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:

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:

Happy Stranger Day


© 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:

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:

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:

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.


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.

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 enjoys 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.