Editing

For the last month, I have been editing my book. I’ve added about one and a half chapters of new material to what I had, but the majority of the work to get my manuscript ready for its deadline has been re-working what I wrote last spring. This work has revealed much about my initial way of putting words on paper/computer, and how writing a book doesn’t necessarily resemble the shorter writing I have done in the past.

So Many Words

First, a book is long. I needed a minimum of 50,000 words because that was the book size I had promised, that all departments of the publisher are preparing to design and produce. The chapters I had that were more or less “finalized” already were between 5,000 and 6,000 words each, so multiplied by 9 chapters, I should have been right there. But some of the chapters were significantly less polished than I had remembered leaving them before my summer of full-time parenting and frequent travel. I managed to write some short pieces for publication during those summer months, but there were no periods of time for focusing on the overall arc of my manuscript. Plus, not having heard anything from a publisher in months, I was feeling a little deflated about the project, and gearing up to send it elsewhere when I heard from Church Publishing in mid-July. So the editing did involve one entirely new chapter, and significant work on one that was more of an outline than a readable chapter.

I regularly write short pieces between 500-2000 words, so 5,000 words that all hold together somehow are a challenge. I broke each chapter into about 3 sub-sections to make it manageable. I prize being concise and pithy, but trying to reach that word count for each chapter means that I sometimes indulged tangents or left in less insightful explorations. The dynamic of going into enough detail to be meaningful, while applying broad enough strokes to paint big ideas is one I am still trying to navigate. In the editing, I had a bigger problem: the big ideas of each chapter are related – as they ought to be in a book – and kind of bled into each other after awhile. Since writing a chapter at a time over multiple months last spring, alongside shorter pieces for publication on the subject (to build my “platform”), and even teaching an adult Sunday School class on the topic, I reached a point this month when I could not sort through in my brain whether a particular story or biblical reference sounded familiar because it was already in the book, or because I had used it elsewhere outside the book. My husband Stefan was a great help there. Reading the full manuscript with completely fresh eyes, he could point out several instances of overlap (once within the same chapter!).

Writing Is Not Preaching

Besides the online pieces I write, I am a preacher, and while that can transfer to writing skills, it is also a very different form. I’ve been preaching weekly now since mid-September while serving as a “bridge” interim pastor. I have been surprised by how many of the new sentences (in those 1.5 new chapters, but also new paragraphs here and there) I have written would work better for preaching than perhaps for reading. When I’m preaching, I can pause for emphasis between multiple clauses in a run- on sentence, and get my point across just fine. I can begin multiple sentences with “But” or “Because” and it is emphatic, not poor form. I can use the passive voice without losing the hearer’s interest because of my delivery, whereas on the page I have had to re-route all the passive voice to active instead. When I preach, the italics or underlining or exclamation points are made by my voice! The style guidelines from my publisher actually specify: no italics, underlining or ALL CAPS and “no more than 2 exclamation points in the entire book.” I have had to work out alternative methods of exclaiming and emphasizing strong statements.

A Writer Needs Readers

Other readers have been a very helpful part of the editing process. First Stefan read the book in its entirety, offering encouragement and constructive criticism. I sent out half of the chapters (the ones I was most concerned about) after editing for grammar, to friends who are themselves clergy mothers. They offered suggestions too, from details like: “Who is the ‘we’ you are referring to in this part?” all the way to big picture responses like, “It doesn’t smell like super-sessionism to me.” Feel free to Google that one. It was very helpful to have additional readers who could let me know if something is clear, even if one is not inside my head. The book is designed to be read by clergy women with their congregations – with discussion questions for each chapter – so readers’ own anecdotes will add to the content.

It has been a challenging, thoughtful month. Somehow, working very part-time at the bridge interim congregation (preaching, officiating at funerals, visiting people and encouraging the leadership) has dove-tailed well with this editing process. It gave me the break I need to come back to the manuscript fresh, and the permission to not say “yes” to too many other things during this month. I also suspect that turning in my manuscript is not the end of the edits. In the informational packet from the publisher, the time-line includes 8 weeks of editing, following the deadline. But my contract stated I would turn in a complete, polished manuscript, so I have. Stay tuned for more adventures in publishing!

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

My Book Has a Publisher!

On October 1st (our youngest daughter’s birthday) I received a book contract for my first book! Here are some details:

Working Title

Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God

Book Summary

Someone always needs you, and their faith – in God, themselves and the family of God – seems built on your dependability. Unnoticed labor is your expertise, yet your body and your family are always in the public eye. You navigate the family systems, using your words and your physical body to equip and coax them into more abundant life at home and in the community. But whose words and embrace will save you from burnout? Clergy Mother, I know you think you are failing or short-changing someone all the time. All sides pull you, need you, and no one believes that boundaries are for their own good. Yet I tell you, your ministry is made more effective by your mothering, not compromised by it. You are living theology for a mothering God.

Embodied addresses the reality of women leading in ministry while raising children as a set of deep gifts intertwined with challenges, and pointing ultimately to God’s own mothering behaviors. The book is aimed at clergy who are also mothers, with a powerful push to share the teeth-gritting beauty of this tension with those who can support us. Every chapter ends with reflection questions for clergy mothers and the support people we need to engage with us in working through this tension. Empowering mothers in ministry and all who relate to us to see our mothering skills as holy assets, the exhortations are grounded in solid theological reflection. Stories worthy of tears, chuckles or groans from the lives of clergy mothers will echo your own, as we stare down the assumptions people make about mothers who lead and reveal the mothering actions of God we have too often overlooked.

+++

The timeline is short, because I had a full draft manuscript by the time the publisher first responded to my proposal in mid-July. I am now deep into editing, and adding an extra chapter (based on one of my previous book proposals – ha!) before I am due to turn in the manuscript November 15th.

This title will be included in the Fall 2020 catalog of Church Publishing Incorporated, the publishing house of the Episcopal Church, which also reaches a wider ecumenical audience. Stay tuned as the process continues, and be ready for book launch news next fall!

A Turning Point

(A sermon on Luke 16:1-13)

Finally, he did the right thing.

For the wrong reason, but Jesus doesn’t seem to care about that. In this parable, the master or “lord” commends his dishonest manager because he acts shrewdly. And we scratch our heads, because… ummmm… I thought honesty was a virtue? Well, what if the adverb “shrewdly” is beside the point? Yeah, yeah, the children of this world are more shrewd than the children of the light, but God can work with anything to show people we are loved. Maybe what’s worth commending is simply that the manager acted, instead of squandering what belonged to his master by doing nothing. This guy – finally, since the end was near – reached out to others. And shockingly, with his selfish actions, relieved them of some of their burdens too!

I am reminded of Joseph, Pharaoh’s right hand man, telling his brothers who had sold him into slavery in Egypt, “What you intended for evil, God used for good.” The exact wording of Genesis 45:5 reads, “And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Those are really generous words for people who exploited you. Apparently God can use even our worst actions. But how’s God going to work with nothing?

What does it take to get you to act? What is the turning point?

Let’s start where it is easiest: our own interests. Most often, like the guy in our parable, we are looking out for #1. When I was a junior in high school, already SO beyond ready to graduate and move on, the school launched a new “mentorship” program. A high school senior could get out of school at noon if she had a workplace in the community where she could volunteer and learn about a career path. They had me at “get out of school at noon.” When I had to choose a workplace for the mentorship, I said, “Fine, how about my church?” After a year of this mentorship, my pastor said, “I realize you’re not looking for a confirmation of a ‘call’ here, but if you were, I’m giving it to you. You have the gifts for ministry.”

There might, just might, be teenagers across the world who participated in the climate strikes in our capital and so many others yesterday, not just because they love the earth, but ALSO because it was fun to get out of school. Doesn’t matter. There is precedent for God using what little effort we have brought or our mixed intentions, to show love to the world. The shrewd manager wants to be welcomed into the homes of the people he has had power over, so he uses his very last opportunity to curry their favor. And it changes their lives.

What might be the turning point that gets us to finally act?  

Someone Else’s Perspective: For some of us, a turning point is being struck by a perspective we could not see on our own. Maybe, the shrewd manager summoned his master’s debtors, then because he had recently had his own ego checked, he saw these other folks in a new way. Maybe his mind registered them as human beings like himself, slightly more than bodies to be exploited, now that his own superiority was uncertain. Once you see someone else as another full human like yourself – look out – you could start to act differently.

Seminary professor Barbara Rossing wrote in a commentary on this text that…

“Rich landlords and rulers in 1st century Roman-occupied Galilee were loan-sharks, using exorbitant interest rates to amass more land and to disinherit peasants of their family land, in direct violation of biblical covenantal law. The rich man or “lord,” along with his steward or debt collector, were both exploiting desperate peasants. We sometimes forget that charging interest on loans was forbidden in the Bible because it exploited the vulnerable poor. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Forgive us our debts.” But when we encounter a debt collector who actually reduces poor people’s debts by 20% to 50% — namely, reducing their debts to what was probably the original amount borrowed, without hidden interest charges — our first instincts are to judge him.”

From his new position of vulnerability, a shrewd manager could start to admit that the entire system is corrupt. So, either he reduces the debts by what would have been his own “commission,” taking money out of his own pockets to purchase future hospitality. Or, he cheats his master, because he won’t miss it. Whereas these people being weighed down by generations of exploitation certainly need debt relief. Our instincts may be to jump to the conclusion that “being faithful with what is another’s” means being faithful to what belonged to the rich landlord, including the interest he was charging. But what if Jesus might be talking about being faithful to what rightfully belonged to the peasants who were being disinherited of their land?

Recognizing what is actually going on is a really good first step towards action. We have got to stop thinking that living a faithful life is just about making decisions in our personal lives that are morally upright. It may well be that the systems in which we have been “playing by the rules” are not just, and the most faithful action would be to use our power to dismantle the system instead of obediently playing our part.

If you are comfortable where you are, you can certainly find friends or news channels or “experts” of any kind who will tell you that the systems and institutions we are a part of are just fine the way they are. But if you listen to someone with a different perspective, you might just have to do something, instead of going along like nothing needs to change. Now, I don’t know any of you yet. But I can guess, hopefully, that you are motivated by relationships with your loved ones. Somebody loves you, and that makes you want to see, not just out of your own eyes/your own history, but also to glimpse what the word looks like to them. If you cannot think of anyone you have that kind of relationship with right now, that you want to see life through their experience, a faith community is where we should be about building such relationships.   

Here’s a perspective that shook me up, from a sibling, a fellow Lutheran pastor, that I hope will be a turning point for many congregations in the ELCA. This Thursday I was at the St Paul book party for this new book: Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. Now, if that makes you uncomfortable, it should. It makes me uncomfortable. Because I love the Lutheran Church, yet look around. And step outside and look around the neighborhood. Instead of being concerned with how will we make sure we’re paying the custodian and secretary a fair wage (which, you know, is important) we cannot stop there and think the church is doing justice. There are layers and layers of actions that have been taken OR NOT TAKEN, words that have been said, policies that have been put in place – so long ago they are just part of the background we all forget to think about – and you know, today, that have embedded racism in some of the ways we do church. And although I may also be cringe-ing, I have to thank Pastor Lenny Duncan for telling the truth about this story we are living together. I am also afraid that the congregations that most need to read and discuss and struggle with a book like this will not touch it with a 10-foot pole. But the grace he offered in person was moving to me (I’m paraphrasing): “If you have never thought about race and the church or never considered ways our church has excluded people while keeping others in power, you get to start where you start. Nobody gets to look down on you because you haven’t had this conversation before or haven’t identified with others as your siblings in Christ deserving of dignity. You are here now. And you get to start where you are starting.” Voices like that of Pastor Lenny Duncan, can call us to account.

Sometimes in congregations that are shrewd managers, it takes a sense that “the end could be near if we don’t do something differently,” to get us to do something. And so, it is a bit self-serving that we try to reach out and bring in new members because the writing is on the wall. We are confronted with an ultimatum, so then we act. But we most certainly have to start by listening. Listening to other people’s stories and giving up what we could have extracted from them, in order to be in some kind of relationship.

God can use that to do something new. To bury and raise up. To turn death into resurrection. Thanks be to God.   

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.