CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, AW Towzer, Carl Sandburg, Brennan Manning and Henri Nouwen.

For the next hour, Dwayne, my dad and I slowly perused the spines on each shelf, pulling books out one by one and walking through memories together. I noted the pale green and white line drawings of JRR Tolkien’s 1970’s edition of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In college, I pulled each of the three volumes off Dad’s book shelf and read one per year.

My freshman year, I read The Lord of the Rings; my sophomore year, The Two Towers; my junior year, The Return of the King. That Christmas Peter Jackson’s first film came out and Dwayne and I saw it together as friends. The following year, the second film came out and Dwayne and I saw it as fiancés. The third year, the final film came out and Dwayne and I saw it as wife and husband.

On an adjacent shelf, I found Until We Have Faces. The paper cover was ripped off, the pages yellowed with time. “This book” I said pulling it down from the shelf and turning toward Dad, “This book left me breathless at the end.” He nodded knowingly.

One by one, Dwayne and I slipped books into a box to take home. Some I couldn’t bare to take, no matter how much I loved them.

“Dad,” I said. “I can’t imagine you without your books around you.”

“Take care of my good friends,” he smiled. I left most of CS Lewis with him, and all of Tolkien. I just couldn’t bare to bring them home. They are so entwined in my father’s legacy for me.

I did bring, however, E. Stanley Jones, Thomas Merton, Carl Sandburg, Nouwen and Parker Palmer. These I could stand to imagine away from my father, though I know they are dear to him too.

Right now, I’m reading Christ of the Indian Road by Jones. I read it in high school, but now twenty years later, each page is revelation all over again. Now, twenty years later, I see in these pages fresh insight for my life, but also an open window back into my childhood as a missionary kid. I see in these pages a sensibility that resonates with my perceptions of the world, not just because they are true for me as a follower of Jesus living in a culture that does not entirely trust Christianity. This is all good and true.

But there is something deeper here, something even more nuanced. I read in these pages the same thoughts that resonated with my father so many decades ago, that shaped his work as a missionary, shaped his psyche and heart as a man. He passed these values, the ethos in these pages, down to me. I recognize them. I see them in our home then, I see them internalized in my heart now. I see the world my father wove around me in words and stories and action and truth.

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This is Not a Story of Injustice: Part 2

Posted on January 5, 2015

When I brought my concerns to the leaders of the Wesleyan denomination about a rumor that one of their pastors was unwilling to hire a woman to the ranks of leadership simply because he wasn’t “comfortable working that closely with a woman,” I was pleasantly surprised by the response I got.

In fact, what I encountered was swift action on the part of those in leadership to address any form of sexism that might hinder a woman from leading in ministry.

Primarily, I contacted David Drury, the Chief of Staff of the Wesleyan Church who works under the “top dog” of the denomination, Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, the General Superintendent. In his response, he cc:ed Dr. Lyon, as well as Russ Gonsalus, the Executive Director of the Education and Clergy Development Division.

Here’s what they wrote me, what they did, and what they are continuing to do across the denomination to help advocate for women in leadership:

1) Questioning the Legalism: 

Before I get into anything that Drury and Gunsalus told me, it’s important to read what Drury has written himself about working closely with women in ministry. As a second chair leader, working closely with a woman leader, he has a unique perspective on this issue, and a vital one, I might add.

He wrote a very well-read blog this past August titled, “Is Being Alone with a Woman the Eighth Deadly Sin?”

In this post, Drury calls into question the practice made famous by Billy Graham of never being alone with a woman. Graham instituted this practice out of a heart of integrity and a desire to be above reproach in his ministry, but unfortunately, his “rule” has been repeated across Evangelical circles and has inadvertently lead the way for sexism to take root.

In his blog, Drury makes the point that perhaps having healthy, appropriate cross-gender relationships should be the ultimate aim for those in ministry. And he goes onto insinuate that this Billy Graham Rule does not provide the context for such healthy relations. In fact, he states that it may even “preclude” appropriate relationships.

Very astute observation.

2) Making Women’s Leadership a PUBLIC piece of the Wesleyan Body:

There is a long list of ways that the Wesleyan Church is actively showcasing women leadership upfront in public forums. Here are just a few:

a) During the National Convention this year, Dr Lyon and her team have actively worked to diversify the panels so that women leaders in the church are represented, especially in high ranking roles.

b) Also during the National Convention, there will be a table talk focussing on men and women working in leadership together.

c) The denomination has initiated the process of launching a network of support and advocacy for women clergy.

d) In addition to all this, Dr. Lyon and Drury are working to open the doors for women to preach and lead in the most public roles. As Drury put it, “I think we need to make sure we have diversity up front to show that these things are workable.”

3) Focussing on the Emotional Health and Well-being of Pastors:

This initiative by the Wesleyan Church is near and dear to my heart. My knee-jerk reaction to resistance toward working closely with the opposite sex for fear of having an affair, is that abstinence is not a fail-safe for infidelity.

If I’m feeling drawn toward someone outside my marriage, I take that as a red flag that my relationship with Dwayne needs a little tender lovin’ care. And if it’s not our marriage that is need of some repair, then I have to ask myself am I run-down? Tired? Depressed? In what ways do I need self-care?

When I posited this idea to Drury and Gunsalus that perhaps pastoral care might be a way to help stave off infidelity at the highest levels, instead of segregated leadership, Gunsalus responded with a resounding “yes.”

He wrote, “We’re undertaking a myriad of new initiatives to help in the area of relational and emotional well-being for clergy. Many of them are being unveiled in the most public fashion at the [national convention].” Gunsalus sent me to this link covering Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, Intellectual, and Relational resources for Wesleyan pastors.

4) Calling the Pastor Out. 

Just these larger initiates alone would have been enough for me to feel good about the way my faith tradition is advocating for women, but to put the bow on the top, Drury went out of his way to write the pastor to whom I’d anonymously referred. He put two and two together. :-)

He didn’t mention my name, but he did want to ask the pastor if the rumor was true: that he wasn’t hiring a woman into the role of Executive Pastor, simply because he wasn’t comfortable working that closely with her. If it was true, he wanted to “throw accountability into the mix,” to put it in his words.

A day later, as an addendum to another e-mail to me, Drury mentioned that he had spoken with the pastor and gotten an answer. The pastor admitted to having felt that way in the past, but had since changed his mind and was now actively mentoring a woman on his staff to rise in the ranks of leadership, if not at his church then another church where the doors may open.

And that my friends, is how it’s done. That is how men and women in power turn sexism on it’s heel and walk it out the door. That doesn’t mean the Wesleyan Denomination has it all wrapped up.  Certainly not, the statistics still skew toward predominantly male leadership in the church. However, I feel good knowing that people like Dr. Lyon, Drury and Gunsalus are at the helm, using their power to tackle the injustice of gender inequality.

I’ll end with this thought from Joss Whedon, a leading feminist in Hollywood. While addressing a gathering of  Entertainment professionals he pronounced:

“Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women. And the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it.

Amen and Amen, and may the church be Eden on this earth, the sacred space where gravity is restored.

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This is Not a Story About Injustice: Part 1

Posted on January 3, 2015

You know that story? The one where the woman sits in church and hears about sexism among the church staff and so she approaches the denominational leaders about this sexism, only to be scuttled, ignored and silenced?

This is not that story.

This is a story about how those in power are listening, acting, confronting, and empowering. And because we hear the first story all too often, I want to tell the second story. I want to send you off into 2015 with this new story reverberating in your ears: sometimes, when we speak up, we are heard, and things move.

Over Christmas, I visited a Wesleyan church. While sitting in the pews, I admired the woman worship pastor. Clearly, she was doing a remarkable job. “Pastor respects her so much,” I was told. “In fact, he has said before that if he felt more comfortable working closely with a woman, he would hire her to be Executive Pastor.”

I blanched. Then, I got really steamed.

All the way home I ranted to Dwayne. “I never thought I would hear that in a Wesleyan church!”

You see, the Wesleyan Church has a radical history of women’s equality. From the very beginning, we have ordained women pastors alongside men. The very first Women’s Rights Convention was held at a Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY, and we have a 5-page position statement on the matter of women in ministry.

In fact, the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, the “Big Dog” of the denomination, is a woman, Dr. Joan Lyon.  In other words, of all places sexism should be running with it’s tail between it’s legs, it’s in the churches of the Wesleyan denomination.

However, this practice of segregating men and women in ministry was made famous by Billy Graham, who went to great lengths to never be alone with a woman, and has been repeated ad nauseaum across Evangelical circles. I have spent my fair share of time working in church offices and I have shriveled to the size of a pea when a male pastor has asked someone not to leave the room so he and I won’t be left alone together.

On the one hand, I appreciate the desire to establish healthy boundaries and I recognize the stain of infidelity that has streaked across the church at large and made such rules seem appealing. But, I also know that refusing to hire a woman into the ranks of leadership simply because she is she, is sexism no matter how “righteous” the excuse.

“Well, why don’t you talk to Dave Drury about it?” Dwayne offered. And I knew he was right. I knew I wanted to go straight to the top and hear what the denominational leaders had to say about this rumor.

Dave Drury is the Chief of Staff of the Wesleyan Church, and is the second in command to Dr. Joan Lyon. He has a unique perspective on the matter as a man working in support of a woman leader.

In my e-mail to Dave, I wanted to be measured. I didn’t name names. I kept all the key details redacted. I acknowledged that what I had heard was a rumor and could quite possibly be groundless, but I was interested in knowing how he and the other leaders of the Wesleyan Church might be addressing similar sentiments among their male pastors. I wrote, “Men are in the highest ranks and so how do they open the doors to women without feeling they are compromising their boundaries?  How do men and women work closely together in leadership while also creating healthy boundaries?”

Dave didn’t disappoint. Within 24 hours he had written back asking permission to cc: not only Dr. Lyon but also Russ Gunsalus, the Executive Director of the Education and Clergy Development Division.

What he wrote me not only made me proud to be a part of the Wesleyan tradition, but restored my faith in the ability of those in power to listen and respond swiftly to injustice.

Oh, and he also told me that he suspected he knew the pastor to which I was anonymously referring. (What can I say? It’s a small denomination. :-) He wrote the man directly, never mentioning my name. Dave explained, “thought I’d throw some accountability in the mix and have the confrontation now if needed.”

To be continued…

 

The Christmas Bell: A Reflection on Belief

Posted on December 15, 2014

christmas bellFrom time to time, I joke that perhaps I’m getting Alzheimers. This is only partially funny, I recognize, and not at all funny to those who have a family member with mental illness. But this joke is the only way I know to dissipate the anxiety I truly feel over my more mindless mistakes.

Take for example the time I walked right past our mini-van without seeing it. I was so certain Dwayne had taken it to work with Nathan’s stroller in the back, that I hauled Nathan out the door on my hip and walked right past the van parked in our driveway, never once SEEING it.

When Nathan and I returned from dropping Noelle off at school, I rounded the corner and stood nose to trunk with our mini-van. I was stunned. Had it been there the whole time? Had I truly walked past it, all the while mumbling and grumbling about how Dwayne had taken it to work and left me without a stroller?

I called Dwayne in a panic. “Dwayne!” I huffed down the phone. “I think I’m getting Alzheimers!  I walked right past the van today and never saw it! I thought you had taken it to work.”

Dwayne responded calmly, as if I wasn’t concluding the most devastating diagnosis for my mindlessness. “Christin, they have done studies on how people don’t see things they’re not expecting to see.  You didn’t expect to see the van in the driveway and so you simply didn’t see it.” I could almost hear his shoulders shrug over the receiver.

I took a deep breath, relieved. So there was scientific proof then. I wasn’t devolving into Alzheimers. Apparently, lots of people don’t see things right in front of their face, even things as big as a mini-van.

Just this past week, the college hosted a Christmas party for the entire faculty and staff at a renovated movie palace on the square. There were drinks and appetizers, cookies and hot chocolate, along with a special showing of the “Polar Express” for the children.

The kids and I grabbed our boxes of popcorn and sat at the very front of the balcony, the entire theater sprawled out below our feet.  We hovered in mid-air like this for the entire show, watching as the hero boy boards a steam locomotive to the North Pole. He’s unsure if he believes in Santa and he’s plagued throughout the story about whether or not he’ll hear Santa’s sleigh bells. When the moment of truth arrives, he stands in the main square of the North Pole amidst cheering elves, watching the reign deer leap and prance. He is panic-stricken to discover that he can not hear the beautiful silver bells bouncing along the reigns.

Suddenly, a single bell falls from the strap and rolls to his feet. He picks it up and shakes it next to his ear. Nothing. He shakes it again. Nothing. Fear and disappointment pinch his face. “Okay, okay,” he pants. “I believe. I believe!” He shakes the bell one more time and this time, it rings.

After the movie, the kids and I walked home through the mild winter evening. While we walked, our conversation turned to the other Christmas story: the one about Jesus and his birth. Noelle and I discussed why Jesus was born and what made his coming to Earth so special.

“Before Jesus came, people didn’t know what God was like,” she rattled on, climbing our steps.  “But then when Jesus came, he said, ‘This is what God’s like.’”

“That’s right,” I nodded, helping her and Nathan into the house and out of their coats.

She thought for a moment, her little face turned upward.

“Mommy? What if people don’t believe in God, though? What happens to them?”

My stomach dropped, as it often does when Noelle posits these larger-than-the-universe questions. How am I, with my puny non-theologian brain supposed to answer these questions? But then, I suddenly thought of the scene from “The Polar Express” with the sliver bell.

“It’s like that scene in the movie,” I said slowly, trying to feel my way along. “Where the little boy can’t hear the bell. Remember? He can’t hear it until he says he believes.” I glanced down to see if she was listening. Her little face was still, pensive. I pushed on. “Well, if people don’t believe in God, they won’t see Him.  Just like with the bell, the little boy couldn’t hear it until he believed it.”

She seemed contented with this answer, and so I pulled off her glasses, tucked her into bed and snapped off the light.

Since then, I’ve thought about my answer. Rolled it over in my mind examining it for any cracks, any faulty logic. The skeptic in me chimes in, “But isn’t choosing to believe in something, just a form of self-deception? Don’t we conjure and create what we want to see, even if it isn’t there?”

And of course, I have to acknowledge that this is true. Just as we may be capable of ignoring something as big as a mini-van, right in front of our faces, then we must equally be capable of creating a reality that isn’t true, just because we expect to see it.

And while this may certainly be true for many areas of life, I keep coming back to this one small fact: while so much in life may actually be empty driveways and broken bells, there is this one time when the mini-van was in deed its whole self in my driveway, steel and paint and glass right beside me, the edge of my sleeve whispering past its glossy surface. The fact that I didn’t expect to see it and so didn’t see it, did not change the reality that is was there, all along.

This Christmas season I’ve been thinking about believing and hearing and seeing. I’ve been mulling over the essence of Faith.  I’ve come away with this thought: sometimes, choosing to believe doesn’t have to mean self-deception; sometimes, it can mean opening our ears to a bell that has been ringing ever since the first Christmas night.

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