Women of the ELCA

Commentary and reflections on issues, events and trends in our church, society and world, as seen through the lens of our mission and purpose and our ministries.

When I come to work, no one asks where Bob is

Posted on August 31, 2010 by Terri Lackey

What do you expect of your pastor’s spouse or partner? Do you expect him to be present at every church gathering? Do you expect her to teach Sunday school or lead your women’s group? Should she quilt? Bake? Visit the sick? Should he sing in the choir? Or play the piano?

Are your expectations different for male spouses than they are for female? And if so, why?

I am a clergy wife, and the expectations of others can be a concern. I work full time and then some, if you count Sundays as a half day of work. On Sundays, I show up at church not only to worship but to greet, smile and ask about someone’s health (or remember health woes from a previous conversation).

And there are dinners and birthday parties and church picnics and church work days when I feel that I should be present because it’s expected. As a sociable introvert (who really does like people), these activities can drain me. Sometimes all I really want to do are my own chores around my own house. Maybe I want to spend a Sunday morning without church, reading the paper and sipping my coffee. Reverence can take many forms.

Are these expectations self imposed? Maybe people really don’t care what I do as long as my husband does his job. Nobody at my office ever asks where my husband is; nobody here wonders why Bob doesn’t show up with me at my job. So maybe nobody at church would wonder at my absence.

Do you have unexpressed expectations of clergy spouses/partners? Do you believe God’s call to ministry includes both partners, or only the one on your congregation’s payroll?

Living in an interfaith world

Posted on August 27, 2010 by Elizabeth McBride

The AP reported recently that a 21-year-old man stabbed a New York City cab driver in the throat after asking if he was Muslim. Meanwhile, the mayor of New York goes back and forth on whether there should be a Muslim prayer center—which many Americans oppose—located near ground zero in New York City.

I recently hard a talk by Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that encourages interfaith dialogue and cooperation among young people. He shared his own experience of learning to respect others. The story wasn’t about how he, a Muslim, was tormented but about how his best friend, who was Jewish, was teased in school. Although Eboo was very close to his Jewish friend, he didn’t stand up for him. Years later when the two met again as adults, his friend told him that had been the worst time of his life, not because of the abuse of his classmates but because his best friend did nothing. An upset Eboo turned to his father for counsel. But his father told him that Eboo not only failed his classmate as a friend, he failed him as a Muslim.

Where does religious intolerance come from? And why do we seem so okay with it? It’s not just among Christians, Muslims and Jews, either. I’ve heard plenty about different Christians: Lutherans think Catholics are evil. Catholics believe theirs is the only true religion. Lutherans and Catholics both think that Southern Baptists are fanatics, and almost everybody believes Mormons have no business calling themselves Christian. Come to think of it, some Lutherans are intolerant of other Lutherans.  Phew.

We live in an interfaith world. Jesus told us to love one another.  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).

What advice do you think Jesus would have on living in an interfaith world?

Saying okay to gray

Posted on August 24, 2010 by Inez Torres Davis

All my days have been gray for more than five years now. No, this is not a blog about chronic depression. I am talking about a quote I saw recently: “Life is short and gray hair is easy and (mostly) free.”

I started turning gray before I turned 20. When my white first started to come in, I was reminded of Pepe Le Pew, the Looney Toons cartoon skunk. I had one thick, white streak growing down the back of my head. So I started having my hair colored. To quote Pepe: “Zee stripe! It is gone! She is not a skunk at all!”

For many years I spent a small fortune on professional color jobs, and then I decided to save money and started doing home color jobs. Ick. After staining towels, robes, and bathroom floors for some more years, I got tired of the smell, the stains, and the roots! So a little over five years ago, I went natural and haven’t looked back since.

Even though I find people approaching me from behind to help me lift luggage into the overhead bin and then giving me a dirty look like I played some trick on them when I turn to say thank you, I love my natural hair. I guess I just look younger coming than I do going!

Why did I choose to go natural? First, I really do not like to be dictated to by society on how a woman should look, act, or talk. (I have always had this problem.) Second, I no longer wanted to put stuff on my scalp that I could not pronounce and to which I was beginning to have allergic reactions. I also figured if it was toxic to drink, what was it doing to me when I put it on my scalp?! How was it working its way into my skin?

Third, I knew some mighty sharp and savvy women who had silver and white hair and whom I still saw as role models.  And role models are people you want to copy, right? Fourth, when I asked my daughters and husband (whose opinions do matter to me) they said, “Go for it!”

I now wear my silver and black hair proudly. That white skunk streak I had in m 20s is now a salt and pepper combination (more silver at the crown than at the nape or sides). I wear my hair in a bob clipped closely at the back. I have gotten more compliments (women I don’t know will stop me in airports and in stores) on both my cut and my hair since I have gone natural than I ever did in all the years of pricey salon jobs. My husband even has mentioned that he looks forward to my entire head going silver, and while I think I have some years before that happens, it is kind of fun to know we both have something else to look forward to!

How about you? Are you thinking of putting up that bottle, or have you, perhaps, never picked it up? Do tell!

The size game

Posted on August 20, 2010 by Valora Starr

Why does that little tag in women’s clothing have so much power to shape our self image and self esteem? And why are women’s sizes not true? A man’s size 36 waist is a size 36 waist no matter where you shop. Sizes for women depend on the designer, the cost, and the market. So good luck.

Recently I was watching an Oprah show featuring people who had lost hundreds of pounds. The show opened with Oprah holding up a skirt with a 105-inch waist. Oprah introduced the woman who once wore the skirt. She appeared with a life-size before picture in the background as the audience gasped and cheered. She talked about how and why she had lost over 300 pounds. “What size do you wear now?” was the next question. The next guest was a man who had lost over 300 pounds. Oprah’s interview was again powerful, except I didn’t hear the question, “What size do you wear now?”

A couple days later I saw the Weight Watchers commercial featuring Academy Award-winner and singer Jennifer Hudson. In the background was her singing “I win” as she talked about wearing jeans a size smaller. In the August 2010 InStyle magazine article “Makeover of the Year,” announcing her drop from a size 16 to a size 6, the 28-year-old says that she is not losing any more weight and says “you’ll never see me skinny.” Isn’t being a size 6 “skinny” to most reasonable people?

Being very overweight can cause all kinds of health problems, so I’m not arguing against striving for a healthy, manageable weight. We have a health initiative here, after all. But why our obsession with what size we wear?

Then I caught a Fruit of the Loom commercial. The Fruit Guys band is playing this jazzy tune called “Flawless,” with women of all sizes sauntering about in their undies, musing on the motive of magazines to convenience women that size make a difference. One of the lines from the commercial, “Would it look any better on a 20 inch waist? I’m flawless,” got me thinking maybe we should start a movement: Rip out your tags and sing along, “I’m flawless.”

Have you ever been “visually confirmed”?

Posted on August 17, 2010 by LPB

The other day on the way home from work, I stopped at our local market to pick up a few things for dinner, including a bottle of wine. After I got home and looked over the grocery receipt, I noticed that next to the price entry for the wine were these words: “visually confirmed.” Since no one had asked to see my ID, I assume the checkout clerk had “visually confirmed” that I was at least 21.

When you are 21 + 30, like I am, I guess the chances of being carded are fairly slim, and a simple visual confirmation will be accurate. How many times, however, might we be making visual confirmations that are just plain wrong?

We make “visual confirmations” all the time. We see a young mom in the mall with a toddler who is acting out and conclude that she must not be a good mother. We see someone sporting multiple tattoos and piercings and draw conclusions about a racy lifestyle and drug use. We see an obese person and think she’s lazy and eats to excess.

I suppose it’s human nature to make such visual confirmations. But those confirmations can be all wrong.

That toddler might be experiencing the death of his father, acting out his fears and losses. The tattoos and piercings might simply be the expressions of a creative person who otherwise leads a fairly conventional life. The obese person might have a medical condition that led to obesity despite a physically active lifestyle and decent eating habits.

The faces of friends and coworkers don’t always tell their personal backstories. A strained personal relationship, the challenge of caring for an aging parent, the testing of a teenage child … these things can affect a person to her very core. The gruff or grouchy response you get from a coworker experiencing one of these things might be more about that and might have nothing to do with your working relationship.

My first paying job was as a front desk clerk in a family resort in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Sissy Wescott, the head clerk, taught me an invaluable lesson that summer. She reminded me that when a guest arrived at the front desk, there was no way of knowing what had brought the guest to the motel. The guest might be coming into town to attend a funeral. The guest might be on business, overloaded with work and missing her family at home. The guest might be taking the first solo vacation following a divorce or death. The guest might have had just a two-hour drive or could have been driving for 16 hours.

Sissy taught me to treat everyone well. Aim to be pleasant and provide the guests with attentive service was her motto. Make no assumptions, she said.

She might as well have said, make no visual confirmations. Hmm. That sounds a whole lot like Jesus’ admonition to love your neighbor as yourself.

Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA.

Don’t take it personally

Posted on August 13, 2010 by Inez Torres Davis

Even when change is in our best interest, we resist.  It’s normal. It’s expected. Because we would rather stay with what’s familiar.

So it’s how we manage the resistance that can get us past the inertia.

Change is organic. Change is necessary. Change is healthy.

When a child no longer wants to be carried but prefers to walk, do we see it as a bad thing or a good thing?  That is change!

Change is unavoidable. Change is not personal.

Maybe that’s the key: Emotional resistance, taking change personally, sees change as a betrayal. So we speak in absolutes as though we were absolutely wronged, when really, the truth might be that we are reacting this way because we feel threatened. Change threatens us.

When we practice not taking things personally, we free ourselves from unnecessary suffering and free ourselves for an authentic and healing partnership with God. We free ourselves up to get excited about what new thing we will learn next!

We change to grow. We change what we do and how we do it because we want to continue to contribute our gifts to the world.

Change does not mean that what has been was inadequate—it simply means that what was is no longer as helpful as it once was.

Change happens. It’s all in how we respond to it.

How do you know when you’re being greedy?

Posted on August 10, 2010 by Emily Hansen

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works.”      
–Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglass, in the 1987 film Wall Street

The gospel recently was from the 12th chapter of Luke, and it was all about greed. Rather than “greed is good,” we are told in the parable of the rich fool,  “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed,” for you cannot be greedy and also be rich toward God. 

The  “greed is good” ideology sits on the opposite end of the spectrum of what we heard in the gospel. The character of Gordon Gekko is an extreme example, of course, but we all can fall into the greediness trap now and then and in varying degrees. 

We need resources  to survive, and fear of what the future might hold can, understandably, makes us think of ourselves first.  

So at what point do we cross the line over to greed? 
How do we know when we’ve crossed that line?

Donating a fortune, whatever your “fortune” is

Posted on August 6, 2010 by Deborah Bogaert

Forty of America’s richest billionaires have pledged to give at least half their fortunes to charity. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have led the effort.

I think it’s fantastic that Gates and Buffett are doing this and are getting other billionaires to do the same. The extremely wealthy can do great things with their wealth, and they don’t have to adjust their lifestyles one bit. I mean, really, if you’ve got $10 billion (Gates has $50 billion) and you give away half, or even 90%, how much does your lifestyle change?

But numbers like that also make me wonder about a system that can concentrate so much wealth in the hands of so few people. (And they keep gaining ground while the rest of us keep falling behind—the average billionaire’s fortune increased by $500 million over the last 12 months.)

Who has the money has been studied, and the numbers are, to say the least, stunning. As of 2007, the top 1% of Americans owned 34.6% of the wealth in the U.S. The next 19% held 50.5%. So just 20% of the people in America control 85% of the wealth.

Is that “fair”? That’s a loaded question in a capitalist society. I will say that those statistics do bother me, and something does seem wrong with our system. But I’m not an economist and I don’t have a good solution to propose. All I can propose is that all of us try to recognize the power we have, the gifts we have, whatever they are, and realize what we can do with them that goes beyond our own selves  in a system that seems to foster radical inequality.

My cynical side wants to say, “Hey there you billionaire, thanks for your $20 billion sacrifice! That leaves you with only $10 billion to get by on, hope you can adjust,” but I still applaud this effort by Gates and Buffett. They’ve recognized what they and others like them have the potential to do, other than pass it off to their children so that they can, as Michael Bloomberg said, be members of “the lucky sperm club.” I suppose that’s some progress.

Cobwebs and baptismal fonts

Posted on August 3, 2010 by Terri Lackey

During worship the other day (when I should have been paying attention) I was looking around at what people were wearing and places where the sanctuary could use some sprucing up. And then my eyes landed on a cobweb.

It was on the baptismal font.

“Uh oh,” I thought. “This is surely a telling metaphor.”

First of all, it means we haven’t had a baptism in a while–probably well over a year.

Of course we’re not the only congregation, parish or denomination experiencing low baptism rates and decreasing membership rolls. The 2010 edition of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reports a “continuing decline of membership of virtually all mainline denominations,” according to a National Council of Churches report.

According to the report, the churches that are experiencing the highest rate of membership losses include ours: the ELCA, down 1.62%, to a membership total of a little more than 4.6 million. (These are 2008 figures, reported in 2009, and printed in the 2010 report.)

To tell the truth, when I started this blog, I didn’t know where I was going with it. Maybe a “woe is me, what are we going to do” lament. But then, as I looked into the numbers some more, I ran across two interesting facts in the Yearbook.

Fact one: Gen Xers (people in their 30s and 40s) and Millennials (folks in their 20s) don’t much care about joining a church. For these age groups, church membership “is sometimes perceived as an unnecessary and even an undesirable exercise in over-institutionalization. Hence, for some young adults, church attendance, participation in fellowship or mission activities, and even financial support of a local congregation does not translate into a desire to formally ‘join’ and be listed among those in membership,” according to the Yearbook report.

Young people don’t mind being “affiliated” with a church or attending worship, but being a member seems to make sweat roll down their brows.

Fact two: Increasingly, new immigrants to the U.S. are Christian and are probably open to joining a church. Perhaps they were affiliated with a denomination before they came to the U.S. thanks to missionaries. (Let’s give a shout out to our ELCA global mission personnel!) “A majority of those immigrants have come from nations that are predominately Christian, such as Mexico, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean,” according to the Yearbook.

But some come from countries that “constrain the life and witness of Christian communities and thus serve as a motivational factor to emigration.” In other words, they come to this country because they can be openly Christian.

We talk a lot about getting younger members into our church. We talk a lot about immigration. But what we don’t talk much about is inviting people who weren’t born in this country into our churches. Maybe even the 20- to 40-year-old immigrants would be open to joining our church.

We could start by inviting them.

We have the word evangelical in our name, right?