Remembering an Anniversary

I grew up in churches that didn’t practice anything “like” ordination, and where they didn’t have women serving in any official leadership capacity. (There were plenty of women leaders, nevertheless). In the 90s, we attended a church where women had a more visible presence in worship and in leadership. Later, through more than a decade of struggling through the biblical text and participating in discernment conversations in seminary, my view on ordination (as a practice) and women in ministry (as theology) continued to be shaped and formed.

Part of that time I was serving in ministry as a volunteer. Part of that time I was serving full-time on a ministry staff. But it wasn’t until being part of the family of God at Grandview Christian Church (Johnson City, TN) that I was invited to consider the possibility of an official “setting apart.” I can still remember the elders’ hands pressing onto my shoulders, the salty taste of tears that flowed freely, and the words of affirmation shared by so many church friends and seminary professors.

Often scripture reminds us to “remember what God as done.” The Israelites remembered with feast days and weekly Sabbath celebrations. The early church remembered as they celebrated the Eucharist. In these last two “anniversary” dates of my ordination, I’ve made it my practice to go back and remind myself of the words spoken over me (and my friend Brandon Waite, ordained the same day). Below are some of the words of blessing that are helping me “remember what God has done.”

from Michael L. Sweeney’s charge…
Ordination doesn’t change your personality. It doesn’t make you more pious than you were before. The fact that you are ordained won’t make people more anxious to open up to you or lean on your every word. Heads of state won’t call you in for spiritual guidance.

Add to that, our culture can’t possibly understand what ordination means. We’re all about the individual. We decide for ourselves what we’re going to be when we grow up. We choose what we’re going to study in college and where we’re going to work. We make our vocational choices on the basis of personal interest, period. None of this family-or-group-decision stuff about OUR future that we find in Asian and African cultures. The American way would have us lay hands on ourselves – or, at least, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

So ordination just doesn’t fit the mold of our culture or our church movement. But, in spite of all that, it really does have a special place in the life of the church. Outsiders looking in may not get it. It defies analysis and precise definition.

…the decision to ordain someone does not belong to the person being ordained. We often think it does. After all, most of us who have been ordained asked to be considered for it. But this isn’t the same thing as applying for a job.

When you’re called to ministry, you are called to the impossible. No one is really qualified for vocational ministry. No amount of preparation will ever be sufficient to make you successful. The amount of skill you have will fall short. The results of our labors are always out of our control. In fact, part of the message that Paul wanted to get across to the church in Corinth was that he was way out of his depth, but that God seemed to be OK with that. In fact, it was a good thing, since Paul’s weakness was an opportunity to show the strength of God. And so it is with us.

In Acts 13, setting Saul and Barnabas apart was God’s idea, and it was communicated to the leaders of the church in Antioch because they were deeply involved in worship, prayer and fasting. They were connected to God and attuned to his will. And so today, by their willingness to ordain you, the leaders at Grandview are saying that they believe it is God’s will that you be set apart for ministry. It’s not just their idea of a nice thing to do. But it’s because, through their prayer and worship, they have been led by the Spirit of God to call you in this way.

From my daughter Elizabeth’s prayer…
Like Paul, knowing he was likely to face many trials and hardships, may Brandon and Dawn face the unknown and say, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus Christ – to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” Holy Spirit, may Dawn and Brandon hear your voice over and above the voices of this world. Grant them with your wisdom, courage, and discernment as they continue to follow your lead in vocational ministry.

From my friend Theresa’s prayer…
May this body, Grandview Christian Church, sustain and support Brandon and Dawn in their work, whether they minister among us or be sent out from us. Let us offer encouragement and instruction when needed and love and grace always.Guide their steps. Invigorate their spirits. Fill them with wisdom. Remind them of the responsibility and privilege they have accepted in being set apart as your servants

Many church leaders (and denominations) have widely varying practices regarding ordination in general, or the ordination of women in particular. This is not an invitation to debate its theology or practice. Rather, today’s post is a celebration of an anniversary, one that causes me to both look back at what God has done, and look forward to what God can and will do through obedient servants. I thank God for the privilege, and pray that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus Christ – to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.

Solo Deo Gloria!

God’s sense of humor

In this anniversary month of many ministry moments, including our call to Omaha last year, I’m sharing again the story of how we laugh with God along the way. (Originally posted in May of 2018 on the old site)

Have you ever laughed at God?
I have. In May of 2011, my husband and I were moving Elizabeth into her house for the summer. She was staying in Johnson City for a ministry internship after her first year at Milligan, and we were getting ready to head back home to Indianapolis. That spring I was considering graduate school and we had visited Emmanuel while we were in Tennessee. We both loved the area, but I wasn’t sure if a residential MDIV program would work for me, or how we could afford it while Elizabeth was in college. We raved at the beautiful mountain scenery and talked about the possibility of someday settling here. I remember saying “Man, I love it here, I hate to think of waiting 3 more years till Elizabeth finishes school.” At which point my husband said “Well, you never know what might happen, but I’m sure God will make it clear to us if and when we’re supposed to move.” As we came across a hill to a (literal) crossroads, this truck (pictured above) was parked in the neighborhood directly ahead of us.

We laughed a long time.
It was not the last time God would amuse us with an ironic hint at what was to come. When we got home there was a CD of new worship music that our minister wanted us to learn for praise team. The fourth song in was called “Moving Forward” by Israel Houghton. Later that summer, I was invited to speak for a women’s retreat in Indianapolis and the theme was, “A Time to Move.” I had been praying for a while about how God might use my leadership and teaching gifts in the church where I currently served. But it seemed like everywhere we looked, we were reminded that when we open ourselves to God’s leading, God often answers prayers in surprising and unexpected ways.

Of course, some of you know how this story turned out because we’ve been living in Johnson City since August of 2012. We laughed at God’s extravagant grace and provision often over the next several months. A full tuition scholarship. Selling the house in two days. Surprise payment of travel expenses. Generous gift card to stock our pantry. Managing our daughter’s college bills while being under-employed. The joy and delight of a “secret Santa” during our first Tennessee Christmas. We laughed at the realization that every time we threw our hands up in frustration or despair, God was ready to clasp those hands and laugh, saying “Hold on! I still have another plan!”

We’re not the first God-followers, of course, to be amused at God’s promises or provision.
Then one of [the messengers of God] said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? … Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
Gen 18:10-14

We can’t really fault Sarah for this incredulous response – she’d already been waiting more than 20 years! She knew about God’s promise to give them a son (Gen 15 and 17). She even tried to help the process along by stepping in with her own plan (Gen 16). So here she stands, at the door of the tent, hearing the promise repeated once more. Of course she laughs! And then she settles in to wait and see that indeed, nothing is too hard for God. Her laughter is contagious when Isaac is born and she says “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me. (Gen 21:6)

We’ve continued to laugh with joy at God’s provision over the last six years. Harold got a good sales job and we found a wonderful church family to serve alongside. I completed my MDiv in 2016. We put down roots, buying a house and investing in relationships – a community of friends who laugh with us in celebration when God shows up and answers prayer in unexpected ways. After graduation, I was equipped and educated, ready for whatever God had in store. I claimed complete faith and trust in waiting for God’s provision.

But then, like Sarah, I made some assumptions and put some plans into play to “help God out” with the timing and resolution to my season of waiting. I sent out resumes to some local jobs I thought might fit. I volunteered my time and networked for connections. And yet, every door I approached remained tightly shut. Don’t misunderstand – there have been some surprising open doors as well, including community theater and teaching a writing class. I don’t feel my past two years have been wasted – they’ve just not been invested the way I thought they would be. “Hold on!” God says. “I still have another plan.” God often answers prayers in surprising and unexpected ways.

Because God has quite a sense of humor.

Part two –

Throwback to July of 2014. My daughter and I were attending the North American Christian Convention in Indianapolis. We were in the hotel lobby eating breakfast and I saw the Academic Dean from Nebraska Christian College, whom I’d met through a conference a couple of years previous. We shared a bit of small talk as I walked by his table and then he asked the question, “Do you think we might convince you to move to Nebraska to teach in our Children’s Ministry program?”

I laughed out loud. (It’s usually no big secret as to what I think or feel)

Mark took it in stride as I gave him a few clarifying, and emphatic, comments as to WHY I wouldn’t consider a move to Nebraska.

  • #1 – SNOW
  • #2 – Tornadoes
  • #3 – We JUST moved to (and expected to retire in) Tennessee.
  • #4 – We LOVE our church.

I was only halfway through my residential seminary program, anyway, so it was not time to move. But I probably shouldn’t have laughed.

Over the next few years, I began to have opportunities to teach at Nebraska Christian College. Their focus on ministry training and “creating church leaders” resonated well with me. Because of this focus, they offer one-week “intensive” classes for students often involved in off-campus residencies. In both 2015 and 2016 I taught an August intensive in Children’s Ministry. Then last spring, they had a faculty position open up and I was able to join the team part-time, teaching both ministry and Bible classes.

About the same time, the dean revisited his earlier question as to whether I would be interested in relocating. This time I didn’t laugh, but knowing my husband’s reticence to move to Johnson City in 2012 (and how he was finally feeling settled here!), I assumed that he would nix the idea completely. In other words, I hoped to not have to be the one to decide, and figured my husband would just say NO at the outset. After all, he’d moved to Tennessee for my education/career goals – it was only fair he be the one to decide if and when we ever (which I didn’t expect!) moved anywhere again.

But he didn’t say no.

We spent the last year praying about the possibility. Assessing his current job, and changes that were happening in his profession. Becoming acquainted with the culture and faculty at Nebraska Christian. Realizing that flights to visit family in Phoenix and Chicago are half as much from Omaha as from Tri-Cities. Exploring Google Maps to note that our grandkids are 6 hours closer to Omaha than here.

That might have been what tipped the scales for him.

For me, the decision was gradual and painful. My own reticence was based on all the same reasons I gave in 2014; none of those have changed. But I have come to realize that when you follow God and walk through doors that are opened to you, you aren’t promised “comfortable” or “easy.” We certainly aren’t promised good weather! (This year’s endless winter, in both Tennessee and Nebraska, has brought that point home clearly!)  I absolutely love teaching, and am incredibly impressed with both the people and the programs at Nebraska Christian College. I’m well aware that higher ed jobs are few and far between. Add to that the reality of my being (1) a woman (2) in the Restoration Movement tradition (3) who wants to teach Bible and ministry classes (4) who doesn’t yet have a Doctoral degree, limits the opportunities quite a bit. Even so, I didn’t go searching for this opportunity. It came searching for me.

For more than 15 years, I’ve prayed that God would use my gifts, experience, and education to equip others for ministry. That has been my passion since 2003, from the personal ministry mission statement I wrote for one of my earliest seminary classes. God often answers prayers in surprising and unexpected ways. A couple of years ago, I would never have imagined I’d say “We’re moving to Omaha!” But now we are, and I’m incredibly thankful that God has opened a door for me to teach full time at Nebraska Christian College in the fall.

Please pray for us during this transition. Knowing we have to leave our church and say goodbye to dear friends is heartbreaking. There are many details to pull together. But nothing is too hard for God, and we’re excited to see where this next chapter of our lives will lead. And knowing how God was faithful through our previous move gives us great hope and grateful courage for this upcoming one. Just like Sarah, we trust a God who loves surprises…and laughs with us.

Solo Deo Gloria!

Women of Valor, Rise Up!

I had the privilege to meet Rachel Held Evans not long after moving to Tennessee, and not long after reading her second book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. To say she’s had an impact on my personal growth and professional choices would be an understatement. I’m thankful to have known her, mostly through her writing, and want to honor her legacy with a brief reminder for others – wives, daughters, fellow bloggers, and seminary friends – that we still have work to do. Eshet chayil, Rachel.

Rachel, Woman of Valor, Rise Up!
Come to me, I will give you rest
You have done well, good and faithful servant.
You have expanded our vision of “biblical womanhood”

Women of Valor, Rise Up!
The world needs your hands.
Like Ruth, care for the aging.
Like Lydia, practice hospitality.
Like Tabitha, faithfully serve.

Women of Valor, Rise Up!
The world needs your hearts.
Like Esther, stand up for justice.
Like Mary of Bethany, pour out extravagance.
Like the Widow of Zarephath, offer all that you have.

Women of Valor, Rise Up!
The world needs your faith.
Like Martha, claim the resurrection.
Like Hannah, pray without ceasing.
Like the Samaritan woman, put down your water jar, and testify.

Women of Valor, Rise Up!
The world needs your voice.
Like Priscilla, teach with authority.
Like Deborah, lean into leadership.
Like Phoebe, and so many others, work hard for the Lord.

Women of Valor, Rise Up!

it is finished…

By this early morning hour (around 7:30 a.m. as I write this) on that Friday long ago, Jesus had already been denied by Peter, questioned by the high priest, and turned over to Pilate. The mocking and flogging was still to come, and (in contrast to the weather I see shaping up outside my window), the day would be long and dark.

The gospel accounts vary in some of the details – partly because even among eye witnesses, perspectives can vary widely. But sometimes the gospel accounts vary because the authors themselves wanted to craft their story in a way that connects with a particular audience, or because they had a specific theological goal in mind.

For instance, only Luke mentions the conversation with the thief and Jesus telling him they would be together in paradise (Lk 23:43). This, combined with Jesus’ emphasis on forgiveness for those “who do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34) reminds Luke’s (mostly Gentile) hearers that Jesus’ mission is one of grace and inclusion.

John includes the conversation between Jesus, his mother Mary, and the disciple John asking they take care of one another as family (Jn 19:26-27). John then mentions Jesus’ statement “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28). Both of these statements bring Jesus’ full humanity into view, even in the context of his divinely appointed death.

Both Matthew and Mark include only one statement by Jesus, his comment in Aramaic, Eloi eloi, lama sabachthani, translated “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34). This quote from Psalm 22 has often led theologians to focus on God’s abandonment of Christ. (Think of the hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” with its line the Father turns his face away). Mark’s gospel suggests this happened at 3 p.m. (which interestingly, corresponds to the Jewish “second hour of prayer,” called minchah, which means gift-offering).

This connection to Psalm 22 brings me to my point. I’ve heard others teach about the fulfilled prophecies of Psalm 22, some of which are intentionally called to mind by these gospel writers.
vs 1 – “why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew and Mark)
vs 6 – “scorned by everyone, despised…all who see me, mock me…” (Mk 15:18-20, Mk 15:29-32))
vs 8 – “let the Lord rescue him!” (Lk 23:35)
vs 14 – “I am poured out like water” (Jn 19:34)
vs 15 – “my mouth is dried up…my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth” (Jn 19:28)
vs 16 – “they pierce my hands and my feet” (all four gospels)
vs 18 – “they cast lots for my garment” (Mt 27:35, Mk 15:24)

What’s fascinating to me is that scholars suggest that when the gospel writers quote from the Psalms, they expect their hearers to remember the entire Psalm in context. These Psalms were used as prayer in weekly synagogue services and would have been familiar. So their focus is not on “why have you forsaken me?” but on the full promise of God’s faithfulness. as seen in the following verses from Psalm 22:
vs 10 – “from birth you have been my God”
vs 19 – “You are my strength; come quickly to help!”
vs 22 – “I will declare your name to my people…I will praise you”
vs 24 – “[God] has not hidden his face…but has listened to his cry for help”
vs 27 – “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD”
vs 28 – “dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations”
vs 30 – “future generations will be told about the Lord…”
vs 31 – “…they will proclaim his righteousness”

Finally, we come to John’s final statement of Jesus, “it is finished!” (Jn 19:30). Jesus completed the work God asked him to do. (Jn 17:4)
There is nothing more to be done. Jesus gift is enough, and we can confidently proclaim his righteousness with the Psalmist,
“He has done it!” (Ps 22:31)

His righteousness becomes our righteousness. “In [Christ], we might become the righteousness of God.”(2 Cor 5:21)
It is finished.

Opening Doors for Women*

While in seminary, I helped plan a chapel program with the theme “Opening Doors: How Men can Create Welcoming Environments for Women in Ministry.” The idea grew out of the commonly held, chivalrous view that men should open doors for women. While there are a variety of views on whether or not that act is still necessary or appropriate, I don’t have a dog in that fight. If I get to a door first, I will probably open it for you out of common courtesy, whether you are male or female. But I do find it ironic that men are often expected to open doors for women physically, but in other avenues of life (including church ministry contexts) “it ain’t necessarily so.”

No matter your church context – whether your church ordains women as ministers of the gospel, whether they involve women as preachers or only in potlucks, whether they draw the line at eldership, or grant full equality in role and function – there are steps men can take to help women feel valued, welcomed, and included. Here are some ways you can “open doors” for women in ministry.

***Choose language carefully. Words and phrases are culturally conditioned. Sometimes words that don’t seem like a big deal to you come across as hurtful, demeaning, or dismissive to the women in the room. Choose to rise above cultural expectations and use language (consistently) that uplifts, encourages, and affirms women. Call out those in your circles that use off-color jokes, gender stereotypes, or otherwise demeaning language toward women. If you use a masculine metaphor for God in the worship service (Matt 6:9; Ex 15:3), be willing to include a feminine one as well (Deut 32:11, 18, Matt 23:37).

*** Be willing to sit in the discomfort of your privilege pressing hard against the reality of oppression. White male privilege can blind you to this reality in women. The fact that you feel right or comfortable is not license to assume that those who claim oppression, marginalization, and vulnerability are wrong. Listen to their stories and concerns. Recognize the tendency for privilege to blind you to others’ perspectives. Pray for humility and teachability.

***Show intentionality in whom you invite to speak, read, sing, and pray. You can choose to limit white male access on the platform because of your commitment to diversify the participant line up. There will always be MORE experienced men available, because men have been groomed from a young age to participate vocally in the service. That doesn’t mean women’s voices have less value. It means they have more often been silenced.

***Allow the silenced to have their own voice. Don’t just be the “voice for the voiceless.” Pass the mic to others. A different perspective is always valuable. Invite women into conversations about vision, leadership, perspectives, curriculum, a teaching series, church-wide changes, and pastoral care. When you implement ideas that they helped develop, give them public credit for their contributions.

***Pray for boldness to break the status quo, and the willingness and wisdom to know how and when to do so. If only white men have power (for instance, all elders at a church), they have the most ability and responsibility to make a change. Be willing to make changes that empower all members to join God in kingdom building work.

*** Accept your responsibility, without assuming you have ALL the responsibility. Women have to lean into their opportunities and follow God’s leading, whether or not the men in their lives open doors for them to go through. God often opens doors for women, regardless of men’s complicity or agreement. When God clearly opens a door for women, don’t stand in the doorway blocking God’s will.

***Honor each person’s uniqueness and giftedness. Our embodied reality includes gender, but that is not all it includes. Not all men are leaders. Not all women are nurturers. Not all men are teachers. Not all women like to cook. Honor those inherent differences in order to allow each person to realize their full potential in God’s image.

***Normalize women’s involvement at all levels. Don’t make it a big deal when you do invite a woman to speak or participate on a leadership team. Don’t treat her as if she is an anomaly, and you are making special concessions for her participation. Simply include them equally, and according to their gifts and calling.

***Offer your presence and be willing to dialogue with women who have experienced closed doors in ministry. Your presence is often more important than your words. Your presence communicates “You matter to me. We are all made in God’s image. You are not alone.” Your willingness to dialogue shows an openness to learning and growing. Your willingness to dialogue may be the reason she stays at your church, even if some doors remain closed.

***Choose faith over fear. Years of cultural conditioning, misguided worldviews, and sex-saturated media have led men and women to fear each other instead of forming deep friendships. Choose to see women as your sisters, made in the same image of God that you are. Choose to believe that the Holy Spirit can and will empower you to have healthy relationships with the opposite sex, instead of avoiding all contact with women over fear of temptation. Choose to be in deep community with both men and women as part of the image of God manifest in the church.

During the previously mentioned chapel, many women shared how men had opened doors for them in ministry…some told stories of how they had not. In every ministry context, there are dozens of untold stories, and women who need safe space to tell them. One video published by the United Methodist church addresses some of the oppression, frustration and even abuse women in their ministries have experienced. Their denominational policy affirms the common humanity and equal worth of women, along with the value of including women on decision-making teams. But church leaders have realized that their practice did not always align with their theology. As they shared stories of women in their denomination, they remind us

“Healing begins with first acknowledging the injuries. Faithfully hearing the stories of our sisters begins the healing process because we cannot mend what we are unaware is broken.”

When you become aware of what is broken, you have the power to assist in the healing.

What doors will you open for your sisters today?

*this post originally appeared as a winner in the 2017 Junia Project blog contest at

*for another perspective on the “wide open doors” some complementarians claim to offer, read Marg Mowczko’s article “Wayne Grudem on What Women Should do in the Church” found here:

The featured image is a painting by Heather Hodges Heflin and its story can be found at
The door can only be opened from the inside.

PS – This painting now hangs in my office, next to my ordination certificate and graduate diplomas.

Seen by Many, Known by Few

After being out of the spotlight for more than a decade, Monica Lewinsky recorded a TED talk where she tells how, as a 22 year old intern, she had an affair with her boss. Some of you know her name from rap lyrics and retrospect – in fact, after her story broke, many asked why she didn’t change her name! Others of a certain age remember her story well – her public shame was plastered all over the internet in a most unflattering way. When this scandal was reported, I was busy raising two kids and building a business, plenty self-righteous in my church-going, devotional-reading ways. I watched just enough national news to assume I knew her “type” – some loose bimbo making love to President Clinton in his office, probably as manipulative and power hungry as I imagined him to be.

But as I watch Monica tell her story now, I am shocked at how differently I feel toward her. As the survivor of my own #MeToo moment, along with a counseling experience gone bad, I understand Monica’s vulnerability and feel empathy for her experience. And as a seminary student who’s read more than my share of research about honor and shame, patriarchy and power, I realize that Monica’s story is one of millions about women who go “looking for love in all the wrong places” and the men who take advantage of them.

One of the self-descriptors Monica uses is that she was “seen by many but known by few.” Doesn’t that describe a lot of people in your world? We see them often, maybe daily, but we only see the exterior view, the one they want us to see. Or maybe just as often, we see the view we want to see. We make assumptions based on how they are dressed, where they hang out, who their friends are. We cast judgement and lump them into categories without ever actually hearing their stories. They are seen by many, but known by few.

Let me tell you the story of another woman.

It’s recorded in the gospel of John, chapter 4. When we meet her, she’s gathering water, a mundane task she’s done every other day. Whether from familiarity with John’s gospel or the mention of gathering water, you probably already know whose story I’ll tell. You might even have some unconscious assumptions about her come to mind.

But John gives us far fewer details about the Samaritan woman than the Starr report gave us about Lewinsky. We don’t know her name or ancestral background. We don’t know if shame brought her to the well at the hottest hour of the day. And we don’t know why she was married five times, or why she was living out of wedlock with another man.

She is seen by many, but known by few.

We make plenty of assumptions about her, though. One commentary calls her a 5-time loser who is currently committed to an illicit affair. I daresay many of the sermons you’ve heard on this chapter assume her immorality; I daresay many of us who heard about Lewinsky in the 90s assumed the same and more. But when we view the text through a 21st century lens of what a 5-time divorcee would look like (Elizabeth Taylor comes to mind), we may be reading something into the text that simply isn’t there. One of my seminary professors urged us to consider the presuppositions of a patriarchal society in 1st Century Palestine. The Samaritan woman may have been widowed at a young age (even 13!)– she may have been divorced because she was barren – in either case she would have been in dire financial straits with need of a provider. She may have settled for being a concubine or a slave, just to have her daily needs met. Jesus knows all this about her, and brings up the fact of her 5 marriages. But Jesus suggests no shame, no condescension, no condemnation.

So why does Jesus engage her in conversation?

Perhaps because of the woman’s willingness to ask for help – “Sir, give me this water!” She is thirsty for more than she knows. In chapter 3, John describes a conversation which Nicodemus initiates with Jesus under dark of night. Nicodemus is a man – a Jew – a religious leader – a respected member of the community. Now in chapter 4, it seems John wants to show us the extremes to which Jesus will go to share Living water, and introduces a character at the far opposite end of the spectrum from Nicodemus.

A woman. A Samaritan. A nobody, An outcast in the community.

John’s gospel is full of irony and this woman’s story is one of the best examples. In contrast to the conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus initiates the conversation with this woman in broad daylight! Nicodemus thought Jesus came only for Israel – the children of the promise – Jesus shows he came with a promise for all children.

The Samaritan woman realizes Jesus is a prophet; we see the conversation switch from physical water to spiritual worship. She focuses on God’s will and presses on with hope for a Messiah, one who will be her salvation. She knows the coming Messiah is a shared expectation of Jews and Samaritans. We also know that Jesus affirms this expectation with his emphatic pronouncement ego eimi – I AM – the one speaking to you. And based on what we know from the text itself, this is the longest conversation Jesus is recorded to have had with anyone.

As her story progresses we learn that the disciples return, astonished at this turn of events but more concerned about Jesus eating lunch than his engaging lesson with a woman. The woman seems undaunted by the disciples discomfort and (as a recipient of living water) runs off without her water jug, ready to share her testimony with an entire town. And while she is an unlikely emissary for the good news (as was Mary Magdalene at the tomb), she nevertheless becomes an evangelist to the Samaritan people, and the text says “many Samaritans believed in her testimony.”

Two stories, two women, seen by many but known by few. I don’t know if Lewinsky is a believer, but the fact that she is able to move beyond her shame and the notoriety of her name is evident. She seems to have found hope, if not redemption, in sharing her story with others. While we don’t know the Samaritan woman’s name, she is finally known by the one who can take away her shame. Jesus offers her love and acceptance, not accusation. Though seen by many, she is known by the One who matters most, and that makes all the difference in the rest of her story.

A Vision of Persistence

Sally Ride was a physicist who overcame prejudice to become the first American female astronaut in 1983. Ride later co-founded a non-profit to encourage young people to study science, highlighting the importance of providing role models for girls. Ride asserted “Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.”[1]

The truth of that statement resounds for me, though I never wanted to be an astronaut. Instead, I grew up loving the church and wanting to serve God. I reveled in Bible study, attended youth group functions, and helped with children’s classes and church potlucks. I traveled with college singing groups to church camps and youth rallies.

And then I majored in early childhood studies and became a wife, mom, and preschool teacher.

It wasn’t that God hadn’t yet “called” me to ministry – I was serving God in several ways. But all the women I knew were wives, moms, teachers, and (a few) nurses. Until I was 35 years old, I had never seen a woman lead a worship song or prayer. Until I was nearly 50, I had never seen or heard (in person) a woman preach a sermon.

            You can’t be what you can’t see.

My call to ministry followed “a long and winding road.” In addition to mothering, and working for a preschool, I spent several years in sales and recruiting. I was mentored by businesswomen who affirmed my leadership and teaching gifts. People invested in my potential by inviting me to train others and inspired my success in business. But those gifts didn’t seem valuable or needed in my church. It never occurred to me that I might use leadership and teaching gifts to build God’s kingdom – until I’d seen other women using those gifts in a church.

I’d like to think that none of my experience was wasted; each of them served to make me the person I am today. But I’m still a little sad that my calling was delayed – by circumstance, by an attitude, by a lack of vision of what could be. At the time, I didn’t think of myself as being silenced or marginalized. The priority of men in church leadership was simply ingrained in my DNA. It was all I’d ever known or seen. But it limited me, just the same.

Maybe that’s why the story of Elizabeth Warren being silenced on the Senate floor in February 2017 struck me so deeply. As I re-read reports of that week’s political news and remembered again my own sense of injustice at that event, I realized that the words used to explain her censure described decades of my own experience as well. [2]

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

She was warned

When I told others about my call to full-time ministry, some warned that I was just being influenced by feminism. Even though women now serve as CEOs and Senate leaders, the church is different. Women have limited roles, you need to stay in your place. I was happy as a wife and mom and I also enjoyed using my gifts of leadership and teaching in my sales business. But I grew incredulous that God would only want those gifts used to improve my family’s finances. Was my only purpose in life selling people “stuff”?

Others warned that I was influenced by a desire for power. Oh, you want to be a pastor so you can be in charge. You just want to take over the church with your own agenda.  Patriarchal bias and a misunderstanding of church leadership are so evident in these statements. When boys grow up serving the church it’s often assumed they will want to be ministers. So why is a woman’s motive questioned? Biblical ministry is not about personal power, “being in charge,” or organizational control.[3] Instead, it’s about using one’s God-given gifts to benefit the “common good.”[4]

She was given an explanation.

Others, rather than provide warnings about my motives, have instead given an explanation of why I cannot lead in ministry. Most explanations focus on two select texts colored by centuries of traditional bias.[5] Many quote the texts in question without providing any historical context or theological commitments behind the phrases. But both these texts are from letters – one to a church and one to a younger minister, dealing with specific problems. Both texts presume on the letter’s recipient having far more “background information” than any modern reader can. Both passages have significant textual variations which at the very least point out the need for humility rather than confidence regarding “what the text says.”[6]

While we sometimes downplay its impact, our worldview always influences how we read scripture. Many explanations of why women should not lead and teach are given with black and white assumptions instead of acknowledging the grayscale reality of how God works in different places and times, through diverse men and women. Some have even limited their explanations to Twitter’s 140 characters![7] But these explanations have not satisfied my curiosity or swayed me from my calling.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

Interestingly, scripture itself convinced me of the importance of Biblical equality for women and men in ministry.  My theology about women was well-formed before I read any feminist theory. My commitment to the Biblical text led me to several realities that push back against those two limiting passages. One is the many examples of women who have served God’s purposes throughout history.[8] Another is the importance of all Christ-followers serving as priests.

For example, God prepares “works in advance for each of us” to do, “so that the body of Christ is built up” (Eph 2:10, 4:12). The Spirit distributes gifts to each one of us “for the common good” (1 Cor 12). God is the one who gives “different gifts,” but makes us “one body” (Rom 12). All of us are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood” who should “use [our] gifts to serve others” (1 Pet 2:9. 4:10). In these texts alone, more than 50 verses that remind us God is the one who gives these gifts for the good of the kingdom. Yet in none of these texts does God limit who might receive or use a gift based on gender. God doesn’t make mistakes when distributing these gifts. If the Holy Spirit has gifted someone to lead or teach or preach – God intends for those gifts to be used for God’s glory, and for the expansion of God’s kingdom.

Since this is true, I am empowered to persist because I want others to know Jesus. The Biblical story from beginning to end shows movement away from the fall’s curse – new life in Christ, freedom from sin, flourishing in relationships. God’s priority throughout scripture is that the life-giving gospel is proclaimed so that people might be saved.[9] We are called to participate in God’s kingdom work and live as people free from oppression who care for others and seek their well-being above our own.

I also persist because young girls – and other women – need to see “someone who looks like them” serving as a minister. They need to physically, visually see other women “doing whatever careers they might like to do someday.” They need to see it in their minds, as mentors speak value and vision into their lives. They need to see it in their future and recognize their own potential as they move toward that future. They need to believe it before they can achieve it.

            Because you can’t be what you can’t see.

[1] Quoted by Chelsea Clinton in She Persisted: 13 American Women who Changed the World (New York: Philomel Books, 2017). 22.

[2] One take on those proceedings is here:

[3] For example, see Matt 9:35-38, Mark 10:35-45, Luke 4:16-21, Acts 3:6-10, Rom 16, 1 Cor 9:18-20, Phil 2:1-4, 1 Timothy 3, Heb 11:36-40.

[4] 1 Cor 12:7.

[5] 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-12

[6] Both Philip B. Payne, Men and Women in Christ (2009) and Cynthia L Westfall, Paul and Gender (2017) provide excellent bibliographies for further reading on the variety of textual and translation issues with these texts.

[7] One such thread:

[8] Deborah, Huldah, Esther, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman at the well, Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, and Lydia all come to mind, to name just a few.

[9] Note Jesus’ priorities in Matt 9:12-13, Luke 4:42-43, Luke 19:10, Luke 22:42, John 4:34, Paul’s priorities in Rom 15:15-16 and 1 Cor 9:19-23, and God’s priorities in 1 Tim 2:3-4 and 4:15-16.

Why Stories Matter

In my favorite seminary class, Theology, Narrative, and the Well Written Life, we read several memoirs to see how authors used their stories to convey theological truths. In addition to reading, the course also required the disciplined practice of personal narrative writing. Through writing, reading, listening, and response, we learned to do our own redemptive truth-telling. Sometimes, that redemptive truth-telling shows up in the form of raw stories and authentic narrative. Even in the best of contexts, truth-telling is hard work.
Confessional memoirs grew out of a strong Christian tradition, as those who’ve read Augustine’s Confessions can attest. A memoir can be described as a window into a life – not a chronological history, but a collection of scenes that paint a picture of the author’s soul. It is the space between fact and feeling. The overlap between memoir and testimony and preaching became clear as we read our first book Preaching as Testimony. In it, Anna Carter Florence encouraged us to recognize preaching as “waking up” – to be willing to fully embody the crisis of preaching and to be aware of what God is doing in your life. She says “there may be narrative without testimony, but there should never be testimony without narrative. Testimony is empty without the life through which it speaks.” This idea of waking up and owning who we are is the only path to finding our authentic voice.
Through this class, I came to realize how much our environments shape our spiritual walk. Our families, our communities, our culture, and our geography all influence who we become. These realities construct our view of God and of ourselves. I grew up as a preacher’s kid, I was a middle child and only daughter, I had a large extended family that celebrated holidays together, I lived in small towns and suburbs; all these realities formed me in various ways. Sometimes we have control over those environments; more often we do not. When we appreciate their unique contributions and stay awake to their potential to teach us, we can make connections between what was, what is, and what we believe about those environments as we remember and write.
I also learned the value of reflecting on the past. The more stories we tell, the more we can connect the dots to see the arc of narrative that God is working on throughout. The psalmist reminds us One generation commends [God’s] works to another; they tell of [God’s] mighty acts. They celebrate [God’s] abundant goodness and joyfully sing of [God’s] righteousness. Sometimes God’s “big picture” is not clear until nearer the end of your life. But the smaller portions of the picture are just as important. When we reflect on our past, we are able to better understand our present. We recognize that our time on earth is short, and we have a responsibility to love and serve those around us. When we live fully into this present, we are also able to envision a preferred future – a future which becomes a legacy for others that will follow. We remember because we want to be remembered. We remember God’s faithfulness because we want God to be both remembered and worshiped.
Because our stories intersect with the stories of others, I learned the importance of listening to those around me. Everyone has an untold story, layers of a past that filter their present. They, too, need to find their own “authentic voice.” When we listen to the stories of people who are different than us, we learn to let go of the habit of privileging one set of experiences over another. We learn to respect diversity and open ourselves to differences. As we’ve especially seen during this contentious election season, the ability to talk honestly and genuinely with others requires grace and acceptance. Robert Frost wrote “the best way out is through” and sometimes that means communicating through tears, anger, and conflict. Each of our stories is difficult and beautiful in unique ways. I am learning that the only way to navigate through obstacles and prejudice is to speak truth, take responsibility, and acknowledge that everyone has an important story to tell. Our dialogue can be redemptive work that opens windows into others’ lives for a fresh perspective on their personalities and their passions.
Writing requires discipline and intention. Writing, like anything that has value, deserves a block of time on my calendar. Writing, like ministry itself, always takes more time than I expect but never returns to me empty. My best testimony grows out of personal experience and life narrative. My particularity, my uniqueness is what makes my voice authentic. Who I am does and should influence what I believe and what I say about life, about God, and about God’s word.
My story matters.
Your story matters.
Our stories matter.

In her book, How the Light Gets In, Pat Schneider asks “What is saved or redeemed or ransomed in the act of writing?” She believes writing saved her life. By writing memoir, she ransomed her life from silence and found her voice. Schneider continues “Something in me that was broken, cracked, becomes whole. The cracks, if I write them with utter honesty, are where the light gets in. The present meets the past, and healing begins.” At the end of her book, she shares a blessing for writers, and I’ll close with this excerpt of her benediction:

May you hear in your own stories the moan of wind around the corners of half-forgotten houses
and the silence in rooms you remember.
May you, too, pull darkness out of light and light out of darkness.
May you hear in your own voice the laughter of water falling over stones.
May you hear in your own writing the strangeness, the surprise of mystery,
the presence of ancestors, spirits, voices buried in the cells of your body.
May you have the courage to honor your own first language,
the music of those whose lives inhabit your own.
May you tell the truth and do no harm.
May you dare in your own words to touch the broken heart of the world.
May your passion for peace and justice be wise;
remember, no one can argue with story.
May you study your craft as you would study a new friend, or a long time, much loved lover.
And all the while, lost though you may be in the forest, drop your own words on the path like pebbles and write your way home.

Let the one who has ears, listen.
Let the one who has story, speak.
Let the one who has life, write.

The Path that Curves to Mystery

May 2018

The path that curves to mystery may not be seen from here

A shaded bower hides from view a future cloaked in fear

Along the way a vision of the world in pieces still

A mourning dove in silent perch observing all I will

In quiet contemplation of my walk on gravel small

Review my steps and coo her cheer to trav’lers one and all

The rocky crag, the towering oak, the crystal lake serene

Maintain their overview of all the places I have been

A yellow field of wildflow’rs, a distant barn of red.

A deep cerulean canopy expands above my head.

Through varied turns, an overgrowth of vines enclose the space

A camouflaged reality escaping my embrace.

What lies beyond I do not know, the journey is not clear

The destination beckons me beyond a month or year

Yet halting steps into the dark, there suddenly will be

A far-off mountain range in blue with striking clarity

I may not see a juncture ‘tween the mountain and my feet

But God who curves the path can circumspect the two to meet.

Cautious or Courageous?

A repost from 2013 –

My journey through vocation and ministry has been a long, winding road. Very few people have heard my full story, because at various intersections and roadblocks I’ve been able to overcome barriers without making a lot of noise. Additionally, I am cautious about what I post, or where I share my stories, because I don’t want people to jump to conclusions about what I believe without being willing to have an actual conversation about it. And there was a time when I was in a ministry job where I feared if I “showed my hand” too soon (or too loudly) I would have risked losing my income. I’m not so fearful now – partly because as a full time student, I have no income to lose. 🙂  But I also think that maybe my passion for God’s word and God’s will has fueled my courage for God’s women.
Many stories shared via Mike’s blog have been from God’s women within the churches of Christ who have stayed in those fellowships and found a voice and an outlet for their gifts. My path, instead, led me from non-instrumental churches, to a church plant that used acappella worship but allowed instrumental special music, to an “evangelical” independent Christian church…and most recently to seminary. I grew up a preacher’s kid who attended a small Christian school and two church of Christ colleges. I didn’t wake up one morning in my “c of C” life and say “HEY! I don’t fit here!” I just kept asking questions along the way, and watching to see what doors God would open.
The churches of Christ I attended in my 20s allowed me to work in children’s classrooms and cook for potluck suppers. If memory serves me well (and I’m 50 years old, so no guarantees) I participated by singing on a praise team a few times (on the front pew, with a mic) before congregational dissenters put an end to that novelty. When I was in my 30s, the church plant we joined allowed me to sing “special music” but not lead worship…when we merged with another church plant, women were allowed to sing on a praise team that led worship from the front, with microphones. That is, as long as a man was actually leading the praise team.
When we joined an independent Christian church it was immediately evident that women were allowed to do much more. Women occasionally read scripture or prayed in the service. Women were allowed participate on praise teams up front. Women were allowed to serve as “ministry coordinators” (their term for deacons, so no one could complain about “women deacons”). As a ministry coordinator I was allowed to lead a group of first impressions volunteers.
After we’d been there three years, I was hired as the Children’s Ministry Director. As such, I was considered part of the “pastoral staff” and I was allowed to attend all staff and elder meetings. In addition to “administrating the programs” involving children and families, I was allowed to participate in hospital calls, pastoral care, long range planning, and curriculum development. I co-wrote a class on spiritual gifts and led a church-wide initiative to connect people to serving opportunities. I led small-group Bible studies, and even spoke – from the pulpit, with a Bible in hand – for non-Sunday morning special services (twice in 11 years). I was allowed to do ministry in many ways.
I was “allowed” to do ministry.
Yet, in 1st Corinthians 12:4, 11, 18 we read      There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them…All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. …God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
And in Ephesians 4:7, 11-12 says     To each one of us grace [gifts – same Greek word] has been given as Christ apportioned it…Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up
The Spirit distributes… God has placed… Christ apportioned…
Calling and giftedness are the role of the Godhead. Not one of the passages on spiritual gifts limits any specific gift to a specific gender. Not one of the passages on spiritual gifts suggests that church leaders have the job of assigning specific gifts or roles to specific people. Instead, church leaders are exhorted to equip God’s people for service. In fact, the purpose of such variety is for the benefit of the whole church, as well as for the growth and maturity of the individual using those gifts. Consider these other scriptures:
Continuing Ephesians 4: 12-16…so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith…and become mature…speaking the truth in love we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament [NJB says “every joint adding its own strength!”] grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
And Romans 12:3-6…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
And I Corinthians 12:6-7There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
When I am asked a question about what I believe about women in ministry, the challenge often presented is “What about what the Bible says?”  Generally, they are referring specifically to the two limiting passages, 1 Timothy 2:11 (I don’t permit a woman to teach or to assume authority) and I Corinthians 14:34 (Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak). If that was all the Bible said on the topic (as in the much often quoted attitude God said it, I believe it, that settles it!), there would be no debate, right? Life would be so much simpler…
Ah, but that’s not all the Bible says on the topic. And the spiritual gifts passages (encompassing over 52 verses in four different books) are just one example of that tension within God’s word. It can’t all be harmonized perfectly. So the reader must use discernment in reading and interpreting and applying the texts – all of them – in a way that brings glory to God and supports the ultimate goal of bringing others into the kingdom. In connection with those goals, there are two additional passages that we should note.
I Peter 4:10-11:Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
I Timothy 2:2-4 (yes, please note this comes right before one of the limiting passages)…live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
There is no doubt that topic is deep and important and valuable to all of us (not just me and my daughter, who is even more courageous about the conversation than I have been). Our families, our churches, and especially church leaders need to be willing to have these hard conversations. I believe God will hold us accountable for using our gifts the way He intends (not the way society always expects) and I also believe God will hold us, as leaders, accountable for being good stewards of the gifts he’s given each of our church members, including women.
We need to encourage each other to have genuine dialogue about things we disagree on, not just assume that what has always been is the only reality in which God can work, or that cautious avoidance will prevent rocking the proverbial boat. And in the meantime, while we wait for important conversations to take place, we need to be courageous. Courageous enough to use the gifts God has given us and encouraging others (both men and women) to do the same.