Focus for 2018: Balancing Inner and Outer Wisdom

Focus for 2018Thank you for your patience--website is as good as new!

With the turn of the new year, gurus in every area of human accomplishment and fulfillment are promoting new on-line classes in everything from meditation and ministry to confidence-building and business-launching. When I peruse all the topics of learning, the number of podcasts that interest me, and add the fiction I would like to read or hear, it’s overwhelming. If all I do is stop to prioritize my learning and reading goals for this new year as a tool to pick and choose in what to invest my time and resources, I have missed the deeper spiritual yearning such desires awaken.

The constant glut of information and opportunities can tempt us away from seeking the wisdom that God has planted within us — our unique contributions, insights, and faith that come from the indwelling Spirit who enlightens our own particular incarnation in space and time. It’s easy to think that the answer to our struggles or unmet goals—whatever they might be—is “out there” somewhere, if we just find the right mentor, program or continuing education event.

The urging of the Spirit inside, however, calls me to set aside time to listen inwardly in contemplation before I look outside me for the direction or answers I seek. That’s not to say that I cannot be helped by others’ teachings; human development requires us to share our wisdom with those who come after us. But we rob ourselves and others, when we do not listen to the insight, hopes, plans, and dreams that bubble up from the God who makes a home in each of our hearts.

With this in mind, I have coined a phrase for my focus in 2018: “explorational balance.” I want to balance outward seeking with inward listening, reading with meditation, consumption with contemplation. I pursue a life that seeks new ideas, a deep growing spiritual life, faithful decisions, and a greater embodiment of love in and for the world — all of which can happen only when I moderate my search for learning from others with time to listen to the wisdom within.

We are each a one of kind embodiment of spirit and matter, energy and consciousness that has come into being after nearly 13.8 billion years of the evolution of Creation. What is the unique message the Spirit calls you to share in 2018? I invite you to join me in listening deeply with explorational balance!

Image: Mandala 77, Downloaded from hadas64.deviantart.com.

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Mary, Joseph, and #MeToo

Mary Joseph and MeTooHave you ever wondered what enabled Mary, the mother of Jesus, to say “yes” to God? Her pregnancy outside of wedlock brought good news to us, but it was bad news for Mary. To conceive outside of marriage broke the religious and cultural laws of her time; the punishment was death by stoning. Joseph would be expected to break their engagement, as any self-respecting first century Palestinian Jew would. Her family would disown her; if they let her live, which was unlikely, she would be ostracized and alone. A virgin made pregnant by the Holy Spirit? No one would believe that. The visit of the angel Gabriel to this young teenage girl, already betrothed, must have felt like the kiss of death.

This Scripture story sounds different to me this Christmas, after a season of #MeToo stories coming out weekly in the news. Why have women waited so long in silence before telling their truth? Perhaps because telling their stories would have felt like the kiss of death; they could lose everything—their careers, their credibility, maybe even the support of their families. They could be ostracized and left alone.

It would be easy to spiritualize Mary’s response and believe she said “yes” because she had a deep faith and connection to God. I think this was true in part. But perhaps there was also a more practical, human, relational reason Mary was able to step into this precarious and dangerous role. What if Mary said “yes” to God because she trusted that no matter how unlikely her story sounded, Joseph, her fiancé, would believe her?

To believe her, Joseph would have to let go of his power and privilege and risk everything with Mary. He also would have to physically protect her. Joseph could have gone to Bethlehem alone to register for the census, but instead, Mary traveled with him in the ninth month of her pregnancy. Perhaps it was the only way Joseph could keep her alive.

Today, women don’t need men to protect them physically in the same way, but women do need Josephs who will believe their stories of harassment and abuse. Women need colleagues, friends and family members — male and female — to listen to the truth of their experiences, even and especially when it puts at risk their own power and privilege, even and especially when that story is radically different from the hearer’s own experience. We need men to hold each other accountable for appropriate behavior in all arenas of society. We need men who, recognizing their own past failings as they listen to #MeToo reports, make amends by shifting their behavior, and by advocating for necessary changes in cultural attitudes and in workplace policies and practice.

Of course, this is what all marginalized people need: to have the advocacy and support of those with greater access to power. People of color need Caucasians fighting racism; gay and lesbian people need straight people promoting equal treatment; transgendered people need cisgendered people creating equal access; poor people need wealthy people fighting for their economic opportunity; immigrants need citizens supporting DACA.

When we seek the good of the whole community, we enable more and more people to say “yes” with Mary, to all of whom God calls them to be.

Image: LDS Media Library

 

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My #MeToo Story

My MeToo StoryWith powerful men in diverse industries finally being held accountable for sexual assault and harassment, it should be no surprise that the ministry is another workplace where women are vulnerable. Here, too, we are subjected to unwanted, intimidating, and confusing sexually charged advances ranging from innuendo to outright assault. My experiences were not unique, but for a very young woman in a religious environment, they were unexpected, extremely upsetting, and for a long time, career-altering.

My first experience occurred in the early 1980s. As an undergraduate, I was meeting with a science professor to plan a campus ministry event when he abruptly said, “excuse me, Linda, I’m just going to kiss you.” With no other context or reason, he leaned forward and kissed me. Startled, I looked at him in shock and confusion, causing him to apologize. Our planning session ended, and I avoided campus ministry events where he was present.

In the late 1980s, as an intern pastor in my third year of seminary, I frequently served church members living in a local nursing home. On one such visit, I encountered a newly appointed chaplaincy supervisor, an older man whom I looked up to. His wife and children had not yet joined him in their new home, and so I offered him an evening meal. In my mind, he personified pastoral wisdom, and this was an opportunity to learn. I also harbored some idealistic assumptions about married clergymen. (I know, naive, right? Blind to the potential for trouble!) Thank God, the events of that evening were upsetting, but not tragic. I may have been confused and off-balance inside, but I found the words to decline his offer to smoke pot and, somewhat later, to haltingly direct this senior member of my profession to put his shirt back on and leave my apartment.

Not long after, at a time when female pastors were still a novelty, I was interviewed by phone for my first congregational call. Without warning, a male member of the interview committee asked me, “So when does the swimsuit competition begin?” I had no words; the silence was deafening. Eventually, another interviewer stepped in with the next question. The call was offered, and I accepted. Soon after I arrived, this same man came to the office to continue where he’d left off. Politely rebuffed, he responded, “You better be careful. My wife is a cop and she has a gun.” Perhaps a half-joking suggestion that I keep my mouth shut…? I wouldn’t have mentioned the incidents to my immediate superior, anyway. Shortly after I’d arrived, he had given me a ride to an event, and when we ran into a family from his children’s school, he introduced me as his “new wife.”

How did I respond to these incidents, and others? In the early ‘80s, as an undergrad, I took the encounter with the professor to my campus pastor, who asked why I wasn’t flattered by the professor’s attentions—end of story. In the late ‘80s, as an intern, I sought help from my supervisor, an ordained pastor; after he discussed the matter with my dinner guest’s supervisor, I was told that I had “misunderstood” the situation. End of story again—except that I couldn’t serve at the nursing home, for fear of running into that chaplain again.

In the years following, as a chaplain and a pastor I continued to face similarly uncomfortable encounters, but I didn’t reveal them to anyone in leadership. I did not want to be told again that I should be flattered or that I had “misunderstood.” I confronted one person face to face, and he ceased making suggestive remarks. I handled another with a letter detailing how uncomfortable he had made me with his explicit comments, as my term as an on-call hospital chaplain ended. I came to believe that male pastors, unprepared for and uncomfortable with their early experiences with female colleagues, were sexualizing the relationship to “put me in my place,” to assert their superiority, even to manipulate my behavior. I stopped trusting male leadership, including the Bishop and his staff.

And then I moved on—more or less, anyway. I have never before reflected on the possibility that the cumulative effect of those sexist, belittling encounters has been shaping my pastoral career. Now, listening to so many other voices telling their stories, I realize what a profound impact they have had. Most senior pastors are still male, and although I didn’t ever put this into words, I learned to deeply mistrust that I would be treated well in their company, and if I did experience harassment or worse again, that it would be dealt with appropriately. I have always joked that I like to be the one in charge, but recognize now that such comments masked my fear of laying myself open for more pain and humiliation. As a result, I’ve never pursued team ministry, thereby avoiding working closely with male colleagues. Until my recent interim call, I have sought only solo positions.

I recently concluded serving for 21 months as Interim Associate Pastor at a large congregation. It turns out that I enjoy and am good at team ministry, and I was blessed by the healing experience of serving with a gifted male senior pastor who, by the way, has great boundaries. As I write this, I feel such sadness at the role fear has played in limiting the ministries I have allowed myself to consider. My experiences repeatedly taught me that such fear can be justified, and I don’t judge my actions or decisions (or those of others), but sorrow remains. Now that I have named the fear, however, I can grow from it and beyond it.

Harassment and abuse still exist throughout society, and many still accept the silence of victims, the bullying of perpetrators, and the feigned ignorance and impotence of our institutions. The stories coming out daily in the news bring us another reality, however: Silence and avoidance create so much more pain for survivors and for those who become new victims of unchecked sexual predators.

Freedom lies in releasing fear, shame and pain, and in claiming the truth of our own experiences and how they have shaped our lives and choices. I’m older and wiser now. I increasingly trust myself and my strength. Thankfully, women pastors are more numerous; many male colleagues are more aware and appropriate, often welcoming us as equal partners in the mission field. The institutional church is becoming accountable. Telling our truth can be uncomfortable at best, and re-traumatizing at worst, but I believe that what Jesus says is true: “you shall know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).

And a few last words—please, if you are experiencing pain, shame, anger, hurt, guilt, or fear because of your own “me too” experiences, or you’re ready to share your truth with a safe person, please email me (@ soulstorywriter.net) so I can assist you in finding support near you.

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After All I've Done for You ...

 

After All Ive DoneAfter all I’ve done for you…

Have you ever had that thought? Most women I know have. We are trained by culture, church and family to give, give, give and not take care of ourselves in equal measure. It seems ludicrous to bring up the topic of self-care at the beginning of December—a time when our to-do lists have grown exponentially—or maybe this is the perfect time.

Over-giving, over-doing, over-helping, over-planning, and over-achieving of any kind usually ends up in exhaustion and resentment. Makes you wonder why we’re raised to behave this way, and then why we internalize it, and expect ourselves to live up to it, doesn’t it?

Sisters, and all over-givers—we’ve been snookered! Most of us know this already, yet, we have self-care amnesia, and need to be reminded repeatedly that we cannot pour from an empty cup (case in point: didn't I just write about self-care three weeks ago?!). I am working on a Certificate of Spiritual Direction and met with my supervisor via Zoom this morning. It almost took my breath away when she shared, “not to care for ourselves is irresponsible.” Seven words snapped me back from my self-care amnesia.

My over-responsibility toward others makes me irresponsible toward myself. Ouch. Then she said, “if you lived out of love and patience for yourself, rather than out of fear right now, what would you do after our conversation today?” Hmmm. I still have a bad headache from a migraine on Tuesday, so I told her I would ice my neck, and then go on a leisurely walk for fresh air (ice is on my neck as I write—fresh air to follow!).

It’s a great question as the holiday season begins. What would you do differently this month if you were to live out of loving, patient self-care? What giving, planning, baking,and sharing brings you abundant life? Of what can you let go? It’s a question to ponder on my upcoming walk. Energized and freed from the thought, after all I’ve done...makes a lovely self-gift to begin 2018.

 

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