Is He Hitting On Me? A Clergywoman & A Bereaved Guy

RevGalBlogPalsClergywomen face unique challenges. Today’s “Ask the Matriarch” column at RevGalBlogPals addresses a question about enforcing boundaries with a person who is hurting:

Dear Matriarchs,
What’s a gal chaplain to do? I work in hospice and I try hard to be professional and do my job well. What does one do when a bereaved male claims he has “felt a connection” and asks where you “do services” or looks at you very intently in the eye and says he gets “lonely”. So far I’m just taking the professional route and ignoring the hint. Should I call him out and name it in regards to me, risking breaking the “connection” or trust? Or just continue the professional, empathic way? Does “compassionate, pastoral, good listener” equate with “possible hookup” to these guys? I am solidly married with kids and love my work.

Many Matriarchs responded, including me.

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Hold Up. Really.

Here’s another reason to do all your banking online. Just now I went to the bank to deposit a few checks — at the PNC on Hwy 7 in Sterling — and came home with the chore undone.

As I approached the bank I glimpsed some flashing blue lights in the front, so I took a shortcut and went around back. There were electrical trucks back there, so I assumed the power was off and the cops were directing traffic. I parked my car at a little distance and walked across the parking lot toward the bank. That’s when I noticed a deputy with his gun drawn, an M-16. He barked at me: “Ma’am, get back.”

Turns out there was a robbery going on at the Wells Fargo, right next door to the PNC. As I watched, people in business wear came out one at a time, their hands over their heads. There were six or so Sheriff’s deputies in their brown uniforms with bulletproof vests. Another couple of guys in full SWAT uniforms. A helicopter was hovering overhead.

I watched another Sheriff’s car pull up. A deputy got out, pulled his Kevlar over his head and grabbed a clipboard. I suppose there’s a lot of paperwork with this kind of thing.

A few minutes later, another guy dressed all in black pulled on black gloves as he walked toward the back entrance, very purposefully. Every few minutes one of the Sheriff’s deputies ran a loop around the parking lot with his gun drawn.

I talked to another woman in front of the Dunkin Donuts. She said: “How does somebody think they can rob a bank in this day and age?”

I said: “No kidding. You have to rob a bank from the inside, not this way.”

She sighed and said, “Well, all I know is, my husband really wanted a donut.”

Posted in Conversations with Strangers | 6 Comments

Stop. This Picture Needs a Haiku.

fall leaves and Stop sign

Here’s a picture of fall leaves and a Stop sign, from Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan.

This photo seems to beg for a haiku, doesn’t it? I invite you to write one and leave it in the comments! A haiku is 3 lines which don’t rhyme: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables.

Posted in Haiku, Things I Wonder About, Travel: Ontario & Michigan | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Virtual Pilgrim: The Mount of Temptation

Need a break? I invite you to take a 5-minute pilgrimage to Jericho!

This video will take you to the Mount of Temptation, a hill high above Jericho which is the home of an ancient monastery. The site is associated with the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil, which is told in  Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.

This video was made by Eran Frenkel. Check out his videos about other sites in and around Jerusalem at

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In Celebration of Clergywomen

October 14, 2014 is my 24th Anniversary of Ordination to the Ministry of Word & Sacrament. What a privilege to live this life! For the past three years I haven’t been serving a church full time, and so I have a bit of distance from my vocation. More than ever, I love rubbing elbows with other clergywomen. I thought I’d list some of the reasons I’m grateful to still be counted among the ranks of clergywomen:

1. Clergywomen laugh at the humor in life. They are intimately involved with people’s lives — and life is funny. If you don’t think so, invite your favorite clergywoman over for a glass of wine and ask her if anything ridiculous happened in the past week.

2. Clergywomen don’t hide their eyes from the pathos in life. When they get the call, they get in the car and drive to the hospital, the nursing home, the morgue. They may cry but they also pray and bring a message of hope.

3. Clergywomen are beautiful in their robes and stoles. Have you seen the light in her eyes when a clergywoman is preaching the gospel and is totally un-self-conscious?

4. Clergywomen are down and dirty in their “I Love My Church” T-shirt. Also while hoisting that Habitat for Humanity paintbrush, or wearing a hairnet while making sandwiches to hand out to homeless people, or dripping in the dunk tank at the local street fair where they raised money for mission.

5. Clergywomen are leaders. They know how to put together an agenda and make decisions and delegate the next steps. (Please include that in the minutes and the church newsletter, thanks.)

6. Clergywomen are servants. Because Jesus.

7. Clergywomen are smart. They graduated from seminary. They earned a Master of Divinity degree. They passed ordination exams.

8. Clergywomen are foolish. They spent all that time and money and effort to get a degree that won’t buy them much earning power. Why? Because they felt called by God.

Clergywomen are a sisterhood and if you are lucky enough to be one, I don’t have to explain a word of this. But please pull up a chair, pour a glass of wine or cup of tea, and tell me what you’d add to my list!

Posted in Church: Leadership, Feminism/Gender/Sexuality | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Screens in Church: Eight Tips for Using Visuals in Worship

Visual images are powerful. We are surrounded by images used to influence our behavior as consumers. What is the role of the church in using images? More than five years ago I wrote about the connection between computer icons and iconography. At that time I suggested using a stained glass of the day. It’s time for an update!

For the past two years I’ve been in many churches as a worshipper or guest speaker. I’ve seen carefully chosen images do many things well: create a mood, arouse curiosity about a subject, or help a worshipper enter into a biblical story by illustrating the climate, clothing, and topography of a place. Excellent!

I’ve also seen screens used to scroll church announcements or to project the words to songs. These uses have their place. But sometimes images are a bit like filler, a digital version of clip art. For instance, a picture of an offering plate or a generic cross on a hill with a sunset behind. These images remind me of the old-fashioned sort of kitchen wallpaper that features spatulas and rolling pins. Were we in danger of forgetting where we are? Just like clip art, these generic images feel like yesteryear and can actually diminish the worship experience by trivializing it.

I understand that choosing and using images can be yet another time-suck for people who already have too many things to do. Perhaps then the screens should stay dark. Don’t let them become a negative thing, for either the worship leader or the worshipper. Worship is just too important for that.


  1. Have an attitude of experimentation. Invite people to respond as to what is helpful and what is distracting.
  2. Choose a few images carefully. Less is more. Try using a single image as a contemplation point or the “stained glass of the day.”
  3. If possible, let the edges of your image extend beyond the borders of the screen. Keep in mind that color tends to wash out in large spaces like sanctuaries, so choose images that do not depend entirely on color for their impact.
  4. Mix it up. Use great artwork of past eras, stained glass images, icons from orthodox traditions, photos from late-breaking news stories, a child’s interpretation of a scripture story, a classic Sunday School image, a photo of natural beauty. Avoid the cliché.
  5. Try using a disturbing image as a jolt, but don’t leave it up for a long time. Just make a point and move on.
  6. Timing can be important, so become comfortable with the clicker, or work with the person who is changing the images.
  7. Limit the amount of text. Too much text can be a trap for preachers, who often think in words. Putting a sermon outline on the screen is not the same as using visuals in worship. When using text, try white letters on a black background and choose a font with a serif. Use the largest font possible and pay careful attention to the line breaks. Check for typos, which are distratcing.
  8. Experiment with using an “Inquiry Image” for children’s time. Show an evocative image that relates to the topic and ask the children what they wonder about. But don’t answer their wonderings. Just let the questions gather speed. It will engage the curiosity of the adults as well as the children.


  1. a photo of a dry, curling leaf as we considered a healing story, changing to a spring leaf as a closing image
  2. a series of paintings of homeless children, women, and men, as we considered the “least of these”
  3. an image of geese rising as we considered “the birds of the air”
  4. photos from my trip to the Mount of Transfiguration and Jesus’ baptismal site, as we considered those stories
  5. a DVD clip from “The Gospel of John” when the text was the raising of Lazarus
  6. images of women baking bread around the world on World Communion Day
  7. the tool of Google Maps to zoom from the globe, to the continent, to the country, to the county, to the rooftop of our church as we considered Acts, a kind of reversal of “from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth”
  8. a clip from “Doctor Who” as we considered in what way Jesus is a Time-Lord

I have not addressed the issue of copyright, which could be another blogpost.

What would you add to either of these lists?

Posted in Church: Leadership, Church: Transforming | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Pie & Pilgrimage & Potluck: October 18-19, Midland MI

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 1.53.07 PMMichiganders definitely know how to choose a location. The Saturday event will be held at a famous eatery: The Grand Traverse Pie Company. Click on the link if you dare.

On Sunday I’ll be preaching both services at Memorial Presbyterian Church and then speaking at a “Praying for Peace Potluck.”

Notice the food theme? I love the midwest.

If you’re in the area I invite you to stop by so we can meet in person!

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My First Sailing Adventure — Annapolis, MD

Gulls flap. Ospreys dive.

Tankers growl. Speedboats buzz. But

no motor = Quiet.

sailing Annapolis MD

All Aboard the Alibi!

sailing Annapolis MD

The Bay Bridge in the distance.

sailing annapolis MD

What’s that tanker doing?

sailing annapolis MD

Wouldn’t that red capsule make a fun ride?

sailing annapolis MD

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Praise or Blame, All the Same: Handling Criticism

A recent article in the NYT, Learning to Love Criticism, discusses a study of performance reviews, which shows that women are criticized more severely, and in more personal ways, than are men. In other words: It’s not our imagination!

I am familiar with the dynamic described. As a clergywoman, my work requires me to make decisions, talk frankly to people, and speak the truth. At the same time, I deal with people at vulnerable moments, and am heavily invested in communicating the love of God at all times. That is already a difficult dance to manage. Add the gender piece and now the dance floor is littered with holes that can grab your (figurative) high heels and pitch you to the floor.

Women who speak frankly are called strident. Women who are decisive are called aggressive. Women who exert their authority are called control freaks.

How can we do our job without paying a price? Perhaps the answer is: we can’t. So we must calculate the price and count it against the cost of not doing the work.

The NTY articles speaks about the “impossible tightrope” women must walk to do “substantive work.” The tightrope referred to is: how to be professional and make tough decisions while at the same time be seen as nice.

I am familiar with that tightrope. As an Associate Pastor in my first church, I was told that I too frequently used “I” language. This puzzled me. I had just spent a great deal of time and energy learning about family systems theory, and was committed to using healthy communication patterns. I thought that using “I” language was a good thing, not a problem. Even the committee members giving me the criticism were unable to further explain what the problem was, or how I should change to please them. One said: “They just think you should let the group make all the decisions, I guess.”

In that same group, we routinely ended our meetings with a time of open prayer. After everyone had prayed and the silence stretched for some moments, I would bring the prayer to a close. As soon as I said Amen, one particular person would invariably say “I was just going to pray but you ended!” So the next time I would wait longer. Still the person would not offer a prayer. So I would close and the person would protest. The pattern continued, with constantly lengthening periods of silence until it was ridiculous — a full two minutes of silence.

Finally, one of the older members pulled me aside and said: Don’t you see? It’s the perfect complaint. No matter how long you wait, it will never have been long enough. I am grateful for that wise elder, whose comment freed me from the need to try to please someone who was determined to not be pleased with me. A criticism that is a perpetual Gotcha! is not worth heeding.

I would like to think that this story is hopelessly outdated and that things have changed since the early 1990s. But I doubt it. Just as I was finishing this blogpost, my friend Carol Howard Merritt wrote about a similar dynamic. I know that I over-learned the practice of back-seating my own opinions. I became too enamored of a consensus model of leadership. I under-valued my own ability to help a group discern its next steps.

Now I am trying to learn new behaviors.

What we professional women must do is not easy. But we can feel empowered. Rather than waiting for the tightrope to disappear, we can change how we receive criticism. We can hear whatever bits are helpful, but not let any mean-spiritedness impair our ability to do the work. The work is what matters. The work is always what matters.

As Richard Carlson so memorably said: Praise or blame — is all the same.

Posted in Church: Leadership, Feminism/Gender/Sexuality | Tagged | 4 Comments

Healthy Boundaries for Clergy: Four Gems to Remember

To keep my standing as a minister current, I must attend a “Healthy Boundaries” training once every three years. We groan about how quickly three years rolls around, but the training is helpful. (It was sponsored by National Capital Presbytery and used material from FaithTrust Institute.)

Here are four gems I want to remember:

1. Boundaries preserve the sanctity of the self in relationship.

2. Why do people cross boundaries inappropriately? Because people are pleasure seeking creatures. And because we aren’t paying attention.

3. A teacher should never want something from a student.

4. The purpose of another person’s life is never to relieve my suffering.

Do you have to attend similar trainings? What are the gems you take away?

Posted in Church: Leadership, Feminism/Gender/Sexuality, Sexual Boundary Violations | Tagged , | 4 Comments