pounding on the door.

I’m not sure I knew what I was getting myself into when I married Pastor Jason. Nor do any of us who sign up for marriage, children, medical school, semesters abroad, adopting a pet or any other new venture we begin in life. There are lots of pastors and preachers in my extended family but I didn’t grow up in a pastor’s home and really didn’t think it would change my life that much. After all, I went to church a lot. Like, almost always. That’s got to translate to something right? I figured I would show up a lot and volunteer for a few things and call it all in a days work. Sounds fine, right?

People, being a pastor is not for the faint of heart. And neither is being the pastor’s family. One of my running buddies Brent says I really only meet 1 of the 10 requirements for being a pastor’s wife. To this day I’m not sure what the 10 things are or which one I am fulfilling. What I do know is that sometimes the phone rings in the night and it’s not for me. I know that pastors get caught late at work dealing with the hurting, broken and disheartened just as much the gynecologist does. I know that some days at the church are full of joy and some are full of doubt.
Today I sat next to Pastor Jason as we heard a challenging sermon from Luke 18. In the passage we hear of a relentless widow who will not accept injustice from her society. In the parable recounting this vulnerable woman’s experience we learn about the hope and restoration that God aches for. I was reminded that this is really what the pastors I am surrounded by are doing. On a daily basis the men and women in clergy are working to restore peace and bring mercy for the rest of us. They usher us into worship, bring us the truth of the gospel; they teach our children to love others and be brave and kind, they shape our young people into adults who can change the world. Or, like Pastor Jason, they sit with the wounded and weak, pray with the sick and dying and listen to our deepest fears and hurts.

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-4-14-16-pmOctober is clergy appreciation month. Each week I am thankful for the faithful and thoughtful community we are surrounded by, in our local church and by those in ministry near and far. The work clergy do is wonderfully exhausting. It happens at all hours of the day and night; it interrupts meetings and dinner and sometimes even other church work. Your pastor deserves to know that you recognize their work is difficult and valuable. When I really reflect on what life as a pastor is about I am faced with the profound words of Isaiah 58: 6-7.

“6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin? ”

If you have a pastor or other clergy leader, please know that they are working daily and weekly to undo the injustices for the most vulnerable in this world. Please know that they sacrifice their time, their families, their financial gain for the work of the Church. If you don’t have a clergy member in your life I hope you find someone to lead you in your spiritual life who will pound on the doors of injustice, who will share bread with you and with the least among you, who will do the most for the least of these. Then you know you have found someone who will lead you into the ways of God.  And if you, like many of my dear friends, have experienced injury and hurt from the church, take heart. Find one of the many voices of truth from across the nation and listen to them in the hopes that your faith in the people who do the work of God is restored (see my list below).

I hope this week you find yourself being ministered to and being thankful for those who do the hard work of ministry. I know Pastor Jason deserves more thanks than his family of girls does on a daily basis and we could not do life without him.  After all, your pastor is human, hopefully doing the best he or she knows how to do.  And just like me when I said a resounding “yes” to the Pastor, they probably didn’t realize what they were getting into when they answered the call to ministry.

A few of my favorites you can find on twitter and listen to on their pods
@D_Quan87 and his pod HCN Weekly Sermons
@RichardRohr_OFM and his Homilies podcast
@jonmiddendorf and the pod of Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene
@bobgoff and bobgoff.com
@shawna_SG and shawnasongergaines.com
@michaelrpalmer and michaelrpalmer.com
@tarabeth_82 and tarabethleach.com

 

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to be merciful.

Wow.  What a week it has been.  I had been prepping to write something on Zika virus, which, as you can imagine, is hard to put a theologic spin to…but I feel overwhelmingly obligated to discuss the newsworthy yet tragic events of the last few days and weeks.  Unless you don’t do the internet…which means you wouldn’t be reading this blog, you know that former Stanford student and swimmer Brock Turner was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman and then only sentenced to 6 months in jail, of which it seems he will likely serve 3.  If you haven’t read the victims 12 page letter, please do.  Your eyes will well with tears, your insides will hurt, your ears will sting and you will have some tiny insight in what it means to be victimized and humiliated.  If you haven’t a clue about the prevalence of sexual assault, you can read this blog post and get just a bit of insight.  The outcry against this young man’s sentence has been appropriately broad and loud.

There won’t be much medicine in this post.  Instead, my mind has been brewing over the question…what does it mean to be merciful?  When I read about tragedy or see it lived out before my own eyes the word that comes to the forefront of my mind is mercy.  A word that conjures many emotions but I find difficult to define.  So, like any gal in this decade, I texted my church girls and asked what they though it mean to be merciful.  Here’s what they said.

“Good ole’ Webster: compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” (of course from an educator).  The other answers were some variation on this.  Interestingly this followed a lengthy “discussion” (via text) on power previously in the day.  So I asked myself, what does it mean to be merciful in the Stanford assault case?  Where does compassion lie when someone has no remorse, no awareness of what they have done and what they have destroyed?  What does it mean to be merciful to the victim?  To her sister?

And then today 50 people were murdered and another 50 plus were injured in Orlando by a man with an agenda of hate.  We can all speculate on who and what that hate was about but I think it would be hard to argue that this wasn’t motivated by hate.  Is there a place for mercy in this situation?

You see, we all hold positions of power at some point in our lives.  We might have authority at our job, with our children, or something as simple as being waited on in a place of service such as a restaurant.  I think how we hold that power is key.  We can clutch it tightly and find the best way to punish our enemies and fuel fear and hatred or we can hold it gently in our outstretched palm and exercise a judgement that is fueled by compassion and forgiveness.  Sounds easy, right? (kidding.)  I believe we can be merciful without sacrificing justice for the victims around us.  DISCLAIMER: I don’t excel at mercy.  I’m pretty good at judgement.  Professionally, I try hard each day to ensure I give power back to people.  That patients feel like they have a voice and that what they say matters and I see them as an individual who matters.  I’m certainly not perfect at it.  Personally, I find it much easier to judge the people in my social circles than to extend mercy.  I want to be confessional so you’ll understand I find this as difficult as you.

So what does that look like?  For the Stanford assault case, I think mercy for the victim is a prayer that says she will forgive herself each time she has a passing thought that maybe she deserves some blame.  For the young man I think a place of mercy is much more difficult to find.  Maybe it’s a prayer that instead of absolving him of responsibility and judgement, his eyes will be open to the breadth of damage he has caused with the crime he has committed.  Where is mercy in Orlando?  I believe it’s compassion for groups of people who have been victimized over and over again and often have no power in our culture.  In both circumstances I think mercy is finding a way to ensure that we know and understand how best to gently handle a position of power and to teach those around us that same meaning.

The truth is I really don’t know in these tragic situations and others like it how to find myself on the side of mercy.  The quote at the top of this blog from Pope Francis is overwhelming to me.  But it is the truth.  May we learn to extend mercy to our enemies.  Maybe then they will do the same and the world will have a smidgen less hate in it.  May we teach our sons (and our daughters) about mercy so that they will know how gently power is to be held.  Maybe then when a young man sees a vulnerable young lady he will think protection instead of victimization.  I don’t think mercy is about protecting ourselves, I think mercy is about protecting others from the harm we and others around us might do to them.  Not with raised fists and weapons but with love and forgiveness for others.  To strive to understand the other, our enemy, our opposite and to teach those around us to do the same.  To give the nameless and faceless victim a voice.  Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 10.37.46 PM

I know it’s a long shot, but I am convinced that if we experienced mercy and showed it to others then maybe we would understand what it means to lay down power.  We might see less guns and more reading programs.  We might see safer college campuses.  We might lower our voices during the political season to listen and learn.  You see, extending mercy means you understand the person standing across from, whom you have power over, not as object but as subject.  Someone who deserves to be extended compassion and forgiveness.  I wonder if Brock Turner understood mercy he would have seen his victim as a person instead of an object to be owned and used.  Finally, may we be merciful with ourselves when we find no capacity to think of forgiveness when confronted with hate-filled crimes and injustices that we see in the world around us.  May we ask for mercy from those who we have exercised power against wrongly.  We should exercise forgiveness continually and may it spur us to practice a prayer my dear friend sent to me today. “Jesus Christ son of God have mercy on me.”

 

(top photo credit to catholic.org who has an entire website dedicated to memes…who knew?  The other two images are from the Instagram account of the official Nazarene church)

 

a voice in the wilderness.

It has been quite a week.  Pastor Jason was involved in all the church Sacrements last weekend.  A funeral, a wedding, a baptism, a dedication and communion.  Which means it was a very. busy. weekend.  So I didn’t get my blog post done on Sunday.  I was a bit disappointed in myself but I just didn’t have peace about the final version.  Well, it got scrapped so here I am with version number 2.  Same title, different content direction.

My first version of this post told a story about Nancy and Mac, who we sat next to at the rehearsal dinner and who were a voice in the wilderness for us.  They spoke into our lives and reminded us that what we do each day has meaning and purpose, that our hard work is not thankless and that there is hope in the future.  And then Monday happened.  Work was work and people were acting a fool.  So the blog post sat.

But today my disappointment for not being done with the blog post “on time” was wiped away by renewed inspiration to be a voice in the wilderness.  If you didn’t know, I live in Oklahoma.  Today, our state passed a bill that makes it a crime for any physician to perform an abortion in our state, except for in the case of the life of the mother.  You must be thinking as a person of faith and a pastor’s wife that I would think this is great news, right?…wrong.  Fasten your seat belts kids, this Jesus loving gynecologist is going to try to explain to you why this is a terrible idea.  It’s going to take a minute, so bear with me.

First, I don’t think we can consider ourselves “pro life” unless we are really going to work to help make a life for those around us.  That means a living wage for all people, enough food for families to eat, prison reform, quality education for all and support for those women who find themselves raising a family alone…not to mention standing up against domestic violence and sexual assault.  And to be pro-life means you support planned and appropriately spaced pregnancies so that they are more likely to have healthy babies and take care of them in the ways we would all like.  It means you believe in access to affordable and reliable contraception for everyone.   Because even if you intend to be abstinent you might find yourself among the 1 in 5 women who is a victim of sexual assault..see previous blog post…needing emergency contraception.  Which, by the way, prevents ovulation…which happens PRIOR to conception, therefore not ending pregnancies, just preventing them.  And if we as the culture, the church or the community are really going to say we are pro-life…then we need to have the guts that two of my close friends did and invite a child from the over-flowing foster care system into your home.

Second, laws like this do not deter women from getting an abortion.  Electively terminating an pregnancy in my state is not easy to do.  Women must have money, transportation, time off of work, family or community support, not to mention navigation of the multiple laws.  So I don’t think adding this one will make a huge impact.  What makes abortion rates go down?  Access to affordable and reliable contraception.  In Western Europe abortion rates are very low, even though it would be easier to have an elective termination of pregnancy there compared to most places in the US.  Why?  They have a high rate of contraception use and a low unintended pregnancy rate.  Furthermore, I disagree with the legislation of reproductive rights.   What would happen if someone made a bill that said I couldn’t have fertility treatments to have my second child? What about a law that says no one can have more or less than 3 kids?  Uh, no thanks.  We think that these laws restricting or outlawing abortion are “good” because abortion is “bad,” but legislating reproductive rights in any way is never good. You just might not see it that way until you are on the receiving end of the law and it doesn’t fit your belief system.

Lastly, physicians don’t practice good medicine when we practice in fear.  In my job and within my belief system I would only be involved in a termination of pregnancy if the life of the mother is in danger.  I make these decisions based on clinical experience, medical evidence and science and standards of care if they exist.  Except…now that I might go to jail if I make the wrong decision will I second guess just what does “exceptions for the life of the mother” mean?  Can I remove the ectopic pregnancy, and therefore terminate the pregnancy, before it ruptures and tries to kill the mother?  Do we deliver the woman with very early and very severe preeclampsia knowing her baby will almost surely die from prematurity before she has a stroke or a seizure or is her life only in danger if one of those happens.  These seem like silly questions but when providers are asked to make decisions with a law hanging over their shoulder threatening to make a criminal out of them it just might impact judgment and decisions.  And that will certainly negatively impact the lives of women in our state.

So what do we do?  Well, it is my hope and prayer that no woman would need to undergo an elective or medically necessary termination of pregnancy (i,e, abortion).  I hope that I will be around to see that world.  But it won’t happen if I don’t do my part.  My solution, for today, was to be a voice in the wilderness.  Mostly, I try not to get myself or the pastor in too much trouble with my tendency to say whatever I am thinking and ask whatever is on my mind.  I will certainly have friends in my church, my Christian community and others around me strongly disagree with this post.  But as Pastor Jon and Jason say, we must find a way to disagree Christianly.  Nancy and Mac, from the rehearsal dinner, were a voice in the wilderness for me.  They weren’t afraid to say what they thought, to listen to us and to tell us that our voices matter.  Today I am a voice in the wilderness for the women and their children in my state.  My state that has no solution for a 25% reduction in state funded healthcare that will leave thousands without access to medical care, a state where the district I live in has a 3.6 million dollar deficit to make up for in education despite having some of the lowest paid teachers in the nation and no art program.  A state where we put more women in prison that almost anywhere else, where we have significant problems with tobacco abuse, obesity, cancer prevention and other community health needs.

Isaiah is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  It is the inspiration for this blog post.   I love Isaiah 40.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Be a voice in the wilderness today.  I challenge you to think about what it means to be “pro-life” to everyone around you, whether you think like them or not.  The truth is they are loved by God just like you.  Maybe, together, our voices can improve the systems we live and work in so that the valleys can be lifted up, the ground will be leveled and the glory of the Lord will be revealed to the least of these that surround us.  Thanks for enduring with me on this one.

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