A Bibliography: The Solidarity of a God Who Also Parents

A local colleague who has noticed my writing asked me to put together a 45-minute class for parents at the church where she was an interim pastor, to start off the Sunday School year. In preparing a take-home sheet for them, I realized that I have a bibiliography almost entirely of my own work. Here is much of my “God, Parenting” repertoire, collected in one spot and hyperlinked! (By the way, 45 minutes is not nearly long enough for the topic, but it’s a start.)

The Solidarity of God Who Also Parents

Julian of Norwich + other mystics as early as 1300’s embraced the metaphor of God as Mother & Father

God named as Father in Scripture- Jeremiah 3:19; Matt 6

God named as Mother in Scripture- Isaiah 42; Matt 23:37

A Laboring Woman” chapter in Wearing God by Lauren Winner (2015)

Recognizing Parents By Their Actions

https://www.livinglutheran.org/2018/05/god-or-mother-both/

https://www.livinglutheran.org/2019/07/good-news-for-parents-not-in-church/

Responding Consistently to Build Attachment: Romans 8:12-25

https://leeannpomrenke.com/2017/07/18/preach-on-us/

Parents are Changed/Transformed Ourselves 

https://www.episcopalcafe.com/god-the-parent/

1. God is/we are emotionally impacted- Ex 32:10 (anger); Luke 19:41; John 11 (grief)

2. Bargaining is part of parenting, and sometimes giving in- Gen 18, Ex 32:14, Mt 15:21-28

3. Our bodies are no longer our own- Is 46:3-4; Isaiah 49:15

4. Present for the mundane – Holy Spirit

If God Is a Deeply-Involved Parent, It Spurs Us to Act in Solidarity

https://sojo.net/articles/3-ways-calling-god-mother-transforms-us

https://www.redletterchristians.org/god-our-parent-would-never-treat-children-like-this/

All publications: https://leeannpomrenke.com/publications-projects/

 

Photo by Dimitri de Vries on Unsplash

The Silent Auction Made Us Do It

This past month, we used gift certificates for (1) a cabin that sleeps 11-13 (2) a complete outfitting package for wilderness canoeing and camping and (3) an upscale oyster bar and French restaurant. Because they were about to expire. This odd collection of experiences can all be traced back to silent auctions during previous fall non-profit fund-raising seasons, and our propensity to bid, bid, bid!

I suppose it is possible to peruse silent auction items with the purpose of getting a deal. The minimum bid prevents the bar from being set too low, but one can sometimes pick up (ahem) a membership to the science museum for a fraction of the cost. But that’s not the point. Raising funds to support the organization is the stated purpose, so we are asked to be generous. On boards I have been a part of, we have wondered if the payout is worth the effort of hustling around to area businesses for all these items. I think it is, even if not from a financial standpoint. The secondary effect of silent auction items to justify giving may be even more crucial than the funds: prodding action, which deepens our connection to the organization and its mission.

We attend fund-raisers for organizations we are prepared to support, and presumably have some funds we are willing to give to it. The funny collection of items invite imagination:

Could we round up enough happy campers to justify a cabin for 13?

Could I be the kind of person who enjoys a 3 course Chef’s Menu?

Are we really willing to take our 4 and 9 year-olds into the Boundary Waters?

What if it is all for a good cause? It is like a quest, to figure out how we will fit this fun challenge into our lives (while supporting a great organization)!

Especially when those gift certificates are for an experience instead of physical items, I find myself engaging on a different level with the organization that brought this experience into my life. I want to ‘hashtag’ them on social media and repeat to everyone who will listen how we got to this place. I explicitly thank and reiterate to the business that we are there because they donated to our organization, strengthening that tie. And doing something always creates stronger memories than just saying something. The gift lives on, quite a bit more than when we simply write a check.

I guess what I’m saying is, my imagination is open and receptive. Bring on the fall fund-raiser season!

Escapism at its Best

Escapism gets a bad rap. Of course it is not healthy to deny reality indefinitely, or neglect what needs to be done all the time in favor of escaping into fantasies, but let me tell you, some escape can be a very, very good thing. Especially in the barrage of vitriole that is our current political and societal climate, having an outlet for pleasure, leisure or a spot of frivolity can keep us alive.

What is it for you – a fun novel? A binge-worthy show? Cosplay games or a con(vention) dedicated to any of those things? Although there is a wide spectrum of investment to be made – both in time and finances required – the benefits of small to large fan activities are similar. I have myself just returned from MissFisherCon, a gathering of the devotees of an Australian TV show (and somewhat the books it is based upon) called “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.” It was a blast – complete with many attendees in 1920’s period clothing, workshops on Miss Fisher’s particular kind of flashy car and the barefoot dancing (belly dancing) the lady detective picks up during one adventure in Morocco!

For the naysayers, of whom I might have been one at some point, I present some counter-frivolity. Here are 3 wonderful accomplishments of fandom.

1. Building community, in an age of isolation and loneliness

Despite (or perhaps because of) being so connected via the internet, American adults are more isolated than ever before, focused on work and home without time for much else. Our lack of connections feeds mental health struggles. My dear friend Danae Ashley, who got me to go to this fan weekend is both a pastor and therapist, and she pointed out how role-playing games can be used therapeutically to help those who do not readily pick up on social cues learn to interact, to be brave, to try out decision-making, and build community when they might be a social outcast in their school or neighborhood. To find others with your interest certainly feels like coming home in the best possible way.

2. Thinking outside our usual boxes

Hispano-Suiza cars, sound mixing for a TV series, plants and their poisons… none of these are subjects I think about regularly, if ever. But each workshop related to our delightful heroine and her adventures taught me something new. Given how these new subjects sent my mind whirring with creativity and new perspectives, I imagine similar phenomena happen for others. It is so very good to get outside our habitual subjects and areas of expertise, to appreciate what others are contributing to the world.

3. Valuing time for ourselves

In our capitalist context, we rarely give ourselves time for leisure. We may placate ourselves with unhealthy quick fixes, like snacking and getting lost on social media, but not invest in the longer interests that actually gladden our hearts. Those who do get paid vacation time often fail to take it all, and those who work at an hourly wage to get paid, stack jobs together in their daily schedules. Time is money, and the pressure is real. Carving out time and money for interests that simply give us pleasure – but don’t materially benefit those for whom we are caregivers – is specifically difficult for women. Between managing domestic and administrative details in our households, working and parenting ten minutes of leisure time at a stretch is about all many women can expect. So going to a Con (if you can afford it) or even attending a concert or reading a full book by your favorite author is indeed an act of counter-cultural assertion bound to be met with resistance. The belly-dancing class gave me this sense of indulgence, in the enjoyment of moving our bodies, away from the male gaze (although there were a few men in attendance at the con). It was just release, just happiness, just for us. And we are worth the investment.

Electric Road Trip

Driving an all-electric car cross-country takes more planning than I am used to, a side effect of this choice we made to consciously reduce our carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels. The question is, it is a positive or negative effect?

Yep, it takes longer. Road trips were one thing we considered when looking at hybrids and all-electric vehicles. If Tesla didn’t have these “superchargers” spaced apart in such a way as to make road trips possible, or we had a car without that high-speed charging capability, we would be constrained to shorter road trips for slower re-charging overnight. With the standard range Tesla Model 3, we end up needing to charge for 20-30 minutes after driving for 2.5-3 hours. I will trade that for the environmental impact of a gas vehicle any day of the week. But instead of a grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it outlook, I actually feel myself trying to convince others that this enforced stopping is a positive thing.

It takes 13 hours instead of 11 to get from my our home in Minnesota to my parents’ in Ohio. And then further to New York state where we vacationed recently. There are 2-3 extra hours in there for charging. We could not just power through and keep driving until our bodies are stiff or parts have fallen awkwardly asleep. But the kids look forward to the breaks, as do I when I’m driving, and that countdown of miles or minutes until the next supercharger we are being routed to lets us all know that there is a closer end in sight than that far-off final destination. Plus, there are snacks. As it happens, every 3 hours or so, we’re either hitting a mealtime or natural snack-time, and I know I can count on a boost of energy or enthusiasm from the places we remember (the 4-year-old draws donuts on her maps of “camping” because we have stopped enough times already at Tobie’s Bakery, headed north in Minnesota). Getting out of the car re-sets our road-weariness somewhat.

We also end up in places we likely otherwise wouldn’t be eating, shopping, or simply walking around, because they are within walking distance of the supercharger. That’s okay too, because it challenges our human impulse to insulate ourselves (in our case, perhaps to avoid Walmart or Golden Corral buffets) from places that many, many Americans spend their time. We also drove past Notre Dame University – wow – which we’d never likely do if there wasn’t a supercharger near there. We partook of several slices of life we might not otherwise see or identify with.

Twice we actually charged earlier, instead of pressing our luck and going to a further one when our charge would have been getting below 10%. That level of cautiousness is not usually my spouse’s modus operandi. The lack of superchargers did pre-empt one of my spouse’s detour ideas (Mackinac Island), because there are certain parts of certain states where there are not any superchargers. So, chalk that up to a challenge to our “individual choice,” which I will admit I am fine with having checked occasionally. If we want to go there, we’ll have to plan it out ahead of time, building in an overnight to the trip.

There are all kinds of analogies to be made, about one choice (this electric car) forcing us to intentionally examine future choices, or our need as people to re-charge regularly even if we think we could just power through. But I will leave it at this milestone: We just returned from an 1800-mile road trip, powered completely by electricity.

Admitting Complicity

Am I complicit if I do not know I am participating in oppression?

Yes, because in that case, I am also in denial.

——————————————————–

I know I claim and benefit from privileges based on my race, country of birth, class and religion. It is that very privilege that keeps me from seeing all the ways I am complicit in keeping my own interests at the center, instead of other people’s worth. I believe this about myself, my own faith tradition, my country. But I grasped the reality in a new way when I read Jemar Tisby’s book The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.

The first reason why I couldn’t parse this out before, is a simple view that the way things are is how they’ve always been. I know that’s not true, and have myself pointed out, (for a low stakes example), that the “traditional” worship service based on a hymnbook that was published the year I was born is only a tradition of those few decades. It does not define who we are or what “traditional worship” must be like. But the present is so… present. We are gladly led to believe that the way we understand an issue in our time is the culmination of all history, and therefore RIGHT. The Color of Compromise gives several examples of major, defining issuesfor a group of people, but the biggest is tracing the development of “race” as a distinguishing feature to justify race-based chattel slavery, and all of the points when Christians could and should have disrupted that concept because of our faith. Disrupting racism today should be one of the main tenets of our faithful witness.

Secondly, I was not aware of all the coded language and concepts that function around me, and in which I participate. This book has made me wary, more so than I was before, of any re-framing of conversations leaning into “states rights” or “individual freedoms” or even “law and order”. All of those phrases have been code for racial oppression, as slavery was outlawed and Jim Crow laws defeated. Racism adapted, inside and outside the Church. I did not recognize this thoroughly enough to challenge coded language about “the neighborhood” or different “worship styles” for different racial or ethnic groups in our midst in my last permanent pastoral position. How could the conversation have shifted if we talked about race and the Church, instead of trudging ahead to divide up who got to choose what music we sang when? In the final chapter on strategies to move forward, Tisby powerfully urges us to name specific examples. “Loving people” in generalities (All Lives Matter, anyone?) is code for doing nothing for specific people.

I had been thinking – desperately hoping – that if people just realized they were hurting children or could understand the root causes of migration or systemic poverty, they’d vote, legislate and behave differently. They just didn’t have a clear view of what they were doing. I sometimes picture Martin Luther thinking he would nail the 95 Theses to the church door for debate and they’d see the error of their ways and change. Instead his actions seeded a peasant revolt and entirely new churches. But maybe, just maybe, many more people understand the coded language and objectives behind the issues they champion, better than I do. Maybe they thoroughly believe the surface story for whatever their virulent stance is, and wouldn’t knowingly advocate for something that is essentially racism in a different guise. For example, abortion rights, which Tisby traces back only a few decades to when Southern Baptist preachers supportedthe cause in the 1960s, before it became part of the platform of the Religious Right (whose first galvanizing issue was actually not abortion, but segregated “Christian academies” in the South). Limiting abortion access used to be acknowledged as disproportionately impacting poorer and minority women. Maybe those virulently opposed to abortion access now think it is all about the potential life of a developing human. Or maybe it is consciously or unconsciously about making access more difficult for poorer, minority communities, because that effect is repeatedly exposed.

In the midst of reading this eye-opening, engaging history, I also saw the film about the Emanuel 9 at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, who were killed by a white supremacist after welcoming him into their Bible study. A white supremacist who was raised in my denomination. The theology of the survivors drives the meaning of the documentary, and initially I was a bit skeptical. I didn’t want them to jump to forgiveness so soon – I wouldn’t. I was quick to judge their theology instead of trusting that it was exactly what Black people have needed to survive with faith intact, all that white supremacy has put them through. One of Jemar Tisby’s ideas in the final pages of ways to restore what has been broken in Christianity by racism, is to value Black theologians as highly as we automatically do white ones. The lived experience of oppression may indeed carry more theological significance than anything I read in seminary or since. I am here to learn.

When Naptime Is No More

There will come a day, and that day is more-or-less rapidly approaching, when our lives will no longer be subject to the tyranny of the nap. It must happen: my youngest is 4 years old and headed to Pre-K in the fall. The nap must go. I am deeply ambivalent. What will I do then?

1. I will make lunch dates and afternoon plans (before 3 pm!) again.

We can go on day-long trips on the weekend as a family! Attend birthday parties that start at 2 pm! Did you know there is a whole world out there happening during naptime? I imagine the experience will be like when I was a child out of school for a dentist appointment, marveling at the traffic and people all out and about while I thought it was only school that happened in the middle of the day. Freedom!

2. I will no longer kid myself about accomplishing anything during that hypothetical block of time.

My naptime frenzy of accomplishment ebbs and floes, sometimes frittered away because I addressed the urgent needs too quickly then wasted a surprise extra stretch, or at other times when I desperately need to be productive, the dear child boycotts the nap or severely truncates it, waking a mere 30 minutes later and declaring it finished.

3. I will nurture deep empathy for those parents and children in that volatile space of “giving up the nap.” Tis a fragile time for all involved, and while some, I understand, pass through it with little fanfare, it can be a STRUGGLE. I remember attending a 4 year old birthday party when my older daughter was that age, and the twin sisters whose party it was took turns bursting into tears. “They have had to stop napping in preparation for Pre-K, which is going to be in the afternoon,” another parent whispered to me. I exhaled a sigh, re-calling how I had anxiously plotted when my daughter was originally assigned to the afternoon class (thank heavens a spot opened up in the morning). Godspeed to those teachers, I say. The necessity of naptime with my oldest was a constant reminder that I was not truly in charge. If I didn’t honor the nap, we would all suffer.

4. I will certainly yearn for the days of naps gone by (despite how pleased I am to be freed from the tyranny of the nap over our schedule). For that break in the day to be by myself, to clear my brain, restore my patience, recover my chill, especially on the weekends and holidays. For the chance for my daughters to recover the ability to regulate their emotions and behavior, the re-set that divided their days into more manageable halves, for the built-in reason to take a break. We will all miss it.

5. I will resist stereotyping the nap as something only toddlers and babies need!

I first took the memes of The Nap Ministry as a bit tongue in cheek, but the founder and “Nap Bishop” Tricia Hersey is absolutely serious. In a meme posted on Feb 4, 2019, she declared:

The toxic systems at work do not want you to embrace rest. On a spiritual level rest has the ability to wake you up to your true power and divinity. Rest connects and heals us. A healed and rested mind allows you to truly see who you are. This sight can change the world.”

And behold, I felt like I had been to church! As a pastor for whom a post-church nap is a necessary part of the liturgy, I recognize I am already inclined in this direction. But you feel the truth in that too, don’t you? Napping, even for adults, is an antidote to measuring our worth by our accomplishments. It is in line with mindfulness, an act of resistance and healing. I want my kids to experience such practices their entire lives.

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Get Thee a Consultant Fluent in “Church”

I could feel my eyebrow itching to raise as the non-profit director described sending out an appeal letter to congregations on their mailing list who hadn’t given in awhile. It was the middle of Lent. I am a regular supporter, not the target audience. But I have been on the receiving end of those mailings many times, to a church address. And I have recycled some immediately.

I had so much advice, both in the moment and afterward! While a “tips and best practices” sheet seems woefully inadequate, it is a starting point. Smaller non-profits cannot afford to rely on supporters finding them, as those like Habitat for Humanity can perhaps rely on their own reputation to draw new people or congregations into support. And those organization with faith roots certainly could dove-tail with a congregation’s mission. So here as a gift, is some direction from one who knows what it is like to be approached, especially in the church office.

1. Timing Matters

There are rhythms to the life of the Church. In churches that follow a liturgical calendar (mostly mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics) there are seasons of preparation: Advent (before Christmas) and Lent (before Easter). I will ignore you and your organization during these times. If you call me during Holy Week, I will not only ignore you, but probably form a bad attitude towards you in general! For churches of any stripe, the school year also sets a rhythm, with a launch in the fall and anticipated lighter engagement in the summer (except sometimes in youth ministry). Summer may be a more difficult time to reach church leaders, but when you do, we are more likely to take a meeting or phone call. Spring (post-Easter) and mid-autumn are your prime time for planning ahead.

By all means, worship with us. But do not attend worship in order to try to talk with the pastor about your initiative afterward. Instead what could cross your lips is something like, “I wanted to experience the congregation for myself and will be e-mailing you information about our organization’s mission later this week.” If the pastor appears to be in her 50’s or younger, please e-mail your literature. Our desks are cluttered enough with brochures already.

2. Provide Ready-To-Use, But Adaptable Programs and Marketing

You have the best chance of holding our attention with:

  • a pithy, meaningful elevator speech, clear about how your organization’s mission aligns with that of the congregation (we put our mission and vision statements on our websites or newsletters, so do your research)
  • specific, engaging activities that could be handed off to volunteers and
  • incentives for positive PR within and outside of the congregation

Easily-adapted projects and promotional materials tell a church leader that you value their time and have thought about stream-lining their efforts. For example:

a. Make educational materials available online in a way that can be edited.

b. Provide preaching illustrations that tie to specific Scriptures

c. Offer guides for talking about your programs with youth, children and elders

Congregations of any size may be looking for tangible activities, especially for teens, young adults or families with children to physically do together. Tying quilts, packing health kits, assembling backpacks with specific school supplies make us feel good (even though we may know that giving money is more effective). This is not always practical, especially for development work overseas, but I am simply naming the self-interest of congregational leaders. We know that it will stick with people longer if we do something physical (but we are likely to be choosy about when and where and age appropriateness).

You will need to contend with committees. A group of committed people (remember they are mostly volunteers) who form the “outreach” or “missions” committee may be your best way of gaining a foot-hold in the congregation’s life. Sometimes, however, as a pastor I was pleased to hand things I didn’t care about off to a committee because I suspected it would get lost. Make sure you have a contact who is on the payroll, in addition to a committee.

Once you’re in, you might inquire about designated funds. We all know that volunteerism is great, but (ahem) you are actually seeking funding. Many congregations have designated funds, memorials or endowments whose interest must be given away according to some specifications your organization might actually meet. Hallelujah!

3. Distinguish Your Values

I wish this was more important than ready-to-use programs, but alas it might not be. There is, however a growing awareness of the inappropriateness of some organizations’ approaches to service, so this discussion does matter to many church leaders. For example, if your organization provides a less religiously coercive approach to meeting basic needs, or invests in development rather than charity that creates dependency, I am all ears. I am more likely to put the effort into replacing something we’ve “always done” if I can clearly express why the new organization better lives out our religious commitments.

The Finale

But my best advice, you’ll need to value enough to pay for. If you want access to congregations, you need to value those who can help you to understand and adjust to a world we know very well. You will need a champion in any congregation you want to draw into long-term relationship, who feels valued and heard and as if your values align with hers. She might even be able to connect you with other organizations such as their affiliated synod/diocese, universities, or seminaries. Congregations have a lot to give in relationship with faith-related non-profit organizations, but you need to know how to ask.

Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash