Jesus, Tired Out

If you’re a lectionary user, you know this morning’s gospel lesson (about Jesus and the woman at the well) was a particularly long, rich passage. There’s much that could be said about this story as it unfolds — but my spirit barely made it past the second verse.

“Jesus came to a Samaritan city called womanatwellSychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.” – John 4:5-6 (emphasis mine)

Jesus? Tired out by his journey?

It would seem so. 

As if that’s not enough, verse 6 observes: It was about noon. Mid-day. As though Jesus took a lunch break in the middle of his work day. A spring break in the middle of his semester, so to speak, as I’m currently wrapping up doing.

Jesus, tired out by his journey.

As I heard this Scripture read aloud, a little girl in the pew behind me brandished her sippy cup in the air and asked quietly-ish: “Does Jesus want some water?”

I’m not sure what her parents said. But, I hope they said yes.

Fully God and fully man, Jesus wants water and is water (John 4:10). Especially as we journey in the coming weeks to Holy Week, recalling Christ’s sacrifice of death on the cross, we will recall that Christ said so powerfully: “I thirst” (John 19:38). Our Savior gets thirsty. Our Jesus gets tired.

And, when this happens, he takes a lunch break not just to watch Netflix and eat pizza as I would probably do. He takes a life-giving break, not a mind-numbing break (a distinction which, when I realized it existed, revolutionized my life and my use of time off). Jesus takes a break to be fed, to feed another (the woman at the well), and to be fed by feeding — a spiritual dynamic that’s remarkably replicable as we share life with others and find ourselves blessed by that sharing.

So, today, I’m encouraged by the empathy of a Jesus who got tired out by his journey (just like we do by ours). And I’m inspired by the compassion of a Jesus who got rejuvenated by serving others on his journey (just like we can on ours). Self-care is important, Jesus says to me here, and so is caring for others. You can’t have one without the other.

On This International Women’s Day

On this International Women’s Day, I am blessed to be in a divinity school where around 50% of my classmates are women and, coincidentally, this semester 100% of my professors are women. This year, I have seen some great women (and some great men!) teach, preach, administer sacraments, and lead all manner of things. As Sarah Bessey has written, I needed to see these women.

Because, on this International Women’s Day, I am sitting here trying to write a sermon for class — a task which a lifetime of experience (in the American Bible belt, to be exact) has told me I probably shouldn’t be doing. I’m telling myself this sermon thing is like a speech, a story, a long blog post (anything but a sermon), because I know I have permission to write those other things. I’m reminding myself of all the Christian women leaders  I know of ranging from medieval to modern, hanging a painting of the apostle Junia by my desk, even asking myself WWJD?

But it’s still hard to comprehend that I’m allowed to do this. Because here’s the thing: Actions speak louder than words. Experience speaks louder than knowledge.

I can know in my head that theoretically, in many denominations including my own, I am allowed to perform all the same functions as men, including but not limited to ordained functions as deacon, priest, and bishop. At the same time, I can sense in my soul that really, throughout encountering multiple denominations in multiple places, I’ve rarely experienced that egalitarian functioning to be reality.

Psychologically, it goes something like this:

Tell a child who’s never been allowed, say, in the basement that they’re suddenly allowed to go there, and they might — after throwing their parents a quizzical “Are you serious?!” kind of look — understandably proceed with caution.

Release a bird from life in a cage and it might be hesitant to fly.

“Freeing yourself was one thing,” Toni Morrison writes, “claiming ownership of that freed  self was another.”

Since actions speak louder than words, since experience speaks louder than knowledge, it is imperative for women and men to act in an egalitarian manner. To actually, repeatedly place women (who are legitimately called and qualified) in pulpits, professorships, boards, and offices. That’s the only way that women like me can truly conceive of — much less claim ownership of, in Morrison’s terms — a calling that might draw us into those places.

Why do I share all this? To offer just one story of how bias against women (particularly in ministry, and even more particularly in preaching) is alive in 2017 and how weighty the psychological effect of this bias can be. Because I don’t think I’m the only one carrying that weight. And, let’s be real, letting other people carry around a societally-imposed weight is called oppression.

So, on this International Women’s Day, I am praying, writing, and — dare I say it? — preaching toward an end to oppression.

I hope you will too.

Finding Freedom From Shame

This was originally posted on the blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.


A therapist once pointedly suggested that I was experiencing shame. I promptly suggested she was wrong.

Shame is for people who’ve done egregiously terrible things, I thought (which is kind of all of us, I now realize, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” according to Romans 3). Gradually, I had to admit that the therapist was right and that shame is buried in the hearts of so many people—people like me and you.

shame_resizedShame happens when you fail a test and fear you’re a failure. It happens when you lose a competition and label yourself a loser. When you tell a lie or hurt a friend or drink too much and let the guilt consume you. When every bone in your body wants to not tell anyone—or at least not make eye contact when you tell someone—about your secret shortcomings.

So, how do you possibly find freedom from such a burden as shame?

Named in Confession

Since shame is experienced largely by a desire to hide, it follows then that freedom from shame can be experienced largely through a coming out of hiding. In the Christian life, this looks like naming our sins as specifically and honestly as possible through the practice of confession.

Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing about confession in his classic work Life Together, says this:

“You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants to see you as you are. He wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner. Thank God for that.”

Put more succinctly, I’ve heard it said that “shame is broken when it is spoken.” So, consider sharing what you’re ashamed of with a Christian brother or sister, campus minister or counselor, priest or pastor. It feels frustrating at first, like ripping off a Band-Aid to expose a wound, but so freeing in the long run. I promise.

Renamed in Christ

If you fear that naming your shame in confession will change what people—and God!—think of you, then consider this: If you are a Christian, your identity has been renamed in Christ. Take a look at Colossians 3:1-17, for example, and meditate on the adjectives you find there. You might even read the passage manuscript-style in true InterVarsity fashion and underline, highlight, or circle these adjectives. The apostle Paul writes to the Colossian Christians, who had fallen into heretical teachings and sinful behavior, and tells them that in fact they are:

  • “raised with Christ” (3:1)
  • “hidden with Christ in God” (3:2)
  • “renewed” (3:10)
  • “chosen” (3:12)
  • “holy and beloved” (3:12)
  • “forgiven” (3:13)

In Christ, you too, when you sheepishly open your shame to God and others, can have full assurance that God sees you as holy. Beloved. Forgiven. Where you have been hidden in a mask of sullen shame, God sees you as hidden in the cleanest cloak of Christ.

Because of God’s grace, I could eventually name my shame to that therapist I mentioned earlier and could slowly learn, with her help, to receive the truth that I have been renamed in Christ as his child, holy and beloved.

And you can too. I pray you can. Hidden in Christ, I know you can.

Best of ’16

16 books I recommend:

  1. Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide – Sarah Arthur
  2. A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World – Katelyn Beatty
  3. Garden In the East: The Spiritual Life of the Body – Angela Doll Carlson
  4. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery – Ian Morgan Cron and Susan Stabile
  5. Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing – Andy Crouch
  6. Spiritual Sobriety: Stumbling Back to Faith When Good Religion Goes Bad – Elizabeth Esther
  7. Parables and Paradox: Sonnets on the Sayings of Jesus and Other Poems – Malcolm Guite
  8. Assimilate Or Go Home: Notes From a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith – D.L. Mayfield
  9. Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People – edited by Charles E. Moore
  10. Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living – Shauna Niequist
  11. Soul Bare: Stories of Redemption by Emily P. Freeman, Sarah Bessey, Trillia Newbell and More – edited by Cara Sexton
  12. Original Blessing: Putting Sin In Its Rightful Place – Danielle Shroyer
  13. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit – James K.A. Smith
  14. The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life – Ann Voskamp
  15. Out of the House of Bread: Satisfying Your Hunger for God with the Spiritual Disciplines – Preston Yancey
  16. Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark – Addie Zierman

8 blogs posts I enjoyed reading:

  1. Beauty will save the world – Andrew Petiprin (The Living Church, January)
  2. When Beauty Strikes – David Brooks (New York Times, January)
  3. I want a religion – Mac Stewart (The Living Church, April)
  4. Dear church: An open letter from one of those millennials you can’t figure out – Jonathan Aigner (Patheos, May)
  5. God Needs Women – Rachel Held Evans (July)
  6. Only the dumb ones go into parish ministry – Sarah Condon (The Living Church, July)
  7. And on the seventh day, many don’t rest at all – Lisa Wangsness (Boston Globe, November)
  8. Her Loss – Lindy West (New York Times, November)

8 blog posts I enjoyed writing:

  1. Happy (Still) Easter (April)
  2. Where Are All the Women? (May)
  3. Hey. Thanks For Caring. (May)
  4. From the Other Side (June)
  5. First Things First (June)
  6. Carry Each Other (July)
  7. Why Seminary? (August)
  8. Sacrament at the Soul of Me (September)
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annual stack of (most of) the books I read this year

Side Effects of a Seminary Semester

img_3414I’ve been drafting this one for about 4 months. It’s a chronicle of the “side effects” experienced over the course of my first semester of seminary – those unexpected, sometimes humorous, sometimes meaningful things that start happening and keep happening whether you like it or not.

So, if you ever start seminary, maybe watch out for the following:

1. Humility. (Actually, this one often starts as impostor syndrome or self-doubt. But, by the time symptoms 7 and 8 set in, this can manifest as humility.) As early as orientation, I would look at the course catalog and think: I can’t possibly learn even 1% of the things taught here. I used to think I was smart, used to be accustomed to friends looking to me as something of a miniature “expert” on religious matters. Now, the thought of expertise – the thought of “mastering divinity” as my Master of Divinity degree implies I’m doing – makes me laugh. Now, I marvel at the expanse of theology, biblical studies, ethics, history, languages, spirituality, and pastoral care that exists and suppose I’m the smallest speck compared to that expanse. Now, I think maybe it would be smart to be humble about how little of the expanse I will actually “master” (even while working to master what meager portion I can).

2. Anger. By this, I mean a sometimes-righteous, sometimes-raging anger at the way churches, communities, and individuals have engaged narrowly and unjustly (often in the name of religion) throughout the world and throughout history with issues of gender, sexuality, race, poverty, abuse, mental illness, disabilities, politics, war, slavery, mass incarceration, biblical interpretation (clobber verses, anyone?), missiology (crusades, anyone?), and more. Yes, those are all topics I have crossed paths with just in my first semester – nay, first month – of seminary. Yes, it can be overwhelming. This quotation gives me hope: 

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” – St. Augustine

3. Questions. Why? What for? What does that word mean? Better yet, what does that word mean in Greek? My favorite is when I bump into a friend and they say “Hey, quick question: What do Episcopalians believe about Eucharist?” In most of life, these are not “quick questions.” In seminary, apparently these are normal.

4. The inability to answer questions simply. I increasingly hear questions in gray rather than black-and-white, thinking quickly of at least two ways to approach the question (maybe an Old Covenant approach and New Covenant approach, Protestant approach and Catholic approach, literal and metaphorical, critical and devotional). I don’t even mean to, but I’m getting trained to. For instance, a few weeks into the semester, a friend asked casually “How’s life?” I contemplated his query for a second and said, “Hmm how’s life? That’s a deep question. Can we clarify our definition of the meaning and scope of the term ‘life’? Do we mean my life right now or life in general?”

5. The inability to listen to religious music in the same way ever again. I hear songs on Christian radio or in worship services and little sirens go off in my head screaming of patriarchal language, out-of-context biblical references, or downright heresy.

6. Speaking in tongues. By this, I mean using Greek, Hebrew, and Latin right and left (but, yes, if you also wind up speaking in tongues in other ways I suppose I can analyze the history, theology, and spirituality of that). I’m not even taking a biblical language this semester, and I wrote a paper including terms like imago dei, facere quod in se est, oikonomia, kenosis, and epectasy as if that was perfectly normal.

7. Prayer. For me, every day begins with morning prayer with the Anglican/Episcopal House of Studies. Most days close with evening prayer. Most classes open with prayer – whether moments of silence, psalms, prayers of the saints, or the prayers of Professor Smith. During finals, I stopped in the hall to pray with an anxious friend one day, and then my housemate and I stopped in a parking lot to talk and pray with a homeless woman another day.

“Study that does not finally result in prayer is a dishonesty for us.” – St. Benedict   

8. Friendship. Truly, when dealing with all the above side effects, I couldn’t possibly do it alone. The people with whom I’ve been studying, praying, conversing, and eating become inherently connected to me and I to them. It is beautiful.

“We are incomplete in ourselves. We want to share our lives with others both to expand our hearts and to receive help because of our smallness of heart.” – St. Thomas Aquinas