{ Deeper Story: of wisdom and women }

PHOTO CREDIT: Tina Francis // taken in Burundi one summer afternoon

PHOTO CREDIT: Tina Francis // taken in Burundi one summer afternoon

Reading through Proverbs lately I noticed, as if for the first time, the preponderance of women. They are everywhere among the words of wisdom. There is Lady Wisdom, the great personification, and the lesser Folly. We meet wives, mothers, an adulteress and the woman of valor among many other women offering instruction to all who would listen. I could imagine a reader nearly missing the wisdom for all the women, missing the forest for the many and varied trees.

The book of Proverbs is unique in this way, the presence of women front and center. Few other books in the Hebrew Bible feature women, allowing them to move from background to center stage quite like this collection.

Maybe their place in the spotlight has something to do with troubled times. This collection came together, after all, amid the critical rise of the monarchy and the later collapse of it. When the nation of ancient Israel underwent periods of crisis true wisdom was found, not in the royal courts or among the priesthood, but round the table eating your wife’s food or under your mother’s roof. Wisdom was cultivated in that space where women were present and had much to offer when it came to thoughtful reflection on the practices for good living.

But that isn’t the only connection between women and wisdom in Proverbs…

Read the rest over at Deeper Story…

 

the rebel for justice

tree dancing mamas

The rebel in me stirred.

Walking barefoot across the living room I felt the fist push through me. Oh yes, my inner rebel was roused.

A younger version of me would have assumed this surge of rebellion synced with the sin of Eve, wanting more than is mine to have, desiring that which lives beyond my capacity to manage or comprehend. A rebel reaching for another piece of forbidden fruit for which I must be chided.

But quick as I felt the rebel rise, I recognized her origin. The rebel in me gets restless when confronted with injustice. She weaves back and forth, back and forth, then back and forth again as wrongs unfold in front of her. And then she beats the air when she can look no more, when sight alone won’t suffice.

She’s not wanting what’s not hers; she’s wanting what God wants for all of us. She stirs without easy contentment because the wrongs remain unaddressed and people languish as we fiddle with budgets, contemplate our praxis and decide what to spend on Christmas gifts for our kids this year.

//

This is the rebel that gestated in the belly of the Hebrew midwives – scheming to save sons.

This is the rebel that punched about in Jochabed, first mother of Moses, constructing an ark to float her son away from Pharaoh’s edict.

This is the rebel that stirred in Bithiah, the Egyptian princess who would adopt Moses and raise him right under the nose of the empire.

This is the rebel that grew in Miriam, nursed on liberation lullabies and shaped by subversion, the woman who would become prophet and public theologian and the leader of the emancipation dance out of Egypt.

This is the rebel who refuses to accept the death warrant of the empire, who will not be co-opted by the narratives of scarcity and fear.

This is the rebel unbowed by oppression’s heavy hand, unwilling to sway to the ways of the unjust on her watch.

This is the rebel intuitively skilled in the guttural lexicon of grief, the groaning syncopated to the burned out stars and dying species, the one who teaches the community to cry.

This is the rebel born to sing freedom songs. Born to pound drums and set the cadence for exodus. Born with liberation in her blood – a deliverance dance she can’t deny.

//

People call her ways rebellious because she’s no respecter of the status quo. They call her trouble because she’s unafraid to rock boats and upset apple carts. They call her a rebel because she just won’t keep quiet about all the ways in which we are unjust, unkind and unable to love our neighbors.

I feel her rise up in me, troublesome and rebellious.

I welcome her kind. I am her kind. I am, in my most unvarnished moments, a rebel for justice. I have the juice of emancipation running through my veins and I want to bleed freedom.

My fist punches the sky…

{ Second Simplicity: The Cross }

My friend, Amy Peterson, invited me to contribute to her series on our Second Simplicity. Amy is an amazing writer, skilled editor and smart + witty friend. It’s an honor to share my own second naiveté with her… about my own understanding of the cross.

1415711468880

I came of age in evangelical circles where the cross was the high ground, the holy pinnacle of faith. The cross was the symbol above all others, the metaphor not to be desecrated with any understanding other than blood spilled as a sacrifice for my sin. My personal salvation clung to that old rugged cross where Jesus died for my sins.

Everything I knew about salvation was moored to that cross, that sacrifice for me.

Years after graduating from a Christian liberal arts college, years after completing my Masters of Divinity degree from an evangelical seminary, even years after leadership in my local charismatic church I noticed a shift.

I was reading a book about Jesus written by Marcus Borg. (This was my first foray into any scholarship stemming from the Jesus Seminar, which my evangelical colleagues convinced me to be wary of.)

“According to the Gospels Jesus did not die for the sins of the world…He was killed because of the sins of the world.”

I underlined these words as I read the fuller chapter on the personal and political meaning surrounding the death of Jesus. I underlined them in a spirit of agreement. I kept reading.

It took me about three or four pages to realize what I just did. I stopped. I thumbed my way back to that page and read the words again. Jesus died because of sin, not for sin. Do I really agree with this? – because if I do then my understanding of the cross has just moved into uncharted territory.

Read the rest HERE.

{ ShePonders: Lost Things }

N_Kelley2

My sweet son is notorious for losing things – pens, socks, even his phone. Once something has gone missing, he moves right along without noticing most of the time. Losing and living skip along hand in hand for him.

I’m the one reminding him to go to the lost and found at school to look for the left behind lunch box / water bottle / hoody. If it wasn’t for me hot on his little heels I doubt he’d go looking for what was lost most of the time; he’d just keep on running ahead with no thought of what’s missing.

*****

Jesus told a trio of parables about people who lost things: a shepherd who lost a sheep, a woman who lost a coin and a father who lost his son(s).

The shepherd watched over a flock of 100 sheep; at some point he stopped, counted and realized one was missing. The woman with her handful of coins noticed one had gone missing. She swept every inch and corner of her house until she recovered the coin. In each instance they stopped what they were doing and searched for what was lost. Thankfully, both found what they were looking for and celebrated accordingly. When you find that 1:100 or 1:10 it’s worth throwing a party – or so the parable goes.

Next we meet a father with two sons…

Read the rest over at SheLoves Magazine!

 

 

{ Adoption, Once & Always }

adoption-720x380

I sat in my study leafing through yellowed documents stiffened by time. I read the letter typed in courier font by Sister Bertrille telling my parents they’ve been approved for the placement of a child. I notice her clear, careful signature. In a subsequent letter she happily grants their request to adopt me saying, “This will be a truly wonderful event for you and your little one.” Again I study her tilted cursive, the seal on my holy writ. The year was 1969.

I find a black and white photograph of her in the file. I stare. I cry. She is the woman who administered the sacrament of adoption to me. The sensation reminds me of my first holy communion, the first of many times I’d approach the Lord’s Table.

I wonder if Sister Bertrille knew as she signed each letter, as she placed me in my mother’s arms that adoption would be more than just a wonderful event. Did she know it would be the event without end?

Many believe adoption is an one-time event. I have experienced adoption more like baptism, a once and always sacrament . Today I’m sharing my thoughts over at Red Letter Christians. Please click over and share in the conversation!

all the saints

Halloween is a night of pseudo ghouls, ghosts and goblins. I turn off the light on the porch to signal there’s no candy on offer, no costume-clad hostess at the door and no need to parade up my drive way. I wait for the night to become quiet again so I can enjoy the soft glow of moon in peace.

In the wake of Halloween comes All Saint’s Day, and like the morning light streaming through my bedroom window comes a flood of blazing memories stirring me from sleep. Rise and shine they say.

These saints call me to remember their earthly journeys and years of faithful living. Even their struggles bear witness to their true humanity and resilience. In the end, it’s their faith I remember. Madeleine L’Engle’s ability to marry art and faith, Mother Teresa battling her own doubt and still giving dignity to the dying, Wangari Maathai resisting the powerful and empowering the women of Kenya to plant trees – they each nourish and challenge me.

All the saints. All the saints. All the saints. Today this phrase returned to me time and time again like the incessant waves of the Pacific. Yes, I said on the inhale, all the saints I breathed on the exhale. All of them. It was as if I’d accepted some kind of challenge.

Then I remembered something from long ago – All Soul’s Day. There is a day to remember all the souls who’ve departed, saintly or not. There is a time to mourn losses that are still tender with pain as we write the names of the ones lost this year in the book of the dead. Far from being morose, it is another space for lament. We come together and say we are still bent with the heaviness of loss and cry sad, salted tears when an everyday occurrence brings our loved ones to mind. It’s a recognition that death walks away slowly.

Each soul departed deserves remembering. All the bereaved mothers and their kin need a place to grieve. As a community we create room for the waves of loss that continue to come to those who mourn, we say that your suffering is safe with us.

All Soul’s Day reminds us that sadness lingers long after the funeral, long after the last casserole dish is washed and returned. It doesn’t matter that all his clothes have been boxed and donated to the Good Will and the death certificate arrived by mail weeks ago or that no more mail appears in the mailbox with his name on it anymore. Hurt throbs anyways. He is the phantom limb, gone but still present to us, a sadness we cannot amputate.

This day the entire community gathers to remember how the pain ebbs slow like molasses. Maybe we, as much as the bereaved, need to remember the departed ones. We see grief out in the open space of the sanctuary and know our work of consoling is not done. The fresh imperative rings out from the gospel – mourn with those who (still) mourn. Do not allow grief to be invisible and unattended.

Maybe it’s time to bring another casserole – and bring it to the door warm so you can sit and share the meal together. Listen to the memories and see how they’ve not faded. Talk about what’s lost, how ‘normal’ is one casualty for sure. Discern together if it’s time to consider what’s next. And if not, if it’s still too soon, then meet for coffee and continue to be present. Tend to the soul still living.

I write out one name this All Soul’s Day – Michael Brown. His soul mattered, it still does. His exit from this world was messy and violent and all too public. His death forced us to see things we did not want to see in our selves and our communities. His death cracked open a community and a conversation.

But I cannot forget how his death broke the heart of his family and how his friends must miss him every day. How this loss is still so personal, so primal for the mother who birthed him. I remember her today. I consider the ache she must feel. I hope comfort comes to her, that compassion seeks her out in ways that will be a healing balm to her soul.

And there are so many other brown boys and brown men lost this year. I think of their mothers walking, weak-kneed, to the altar. I imagine each mother writing the name of each son in the book of the dead. I can almost hear the weeping that comes with the remembering. I pray for strong communities to surround them, souls to sing the mothers back to life.

Today I remember all the saints, all the souls, departed. I remember all the souls who remain, those who still carry grief. May the dead rest in peace and may the living be restless until justice rolls down like a mighty flood.

lighting the yellow candle

My strong and brave girl. Photo by Tina Francis.

My strong and brave girl. Photo by Tina Francis.

My daughter asked to light the yellow candle. “Why the yellow one?” I asked, as I always do, giving her opportunity to voice her heart. “Yellow because my birth mom misses me, yellow because I want to thank her for letting me be born before she died.”

I struck the match. I lit the wick. The candle burned for the next couple of hours, a sentinel guarding my daughter’s gratitude into the dark.

At bedtime we stood before the tall glowing candle. She considered blowing it out, as per usual. But she hesitated. “Do you want the candle to burn longer? Do you want me to blow it out when I go to bed?” I asked. She nodded in agreement, “You can keep her company.”

She hugged me long and tight, offering a final kiss before she shuffled down the hallway in her still-too-long flannel pajamas. “Good night, birth mom!” she chirped as she disappeared into her bedroom.

That’s my girl – able to bid us both good night with such ease. She went to bed knowing we were keeping watch together into the night where dreams reign and stars twinkle. I walked back into the kitchen with a bit of a giggle, a visceral happiness watching my girl as she learns how to hold us both.

It can’t be easy knowing your birth mother died and there’s no chance of an earthly reunion. We’ve had that hard conversation and cried the tears together. That’s why there’s also a red candle – for the times when it’s sadness or anger she feels.

But the yellow candle stands as a reminder that this woman gave a great gift when she made sure her baby was born in a hospital on that December night in Burundi. The yellow candle creates space for her to offer thanks and honor her birth mom’s bravery amid a scary time in her own life. And, as my daughter has become fond of saying, the yellow candle becomes a place where her birth mom speaks to her those words, “I miss you.”

We light that yellow candle together and testify to a wish that things could have been otherwise – that this woman could have had the bodily strength to live and hold her baby girl in her arms, draw her to her chest and name her. We wish that disease and poverty did not collide and rob my baby girl of her own mother. We recognize that in another world, one with more shalom and less sickness, a woman wouldn’t die in childbirth. A baby wouldn’t be orphaned. There would be no need for missing each other, no need for yellow candles. We know that each time we strike the match.

Adoption is a beautiful and complicated sacrament. Without ever denying or ignoring the injustices, we embody redemption together. One who was relinquished, even involuntarily, belongs again. She belongs in this family, under this roof and to the company of the adopted. And as far as my daughter and I are concerned, her birth mom belongs, too.

The yellow candle is lit, and the three of us women stand together for a moment. We belong to one another – it is our shared mystery as women in the company of the adopted.

{ Deeper Church: On fighting, farming & feasting }

CabbageHarvest

I’ve come to think that the implements for peace are in the granaries, not the armories. Maybe we need to look in garden sheds, not gun safes, when attempting to address our hostile urges.

I survey the tool shed and find shovels to turn the soil of our too often thin, dry hearts. I see the spades, still caked with mud. Those spades could help us reach the deeper, darker soil ready for some good seed. People hemmed into fearfully small spaces could be accessed with a tiny spade, angled just so. The pile of pruners in the corner can be used early on in the peace-planting process to break open roots of good saplings facilitating quick growth in fresh soil. (Maybe transplanting can teach us something helpful about transformation – it’s worth exploring the possibility.)

We could grab the rakes and clear the distractions, scattered like loose leaves across the lawn, then turn our attention to the necessary discussions about reconciliation and restitution. We will, no doubt, need to use the clawed digging fork to turn unbroken soil. Some places, some of us, are simply hardened by years of hatred. Maybe we don’t know any better – our twisted eschatologies, poorly translated texts and atrophied theologies obstructing our way forward like an overgrown, intertwined thicket.

Read the rest over at A Deeper Story today…

{ ShePonders: Hear, O Israel }

O_Kelley-750-708x400

I open my eyes. The morning light snuffs out the last embers of sleep. Hear, O Israel.

I close my eyes. Lashes and lids become a wet blanket. Hear, O Israel.

Each day bookended with these words, the final desire of the soul before death uttered in these words:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:4)

*****

This affirmation – part prayer, part imperative, part invitation – is called The Shema after the initial summons in Hebrew to hear. It is the seminal word for the Jewish community, the call to listen to God. And its not about listening to the God, as if it’s a statement about monotheism. No, it’s listening to our God, a declaration of solidarity with the One who created, delivered and sustained this people.

The words are first uttered at the edge of the wilderness, on the cusp of the Promised Land. The Hebrew people, ready to cross over into a new life, stopped for a final set of sermons from Moses. The last exhortation to this generation begins with The Shema – a call to focus their attention not on the new land, but on their God. Hear, O Israel!

*****

Read the rest of this reflection, on listening to God and one another with more than our ears, over at SheLoves Magazine today. And join us all month as we ruminate on LISTENING – especially to those with other stories we need to hear.

brown boy walking

He was walking to school in the morning air, right before the sun warmed away the chill. Backpack slung over one shoulder, dangling as he shuffled in his high-tops. The entire sidewalk belonged to him – maybe everyone else got a ride with their mom or arrived early for a free breakfast.

He didn’t look lonely or sad. He didn’t look worried. To the naked eye he didn’t look vulnerable.

But as I drove by him in the school zone I prayed, “Lord, keep this boy safe today and every other day of his life.” It was instinctive.

I saw a brown boy walking as a call to prayer. This is the new normal.

Or this is my new normal, the perpetual awareness of my own son’s vulnerability when he is the brown boy walking to school, to the mailbox, to the park. To be brown is to be vulnerable, it has so little to do with what he does or does not do, it seems. A brown boy walking threatens people, even if it is my son walking to the park with a pocket full of marbles to play in the dirt.

Beware of brown boys with bulging pockets – that is the new normal.

But this isn’t new. This has been reality for too many brown boys for too many decades. Now it’s newsworthy, now it’s trending and has a hashtag. Now I have my own brown boy and can’t un-see what I’ve seen on the nightly news or un-hear the stories other mothers tell. Now every brown boy I see, no matter how tall or how young, is a call to prayer. I pray for each one to be safe, for each mother to have peace.

Now I see brown boys and their mothers, women like me who love them, and feel a solidarity that is more than skin deep. Love for our sons; fear for their lives and hope for their futures bond us. I pray for the mothers, too. I pray for them to be protected from the agony of ever losing a son to racism or hate. But I know the landscape is often hostile, riddled with a pale fear, and so I also pray for these mothers to be strong.

Maybe this sounds like hysteria to you – a brown boy walking alone demands my immediate prayers? But when your son lives life in brown skin you can never be divorced from the risk posed by racism, you cannot easily (or ever) forget other boys who were unarmed, assumed dangerous and shot. Did fear pull the trigger – or hate? Doesn’t matter. Those brown boys, plural, aren’t coming home. And irrational or not, I fear a day that my own son won’t come home.

I keep remembering the young boy walking to school, his backpack hanging haphazardly off his shoulder. He has yet to fully grasp the weight of what he carries. Or maybe he has. Surely his mother has considered the heaviness of brown skin, the burden of vulnerability.

It was a week ago and yet I still see him, like a phantom, reminding me to pray.

I saw a brown boy walking – and he remains a call to prayer. They all do.