When Sanctuaries Aren’t Safe

My blogpost on this topic is up at EerdWord, the Eerdmans blog. Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts!

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Writing Potato

Someone asked me why I have a potato on my writing desk, as pictured above. I was surprised. I thought writing potatoes were a common practice!

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Changing Seats

Growing up, my family took long car camping trips. My father was a principal and my mother was a teacher, so they took full advantage of summer vacation. All seven of us piled into a Ford Galaxy for trips we measured in weeks and thousands of miles.

Our trunk was stuffed to capacity and an enormous car top carrier weighted the roof like a turtle. Dad drove and Mom navigated. The youngest sibling sat in the front seat between them and the other four of us were in the backseat, three on the bench and one in the foot space, a cramped spot that we rotated. The arrangement might sound odd today, but in the 1960s and 70s there were no seatbelt laws.

This past week was a sort of family-car-trip reprise, some fifty years later, only this time we changed seats. I was in the driver’s seat, chauffeuring my parents on a 3-day, 700 mile car trip “up north” to the upper peninsula of Michigan.

My parents are in their eighties, so yes, I’ll gladly take them where they want to go if I’m able. Mom wanted to see Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and Dad wanted to visit some old friends who live on Beaver Island, which you access from Charlevoix. My grown daughter Clara opted to come along so we made some last-minute plans and flew to Grand Rapids together. The next morning Clara and I loaded the luggage and my Dad’s walker in the trunk of their black Mercury Milan and off we went.

The trip was exactly like old times except it was completely different. Dad was content to sit in the back seat, playing Scrabble on his Kindle Fire. Mom navigated with a paper map spread on her lap, but we mainly used the GPS on my iPhone. There was no tent in the trunk, and no gas stove for cooking. Instead we stayed in places I booked through my Expedia app, and ate at local restaurants.

On Day One we drove three hours north to Charlevoix. From there my parents took a single-engine plane to Beaver Island to visit their friends (“that’s once,” my Mom said of the plane ride). A few hours later, a high speed ferry returned them to the mainland. The day ended with ice cream and a few games of Shanghai. (Card playing is the key to their companionable marriage.)


Burger King for breakfast, McDonalds for ice cream. Do not mix this up.

On Day Two we drove four hours north to Munising through rain. We drove over the Mackinac Bridge, and stopped for a pasty lunch. This menu may, in fact, be mandatory in the UP. We also stopped at Seney National Wildlife Refuge, where the drizzle did not prevent us from seeing wildlife: mainly turtles and waterfowl, including trumpeter swans and sandhill cranes.


You should never take pictures while driving!



Pasties are pastry pockets stuffed with roast beef and diced potatoes, a miner’s lunch.

That evening our “sunset cruise” through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was cancelled due to the rainy, foggy weather, but we were able to reschedule for the next morning. The sky cleared and the scenery was beautiful.


Note the Pictured Rocks behind us!


The famed “Lovers Leap” at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

On Day Three we drove the 7 hours back to Grand Rapids, stopping for a couple of hours at Colonial Michilimackinac, which is a historical site that delivers six syllables of fun. We borrowed a wheelchair for my Dad, to save his energy, but he was soon up and out of it and cruising through the fort.


Redcoats firing muskets at Colonial Michilimackinac


The French traded with the Indians more successfully than the British. Here we learn why that is so.

What a treat to take a trip like this! It was a privilege to be in the chauffeur seat, rather than the children’s seat.

What unexpected seat might you occupy this summer?

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Signs vs. Sidewalk: Which Speaks Louder?

I was walking through an unfamiliar residential neighborhood to get some exercise, going at a good clip when I was brought to a sudden halt because the sidewalk disappeared. A certain establishment had not installed sidewalks along its considerable property line. The name of the establishment? “Health Network.” I could not continue my healthy walk past the Health Network, but had to turn around.

Sometimes I think this is what the church must seem like to people outside the church — an establishment that says one thing on its sign, and another thing by its behavior.

I know churches that say “Welcome” on their sign, but good luck finding a door that will open. Some churches unlock only a few of their many doors, even on a Sunday morning.

I know churches that proclaim “All Are Welcome” on their sign, but heaven help the young lesbian couple that walks in, hand in hand.

I know churches with the word “Community” in their name, but if you attend a potluck, you will sit at a table alone while the church folk visit with their friends.

The language on a church sign is often a sort of code that takes expertise to crack. In my world, for example, churches can have the word Presbyterian in their name and be in different denominations, differing in significant ways.

I remember a church member who visited a Presbyterian church on vacation and was puzzled to hear a sermon saying that women and men have different, complementary roles, and need to stay each within their own sphere, which does not include church leadership for women. The next Sunday she asked me “Is that kind of thinking Presbyterian?”

“Was the church PCUSA or PCA?” I said. As the words came out of my mouth I immediately realized what an inane response that was. For one thing, alphabet soup means very little. I must at minimum translate what the letters represent. For another thing, I can’t simply shove a complicated problem into a labeled box, as if that addresses the questions that are potentially being raised.

Better to say: “Do you have time to sit down for a bit? Because I can tell you about the various flavors of Presbyterians and how they came to be, if that’s what you’re asking. Or we can talk about the scriptures dealing with sex/gender and power/authority in the church, if that’s your question. I can suggest some books you might like to read on either subject. But I wonder if you’d like to start by telling me about your experience in that church. What things did you think about and feel as you worshiped there?”

Saying “Welcome” is easy. Being welcoming takes work and effort. It’s almost like pouring a sidewalk.

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Honor Flight: a WW II Veteran Reflects, a guest post

The following is by my father, Nicholas J. Huizenga, in which he describes a Talons Out Honor Flight he took on May 16, 2015.

Nicholas Huizenga, USA private

Nicholas J. Huizenga, 1945

Memorial Day, May 25, 2015.

Nine days ago I joined 105 veterans of World War ll on a trip to Washington D.C. mainly to see the war memorials. The average age of the vets was 93 years, and each had an assistant and a wheel chair. It was a long day, which began at the Gerald Ford airport in Grand Rapids at 5:30 a.m. and ended after midnight. During breakfast we heard the old songs of the War era by the Great Lakes Male Chorus before a grand send-off by scores of people, who applauded and shook our hands with expressions of appreciation for our service.

At the Ronald Reagan Airport in D.C. we were again greeted by scores of people while a professional group of women in their 60’s sang some of the old songs. Police cars escorted our six busses down the streets of Washington, while tour guides shared information about the buildings and monuments.


My family was able to meet Dad as he came off the bus at the WWII Memorial.

We made five hour-long stops: (1) We saw the Air Force Memorial, the most recent, perched at the top of a hill with a great view of the city. (2) While at the Iwo Jima Monument we watched in silence while about 20 Marines performed precise silent drills with rifles. (3) We witnessed with reverence the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (4) At the World War ll Memorial our daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters joined us, and we had a chat with Bob Dole. (5) We enjoyed the Roosevelt Memorial, where we saw a large statue of FDR and his dog Fala.

Nick discussing Michigan highlights with the Senator from Kansas.

Nick discussing Michigan highlights with the Senator from Kansas.

I told Bob Dole that I recently visited twice the old sanitarium built by Dr. Kellogg at the beginning of the past century. “Yes,” said Dole. “I spent three years there recovering after the War.” The famous sanitarium went bankrupt during the Great Depression and became a federal hospital. The building continues as a federal facility, now named Dole, Hart, and Inouye, all senators who spent time here.

A small section of the 105 Veterans on this particular Honor Flight.

A small section of the 105 Veterans on this particular Honor Flight.

I learned later that ten of the men are residents of the Holland Home, though I did not know any. I did meet a friend from my young days in Munster Indiana and a classmate of Calvin College days. When we returned to the Grand Rapids airport, we were welcomed home by scores of people. Immediately, we were taken by bus to nearby East Kentwood High School, where hundreds greeted us with colorful posters, applause and expressions of appreciation. Kentwood police cars escorted us along the way, and about 10 fire trucks, all lit up. Between the fire trucks stood four persons who saluted us we passed.


The evening before the Flight, we were provided dinner and entertainment at an upscale country club. Three singers sang some of the old tunes of the War Era like Sentimental Journey and Don’t Fence Me In. They were named the Boogie Woogie Babies.


1940s music playing and two gals who treated the veterans to a kiss and a thank you!

1940s music playing and two gals who treated the veterans to a kiss and a thank you!

What impressed me most was that hundreds of people of all ages went out of their way to express appreciation for those who served in a war fought 70 years ago.

At about 9:00 p.m. I was trying to sleep on the plane, when I awakened by “mail call.” One of the letters I received was from Abby D. of the Forest Hills Eastern High School. I don’t know Abby nor do I know where her school is. She doesn’t know me, but she wrote to me; it was not a copy. I was impressed that she took the time to write to an unknown vet. Following are excerpts of her letter: “Both of my parents are veterans. My father was a Marine and my mother was a nurse in the navy. They were both done by the time my brain started remembering, but one of the things I was afraid of as a kid was them getting called back and having to fight but not coming home one day. If you had not done what you did, I wouldn’t have this nice life with all these Japanese video games .. . “ {I wondered about where the games from, but we did defeat the Japanese in the War.}

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Pentecost: Crowd-sourcing a Question about the Crowd

The Pentecost story is so familiar that I picture it easily. But I’ve just come to realize that I’ve been wrong about a detail. I’m wondering if that detail matters.

Acts 2:1-21. The Pentecost story takes place on a feast day roughly ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven. As I’ve always pictured it, the disciples and other followers (maybe a hundred or so?) are assembled in a large room. They have just selected a new leader to replace the fallen Judas.

Suddenly a violent wind blows through the room, bringing with it flames of fire. The flames hover above the heads of all assembled. Each person is miraculously able to speak a language which was previously unknown. Overcome, they pour out onto the street, each speaking in this new language. A crowd gathers, amazed at the spectacle. Peter preaches eloquently, quoting the prophet Joel, and converts masses of people.

Boom! The church is born!

Only here’s what I noticed as I studied the text again. There’s no mention of the disciples leaving the room. Maybe I just assumed that happened. How else did the people from every nation hear them, and how did the crowd gather? But the text seems to suggest that the crowd gathers as if drawn to the great commotion coming from inside the room.

The KJV translates verse 6: Now when this was noised abroad the multitude came together. That phrase “noised abroad” may explain why I have an incorrect picture in my head. The NRSV translates verse 6: And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered. I looked up the Greek, but I am too rusty for it to do much good.

If there’s some fact you can supply, please do!

And help me think about what difference the detail might make. If the crowds came to the disciples, rather than the disciples dispersing into the crowd, does that change our hearing of the text?

Note: the discussion about this took place on Facebook, rather than in comments here. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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I’ve Always Wanted to Be Normal

RevGals coverI’m a woman and have spent a good portion of my career occupying pulpits. In some circles a preaching woman is seen as a problem. Now comes a book that normalizes my life: “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.” What a gift! I’ve always wanted to feel normal.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor (SkyLight Paths Publishing).

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

My guess is that you know someone who would love to receive this book as a gift.

More than 50 clergywomen have written this anthology. I contributed an essay, which ended up first in the book. It leads off a section called “Fierce & Fabulous for Jesus.”

Reading the book, what strikes me is not only how diverse we clergywomen are, but also how classy! Whether choosing a high heel, parenting an autistic son who acts up while we preach, blessing one of the ships in Her Majesty’s fleet, bringing support to people under curfew in a conflict-ridden area, or belly dancing for a bit of exercise and relaxation, clergywomen know how to bring it on with grace and style.

It’s a privilege to live this clergy life and a sense of gratitude permeates the essays. Find out what it’s like to baptize an infant who has mere hours to live, or to impose ashes on a forehead. Answer the burning question: Do single clergywomen go on hot dates? Discover what it’s like to come out as a lesbian while serving a congregation.

Sometimes lighthearted and sometimes devastatingly close to the bone, the essays in this book will educate, inspire, and entertain you. But beware! The 68 essays are bite-sized. You may find yourself snacking on more than you meant to in a sitting.

There's a woman in the pulpit with "There's a Woman in the Pulpit." Only it's not her pulpit, she's only filling in for another clergywoman!

There’s a woman in the pulpit with “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.”

The contributors are all RevGals. We come from 14 denominations, 4 continents, and are held together without a hierarchy or funding structure. We are simply stitched together the way woman know how to do, with love and connection and a heartfelt response to each other’s stories.

Disclosure: Along with the other contributors, I was given one copy as payment for my essay. This book project is a love offering for the RevGals and all proceeds go to support that ministry.

PS: I invite you to join our photo roundup. If you’re a woman in a pulpit, take a photo with the book and tweet it!   #RevGals #WomanInThePulpit.

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Two Kinds of Ministers

I submit that there are two kinds of ministers: ministers who’ve been hurt by the church, and ministers who haven’t been hurt by the church, yet.

I suppose you could apply this bifurcation to any group of persons. There are two kinds of spouses: those who have disappointed their mate, and those who haven’t, yet. There are two kinds of people: those who’ve died, and those who haven’t, yet.

Does this sound cynical? There is wisdom to be gained from meditating on failure and mortality, although we tend to avoid it.

(The current interest in post-apocalypticism is an interesting aside. We like to frame failure and mortality within a larger narrative of dystopia. I love how trilogies like “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” play with the notion of human agency. Can an individual operate within a small group to create change? Which circles us back to ministry questions.)

I’ve always been intrigued by the Vanitas paintings created by Dutch painters in the 16th and 17th centuries. These are a subcategory of still life paintings in which reminders of mortality are placed among the images of flowers and food. These reminders can be subtle or extreme, which is what makes finding them fun. Watches and hourglasses hint at the passing of time. Empty oyster shells and broken crusts are neutral reminders of a meal now past. Rotting fruit and dead game can be almost ghastly. And there are always lemons.

Contemplating still lifes makes a good hobby for a minister. Maybe it’s the modern equivalent of keeping a skull on your desk. (Thanks, Jerome.) Because Ecclesiastes was right. All things pass. Sometimes churches think that well-designed strategies can protect them or uphold them, or generate success. But there is more wisdom in knowing that we will fail. Inevitably. We will get it wrong until we get it right. Even then, all things will come to an end, often untimely so.

Maybe it’s best to learn to appreciate a bit of lemon. Maybe it’s good seasoning for a minister.

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Indiscriminate Tastes

Everyone likes to eat. What do you like to eat? On Sunday I’m preaching the Acts 10 text, about Peter’s vision, and so I’m pondering food choices. In the text, Peter, a law-abiding Jew, encounters a Roman named Cornelius and dreams of a sheet filled with food that he considers to be unclean. In the dream, God tells Peter: “Get up Peter, Kill and Eat.” Understandably, Peter recoils. The action recurs three times.

It strikes me that food is not just something to think about. Food is something to partake of. Recently I’ve experienced food a bit differently from normal. I just spent ten days traveling in the UK, and I did my share of eating! I began my travels in Ayr (west coast of Scotland), as a guest, sharing meals with my host family. Then I traveled to Edinburgh where I talked about pilgrimage based on my book, and stayed at a lovely hotel, like a tourist. Then off to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (east coast of England), to practice being a pilgrim.

All along the way, I did something I don’t usually do: I took pictures of my meals. I kept thinking, “Doug would love this!” So as a way to share the experience with my husband later, I snapped pictures. Which part of me was trying to preserve those memories — the tourist me, or the pilgrim me?

Back home, I stumbled across an interesting article that suggests, among other things: The way of the tourist is to consume; the way of the pilgrim is to be consumed.* It’s a delightful play on words. And it is certainly true that a pilgrim is primarily concerned with letting the Divine consume her, and therefore is unconcerned with the food she consumes along the way. But the quote would be problematic if applied directly to food. To say that “the pilgrim is to be consumed” by food is to speak the language of eating disorders. Still, we all know that food is a powerful way that we connect with others. Sharing at a table with someone is a way of appreciating differences — and transcending them. When we eat their food, rather than insisting on our food, we cross a boundary and inhabit the other’s world more fully.

Fittingly enough, one of the sermons I heard in Scotland was based on this same Acts 10 text (my host follows the Narrative Lectionary). Rev. Liz Crumlish did a great job of having her congregation share with each other about ordinary food experiences before we dove into the text.

The take-away: Don’t let notions of ritual purity stand between you and the Other. There is no Other anymore. We are one in Christ. Work this out in the most basic way possible: at the table. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that a symbol of church hospitality is the potluck table, where we share each other’s dishes. In that spirit, check out some of the meals I consumed in Scotland and England.


Lamb. At the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel.


A Northumbrian breakfast. The black disk is black pudding.

Northumbrian breakfast. The black disk is black pudding.


HNT: Haggis (sheeps innards) Neeps (turnips) & Tattis (mashed potato). At a touristy bar on Royal Mile.


A lobster straight out of the North Sea on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

And single malt Scotch whisky.

And single malt Scotch whisky.

*At the asterisk, the author, Michael Sacasas, explains that he has borrowed this phrase from William Cavanaugh, which yes, led to further interesting Google searches.

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Pilgrim Hospitality

I have just returned from a pilgrimage to the UK where I was on the receiving end of so much hospitality! I led a 3-day conference called The Pilgrim Way for 18 clergywomen in Edinburgh, Scotland. The woman who originally envisioned this international event, and organized it, was Julie Woods. She took care of “all the things.” How inspiring to see her idea give birth to an event, years in the making! Here Julie and I are, in front of the priory ruins on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which was a follow-on from the conference.

Rev. Julie Woods, right.

Rev. Julie Woods (right) Rev. Ruth Everhart (left) on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

To back up a bit, I arrived in Scotland a few days early in order to get over jet lag, and was hosted by Liz Crumlish at her home in Ayr, on the western coast. Liz was the first Church of Scotland clergywoman to attend a RevGal Big Event cruise almost a decade ago, and it was her enthusiasm that persuaded more Scottish clergywomen to cross the pond year by year. I chose a picture of Liz laughing because she is always laughing.

Rev. Liz Crumlish, right.

Rev. Liz Crumlish (right) and Rev. Ruth Everhart (left) in Edinburgh, at the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel.

After the conference in Edinburgh, 11 of us clergywomen participated in an optional follow-on, and actually practiced pilgrimage. We went to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, off the eastern coast of Great Britain, by train and taxi. You have to watch the tides just right to get to the island, as the causeway is covered twice each day. Rachel Poolman was our pilgrim guide. Rachel is the Warden of St. Cuthbert’s Centre on the island. Check out the Facebook page, and notice that St. Cuthbert’s has a bothy where pilgrims can stay. You know you’ve always wanted to stay in a pilgrim bothy.

Rev. Rachel Poolman, right.

Rev. Rachel Poolman (left) and Rev. Ruth Everhart (right).

Throughout the conference, the spirit of hospitality flowed freely (as did the wine, after hours, and a wee bit of gin!). To me, as speaker, the women gave copious gifts of attention, plus laughter in the right places. To each other, the women gave the gift of sharing stories, and hearing the tears, or questions, or laughter, that rested just behind those stories.

Below is a photo of the whole group as the conference began (don’t we all look fresh?), and below that is a pheeto — a feet photo — which is a RevGal tradition. When the RevGal blogring was formed in 2005, many of us blogged anonymously, so a pheeto was a safe way to preserve the memory of a gathering.

This was a historic event, the first international RevGals conference, and I am just so happy to have played a part in it. Thank you, pilgrims!


BEE, Big Event Edinburgh 2015, RevGals


The traditional “pheeto” after a spiral labyrinth walk.

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