Are You Ready to Celebrate? Paid Parental Leave Coming to a Church Near You

IMG_6167The irony is not lost on me that during the sabbatical year that I insisted was not a maternity leave I wrote a paid parental leave proposal. It was for my local United Methodist Church, a 200-year old “flagship” church that steers its wheel by committee

People pressed me to be patient, repeatedly.

We submitted the proposal during Holy Week and then waited for the stone to be rolled back. We waited, waited some more, and finally heard word this Monday that a policy had been passed. You can find it here.

I shrieked. I fist pumped. I called almost everyone who offered their voice in the proposal to say “cheers” and absolutely no one picked up. It was perfect.

The idea had been germinating since the adoption of our three girls became final last July. I was already planning to take a year-off paid work and my husband Rush, who works on staff at said local church, decided to take twelve-weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. We were giddy for time off together to grow belonging — and anxious for what no salary for three months meant for our bottom-line.

We had enough savings that the sacrifices were small. Wine would now come from boxes. Clothing would now come from Goodwill. Television would now, sometimes, come from our actual television. All the while we tithed on our former, now non-existent, income.

It was already end-of-year pledge season by the time Rush returned to work, and I began to notice a small, stinky, wormy feeling burrowing in my gut. You might have called it “bitterness” or “resentment.” I called it sadness because I imagined I’d get more sympathy that way.

We were sad that a large, progressive, entrepreneurial church like ours didn’t have a paid parental leave policy in place to compensate Rush and so many other non-pastoral staff for time taken to care for chosen kin (One for clergy exists in the UMC Book of Discipline.) Over the next few weeks, that wormy feeling began to grow into something more mature. You might have called it “peace” or “piousness.” I called it moxie because it sounded more fun and energized me to find a way to fund future leaves for staff in similar positions.

So, with nothing but time and curiosity, I contacted my friend and gender justice advocate, Katey Zeh, for her advice on how to get started. She sent me this article and this sample policy. I met with a member of our Staff Parish Relations Committee who said the next step was to write a proposal for their consideration. I e-mailed our clergy and interviewed a handful of staff and thought it sounded like my kind of nerdy fun to write it all up in such a way that someone might actually enjoy reading it.

In the end, everyone I talked to was for it. (Duh. There’s overwhelming support across party lines for these policies.) We argued a paid parental leave policy for our church would further align its family values with family policies, continue to draw and retain the best and brightest staff, and make for a competitive benefits package with other area employers. To boot, we showed that not only do these policies save employers money in the long run but, in many cases when replacement workers are not needed, they do not effect the short term bottom line.

I’m first-in-line to question American Christianity’s idolatry of the nuclear family – which made me wonder if a proposal like ours was only stacking the deck for the childfull. While the policy that ultimately passed was a parental leave policy, our proposal advocated for a family leave policy that would also cover care of spouses, children, and parents with serious medical conditions in keeping with FMLA guidelines. And, while we’re at, couldn’t we also include care of close neighbors and unlikely strangers? Jesus, we noted, did not privilege those with children over those without; instead he emphasized the need to care for our most vulnerable, young and old alike.

But you know what? Especially during this election week, I think Jesus would remind me, like civil right activist Ruby Sales once did, that celebrating the small victories is a spiritual practice. I love it when my church does right by its people, and I want to celebrate when your church does, too.

I’m always looking for a reason to tap that boxed wine.

In Need of This Good Word? Tune In.

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Do you need a good word today? I sure do.

Do you need a reminder that your life is good news? Always, please.

Do you need some holy fire friendship to speak your angst, start from scratch, or finish that proposal? This is self talk now.

Steve Wiens is one of my favorite people, even though we shouldn’t really be friends. He is a 3 on the Enneagram, and I apparently once told him that 3’s make me squeamish. In this interview on Steve’s This Good Word podcast (you’re going to want to subscribe), we talk angsty book proposals, the good news of being (bio)childfree, and why it is a Christian practice to align ourselves with the rejected – even if we’re wrong in the end, even if we’re a little self-righteous about it, even if we’re also one of them.

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The Right Choice is the Timely Choice

IMG_5978Today, I choose Alvin. I will laugh with the jogger who calls his eyes “hilarious.” I will delight in black tufts of hair sprouting from God-Knows-Where. I will stop saying “All creatures are beautiful and worthy of love” as if it means he’s not and he isn’t. Today, I say ta-ta to Talisa, the one that might have been instead of him. 

Talisa was born looking like a brown bear in the mountains, one of ten Border Collie-Shepherd puppies available for adoption soon after our family of five began looking. When I showed a picture of her to our three school-aged girls, they let out the most emphatic “O-Ah” I’d heard yet. I sent in an adoption application on Monday and got an e-mail back on Tuesday saying she was ours. 

Meanwhile, of course, I kept hustling. It is a fact of spiritual gifts (yes, the hustle can be holy) that they can be used for good or for ill, to help or to hinder, to shed light or cast shadows on our story. How do you discern the difference? 

I showed Talisa’s picture to my husband, Rush; he said her blue eyes made her look soulless. I wondered if her muddy muzzle would clear up over time like baby acne. I googled how long the drive to the mountains would take and realized the trip was longer – much longer – than I estimated. 

Then I saw a picture of Phoenix.

He looked more me. Not like me. But like the dog I imagined for me. He had shy brown eyes. A cool-white coat. And the kind of fur in which you could bury tears. I began to turn a decision about a dog into a decision about the kind of person I was. Do you do this, too? 

Talisa made me a parent who put what the kiddos’ want first. Phoenix turned me into a parent who made the adults happy and trusted a happy home is what the kiddos need. I put in an application for Phoenix, too, just to see how the story would spin.

Three days later, Alvin (nee Phoenix) was riding home, wedged between our girls, in the backseat of the car. I wrote the break-up e-mail with Talisa when we returned. 

I thought a lot about Talisa in the days that followed – checking the website to see if she’d been adopted (she had), googling Border Collie-Shepherd breeds to see how she’d age (total crapshoot), imagining how much more memorable a drive to the mountains and a litter of puppies would have been for our family’s first dog together. 

Regret is a two-timing shark. Not only does it swallow you whole the first time you chose “wrong” but then it spits you back up into a “coulda been/woulda been” soup that, if your brain likes small, repetitive tasks as much as mine, can be stirred for days, weeks, months without realizing that you’ve been baited.

Well, today, I’m not going to be the bait. Say it with me, Today I’m going to quit swimming in the thought shallows. The “right” choices are often only known in time and in time nearly all “wrong” is forgiven. 

Besides, dogs are like friends. Timing is a better predictor of success than temperament. Who’s available when you’re looking is a better predictor of companionship than who’s looking good in retrospect. 

A quick Internet search tells me Talisa means “consecrated to God.” Perfect, I think. God can have Talisa, and I will vow to make Alvin my own. I will howl when he runs like a bunny in the backyard. I will still myself to offer him rest on my rising chest. 

I will coo “All creatures are beautiful and worthy of love” like it’s right true. 

Free Doggie-Travel Guide (And More Fun Ways to Love Your Life Again)

LOGOhomedogroamsI want to share something out of character with you today. It’s fun and frivolous and maybe even inspirational. Inspirational is not my love language. It’s doesn’t need to be yours either.

Around this time last summer, I started a year-long sabbatical to get my mojo back. There were other reasons, more community-minded reasons, but this is not about those. If you are looking for those, read Andy Crouch’s Playing God.

When I lose my mojo it looks something like this:

  • waking up in the morning with no earthly idea of how I want to spend my day
  • deciding it’s easier to meet other people’s needs than explore my own
  • choosing to complete small tasks (responding to e-mails!) rather than big goals (making worlds out of words!)
  • doing what I’m good at (or get paid for) with little reflection on whether it’s good for me
  • holding high expectations for others with no expectancy that they’ll deliver – or are even capable
  • feeling over-whelmed and under-stimulated by my day-to-day responsibilities
  • grasping so tightly to the person I was that I don’t see the person I’m becoming — and the people that are becoming mine to love

The first order of business on sabbatical was to make a plan to have no plan. You could call this the Yoga with Adriene or “find what feels good” approach. All I knew, and all I knew to say to others, is that it was time to flex a new muscle. It was time to get curious about those parts of me that had been quieted by common sense.

This is why I’m squeeing today over a tiny, doggie-travel guide for the Research Triangle called Home Dog Roams that I created on sabbatical with the help of my freelance friend, Liv. It was birthed out of two truths:

1. Dogs bring me home to myself.

2. Travel helps me to love where I live.

(If there were a third truth, it would be that employing your freelance friends is a practice of economic justice – but then I promised to leave those community-minded truths for another day.)

You can find the Home Dog Roams guide on my new Free Stuff page by clicking here.

I know of few better ways to get perspective on things then to spend time with old dogs on new ground.  But maybe doggie-travel isn’t your thing. Maybe you don’t even live in North Carolina. As part of my new creative goal to give more than I consume, I’ve also uploaded two more free resources to help you love your life again.

What We Practice Here is a small group guide for better belonging that I’ve been using with friends who gather at my house for monthly experiments in adulting. Part of getting your mojo back might be to organize public conversations for questions you’re already asking in your head. During sabbatical I went to an InterPlay workshop on “Changing the Race Dance” where I heard myself say aloud, “I don’t know how to show up as both victim and oppressor,” to which a black woman responded, “You white women don’t talk about that?” Not the ones I know, I thought, but we could. We can.

My Lessons in Belonging Book Proposal is also now up on the website for you to use as a resource in dreaming up your own literary project. Consider if the blog posts, e-mail letters, newsletter articles, or even half-started journal entries you’ve been managing to write are pointing toward something bigger. It may feel impossible to complete something other than a to-do list right now but, at the Writing for Your Life conference, the mad-disciplined author Robert Benson reminded me that it only takes writing 600 words a day x 6 days a week x 4 months to = a full-length book. Even if it takes you another four months to make those words shine, you could still see an idea from concept to completion in less than a year. And take a weekly Sabbath.

So…

Choose one.

Choose all three.

But, for the love, choose to follow your curiosity off script today.

Even if it’s, god forbid, a little inspirational as you’re doing it.

Holy F-Word Hospitality

Let’s play a word association game. When I say hospitality, you say…a clean house? flowers and fresh linens? an open door and an open bottle? Now let’s get a little less sanitized. What do you imagine now…a loud house? muddy dogs and grubby hands? a crowded line and a crowded pot? What I bet you didn’t say – what I wouldn’t have dreamt of saying some months ago – is that hospitality is also an honest house and a well-timed “f-word.”

You should know that I am, as a general rule, very amenable to swearing. “There are no bad words; only bad uses,” is my proudest parenting truism to-date. It came to me quicker and clearer than any teaching previously including those on sharing (you don’t have to), showering (you do have to), and salvation (oh, Lord.) Words, like people, I tell my girls, are never unredeemable. Each has a purpose – to teach, to remember, to describe, to shock – and with them we have the power to create life or deal death.

It wasn’t long ago that I thought my swearing was becoming rather uncreative. The last straw dropped when I dropped the f-word while leading a small group of church friends in my home. And it wasn’t just the f-word. It was the holy f-word. No one criticized me in the moment but my inner critic came on like clockwork at four-thirty the next morning to chastise me. How crass. How careless. She made me swear to change my ways, and I told her that Lent was just around the corner.

So, on Ash Wednesday, I vowed to give up what I called “small words” – words that made me and potentially others feel small – and take back my tongue. It wasn’t a remarkable feat at first. When I cut myself on a stack of papers, I said “dip it.” When I was tired of my partner’s tone, I called him “insensitive.” When the same small group of church friends showed up at our house the next month, I told them they were “cool as eff.” The eff sound must have gotten tousled in my throat because Eleanor turned to me and said, “I can tell that was hard for you to say.” I explained to them about my recent reformation and prepared myself for gentle nods. Instead, Matthew said, “It was your holy f*** that made me feel at home!”

Now there was a particularly Millennial idea: swearing as a cipher for authenticity. I had experienced it once before when leading a retreat for young clergy my age; it wasn’t until I admitted to being “f-ing bored” with my life that they began to warm up to me. I resented the fact that somehow all the others words I had used to speak my story weren’t viewed with equal authenticity. And yet the evidence was mounting that a swear word, especially an unexpected one, can put people at ease.

It turns out there is research behind the power of swearing. In her book Swearing is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language, Emma Byrne shows how swearing can be a tool for team building, pain management, and stress relief. She also studies who swears and how it’s understood. For instance, men swear only slightly more than women but women are seen as less trustworthy when they do. What’s true across swear words is that they are understood to be “(a) words people use when they are highly emotional and (b) words that refer to something taboo.” I could see, then, how the use of profanity by a Christian could be an effective short-hand for communicating that we can be our emotional and embodied selves together. It was like putting a welcome mat out for the human experience.

In the months leading up to Easter, I have noticed more and more how swearing, in the right context, can build Christian community. In February, an Instagram post from Artist Scott Erickson popped up on my feed showing an “F Cancer” graphic he made in response to a friend’s recent diagnoses. Many celebrated the move. Others criticized it. Scott responded, “My intention is the work of wholistic integration. We are only as sick as our secrets.” Likewise, at this year’s Why Christian conference in March, Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber read from her forthcoming book, Shameless, in which she calls for a sexual reformation that is more interested in human healing than narrow theology. Rather than handing down a new sexual doctrine for the church, Nadia shouted to a chapel of people in pews, “I say let’s burn it the f*** down.” People were weeping next to me.

It was around that time that I abandoned my Lenten practice of giving up small words. It turns out that for me, and many in my community, swearing does not make us feel small but seen, heard, human. What better way to celebrate the Word of God made flesh than to speak words that show we have skin in the game? The lesson of Easter is, after all, the lesson of a God who profaned God’s holy house to make space for us. 

On Beginnings (and Feeling our Way into the New Year)

“I don’t do goals,” I say when it’s my turn to introduce myself. A thin blanket beneath me, my legs folded, I am sitting in a circle of women at my local yoga studio. We are at a workshop “setting intentions for the New Year” with “a feminine approach to goal setting.” I am skeptical. I am more of a “let the destination find you” kind of person. I am better at beginnings.

This could be why I opened a book on beginnings a few weeks earlier with such feverish hope. Beginnings: The First Seven Days of the Rest of Your Life, by Steve Wiens, is an ode to human goodness and our perpetual potential for fresh starts.

You can find me – and the rest of this book review – at the Christian Century blog: http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2016-01/getting-started

You can also find an interview I did with Steve on the gender-fullness of God, an idea we both geek out on, at his This Good Word Podcast.

The Art of Work

Vocation is en vogue. In light of recent research that purports 87 percent of the world’s workers are more frustrated than fulfilled, the marketplace has rushed to meet our need for meaning. Its noise can be overwhelming.

Are we to follow our bliss or change the world? Yes. Do we commit where we are or risk an adventure? Yes. Should we set some goals or let the destination find us? Yes. It’s no wonder Jeff Goins’ new book, The Art of Work, has a subtitle emphasizing “a proven path” to discovering your life’s purpose.

We’re consumers of clarity, and I’m first in line.

You could say I’m a vocational enthusiast. It all started when someone handed me a copy of Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer during my senior year of college. Its short-term effect was giving me the courage to say no to a stable, but stressful night job at the college union. The long-term effect? I discovered my “something I can’t not do” was helping other people grab hold of their something.

There’s a lot to grab hold of in Goins’ book about discovering “the reason you were born.” (No pressure.) Seven themes anchor his ideas – Awareness, Apprenticeship, Practice, Discovery, Profession, Mastery, and Legacy – and each theme is illustrated with anecdotes from the lives of ordinary people, including Goins himself.

You can find me – and the rest of this book review – at the Courage & Renewal blog:
http://www.couragerenewal.org/the-art-of-work/

Clearing Our Minds of the Busy

Busy is boring.

Among my network of thirty-something friends and retirement-age colleagues, being busy is losing ground to being human. A friend who reduced her hours at work is glowing when she tells me about the weekly meditation class she attends now. A colleague at the end of her career is declining consulting jobs to hone the harder skill of being married. I’m on the spacious train too with the decision to move from weekly blogging to spontaneous letter writing.

Clearing our schedules of the busy is a step toward honoring the wonder of being a person. Clearing our minds of the busy, I’ve learned, requires a much larger leap.

It was sometime last Fall when I decided to free my mind from the clutter. I’m pretty descent, some might even say obsessive, about keeping the amount of clutter in my life to a minimum. I donate already-read books and already-obsolete kitchen gadgets to the Salvation Army at least once a month. I buy groceries enough for only three days; for much of the year, the freezer has only one barely-touched bottle of vodka to cool. And I have a one-in, one-out rule for clothes. Still, I had the sense that the stuff in my mind could outmatch an episode of Hoarders.

You can find me – and the rest of this article – at eChurchGiving:
http://blog.echurchgiving.com/clearing-our-minds-of-the-busy/

Happy Stranger Day

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© Church on Morgan 2015

Have you ever thought Thanksgiving was a wasted holiday? Before you call me a holiday heretic, think about all of its shortcomings.

It’s way too close to Christmas, which means two hearty meals within one month and little hope of wearing your pleather skinnies in between. Plane ticket costs are astronomical and so are the expectations that you will foot the bill to come home, if not this year then next year, because you are on a two-year rotation after your parents’ divorce. And whether you stay local or travel far, the day is too often characterized by a thin gratitude for comfort. Celebrating good food, good friends, and, fingers crossed, a good football game isn’t all that distinctive for many of us.

I want to celebrate something stranger.

There are national holidays in the U.S. for mothers and fathers, for bosses and administrative professionals, for veterans and nurses and even library workers — but there is no holiday that celebrates the stranger. This is a real loss seeing as how the stranger is a pivotal figure in most religious traditions.

You can find me – and the rest of this article – at On Faith:
http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2015/11/25/transforming-thanksgiving-into-stranger-day/38087

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/