Four days after Christmas, our 3-year-old read aloud her new book from the back seat of our car. Except she can’t read; she had memorized Rosie Revere, Engineer. Now, our youngest daughter is a book lover of the highest order, and I’d already read this delightfully rhyming book to her at least a dozen times by then. But I also like to imagine that the speed with which those words implanted in her memory has to do with the empowering message of this and another book we love by the same author, Ada Twist, Scientist: Girls can do anything, and live into their callings as their natural aptitudes are supported by others.
Nowhere in either book does any character breathe a word to the heroines even implying, “You can’t do that because you are a girl,” or “Girls aren’t suited to that.” Although “Girls in STEM” initiatives are working hard to reverse those misconceptions we know they are still prevalent. Yet in the world of these books, not even a whiff of such prejudice exists. The adults in their lives are quite bewildered by their experiments, and laugh (Rosie) or discipline (Ada) the girls, but it’s never about gender. Readers follow along as the girls follow their curiosity, do what comes naturally and others navigate how to relate to them. The calling of each girl is never in question; only how their families can support them is.
We need a book that summons a world where that could also be true of a young girl I’d call Phoebe Finster, Minister. Becoming a clergy person is certainly a process of tinkering, uncovering natural abilities, and finding support for such a vocation both internally and externally. Undeniably part of the appeal of Andrea Beaty’s excellent picture books are her clever storytelling and engaging illustrations by David Roberts. I’m not trying to infringe on their trademarked genius. But I wouldn’t mind consulting (call me)! Here are some of the elements I would suggest:
Rosie and Ada both bear names with historical ties to their passions. Phoebe is named by Paul in his letter to the Romans as a leader in the early church: (Romans 16:1-2) “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.” Or you might choose from the names of the first women to be ordained in various denominations in the U.S., although those time lines vary wildly, and so many mergers have occurred that virtually none of those denominations still exist in the same way now. So, I’ll continue to call our heroine Phoebe.
While Ada’s focus is questions about how things work and Rosie’s is making gadgets to solve problems, Phoebe must be invested in the power of words. She could read voraciously, play with words, delight in words. She could walk around making analogies between things she has read and situations she encounters. She is an interpreter of meaning in both ordinary and extraordinary situations. How is God experienced? Through the words in sacred texts, but also in interactions of human beings, awe-inspiring nature, and the effort we make to bring abundant life out of both.
In direct contrast to her penchant for words, Phoebe would either possess an innate sense or develop an understanding of when words are not helpful, especially when sitting with people in grief or anger. We call this the “ministry of presence.” For instance, if her friend’s pet dies, our heroine could be shown listening, or just putting her arm around her buddy. Later she could find the words that – while not telling her friend how to feel – express what the beloved pet meant to them, and commit them into God’s care, and those doing the praying to providing ongoing support.
Phoebe might, like myself, really appreciate a good theme. Is she planning an event for others, a ceremony, or a project? First she would talk her way into a theme that could resonate with many people, then point all the details towards said theme. Her theme would not only uplift people’s spirits, but point them towards some good they can do in the world. For example, she might rally all her friends to think of kind gestures towards the friend whose pet died, such as visiting the animal shelter to play with the pets, or organizing a collection of drawings and stories about the pet. Or eventually she might convince the bereaved friend to help her throw a fundraising event for the animal shelter. Perhaps this friend who has experienced loss might not even be a child, but an elderly neighbor, since ministers spend much time crossing the boundaries between generations.
The gifts of one who pays attention to words, meaning and nurturing empathy are quite different from STEM tendencies, but the same principle applies. We nurture natural aptitudes and love young people for who they are, so they can change our world for the better, effective immediately!