Christians, all Christians but especially evangelical Christians, capitalize on this holiday to talk about how bad we are at giving thanks to God and how we need to do better. The church often trumpets about how we’re never praising God enough, heaping guilt on someone receiving chemo and not simultaneously erupting in praise or shaming someone who can’t make ends meet for the month and not bursting out in song when their electricity is cut off. Apparently, an attitude of gratitude gives you the strength to persevere.
That may work for some, but please, for God’s sake (yes, I mean that literally), stop telling people how they should suffer! If someone wants to weep through physical therapy as they have to relearn to walk and they can’t summon gratitude, then it’s never, ever your responsibility to correct them and direct them to do so!
DO NOT start a sentence with, “Well, at least you…” They don’t need to have a change of perspective to see that “someone always has it worse.” Listen, but don’t give advice. Encourage people when they go to therapy. Stand by people when they have mood swings from their depression medication. Cry with them. That pleases God so much more than demanding they constantly give thanks when they see little to give thanks for.
God doesn’t stand over the stranger, the orphan, and the widow and demand that they forsake their tears and praise God. God gets down on the ground and weeps with them.
So if you’re struggling with gratitude this Thanksgiving, it’s okay. Don’t pile more guilt and shame on yourself because your sighs are too deep for words. If counting your blessings doesn’t cheer you up, then don’t worry about it. Just survive the day, take the next step, and take care of yourself. Don’t wound yourself more by living up to the religious expectation of unabashed praise. It’s okay not to be okay, even on Thanksgiving. God is patient, and God would rather have genuine gratitude over “fake it until you make it” praise.
I’m carrying a lot these days; this year has been a tough one. The first third of the year was miserable with leaving my toxic ministry and dealing with panic attacks. The middle has been full of rest, healing, and discovery. But this last third has almost undone all of the healing that I worked so hard for.
I am grateful for those who have encouraged me and shared my ministry with others. Starting a new ministry with Tales of Glory means that I need help, and asking for help can be really hard. But I am also disappointed that I haven’t received as much help as I have needed and asked for. It’s discouraging and lonely.
I have made some tough decisions in regards to setting myself free from abusive situations, how to move forward, and realizing how that might (permanently?) affect my future. I am fighting off another cold (I had one just a month ago!) and we’re coming up one month of living in a hotel after our fire.
It’s hard not to be depressed. It’s hard not to lose my faith. It’s hard not to close myself off from others and completely withdraw within myself. Sometimes I feel as if I only have my husband and myself. Part of that is beyond my control. The other part might be my own doing as I retract from the world that seems to really have it out for me.
On my sick day, I decided to go back and watch Queer Eye from the beginning. 5 gay men, known as the Fab 5, enter a person’s life to make them over on the outside and makeover their home, but also reach deep to boost their confidence and self-image, work on their relationships, work on their professional lives, and truly bring out the beauty in each one of the “heroes” they work with. It never fails to bring joy and light in my life. But it was extra profound to watch these episodes that hit on so many of the things I am experiencing: loneliness, complicated family situations, struggling to connect to others, struggling with faith and theology, and even the grueling struggle of starting a business.
In one of the most recent episodes where they took Queer Eye to Japan, one of the Fab 5 named Antoni, who specializes in food, was watching some of the footage from one of their makeovers. They always watch footage of how their makeover has helped their “hero.” Antoni was openly weeping when he saw the hero and her friend embracing each other for the first time after decades of friendship, which they said was not common in their culture. He cried out, “Why does kindness always make me cry?!” Through my own tears, I laughed and said, “That’s all of us watching this on every episode!”
I have been knocked off my feet so many times just this year alone that I know there is no way to know what the future holds. I don’t really know how this chapter of life is going to work out for me. I keep scanning the horizon for a sign and coming up empty. What I do know is that Queer Eye is the microcosm of what the kingdom of God should look like. I am going to keep gathering these little pockets of joy and kindness to sustain my soul. Maybe my own faith and my own ministry can grow from there. For today, Queer Eye has kept my faith in God and in the goodness of others alive. Each day looks different, and each day I react differently as I stumble through; but at least for today I am pushing through with the small gift of hope given to me by the Fab 5.
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Our final blog in the “hard seasons” series is well-timed for the holidays: Halloween, All Souls, and All Saints. This week we focus on mortality.
Here in this scripture passage we focus on Paul’s mortality. He has lived a long, hard, fulfilling life of creating community and sharing the Good News of the Gospel. Like every human being in the world, Paul shows mixed emotions to his situation. He has been abandoned, imprisoned, and persecuted. He’s hurting and grieving. But he finds healing in his faith, purpose in his mission, and comfort in his community. He’s striving to make peace with what he foresees to be his death, but also has some hope that maybe he will survive this. It’s heartbreaking and complicated. There is fear. There is hope. There is pain. There is acceptance. It’s a good picture of what we all go through when facing mortality.
I wish I could say that I don’t fear death, but I very much do. I am afraid of the pain and suffering. We all want to die painlessly in our sleep, don’t we? One of the comforts we have, when we have physical pain and suffering, is that it will pass. What happens when you are suffering so much that you know it will consume you? What a horrifying thought.
This probably doesn’t sound very hopeful, and you might be wondering why I am being so morbid. I’m sharing this because I want you to know it’s okay to be afraid. It was always preached to me that no “good” or “true” Christian should be afraid of dying. That’s not true. You don’t lack faith for having fear. While the passage above doesn’t show Paul’s fear, if you read the whole chapter you can see it. Paul was urging his friends and community to come be with him, quickly before it was too late. He was afraid.
Fear can be simultaneous with faith and acceptance. Anytime we suffer, whether or not we are facing mortality, we do not have to put on a brave face for anyone. People often compliment others when they “never complain” through their cancer treatments, or when they “never lost their sense of humor” when the doctors said there was nothing else they could do. These things are great if they help the individual who is facing their mortality: if humor and positivity help us cope, then do it! But don’t feel like you have to keep everyone else positive, laughing, and smiling when you are the one suffering. Your responsibility is to yourself; you shouldn’t have to comfort others when you are the one who should be comforted.
And then, this turns to us as well. When others suffer, don’t turn away. If we are uncomfortable with the suffering of others, that is our problem, not theirs. They shouldn’t have to make us feel better about our secondhand trauma, when they’re the ones dealing with it firsthand. We shouldn’t expect them to hold our hand; we need to hold theirs (if they want us to.)
Let’s leave space for fear in our faith. If someone is at peace and is unafraid of death, it’s because they have learned how to cope with fear in a healthy way. If we suppress it, then it eats at us from the inside and robs us of the possibility of the peace we desire when facing mortality. Paul expresses his fear, but by doing so he made a path for peace and acceptance of his death. He knew that God would abide in his final hours, and Paul longed to see the face of the Lord. Just like Paul’s story, facing mortality is heartbreaking and complicated, but naming our fears takes away their power. Once we accept that it’s okay to be afraid, the peace of God can find its way in our hearts to comfort and guide.
Genesis 32:22-31 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
I have always loved this story. I get it. I think we all do. We’ve all wrestled with our faith, demanding a blessing, desperate for an identity, looking for a victory. Sometimes spiritual enlightenment can feel like an exciting revelation, or like a warm peace, or a lightbulb clicking on. It can be thrilling and affirming. Other times it feels like a battle, or suffering, or like everything you have is being robbed of you, or like parts of you are being burned away. It can be painful and feel like dying. When we learn more about God, ask the hard questions, unlearn certain things, relearn old things, embrace new things, we are growing our faith, even if it feels like an endless wrestling match on a dark night that we come away from limping.
I have limped my way through the year after facing sexism, ageism, and abuse of power. Just as it felt as if I was healing and moving forward, I was struck and I am limping again. We had a small house fire, and now we are figuring out what will come next. My theology has not survived. I have had to wrestle like Jacob because my lived experience no longer matched the things I believed about God. Why has this happened? Where is God in this? Where is my blessing? Who am I? What is my name? When will I see the daylight again? When is enough, enough? I’m still wrestling. I’m still trying to piece together what my beliefs are now. I don’t have all the answers, but I won’t stop asking the questions.
Faith is mysterious, like this passage. Who was Jacob wrestling with? It says a man, but then Jacob says that he has seen the face of God and prevailed. In the book of Hosea, it says that Jacob wrestled an angel. Some type of divine encounter occurred, and Jacob was brave enough to demand a blessing from it. Jacob did his best to make sense of his encounter, getting what he asked for, but not getting all the clarity to what he experienced. Jacob was permanently blessed and cursed.
This is truly a parable that represents the mystery of faith, God, and life. I think when we’re wrestling with faith and God, we are surrounded by mystery. We’re asking the questions that may never be answered, and yet we have to keep moving forward. We may come away blessed and cursed. I think the essence of spiritual growth is admitting that we will never have a complete understanding of the divine or the natural world while also being true to our ever-changing beliefs and identity. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” or “I’m still searching” or “I’m not sure what I believe” or “I’m frustrated” or “I no longer subscribe to this aspect of my faith” or “My beliefs have changed.” Faith is a lifelong process. And we were never commissioned to have it all figured out. And it’s okay to have negative feelings in relation to faith. It’s who we are, and God loves us and tells us it’s okay and to do our best.
Ultimately, while we are in hard seasons of wrestling that feel like suffering and dying, we are not being erased. We are being remade. I don’t believe that God sends people to bully us or sends house fires to harm us so that God can change us. Instead, I think really terrible things happen because we live in a broken world, but God cares enough to show up. And God is willing to be our wrestling partner while we work through this mess. Somehow, transformation happens in this season. Like Jacob, we may come away scarred, but we may also be renamed and made new. Our sense of identity is important to God because it is important to us. So if, like me, you find yourself wrestling with faith and feeling like your theology is being stripped away, perhaps, whenever you are ready and only if it is helpful, seek this opportunity to engage in a spiritual awakening that leads you to a new identity.
I leave you with these lyrics from the song “24” by Switchfoot:
I want to see miracles, see the world change Wrestled the angel, for more than a name For more than a feeling For more than a cause I’m singing Spirit take me up in arms with You And You’re raising the dead in me
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
If your situation isn’t ideal, if you have hopes and dreams for the future, if things aren’t bad but could be better, if you feel like life is mundane or boring or stagnant, then staying where you are can be really tough. It can feel like life has stalled and that time is being wasted. You may wonder when, or if, you will move forward again.
I knew this time last year that I couldn’t stay in the situation I was in. It was toxic and painful. But I also knew that I was stuck until at least after Christmas. I had to stay in Florida, where I really didn’t love living, at a job where I was facing poor treatment every single day, and we had to figure out a new place to live with new jobs. My husband and I started searching and we knew this would take time. Until something new happened, we had to stay put.
In this week’s scripture text the prophet Jeremiah speaks to the exiles in Babylon to deliver the hard truth that an early return back home was false hope. Instead, these displaced people would have to stay put for a while. God was sending a message for them to build homes, grow families, and plant gardens right where they were. The exiles had broken hearts from losing their homes; their situation was not a happy one. But God wanted them to keep living, to persevere, and to resist. Their lives weren’t over, God had a plan. But they had to stay in the foreign land for the time being and live their lives there.
While my husband and I were waiting to leave Florida, we kept living while we were there. After returning from Christmas vacation, I knew January would bring changes. We had to leave as fast as we could. And things started moving quickly on a professional level. We had an exit plan. But we still had some time to wait before it all came to fruition. So January through March we traveled across the state to different cities on the weekends as a way to escape, but also take advantage of living in a state that was new to us. We couldn’t abandon our hobbies or sit around miserable while we were waiting. We had to stay, but we had to keep living.
If you’re in a hard season of staying where you are, waiting for something new or better to happen, keep living. Do things that nourish your soul. Don’t put your life on hold just because things aren’t ideal. Staying put doesn’t mean staying still. Go and live.
Around this time each year, people begin looking forward to Advent. We’re still in “ordinary time” on the liturgical calendar, and it’s loooong stretch between Pentecost and Advent with only a few special Sundays sprinkled in. Even though I am not preaching right now, I am also feeling the stretch of ordinary time and I wanted to do a blog series on some of these ordinary time lectionary texts. A theme in many of these scriptures is hard seasons. While we’re tired from the unseasonal heatwaves and longing for the hopeful anticipation of Advent I think that this series may be appropriate for the church calendar and for our personal lives. This week we will begin with lament.
Lamentations 1:1-6 How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.
In seminary, we talked about how churches have lost the art of lament. I have experienced this to be true. Worship is about offering ourselves to God, our full selves, and that means our grief and sorrows. Suffering together is a holy act. Weeping as one is sacred. However, I have noticed that there are far too many people who are quick to complain and rage when their weekly church service isn’t the serotonin hit they were hoping for.
It’s common to hear church members wanting to hear about peace and wanting to be made to feel good when they come to church. They want church to be their weekly escape from the world.
That’s not ever what church was meant to be. If the church is an escape from the world, instead of engaging in the suffering and injustice for the sake of love and peace, then it is not church. The early church was a community of oppressed believers sharing all that they had with one another who were lving their lives, the good and the bad, together. There will never truly be peace without facing suffering and injustice.
If church is an escape to make us feel good, then we’re worshiping ourselves and not God.
Sure, sermons about inner peace and spirituality have their place. God speaks peace to our troubled spirits through the scriptures, and those of us who are struggling and striving need some fresh air of good news. But everyone deserves good news, and that comes in many different forms. Good news can be that we do not suffer alone and that our church community is in the trenches with us.
If the world around us is suffering, then it is our spiritual responsibility to weep with those who weep, and strive for a better world or everyone. Trying to gloss over the issues of the world with platitudes and self-help talks doesn’t truly help anyone. If we dedicate ourselves to loving our neighbor, then their troubles are our troubles, and we lament with them. If we can have the compassion to lament with each other, then we can have the compassion to invest the time and money in the problems of the world.
This weekend I saw pastor and activist John Pavlovitz speak. He said, “I don’t have to share your lived experience to care about your lived experience.” This is what we are called to in the Christian life, and our worship to God should reflect that. Sometimes sermons make us feel good. Sometimes they challenge us. Regardless, sermons are meant to be a message from God to us. It’s about what we need, and what those around us need; not about what we want.
We can find feel-good experiences in many outlets out in the world: our hobbies, our rest, our play, our media, our books, our friends, and our family. But worship is giving to God. And part of our giving to God is lament, mourning, and weeping. If we cannot weep for ourselves and weep for others, we are not giving our all to God. Let us recover lament. Grieving as a community is healthy for our souls and opens our hearts to empathy.
Getting a new enterprise going is tough. You have to go all-in because you know it’s all on you to succeed. I have been working on Tales of Glory since July, and I am starting to get traction with my work. However, I am hitting a bit of a wall. Burn out is real, especially after leaving trauma behind. But I am learning how to balance the time when I need to pause, take a breath, lean into healing, and start again.
I have had wonderful people reach out and encourage me. This encouragement has seemingly come out of the blue, but I believe that the Holy Spirit works behind the scenes when we are struggling. These messages people send me give me peace, and they soothe the pain and anger I have felt toward God, myself, and those who’ve hurt me. I have taken time to meditate, pray, and cry over these kind words. They heal me. But, the time I spend in prayer and meditation is time away from my work, and then I don’t accomplish what I had hoped for the day.
But I need these moments to heal. Healing is not linear and takes time. Also, I cannot minister if I refuse to talk to God out of anger and if I hold onto the suffering. Rage creates self-inflicted wounds. So I choose to pause, to heal. Instead of scolding myself for not meeting all of my goals for the day, I lean into the peace. I work through my anger or sadness. Then I take a breath. I let the love others show me and the love God is sending wash over me. I sit in the light shining on me. I can’t move forward in my work, at least not to its full potential, if I am not also on a path to healing. I cannot heal if I do not allow the space for it to happen.
When the weight of your work is bearing down on you, and your mind or your soul needs a break, then take a breath. You may not cross everything off your to-do list for the day, but you and your work will be better for it. And if someone crosses your mind, reach out to them. Encourage them. The Holy Spirit may be working through you; you just may be an essential part of their healing.
I struggled for a while. I kept my head down. I had to just find a way to survive from one moment to the next.
Then came a time when I was healing and doing better, but since so many unexpected things had happened, I was untethered. I was so very lost. I was aimless, and I had no idea if I would ever recover to a point of feeling like I was going somewhere in my life. So while I was doing better, I thought I had failed to launch and didn’t know if I would get the chance again. I couldn’t think about the future, because I didn’t know if I had a future.
Now I am moving forward with a new job and a new enterprise. I have no idea if this is going anywhere, or if this is a detour that leads me to something else. I don’t have a plan, but I have to take a chance on new things. I won’t go anywhere if I don’t try moving a little.
In some ways, I’m still a little lost, since I don’t have a long term plan. But, I’m dreaming again. I now feel as if I have a future again, even if the trajectory isn’t clear. Will Tales of Glory take off and turn into something great? Will I get another Master’s degree in another field? Will I get a doctorate? Will I get my writing published? Will I write some good works people will want to read? I don’t know the answer, but the simple fact that I can even dream about the future and ponder what is to come is a huge step forward from I was just a few short months ago.
I’m not going into this season of life unafraid. I am afraid things with Tales of Glory won’t work out and I’ll be left without any ideas. I am afraid of a possible economic recession, especially with taking a risk on a new financial venture. But I am hopeful, and I choose courage in the face of fear. I am dreaming again, not just fighting to survive the day. I am moving forward, taking risks, and trying something new. I don’t want to live a life where I regretted allowing my fear stop me from trying new things; nor do I want to live a life where I remained stuck and let fear stop me from dreaming.
It’s been almost three months since I have posted a blog. I have been in a season of healing, traveling, and soul searching. The Holy Spirit has been moving, and something new is happening in my ministry.
With my bachelor’s in theatre, Master of Divinity, and Master of Arts in Practical Theology, I have been discerning how I might use my creative arts in my ministry. I had spent the last several months listening to storytelling podcasts and looking into local storytelling events. I went back to theatre work and served as a stage manager in a local production. And then I realized the answer was right under my nose: Biblical Storytelling.
Through my biblical storytelling called “Tales of Glory” I want to uplift the voices and stories of the marginalized in scripture to bring the Bible to life! Biblical storytelling is a great way to connect people to the stories and people of the Bible through the shared human experience. It’s easy to romanticize stories, idolize “heroes”, and gloss over the stories that make us uncomfortable. However, storyteller brings the stories to life to show us that we are the same, imperfect, messy people we have always been who fight to rise above evil and take the world by surprise through subversive acts. This helps us to be more compassionate to one another. If we can see how human the people in the Bible are, then we relate to them better. This helps us to see the humanness in our neighbors today: our LGBTQ+ neighbors, immigrant neighbors, women neighbors, abused neighbors, neighbors of color, poor neighbors, and so on.
Bringing the Bible to life shows us how God has been at work in the world long before, now in the moment, and in the future long after we have passed on. I would love to bring “Tales of Glory” to your church or community. I want the arts to be accessible to all, and I want us to be connected to one another as God’s family. This is a new journey, a bit of a risk, but one I am very excited about.
I almost abandoned my love of writing and theatre for the sake of ministry. I have loved both of these artistic elements since I was a child, and I was given opportunities to grow my talents. As a teenager I felt a call to ministry and thought that maybe I could use my creativity in ministry. In college I double majored in theatre and religious studies, and I minored youth ministry. I dreamed about what I could do with my passion and my calling together. I thought that when I went to seminary my vision would come into focus, and I would be inspired to forge a new path for myself.
Unfortunately, this isn’t what happened. My studies were academically rigorous, and while I had a class or two that was focused on creativity, it was within the traditional ministry model that leads to parish ministry as a pastor through which the arts could be used; these classes did not necessarily lend themselves to new ministry ideas. I also had numerous tasks, exams, meetings, and steps to complete for ordination. It was four years of one giant checklist (literally, I had a giant checklist that I checked off my fridge for four years.) After following the traditional model of seminary with little to no creative outlets to feed my soul, I thought my arts days were behind me and that those would be hobbies that would take second place to my “true” calling of being a pastor.
Part of my soul withered because it was starved of creativity. I thought it was a sacrifice I had to make for the greater good. What I learned is that I cannot serve the greater good if my soul is not being nourished. I cannot serve when I am not whole.
And then I realized that I don’t have a separate calling from my passion, my passions were given to me by God as part of my calling. If my calling lacks passion, I cannot serve with joy and energy. If my soul lacks passion, it suffers.
I have now published my first book, looking for a publisher for the second one, and writing my third. I am working as a stage manager for a local theatre, and I hope this is the beginning of being involved with the local theatre circuit. I am on the pulpit supply list for the local presbytery to preach when needed. While this is not how I will be able to sustain career-wise in the long term, it is fertile ground to discover what God is calling me to next. I will need room for creativity, whatever that means, however it looks. I do not know what’s next, but for now I have the freedom to dream, to try, to experiment, to hope, and to grow. I hope something beautiful comes from this.
Sometimes we sacrifice certain things to answer our callings, to do what is good in the world. But we do not have talents so that they might be wasted. If our souls die for lack of what feeds them, what we are able to do for the greater good is limited. We were created unique and gifted for the greater good, not in spite of it. Sometimes we have to blaze our own trails. We have to be brave and navigate uncharted territory. Trying something new, even if it’s scary, can save our souls.