We’re starting the new year by looking at the intersection of popular culture and our own faith stories. This week, we’re sharing Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace’s reflections on the new movie, Hidden Figures. We welcome your thoughts on the movie and how it impacted you. Thanks, Courtney!
Hidden Figures and the Light
Part of being divorced is that your child(ren) cannot share every holiday with you. This year, I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my son, but it was not my turn for Christmas. So, when you cannot celebrate Christmas with your whole family, you do what you can. For me, this year, that has meant focusing on my writing. I did come up for air today, however, to worship, fellowship, and remember.
In worship this morning, I was reluctant at first. It’s hard to be without your child on a holiday, especially Christmas. My church family was loving and understanding, and after a few minutes of feeling the care of this family of faith, I was singing, joyfully. Every element reminded me that no matter how dark things feel, the light will always shine brighter. Always.
After lunch, I saw “Hidden Figures.” This is a must see. I laughed. I cried. I remembered. I dreamed. I hoped.
Though I am now a historian and minister, in a previous life, I was an engineer . . .
Elizabeth Evans Hagan: Advent: Infertility and Waiting on Jesus
Throughout this Advent, we will be sharing Elizabeth Evans Hagan’s blog series from Faith Forward at patheos.com. The series interweaves the stories and symbols of Advent with the journey of infertility, a journey explored in Hagan’s new book, Birthed: Finding Grace through Infertility (Chalice Press). Welcome, Elizabeth, and thanks for sharing your story and reflections with us. We look forward to reading your book and leaning more into ministry and support for all who’ve been on this journey.
This is the first in a weekly series of Advent devotionals reflecting on what an experience of infertility can teach us about waiting for Jesus here at Faith Forward.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners . . . Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.” Isaiah 61: 2, 7
Some of my favorite Advent texts to preach on come from Isaiah. I mean, who doesn’t love an opportunity to “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” and “people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light” on Christmas Eve?
Two Advents ago, only a week and a half before Christmas, I lingered extra-long in my sermon writing chair one morning with cup of coffee in hand with my Bible opened to that week’s Isaiah lection #61. I’d read the passage numerous times before and even preached a subpar sermon on the text in seminary. But on this cold morning bundled up in a fuzzy blanket, something about the beauty of the phrase “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” caught my attention anew. My eyes could not move on to the next sentence. For it was true: this preacher was still so brokenhearted.
On our sixth, going on seventh year of trying to welcome a child into our family after completing IVF 8 times and 2 failed adoptions already—there was just so much to continue to wonder and weep about.
(click here to continue reading Elizabeth’s post)
Elizabeth Hagan is an ordained American Baptist minister serving churches through intentional interims in the Washington DC area. She blogs about her adventures in non-traditional mothering over at Preacher on the Plaza. Check out her new book Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility recently released through Chalice Press.
Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore: Everyday Theology: To My Beloveds on the Day After the Election 2016
In this tumultuous week, we turn to ministry-mom Aileen Lawrimore of NC whose blog post addresses so thoughtfully and eloquently what it means to love and not lose heart.
To my sweet babies. You: who I held in your earliest days, whose preschool programs I applauded, whose elementary school presentations I attended, whose milestones I’ve celebrated. You: who have cried in my arms, on my couch, and on my shoulder. You: who I have counseled, advised, guided. You who I have loved and who have loved me in return: Hear me.
This US election is not the solution to the world’s problems or the creation of them. This is neither the beginning, nor the end. This is a moment. An historic moment, a game-changing moment, a moment for rejoicing or weeping depending on your perspective. But beloveds, this is one out of many such moments in the history of our nation and of our world.
Are you listening? This is important.
Some of you are delighted with the results of last night’s election. Okay, that’s fine. But don’t be a braggart. Be gentle and be kind. It is not okay, no matter what the world tells you, to call people names, to boast in victory, to bully others with no regard for their feelings, interests, or even opinions.
Watch your language. (You know how I feel about this!) Despite what your government’s leaders may model, it is not right or good to use filthy language. Rise above it. If you feel like a winner today, use language becoming of royalty, not trash.
Finally, if you are claiming this victory as a victory for Christ, please remember that there are people who share your faith, but not your political beliefs. You can be happy about who won or about whom you defeated. This is one of the wonderful things about this nation: you have the unalienable right to your opinion. But this right comes from your citizenship in the United States; as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, you are called to adhere to the message of Christ who said it is the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers who are blessed, not the boastful, the prideful, and the rude . . .
Click here to keep reading on Aileen’s blog, “Aileen Goes On.”
LeAnn Gardner: Everyday Theology: Subversive Hope
If you are anything like me, the energy and current of our world can squelch my hope in the future in a matter of seconds. I start to fear for my boys, and before I know it, I’m parenting out of fear. I’m wife-ing out of fear. I’m friend-ing out of fear. Which is not at all the person I want to be.
There is indeed a lot to fear. What I have come to learn about myself is that I cannot let myself go down the spiral of anxiety for too long. Given my personality, sitting in that place would leave me immobilized, isolated and hopeless. It does not help anyone, including these littles I am parenting to stay in that place. I don’t want them to have a mother whose modus operandi is fear.
Nor do I want to live in denial. Because pretending or ignoring that nothing bad happens in our world is inauthentic as well. So what can we do to care for our hearts so that we are not constantly bogged down with helplessness?
First, we decide to ingest images of hope. I am a visual person. If I see something one time, it is locked away forever in my mind’s eye. Because my vocational choices have led me down paths where I heard, day after day, stories horrific of abuse and neglect, I have to be very disciplined about what I choose to hear and see.
This vocation of hearing people’s sadness has put certain things off limits for me- certain movies, books, etc I cannot read. When someone tells me of a great book they have just finished, I ask questions. “Is it graphic? Does it involve abuse of any kind?” If the answer is yes, I can’t do it. Same goes for TV. My husband knows not to even ask me to watch a Quentin Tarentino movie. It’s just not ever going to happen.
This is a conscious decision on my part. This may not be a big deal to you, but I know that for hope to have its full potential to enter my heart, I have to keep certain visuals out of my mind. This is where I’m sounding very preachy and again, everyone is different. What kind of inventory needs to be done in your mind to make room for the seed of hope?
I also believe we have to be intentional about letting the good things in as well. There is new research that says our brains are wired to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. Neuroplasticity means that by simply training the brain to stop and pay 15-20 seconds of attention to small positives (a stranger’s greeting, a sweet kiss from a baby, the sweet signs of a loved one in your life, the chance to feel your lungs and legs working) can actually rewire your outlook to be more positive. Hope is intentional and subversive.
Nadia Bolz-Webber, a Lutheran pastor in Denver, talks about her tendency to become angry and hopeless- and quickly. One Sunday, right before she was to serve the Eucharist to her congregation, someone said something to her that elevated her cortisol levels rapidly and high. She spotted infant twins in the congregation and instinctively asked the parents if she could hold one of the babies. That day, she served the Eucharist with a baby in one hand and the elements in another. She knew that she had to replace her anger with good energy- the energy of an innocent baby- to get through the service and to offer her congregants the elements.
Now not all of us have access to babies when our stress elevates, but the point is it could be helpful to have a strategy to mitigate the stress and fear that enters our brains and hearts at a rapid pace. As we continue being bombarded by election coverage, perhaps we can be on the journey to exploring a good balance of being informed, but not overcome by this election season, knowing that our ultimate hope does not rest in a candidate, but in a Savior.
We surround ourselves with hope bearers. Being in a community of faith makes this one easy for many of us. In my community of faith, we hope together, as a body of Christ, as we gather school supplies for kids who are in a difficult place. We work alongside Metanoia, a holistic community development non-profit, to make lasting community change. And on a micro level, we surround ourselves with intimates who don’t have their heads in the sand, but who believe alongside us, that love wins every single time, even if at that particular time it doesn’t feel like it.
I’m not talking about Pollyanna faith here-I’m not talking about someone who says to a person in deep grief: God wanted one more angel in heaven. NO. I’m talking about the people, who in deep vulnerability, walk alongside the wounded as they grieve, recognizing that pain, death, poverty and suffering are realities.
But even beyond pain, I believe that a church community are witnesses to the wholeness of our lives- even the seemingly mundane part of our lives. We not only celebrate the big things: baptisms, weddings, graduations, births, but we show up and bear witness to new jobs, beginnings of school years, lost teeth, basketball games and new homes. We bear witness to one another’s lives.
We roll up our sleeves and become agents of hope ourselves. What if, instead of allowing our fear to immobilize us or make us angry, we meet fear in the face and defiantly say, “I’ll show you!” And what we show is service. When we fear, we serve. When we have anxiety, we serve. When someone moves, we help them pack. When someone has a baby, we take them food. When youth go to camp, we go as a chaperone. When the church needs locking up, we stay late and lock up. When the children need teachers, we teach. When the tables need moved, we move them. When the Spirit lays someone on our heart, we call them.
My rolling up of sleeves service will look different than your roll up your sleeves service because we are different in our giftings and callings. The point is, as we wait, as we long for the suffering of the world to end, we serve. And we celebrate the good that is already happening in our midst. God knows no one is glad that the Charleston shooting of nine innocent souls happened, nor the trauma of the survivors. But the hope that peeks through in tragedy is God’s business and we have seen the Gospel on display many times throughout the aftermath of that unspeakable tragedy.
Every night as I lie in bed with my four year old or as I rock my two year old, I sing a hymn. It is my quotidian act of subversion; to sing this song of hope into their ears. Hear these words:
“Go my children with my blessing, you are my own. Waking, sleeping, I am with you, never alone. In my love’s baptismal river, I have made you mine forever, go my children with my blessing, never alone.”
We are not alone. We belong to God, the one who gives us our hope. We are loved. We love. And we speak truth to the hope that propels us. Love wins….every single time. Amen.
LeAnn Gardner is a right brained social worker and minister married to a left brained engineer. Together they (sometimes) compose a full brain. She is mother to two boys, ages 4 and 2 years.
Leah Grundset Davis: Everyday Theology: Everywhere
An article makes its way around social media every year during summer. It details the differences between a vacation and a trip when you’re traveling with young children. It was so true that I laughed heartily as I read it the first time.
With the knowledge that our beach “vacation” was actually a trip (save for the two days Grammy joined us and my husband and I actually ate some full meals sitting down), my husband and two daughters packed our bags and traveled to Hilton Head, S.C., for a week.
We were expecting to take a little break from our daily routines, as anyone hopes to, on our trip. And the news in our world had been heavy. We’d just walked through the first days of grief from the shooting in Orlando and great loss of life in Istanbul and Baghdad. One afternoon while the girls were napping, exhausted from their morning of beach play, I came across this poem by Warsan Shire:
“later that night
I held an atlas in my lap
Ran my fingers across the whole world
Where does it hurt?
This poem rang through my head. It’s so true. There was and is a great grief hanging over our world. There is this deep sadness and pain throughout our world.
And we feel it. Sometimes it is ours directly and sometimes indirectly. But when we are paying attention, we feel it. And it can feel hopeless. Even when we know and believe in hope.
We all went out to dinner our last night at the beach. Waiting outside to enter the restaurant, my soon to be three-year-old, a preacher’s kid through and through, was playing with Bible trivia cards. She promptly walked up to a woman and showed them to her. It turns out, my daughter had naturally gravitated to another minister who was excited to play the game with her. (My daughter’s version of game is naming the characters on the nativity scene on the front and paying no mind to the trivia questions).
As she and her new friend played the game, the sky opened and it started pouring. Her new friend said to her as we all went to our tables, “Lydia, remember you are loved by God.” Lydia said, “so are you!” We smiled and parted ways.
The rain poured as we ate our seafood. When we came out, the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started and a beautiful rainbow stretched over the water of the inlet. Lydia was overjoyed to see her first rainbow in person.
She jumped up and down and loudly proclaimed, “Mommy, that’s my first rainbow I see. That means God loves everyone, everywhere! God loves the whole world!”
At the end of our trip, that was the hope-filled benediction I needed to hear. Some words of healing from the mouth of an almost three-year-old—that especially in the places where it hurts, the love of God is there too.
We return again and again to our calling to be the people of God who hope and love in ways that seem impossible. But we do it. And we work for justice and for peace. We must.
Indeed, God loves everyone.
Rev. Leah Grundset Davis is the communications specialist for the Alliance of Baptists. She lives in Bristow, Va., with her husband John, daughters Lydia and Sadie Pearl and dog, Moses.
Lynn Brinkley: Advent–This is About Hope!
I spent my Saturday after Thanksgiving watching ESPN’s “30 For 30” documentary on the 1983 NC State Basketball team. The documentary came on back to back, and it was so good, I watched it twice! An amazing story of how an unexpected “Cinderella team” managed to win the National Championship under the legendary coach, Jim Valvano.
In the documentary, “Jimmy V” said he often inspired his team based on the idea that “ordinary people do extraordinary things!” His ’83 team certainly proved that philosophy.
One of his players, Thurl Bailey, (who many deemed an “ordinary” center and no match for the 7-footer from Virginia, Ralph Sampson) shared a letter the team received from a wife whose husband was battling cancer. She became inspired by the ’83 team and played the games for her husband on TV. The wife hoped her husband would hear the progress of his favorite team as he laid in his hospital bed in a coma.
After sharing this letter, Bailey said, “This isn’t just about us winning games, this is about hope!”
This year, I found the transition from Thanksgiving to Advent disappointing to say the least. After a joyful season of giving thanks, observing the beauty of God’s creation in the trees and leaves, and spending time with family and friends over a bountiful meal, I felt overwhelmed with the commercialism of “Gray Thursday,” “Black Friday,” and “Cyber Monday.” I felt saddened over what is happening in Ferguson, MO, and our inability as a nation to deal effectively with racial discrimination, racial profiling, race relations as a whole, and issues regarding immigration.
Despite what is happening in the present world, I have the audacity to hope!
Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 1, vv. 6-7, reads, “Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.
John would have been deemed an “ordinary” citizen in his day. After all, his clothing and his diet seems to suggest that to be true. Yet John saw himself as an unworthy servant who proclaimed One that would come and do extraordinary things. One that would come and restore Israel and the weight of the government would fall on his shoulders. He would be born to a poor peasant mother who would be favored by God to birth the Messiah.
“Ordinary people do extraordinary things!”
He will give hope to those who lie in hospital beds. He will give hope to those who feel inferior or disenfranchised. Most of all, He will give hope to those who are in need of a Savior.
Let us remember Advent is a sacred time on the Christian calendar. The Season of Advent is not about getting good bargains and waking up early to beat the rush. Advent confronts a troubled society and cradles it through a God in the crib.
May the God who calls “ordinary people” to do extraordinary things call us to be unworthy servants like John. May we proclaim to all who are in need that “this is about hope!” Hope in the one who was, and is, and is to come!
Reverend Doctor Lynn Brinkley is mother to Taylor and Director of Student Services at Campbell University Divinity School, where women’s gifts and calling are celebrated. An experienced preacher, Dr. Brinkley utilized her DMin studies to create a manual for preaching etiquette for guest preachers and host churches.
Bailey Edwards Nelson: Identity Crisis
I can own the fact that I am one of those “I am what I do” kinds of people. Unhealthy? Perhaps. Many have tried to make that argument, particularly while sitting in CPE group sessions. Still, that’s me. It’s hard for a first-born, over-achiever, OCD, Type A personality not to get completely caught up in what you are able to “do”. Every day is a new opportunity to produce or create. It’s another chance to be reminded of your purpose and to achieve something great- or die trying.
I have had many titles- pastor, minister, chaplain, resident (just to name a few). Different periods of my life brought with them different titles and job descriptions. Honestly, it never really mattered what they were, as long as there was something. As long as I was able to call myself something, have somewhere to be and something to do, I was alright. You see, all of these things may read as nothing more than a great professional resume to some people. For me, they read as a resume for my life.
Eleven months ago I lost my job. Eleven months ago I lost my title. Eleven months ago I lost my identity. These days I wake with no sermons to write, no meetings to attend, no lessons to prepare, no parishioners to visit, and no emails or calls to return. I wake up with no requirement of showering and putting on one of those “business casual” outfits that have overtaken my closet. I wake up with no clue when all of this will change, when it will all go back to the way it used to be, or that it ever will.
Seven months ago, I took my (then) three year old son out of school. It’s hard to financially justify daycare when a parent isn’t working anymore. And with that, came a new title, “stay-at-home mom.” Shudder.
I love my son. I love his humor, intelligence, creativity, wild spirit, and even his over-talkative, OCD quirks. He is a lot like me- poor kid. Was it part of my plan to stay at home with him? No. Was it part of my plan to ever be called “stay-at-home mom”? No. And yet, here I am. This job is ten times harder than most would imagine (unless you’ve done it, in which case you know exactly how hard it is). I thought demands were high in the office: semi-sane parishioners calling every second while trying to be everything to everyone at every moment of every day. Forget that! At least those people didn’t follow me into the bathroom!
Now I am in demand ALL THE TIME. I am talked to incessantly and asked to play ridiculous games over and over again. I’m questioned about every smell and sound that enters our house and I’m screamed at when meals do not arrive on time and in proper condition. I’m hugged and kissed and punched and kicked.
I am mom and I am never alone. For an extreme extrovert, like me, that can be a very wonderful thing–unless you’ve lost your identity. Non-stop attention is tough when you don’t know who you are anymore.
You see, I am a good mom. I work hard to make sure that my son feels loved, accepted and supported. We play those silly games and we laugh at the bodily functions that boys love best. I turn food into kid-friendly works of art and I wrestle until my body is black and blue. I read and sing and put on dinosaur puppet shows. I correct and redirect when he goes too far. I listen to screams from the time-out chair one room over. I forgive and hug and move on. I fix boo-boos and fret over head injuries (of which there are many). I do it for hours until even the moon is weary in the sky. And then I get up and do it all again.
When it comes to this job, I am far from the over-achieving picture of perceived perfection that can be seen in the workplace. Rarely do I get it right and I often go to bed feeling like a complete and utter failure. The moments that I lost my temper or used the television to get just a moments peace or went with that sugary snack because I was tired of listening to him beg…well, they happen on almost a daily basis.
But do you want to know a deeper, darker secret? This is the best I can do right now. These mistake-riddled, temper-losing sugar-pushing days are often the only thing I can muster when I wake up and roll out of the bed in the mornings. Why? I don’t know who I am anymore.
OK, yes, I can hear fellow mothers screaming, “But you have an identity! You’re a mom! There is no shame in that!” I agree. I am a mom and that is a title I would never want to lose. Heck, that’s a job description I would never want to lose.
But…dare I say…sometimes being “Mom” just isn’t enough. There are days when I want to curl up in the corner and cry (sometimes I do). There are mornings when the sound of my son’s voice screaming me to rise to duty makes me want to bash my head against the wall. There are nights when I finally sit in silence and wish I were somewhere else entirely.
Depression, anxiety, stress…most ministers are familiar. We scream about our schedules and the demands our congregations place on our time and sanity. Often, we scream the loudest about the lack of time with our families, especially our children. I know that ten hour days at church that left with me a whopping half hour to spend with my son were torture. Ironically, my biggest complaint used to be not having enough time at home with him. Now, I wait and watch for the moment I can go back to work, back to ministry.
Now, are you ready for another confession? My son can smell it. Yep, he can smell the fear, anxiety, stress, pain, grief and longing on me just as strongly as the perfume I put on every morning. He sees in my eyes a lackluster glow where fire used to be. He hears in my voice a quick snap or depressive tone where excitement and joy used to be. He notices my preference of sitting down and being quiet over my once music to the max, swinging from the chandelier approach to life.
But here is the kicker…my son has become my minister. I joked over four years ago now that he also became a “reverend” the night that I was ordained, since he was furiously kicking inside me throughout the service! He seems to be living into that prophecy. When he senses my pain, he offers compassion. Many a morning has he wiped a tear from my cheek saying, “Everything’s gonna be OK mommy!” He can tell when I start sorting through all those bills, to him just a bunch of envelopes and papers, and the stress and worry builds in my body until I snap at his requests for my attention. He moves to another room gifting me with the space he can sense that I need. And when I do return to him hating myself for what I didn’t do for him, he forgives. I get a big smile and, usually, an “I’m so glad you’re here, Mommy!” Or the days when my heart is so heavy with the grief of past hurts and losses and holds little hope for a future, there is my boy ready to heal me. He runs for his plastic doctor kit and begins a thorough check-up, promising to make me feel all better.
My son is my minister. My son is as Christ to me: loving, healing and forgiving when I need it most. My son holds my hand as I walk through this dark valley and I know that when we spot the mountaintop he will look at me and say, “There it is, Mommy! I told you we could do it!”
Rev. Bailey Edwards Nelson has served on the pastoral staff of congregations throughout the southeast, most recently as Senior Pastor of congregation in North Carolina. She is a graduate of McAfee School of Theology and Furman University. Bailey holds a deep love for preaching and the creative arts.