This being International Women’s Day, I’ve been reflecting on all the women who’ve had so much influence on my life.
But then, it so happens that I did a lot of reflecting on all the women who’ve had so much influence on me in writing The View From Down in Poordom.
The book begins and ends with stories about my mother, Goldie McKay, and my Aunt Newell Chasteen, two strong women who were miles apart in their church affiliations and theologies but deeply respectful of one another. (Scroll down for more about the book and a link to the introduction based on their stories.)
Many of the clergy and lay leaders who’ve impacted my life and informed my theology and ministry were women.
Years ago when I was exploring candidacy for ordained ministry, I was active in a small, rural United Methodist Church.
The preacher was a woman and I saw up-close and personal the difficulties women clergy are up against in so many churches.
This pastor, a dear friend and mentor who helped me determine if I was truly being called to the ordained life and graciously allowed me to preach and teach to explore the calling, was once called in by the church’s lay leaders because she had an appointment every Thursday at 3 p.m. for a manicure. They told her that she needed to go to the beauty shop on her day off because she was expected to “work” from 9 to 5 and could use that hour to visit shut-ins and others.
Fortunately, her district superintendent (a sort of supervisor figure over preachers in the United Methodist Church system) came to her defense. He explained to the congregation’s lay leaders–who were never any too happy to have a woman appointed to their little East Texas church–that a preacher is never not working, that a preacher is on duty 24-7.
The preacher, he reminded them, is going to “go to work” and come to your side if you have a death in the family or some such tragedy in the middle of the night.
Being the pastor of a church is the hardest “job” in the world.
And 10 times harder if you’re a woman and never mind that women clergy tend to be just as good–and so often so much better–than men.
I’ll go so far as to assert that women–who are nurturers and therefore are much better listeners than men–are typically much better than male clergy.
I have this Facebook friend named Elaine Heath. She’s the Dean and Professor of Missional and Pastoral Theology at Duke Divinity School, which is only one of the best seminaries in the world is all it is. (See more about her and Duke Divinity here.)
She raised this question on her Facebook page the other day–and got lots and lots of interesting replies from women, some of which I’ve culled to share with you>
Q.) Okay, women friends, what were you warned about that didn’t stop you? I was warned that seminary was a waste of time and money because no church would want a woman pastor.
A sampling of the mind-boggling reponses:
I was told not to wear my hair too short or people would think I am a lesbian, and not to wear it long because men like it too much. I was told not to allow toe cleavage to show when I preach because men would find it distracting, and oh so many other warnings against my very dangerous embodiment as a woman. I decided it is best to simply be myself and use common sense.
I was warned that God didn’t call women to be ministers.
I was warned to not continue my career until I was done having babies.
When I was in my final year of Divinity school in 1980, I met with my bishop to discuss this evolving, wonder-filled call I had received to ordained ministry. He told me that he thought I should first get married, have and raise my children and then, when they were grown, maybe I could be a part-time children’s director at a church. Many years later, when I was a District Superintendent, during appointment making season, one of my district churches told me that they didn’t want another woman pastor because “we have already had one.” But this is one of my favorites: on my last Sunday in a church I had served for 12 years, a little boy who had only known one pastor (me) asked his mom: “Mommy, can guys be preachers?”
I was warned: not to mention my cultural background, not to speak unless invited (lest I make a fool of myself), not to wear a collar (as it made me look like a try-hard), not to preside at sacraments in ecumenical settings, not to wear earrings when preaching… not to use non-gendered language, as it is off-putting, not to hang my clothes on the Manse clothesline… (I really reckon the last is the best!)
I’ve been warned that because I’m a layperson and a woman, my ministry won’t be taken seriously.
I was warned about going into the military, flight training, ordination, and church planting.
A lay leader in my first field ed placement warned me that pants were inappropriate for a woman to wear when serving communion. Persisted.
The matriarch of a recent church wielded her Bible around like a weapon, shouting at me “if you don’t learn how to read the Bible correctly…” Persisted.
I was warned that I don’t look like a pastor and I quote “you will be seen as dangerous for other women around their husbands and boyfriends” so the solution was to dress in suits and more “professional” clothing. I was so shamed. I dress in business casual most days and tend to try to emulate the styles I see my age appropriate friends wearing. The person even pointed out I wore a spaghetti strap dress at annual conference the dress goes down past my knees and is from Ann Taylor lofts summer collection. I would never describe it as “sexy.” I cried for days I’ve never felt more ashamed of the way I look. The amazing thing was that sooooo many people not aware that I had just been told this by a woman and someone I respected said the exact opposite about me “you are so relatable because of the way you look” “I love your style thank goodness you can be you and do this job.” The best part in all of this is I now lead a church that is growing really quickly in the millennial age group (one that everyone says is impossible to grow in) and many people have expressed that part of the reason they felt so comfortable was that the pastor resembles them and they feel safe in the space- guess what- there are lots of young married couple and older married couples and I have been asked to spend time with spouses as they have been struggling theologically- there seems to be no real concern that my femininity is dangerous or that I dress in a manner so as to entice their significant other. I also get complimented on the content of my message way more than the way I look!!! I think what hurt the most is that I have tried to look professional and maintain style because I have seen so many clergy go the opposite route and become “frumpy” in an un-relatable way.
I was told by men and women that I should wear “pumps” instead of sandals; hose instead of bare legs; that a little make-up would be nice; but I was ALSO thanked by men and women, for wearing sandals, jeans and no make-up
I too was warned I would go to hell and was leading my congregation there for being a woman pastor.
I was warned by men that people don’t like to hear women’s voices, especially in the pulpit, something to do with a grating quality. But then, I was told my voice wasn’t too bad……
I was told my earrings were distracting by a woman after a particularly challenging sermon, so I said I was sorry she chose to focus on that instead of what I was saying. I got a puzzled look.
I was told no one would ever take me seriously because of the way I look. I even had a woman pastor tell me to ‘cover myself’ because I was wearing a crew neck top. She thought I should wear a turtleneck. (Btw, turtlenecks don’t diminish womanly curves😂).
I’ve found sadly enough that other woman tend to say those things more than men. They’d rather tear down than build up.
I went before my District Committee when I was about 5 months pregnant. Room full of men. One of them asked me how I expected to be a mother and care for a baby while I also serve a church, or something like that. The Spirit came upon me I believe and I said something like this: “Like all of you I know I will struggle with how to parent my child and serve in the church. I ‘m sure I’ll need to rely on the help of family and friends, and I know it won’t always be easy. I assume all of us struggle with how to give of ourselves to our families and to the church.” Or some such words. The question was not a bad question, and I struggled with it many times for various reasons. But it was a question men should answer as well as women. That was the problem in my opinion. In the end Ken was ordained before me and I got to be on the receiving end of lots of advice about being a “good minister’s wife”. So much advice that I became anxious and worried, until finally a trusted friend (also a minister’s wife) said, “Pam, think about it. Are any of those people a minister’s wife? No? Then what do they really know about being one?” Her advice was to love my husband, find something meaningful to do in the church and be myself. Great advice for a spouse of a minister, or for the pastor when you think of it.
Support your preacher, especially if she’s a she.
What follows is an excerpt from the third chapter of my newly released book, The View From Down in Poordom.
It includes pen-and-ink illustrations by retired United Methodist Reverend Keith L. Head, a man of many gifts, graces and talents.
3. Associate With the Lowly? Seriously, Paul?
Scripture: Romans 12:9–20 (NRSV)
Key Verse (16): “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.”
So we Christians are to associate with the lowly? Seriously, Paul? The lowly of the world strive to be “movin’ on up” so as to associate with those higher on the income and social scales, don’t they? I mean, who wants to hang out with those on the low rungs of society? Upward mobility is the American way!
Yet in this countercultural scripture urging what might be called “downward mobility,” St. Paul instructs us to do just that—to drop any conceits and haughtiness we harbor and get down and dirty with the poor, the powerless, the marginalized, the “lowly.”
That’s a humbling spiritual practice, but isn’t humility always the point when it comes to the theologies of poverty and ministries to the poor? It seems that Paul, who once noted that Jesus humbled himself all the way to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8), was always and forever mindful that Jesus himself had said, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12 NRSV).
But who might be these lowly that Paul urges us to hang out with? Are they the unwashed masses that band together on downtown streets waiting for soup kitchens to open? Are they the undocumented immigrants who risk life and limb to get to America to scrub our toilets, mop our floors, tend our gardens, and pave our highways in blazing heat? Would the lowly be the lowlife who, in his or her despair, ended up an addict? Is the lowly the able-bodied poor person who, yielding to despair after a lifetime of being whipped down, gives up on trying to find work?
Is it the unskilled, working-poor woman who—like a neighbor I had in Dallas—worked three jobs that netted her a total income of under $22,000 per year to support herself and her two children? (She lost two of the jobs, by the way, when the transmission on her car broke and there was no money for repairs.)
I wonder if perhaps the lowly that the Apostle Paul—not to mention Jesus—would have me associate with are the people that I, with all my natural human prejudice, look down on, based on my life experience with people I don’t understand and perhaps don’t care to understand.
It does seem to me, in all honesty, that we all harbor some kind of superiority complex—that we all look down on somebody. Maybe that’s why humility is one of those threads that we see running through the Bible from start to finish. God in His power is constantly humbling somebody who is puffed up with pride, power, and prejudice.
Paul himself, who was seemingly obsessed with instructing early Christians to humble themselves, was humbled in a big way, after all, on that road to Damascus.
A funny thing happened while I’ve been busy cruising the coastlines and bumming around on the beaches of southern Belize on my bike this week, going wherever my free spirit moves me.
This guy’s book came out.
It’s now available online at Amazon, Barnes & Nobleand at WestBow Press’s site at this link, so order now.
So I upsized my motorcycle last week for a bigger, more comfortable ride in a trade-and-cash deal that was too good to pass up.
I made this deal just in time because I’ve been hankering for some Vitamin Sea and this bike I bought–a Chinese-made mini version of a Harley–is perfect for a road trip.
So stay tuned for travel reports–and some great news later in the week about my book, The View From Down in Poordom.
I have learned a lot about God over these years.
I have read a library of books by greater thinkers than me; I have attended schools of theology; I have engaged in more workshops and conferences and retreats than I can remember. Each has taught me something, but I still know very little.
The mystery of God remains just that, a mystery. I will keep studying, but along the way, I will walk outside on a starry night and just enjoy what I never expect to understand.”
~ Author Steven Charleston is a Native American elder (Choctaw Nation) and retired Episcopal bishop of Alaska. He is Adjunct Professor of Native American Ministries at Saint Paul School of Theology at OCU.
A seminary professor I had described the knowability of God as being somewhat like a blind person feeling an elephant for the first time.
The blind one can feel the legs, maybe even feel the hind feet and the tail. And then there’s that strange, mysterious trunk thing that can be felt as it hangs down or curls or swings up and down.
The hide feels rough for the most part, but then this blind explorer is intrigued the first time he or she feels those smooth ivory bones that don’t seem to fit with the rest of this mysterious being. And then there will be those soft jumbo ears to be felt as the creature bows its head or drops down and gets still.
Over time, as the blind one keeps exploring the giant elephant, he or she will climb to the top of the elephant and experience the joy and exhilaration of riding it.
Wow! The mystery and wonder of it all is too much sometimes!
Of course, there will be fear and trembling the first time the mighty elephant decides to drop down onto its back and roll around and kick up dust.
This will be the blind explorer’s big lesson in awe and reverence (“fear” of the overwhelming Lord, that is).
And so on and so forth and you get the picture, don’t you?
We can’t see God, but we can feel and experience the presence of “a higher power” a jillion-plus times more mighty than our little minds can imagine.
Every first-semester seminary student in the world learns in Theology 101 what is called “Anselm’s Ontological Argument” (learned immediately after learning the definitions of “high-dollar tuition words” like “ontological”).
The Italian St. Anselm was a monk who became Archbishop of Canterbery a long time ago (1093) and is one of the greatest of great Christian thinkers ever.
He famously defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.”
The gist of his “Ontological Argument” runs far deeper than this tidy summary of his brilliant case in response to those who deny the existence of God, but this summary will do:
(1) God is that than which no greater can be conceived.
(2) If God is that than which no greater can be conceived then there is nothing greater than God that can be imagined.
(3) There is nothing greater than God that can be imagined.
(4) If God does not exist then there is something greater than God that can be imagined.
(5) God exists.
God is too magnificent an overwhelming mystery for us to imagine anything more magnificent.
But such a magnificent mystery it is, dwelling within you and me and all the other wild creatures on earth and flung out among the stars, too!
I love to define mystery as not that which is unknowable, but that which is endlessly knowable. So you never get to the point where I know it all. And wouldn’t we assume that would be the nature of God? That God will always by definition be mystery. More knowability, more knowability, deeper experience, deeper surrender. So that’s the meaning of faith, and why faith has such power, not just to transform people but to keep them on an ongoing path of transformation and growth.
— Father Richard Rohr
“Are they being mean to you, girl?”
Seriously, is it too much to ask…
1. That he stop flying off to his Florida palace for R&R every weekend at great expense to us taxpayers?
2. That he stop costing taxpayers the needless price of security to hold campaign-style pep rallies near his Florida palace to throw red meat to his base considering that the election was last year?
3. That he get serious and fulfill that promise to be “so, so presidential–the most presidential President ever!”
4. That he stop demeaning, denigrating and pissing off whole continents, nations, races, religions, the CIA, the military brass, NATO, and that big majority of Americans who voted against him in what was an unprecedented loss in the popular vote and not even close to being a landslide in the electoral vote count as he keeps repeating? (And oh, yeah–demeaning judges, too.)
5. That he stop alienating and start listening to the handful of Republicans who care more about our country than their Republican Party?
6. That he prove to us that he has no financial ties to Putin and Russia by showing us his income taxes and also sharing with us why a close member of his inner circle called an official of a hostile enemy of America’s five times in one day during his pre-election campaign?
7. That he who slimed and promised to “lock up” Hillary for using insecure devises get rid of the terribly insecure phone he’s still using that makes him more vulnerable to hacking that Hillary ever was?
8. In short, is it too much to ask that he grow up and stop acting like a whiney little girl being put upon by the meanies in the press, the CIA, the sanest wing of the Republican Party and critics everywhere who have every right if not obligation in a healthy democracy to question his authority, criticize him and oppose him?
Here are the answers to those eight questions in consecutive order.