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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 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?

Maybe we need to hear more about sin than forgiveness. And maybe we need to hear this from women.

Maybe we need to hear more about sin than forgiveness. And maybe we need to hear this from women.

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.

 

REUTERS/Scott Morgan/File Photo

 

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.

 

http://www.silenceisnotspiritual.org/

 

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.

Eschet Chayil: resources for women preachers, why women need to see women preaching, Project Deborah, and more.

Eschet Chayil: resources for women preachers, why women need to see women preaching, Project Deborah, and more.

In Hebrew eschet chayil translates roughly as “woman of valor” and is found in the opening lines of Proverbs 31. It is a blessing that Jewish women have used to cheer one another on for hundreds of years. This blog series is about highlighting women of valor you should know, or work supporting women you should cheer on. 

 

“Living Your Resurrectional Identity” 
“How do we be truly human as men and women? We need to see each other…honor and bless each other, one is more preferred than the other, both are preferred. Both are holy. Both are the face of God. Both are necessary for the mission of God. We have to talk to each other, hear each other’s stories and experiences.” I am blessed to have taken a class from Dr. Morse, a powerful and thoughtful woman, and was deeply encouraged by her words in this talk she gave at a Missio Alliance event “Being Truly Human.”

“Maybe a Senior Pastor:” Why Seeing Women in Ministry Matters
Leanne Friesen’s story here is back up by the research: young women need to see women in ministry. It matters that you are leading, preaching, baptizing, and serving communion. It matters that young women see other women pursuing their God-given callings. It opens up their own dreams and imaginations. Keep on sisters!

Project Deborah
YES YES YES to this! The Evangelical Covenant Church is encouraging its congregations to identify and raise up women leaders within their churches. Project Deborah encourages discipling women in each congregation, demonstrating that God has called and gifted women to serve in all facets of ministry, and directing women into opportunities to lead. I love that this denomination not only ordains women, but now is working to invest in a future generation of women leaders.

Resources for Women Preachers (by Women Preachers)
Junia Project is back with an excellent post full of resources for women preachers. Blogs, books, podcasts, and sermon archives are included. Bookmark this one for sure!

Christian Feminism Weekly Podcast
Ashley Easter and Charlie Olivia are young women leading the fight towards Christian Egalitarianism, towards true freedom. Join them as they chat with other leaders and share their own stories of being women in the church.

 

Eschet Chayil: women pastors are on the rise, disarming Paul, sharing stories bravely, and more.

Eschet Chayil: women pastors are on the rise, disarming Paul, sharing stories bravely, and more.

In Hebrew eschet chayil translates roughly as “woman of valor” and is found in the opening lines of Proverbs 31. It is a blessing that Jewish women have used to cheer one another on for hundreds of years. This blog series is about highlighting women of valor you should know, or work supporting women you should cheer on. 

 

Study: Female Pastors Are on the Rise, and So Are Our Impossible Expectations For Them
Such encouraging news! The Barna Group in its annual report notes a steady trend of increasing number of female pastors. Unfortuantely, women pastors also were more likely than their male counterparts to report that “congregants’ comments on their leadership were ‘critical,’ ‘judging,’ and ‘unhelpful.'” This is certainly a part of a larger cultural trend, and one in which the author of this piece says the Church is uniquely positioned to stand in contrast to.

Kate Wallace Nunneley on The Paulcast
Hear from The Junia Project co-founder Kate Wallace on her work with the Junia Project, Paul’s view of women in ministry, and why she supports women in church leadership.

Women in Church History: Footnoted and Forgotten?
Speaking of The Junia Project, this blog is full of great stuff that you should totally check out. For Women’s History Month they are highlighting the incredible deapth of women in our church history. Check it out.

Shame On/Shame Off – An Abortion Story
Be inspired by the bravery of Jada Schiessl in sharing her own story of living with the shame of a decision made at 16-years-old, and challenged in her call to the Church to do better when it comes to serving scared pregnant women.

How Learning About Feminine Metaphors for God Undermines Rape Culture
Susan Harrison reflects on the opportunity to expand our language for God to include the maternal, and what the unexpected outcomes might be.