Category Archives: Uncategorized

Will We Ever Have Enough?

IMG_0006Five years ago, in the sopping heat of summer, my husband and I bought our first house in North Carolina. Coming from a cramped apartment in California, we were amused by the prospect of caring for a yard and having storage for art supplies.

When we showed pictures of our new bungalow’s layout to the seven-year-old daughter of Bay Area friends, she giggled, then asked, “What are you going to do with two bathrooms? Go at the same time?” She shared a small, one bathroom house with her family of six. Two bathrooms for two people was more than enough. It was laughable.

What does it mean to have enough? Ethicists and economists alike have tried to answer that question within a field referred to as happiness studies.

Thought to have taken off in the late 1970s, happiness studies have concluded two very interesting points. The first conclusion is that people are constantly making adjustments in their assessment of what constitutes enough. This should ring true for anyone who thought they’d be happier once they lost that last ring of belly fat or saved up for that first home, and then, once attained, felt compelled to set an even higher goal for themselves. Once basic needs are met, happiness becomes relative rather than absolute.

Writers know this feeling well. We want the validation of being published and then once published we want the comfort of success and then once successful we want to be left alone to make our art in peace. We might experience a brief rise in happiness when we get what we want, but our contentment soon acclimates to nearly the same “set point” as before.

You can find me – and the rest of this article – at eChurchGiving:
 http://blog.echurchgiving.com/will-we-ever-have-enough/

Why We Should Travel Less

IMG_2188I love traveling, all of it — from the dreaming to the scheming to the part where I pack my life in a 22-inch protective, polycarbonate shell. Like many of my hyper-mobile peers, I have gotten into a rhythm of leaving home one or two weekends a month and, usually, with good reason.

Either I am tacking a few days on at the end of a work trip to visit old friends and family, or I am taking a few days off to visit new towns and terrain. This seems to be the case for the majority of my middle-upper class friends who sly-sigh how busy they are for the next x number of weekends, yet can’t say no to the weddings, showers, reunions, retreats, marathons and getaways that promise to make for “can’t miss” memories.

With summer travel in full swing, I’ve started to wonder, what are the costs of our worthy weekends away?

You can find me – and the rest of this article – at On Faith:
 http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2015/07/21/why-millennials-should-travel-less/37331

Blessed are the Peacemakers

My heart is twitching with wanderlove. Thursday can’t come soon enough. It’s then I’ll pack a friend, the dog, and a couple bottle of wines into my Honda Fit and drive across the state to Hot Springs, NC to speak on making peace with the church.

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I have never been to the Wild Goose Festival before. But I suspect that among this group of faithful rebels, hearts are raw. I want to know about these hearts, the reckless hearts, the brave hearts, the skittish hearts, the open hearts. Author Parker Palmer points out that the word heart as its most ancient comes from the Latin cor and represents that hidden wholeness within each of us that holds together…

  • the intellectual,
  • the emotional,
  • the bodily,
  • the imaginative,
  • and all our ways of knowing.

This heart stuff isn’t for the faint. If we want to be true peacemakers with the church and others, we must first make peace within our selves.

I am not a natural born peacemaker. Although Erin means peace in Gaelic, I like to tell people my name is more aspirational than prophetic. At the age of five, I fought with the Catholic Church to receive my First Holy Communion two years early. At eight, as part of my parents’ divorce proceedings, I went before a Jewish arbitrator, argued, and lost my right to choose my own religion. At fourteen, I rebelled against the court orders and attended a non-denominational church in which the Holy Spirit – and the handsome boys – set me aflame. When I married a Methodist pastor at age twenty-two, some friends worried I’d been domesticated. Four years later – and still happily married – I legally returned to my maiden name because his “just didn’t feel right.”

Making peace with the church and its people has been lifetime work for me. Despite my generation’s reputation for being a bunch of affiliation-averse, individualistically-inclined, spiritual-DIY-ers, I think many of us have struggled to make peace with the church not because we don’t care about this community of Christ-followers but because we care it’s done well – with excellence and creativity and accountability.

The late poet John O’Donohue called this type of intense lover of the church the “artist.” We often think of artists as living on the edge of culture, the innovators and free thinkers, but O’Donohue described the artist this way: “He inhabits the tradition to such depth that he can feel it beat in his heart, but his tradition also makes him feel like a total stranger who can find for his longing no echo there.”

The artist makes her home not on the edge of culture but amidst her own near-constant heartbreak.

I don’t have answers for how exactly each one of us is called to do that. I’m hoping that’s what we can share and explore at the festival breakout session together. (You can find me at “The River” on Friday, July 10th at 5:00 p.m.) But I do know that each of us has a choice in how we will respond to our heartbreak.

We can either let it take us out of the action in favor of a simpler life where we belong without question or question without belonging, or we can let it lead us into a more wholehearted life in which the contradictions of our faith open us to the death of illusions, the suffering of community, and the resurrection of our real selves as members of God’s household.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says, “for they will be called children of God.” Blessed are those who struggle for shalom or wholeness in themselves and their communities.

Belonging may never come easy for us.

But its peace is our promise.

Why We Stay (A Review and Giveaway)

ISFMFaithfullyFeministIt’s important for me to put my body in “conservative” spaces, religiously speaking. In part, it’s why I moved across the country five years ago to attend Duke Divinity School when the Graduate Theological Union was only pedals away. I need regular reminders that my presence – my sturdy, female presence – is still challenging for some and made all the more so when I open my mouth and meet my front teeth with my bottom lip to speak the word feminism. I move in those spaces, sometimes even stay in those spaces, because I want to learn how to belong among all kinds of God’s people. I want to learn how to love all facets of God’s nature.

I also love a good fight.

In the forthcoming anthology Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay (White Cloud Press, August 2015), forty-five young women tell stories of their fight to claim the feminist label and stay at faith-full tables. “The conflict… is real,” scholars Judith Plaskow, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Amina Wadud assure us in the foreword – even, they note, when “it is generated by other people’s expectations that those two identities are separate and irreconcilable.” Making peace with my dual identity is only part of the practice. Helping others make peace with the notion that there is no duality – that Christianity is feminist – is the ministry of a lifetime.

It’s the ministry called reconciliation.

The anthology is the sixth volume in the I Speak For Myself series and the format will be a familiar one to fans of Talking Taboo. Co-editors Jennifer Zobair, Amy Levin, and Gina Messina-Dysert (also one of our Talking Taboo contributors) have culled a diverse group of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim feminists to reflect on why they endure in patriarchal traditions where it is so often a struggle to reconcile what seem like conflicting commitments. Like surrender and agency, as the opening essay by Deonna Kelli Sayad puts it. Or tradition and innovation, a paradox Miriam Peskowitz raises in one of my favorite pieces. (She also asks the honest question, What do we do when the spark of the struggle fades?) It’s the tension between choosing the fight and protecting against abuse that I found most compelling in Messina-Dysert’s own essay when she confesses she wants her daughter to embrace her Catholic community, even as she fears her daughter will be made to feel “less than” in it.

I know plenty of feminists who are no longer part of faith communities because the struggle wore them out. When I published my own “why I stay” story at age twenty-four, journalist Susan Campbell responded that while she admired my commitment, for her, “the battle over the years grew to be too wearing.”

I am beginning to understand this. Just this Sunday I found myself shaking over a sermon on God the Father that relied more on pop psychology references to masculinity than biblical ones. How long, O Lord? a male friend prayed with me when the sanctuary had emptied.

But I have also come to the slow understanding that feminism at its best isn’t just about supporting women in power but relinquishing the power of privilege and I know of no better example of this than the person of Jesus, Jesus who the Christian Scripture tells us gave up divine privileges and took on human flesh so that we might be able to make peace with God and one another.

His was the ultimate ministry of reconciliation.

For those of us who understand that ministry as our own, Faithfully Feminist is a balm for the weary. Its multi-faith content will give readers a fresh wind for sustaining the good fight. Because of it I now have a new list of rituals, ideas, and teachers that I want to explore in an effort to move “beyond rhetoric and terminology towards content and personal affirmation,” as the foreword admonishes. This anthology is a start. We can always start close in as the poet says.

We can read a book.

We can pursue education.

We can find an ally and invite her or him to the table with us.

I can romanticize the struggle. I know I can. I talk slick about wanting more theological diversity at church or more relationships across socio-economic lines, and then I get my feelings hurt and my ego bruised when worldviews collide. It’s then I need to be reminded not of the necessity of the fight but of humility. Thanks to an essay in Faithfully Feminist by Caroline Kline, I now have new words to pray in times like those, words from Mormon feminist Joanna Brooks:

God, make me brave enough to love my people.
How wonderful it is to have a people to love.

HEY READERS! Faithfully Feminist is available for pre-order now but in the meantime I’m giving away a copy of its sister volume, Talking Taboo, signed by yours truly and dedicated to whomever you’d like. To find out the multiple ways you can enter, click here. The giveaway ends June 30th. 

While We’re Young (and Childless)

It’s the opening scene of the recent Noah Baumbach movie, While We’re Young, and the forty-something couple played by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are trying, aimlessly, to calm their friend’s baby. It’s been a month or so now since I saw the film in my local art house theater but the sentiment of what comes next still stings true. The new parents sweep into the scene with water-eyed enthusiasm and reassure their childless friends. “You would make great parents.”

And while this is a kind thing to say, this is not always a kind thing to hear.

While We're Young

Naomi Watts in While We’re Young

I didn’t expect my thirties to be so lonely. I’ve been around and around about the why’s – is my introvertism sprouting horns? is living in the South so very grisly? is this feeling all that new? – and can’t make much sense of it beyond the realization that we are diverging. We are diverging into family paths in our thirties in the way we diverged into career paths in our twenties and it is making things like getting a drink after work or getting the feeling I’m understood difficult.

At thirty-one, hearing a friend say I would make a great parent is like hearing my father say I would make a great professor. Sure, there’s still time for both but I’ve also made it clear, repeatedly, that I’m not interested in either. “That may be what you want for me,” I tell my sweet father, “but that’s not what I want for me.” It’s what I like to call a coercive compliment. It feels like a nudge toward the trodden path of progress in which parenthood, like a PhD, is the highest honor. Why stop now? their words say to me. You just want to be a happy wife? A slow writer? A holy hostess? You’re capable of so much more.

The “more” I’ve found myself in search of is friends. Don’t get me wrong. I adore my Tuesday afternoon trips to the park with my growing goddaughter and her mom. Or the Saturday morning outing to the tea house where my friends’ toddler plays shyly in the sandbox while we sip our Oolong. But I also need more friends in their twenties like Lizzie, the newlywed whose talk of sex is decidedly un-procreative. I need more friends in their sixties like Jeanette, the “unofficial mayor of Durham” who runs a nonprofit for women’s spirituality with an energy that’s refreshingly singular.

It was Jeanette who told me it might have to be like this for a while, seeing my thirty-something friends when I can but also exploring friendships with folks across different ages and stages of life. My college roommate, Jacki, agrees. She loves living in D.C. with a couple whose kids are grown and enjoy spending time with an older friend who’s made it a priority to create white space in her life. She says, “The truth is my “older” friends have really full lives. But I’ve found that they live out biblical hospitality in a way I haven’t seen much in people our age.” She tells me I need to find more people like this, available people.

It’s intragenerational friendship that the movie While We’re Young explores so playfully and poignantly, as Ben and Naomi’s characters befriend a twenty-something couple whose identities are equally in flux. I love that these youngsters don’t end up replacing their newly-parented friends. But they scratch an itch for adventure that had gone unnoticed for awhile. We know that a single friend can’t meet our every need. Do we know that friends from a single generation can’t either?

So while we’re young and childless, Rush and I are getting creative about where we go looking for friends. Some of Rush’s favorite new ones are parents of his middle- and high school-aged youth. To my surprise, I’ve found some internet friends who can connect across time zones and technology. We’ve both had to stop looking at every younger person as a protégé and every older person as a mentor and start seeing them as a bonafide buddy.

The thing is we would make great parents.

But what we really want is to make great friends.

RCWMS Promo - Lessons in BelongingInterested in exploring the shape of belonging through the different ages and stages of women’s lives? If you’re local to Durham, I’d love for you to “bring a friend from another gen.” and join me for a brief reading of my new book and an intragenerational conversation. What questions animate us? What fears limit us? What lessons can the young, old, and in-betweeners share with one another? Sparkly drinks and sprinkly cupcakes provided. Contact: RCWMS, 919-683-1236, rcwmsnc@aol.com for details.

How to Structure a Summer

photo (25)Can I tell you a terrible thing? I don’t love summer. Until now, I’ve often felt bad about this, bad in the same kind of way I felt bad living in California and praying away the sunny days because I was tired of feeling like I had to make something of them. So it is in summer when the light is long and the invitations many. All that potential can lead to a sort of seasonal paralysis. The options are as stifling as the southern heat.

Summers started making me anxious when I reached school-going-age. The academic year gave me an excuse to regularly see classmates, a rhythm by which to order both our time and relationships. Without it, we were defined less by our shared life together and more by our (family’s) individual choices. Were you going to camp for one week or Maine for the whole summer? Was your babysitter a teenager named Sophie or a television stamped Sony? How long were you going to visit Dad or didn’t Dad live with you? The same thing would happen when we graduated from college and the socio-economic statuses of friends – long felt but yet realized – were unveiled. Summers took the dirt of a somewhat level playing field and turned it worm side up.

Despite the mistrust we have in institutions and their often soul-crushing structures, they offer us a relief to do-it-yourself community. In what is one of many profound asides in her new book Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God, Lauren Winner writes,

“I know that friendship is often supported by institutions and the structures they provide. A few years ago, the rector of the church where I served as a priest associate left for another job. The moment she announced she was leaving, I began to dread the ways our friendship would suffer – and it has. It hasn’t disappeared, but now it is entirely dependent on our free time and our admittedly plentiful affection for each other. We manage to meet for a cocktail about every four months, which is better than nothing but a lot more fragile than when we not only adored each other but also shared common work and common concern for a parish.”

Institutions like schools, like churches, give us a reason to be together. They give us something to look at that’s not directly about you or me but a point on the horizon to which we can move side by side. They give us something in common beyond our social-economic statuses, familial commitments, and individual preferences.

But it’s not just friendships that become fragile without shared rhythm. It’s our sense of self, too. I was at a board meeting last week for the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South and listened to woman of all ages wonder about how to structure their summers. To write for publication or write for themselves? To do something new or do something familiar? I’ve been wondering the same for the last four weeks, sighing to my therapist, “I’d like to focus on just being a person this summer – not a writer or facilitator – but a person who loves and cries and looks her husband in the eye when he walks through the front door.”

Unfortunately “just being a person” comes with no obvious blueprint. I wish I could give three easy tips to quell your summer blues and mine but I’ve been tugging at God’s hem for weeks now with no answer. So, as I often do when God is silent and I am antsy, I’ve begun making a few small moves of my own. I’ve taken up writing three letters a week to people who move me as way to connect with friends and colleagues without having to keep track of everybody’s summer schedules. I’ve picked up a few books outside my regular reading list of memoirs and manuals as a way to play outside the lines of my own learning. I’ve reserved one totally unscheduled day a week for Sabbath and one totally unscheduled weekend a month for the spontaneity of Spirit. Apparently, that’s how She likes to roll in summer, and always.

Whatever your blueprint for the long months ahead, be kind to yourself. Wear sunscreen on your neck. Don’t pick at your mosquito bites unless you’ve set a timer. Say no to invitations often and apologetically. Say yes to a class, club, or church just to see what it’s like to live by a larger rhythm. Travel somewhere close, to your backyard or a book.

Sit quietly until you find this season, or yourself, not so terrible after all.

Becoming Agents of Belonging: Three Practices Every Mom (and Minister) Can Model

It felt rude to invite you to a party I didn’t intend to join. Last month on this blog, I featured guest posts from Talking Taboo contributors on one good thing they learned in church. Frankly, after some lackluster feelings about my own church, I needed the reminder. I also needed a break from writing. But as it often goes when I give myself permission to leave the shoulds of weekly blogging behind – the shoulds of anything really from morning quiet time (what’s so spiritually mature about being a morning person?) to answering my phone on the first ring – desire for the real thing returns. So, in celebration of Mother’s Day, I give you one good thing I learned from my mom (about the church): how to become an agent of belonging.

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When it comes to belonging to the church, my generation and younger can be a skittish bunch. We’re good at pointing out the church’s faults, the clumsy ones and the callous ones, too. But instead of just criticizing the church and its leaders, I want to see young people become agents of our own belonging. (This is sort of my stump speech; have you noticed?)

Let me explain.

When I was five years old, I learned that it didn’t take much to belong to the body of Christ. You just had to want it real bad. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago called Winthrop Harbor, and by all accounts was a serious and sensitive child.

On the day of my older brother’s First Holy Communion ceremony, I watched with envy as he got a taste of Jesus’s body and blood a full two years before I would. I wanted a taste for myself. “Why do I have to wait?” I asked my mother, a small charismatic woman we nicknamed Perky Patty.

Now she could have told me “patience is a virtue” and gone back to defrosting dinner. Instead, she did something that looking back I think was quite radical. She told me what I wanted was valid and that she would call the church on Monday to see what could be done about it.

Belonging begins with desire. Some say desire was the first something out of nothing and that it was the insatiability of the desiring that put in motion the world. I like to think it was God’s own longing to belong to us that catalyzed the wind over the waters and called the ground into being.

I don’t know how the desire to belong to God or God’s people begins in a five year old or a fifteen year old but I do know we can create space for it to grow or we can snuff it out. I want to give you a taste of three practices we can model for our youth that are key for its survival. (Want more? Click here to explore where these practices come from.)

The first practice is, “Attend to your inner teacher.” We call the inner teacher by different names in different traditions: the voice of true self, the divine spark within, the Holy Spirit. To attend to our inner teachers is essentially to take notes on what God is speaking to us with the same vigor we would, say, a conference speaker.

One of my favorite stories about the inner teacher has to do with a six year who never paid attention in class until one day a drawing lesson was offered. The teacher, impressed by the girl’s newfound focus, asked, “What are you drawing?” The girl answered, “I’m drawing a picture of God,” and the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like,” and the girl said, “They will in a minute.”

While it’s true we learn from others, it’s also true that when we rely solely on experts for the answers we teach our children to become audience members of religion rather than co-creators of it. We need to carve out dedicated spaces in our ministries where our only agenda is waking each other up to how God’s moving within.

The second practice is to “Ask others open and honest questions.” That is, we need to regularly ask questions of our youth that we don’t know the answer to, the kinds of questions that evoke their imagination and ours. My mother was masterful at these questions.

Often we’d be sitting in the back of the minivan listening to music and my mother would say, “How do you imagine God moving in this song?” We’d close our eyes for a moment and then my older brother might say ‘Oh, I see God in a boat’ or I would say ‘Now God’s pushing me in a swing.’

Educators call this kind of thinking divergent thinking – it’s the ability to explore many possibilities to a single question – and kids are brilliant at it. In one study the % of kindergartners who scored at genius levels in it was 98%. Five years later that number dropped to 50%.

In classrooms and congregations, our fill-in-the-blank, one-size-fits all ages and stages and gender curricula are boring our youth (and me) to death. We’re educating out human imagination when it’s the very thing that invites agency in our youth and transformation in our institutions.

Finally, the last practice we can model is “Offer your presence as fully as possible.” When I began researching belonging, I was surprised there was no one word for it in the New Testament. For instance when we read in 1 Corinthians 3:23 “You belong to Christ” the more wooden translation is “You are of Christ.”

In this way we might think of parents standing side by side at their kids’ soccer game, elbowing one another and asking, “Which one is yours?” We belong to God not because of anything we do but because of whose we are. We’re pre-approved, as writer Anne Lamott likes to say.

But in the Old Testament – God Bless the Old Testament – there’s a word for belonging that’s much more concrete. The Hebrew noun for belonging refers to the part or portion of the congregation’s sacrificial offering that’s assigned to us. Belonging to God compels us to offer our true selves, the self only we can give, in a community of practice.

This was a revelation to me. I had always operated in the world as if belonging depended on whether a church and its leaders accepted me and my Quak-olic (that’s a hybrid of Quaker and Catholic) feminist habits rather than whether I chose to offer myself to them.

You see, to be an agent of belonging starts with leaders, ministers, and parents naming our own desire for community and then offering ourselves to one as best we can. Only then will we create the conditions for our young people to exercise courage in doing the same.

So, do you even want to belong? I love Jesus’s question to those who sought healing. What do you want? It’s a question befitting for the ultimate agent of belonging. No agenda. No easy answers. No forced exchange.

As for me, I had my very own First Holy Communion ceremony on Mother’s Day. It was a day my own mother acted as an agent of belonging for me and invited me to take ownership for my participation in church. On that day she allowed me to witness not only my own strength, but also the strength of the church to endure me.

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*This post was adapted from my PechaKucha presentation at this year’s Faith Forward gathering for children and youth ministers.