Saturday, September 28, 2013

Time Keeps on Slipping: Unpacking the Pile of Boxes

That last post went in a direction I hadn't planned.  Now, isn't that ironic?  I just realized it and laughed as I typed that.

I've written about The OASIS at St. Nazianz on this blog. There is a link in the sidebar to OASIS posts, in fact.  It started just about one year ago.  Tonight will be our last meeting together, at least for a while.  Maybe it will be resurrected.  I have no plans.  I am sad, and I have many questions.  Many, many unanswered questions.  My deepest questions have never been answered.   In spite of the sadness and the questions, I feel peaceful about my decision.  There is only so much me to expend, and I'm stretched beyond what I think is healthy.  I know some precious people are deeply disappointed.  I would never have started The OASIS if I had known what 2013 was going to bring.  How good it is that we do not know the future.  As someone said to me recently, "If we did, we'd never get out of bed." There are other reasons to stop this ministry as well, and it is difficult but has to happen.

I am still trying to put together my teaching for tonight.  Feeling a bit blank about that.  I love teaching scripture and I love interacting with people...

Perhaps my official ministry days are ended.  I know, that doesn't mean there is nothing left of value for me to do.  I am grateful for that.

Our daughter, Kris, and her husband and kiddo are moving in today and tomorrow.  Our house is not large, so stuff has to go.  When I resigned as Jubilee AG's pastor, it was not my plan that I never pastor another church. I knew who I was, knew what my gifts were, knew I had more to do.  I packed up my books and "ministry stuff" and stacked them in the basement, figuring I'd unpack them when needed.  Lots of people told me things like, "God never ignores a willing servant.  You won't wait long."  Or, "Something is coming.  Something big.  You have so much to share."  Or, "It will happen.  God never closes a door without opening another."  Where is that in scripture?  I've come to hate those little "christianese bits of wisdom" that sometimes get quoted more than the things that actually are in the Bible.  Five years have passed and I have avoided the pile. 

This was the week I had to open those boxes.  That is why I found myself humming, "Time Keeps on Slippin'" off and on for days. 

So many memories.  So many decisions to make.  Life has happened while I was making other plans.

I tried not to get distracted by contents of the boxes.  Tried hard to just sort into piles.

Keep handy--I might need this. 
Keep in storage. 
Toss in the trash. 
Take to the thrift store.   

The trash pile grew the fastest, and that made me cry.  As I tossed lots of things in the trash and also watched my "thrift store" pile get higher, I almost felt (foolish I know) that I was throwing life away.  Cards and letters, notebooks from long-ago studies....An A in Dr. James Hernando's difficult but excellent Hermeneutics Class...still proud of that.  A theme paper about divorce and the church.  So many notebooks and class notes and papers that have travelled with us for years. An old edition of "Enrichment," the magazine for Assemblies of God clergy.  Why had I kept that for decades?  Ah, the title article is, "Women in Ministry."  A good article.  My transcripts and the bulletin from graduation.  Sermons written for  homiletics class, some preached and others not.  Resources I had collected to use for teaching or preaching, some utilized and some not.  It was hard to get rid of the ones I had saved for years.  I had lots of great stuff.  And now we have the internet and many ministers don't have much stuff anymore. 

My sheep collection had to go.  I kept two, but they went into a box for storage.  My kids will get rid of those sheep when they sort my stuff after I'm gone.  Ha!  My diploma, license to preach, ordination certificate and picture of me and Ken with then-superintendent Arden Adamsen and his wife Glenna--those went into storage.  Ditto what I said about my two saved sheep.

Hey, here was the copy of Mutuality magazine that featured my article, "Is the Church Feminized?"  I had a flash of the joy I'd felt at having my words appear in published print! Here were copies of my poem, "Father's Daughter" that was published online at Everyday Liturgy

The hardest things to eliminate were the books.  I'm a bibliophile from early childhood on.  Books bring back memories.  So many books and so much to learn and know and do.  A few of my really good textbooks had travelled with me for decades.  How had so much time passed in a blink?  They went to St. Nazianz Christian Center and I hope some aspiring preacher stops in to their thrift store. 

The books I couldn't stand to part with went into a box for storage.  They turned out mostly to be the books from Christians for Biblical Equality, my beloved and life-changing CBE.  When I found them, an evangelical organization all about women and church, my world opened up in an astonishing way.  CBE books are almost never found in your average religious book store, but they are some of the best books I have.  Here are titles for a few of them,

"Daughters of the Church."
"Men at the Crossroads" (just in case you think I don't care about men)
"Why Not Women?"
"What Paul Really Said About Women"
"Community 101"
"Heirs Together"
"Equal to Serve"
"Women in Ministry Today"

Ah, that last one was dog-eared, but it wasn't a CBE book.  Years before I ended up studying for a theology degree, I had purchased a book published by Logos called "Women in Ministry Today" by Helen Beard.  The book scared me. I was drawn and repelled at the same time, thinking it was interesting and thought-provoking but too radical for me.  I figured she was some sort of "women's libber."  I can still hear my mother's tone and see her expression the day she asked me if I was becoming one.  Oh no.  I put the book on the shelf and it stayed there.  But I kept it.  Her painstaking scholarship and her love for scripture was undeniable.  I smiled as I flipped through a few pages. I no longer find her book radical. 

I sat on a small love seat to give my back a break and I let my mind wander to days before Ken and I were ministers.  I was surprised but happy about Ken wanting to be a missionary.  I figured it would be difficult, but I am usually up for a challenge and I always wanted to do something significant for the Kingdom of God.  So off we went to what was then called, Trinity Bible Institute, Ellendale, ND, with visions of Europe in our heads.  I won't bother trying to explain why we figured it would be Europe for us. In the Assemblies of God, it was preferred that couples who planned on going overseas would have no more than two children.  So that is what we did.  We had Joshua, our second and last child not long before leaving the USMC to head for North Dakota.  Where was North Dakota, exactly?  Wasn't it terribly cold there?

When we were in North Dakota, I found another book that rattled me.  This one was by Kenneth Hagin called, "The Woman Question." Hagin's book stops well short of affirming many of the things I now believe, and it isn't even all that well-written.  Those CBE books are far better written and the scholarship is superb.  However, there was no CBE yet.  This was one of the few books in print on the subject.  I still have that one too. Not because it is a great book, but because it shook my world and started a theological battle in Southern-Baptist raised me.  I started thinking for myself. 

I've written on this blog in years past about the day that our instructor in a "Women in Ministry" class, Rev.Rosa Mae Wead, pointed her finger at me as she fairly shouted at a room full of women who were married to men studying for the ministry, "I asked about why YOU are here, and all I'm learning is why your husband is here.  Aren't any of you women called to preach?" 

"Sister Wead" had lived an amazing life.  She had been a travelling evangelist, a  church leader, an educator and much more.  She had asked us why we were in her class and in response everyone had explained what their husband was going to do and how they were going to help.  Our usually gracious and very ladylike instructor  got more and more frustrated and then she exploded, glaring and pointing right at me, who was seated smack dab in the middle of the front row of her class. 

When she shouted that question, almost every woman in the room sat in stunned silence and then burst into tears.  Imagine!  A classroom full of weeping women.

That class continued long past its scheduled end time. There was a genuine visitation of God's Spirit that I've never quite seen the like of since. Several of the women admitted that they had indeed felt such a call, but they did not want to be in competition with their spouses, had been told they were "unbiblical," had been patronized or minimized or shooed back to the appropriate place.  Some just stared as Sister Wead give us a short history lesson about women leaders and preachers.  It was a life-changing moment.  Sister Wead had cancer but most of us believed she would get better.  She had a powerful ministry and was a woman of great faith.   In fact, that evening was the last time she taught a class.  She died not long afterwards.

I was convinced, after years of praying and studying and questioning.  Women could be preachers.  Where were they?  Why hadn't I seen any? 

Later, when Ken was a pastor, I struggled with my own call.  I won't detail all of that.  But when clergy couples got together I tended to want to hang out with the guys.  I am sad to say that I found their conversation more interesting and thought-provoking than the women's.  I loved my husband and my children deeply, but I didn't want to just talk about my kids, or recipes, or what my husband was doing.  I don't mean to be proud about that.  I sometimes found myself wondering if some of the clergy wives I met  if truth be told, were like my classmates.  If challenged, would they weep and would I see a very different side of them?

That was over 30 years ago.  Eventually I came to peace about the whole thing, surrendered to a plan I did not understand, and obtained my clergy credentials.  I ministered alongside my husband, encountered some of those wrenching transitions.  We never did go overseas.  That is a long story that caused deep pain for a long time. 

Eventually Ken realized it was me, not him, who was cut out to be a pastor.  He did become a missionary, a "nationally recognized home missionary with the Assemblies of God" actually.  That's what the official certificate says.  As I've shared, he stopped working in December and has not been back.  He spent 22 years ministering to prisoners as a chaplain.  One of the other Wisconsin Department of Corrections chaplains recently wrote him a get-well note, saying he was saddened to hear of his forced retirement and adding, "That makes me the new senior among us.  I'd rather not be."

I need to stop writing and get something together to share with my friends at The OASIS.


Deb said...

The "Christianese" comments about "God opening a window when God shuts a door" just make me crazed. Not crazy. Crazed.

Because I'm also struggling with "what's next" -- yet also being told "be patient" and " you are gifted at this"... all the while watching that personal connection or "old boy network" pass the opening to a buddy's friend.

It's another set of things "i will never say" that also go with the "parenting advice" and "dating advice" that I will never, ever, EVER say to someone else in the name of God. Because I don't think God really needs our help in these situations.

I'm now rambling... but my heart and prayers are with you as you go to OASIS tonight, sister of the Spirit, because you are listening and God will be present.

Pax vobiscum.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

I have been praying for you. I know God is omnipotent. And I've watched that "old boy network" in ways I can never write about on this blog.

In one interview I had after leaving Jubilee, one of the people on the search committee, a woman, in reply to my question to her about what her church background was, told me she had been a Methodist before migrating to the AG because the Methodists were too liberal. Gee, sorry about that convoluted sentence. Anyway, she went on to tell me how the women preachers had ruined the Methodist church.

"Don't you think so?" she asked me innocently. I pointed out that I happen to BE a woman and a preacher and NO, I don't think so. She looked a bit surprised. I think she had forgotten I was interviewing for the position as pastor of their church.

Oh, I will shut up and head to The OASIS. I do have something to share tonight, and I greatly appreciate your prayers. It isn't a easy thing to do.

LoieJ said...

I got started reading your blog and such because I'm the mother of a woman pastor. I really don't know how others react to women pastors, but my local church has had three in a row and now we have a man again. I hope the young people just see Pastor not man or woman pastor.

Still hope I get to meet you some day. I don't get over to that area much since my mom died, although B's sister lives in Manitowoc county, but when we are in the area, we are doing family stuff.

seethroughfaith (Lorna) said...

wonderful post
I have missed reading these

bless you - it's got to be hard ...