On Independence Day

Independence Day and I have a complicated relationship. I have fond memories from my childhood—packing a picnic and going to an all-day festival with my family. We’d lay our blanket on the grassy hillside and wait until nightfall. A military band always played inspiring marches, and when night fell, the sky was filled with every color in the rainbow and all sorts of sounds: booms, crackles, and whistles all overlapping each other into a symphony. But even then, as a child, I knew why we celebrated with fireworks. I knew the noise was meant to emulate the sounds of war. I imagined myself, as a young girl, hiding in a barn, keeping my breathing quiet lest the soldiers find me.

(Continue reading at Off the Page…)

Finding Junia

JuniaJunia was the first person in the Bible who lied to me. Well, to be fair, it wasn’t really
 who lied to me; it was the other people who lied to conceal her from me. 

I had been struggling with the issue of women in ministry for years. I come from a background that not only doesn’t ordain women, but doesn’t allow women deacons and elders, which does not allow women to collect offering or teach men older than 12. When I was in elementary school and people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had an answer all prepared: “A pastor’s wife.”

See, I felt the call to ministry at a young age. I mean, very young. I was four. I have a distinct memory of sitting in the pew during a Sunday evening service, listening to a missionary presentation. I thought, “I want to tell people about Jesus!” From that day until this day, I’ve never questioned that I was called into vocational ministry; I just knew.

But the only way available to me was to be a pastor’s wife, and that’s what I did, by marrying an Army chaplain. I checked the boxes and was living the life to which I was called. 

Except, things are rarely that easy, are they? What followed was a life that didn’t line up with what I thought life would be like. I began seeing the cracks in my theology, in a version of Christianity that said to women: We don’t want to say you’re second-class, but

I knew – I KNEW – all of the biblical reasons why women were created to be helpmeets. I could use my apologetics skills to articulate the role of women to support the headship of men better than most men I knew. I would tell you that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were influential in Timothy’s life only because the men in his life slacked on the job (because, clearly, whenever God uses a woman, it’s always Plan B…). I would tell you about the requirement of elders to be The Husband of One Wife and could explain both sides of the debate about whether single men and/or divorced men were excluded.

I had all the answers…

                   …until I didn’t.

Junia first exposed that maybe, just maybe, some of my answers were flawed.
She is an apostle named in Romans 16:7. Let that sink in. Junia, a woman, is an apostle – an esteemed apostle, at that! The more I read, the more disheartened I was. See, a couple hundred years after Romans was written, church leaders decided that this apostle couldn’t have been a woman (at best; at worst, it was a deliberate deceitful choice…)… so they added an s to her name and made her male. For centuries, the Bible was translated hailing Junias – a man.

The first time I read about Junia, I felt like I had been punched in the gut, as though I was a victim of some 2000-year long conspiracy. My well-read Bible had failed me. How could I have been lied to all this time? How could they get away with literally replacing the name of a woman with the name of a man? I started questioning all the proof texts I “knew” about women in ministry. The more I learned, the more I realized that there was not just one “correct” way to look at any text – particularly those which have been used to oppress populations for centuries.

That’s when I knew I needed to follow my calling, not as the “plus one” on my husband’s ministry, but on my own. 

There was more to my decision than just Junia, of course. But when I saw Junia liberated, without that s that made her someone she wasn’t and kept her from being who she was, I knew that I could be who I was as well. 

May 17, the day I write this, is the Feast of St. Junia, a day we commemorate her contributions to Christianity, this esteemed apostle.

On this day, I remember all the other women whose contributions were erased from history because of their gender – or the women who were never allowed to make contributions because men would not let them. Today, I gather in my living room with women from my church, talking about faith and love, about church and community. I celebrate the young woman who is graduating from high school, who stood in my church’s pulpit two days ago and preached. I continue to work toward ordination and fully am who God has called me to be.

I think Junia would be proud.

Chicago Rooftops and Being Free

Today is her birthday.

I don’t remember the first time I met her. It was my freshman year of college, and at first, she was just another junior living on my floor. I do remember asking her if I could be her roommate. The college I attended over-booked freshman girls that fall, so we had three girls living in a two-person room. At the end of the semester, there was space for me to move out and in with Kandice. Her roommate was moving out, and she seemed genuinely excited to share our space together.

chicagoSo I went home for Christmas break, ready to come back in January and move in with Kandice. Over that break, this happened. Suffice it to say that I was… in a weird place when we first started living together.

Kandice and I were roommates that spring semester as well as the following fall, before I decided to leave the school. Often after a bad day, I would come back to my room, knowing where I had hidden chocolate. Kandice was present and in the moment in every way imaginable – unfortunately, her zeal for life often led her to my own hidden candy, which she would somehow find and eat. Frustration over stolen candy aside, I always knew she loved me for who I was as a person, and she challenged my thinking in ways that no one else at that college did.

The last week we lived together, before Christmas break in 2002, I got off the elevator on the seventh floor of our dorm. The school was in downtown Chicago, situated halfway between Cabrini Green and Michigan Avenue – between two worlds. When I got off the elevator, Kandice was standing there with the most intense look on her face I have ever seen anyone have. She yelled – no words in particular, just yelled – and shoved me up against the wall in an outburst of frustration. I could tell she wasn’t angry at me, and even as she got up in my face, it wasn’t violent. She had that much emotion.

I can’t remember whose idea it was to go to the roof of the building, but that’s what we did. It was late at night, but the sky was lit by the city lights. The rain was so heavy I could feel every drop; this was no light spring shower. On the roof of a 10-story building, the rain seemed just a bit closer. There was no shelter, no hiding ourselves from its heavy drops.

We stood on the roof and yelled. I can’t remember what exactly we yelled about – for her it was a lost relationship, for me it was the uncertainty of my future. I don’t know the words but I know we yelled. In the pouring rain. On the roof.

I am certain that the next part was Kandice’s idea, because it wasn’t allowed. If I followed every rule, she seemed to view each one as a new challenge. We snuck past the unlocked gate that led to the maintenance tower on top of the building. We climbed up the metal ladder and onto the very top of the tower. There was no railing. No ledge. We were now 11 stories up, and though the maintenance tower was probably 15′ square and was in the middle of the building (so if we fell it would only be one story), I felt on top of the world. And I was terrified.

We yelled for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, exhausted, drenched, and freezing, we made our way back down the maintenance tower. We peered in the door from the roof to make sure no one saw us, then rode down the elevator in silence. Comfortable, understood silence.

I have never felt as alive as I did on that roof that night. I was the most free to be myself, most free to express emotion I so often concealed. Kandice was my friend, my confidante, and I admired her.

We lost touch after college. We were Facebook friends, but that was many years ago, before I shifted my theology and started the path I’m on now. I wish I could still talk to her, because I really think she would LOVE who I am today.

Last week, I was telling my friend Alissa about Kandice, about how spunky and feisty and full-of-life she was. I told Alissa stories about being Kandice’s roommate, and suddenly I stopped short. My breath caught – I don’t think Alissa even realized that I stopped myself, because I forced myself to trail off. I couldn’t bring myself to say the end of the story: Kandice died almost six years ago, from Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Her death was tragic in so many ways. She was preparing for the mission field. She was young. She shouldn’t have died.

I couldn’t say the words because somehow saying them would make it a little more true. I hadn’t seen Kandice since early 2003, so somehow I can convince myself that she’s not on Facebook because she’s hanging out with deaf kids on dirt paths in Africa, listening to what they couldn’t say and learning from them. She’s there, in my mind, sharing about the love of God with these kids who are abandoned and unwanted. In my mind, Kandice is fulfilled and happy. And yet, though I know that she isn’t on the streets of Africa with deaf children, I know that Kandice really is fulfilled and happy now. Whatever happens after death has to be better than the hell that cancer and suffering deliver on earth, and I am confident that Kandice is there. Free. Fully herself.

Brene Brown says that we should “lean in to moments of joy.” So today, in Kandice’s honor, that’s what I will do. In the midst of the meetings and the deadlines I have today, I will light a candle and remember Kandice. I will say her name out loud. And who knows… maybe I’ll even find a piece of hidden chocolate in the back of my drawer.

In fear, but also in hope: On Ash Wednesday and going to war

There’s something powerful about Ash Wednesday being the week you send your husband off to war. Again.

He was supposed to have been gone already – I thought the service would be my first time at church without him. Instead, it was our last time at churIMG_3154ch together before he left. As I faced the bowl of ashes, I was filled with dread.

It’s an odd thing, being someone who longs for peace, who views all war as tragedy, who chafes at the American Exceptionalism and Colonialism that so often infiltrate our foreign policy… to stand proudly and sing along during The Army Song (even if I must change a couple words to be able to sing it authentically). To have my house decorated with the signs of a family established during war on one wall… and mandalas drawn by Buddhist monks on another. To have an award that includes the motto “Strike Fear”… hanging on my office wall at church.

In fear, but also in hope…

I live in a tension of being so, so proud of the uniform my husband wears, while being ever aware of the blood spilled at the hands of Soldiers of war throughout history. I am proud of his work as a chaplain – of his commitment to bring about wholeness in a broken world – as he advocates for those on the margins in the military because of their religion, gender, orientation, and beliefs. He provides care for the wounded – those wounded physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. But our lives are marked by death and destruction. War is always tragic. 

In fear, but also in hope…

Last Wednesday, our foreheads bearing the marks of crosses of ashes, I couldn’t escape that tension. War is death. There’s no other purpose for it. People die. Soldiers die. Civilians die. Children die. The land is marred with blood and bullets. As people of faith we confidently proclaim the good news of life and redemption… and war destroys the hope of that life at every turn.

As an Army family, our marriage deals in death. On our first night as a married couple, we discussed what I would do if I I heard that knock on the door to inform me he had been killed in combat. I kissed him goodbye a week later – and he came home after our first anniversary. Our son attended a Soldier’s memorial ceremony when he was 5 days old. Our wills are updated. And yet, we live life in the present, knowing that none of us, really, is guaranteed another day.

In fear, but also in hope… 

And that’s the point of all this, I suppose. We long, we wait. There’s no way to get to Easter but to go through Lent. There’s no way to get to the final resurrection but to go through the brokenness that is life on earth, even while we plant seeds of hope and healing. Ashes on our foreheads reminds us of our own mortality, but we know that this is not the end, that there is a hope yet to come…

In fear, but also in hope, we come together with ashes on our heads.
The planet is dying in our hands;
people turn to each other for food and strength
only to be shoved away.

Each day we deal in death,
yet pretend that we are good.
Let us take forty days to look hard at our so-called goodness
and see what it covers up.
Then, we will join together in taking up the cross
of living in the world as it is,
for there is only one earth, and, as far as we know, only one human race.
~ Chalice Worship

In fear, but also in hope, we recognize that, though these 40 days reminds us of our own humanity, we now see through a glass darkly. And, even in the face of war, even with ashes on our heads, we confidently proclaim that someday, somehow, as a mystery we don’t yet understand…

Easter is coming.

On Being People of the (Red) Cup

“It’s called the ‘Christian Churches – Disciples of Christ.’ Chalice_High-2You might have seen our churches before; our denomination’s logo is a red chalice with St. Andrew’s Cross”

The other person stares at me blankly. I sigh.

“Ok, really, it looks like a red wine glass with a big white X on it…”

They say, “OOOOHH, yes! Now I know what you’re talking about. I’ve seen that before!!”

I find myself repeating this conversation often. Since my husband is an Army chaplain, I meet Christians of many stripes who frequently ask about our denomination; they’ve heard of Baptist and Methodist and Lutheran, but oftentimes aren’t as familiar with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I love taking the opportunity to share about this denomination and about my church.

And that’s why THIS red cup matters.

The red cup means that the Table is our focus. This red chalice – representative of what was used by Christ during the Last Supper – shows that we are people of the Table. We have differing interperetations of the Bible, and have differing ways of living out our faith, but the Table unifies us. By partaking of this meal together, we remember the life and teachings of Christ; we are woven together, continuing the story of God’s people on earth. Disciples churches celebrate Communion every time we gather in worship. I used to think that the frequency would make it meaningless; on the contrary, it has become the most meaningful part of my week. As we partake, we are fed and filled and sent forth into the world. And because of that… 

The red cup means that ALL are welcome to the Table. We welcome all to the Table as God has welcomed us. There is no ten-page doctrinal statement to sign, no list of rules by which we must abide. We require no proof or documentation to partake. We do not tell anyone they aren’t good enough – or anything enough – to celebrate the Lord’s Table. Our value of inclusion does not end at the Table; as a woman, in the Disciples I am able to use all my gifts from God for God’s people and the church. Here, I am welcome. We take this from our doorsteps into the ends of the earth because…

The red cup means that we are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As an Army wife, I am ever aware of the fragmentation of our world, of the conflicts that cause blood to be shed, families to be torn apart, and people everywhere to draw lines in the sand about who is in and who is out and why. People are hurt by the church; people suffer with loneliness and suffer because of oppression. Disconnection leads to all sorts of tragedies. We are continually fragmented from the earth and the interconnectedness of all life. And yet, as people of God, we are called to bring wholeness. We are called to live into God’s realm in the earth today, not only waiting for some future hope, but making that hope a reality now. I cannot think of any greater identity statement for a denomination. Which is why…

The red cup means that I am home. Brand recognition matters. Driving through a new community, a sign that says “Christian Church” could mean almost anything. But when I see that little red chalice with St. Andrew’s Cross? I know I’m home. As I’ve written before, my husband and I have only been Disciples for about six years now, and making this shift was an intentional and prayerful decision. We’ve been to Disciples churches all over the country, and each is remarkably different. And yet, in each, we are welcome; in each, we worship God together; in each, we celebrate communion every Sunday; in each, we are home.


We are diverse, we are faithful, we are God’s people but not God’s only people. We are the Disciples of Christ: People of the (Red) Cup.

And We Have a Wall: refugees at our borders

I’m sure by now we have all seen the heartbreaking story of the little boy on the beach in Turkey. I read a piece by poet Warsan Shire – an immigrant herself – which read,

You have to understand,

No one puts their child in a boat

Unless the water is safer than the land.

I cannot fathom the emotions of a parent who ultimately makes that choice. I cannot imagine a world in which risking death was a better option than certain death.

And yet, I am so, so torn by what I’ve been reading about the Syrian refugees. I am glad it’s gaining attention, because it can be so easy to turn away from events happening on the other side of the world. I have been reading calls for peaceful countries in Europe to open their doors, to let in the stranger and the immigrant. Indeed. And I’ve hesitated mentioning this because I’m very bothered by “Tragedy Olympics” – you know, if you are sad about something, but I have a tragedy that’s even sadder, I dismiss your tragedy because mine is worse. As though empathy is a zero-sum game, and if we’re heartbroken about one thing it automatically means we aren’t about another. It’s the cries of “If you care about that thing, you really should care about this thing!” Because I hate that so much, I’ve remained silent thus far.

And yet.

This is a close-up of the wall. Though here it is bars - some say as a fence, some say as a prison - in other places the wall is solid.

This is a close-up of the wall. Though here it is bars – some say as a fence, some say as a prison – in other places the wall is solid.

And yet.

We have a wall.

Let me repeat that.


Thousands of people seek refuge in the United States of America each year. And we have a wall.

There is a sort of “conventional wisdom” which paints these folks as manipulative, drug-using, violent criminals.

But I’ve seen their faces. Last winter, on a trip with my seminary through an organization called Borderlinks, I met countless people who sought refuge in the U.S. and were turned away. And not just turned away. Arrested. Placed in unsafe detention facilities. Chained. Processed. Placed on a bus and dropped off on the other side of the wall, only to be met with violence, trafficking, and drug smugglers ready to force them to walk the desert.

I heard so many stories, but one in particular stands out.* When he was young – about 9 – he witnessed a murder in a parking lot. He and his mother were getting in their car, and suddenly gunfire started. They crouched down, the gunfire quickly subsided, and the shooters raced away immediately. The boy then looked up to see the man in the car next to him, shot dead.

His mom started having an attack – he thought it was a heart attack, so he was able to get her to the hospital. Tests revealed it was a panic attack – understandable given what they just experienced. When she was about to be released from the hospital, the doctor told her that the police were on their way to question her about what she saw, so she needed to stay. This made her uneasy. She had a gut feeling – thankfully so – and she and her son left the hospital before the police arrived.

Fast forward several months. The police were actually involved in the shooting – not a surprise, in the heavily violent and corrupt city in which they lived – and they began stalking her. She received death threats. Her son was followed to and from school. The police would park outside her house. Shootings in her neighborhood increased. The police began knocking at her door and intimidating her. She wasn’t safe – violence was all around her, and she needed to protect her son. So she chose the risk of death over the certainty of death. There was no boat in which to put her son – but there was a dangerous desert to cross. So they did. 

There is a physical barrier for several hundred miles of the U.S. – Mexico border. This forces those who wish to seek refuge in the United States to cross the desert on foot. The desert is filled with those who rob, rape, and kidnap. But the risk of death is a better choice than certain death. I cannot fathom being a parent and being faced with that choice. 

There is a physical barrier for several hundred miles of the U.S. - Mexico border.

There is a physical barrier for several hundred miles of the U.S. – Mexico border.

“But why don’t they just do it the ‘legal’ way?” you might be asking. This is much easier said than done. There are immigration limits, quotas, misinformation, constantly-changing laws. Put another way, if that’s the question you have about our own border, would you be asking that of the crisis in Syria as well? “Why didn’t those Syrians just do it the legal way? Plenty of European countries have paths to legal immigration – they should just fill out the paperwork and wait!” When you are fleeing violence – as they are fleeing in Syria just as they are fleeing in Central America and Mexico – that is not always an option. The United States refuses to call them “refugees” (because of our own complicity in the region), but that’s what they are. Sure, the violence in Syria looks different, but when people are killing and kidnapping your kids, it doesn’t matter why or under what organization they fall. 

My point here is that there is no difference between the Syrians fleeing violence and the Central Americans and Mexicans fleeing violence. And yet, we label one “refugees” and the other “illegals.” I believe that our call as people of God is to welcome and love the immigrant and the stranger – especially when they’re at our own door. 

*I’ll change some details to generalities for the sake of the young man whose story this is.

CC (DOC): A new(ish) Disciple’s understanding of a “new” normal

Jonathan and I just returned from our first ever General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It is a gathering of clergy and laypeople from throughout the denomination for five days of learning, reflection, reunion, worship, and – of course – business. There were fewer people at this Assembly than ever before, and that was not lost on anyone.

One of the unintentionally remarkable things I heard at the Assembly was Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, our General Minister and President, say about the lower attendance, “This is our new normal.”


But for me, it isn’t.

For me, this is just… “normal.”

Jonathan and I were both raised in other (much more conservative) denominations. For us, being members of the DOC was a decision we came to intentionally and with much thought, conversation, and prayer. We had gotten to a point at which we knew we could not faithfully stay in our previous traditions and found a home in the DOC that we had never felt anywhere else. We first began attending Disciples churches in 2008, became a member of a church in 2009, and Jon’s ordination was recognized by (transferred to) the DOC in 2010. I am a licensed minister in Kentucky while I complete my MDiv through Lexington Theological Seminary and work part-time at a local church.

I understand the grief and loss that long-time Disciples must be feeling, because I have felt it about other organizations and such in my own life. But for me, if I hadn’t been told – repeatedly – that we’re in decline, I wouldn’t have believed it. I would have guessed that there were only 3000 people at the last assembly and we’re growing! I would have felt the energy in the room and sensed a moving of the Spirit that is indicative of a group ready to soar.

I had to read a book for an introductory seminary class about the “shifting” culture that impacts the church. The book presented these areas: lack of trust in authority, lack of trust in institutional church, etc. – as shifts that are currently taking place. But for people my age, they are history. I have never known a civil religion. I have never known a world in which church attendance was culturally expected. I have never known a time when “spiritual but not religious” was not accepted as valid.

I feel the same about the Disciples. As a new-ish Disciple, this IS normal. It’s not a NEW normal. This is what I signed up for. When Jonathan and I made that intentional, deliberate decision to join the DOC, we knew it was in decline as were all mainline denominations. We knew there had been disagreeing factions – and we knew that’s okay. Sure, there’s a lot we have learned, discovered – and critiqued – about the denomination in the last few years, but for us, the Disciples of today are all we have ever known.

So allow me, a newish Disciple, tell you what I saw at General Assembly:

I experienced a group of people who care about and love the church. They are not committed to traditionalism but genuinely want to help people encounter the Divine.

I experienced a group of people who are open to new ideas and ways of doing ministry.

I experienced a group of people who do not draw hard boundary lines around who’s in and who’s out. This makes discussions messier than in other denominations, but its inclusivity is its strength.

And because of that, I experienced a group who is better poised than any group of Christians I know to meet the challenges of this and future generations.

I experienced a group of people who is able to laugh (#CampbellCon, anyone?), is heartbroken at injustice, and whose lives have been transformed by their experiences with and understanding of God.

I experienced a group who cares so much about this denomination that nearly four thousand people came from far and wide to be together. FOUR THOUSAND. That is not a small number.

I experienced a group diverse in race, gender, ethnicity, orientation, and age. Let me focus on that last one a bit: age. When I looked around that room at all the under-40 clergy in attendance, I do not see a denomination that is going away! While it might look differently in the coming decades than it does now, I’m already making plans for General Assembly 2051.

I get grieving. I get naming the loss in order to move on. It is a sign of a healthy group when loss and grief can be named and integrated, and I’m glad to be in a denomination that allows that emotional language.

But for me? I’ve found my tribe, and I’m committed. I’m committed to joining the conversations, I’m committed to serving the people in the church so that those people can go be the church in the world. I left General Assembly feeling hopeful, inspired, empowered, and encouraged. I left confident that joining the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.