I have a lot of friends who’ve written books recently, and I hope to highlight many of them over the coming weeks.
To get us started, here’s my good friend Elizabeth Hagan, who wrote the book Birthed: Finding Grace through Infertility. I read parts of this book in various stages of development, and am grateful for Elizabeth’s honesty and nuance on this topic. We’ve all heard infertility stories with a nice pat ending–the treatments worked, or the couple got pregnant when they “relaxed and stopped trying so hard” (ugh). Elizabeth cuts through the treacle and gets to the heart of things, without the predictable ending to the journey.
What led you to write this book?
I am among the 1 in 8 women in US who are infertile. When this unthinkable thing happened to my husband, Kevin, and me, I felt overwhelmed in my grief. I didn’t know how to make it in a world where friends seemed to be announcing their pregnancies on social media almost every day. I didn’t know how to process my own shame. I didn’t know how to keep pastoring especially during joyful seasons like Advent and Christmas.
One of my coping tools was Amazon. I ordered all the books on infertility that I could find. I desperately wanted someone to give voice to our deep sense of grief, loss, and frustration with God, our bodies, and our community. I wanted someone to tell me I wasn’t crazy for wanting to be a mother so badly. I wanted a spiritual guide to tell me not to just “pray harder.” But most of the time with these books I was disappointed. Many times I did not find the author making progress in their journey. I did not read of a how infertility could be connected to a spiritual journey. Most of all I did not find what I needed. So one day almost 6 years ago, I knew I needed to start writing. I needed to write that book I was always searching for and never found. Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility was slowly born.
What will people gain by reading this book that they won’t get anywhere else?
To my knowledge, I am the first pastor who has shared their infertility story ever! How fun to be the first! But there are so many take-aways I believe readers will find (no matter if they’ve lived through infertility or not) such as:
When life doesn’t go as you plan, something greater might be emerging beneath the surface. Live through the pain and you will get there!
It is ok to live into the mystery — the mystery of not knowing how your dreams will come to fruition, when or if at all
A long season of grief doesn’t have to destroy your marriage or friendships. It can in fact bring you closer.
Hope springs eternal even when the worse case scenario happens and happens again.
Share one idea, quote or section in the book of which you are particularly proud.
So much of this story is about friendship and how grief can be transformed with loyal people by your side. Here’s one part of my story that I am so glad that happened while on a retreat with a friend in Arizona:
With really wet cheeks by this point, God and I had a moment. With Meredith’s gift of secure presence by my side, courage came to go there—to a very deep place of self-reflective honesty. This is what I knew: I wasn’t just a little afraid; I was deathly afraid. I was afraid to love. I was afraid that who I was made to be was not acceptable. I was afraid to use my voice to say what I wanted to say. Instead, my life game plan consisted of becoming the best imitation of me that could be deemed socially acceptable. I did not send emails I wanted to send. I did not kiss dear ones goodbye on the check. I did not call people when I thought of them. I feared my love was too much. I feared I wasn’t good enough at being me. But, what if? What if, like the therapist said, I held back no more? I was dying inside and had been for a long time. But, instead of continuing to carry the grief, hope came over me. I stared ahead to the canyons, keeping close to the therapist’s truth-telling words. I knew I was in love. I was in love with the idea of life without the gates I’d built around my heart to keep me safe. I was in love with how much joy might be rising up to meet me. I was in love with a future I couldn’t control, even with dreams of motherhood set aside for a moment. In this love, I wanted to be a woman who didn’t fear telling people how much she loved them. I wanted to be a woman who didn’t fear getting close to those who seemed to love her most. I wanted to be a woman who could confidently claim that her voice was powerful, even in the midst of trouble in baby-making land that rendered her powerless in that aspect of her life. In all these things, visions of joy I did not yet know sprung from me. Maybe, just maybe, the world was missing out on some of the greatest contributions I could offer? Maybe there was light in my voice? Maybe others needed to hear what I had to say as much as I needed to speak it?
What has been the biggest surprise about getting a book written and published? What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
You are really your best advocate. And with the right fit of a publisher, you’ll have a lot of say in the direction your book takes. Just hang on for the ride!
I would tell other aspiring authors, never give up on your dream of publication. Keep writing. Keep re-writing. And believe in who you are as a writer. Your day will come. I started drafting this book in 2010 and never would have thought it would have taken me to 2016 to reach publication. Yet, I learned so much along the way and I am so glad I’m here now.
Dream time: where would you LOVE to see this book get covered?
I would love to sit down for a chat with Krista Tippett on On Being. It’s my favorite podcast that I listen to every week.
Many of you asked for a copy of the sermon I preached for the Lutherans. I was filling in for a friend of mine who’s on maternity leave. Here is an approximation of it.
May my words be faithful or may the slip harmlessly away.
MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Peace Lutheran Church
November 13, 2016
5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
One of my Sunday morning rituals for many years was to drive to church with the radio tuned to NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. And while I like Rachel Martin, the current host, just fine, for me Liane Hansen will always be the voice of Weekend Edition Sunday. (Yes, even folks in their 40s can get set in their ways.)
One of the things I miss on that program is the Voices in the News, a feature that was sadly discontinued 8 years ago. During this segment they would play short quotes from various world leaders or celebrities, in their own voices. It was sort of an audio collage of the events of the previous week.
This morning I want to keep that spirit alive, so, “Here were some of the voices in the news this past week.”
“For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.”
“I feel pride and gratitude for this wonderful campaign that we built together. This vast, diverse, creative, unruly, energized campaign. You represent the best of America, and being your candidate has been one of the greatest honors of my life.”
“Everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country.”
Part of the fun of Voices in the News on NPR was trying to figure out who was speaking and what they were talking about. I will save you that mystery and say we heard words from the Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
In the midst of that, here’s another voice, not from the news this week, but echoing down through the generations:
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
I imagine some of you are thinking, “Yeah, tell me about it.” For the second time in less than two decades, we have a president who was elected without winning the popular vote, let alone half of the population that didn’t vote for anyone at all. That’s not to say that the election was illegitimate—it wasn’t—it’s to say that we’re very divided. And to some of us, it does feel like two nations rising up against one another. You can draw the lines of how people voted in a number of different ways, if you’re so inclined to draw lines: Democrat and Republican, of course, but there’s white and people of color, red state and blue state, or perhaps what’s interesting me the most, the incredible divide between urban city centers, highly populated and diverse, and exurban, townships and rural populations, less densely populated and more white, but who have felt forgotten and discounted by a global economy and who rose up to make their voices heard on Tuesday.
To say nothing of the divide between those who are saying “it’s time to come together and unite behind the president” while others are still howling with grief, and in some cases expressing outright resistance to the vision offered by the president-elect.
I don’t know if Pastor Sarah ever admits this to you but there are times when we preachers look at the lectionary texts for a specific Sunday and feel like the Holy Spirit is punking us. How about a little “nothing can separate us from the love of God,” huh? Or a nice juicy “God is making all things new!”?
But instead we get this horror show of violence and pestilence. “Betrayed by relatives and friends?” Yes, many of us feel exactly that way, as we can’t for the life of us understand how loved ones could have voted for the other guy, or gal. The dread over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is building even now.
As Christians, who follow a God who is reconciling the world to Godself, these divisions are painful. They’re obviously painful when our “side” does not prevail and they can be painful even when it does.
In the Presbyterian Church (USA), in which I am ordained, we’ve been having a decades-long fight over sexual orientation as it relates to ordination of ministers, and also same-sex marriage. We’ve settled those matters for the most part, taking a stand for inclusion and affirming the gifts and ministries of all whom God may call to serve, or to marry. But with this decision has come a number of congregations voting to leave our denomination. I’m thinking about one particular congregation that went through a months-long discernment that came to a vote. Because separating from the denomination is such a grave matter, the vote had to reach a 2/3 majority, a supermajority, 67%.
When the votes were counted, the congregational vote was 64%.
And my heart broke. As much as I support same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT persons, and as much as I didn’t want that church to leave our fellowship, to have a healthy majority vote to go, but not be able to go, felt like the worst case scenario.
And I have a similar feeling of dis-ease now.
We are divided. And the gospel doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that division will happen. It’s been said that “Do not be afraid” is one of the most repeated phrases in all of scripture. For good reason—fear paralyzes us, turns neighbor against neighbor. Fear suppresses our creativity and our empathy. But even Jesus seems to sense that the picture he paints here are even more intense than usual, because instead of saying “do not be afraid,” he says, “do not be terrified.”
It’s as if Jesus knows that living in tumultuous times doesn’t just make us uneasy, doesn’t just make us jumpy, doesn’t just make us afraid. We’re talking about a bone-chilling terror. And Jesus says, Don’t. Don’t be terrified. And not because I’m going to calm the waters, or make wars cease, or deliver you from the shadow of death. I’m not. Not here, not right now.
Jesus says don’t be terrified—because sometimes turmoil is the thing God works through. Don’t be terrified, because turmoil turns out to be one of God’s specialties. Turmoil is the raw material God used at the foundation of the world, the chaos that God scooped up and fashioned into order and goodness and light. And God can do it again.
Don’t be terrified—because God’s determined to use us in that vital, creative, gospel work. God needs us all to be ready and willing to step into places of pain and loss and vulnerability, and testify with the words that God will give us.
We’re hearing reports this week of harassment, and unrest, and in some cases outright violence, in the wake of the election. Some of it has been directed toward people who supported Donald Trump. But much of it has been directed at immigrants. At gay people—a friend shared a letter that was placed on a car windshield filled with slurs and hate. At Muslim women, having their hijabs ripped off. At women, who are harassed on the street. An elementary and a middle school near where I live in Fairfax County were vandalized this week, with the words “Illegals Go Home” spray-painted on the side—and windows broken out. That’s in Northern Virginia. These are our neighbors.
It is not partisan to call those incidents appalling and contrary to the gospel.
So what is our call as a church in this time and place?
Some of you have probably heard about the safety pin campaign. It began after Brexit, when anti-immigrant sentiment started bubbling. People started wearing safety pins on their clothing as a message to immigrants, Muslims and other vulnerable populations: You are safe with me. I will stand with you.
Now the ugliness has flared up on our shores, and with it the safety pin campaign. And there’s some conversation about whether the safety pins are helpful, or helpful but not enough, and so on.
But what’s concerning me right now isn’t the safety pins. What’s concerning me is that vulnerable people look at the cross around our neck, or the bumper sticker on our car, and don’t see that as a sign of solidarity. Do people see us as safe people, not because of a pin, but because we are followers of Jesus Christ? If they don’t, then we have lost our way, and that is our most urgent issue to address.
These are tough times for many people. And sometimes I just want to hide. I want a different set of challenges. I want a different text. I don’t like this image of the world in the balance. When I think about our warring and warming world, I feel so often like Frodo in the Lord of the Rings, this little hobbit who’s given this incredible task of destroying the ring and its destructive power:
Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.
I think that’s what Jesus is talking about when he says, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” We are called to endure. We are called to do the hard work and let God guide the outcome. We are called, not to be successful. Not to prevail. Not to win. But to endure. And to trust that God will give us the words and the actions. As has been quoted in the Talmud, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
I’m going to take a guess about something. I’m guessing that as thrilled as you are that Pastor Sarah had a healthy baby, that you wish she were here today. It feels uncomfortable to have someone you don’t know in front of you, especially those of you who are feeling lost and adrift. Well, she’ll be back soon enough, but I’m sorry to say that now is not the time for comfort. We do need to be sanctuary for people who are afraid and vulnerable. But I think one of the problems we face as a Christian church is that our comfort has led to complacency, not competence. I return again and again to the book Letters to a Young Artist by Anna Deveare Smith. She talks about writing workshops, where people who are studying writing share their work and receive critiques from their professors and fellow students. Deveare Smith warns against writing workshops that are too cozy and comfortable: “I don’t believe in promising students safety. The world is just too rough for that at the moment. I think we should teach resilience.”
And so we shall.
It feels sometimes like the world is coming unspooled. But as singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer said in an interview recently, “The good news is that the things that have always saved us are still here to save us. Generosity, compassion, hospitality, a good sense of humor, good parenting… these things did not go away because of a rancorous election. They’re still here and completely accessible to us.”
A friend of mine is pastor of a church that’s across the street from the elementary school that was vandalized. She tells me that the church is creating a banner, a statement of support from the church to the school. They are community partners, and I have no doubt they will find tangible ways to stand with the terrified in the face of hate. Because what’s always saved us is still here to save us. Neighborliness, grace, courage… and the spirit of Christ, who was hated and reviled, and put to death, and who rose again, and is with us in the struggle.
Thanks be to God.
Image: “You are a cherished part of our community,” a chalk message outside a mosque in Springfield, Illinois.
I have been so focused on the book lately that I’ve done no meaningful blogging for a few months now.
The events of last week have convicted me that, book deadline or no book deadline, I need to be writing publicly again.
I have no illusions that a blog is some courageous stand for justice. But what I have to offer are my words and my tiny platform. They will not be enough, and they will not be where I stop. But here is my first attempt.
Today I share two quotes. The first is from Matthew Skinner, a professor at Luther Seminary, written on Facebook last week:
This number has haunted me over the last day: 60. Sixty percent of American voters who call themselves Protestant voted for a man who boasts of committing sexual assault repeatedly and with impunity, a man who harnesses vile undercurrents of antisemitism, a man whose words and proposals are the very definition of Islamophobia. Sixty percent.
Those of us who teach and lead in Protestant communities don’t necessarily need to wade into the unfamiliar world of political and economic philosophy. We might stay closer to home and simply ask: What one thing am I going to do today to chip away at the theological assumptions that continue to sow misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and exceptionalism in our “mainline” and seemingly respectable institutions, practices, rhetoric, and confessions? Start with one thing. Then try for two tomorrow.
Second: The other day a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook (disclaimer: haven’t read it) and highlighted the quote:
We need to find a way to bridge from our closed groups to other closed groups, try to cross the ever widening social divides.
I’m sitting in between those two quotes as I think about my role as a free-range pastor, whose “parish” may be anyone I happen to come in contact with. I’m discerning my call as a flawed and faithful follower of a brown man who stood with the vulnerable and the despised and was killed for it.
How do we cross the ever widening social divides?
I’m not talking about finding common ground with the white supremacists who have felt emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric and are now painting swastikas. Maybe someone can do that work, but it’s too unsafe for too many people to wade into that.
But I am interested to understand the appeal of Donald Trump to those who do not march in KKK parades or rip off hijabs. I’m interested in the people who sit in Presbyterian pews and hear the gospel of Jesus Christ preached every week. What did they find compelling enough about his message and plan that they were able to dismiss the very real and very disturbing rhetoric he proffered? It had to be way more compelling than I am capable of grasping.
Some of my friends on the left are not interested in the answer to that question. They say these Trump votes (even lukewarm ones) aided and abetted racism, therefore the people who cast them are racist. (Sexist, homophobic, anti-Muslim, etc.)
Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.
Researchers June Tangney and Ronda Dearing, authors of Shame and Guilt, explain that feelings of shame are so painful that it pulls the focus to our own survival, not the
experiences of others.
Shame suppresses empathy. And empathy is the goal right now.
Which brings me back to Skinner’s quote. I’m more and more convinced that the divide in our country isn’t red state or blue state, or black and white, it is urban and rural. The map of the 2016 election makes this clear. (Disclaimer: this isn’t the final 2016 map, but it illustrates the point. Source)
I don’t know very many people living in rural America. And they don’t know me.
But my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has connectional structures in place that can bridge the divide. I have friends I went to seminary with who serve churches in rural areas. We don’t even need to go far—our synods (multi-state jurisdictions within the PCUSA) encompass big cities and small towns and tiny hamlets. We’ve talked for years about whether synods have a purpose—maybe this can be part of their purpose.
The structure is there, but it needs some tweaking. I’m not talking about Suburban Presbyterian Church swooping into Appalachia and building houses. Nor am I talking about Small-Town Pres trucking into the inner city to provide a day of labor at the various soup kitchens. Yes, as one of my colleagues likes to say, “Doctrine divides, mission unites,” but I don’t think unity is the right goal. Not right now. Things are too fragile. Empathy is the goal. Love of neighbor is the goal.
So I’m talking about cultural exchange. I’m talking about sitting at tables. I’m talking about sharing and bearing witness to stories of painful loss and soaring resilience. I’m talking about the kind of work Columbia Seminary does in its Alternative Context program, in which seminarians visit other parts of the world, not as helpers, not as tourists, but as pilgrims sent to listen and learn.
Advocates for justice movements talk all the time about “peopling” issues. It’s harder to take a stand that hurts LGBT people when you know and care about a specific queer person. I don’t expect the great honor of my friendship to move a Trump voter. But maybe when people start talking about the evil elites on the “Least Coast,” someone who’s met me or people like me will stand up for nuance and understanding. And when someone makes a joke about “flyover country,” I will intervene and say “Not that simple. Never that simple.”
I don’t know who’s willing to undertake such an experiment. But in the PCUSA at least, the structures are there. And the call is urgently clear.
It’s all book-writing and marathon-training here at the Blue Room. (Note to self–don’t have those things coincide in the future, mmm-kay?) Once those are both behind me I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled public rumination.
Kadey’s book is divided into Before, During, and After, with each section’s recipes formulated for that phase of exercise. Before features light, healthy, carb-fortified foods; During has stuff that’s easily portable (including your own gels!); After focuses on the right protein/carb ratio to replenish muscles and energy.
These Mini Mediterranean muffins came from the During section, but they’re excellent to snack on anytime. I used them on my last 20 miler, and it was so nice to have something savory to offset the gels and chews I rely on heavily.
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground cornmeal (I used regular cornmeal and it seemed finely ground enough)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons low-fat milk
1/3 cup olive oil
zest of 1 lemon (optional)
2 ounces finely chopped feta cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup drained and finely chopped roasted red peppers
1/3 cup pitted, finely chopped Kalamata olives
Preheat oven to 350 and prepare 24 mini muffin cups with paper liners or cooking spray.
In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients (flour through salt).
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, oil, and lemon zest.
Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just blended.
Fold in cheese, peppers and olives.
Divide into muffin cups and bake for 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out mostly clean. Cool on rack.
Keep chilled for up to 5 days and transport in small ziploc bags. (I have frozen a bunch for The Big Day.)
It’s been a very packed few weeks. My book manuscript is due November 1, and I led a conference last week at Montreat Conference Center, which involved preaching six sermons and presenting four plenary presentations. (Yes, I’m thoroughly sick of myself.)
And, I’ve been marathon training.
After last year’s injury, I’m making another go at the Marine Corps Marathon–my second marathon and first time running MCM. I’ve got one 20 mile training run left, then the rest is taper, rest, good nutrition, and encasing myself in bubble wrap so I don’t do dumb stuff like twist my ankle in the shower or drop a full Hydroflask on my toe. (That second one has already happened.)
I’d really like your help making those marathon miles count.
Teens Run DC promotes the physical, social, and emotional well-being of underserved youth through a mentoring and distance running program. Youth in the program participate in running and life skills trainings each week, receive the support of an individual mentor and an embracing community, and engage in races, community events, and service learning opportunities. Through the program, middle and high school youth of all abilities and backgrounds envision and work towards their running and life goals.
I chose to support Teens Run DC because I believe in the power of running to change the lives of young people. I’ve seen my own three children set goals and achieve them through running.
I’ve seen them dig deep and cross that finish line with proud smiles.
And I’ve grown closer to each of them as we log miles together.
Teens Run DC helps bring all these positive benefits to at-risk youth in the city I love–Washington DC, the site of the Marine Corps Marathon.