Editor's Note: At the recent annual board meeting of the Editorial Board, our editors decided that we would no longer publish the column Christ & Creativity in order to make way for a new column featuring the voices of young women along the way to ordination. Until the advent of this new column, we will publish our best columns over the four years of Fidelia's Sisters.
This month, we bring to you the article that generated the most comments in the history of Fidelia's Sisters. Below the fold, Alex Hendrickson's Oh Mother, Where Art Thou? created a conversation of 25 comments. The only other columns to come close to this realm of conversation were Sarah Kinney Gaventa's What Not to Wear illustrating how a young clergy woman should wear a collar and our second anniverary stole giveaway where you had to comment to actually win the stole.Though it appears we seek to appear our best for God with 21 comments in both of these second runners up, that extra 4 comments in 2008 may reveal that we are mothers first. Or it may reveal that we don't want to be defined by the things that others might use to define us (kids, marital status, gender preference, ethnicity or the like). Instead we want to be known and understood fully simply by how we seek to serve God.
I thought I was indestructible. In 2009 I had easily managed to graduate from seminary, have a baby, begin my ministry as a solo pastor in rural Wisconsin, and buy a house. Everything went as smoothly as it could, the transitions were managed well and I was able to balance my roles as wife, mom, and pastor. But this had to end. And it did, abruptly.
In the spring of 2011, a week after the birth of our son, I, who was indestructible, was diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition: peripartum cardiomyopathy. Not only was I facing a potentially devastating disease, I was told that I needed to immediately wean my son, and was urged to never have children again. Suddenly my ability to remain calm and put together was shattered. I was struck with a grief I had never experienced; never, ever, did I think that I would be told when I was done having children. I felt like something had been stripped violently away from me, stolen from me without my permission. And all of this left me feeling very lost and alone. But even in the midst of that loneliness there was something always present: my congregation.
I had never been able to talk about the events of September 11, 2001 in a sermon, and whenever I heard anyone else do so, I would inwardly cringe. My mind would wander, my ears shut down. I might even try on a little righteous indignation: how dare the preacher use such a significant, searing event as a sentimental sermon illustration, almost guaranteed to elicit an emotional response.
Until one day, right around the time of controversy over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” I overheard a conversation between several folks while at my local YMCA in North Carolina. I listened to them, presuming to know what New Yorkers were like, and how New Yorkers thought about the events of September 11. I realized that I did know what it was like, I could share that with them, and I would preach about it.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder...why don't more of us behold beauty?
I have a friend who used to regularly greet me by saying, "Hello, beautiful!" This was often accompanied with a smile and hug, and I knew she meant it. I would not say that before that I had a bad self image but something about hearing that word associated with me on a regular basis gave me the extra push I needed to really see what she saw and to celebrate the beauty I beheld in the mirror each morning.
The thing I learned was not that I didn't need to be active, eat well, and consider what choices I make to feel better and look better. But I learned that most of what I see is up to me. That is true about all kinds of beauty. I sometimes look at crumbling buildings around town and see a beautiful image of use and life in community. Sometimes I see the opportunities for renewal which are also beautiful, new life just waiting to be embraced by someone with the vision to see other possibilities.
Feminism seems to be a dirty word these days. At a recent all-women roller derby practice one of the organizers cheerfully described the league as being run by women, for women, but not, you know, "feminist" (the scare quotes were implied), and I was baffled. This denigration of the women's movement is a shock to me, particularly when I hear it from a female peer. Our generation is the first to truly reap the rewards of the struggle of the women who came before us and made our vocational choices possible, both in society in general (like this roller derby league) and in the Church.
Where our foremothers had to endure being hissed at as priestesses, snubbed at the altar rail by disaffected churchgoers who refused to receive the sacraments from their hands, I grew into adulthood in the reality of a Church that had ordained women as priests since before I was born. When I discerned my call to ordination, it was in a parish that had called a woman as rector when I was 7. I didn't have to experience the front lines of that fight, and I continue to be profoundly grateful to the women who did, often sacrificing personal happiness along the way. And so it troubles me to admit that one of the last great bastions of institutionalized sexism today is the Church that I love.
They say, “write what you know.” And the two things I have always known are books and church. My dad has been a Baptist minister all my life, so church has been a part of the normal routine; church members have been like extended family. Likewise, shelves and stacks of books filled our home. Both my parents read voraciously, and they tell me stories of reading to me before I was born. I would like to think that this influence is more than coincidental to my voracious love of books from a young age. As constants in my young life, church-going and books translated into a life dedicated to education and the work of the church. Because these passions have followed me as I have grown, learned, and matured, it is difficult to point to a “starting point” of faith. I see both my Christian faith and intellectual interests as interconnected pieces of a journey of seeking, listening, trusting, sharing, and ultimately of calling.
Growing up, I loved going to church. The fact of life for a preacher’s kid of, “being-at-church-when-the-doors-were open,” rarely felt like a burden; church was my home. Though I grew up across the street from the Southern Baptist Seminary as it was shifting away from its moderate-liberal theological roots to the more fundamentalist stronghold it is today, and though I do not remember hearing a woman preach until I was in college, no one ever told me that I “could not” do anything. Despite having few examples from which to draw, it never occurred to me that a woman couldn’t or shouldn’t do anything, or everything, that men did, including ministry.
When Bridesmaids came out earlier this year, much cultural noise surrounded questions of box office success. Would men go see this? Could a comedy about women really make any money? Apparently, long standing wisdom suggests no; even if the finale hadn’t featured Wilson Philips, I would have delighted in the success it found.
It’s astounding to me that the entertainment industry asks questions like this, but I suppose it shouldn’t be. Back in the 1970s, Time magazine covered the move of the networks in expanding what were then half hour soap operas into the hour-long format I grew up accustomed to, and described them – programs which were born as advertising vehicles to housewives – as “TVs richest market.” Now, this very month, All My Children, which has been running for over forty years, will air its last episode, and it’s only the latest on the network chopping block. I find this endlessly curious, especially in light of that terrific Time piece (which, I confess, I located as a link in the Wikipedia entry on “soap operas”), which concluded that the market for soaps was no longer limited to blue collar housewives, but had since expanded to include college students (that’s when my folks got hooked), richer housewives, hippies and the unemployed. It was a “ghettoized” market, but man, did it bring in money.
I might be one of the first among my young clergywomen peers to become a doctor. Why did I do it?