Monday Muse: Portrait of a Survivor

“Cheap reconciliation generates further injustice. True reconciliation implies accountability. True reconciliation means recognition of genocides and reparations.”
~ His Holiness Aram I, speaking at the National Cathedral earlier this month

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a decades-long operation of death marches, massacres, torture, and extermination exacted against the Armenians of Turkey by the Ottoman Empire from the 1890s into the early 1920s — more than 1.5 million murdered and more than a half million exiled in all. The night of April 24, 1915, is remembered as both the height and the representative snapshot of the genocide’s horror, when hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and professionals in Constantinople were arrested during the night — imprisoned, exiled, tortured, and killed — an action repeated across many towns throughout Turkey that night.

It’s been my intent this year, mindful of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, to learn this history in greater depth than the synopsis I’ve just stated … which is, already, more than I learned in middle & high school about the genocide. I’ve been reading, slowly, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response by Peter Balakian, a professor at my alma mater, Colgate University.

IMG_20150511_163501But closer to my heart — and more accessible than a history volume — is Portrait of a Survivor by Florence M. Soghoian, gifted by a dear friend and sitting too long in the “waiting to be read” pile. Portrait of a Survivor is a wrenching narrative, the true stories of Ms. Soghoian’s mother’s and grandmother’s suffering through and survival of the Armenian Genocide.

How to tell you that you should read a book that includes a story of a mother’s son being beheaded on her lap … of a seminary being torched with all of its students inside … of women and children watching their family members die of starvation along death marches?

How to relate to you the impossible hope conveyed in one colorful hair ribbon, or the depth of caring manifest in a handmade afghan?

How to convince you that the stories of our collective history — especially the personal narratives of historic events that are otherwise abstractly outlined within (or omitted from) thick history books — need to be told & heard continuously so that our ears remain open and our hearts remain necessarily broken & committed to the kind of justice that comes from truth-telling?

In 1939, Adolf Hitler said, “Who after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” One hundred years after the Armenian Genocide, I encourage you to speak of it — but first, to hear of it — through stories like Portrait of a Survivor that have been passed down by those who know that the story must not become silent history.


Monday Muse: There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

There are books about ministry that are theoretical.

There are books about ministry that are practical.

There are books about ministry that are methodological.

RevGals coverThis is a book about ministry that is personal.

Deeply and beautifully personal.

Personal as in: persons bearing Christ in the particularities of life & ministry. Personal as in: intimate insights, both hilarious and heartbreaking, shared authentically by clergywomen. Personal as in: these women are friends and colleagues of mine, both IRL (in real life) and online. Personal as in: this is how ministry is and should be — in person, not in theory.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor is a book about the doing but most of all about the being of ministry, told through the particular experiences and lenses of clergywomen. I read this book — crying, laughing, sighing, reaching for another tissue — and I think with gratitude, “These are my people.”

And they are.

I first connected with RevGalBlogPals in 2009 when I began turning to their 11th Hour Preacher Party on Saturdays for preaching encouragement, and soon I joined their blogging ring. It is a blessing to be a part of the RevGalBlogPals network, a community founded in the days of pseudonymous blogging when several women in ministry connected with one another online and decided that they needed a name and a tshirt. Ten years later, the organization offers daily prayers, lectionary insights, blogging prompts, book reviews, continuing education opportunities, ministry wisdom, and more.

I’m proud of the books I’ve written and those I’ve contributed to, but There’s a Woman in the Pulpit is especially dear to me, because these pages bear witness to the community of RevGalBlogPals: a “gal”ship (as opposed to a “fellow”ship) that spans 4 continents, 20 denominations, 300 blogs, and more than 2500 Facebook group members — gals and pals who have given life to one another, held out faith for one another, and collectively emboldened women who answer God’s call to ordained ministry.

While my review of There’s a Woman in the Pulpit is hardly unbiased — I’ve written several pieces for the book — I gladly commend the book to you on the basis of the writing & stories shared by my colleagues. This is a book for every clergyperson (women and men), for every person who is exploring a call to ordained ministry, for every church that has called or that resists calling a female pastor, and for everyone who is committed to loving & supporting clergywomen.

Monday Muse: Hear My Prayer


Sssssshhhh. Really, just listen.

Listen to the Psalms. Listen to all one hundred fifty of these ancient prayers — one psalm after another, one voice after another, without music or interlude, without commentary or homily. Just ssssshhh, listen and let the Psalms settle over your spirit with Hear My Prayer: The Audio Book of Psalms (Paraclete Press 2015).

hear-my-prayerIt matters that we give voice to Scripture. And it matters that we listen to Scripture, not only with the ears of our hearts but also with the ears of our bodies, so that flesh and spirit hear together. Listening to the many different voices of Hear My Prayer, I realize this again. When lifted from the page to the ear, the Psalms come alive with emotion and we are reminded that prayer is the embodied expression of our lives to the Holy One. In the voices of Hear My Prayer, the Psalms echo with the joy and the gentleness, the sorrow and the trust of this thing called faith.

Listening to Hear My Prayer, individual psalms suddenly catch my ear and I wonder, “Have I never heard or read this psalm?!” Through the voice of Paula Huston, for example, Psalm 102 is surprisingly ethereal as I imagine God’s celestial perspective on the nations of the earth and on the fleeting nature of my days. Meanwhile Psalm 10, read by Jack Levison, sighs anew to my spirit. And Paul Quenon’s articulation of certain psalms reminds me of the rhythm of our prayers, of the ways that our hearts’ murmurs weave and dance and sway to the ear of God.

Then there is this line from Psalm 45, read by Margaret Manning Shull: “My tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe” — oh! how have I missed the delight of this verse until now?

Hear My Prayer: The Audio Book of Psalms is an unexpected gift to my spirit. I who unapologetically surround myself constantly with sound — music at work, music in the car, television at home, conversations with colleagues and family and friends, plus the constant “noise” of social media — I find surprisingly restful stillness in listening to this collection of voices, to this collection of ancient prayers, to the spaces of silence around each word, to the calming tempo and timbre of the psalms given voice.

In full disclosure as I commend this newly-released audio book to you, I had the pleasure of recording three of the psalms for Hear My Prayer. And, in full disclosure, I’m really just one of the “ordinary Christians” of the audio book’s description: “The Psalms were written by human beings, and here, they are read by human beings — a wide range of ordinary and extraordinary Christians.” The list of more extraordinary readers includes such notables as James Martin SJ and Joan Chittister, Scot McKnight and Cathleen Falsani.

I pray that you will be blessed by Hear My Prayer as I have been.

Monday Muse: Echo Still

echostillFor the first time in long time, I read a YA novel this spring: Echo Still by my friend and colleague Tim Tibbitts.

It’s also the first time in a long time that I’ve pulled my head out from mounds of church-related books & papers to simply read a story about people.

And Echo Still is a simply beautiful story about people.

Echo Still is the kind of book you buy for your preteen or teen but secretly borrow to read for yourself. The story finds Elijah (nicknamed Fig) navigating the everyday highs and lows of seventh grade: with a love of soccer, an apathy toward homework, a disinterest in bar mitzvah classes, and an envy of other kids who seem to have life a little easier … but also with the incomplete knowledge of his mother who died from cancer and the odd particularities of a grandmother who comes to visit.

A quick read, Echo Still nevertheless conveys an emotional depth and a reality in relationships that had me reaching for the tissue box more than once. Tim Tibbitts paints a touching portrait of how familial love falls down, finds its footing, storms and rages, despairs, and shows up all over again — all in the most ordinary moments.

It’s the kind of book that makes me believe we might all be okay in the end, despite our brokenness.

Monday Muse: Doubt after Easter

The Sunday after Easter — officially the Second Sunday of the Easter season — is known as many things in different contexts: Holy Humor Sunday, Bright Sunday, guest-preacher-in-the-pulpit-while-pastor-is-on-vacation Sunday. In the Revised Common Lectionary each year, the Sunday after Easter also brings us the notorious doubting of Thomas (John 20:19-31).

And thank goodness for Thomas’ story, I must say, because it gives us the opportunity to contend honestly with our fleeting alleluias, our flash of enthusiasm for the resurrected Christ, and our rubber-meets-the-road doubt about the relevance of the risen Jesus for a still crucified and crucifying world.

The following original liturgies and scripture adaptations are offered for the Second Sunday of the Easter season to give voice to our own doubts alongside Thomas:

Isaiah 25:6-9 (from Easter Evening’s readings)

A reminder of our ultimate hope and joy: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food and well-aged wines. And God will destroy on this mountain the death shroud that is cast over all the peoples; the LORD will swallow up death forever. And the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of God’s people will be taken away from the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “This is our God, for whom we have waited so that we might be saved. Let us be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation.”

One: This is God’s promise. Do you believe it?
Many: We want to believe. Forgive our unbelief!

I confess: I don’t know
how to believe such a
vision. So many tears
say otherwise — 147
dead, too many more
weeping. This is not
resurrection, not a
fancy eternal feast,
this is hell on earth
and you, O Christ,
seem to have left
something undone
in your three days’
descent to hell;
you missed a spot
in your harrowing.
Yes you are God,
O Christ, and we
have waited long
for you…and I say
we are still waiting
for your salvation.

One: We know God’s promise, but how can we believe it?
Many: We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

John 20:19-23 (Part 1, Locked Rooms)

This is the fear of the disciples following the resurrection, according to the Gospel of John: “Do not open the doors. Do not draw back the bolt or unhook the chain. His fate will be ours, if we are not careful. They will threaten and beat our bodies if we do not behave on their terms. They will not wait to see if our hands are held up before they take our breath from us. Stand guard! Keep watch! Isn’t that what Jesus taught us to do? And now all the more: Stay out of sight. Don’t catch the attention of the authorities. Don’t protest or ask questions if they arrest you. Most of all, stay alive! We have to stay alive if we have any hope of changing the system. … Is that Jesus?! It can’t be Jesus. They don’t let anyone out alive who’s caused them trouble. How can it be Jesus? Still with his wounds, but still with his breath. Is it really him?”

One: Peace be with you.
Many: We want to believe in life, Jesus, but we’ve seen too much death.
One: Peace be with you.
Many: We want to believe in love, Jesus, but we’ve seen too much hatred.
One: As God sent me, now I send you.
Many: How can we speak to peace when division and debate are so popular? How can we speak to grace in a world so full of unjust justice?
One: I send you.

What can we do?
Maybe Easter saves our souls
but Easter doesn’t save the world.
We hide ourselves in locked rooms
terrified of what we don’t understand —
war and violence and hatred — but
locked with us in those rooms
we still must contend
with ourselves, with the war and
violence and hatred that
we each carry.
If we dare to unlock the doors, to go out,
to be sent out,
what good can we do,
full of sin and doubt and fear as we are?
If we open the doors and dare
to see the pain of the world,
then what can we possibly say?
Do we offer the dying world a resurrected Jesus?
Do we say, “Look and see his wounds”
when the world itself is wounded on the floor
and bleeding out — from Kenya to Rikers Island,
from the forests of Nigeria to a hospital in Idaho
to a traffic stop in North Charleston?
How can we say, “Peace be with you”?
How can you say it, Jesus?

One: Break through our locks and fears, O Christ.
Many: We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

John 20:24-31 (Part 2, Doubt)

This is the honesty of Thomas, according to the Gospel of John: “Don’t come to tell me that Jesus has risen unless you can also tell me that Jesus still bears his wounds. Don’t tell me that Jesus has appeared from the tomb unless you also tell me that he ate at the table with you. Don’t tell me that Jesus has saved you for heaven unless you also tell me that he taught you to live with grace on earth. Don’t tell me that Jesus died for sin if he didn’t also live for the world. Don’t tell me that Jesus brings light if you haven’t learned to seek him in darkness. Don’t tell me lies about Jesus to make me feel better; let me touch Jesus and know that he is real.”

One: Believe because you see.
Many: If we believe, it is because we have touched the hands of fellowship and felt the wounds of love.
One: Believe because you do not see.
Many: If we believe, it is because our doubts are accompanied by hope, because our fears are disputed by holy imagination. We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

Thomas told the truth
that we could not say
especially not in our Easter best
with the bells ringing, with the horns trumpeting,
especially not when we so greatly needed
that one moment of triumphant joy.
But the truth is —
we worry that Easter
doesn’t change daily life;
the truth is — we live as though it does not.
It’s hard to say how resurrection
impacts the crucifixions
still happening all around us
still happening among us.
Jesus, we don’t need you for theological niceties
we need you for miraculous practicalities;
We need Easter to be touchable.
O Lord our God — help us!

One: We want to believe.
Many: O Christ, bless our unbelief.

Psalm 16 (from the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A)

One: Let us find our assurance in a psalm of confession. You are LORD; we have no good apart from you.
Many: You delight in us, by the mystery of your grace.
One: Though life is broken in bits and pieces, you are our piece and our portion.
Many: Though life pours itself out in rage and tragedy, you are our water and our cup.
One: Let us bless the LORD, who walks with us as we wander.
Many: Let us praise the LORD, who whispers a lullaby when the nights grow long.
One: Follow God faithfully, no matter the chaos;
Many: For God does not lose track of us. God alone has power over hell.
One: God alone shows us the path of life; God is our resurrection and our renewal.
Many: In God’s presence there is fullness of joy, the multiplication of peace, and satisfaction forevermore.