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Author: Deanna Gemmer

Comfort & Disturb

Comfort & Disturb

I led my primarily-white congregation in this prayer this Pentecost Sunday. May we all have the courage to pray for both comfort and discomfort.

 

 

Holy Spirit,

Jesus spoke of you as a comforter, a helper. And so today we pray for your comfort.

 

Comfort the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, friends and acquaintances of those who have died and are dying from this destructive pandemic.

 

Comfort the exhausted parents, health care workers, pastors, therapists, teachers, social workers, food workers, and all those whose work supports our communities.

 

Comfort those who lie in bed each night with worry for tomorrow. For the mentally ill, depressed, and lonely. For the unemployed. For the small business owner barely hanging on. For those who sleep outside without the safety of shelter, and for those who are one paycheck away from losing everything.

 

Comfort those who mourn the deaths of our black brothers and sisters at the hands of those tasked with protection.

 

Comfort us.

 

 

But Holy Spirit, we know too that when you arrived on Pentecost you arrived in wind and fire. And so we also ask that you burn away that which is destructive and with your mighty power move us towards a just world.

 

Disturb our systems of oppression and the parts we play in them. Disturb our comfortable lives. 

 

Disturb us so that we cannot look away. Disturb us so that we might see more clearly.

 

Disturb us at easy answers, at hurtful jokes, at micro-aggressions. May we be humble to receive correction. May we be bold to challenge wrong perspectives. 

 

Disturb us to action so that we might work together for the full humanity of all your children. 

 

Disturb us.

 

 

Holy Spirit, stay near. Call us to a way of new life. 

 

Through the gift of Christ our Lord.

 

Amen.

 

Soul Care during Social Distancing

Soul Care during Social Distancing

Hi friends,

My head knows social distancing is the best thing we can do right now to keep each other safe. But my heart is rebelling with every fiber! As Christians we are called to move towards, open doors, enter into hard spaces. And yet, what we keep hearing is that in this season the way we show Christ’s love is by staying home. It just feels so weird!

I’m praying about what soul-care resources I can put out into the world during this time that would be helpful to others. But until I’ve got some clarity, I want to gather what others are doing. This post will be a continually-updating resource of what is available. Bookmark it! Come back and tell me what was helpful! Share what you’re finding so others can participate too!

Stay healthy everyone – physically, mentally, and spiritually!

♥Deanna

Summit Ave Presbyterian

My own dear church hosted a simple Sunday service using the Celtic Daily prayer. We will likely continue in a similar, simple format in the weeks to come. Like our facebook page for updates.

UPDATE: We’ve added a “Manna for the Wilderness” blog to our website to share with one another the manna God is providing for us in this season of wilderness wandering.

Eleven:28 Ministries

This amazing organization I am so thankful to work with is hosting daily meditations at 3:00 Central on Facebook. Rhesa is a thoughtful and wise spiritual leader and I know you would benefit from taking a few moments out of your day to be in God’s presence with her.

Rend Collective

This awesome worship band out of Ireland is planning a worship event on Instagram tonight (3/16) at 6:00 Central. Looks like this will be an ongoing event so follow them for updates.

Holy Yoga

A Friday class at a local church has been a wonderful Sabbath practice for me this year. I love how Holy Yoga combines the health flow of moving my body, with encouraging words and prayers that connect my soul to God. Holy Yoga is offering a 30-day free membership to their online classes. I may just have to check this out!

Daily Prayers

My seminary colleague and friend, Terra McDaniel is a spiritual director based out of Austin, Texas. She is offering daily prayers she has curated from a variety of sources on her Facebook page. Scroll down for days you might have missed.

Poetry

Taking the time to read and reflect on beautiful words feeds my soul. Here are a few that have caught my notice this season:

No Distance, Steve Garnass-Holmes

Wash Your Hands, Dori Midnight

Lockdown, Brother Richard Hendrick

Outside the Christian Tradition

A facebook friend linked me to Anisa Ab who is offering free distance meditation sessions for March 2020.

Lessons from a Tree

Lessons from a Tree

This fall I fell in love with a tree.

It is a small tree in the neighbor’s yard. As all around this tree burst into the colors of autumn, she took her sweet time. Leaf by leaf, branch by branch, day by day – I’d round the corner of the driveway eager to see what new beauty she had to offer. The love I felt for her was deep and real.

This day as I came around the drive I discovered she had company!

In December I went to visit her during a spiritual practice I was leading called Lectio Tierra. The invitation was to walk slowly through nature, noticing and observing, and letting God speak by sitting with whatever caught your attention. So I stood below her and just looked – hoping the neighbors wouldn’t think I was super weird for staring so long at a bare tree.

Because indeed, she was almost bare. Her beautiful green-turned-yellow leaves had fallen – an offering to the earth around her roots. An offering of life to death and decomposition to life again.

Standing there nearly bare (a few brown leaves were stubbornly clinging to her branches – I empathized with them not wanting to let go) she reminded me of these cycles of life. She looks dead but she really is just at rest. Her yearly work is done and she is being renewed by her long winter’s nap.

I wonder what spring will bring for her.

I wonder what spring will bring for me.

I was offered a grant-funded position at a church and I am daily challenged and encouraged by the work I get to do there. We had an offer accepted on a house so we look forward to moving and unpacking and feeling settled again after so long being unsettled. The kids are doing a play and making friends and making music and making my life full of laughter and beauty and goodness. Darin is setting goals and starting anew and working so hard to take care of all of us.

This year has been a year – but spring is coming. What is God up to underground, in the dirt? What new life will come forth from all the loss?

I think again about my tree. Each year she is stripped bare. She stands there naked – but she is not ashamed. She is proud of the work she has done. She is grateful for the rest. She is hopeful for spring.

I think I love her because I feel such kinship with her.

I, too, am hopeful for spring.

Some thoughts on finishing Seminary

Some thoughts on finishing Seminary

This May I did a thing!

I donned a silly looking hat and robe, made my family come to Portland, walked across a stage, knelt down, and received another weird looking wardrobe item they called a “hood.” And with that, I had graduated! I have a Master of Divinity degree!

(Side note: the man backstage with the big camera where I was directed and ordered to tilt my head just a little more to the right, asked me about my degree. How does one describe a degree in which you have been told that you are now a Master of the Divine, but feel so much further from mastery of God than when you began? I told him it was a theology degree so I could become a pastor, an answer which satisfied him for a moment. Until he asked the follow up, “Did you know that’s what you were going to study when you started?”)

Anyway, I had graduated. But not really.

At Multnomah Falls!
Exploring Downtown Portland

I still had one more class to take. So after gallivanting around Portland with my family all weekend, I sent them home and headed to a retreat center for the first four days of what would be my summer intensive in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship.

I admit it, I was annoyed. Everyone else was done with school and here I was having to take one more class to finish my degree. I didn’t want to take a summer class. I didn’t want to keep telling people that I was walking in graduation in May, but wouldn’t officially be done until July. I was suffering a serious case of senioritis and worried I would not get anything out of the class.

I had done some wrestling with God over this very issue earlier that spring. My spirit had felt in such turmoil over my upcoming graduation. I described it to my friends as “feeling all the feels.” I didn’t know what to do with all those feelings, so I took myself on a solo retreat. I was lucky enough to get to stay at my Aunt and Uncle’s bonus house on the coast where I ate good food, enjoyed incredible rest, and talked to God about all those feelings I was feeling.

Honestly, I was worried about the fact that the graduation ceremony wouldn’t actually be the ritual to mark the ending of this incredible experience. I was worried that when July rolled around and I turned in my final assignment, it would feel so anticlimactic. I wondered about how to make it special, about how to mark the actual completion.

I spent a lot of time on that solo retreat contemplating how the seminary experience had changed me. I read through my notes from orientation and journaled all kinds of thoughts. I tried to put words to the person I had become, the values I now held, the deepest lessons I had learned. I wrote pages and pages of gratitudes, and one page of frustrations/regrets. I walked away from that retreat much, much lighter.

All bundled up to enjoy an afternoon on the Washington coast. Prayer is best for me by the water.
Enjoying some tea, sunshine, and one of my favorite views on my last morning.

But still annoyed that I had to take that summer class.

Turns out, I wish everyone could take a class in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship to end their seminary experience. To begin with, I spent four days on retreat in an amazing setting, with incredible classmates, and a wise and gifted teacher. We studied scripture together, we prayed together, we reminded one another of our belovedness, and we learned hard and good truths of life and spirituality together. I left that place profoundly grateful and ready to tackle the final semester.

Reality hit me hard, however, when I got home. After having a family dinner and tucking the kids into bed, Darin called me over to the couch and told me that he had been let go from his job that day. I will never forget the image of his angst-ridden face as he gave me the news. The next day I, too, was let go. Someday I’ll be able to write about this whole experience, but for now, I’ll just say that our lives were completely turned upside down. We made plans to finish the kids’ school year, then move into our camping trailer for the summer (our housing was a benefit with Darin’s job at camp), putting the majority of our belongings into storage.

It was a hard few weeks of sorting, packing, and job hunting. And I still had classwork to do. There was so much grace from my teacher and my classmates, but I’ll be honest, some days sitting down to read a book or write a forum post was the last thing I wanted to do. And some days it was the thing that kept me alive.

And then we said goodbye to our home and set out on our adventure. I had my computer and books with me, and set about, bit by bit, to finish the major project of the class. I had set my mind to writing a curriculum for women’s spiritual formation. It became a sort of culmination of my learning and my passions developed during the four years of seminary. It took hours of research and writing to complete, and it took one generously given extension to turn in finished.

The morning I turned it in I was all alone in the guest room at my mother-in-law’s house. Darin was finishing a bathroom remodel project he had taken on for some friends, and I was going to be taking Daisy to summer camp that afternoon. When my alarm went off I sat up to read through the project one final time, fixing a few errors and typos. And then I uploaded it and hit submit. I sent an email to my professor letting her know that it had been turned in, and that was it.

I was done with seminary.

I took a selfie to commemorate the occasion.

This selfie – in bed still in my PJs.

In the end that was all I needed. It was rather anticlimactic. There were no hugs, no cake, no ceremony. I didn’t throw a big party. Instead, I simply hit submit and went out to hug my girls good morning.

I am so grateful for the work Holy Spirit did in me that this moment was enough. It was just me and God. It was quiet. It was a whispered, “well done.” It was the knowledge that I had completed what I had set out to do, and in the process had become a different person. Four years ago I had agreed to let God transform me through the experience of seminary, and transformed I had been.

Sometimes quiet and simple and done is all the celebration one needs.

Women’s Preaching Workshop & Cohort

Women’s Preaching Workshop & Cohort

$25 Includes workshop, lunch, and ongoing mentoring.

To apply: fill out this short application and submit a short (3-5 minute) video. Share a portion of a sermon or talk you’ve recorded, or a short devotion you would share with a group of Christian leaders. DUE JANUARY 31st!

Limited to 18 participants.

Questions? Email me!

And here’s a little video where I share some more of the heart behind this event:

The LIE that is Racism

The LIE that is Racism

Photo by Jerónimo Bernot on Unsplash

I am a white woman in the United States who has spent the last few years becoming painfully aware of my own racism. I wish I could go back and apologize for all the idiotic things I have said and done that centered whiteness and white culture. I am trying to do better. I am still stumbling.

But I know that it is on me to teach my children to see the world differently. And so yesterday, on Martin Luther King Jr. day, we sat down as a family to watch a few educational videos about Jim Crow laws and the Reverend himself.

And I asked the girls a simple question: “What lie did the white people believe about black people?”

My youngest spoke up: “That they were bad!”

“Yes, that they were bad. But a lie even bigger than that. A lie that went back to slave times. These slaveholders had to tell a lie to make slavery OK in their hearts, when their hearts probably told them it wasn’t. So they told a lie that black people were lesser people. In fact, when the government needed to count how many people lived in an area, a black man was considered 3/5ths of a white man.”

I watched my girls’ eyes get big. They couldn’t imagine one human being counted as 3/5ths of another.

“And that lie told the slave owners that black people who were less than they were, were also less smart, less worthy, less dignified…less everything.

“They told that lie to themselves until they believed it. And they told that lie to their children and their children believed it. And they told that lie to their children and their children and laws and systems and governments were built on that lie. It is a lie called racism. The lie of racism simply says one race of people is less than another – one race of people is better than another. It is a lie that has such far reaching consequences, we are still dealing with it today – many people still believe this lie.” (Darin joined in here to talk about the Charlottesville protests. But there are many examples you could offer.)

And I needed to be even more honest, “See, here’s the thing: even though your mom and dad know it is a lie that black people are less, sometimes even we fall for it. We have to work hard to unlearn this lie because it is hiding in so many places we don’t know about, or can’t see. And we have to unlearn it by teaching you that it is a lie. And it is a lie – because we know the truth. All people are equal.”

 

We had lots more conversations about lots more topics during our learning time together yesterday, but this is the conversation we need to keep having over and over. We need to teach our children to teach their children to teach their children the TRUTH. This is the only way to take away the power of the lie.

 

Brave Mary Sermon

Brave Mary Sermon

 

I was invited to pulpit fill for a friend last month and the night before I posted this on Facebook:

I also posted something similar in a “Preach like a Girl” facebook group I’m a part of.

There were lots of comments from people asking to see this sermon. Unfortunately, this church doesn’t record their preachers. But then one woman stopped me after church and asked me for my sermon notes, wanting to share them with her daughter. And that pushed me over the edge in trying to figure out a way to share more broadly.

So last week I popped down to the basement and preached to my phone camera. I’m not at my best when I’m not interacting with people, but at least you get some content.

The text is Luke 1:26-45, 2:8-19. I don’t read it while I preach as in this church they read the text earlier in the service so I prepped my sermon accordingly.

Where might God be calling you to be BRAVE in 2019?

 

My favorite books of 2018

My favorite books of 2018

Books I read for seminary:

Speaking of Sin – Barbara Brown Taylor

We don’t talk about sin a lot at my church, but this book challenged me to think of sin not as threatening, but hopeful. When we name our sins we can actually pursue real repentance and restoration of relationships.

The Story Factor – Annette Simmons

I got to read this for my advanced preaching class and it just reminded me once again at the power of story. I plan to re-read when school is done as there are so many good tips and tricks for anyone who wants to motivate others.

Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission – Amy Simpson

EVERY church pastor, staff person, volunteer, board member, and lay leader should read this book. Amy shares her own story as well stories from other families, in a challenge to the church to better care for those who suffer from mental illness and the people who love them.

Through the Eyes of Women: Insights for Pastoral Care – edited by Jeanne Stevenson Moessner

I didn’t read all of this book, but the chapters I read were top-notch and incredibly insightful. In fact, I forwarded a few of them on to my Pastoral Ministry professor for us to read next semester. The more time I spend in the church, the more I realize resources are generally written towards men with an assumption that women work/feel the same. But this book offers some really helpful insights into the lives and hearts of women, and pastors who want to care for them well would do well to pick it up.

Books I read for fun:

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

Most of the books I “read” for personal pleasure this year I actually listened to as audio books. I need fiction in my life, but as a grad student it is really hard to find the time to read for pleasure. Audio books have been a real salvation for me. This book was such a delightful story and I fell in love with so many of the characters. I was thrilled to watch the delightful film this summer too, but the book just made me happy.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I grabbed this book off my shelf as we packed up for a spring break vacation and I am so glad I did. I loved sitting by the fire morning and evenings, and on the beach as my family built sandcastles, savoring this book. Quite a few years old, and with a new Netlflix movie that is pretty darn good, but if you haven’t read this one yet I urge you to pick it up.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Always worth a re-read. Still as powerful as ever. I wanted a refresher given my oldest is in middle school now and I anticipate this text on a reading list any day now.

This is how it Always Is – Laurie Frankel

Powerful storytelling that opened my eyes to the experiences of families with trans kids. If you want your worldview expanded and believe in the power of story to do just that, pick up this book.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness – Austin Channing Brown

Another eye-opening book for me, this time about race, America, and the evangelical church. I’d highly recommend this book.

 

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger – Rebecca Traister

This is the one book this year that I told all my girlfriends and my sister they needed to read ASAP. This book shook me and taught me so much. I listened to the audio version and have plans post-school to buy a hard copy and mark it all up. (Just between you and me, this book and a independent study last semester have planted a few seeds of writing my own book on the theology of women’s anger. We’ll see what happens…)

Educated: A Memoir – Tara Westover

This book was a bestseller this year for very good reasons. Memoir is one of my favorite genres, and I am fascinated by Mormon fundamentalism. Add to that a hardworking, strong-willed woman who finds a way to pursue education at Harvard and Cambridge and you have a serious winner.

Becoming – Michelle Obama

Somehow I got on the audiobook waitlist early enough that I got to listen to this book right as 2018 wrapped up. What a gift it was.

 

How about you? Did any of my books make your list? What were your favorite books of 2018? 

Prayer of Exchange

Prayer of Exchange

 

Lord,

We bring you our questions and our doubt. Show us your ways.

We bring you our grief and our weariness. Show us your new life.

We bring you our fear. Show us your compassion.

We bring you our gratitude. Show us your faithfulness.

Amen

 

Adapted from a prayer by Sam Wells and Abigail Kocher in “Shaping the Prayers of the People.” 
The Apology Jar

The Apology Jar

I’m sorry.

It’s a good phrase. It’s an important phrase. It’s something we teach our children to say when they need to acknowledge wrongdoing and work to restore a relationship. It’s something many adults need to get better at saying (and meaning) without qualifying with a “but” or an “if.” And that definitely includes me because I’m not very good at admitting when I’m wrong.

But I’m awfully good at saying I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I didn’t know that.

I’m sorry to bother you, but can I ask you a question?

I’m sorry, was that in your way?

And I’ve got a couple of amazing coworkers who are also really good at this kind of apologizing.

I’m sorry I forgot what I was saying.

I’m sorry, that story was really rambling.

Sorry, were you sitting here?

The experts tell us that while we may be innocently attempting to keep peace and avoid conflict, this kind of apologizing can not only damage our careers, but also our self-image. We do not need to apologize for a lack of knowledge, for taking up space, for opening our mouths. We do not need to apologize for existing! We do not need to use apologies as conversation “smoothers,” to cushion whatever blows might befall those around us. We do not need to apologize when a simple “thank you” or “excuse me” will due. We do not need to apologize when what we really need to do is stand firm in our convictions.

So I’ve been joking with my coworkers that I’m going to institute an “apology” jar around the office. Sort of like a swear jar, we’ll each have to put $1 in when we’re caught in an apology.

Or when, like happened a few weeks ago, our boss even asks for an unwarranted apology. My boss (who also happens to be my sweet husband, so that’s an interesting dynamic) was suggesting some phrasing for an email I was sending to his boss, and his wording included an apology. I did not feel the apology was warranted, so instead of saying “I’m sorry that I didn’t know X” I wrote, “I just learned X” and continued with the email. It wasn’t hard to turn that phrase and I was still polite and respectful in my email, without diminishing myself in the process.

And even if I can’t make the general public give me $1 for an unwarranted apology, I’m not going to accept them so easily anymore either. At the Evolving Faith conference I turned around to tell a new friend how much I enjoyed listening to her gorgeous voice sing harmonies in my ear that afternoon. Her response to my gratitude and compliment?! “I’m sorry,” along with a sheepish lowering of her head.

“Nope.” I laughed. “That’s not how this works. That is the wrong answer when someone gives you a compliment. The right answer is: thank you. Let’s try this again.”

And we did.

And this time she smiled, and said, “thank you” instead.

 

How about you? Are you an over-apologizer? Do you have tips or tricks for those of us trying to break this habit?