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.
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.
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?
So last month Darin and I packed our bags, kissed our children goodbye, promised our undying affection to Gran who was looking after them, and flew across the country to attend the Evolving Faith Conference. Organized by two faith leaders we deeply admire, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans, the conference was a place for “doubters, dreamers, survivors, rebuilders, guides, and travelers – who know what it’s like to experience a shift in faith.” Darin and I were excited to hear from Sarah and Rachel and the amazing lineup of speakers they had put together, we were grateful for the chance to get away together after an incredibly challenging season of ministry, but we were really eager to be in a room of full of kindred spirits and maybe feel a little less alone.
As I posted quotes and pictures on social media my friends back home kept telling me how jealous they were that I was at this event, and how much they wanted me to share what I was learning. But there was so much going on in my own head, heart, and spirit – there were so many speakers and so many topics. How could I distill this conference into one blog post or a handful of twitter quotes?
As I pondered and prayed I wondered if there were more kindred spirits here in my own hometown than perhaps I knew. Maybe I wasn’t quite so alone here on this faith journey.
And so I posted on social media that I would be hosting a conversation on Evolving Faith. Thursday night at 8:30. Come and chat. Or come and listen. Just come.
And some people came.
And others messaged to tell me they had prior commitments but wished they could come.
So here is the hour-long conversation for those of you who wished you could have made it but weren’t able to. If you watch it, leave me a comment and let me know. What is something you heard that resonated with you heart? With your journey? (Note: There is one swear. Just a heads up.)
I promised my new friends I would post the names and social media for the conference speakers here, so scroll on down for that list. Here’s also a link to the Gospel Coalition article that I mentioned (and have a lot of issues with) in case you’re interested in reading that one.
But I’m honestly excited, blessed, and a bit intimidated that the women who joined me want these conversations to continue. They are definitely on their own evolving faith journeys, and they want to keep talking. So we’re going to keep talking.
In the coming days I’ll pick a topic and post it, along with a bit of “pre-work” like a blog post to read or podcast to listen to. Then we’ll come back together for a chat. We’ll take our topics from those of the conference: evolving faith and the personal journey, family dynamics, relationships, the bible, church, science, justice, politics, and the arts. I think we’ll be busy for a while.
As we continue I probably will not publicly post our conversations – just our pre-work and maybe some reflections of my own. But if you want to join us, or do join us regularly and miss a session, there’s always a possibility of viewing a conversation with a password I can email you.
I’m excited. I hope you’ll join me.
2018 Evolving Faith Speakers:
Austin Channing Brown (Author/Speaker) Twitter, Instagram
You should read her book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness NOW.
Also, she gave probably the best sermon I’ve heard in my life at this conference. I hope they make a way for me to purchase it because I want every preacher I know to watch it. Her storytelling was powerful and her prophetic voice was unparalleled.
Cheryl Bridges Johns (Professor of Spiritual Renewal, Pentecostal Theological Seminary) Twitter
Man #1 – let’s call him Bob
During a class conversation Bob tells us how much he is an ally for women in ministry. He lists the lengths and depths he has gone to in order to support women’s leadership in his context. This has angered and frustrated some who do not believe as he does, but he continues to sacrifice and support women. And now Bob makes his point to the room: when he hears things like “white men in power are the problem”* he just shuts down and stops listening. Because he is an ally, he is not part of the problem. Listen, he tells us, we’ve got to find another way of talking about the problem if we want men like him to listen.
The thing is, when white men like Bob hear a critique of a system from which they inherently and especially benefit, as a personal attack, their defenses go up and their empathy shuts down. I have seen it in men I am close to, I have seen it in my own home.
But the reality is this: the system in this country is uniquely set up to benefit white men. This is painfully true for the women and people of color who live in it every day.
*Note: no one actually said this to Bob. This was Bob’s interpretation of an event we’d been to the night before that included two speakers on the topic of race.
Man #2 – this guy we’ll call Larry
Sits across the table from me at dinner and asks me one simple and earnest question: “What advice do you have for me?”
So I gave him my two best pieces:
First, follow and read and learn from more women of color. We take out his phone and start adding to his twitter feed right away. I suggest a blog post with books by indigenous authors. I tell him to listen a lot, and when he is tempted to chime in to sit on his hands and close his mouth.
Second, don’t be like Bob. When you feel personally attacked, see that as a red flag, a warning sign, yes, a trigger. Ask yourself if the critique is about you as a guy, or if the critique is for a system from which you benefit. If it is indeed the latter, be humble and listen. Don’t “not all men.”
My interaction with Bob triggered and deeply upset me and it took me a bit longer than I wanted to before I realized why. Because class was dismissed I never got to tell him that he needs thicker skin, that it is a position of privilege to dictate how a critique comes before he’s wiling to hear it, that when he shuts down because he feels personally attacked he is only perpetuating a very real problem.
But my interaction with Larry blessed me and encouraged me so deeply. I cannot recall another instance where a person (man or woman) has just trusted my experience and wisdom enough to just simply ask for life advice. What if we did more of this kind of listening?
Moral of the story for all of us: be like Larry.
One of the biggest news headlines this week is the sentencing of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor. If you may not have heard, Rosemarie Aquilina, the judge who presided over the case had some strong words for Nassar as she handed down his sentence. Aquilina appeared as a victim’s advocate all week as she responded with words of comfort and courage to each survivor who appeared in her court with an impact statement. “She called them “sister survivors.” She told them to push away nightmares. She thanked them and said their voices were heard. That they were not alone” (source). And as the proceedings wrapped up, Judge Aquilina told the media she would not be doing any interviews, “It’s just not my story” (source).
While Aquilina has garnered much praise for her approach to this case, she is not without criticism. Many say her words to Nassar at sentencing were too harsh, crossed a line, and showed favoritism. In this #metoo reckoning our country is undergoing, I can’t help but wonder at what would have happened in that courtroom had another judge presided. I have read countless testimonies (this is a good primer) on victim-blaming that occurs at all levels of our justice system and is a primary reason why many victims do not come forward in the first place. The courage the gymnasts presented, and the support they received from the bench, will likely prove another wave in this turning tide.
One of the early tweets I read as Aquilina’s comments were being made public stuck out to me saying, “We need more women in positions of power. Everywhere.” Of course the first few responses were reminding the tweeter that several people complicit in Nassar’s abuse were women, but the heart of the comment still stood. Representation matters.
I am still learning the nuance of the conversation around #metoo, and I am putting my foot in my mouth time and time again as I learn. Trust me, it hasn’t been pretty. But in my humble opinion, women who have the back of other women are to be championed. And I want to be a champion.
The other big news headline catching my eye this week was the continuing evangelical support for President Trump, despite new allegations of an affair with Stormy Daniels. In particular, in an interview with CNN, Jerry Falwell Jr. proclaims the faith of evangelicals is based on the idea of forgiveness and “that is why evangelicals are so quick to forgive when he asks for forgiveness for things that happened 10-15 years ago.” First off, I’m not convinced Mr. Trump asked for forgiveness, but secondly, I think our obsession with forgiveness may just be the reason we prop up abusive leaders and dismiss the pain and trauma of victims.
Can you imagine if Aquilina had looked at every survivor and reminded them that Nassar had apologized and their job now was to forgive? That the only way for them to move forward was to forgive? Yet this is what pastor after pastor has done to women who sit in their offices exposing the truth and asking for help.
It usually goes something like this, “Well, the Bible says that we are all sinners and that while we were in our sin Christ died for us. Christ died to forgive all of us. Out of your gratitude for Christ’s forgiveness of your own sin, now you are asked to forgive others. We pray it in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And then the victim and abuser are brought together for a time of reconciliation. And we hear the stories and decide to stay silent.
The damaging thing here is, as Rachel Held Evans notes, there is a grain of truth to this theology. “Central to the Christian message of salvation is the scandalous good news that Jesus Christ sets both the oppressed and their oppressors free, that there is grace enough for both of them. Christians are indeed called to forgive, even when it is costly and undeserved, and Christians are indeed called to work toward healing and reconciliation even when its hard.” But there is an equal truth to be addressed: sin is a destructive and pernicious force that only grows stronger when swept under the rug. We need to boldly speak the language of sin, or the power of grace means nothing.
So I ask again, what would it look like if we had more women in positions of power?
And what would it look like if our preachers spent more time on sin and repentance than on forgiveness? What if we learned the old art of penance? As Barbara Brown Taylor notes, we dispelled of the notion of penance in the reformation because it had become a box to check and it smacked of works righteousness. But, “penance was not punishment. Penance was repair. Penance was a way back into relationship” (source). When we sin there are consequences that are far reaching. And we must acknowledge and work to repair those harms as acts of true repentance. Again, Brown says, “repentance is not complete until confession and pardon lead to penance that allows community to be restored.”
We teach our children that an apology isn’t enough to restore the relationship. They must show that they are repentant. They must work extra hard to act in a kind or generous or loving way to make up for the hurt their sin caused. They have to do their sister’s chores for a week to make up for the sinful way they responded when they were angry.
Why do we not ask the same of adults? Why is it that an admission of guilt and an apology is enough? It isn’t. It shouldn’t be.
So yes, we need more women leading our churches and preaching to our communities. Calling us to account and pushing us towards the hard and painful work of self-awareness. Prophesying what we do not want to hear: sin runs deep here and it must be named and atoned for. And we need to hear again and again and again, in the powerful words of John the Baptist: “REPENT, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.”
Amen. May your kingdom come near.
I see it in myself and I see it in my children: the need to hoard, to hide, to keep for myself. For me it’s the fancy bar of toasted coconut dark chocolate. For them it’s been a piece of gum or the oven-bake clay received in an Easter basket. It is this attitude of this belongs to me, there is not enough to share, if I share with you I will have less for myself.
I have never been one of those mothers that has forced my child to share with other kids. There is a lot of good chatter here on the interwebs that this is not the best policy because it teaches children that they can just demand their way and another child will be forced to give in. Instead at playdates I tried to encourage my children to be aware, to take turns, and to be sure they tracked down the child who wanted the toy when they were done with it to pass it along. I taught them to ask politely to “please can I have a turn when you are done with that” instead of demanding another child share.
And I walk that fine line of sharing when it comes to parenting siblings as well. (Let it be known I did not have siblings at home with me growing up so often I look to my husband for extra help in this area. Sibling stuff is so foreign to me!) If one of my daughters has received a gift that her sister is interested in, we have a lot of conversations about respecting that it is her new thing, and I’m sure she will let you have a turn soon when the novelty wears off, and down the road when your sister has a new toy you want to check out she’ll probably remember today and how you responded to her desire to check out your new thing. In general I am really proud of how my girls have taken this to heart and regularly share with one another and with other friends too.
But it is a bit trickier when they have consumable items like gum or clay. Because the reality of sharing a toy is really different than something that will actually get used up and mean there is less for her. For years I have taken the approach that selfishness breeds selfishness and generosity breaks that cycle. “Remember,” I tell them, “you don’t have to share your gum. But next time your sister has a pack of gum and you want a piece I can almost guarantee that she’ll think back to today and refuse to share because you didn’t share with her. But you can break that cycle today by deciding to be generous. I’m not forcing you, this is your decision. I’m just letting you know my experience of how this will play out…generosity tends to encourage generosity,”
That’s the thing about this world isn’t it? Our human nature is to hoard, to keep, to protect because we fear there is not enough to go around. If I don’t protect my own interests, no one else is going to. I am not immune to this! I am not at all interested in sharing my $9 bar of gourmet chocolate with a daughter who thinks Hershey’s bars are the best chocolate on the planet. And if I give a square of fancy chocolate to this sweet girl, who certainly won’t appreciate it like I do, there is one less square for me.
But then there’s Jesus, and in his topsy-turvey, upside-down, Kingdom-world we are told that God is a God of abundance. Just look at the way Jesus turned the offering of a few loaves and fish into a meal to feed a crowd with 10 baskets full of leftovers. And in Luke 6 Jesus promised us that generosity will be met with generosity: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap…” A measuring cup filled, pressed, shaken, and topped off to running over: that is abundance.
I think a lot of challenges facing our church today are rooted in a genuine fear that there is not enough. Not enough money, not enough parishioners, not enough love and grace to go around. So we put up walls and rules to keep us safe and guarantee we have enough to survive. Meanwhile people are starving just outside our doors.
Friends, I write this to myself more than I write it to you. I preach a good “abundance” sermon but I don’t practice it too well. I stress about my savings account and my fancy chocolate bar and my comfort and security regularly. Generosity does not come naturally to me, selfishness does.
And yet selfishness does not yield good measures.
Just the other day my youngest daughter proudly recalled how she had shared her penultimate stick of gum with a classmate. “Mom,” she told me, “my friend knows how gum helps her concentrate when she is taking a test but she didn’t have any. She asked me for one but I only had two pieces left. At first I wanted to tell her no, but then I remembered what you keep telling us about that…you know…that thing where there will be enough…”
“Abundance?” I ask.
“Yeah, abundance,” she says. “And so I gave her a piece of gum and she was so happy and thankful that I just felt happy all the rest of the day. I was really proud of myself and had good feelings about what I had done.”
If that isn’t a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, I don’t know what is. May we truly live in such a way that we believe in a God of abundance and give generously.
This world is God’s good creation; yet all is not well. We are a broken people. As the year descends into darkness and winter approaches, we feel in our bones the coldness and need of the human family. Evil abounds. Cruelty is policy. Injustice reigns. Racism, greed and sexual violence crowd the news. Hope flickers among dark shadows. We cry to God with Isaiah, “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” (Isa. 64.1).
But in our longing we do not just gaze at the sky. We get ourselves ready. We don’t just wish; we prepare. We trust God is at work in the midst of the mess with a transforming, life-giving power. Like Mary, we say Yes to that power unfolding within and among us. We become the change we want to see in the world. We become people of peace and gentleness, of love and courage. We become candles shining confidently in the darkness.
2017 for the Gemmer family has been a year of living faithfully right where God has placed us: daily ministry at Camp Indianola, piano lessons, church volunteering, honest dinner table conversations, theater tickets, camping trips, mountain hikes, playing at the beach, trick-or-treating, kitchen remodels, buckets of homework. And this Seminary season for me has become an Advent season: a journey of waiting, of trusting, of hoping, of doing preparatory work even though I don’t know exactly what I’m preparing for. There are some hints being slowly revealed. There are confident prayers and there are desperate prayers. There is hope and there is trust, but there is worry around the edges. There are dreams whispered in fear and in faith. There is an expectation of being surprised because so far it seems God likes to work that way with me. So as I sit in the darkness of Advent and light my one small candle, as I marvel at the God of the Universe entering into our darkness with his own Light, as I hug my family tighter and whisper to them the wonder of the miracle in the manger come to show us just how much love God has, I wait with hope.
These words hang on my wall this Christmas season and challenge me anew each time I see them: “a weary world rejoices.” This world feels weary, it hangs heavy with darkness, but Christmas shows us that God is here. God is not afraid of the dark—even the darkest of human hearts. Jesus, the Light of the World, entered into this darkness and by his presence, as a friend recently reminded me, redefined what darkness is, redefined how we are to experience darkness. May we rest in the light of God’s embrace, and may we soak up enough of that light to join Christ in his incarnational work of bringing hope to our weary world, of redefining darkness. Rest, wait, hope, and bring light. It is simple and it is full of mystery.
Sort of like Christmas.
May yours be merry dear friends,
and Darin, Daisy, Dani & Gypsy
Here are some of our favorite memories of 2017: