Thursday, May 25, 2017

How To Save a Life

Step one, you say we need to talk
He walks, you say sit down; it's just a talk
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
You being to wonder why you came

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness, and 
I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

I don't know if this song from The Fray reaches down into the stomach of people who aren't fans of Grey's Anatomy. I've been watching the show since college, although now I bingewatch at the end of the season instead of keeping up through the year. It still gets me. I swear if they added a good chaplain, it would round out the show to perfection. The doctors could use a dose of theology, especially good theology. 

This story was posted today by A Mighty Girl. Go and read it, even if you read this first. It's the story of a woman who saved the lives of 150 Jewish children as the Nazis invaded Holland. I'd heard it before only because her granddaughter is a colleague. Her granddaughter and I have never met before; our connection is through The Young Clergy Women Project. Still, I consider her a friend. As a result of calling her friend, I hear this story differently. 

What is an extraordinary story becomes more ordinary--in a wonderful, beautiful way. There is a different sort of closeness to it. Decidedly, the story becomes more possible simply because it is nearer. Saving a life becomes possible, maybe even probable. 

"You don't need to save the world. Jesus already did that," is advice often given to pastors. I'm guessing, it's especially given to young, eager pastors. It's true. Yet, in a faith that has often talked about saving souls, we might do well to follow it up with, "But you do have to save a life."

The vast majority of what I preach week to week is noticing, showing up, and paying attention in ways to create community. After all, Jesus couldn't have healed the people if he had just looked away. A persistent woman or two had to convince him to pay attention to her. Feeding people means paying attention to the fact that there are hungry people there. In our world, especially among the middle class folks, it is isolation that is most damning. After all, individualism is one of our greatest idols. 

Romance aside, the last two lines of that chorus are the ones that echo in and out of my life: I would have stayed up with you all night/Had I known how to save a life. 

God knows, I give thanks for the Marion Pritchards among us. I also give thanks for the people who stay up all night with someone who is hurting. I give thanks for the people who pick someone up and take them somewhere they can sleep safely. I give thanks for the people who check in on their neighbor. I give thanks for the people who invite someone to sit with them. I give thanks to people who live their life as well as they can in the direction that Jesus calls. That direction is sometimes uncomfortable, often annoying, but always a little holier because they followed Jesus' call. 

I doubt I'll ever have a moment in which I know I saved a life. Yet, I have no doubt that this Jesus life means we save more lives than we ever know. It turns out, we might just know how to save a life after all. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Being Rev.

Recently, I was handed a new, very official looking name badge by an agency for which I regularly volunteer. "Rev. Abigail Conley" it reads. I laughed a little inwardly and grimaced a little inwardly and tucked it away for days I would need it. You see, the "Rev." is included with great intention by the organization.

A couple of years ago, I walked into a room full of faith leaders convened by that organization. Looking around the tables, the place card for every single man had a title before his name. None of the women's titles were included. I know for a fact that the people gathered in that room held a variety of advanced degrees and titles. Yes, that includes me. When the organizer came around to check in, I shocked her a little, saying, "I'm curious why all the men have titles included and none of the women do." Suffice it to say that I didn't get an adequate response and my title has been included ever since.

Over the last few weeks, women's leadership of churches has come up in a few more prominent ways. Princeton awarded and revoked their most prestigious award over women's ordination, as well as LGBT inclusion. This week, Julia Baird of the New York Times wrote about the event, with the piece failing to include women's appropriate titles. Later, it was revealed that the titles were editorial discretion, with the male editor failing to walk back any of it. Nothing like a dose of sexism in an article about sexism to make things fun.

Several weeks ago now, I decided to do a sermon series during Eastertide called, "Things Progressive Christians Care About." I was going to come up with a better title, but time got away from me, so that's sticking. It was about three weeks ago when I realized I should include women in leadership among the topics. I'd written it off as something so normal now; the truth is, it's not remotely true in many of the churches we share a zip code with, or the adjacent zip codes for that matter. It's not been true in my history, either.

My sermon for Sunday isn't written yet, but it's been brewing for a couple weeks now. All of it rolls over in my head. All of it. The learning to see women's stories in the Bible--women, who were the first to announce the resurrection while all the men were still in hiding. I loved the call to worship we used this past week:
      Women:   Christ is Risen!
      Men:        No, he isn't!

The story continued for a while before the men agreed, "Christ is Risen!"

All of it rolls around in my head, though--the learning to see the way women were written out of stories. Some translations demanded the male Junias instead of the female Junia as a name in Romansn. After all, no apostle could be female.

All of it rolls around in my head--the flipping through the Bible to make sure verses were really there: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus."

Somehow, that name badge says so much, "Rev. Abigail Conley." It speaks of the struggle of leaving a fundamentalist church. It speaks of the struggle of so many women to have their work and achievements honored. It speaks of years and years to get to this place, years put in by generations before me.

Every time I think about that day when I asked about the women's titles, I feel a little more glad I mentioned it.

And you better believe I wear that name badge with pride.