I confess that this is an unapologetic promotion of our newly released book . . .
When God Whispered My Name!
Stories of Journey Told by Baptist Women Called to Ministry
Rev. Kathy Manis Findley and Dr. Kay Wilson Shurden, Editors
Let me tell you why I recommend this book, unapologetically.
In its pages, you will find not only my story, but also the poignant stories of eighteen women who were called to ministry, only to face challenges and obstacles along the way. Simply because they are women! These are diverse women, each one unique, and their journeys follow winding paths, uncharted and serendipitous.
You will be mesmerized by these heartfelt stories about how nineteen ministers each heard a Holy Whisper calling her to a life of ministry and compassionate service to others. Get your copy today at these links:
“There is power in a story well told, a sacredness that speaks to shared experiences, and draws us closer to God and to one another. When God Whispered My Name is full of such stories. Equal parts inspiring, sobering, and challenging, the stories of these women bear witness to the Good News that flourishes when one dares say yes to God’s call. This timely volume is sure to offer hope, encouragement, and community to women and men who are wrestling with that same mysterious call from God and those seeking to empower them.”
—Mandy McMichael Associate Director and J. David Slover Assistant Professor of Ministry Guidance Baylor University
I have asked myself these questions before — many times before. I have asked these questions when teaching classes and writing my blog. I have asked these questions in a sermon — actually multiple sermons. So one might expect that, through my sermon preparation through Biblical study and other research, I might have found an answer by now. I have not. Because my finding the answer is as complicated as the myriad places of brokenness i see in the world around me.
Of course, I have to pay attention to the image of a hungry child, a refugee family at the border, entire African villages that subsist without clean water, the violent streets in cities across the United States, the mother protecting her children from abuse and herself from domestic violence, racially motivated hate crimes that terrorize, the climate crisis that to some is so real and to others just a hoax, the active shooters that have terrified school children and threatened life at many other places where people are vulnerable. I can continue this list into perpetuity.
But then I have to acknowledge the more insidiously evil side of the world’s brokenness — not the actual broken places, but the injustices that create them. I have to be woke to the societal and political forces of greed that deny complicity in the oppression of the most vulnerable among us.
So when I ask myself the question, “What do I have to give in a broken world?” I am really asking if I will: 1) personally tackle a person’s specific need; 2) seek radical change of the societal and political forces that cause oppression; 3) become both a political activist and a compassionate hands-on Samaritan; or 4) engage in a contemplative life by getting in touch with the mystic inside that prays and longs for an end to every form of brokenness.
If I were a mystic, if could pray away the brokenness, I would most assuredly enter my prayer closet and do so. Admitting to being a mystic, though, is slightly uncomfortable. I’m not completely sure what a mystic is or what a mystic does. And isn’t being a mystic reserved for monks and nuns?
Richard Rohr is my go-to person on the duality of action and contemplation. One can find in his meditations —every day — the inseparable link between our compassionateacts and the inner spiritual work that drives us. Matthew Fox writes:
Deep down, each one of us is a mystic. When we tap into that energy we become alive again and we give birth. From the creativity that we release is born the prophetic vision and work that we all aspire to realize as our gift to the world. We want to serve in whatever capacity we can. Getting in touch with the mystic inside is the beginning of our deep service.
“Our gift to the world,” he writes. And all around that “gift,” he lifts up prophetic vision, the energy to come alive, touching our inner mystic and engaging in deep service to people and places of deep need. I can never broach this subject of a broken world without revisiting the Jewish concept known as Tikkun olam – “repair the world,” that manifests itself in acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. The phrase — found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings — is often used when discussing issues of social policy, insuring compassionate remedies to those who may be at a disadvantage.
As for me . . . I really do want to touch my inner mystic, to enter into a silent, deep inner space that compels me to serve humanity. I also want to enter a place of tikkun olam. I want to repair the world and tangibly care for the persons who have need. Is it even possible to do both? Isn’t it imperative for a follower of Jesus to do both? Is it not because of the hope of the Good News in Christ that I must be about ministries of compassion and justice?
It seems pretty clear when reading the words of Jesus that caring for broken persons in a broken world is most certainly a compassionate imperative.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
— Matthew 25:31-40 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV
It’s just downright confusing and complex. Bottom line is this: I have no idea how to repair the world or how to get in touch with my inner mystic. But I also do not want to be permanently consigned to the goat-group mentioned in this Gospel text! I would rather struggle to figure out what I must do to care compassionately for my brothers and sisters and to get in touch with the contemplative mystic that makes me come alive.
Sound advice comes from a plethora of good and wise people. This time Howard Thurman gets the last word:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
May God make us people who have come alive. Amen
On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant currently scheduled for November 12th at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. I am so grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:
A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link
This morning, I read a meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation as I often do to start my day. In it, Sister Joan Chittister explores the relationship between prophetic witness through compassion and contemplation. Sounds risky to me! And that’s very close to the point Sister Joan makes:
. . . contemplation is a very dangerous activity. It not only brings us face to face with God, it brings us, as well, face to face with the world, and then it brings us face to face with the self; and then, of course, something must be done.
Something must be filled up, added to, freed from, begun again, ended at once, changed, or created or healed, because nothing stays the same once we have found the God within. . . . We become connected to everything, to everyone. We carry the whole world in our hearts, the oppression of all peoples, the suffering of our friends, the burdens of our enemies, the raping of the earth, the hunger of the starving, the joyous expectation every laughing child has a right to. Then, the zeal for justice consumes us. Then, action and prayer are one.
Bolder prophetic words were never written! Would that all of us who profess a relationship with God might rise from our knees and be ennobled by our prayers to do justice and love mercy! Largely, this is not the case for us. Our prayers feel empty, devoid of the compassion of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. After we have prayed, have we changed? Has our heart been softened by moments of communion with God? Does our heart move into a tragic world with the tenderness of a compassionate Christ?
As we are praying, children and families still languish at our borders, suffering in living conditions that seem impossible in America. And we hear the distant echo of Jesus asking for the children to come to him.
As we are praying, the ever-changing climate exacts its harm on oceans and rivers, having significant impact on ecosystems, economies and communities. Rising average temperatures mean balmier winters for some regions and extreme heat for others.Flooding, drought and violent storms take a dangerous toll on our beloved earth.
As we are praying, gun injuries cause the deaths of 18 children and young adults each day in the U.S. And every day, 100 Americans are killed with guns. Can we ignore the fact that nearly 1 million women alive today have been shot, or shot at, by an intimate partner?
All the while, we comfortably rest in our own kind of contemplation. Yet, contemplation must be redefined. We must learn to experience it as a change in consciousness that forces us to see the big picture, to see beyond our own boundaries, beyond our denominations, our churches. Sister Joan again says it best:
Contemplation brings us to see beyond even our own doctrines and dogmas and institutional self-interest, straight into the face of a mothering God from whose womb has come all the life that is.
Transformed from within then, the contemplative becomes a new kind of presence in the world who signals another way of being. . . . The contemplative can never again be a complacent, non-participant in an oppressive system. . . . From contemplation comes not only the consciousness of the universal connectedness of life, but the courage to model it as well.
Those who have no flame in their hearts for justice, no consciousness of personal responsibility for the reign of God, no raging commitment to human community may, indeed, be seeking God; but make no mistake, God is still, at best, only an idea to them, not a living reality.
So we struggle, Christ followers in a world of cruelty and insanity. Our struggle is about what exactly we can do when we face the world after our contemplative practice. Isn’t contemplation and compassion a pilgrimage to the heart, my own heart and God’s heart? When our moments of contemplation reveal a clear-eyed view of a suffering world, what does Christ’s love and the Holy Spirit’s prompting move us to do?
I often refer to the words Tikkun Olam, the Jewish teaching that means repair the world. Tikkun Olam is any activity that improves the world, bringing it closer to the harmonious state for which it was created. So how does our contemplation lead us to practice Tikkun Olam, to repair the world? What is it that “must be filled up, added to, freed from, begun again, ended at once, changed, or created or healed?”
It is a critical question for all of us and each of us. Indeed, each person must find her own answer and must follow her own path. The way ahead may lead to U.S. border towns. The way ahead may lead to phone calling or letter writing. It may lead to community activism or bearing witness in places where injustices occur. It may lead to protesting and marching or teaching and preaching. It may lead to deeper communion with God through even more time spent in prayer and contemplation.
It will, beyond any doubt, lead us to the places in our world where compassion touches pain. Dangerous contemplation will most definitely lead usto those places.
What a caring and compassionate ministry it is to sit beside someone who is grieving and remind them of God’s grace. In recent days, I have wept for and with so many friends who are grieving for what they have lost because of the Florida hurricane. To be sure, there were losses in Georgia and in the Carolinas, but the devastation in and around Panama City was catastrophic.
Hordes of compassionate people traveled to Florida to help. They will clean up debris, repair or rebuild homes that sustained damage, do electrical work, provide help in the shelters, share their hearts and God’s heart, and stand beside families as they pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. Mostly, they will weep with people, and that’s what will help more than anything else.
Author Ann Weems paints a sparkling vision with her words that speak of the “godforsaken obscene quicksand of life.” But then she tells of a deafening alleluia arising from the souls of those who weep and from the souls of those who weep with them. From that weeping, Ann Weems tells us what will happen next. “If you watch,” she writes, you will see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one.”
I like to think that the caregivers who traveled to Florida did a lot of weeping with those who needed it and that they stayed near them long enough for them to “see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one.” When all is lost — when you learn that your loved one has died or you stand in a pile of rubble on the ground that used to be your home — seeing the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies would be for you a manifestation of pure and holy hope.
Without a doubt, Florida is experiencing “the godforsaken obscene quicksand of life.” Their memories of this devastating time will be cruel and long-lasting. They will remember better days, neighborhoods that once thrived, schools that were destroyed and friends who are trying their best to recover. But what grieving people will remember most is the care someone gave them and the loving compassion of strangers who became forever friends. I am reminded of the words of poet Khalil Gibran:
You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept.
Last week, we were inundated with media reports about President Donald J. Trump’s performance in his private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. From the outset, voices cried out in protest that the President of the United States would even consider a meeting with the Russian dictator. Now we are working through what the U.S. president said or did not say during the meeting. In a sense, we are standing on the fault lines of our nation.
There is no shortage of criticism on the opinion that President Trump took sides. In fact, he took Vladimir Putin’s word over the findings of several American intelligence agencies that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. Alina Polyakova, an expert on Russia at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., said this in a conference call with reporters.“It was telling that the U.S. president did not mention Ukraine or Crimea once. The U.S. president also didn’t mention U.S. sanctions and basically let the Russian president set the agenda on Syria and other items as well.”
Condemnation of this meeting was swift, sweeping and widespread. The Chicago Tribune reported a plethora of reactions: “Bizarre. Shameful. Disgraceful. And that’s just from the Republicans.” Disgraceful, embarrassing, incompetent, disturbing, unpatriotic . . . There are so many negative descriptors in the narrative about this meeting. People of faith stand on the fault line wondering if and how we should respond.
Now, the shock has somewhat abated. People, Democrat and Republican, are making their way back to the comfort of normalcy. To be sure, some Democrats are wringing their hands a bit more than they did before the Trump/Putin meeting, but at the end of the day, everyone will settle down on top of whatever fault line is nearest to them. I cannot help but think of the words of Edwin Muir from his poem, The Transfiguration, “But the world rolled back into its place, and we are here. And all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn, As if it had never stirred.”
So after all the upheaval caused by the Helsinki meet-up, and after all the amped-up rhetoric of condemnation of the American president’s performance, it seems as if “the world rolled back into its place,” as if nothing has stirred. And yet, some people of faith feel an unease on this fault line, a vague sense that all is not as it should be, and wondering what all of this has to do with us. Most of us are do-ers, so inaction is difficult even when no clear action is before us. For good or ill, we are here in “the living of these days,” and there are indeed some clear actions we must take.
One set of effectual actions, as suggested by my friend, Ken Sehested, is to be prepared, to listen to media reports from a variety of sources, but to remember that we draw our bearings from “a larger horizon.” Ken writes this in a meditation entitled “We Must Be Prepared: A Brief Meditation for the Living of these Days.”
We must be prepared. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. We must listen to the news, from a variety of sources. But we must not draw our bearings from that news. Ours is a larger horizon.
It seems to me that all of our responses — whether being fully informed, shaping our opinions and convictions, advocating with members of Congress, or praying for our nation and our leaders — must emerge from that place called “a larger horizon.”
And about the living of these days? These are the days we have, the good of them and the not so good. Certainly, we can feel hopeless when we hear disturbing headlines about any number of fault line issues. The narrative from the U.S. President clashes with the best direction from his own staff. The story of the private Helsinki meeting changes from hour to hour. Lawmakers are calling for recordings of the meeting. There is a palpable lack of trust within the Trump administration.
In these days, we do feel threatened by fault lines, feeling them shifting underneath our feet. But along with the fault lines, we also have a living faith that guides us to create positive change, compels us to continue standing up for the marginalized people among us, strengthens us to labor for the good of our communities and our nation, and ennobles us to speak out for truth and justice.
Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you. ― L.R. Knost
When I was in seminary so many years ago, I worked part time in the Development Office, that extraordinary place that dreamed up words designed to gain support for the seminary and to tell the world what we were about. The one creative theme I most remember, because we made it our catch phrase and printed it on everything, was “We’re out to change the world!”
Some students left the seminary, degree in hand, and did just that. The rest of us labored mightily and did everything we knew to do to change a world that most assuredly was waiting and broken. What a mission!
I must admit, that short statement from seminary days became my personal quest. In every ministry position, I tried to change the world, much to the dismay of my parishioners. I took on every worthy cause as my own challenge to change the world. I committed myself to justice and set my face toward hope and healing for every person suffering injustice and indignity. It became a life-long quest, a personal commission. And what’s more, I sincerely believed I could do it, at least for the first few years I spent banging my head against various walls.
The song lyrics “to dream the impossible dream” come to mind. For those of you who may be too young to know about the magic of the 1964 Broadway musical, Man of La Mancha, I must give you the lyrics of the song that was the pronunciamento of the primary character, Don Quixote, and that almost instantly became the credo that many people of God embraced in trying to change the world.
To dream the impossible dream …
To fight the unbeatable foe …
To bear with unbearable sorrow …
To run where the brave dare not go …
To right the unrightable wrong …
To love pure and chaste from afar …
To try when your arms are too weary …
To reach the unreachable star …
This is my quest, to follow that star;
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far:
To fight for the right, without question or pause;
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause.
And I know if I’ll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm,
when I’m laid to my rest.
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable star.
— Lyrics by Joe Darion
Today, as I watch military strikes against Syria and know that our country has not welcomed desperate Syrian refugees, I am painfully aware that I did not change the world. I worked in Uganda after the devastation of Idi Amin, but I did not change the world for millions of Ugandan widows and orphans.
I worked with persons who were sick and dying in hospital ministry, and I did not change their hopeless world of suffering. I have written letters, contacted government officials, participated in demonstrations, and signed hundreds of petitions, but I have not changed the world.
It has indeed been an “impossible dream.” And yet, I believe that I lived into my call from God and followed every path God placed before me. I faced off against what I viewed as evil many times and was deeply, demonstrably angry many times. But always, my mission remained in the center of God’s gentle grace and love. How?
I learned along the way — finally — that changing the world God’s way means holding tightly to lovingkindness, compassion, love and gentleness. The Scripture in Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) says it like this:
. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
“Change the world with gentleness,” God might say to me.
While others stand for bigotry, racism, violence and war, change the world with gentleness. While leaders refuse to welcome refugees who long for a safe haven for their children, change the world with gentleness. While the highest positions in this country are embroiled in collusion, corruption, lies, greed and unkindness, change the world with gentleness.
This is a broken, waiting world that yearns, not for my righteous anger toward the world that is, but rather for my gentle hands of healing for the world that can be.
Change the world with gentleness? How? Why?
Because “Gentleness is not weakness. Just the opposite. Preserving a gentle spirit in a heartless world takes extraordinary courage, determination, and resilience. Do not underestimate the power of gentleness because gentleness is strength wrapped in peace, and therein lies the power to change the world.”
― L.R. Knost
May God lead us all in the paths of righteousness and gentleness. Amen.
At times, I am baffled by retirement and aging. It’s one of those “wonder-what-to-do-with-myself” times that is a part of life. Like so many people, I allowed my work to define me. On the other side of a life of ministry, there is a great deal of grief and loss, and mostly bewilderment. I constantly ask myself the question I should have answered decades ago: “Who am I?”
It is definitely true of me that I no longer know what to do. Oh, I keep myself busy enough with trivial pursuits. I cook. I write. I paint. I garden. I do crafty things. But none of those pursuits are engaging enough to help me redefine myself as a person who has passed her years of full time work and ministry.
Certainly, many people say that once you are a minister you never lose your ordination, your gifts, your calling and your mission. But I wonder what that really means. There is no preaching or worship planning going on in my world these days, no hospital ministry, no funerals and no weddings to officiate. If my mission and calling is for life, what does that mean in terms of day to day living?
I have to admit that, though I am busy doing “stuff,” I no longer know what to do with myself. Fortunately, I recently found a smidgen of comfort in these words written by Wendell Berry.
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
— ‘The Real Work’ by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems, 1987.
So when all is said and done, perhaps it’s okay to be baffled. Maybe I can become that “impeded stream” and make a bit of music, filling these baffling days with singing. Just maybe, the writer of Ephesians had some very good advice for a person in my state of baffle-ment.
. . . be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
— Ephesians 5:18-20 New International Version (NIV)