“Whose Story Is It Anyway?” When Ministers Write Memoirs

a panel at Festival of Faith & Writing 2018, #FFWgr

I’m participating in a panel on Thursday, April 12 (3:15 p.m.) in the Calvin College Chapel. If you’re attending FFW, I hope to meet you there!

Whose Story Is It Anyway? When Ministers Write Memoirs
Susan Baller-Shepard, Ruth Everhart, Mary S. Hulst, Barbara Melosh, Carol Howard Merritt
Memoirists who are ministers face particular ethical questions as they tell stories of congregational life and share personal stories that push the boundaries of what a leader ordinarily discloses. But these underlying questions are shared by all who write memoir. Whose story is it, anyway, and what are the writer’s responsibilities to those who share their stories? In this panel, clergywomen discuss navigating these lines in the context of their pastoral vocation.

For more info about the festival, click here.

On the following Monday, April 16, I’m speaking at Neland Ave. CRC at 7:00 p.m. Both events are listed in the sidebar. Contact me if you have questions!

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“Shame: Hope & Healing in the Church”

Creating Safe Space, Offering Hope & Effective Response

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Join Me at Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI!

Thursday, September 28, 7:00

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My review of “When the English Fall”

I was pleased to review a debut novel for the Presbyterian Outlook. The author, David Williams, is a colleague — the pastor who succeeded me at Poolesville Presbyterian Church. Do you like 1) Amish fiction and/or 2) dystopian fiction? If so, this is a must read!

Influence: Do you have it? Do you want it?

"Influencers," the writing vocation, and a tipi

The radiating lines of the tipi remind me of ripples in a pond, a way to picture “influence.” My photo, taken at an exhibit about the Blackfeet nation near Glacier NP.

Perhaps you’ve run across this unlikely noun: Influencer.

I heard it often during my last book launch. My publisher asked me to create a list of people who were in a position to influence others to read my book — writers, bloggers, pastors, and Good-readers. At first it was excruciating. I hated the idea of asking others to use their influence on my behalf. But I also understood why I needed to ask. Social media makes it possible for well-positioned people to influence buying behavior.

The word Influencer still feels non-grammatical to me, but I’ve come to see that my problems with the word are not purely grammatical. My discomfort goes straight to the heart of my vocation as a writer — and whether my work deserves to be supported. (more…)

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Feeding the Writer Within

stoking the flames of love

Certain loves are more difficult to keep alive than others. These are the loves that no one assumes you harbor.

Some loves are normative. I can tell you that I love my husband and daughters and you will understand me. I could say I love Jesus, and most of you will understand what I mean to say, even if you don’t share that love. I could mention that I love the smell of frying onions and the sight of melting cheese, and many of you will sigh and salivate.

I could even say that I love words and writing, and many of you will nod in agreement. But if I say that I love my writing self will you continue to nod? Or is a bit transgressive to turn a love inward?

Yet the best way for me to express my love of words and writing is to honor my writing self. I have to feed Writing Ruth. I have to stoke the flames of her loves.

How about you? Are there loves you struggle to honor?  (more…)

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My Recent Adventures in the Public Sphere

featuring the Washington Post & Breitbart

Almost two months have passed since my Op-Ed appeared in “Acts of Faith” at the Washington Post, and conservative media vilified me for it. I wrote up an account of what happened and sent it to my subscribers. But as Breitbart continues to be a cultural force, and “truth” continues to be at issue, it seems best that I should set out the facts for anyone who might be interested in them.

The title of the Op-Ed was this: “Our culture of purity celebrates the Virgin Mary. As a rape victim, that hurts me.”


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Healing Spiritual Wounds

an interview with Carol Howard Merritt

Have you ever been wounded by a church, or do you know someone who has been?

Have you ever wished you had the right book on your shelf, something solid and helpful you could read and pass along?

That book is finally here! It is destined to become a classic.

Carol Howard Merritt’s book is called: Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church.

I am privileged to call Carol a friend. We labored together in a writing group, and I know firsthand that she has mastered her craft. What’s more, she has wisdom, theological depth and ministry experience. I believe her book will help many, so I was thrilled to write an endorsement:


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Intentions for 2017

Do you write Resolutions or Intentions for the New Year?

As each old year draws to a close, I like to choose a word or phrase that captures my intention for the new year.

The first year I chose a phrase was 2012. I had quit my church work to focus on writing and felt the need for direction as I sifted through writing projects. I chose the phrase: “Close the Loop.” Surprisingly enough, my focus was on housework. If I started a load of laundry could I actually “close the loop” by getting those items dried and put away? As I became more conscious of open loops, I began to see them everywhere: my piles of papers not dealt with, the unworn clothes in my closet, the projects I had not finished. I became aware that these were open loops that sapped my energy. It’s no surprise that this became a year of purging!

My 2013 phrase was: “Be Lighthearted and Gracious.” My mental image was a fluffy white feather. I had completely immersed myself in one writing project — the work that became my memoir. The phrase was helpful, particularly as I had to spend so much time reliving painful memories and writing about the topic of sexual violence.

My 2014 phrase was “Do the Work.” Now I had so much work in progress that I felt overwhelmed. How would I ever get the writing done? The task seemed impossible. But I wanted to finish, desperately. The work was an open loop I needed to close. I realized I had to just put my nose down and see the work through.

My 2015 phrase was “Love the Work,” as I realized that when one phase of work ended, another appeared. I now envisioned myself as a writer, vocationally, and embraced the writing life as a gift. The opportunity to exercise my creativity would be enough reward, no matter what else might happen.

My 2016 phrase continued the theme, only I embraced both the sweat and the beauty: “Love the Work, Do the Work.” And after 5 years of sustained effort, 2016 became the year that my memoir was published.

Now it is almost 2017! I am still pondering phrases to capture my intention for the year ahead.

What about you? Care to share your phrase in the comments?

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“BIRTHED: Finding Grace through Infertility”

a memoir about infertility that will be a blessing to you

Do you know someone who is struggling with infertility? Perhaps this is the story you live, but hide from others. Or perhaps you have a different but similar sort of heartache. Do you know the feelings of repeated loss and grief, which bring a sense of hopelessness?

My friend Elizabeth Hagan has just written a memoir about her experience with infertility. I am so pleased to tell you about her book — for two reasons. I have been privileged to know Elizabeth while she lived this story, and while she wrote this story — an experience that has covered nearly a decade! I can tell you that Elizabeth is a woman who lives with integrity and passion, and every word of this book reflects her experience of living as a follower of Jesus while her heart was breaking. There is nothing forced or false about any of these sentences. I can also tell you that Elizabeth has grown so much as a writer over that decade! What she has achieved in getting these words onto the page is truly remarkable.

I urge you to buy and read her book! You know someone who needs this book.

Here are some of hard-won lessons you will glean from sharing Elizabeth’s journey:

~ When life doesn’t go as you plan, something greater might be emerging beneath the surface. Live through the pain and you will get there!
~ There are no “one-size” fits all answers to a fertility journey, medically, emotionally or spiritually.
~ It is okay to live into the mystery — the mystery of not knowing how you will bear a child, when or if at all.
~ Infertility does not have to be a silent journey. Connect with my story. Connect to others who’ve gone through it too. Let friends and family who can bear with your pain love you through it.
~ A long season of grief doesn’t have to destroy your marriage or friendships. It can in fact bring you closer.

Learn more at Elizabeth’s website, Preacher on the Plaza.

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