Welcome back, friends! I have missed you. I have been busy with Lent, Easter, and denominational meetings, but I am excited about this episode.
Janel Ramsey is the podcast co-host of Brew Theology. We discuss her book, Women Experiencing Faith, and this idea of embodiment, including the influence of Purity Culture on the church. Janel shares her story of deconstruction and the process that helped her to discern her next steps. It is a raw and authentic conversation. I appreciate her willingness to share her journey with us.
I believe there are good take-aways for women and men in this episode as well as pastors and laity.
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Things from the episode:
Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar
Divine Dance by Richard Rohr
God Can’t: How to Believe in God and Love After Tragedy and Abuse
Shortly after my encounter with Christ I stumbled across a Christian radio station. I had no idea there was such a thing. There is a station that plays Jesus music? Wait, there is Jesus music that you do not sing in church? Anyway, the radio station had commercials. I mean… a lot of commercials. So many! Commercials for churches and preachers and Bible bookstores.
I could not believe it. There was an entire store for Bibles and Bible-related books. You have got to be kidding me. I am not going to tell you the name of the first Bible bookstore I visited. For one, they do not exist anymore. Also, I do not want to date myself. However, now that I think about it, the fact that it was a physical Bible bookstore tells you plenty.
I decided I must see this for myself. Look, it is a bookstore with books and pens and journals. These are my favorite things. They also sold Bible studies. I had no idea what those were, but I was hoping they could answer my many questions. Mostly the ones about Jesus and all the killing in the Old Testament. After so many years, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the killing parts.
When I walked in the store there were so many Bibles. Big ones. Small ones that fit in your pocket. Hard and soft covers. Different colors. And something about translations. I was quite certain I needed one in English, but it turns out that was not what they meant by “translations”. It felt like I stepped into a parallel universe. They were speaking English, but I did not understand the words they were saying.
As I approached the cashier counter, I was not even sure what question to ask. Instead, I simply inquired if they carried Bible studies. Her expression was one of confusion and disgust as she wrinkled her nose at me. Then she pointed towards several racks saying, “They are over there”.
Here is the thing, my beautiful reader friends, if someone asks if you carry Bible studies (at the Bible bookstore), then they are possibly a new Christian. Just be gracious and help a sister or brother out. K? Thanks.
I browsed the racks, and I was clueless. Now I laugh at myself, but in that moment, I was overwhelmed, and the blood drained from my face. I felt light-headed and wondered how anyone managed to follow Jesus. It was all so big and complicated! Most weeks I was trying to simply make it through Monday. What in the world was eschatology and did it even matter?
Some of the books had a notation indicating level of difficulty. Was there a level below novice? Children’s section perhaps? I needed an introduction to the introduction of the Bible.
The first study I chose was on money or time management. I bought it because they said it was for beginners. I sat at the kitchen table with my Bible and study book. The first page introduced the topic and some reflection questions. Some of them had Bible references that I miraculously found. But I kept looking in the back of the book for answers. There were no answers.
In school, the textbooks often had answers in the back. It let you know if you were on track. The Bible studies did not have an answer section and it was confusing me more. I sat back in my chair and let out a loud sigh. It was exasperating and I needed help. Then I thought of my friend’s Tupperware party.
My friend had recently invited me to her house to hear all about the new Tupperware products. People still do these. Tupperware, Partylite, MaryKay. All of them. So, my friend invited a group of us for a party. We sat in a circle, drank coffee, and the Tupperware gal told us all about plastic bowls with burp lids. It’s a thing. Ask your mom.
As I was sitting in my chair, I thought I could have a party. Instead of Tupperware, we could study the Bible together. It would be a group thing and we could help one another figure out the Bible. I later discovered this is a thing people do in church. They have groups parties every week, but they call them Sunday School classes. Dude! You could have told me.
Anyway, I dug out my address book and started calling my friends. “Hi Amy, I’ve been reading the Bible and I am going to have a Bible study. Do you want to come?”
Five women said yes. It should be obvious at this point, but I had no clue what I was doing. And still I started a Bible study in my home. This is because desperate people do desperate things, and I think the church needs a few more desperate people.
We need people willing to start Bible studies who are hungry to know Christ and share Christ. We need desperate souls who will start churches and orphanages. We need desperate people who will adopt and foster children who need God’s love. But maybe, just maybe, we are not desperate enough.
We are 14 or 15 months into a pandemic. Are you desperate yet? Is the Church sensing God moving them to do something radical? Different? I am praying that we get hungry for God. Most of us are hungry for our own way. But I am praying we get desperate for God’s presence and the assignments He is preparing for each of us. We have been doing things the same way for so long that we are unable to see other options. But God has promised to make a way when there seems to be no way. He has given us His creative Spirit so that we can also be creative. But that means we have to forget what we know and let Him show us another way.
I hope that today you will ask God to make you desperate because we need desperate people!
We sat in Linda’s golf cart at the campground. Children were running and giggling. I could smell burgers from someone’s grill. And I was sharing with her all the ways we might change the world together in ministry.
I needed a right hand; a teaching pastor who would be an anchor. But also, someone who would help me dream big dreams. Maggie, Linda’s golden retriever, was sitting with us panting from the heat. I laughed and said, “You could even bring your dog to work”. Apparently, bring your dog to work was the golden ticket because she accepted my offer.
It has been five years now and our pups have done ministry with us in many ways. They came with us to serve lemonade to soccer families in the neighborhood. We dressed them up as coffee cups and passed out candy on Halloween as baristas. They joined us for prayer meetings, Bible studies, and brainstorming sessions. We became good friends, and our pups were buddies.
Last year, I was in Seattle right before the pandemic hit. I went for a five-day conference. Then, on day two, my daughter called because our pup had a seizure. Although she seemed fine, it was the beginning of the end. In November, we rushed her to the emergency vet where they told us she was too sick and would not live. Our pup crossed the rainbow bridge that day.
Never had I imagined that losing a pet would be so painful. Linda reassured me by acknowledging the pain. She has said good-bye to several pets over the years and she understood the hole it left in your life and daily routine. “Cry. Just cry”, she told me. A few months later, my friend would have to say good-bye to her pup, too.
Grief is an equal opportunist. It is not partial to age or gender or how much money you make. It comes when you least expect it and asks for your whole heart. The world wants to place restrictions on what you grieve and how you grieve. But it does not work that way. God created us with a capacity to love and hope and dream. Any loss has the potential to break your heart and bring pain to your spirit.
Over the past year, our nation and our world has experienced tremendous loss. As ministers, we were confronted with grief almost every day. We buried our friends who were members. We sat with our members who lost loved ones. We labored to encourage and build up those who were exhausted from so much change. However, the question that Linda and I asked ourselves over and over was this: how do you minister to those who are grieving when you are grieving as well?
Our ministerial training emphasized selfcare and keeping the Sabbath. But it did not paint the picture well enough. It did not capture the reality of exhaustion brought on by a pandemic, racial tensions, political tensions, and grief upon grief.
My friend gave me permission to feel the loss and sadness. Later, I tried to do the same for her. It has helped us to empathize with one another. It has given us new perspective. And it has helped us to heal so we could move on. Mostly, it forced us to become hyper-religious about our sabbath-keeping.
We have started to track our days of rest. We inquire of one another if we rested or simply thought about it. Did we turn off the news, phone, media? Did we eat, sleep, and move our bodies? Did we talk with a spiritual director or counselor to help process the deep things of our soul?
You may need to hear this today: it is okay to cry, it is okay to feel the pain, it is okay to share the memories with a friend. It is good to rest and to stop, just stop. We need to care for ourselves before we can genuinely care for others. As followers of Jesus, we think we are uber spiritual when we sacrifice our time and health, but Jesus knew when it was time to get away. He took time to rest and eat and be with His friends. He also took extra time to be with the Father. Jesus was faithful to keep the Sabbath.
We are slowly entering a new season, a new normal. It will be slow in coming to fruition. Therefore, it is a good time to practice resting and keeping the Sabbath. It is a great time to form new habits to take us into the new normal. Friends let me encourage you to declutter while we still have time. It will bless your soul and your future. May you find hope and rest in the One who gave you a capacity for great love!