Prayers, Diversity and Being Me

Two years ago, I was asked to offer the invocation for the Economic Club sponsored by WFYI. 

Of course I could do that and I'd be honored.  came floating out of my mouth when the request was made.

Then I began the process of thinking through what to pray and how to pray.

I am quite familiar with how my faith community prays but what about this group.

This group of 700+ community leaders and business professional would represent  a diverse audience representing all kinds of different faith backgrounds.  Plus, I'd be sitting on the same stage with the guest speaker David Brooks, New York Times Op-Ed Columnist who writes about politics, culture and the social sciences.

You see I believe God hears our prayers.  Plus, what we pray and how we pray reveals our theology. This should be easy right?  Not so much.

After several reiterations, I wrote this prayer

WFYI – Economic Club Invocation                                     November 9, 2015

God, our father, I offer sincere thanks for this opportunity to meet together.   
I acknowledge and express gratitude for ALL you have provided.

May we listen to one another intently. 
Speaking less and listening more.

May we grow in wisdom and grace.
May we offer help where help is needed.

May we express love where love is needed.
May we extend peace and seek unity where peace and unity is needed.

May we use our influence with humility, considering how we might encourage one another.

God, again, I thank you for all you have given us.  

May our minds, our hearts and our hands be USED to make positive contributions to OUR world because YOU have ENTRUSTED it to our care.

Would YOU use THIS TIME to inspire us.

How would I close the prayer?  Knowing the diversity of the group. Do I simply close with Amen? That'd work.   But for me, I had the nagging sense that to close with a simple Amen would leave out the very reason I believe this prayer is more than words.  You see I believe this prayer is possible because of the very One I follow.  It felt disingenuous to change the way I usually end my prayers. 

I closed with this phrase: 

It is in Jesus Christ name that I offer this prayer.  AMEN.

I sat back down at my assigned seat at the head table on stage. 

In just a few moments a man made his way to the stage and motioned me over.  As I bent down to listen, he complimented me on the prayer.  Hmmm.  I thought that was nice.  

Then he graciously said something like "I really connected with your prayer until..."  The dreaded "until"...  "Until you closed in Jesus Christ name."  

He went on to inform me that his religion did not believe in Jesus Christ and that because of the diversity of the audience he felt I had made a grave error in judgment.  

I listened and considered again my approach to closing the prayer that day. I explained how I had contemplated that very thing and specifically chose to say "I offer this prayer."   I knew some would agree with my closing and others would not. So I intentionally chose to end with "I" offer this prayer in Jesus Christ name, not to be controversial but simply to be me.

We ended our brief conversation talking about what it looks like to embrace diversity.  

My question for that day and even now is this:   Don't we have to be willing to be ourselves to embrace diversity?  When a group has embraced diversity can't we sit side by side, work together, live together, agree and disagree with each other. 

I chose being genuine and I think he did too.

And I really hope the things I prayed for that day will become more and more true of the world we live in.  Starting with me. 

Broken and Beautiful

Walking on the beach awhile back I began noticing the broken shells being washed up along the shoreline.  I looked closer, I began to notice the edges, the colors, the cracks and the holes. As I stood turning the shell over in the palm of my hand I began to think about what had caused this deep imprint, the scar, the broken edge. 

What had been attached to this shell?
What had crashed up against it with enough strength to break off the outer edge?
For how long had it been washing up against this same shoreline?

It reminded me of a an encounter with a beautiful woman in Colorado years ago.  We had enjoyed dinner together at a women's retreat in the mountains. Sharing parts of our stories and parts of our struggles.

From South Africa to Selma: Listening leads to Seeing

So much to think about these days... I must admit I am agitated, sad, mad, hopeful, confused, confounded YET even more committed to listen and see what I've not seen before.
Since I visited the mass graves from the AIDS pandemic in South Africa in 2011, I've been praying for my eyes, ears and heart to be opened -- In fact, I penned this prayer nearly 6 years ago...

"I pray for eyes to see and ears to hear -- I pray for HOPE to well up inside us. Help us remember who we belong to and that we each have something to offer our world."

This is where our story begins.

Early on God had not sent rain to water the earth – no one had been created to cultivate the soil. In that time springs – a mist “came up from the ground and watered the land.”

Then God made mankind-- in His image. He breathes life into us.   Then and now. 

Their home was in the garden. Oh the garden.  Beautiful and diverse.  

Colors, aroma, delectable flavors and the cool breeze. Abundance. The land and sea were filled – the water teeming with fish and the land producing sustenance. All that was needed. Abundant. 

Companionship with God.
Companionship with each other.
Belonging to God.
Belonging to each other.

A Woman.... Preach(ing?)

We all know the feeling that sneaks up and whispers in your ear.

You want me to do what? I don't think so.

Calendar invite:

From: Dave Rod (aka Senior Pastor Grace Church)
Subject: Preaching at Grace.

Wait. What?

You would have laughed if you would have heard the conversations I was having with myself before the meeting. Believe me I had played out almost every possible and improbable scenario you could imagine. My favorites were safe, low risk, and included the least possibility for disappointment.   I kept telling myself  that Dave was just interested in a little perspective for one of his upcoming messages.

We had been making some significant strides in gender equality. Sure I thought, Grace had recently made a decision to remove any limitations based on gender and had even elected two women to the Elder Board. But one question kept popping up, “When would a woman preach during a weekend service?”

Here's a little rabbit trail for another day: Why is it that the "P" word (preach) and the "W" word (woman) are seldom included in the same sentence? That's for another post. 

The meeting finally came and as form we skipped the small talk (which is fine with me since I am kind of a bottom line person).  Dave jumped right in and said: It's time for a woman to preach at Grace and we'd like you to be the first. Deep breath! Whew. 

I think I said something like I am honored that you would ask me. And I am so proud of our church and leadership for being willing to stand behind the gender equality decision by taking action. But I need to think and pray about this one.  After a few weeks of processing and praying, I said YES!

As the news began to circulate, questions came my way.

Q. Are you nervous?

Response: Of course I am a bit nervous, but also excited!

Then there it was the next inevitable question-----

Q. How does it feel to be the first woman to preach at Grace?

Response: Honestly, I'm trying not to think of it that way.

Key word: trying.

I had grown up in the church and this was new territory for me and for many others. I had even grown up in a denomination (Church of God/Anderson) were women's gifting was fully embraced. I'd never seen a woman preach.  And in the 20+ years Grace had been doing church, we hadn't either. 

Not only was it new, it was often hostile territory. 

I had seen friends and entire denominations dividing over this very issue. (If you're interested in knowing how we got to this place on women and church leadership - listen to this)

I wanted to right size this request but honestly there were many moments when my my legs felt weak and my heart and mind would begin battling.

Here's the beautiful thing about God (when I'd stop and ask Him what He thought) He would gently remind me that He had called me to this place and for the purpose of encouraging people in their spiritual growth.  He had given me the ability and heart for pastoring, writing and speaking.  This wasn't a new role, I'd been doing it all along.  Just not during a weekend service. 

Let me explain what I mean. Looking back it was in my early teen years that I first knew God had planted a passion in me for helping others grow spiritually. I had even had lots of opportunities to live into this passion. I had taught rowdy kindergartener students when I was a in middle school. I had been a student leader in our youth group. I started leading and teaching in adult sunday school classes and prior to joining staff at Grace, I even taught a few times as a volunteer during Sunday night services at the local church we were attending.

Teaching and leading were hardwired into my being. 

This was my church and God had entrusted me to be one of the pastors at Grace. I had been serving in spiritual formation as the Associate Pastor of the Women of Grace and lots of other broader leadership roles. But this new territory.

Well, the day finally came and I PREACHED (curious? you can watch it if you'd like) a message about about growing up.

I am grateful for the men and women, young and old, who took the time to share how God used this message to positively impact their lives. Some were urged to step toward an estranged family relationship. Others took a step back toward God after a long separation. While others are finding the strength to stop enabling destructive behaviors. So you don't think I am uber spiritual -- I even loved the compliments about my spot on boots!

Seriously though, one of my favorite moments came when a man affirmed me and all the women who get to preach.

He mentioned a couple of things from the message he found helpful before saying this: Today, I realized how much I had been missing without the voice of a female spiritual leader.  What you said really helped me get it. Thanks!

I know some people avoided speaking to me that day and I even heard that a few people decided to skip church because a woman was going to be preaching. Others clapped and called it an historic event. 

There were even some who didn't even realize it was a big deal for a woman to preach. That just assumed it would be a normal thing.

Maybe it was a historical moment at Grace. 

But I hope that we realize what matters most is that God uses all kinds of people -- both women and men to lead and care for His people. 

We all have opportunities to share God’s message. Let's agree to listen and even cheer as women and men stand to share their faith with others.  

I dream of a day when a young woman steps up to preach because she had the chance to see another woman do it. 

I doubt she'll remember my name or even what I talked about -- yet I believe that God will have used Grace Church to water the seed He planted inside her to preach and lead His church. 

I don't know what God has planted inside you. But you do. Or at least I would say you have some inkling.  

Ask God. Figure it out. When opportunities arise for you to live it out, don't shrink back or step away, instead say YES and do it. 

Turning down the volume to hear

If you've been following this BLOG you know we've been encouraging you to engage in a variety of spiritual practices or disciplines because we know they work.

When we engage in spiritual practices our souls are changed.