I just returned home after being away most of January. I took a lovely vacation with my daughter and my mother-in-law. We traveled to Hawaii, a beautiful place that I truly love. It was the only state of the United States where my mother-in-law had not yet traveled. So in her 80th year she got to experience her 50th state. We really had a great time. It was not the same level of fun for my 17-year-old. But we made memories in her gap year that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
After our vacation, I had more travel for preaching, retreat leading, and more family care. Since I’ve taken a break in January from creating new episodes of Three Minute Ministry Mentor (3MMM), I decided it might be a good time to introduce myself to you. I probably don’t do that quite often enough, and we have so many new followers every week and every month. So here goes…
1) listening to deep wisdom
I live a busy life as a professor, mentor, coach, author, Writing Table host, parent, wife, and daughter. But at the heart of who I am, I really want to inspire people to live lives that are rooted in their passions and in a deep spirituality that connects to the sacred and each other. I’m always on the lookout for the wisdom that the world teaches through its natural beauty. I search for what God may teach me through my significant relationships. And I look for ways to share what I notice in creative and meaningful ways.
While I was in Hawaii I spent several hours watching these turtles. It started when circumstances beyond our control, and big weather systems in the Pacific, gave us an extra day on the Kauai Island. I rented a car and took my daughter and mother-in-law to this Poipu beach where we heard there might be turtles. Turtles that like to sun themselves in the afternoons.
The nice woman at the rental counter noticed when I registered that the next day was my birthday. She told me I needed a convertible. I said, “No, not really. I’m good. I just need some wheels.”
She said, “No, no. It’s your birthday and you need a Mustang convertible!” And she wasn’t going to charge me extra. She just wanted me to have it. “Okay a surprise from the universe,” I said. “A little extra fun for my birthday. I’m not going to argue.”
So we put down the top, and we drove across the island to the Poipu Beach. We found a parking spot and walked right out to the water. Within minutes we heard someone say, “The turtles are over here!” We headed that way. There were not one or two or five, but nearly 30 large turtles. I’m talking coffee table size. Bigger-than-your-bathtub size. So we sat down to watch them. All the way past sunset. After we were there I wrote this.
Rest on the beach.
Watch the sunset.
Put your head on the shoulder of a friend.
Soak up the beauty of the world.
Of course it is broken and needs repair.
Yet for long moments each day, we need to make time for appreciation.
Only then are we restored to do the work we are called to do.
2) pastoral authority and imagination
Yes, I am an ordained minister in the progressive circles of Baptist life. I came of age as a minister at a time when the Southern Baptist Convention was falling into shambles. I wrote a book about it. And I served five-and-a-half years in a congregation in north Georgia before going back to Vanderbilt University’s graduate school to earn a PhD in Religion, Psychology, and Culture. I’ve studied ministers and clergywomen throughout my academic career. Those are interests that began even before I earned my PhD.
While I was still in ministry, I served on the board of BWIM. And in that role I was privileged to be part of some big moments in BWIM history. Along with fellow board members and staff, we set new directions for the organization. Supporting that organization has been very close to the vocation of my heart.
Among my favorite moments is receiving a note from Rev. Addie Davis. She was the first Southern Baptist woman to be ordained to the gospel ministry in August 1964 before most of us were born. She graciously allowed us to name seminary awards for preaching and leadership in her honor before she died.
We have come both a long way, and a ridiculously short way, since Rev. Davis’s ordination almost 60 years ago. You can read the latest State of Women and Baptist Life report. The reports are regular accounting of how women are doing in Baptist churches. I dreamed up the idea of these report in the early 2000s and helped compose the first three of those reports along with Pam Durso.
Last Sunday I preached this sermon about pastoral authority and the particular ways it operates for women.
3) writing and coaching
I won my first writing award in elementary school. The prize was an Easter egg, the fancy kind you could look into through a tiny window. And a ribbon. I never got to eat the fancy Easter egg. But I was very happy to win that prize. I continued to write for school newspapers and occasional contests, and of course class work every day, every week, and every year. Although I don’t remember much encouragement or urging to keep writing. Not many of my teachers must have imagined the average person, and certainly not a girl, could make writing a career.
So by college and seminary, I adopted the stance that writing was my avocation. That is to say, writing would always be something I loved, and I would do it on the side. But I would probably never make a living as a writer.
Nevertheless, my love of it has led me to more and more writing and more and more connections with other writers, both of which are a major part of how I spend my time. Each morning I host the Writing Table. Along with several co-hosts and other writers we are making a lively and supportive community. You can learn more about that aspect of what I do or join me for #FreeWrite Friday to see what it’s like!
4) studying and teaching about ministry
Everywhere I went on my trips in January, people asked me, “So where do you live? And what do you do now? And what’s your main job?” For the last seven or eight years I’ve gathered all that I do under the umbrella term of academic entrepreneur. It’s a time in higher education that is really not very friendly to professors. However, over the last 15 years the best jobs in academia have found me! And they keep drawing me back into teaching.
I dearly love my time and role at Union Theological Seminary where I have been teaching for five years. I am visiting associate professor of pastoral theology and care and I spend my time working with students who are preparing for pastoral ministry and chaplaincy. The semester I’m teaching a course in death, dying, and bereavement. It keeps me in that space I named above, a space where we work on things that matter most in life and death, love and grief, spiritual connection to the sacred and each other.
I also lead retreats as I did last week with a group of amazing women who are pastors, chaplains, and ministers in South Carolina. I consult with churches and seminaries that are trying to figure out how to do the work of ministry in a better way.
My research in the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project is now and its 15th year. My research partner Chris Scharen and I are beginning work on a new book that gathers up what we’ve learned in the first 10 years of ministry from a cohort of 50 pastors that we’ve been following since 2009. I’m very eager to get going on that project. My last book about what I have been learning about the practice of ministry and how ministers learn in real time is Pastoral Imagination: Bringing the Practice of Ministry to Life.
I began 3MMM in 2018 because I wanted to share what I was learning in my research without the paywalls of academic journals. Let me be clear (as I was with someone along my travels in January). The “paywall“ is not about the fact that I get paid for writing journal articles. I have never been paid for writing an article for an academic journal. I don’t really know anyone who has. The paywall is for you, the reader. You must pay the journal for access to articles that the journal did not pay writers to write. This is true for most academics especially in religion. I’m sure there are exceptions to this reality.
Mostly what I’m saying is that I want you to be able to read about what we’ve learned in our qualitative research project about ministers without having to subscribe to a journal that you might not otherwise care to read. So I wrote a book that is affordable. And if you cannot afford that book, just ask me. And I’ll make sure you get a copy. Pastoral Imagination offers up 50 slices of how people learn the practice of ministry in real time, on the ground, and through experiences. What exactly is pastoral imagination? Read more about it.
That is a lot about my vocation. Not everything, of course. But I speak personally and from my heart when I can. Because that’s how we connect. And that’s how we learn from one another relationally and emotionally. Personal sharing is key to what I do. In those in between spaces? That is where the very presence of God is found in my experience and what I love most about sharing with you. Thanks for being part of my journey and please tell me how I can support you in yours. Grateful to be on the way together.
Season Six of 3MMM
Here’s a little glimpse into what we’re doing this coming year. Season six of 3MMM will be conversational. I look forward to inviting colleagues and friends to inform and inspire us about the practice of ministry. There’s so much in the world that is discouraging right now. Church, chaplaincy, and ministry are strained in so many ways. Yet God‘s presence and love and grace have not disappeared. Nor will they let us down. We just have to look for them in some more creative and slow ways. Like the turtles, let’s take our time.