Friday, March 12, 2021

She's Someone


A few days ago, I thought, "Oh, I really need to find time to write another blog post," but planning worship and writing sermons, promoting my book and attending online retreats that started at 4:30 AM my time pretty much put paid to that notion.  I was looking forward to spending today doing absolutely nothing, having something good to eat, reading a novel, napping, and in general, having an actual day off.

But then I heard about Sarah Everard.  If you are in the UK, you already know her name and at least part of her story.  If you are in the US, maybe you haven't heard about her.  But I guarantee you know someone like her, even if the woman/women you know didn't wind up a murder statistic.  Sarah Everard was walking home, a perfectly normal activity, and she disappeared, seemingly into thin air.  She was attacked and murdered, allegedly by a Metropolitan Police officer, someone charged with the duty of protecting and serving, someone she no doubt believed she could trust.  Her body was found some 50 miles from where she was last seen, and women all across Britain are sharing their stories of being intimidated, sexually harassed, and treated with disrespect by men  

Every woman I know, whether she does it consciously or not, lives with a low murmur of danger thrumming in her veins.  When she goes out alone, whether walking or driving or taking public transportation; when she's at home alone and the doorbell rings; when she leaves a store and crosses a parking lot and unlocks her car; when she plans the route she will take to and from a particular destination -- she's thinking things like, "I've got plenty of gas in the car, and my phone is charged.  I'll be back before it's dark. I have my keyring with a loud whistle on it. I told so-and-so where I was going and who I'd be with."  And so on and so on and so on.  

We're told before we even go to school how we're supposed to curtail our lives so that we won't be a tempting target.  How to not take up too much space.  How to ignore the lewd remarks and eyes that sweep over us like a pornographic X-ray machine.  How to make ourselves as small and un-noticeable as possible.  And if we do find ourselves on the receiving end of catcalls, wolf whistles, grab 'em by the p****y remarks, or worse still, molested, raped, and assaulted, we're told we must have done something, said something, worn something to call it down on ourselves.  Jogging? Drinking? Making eye contact?  BREATHING???? 

If you are a man, and you think you're one of the good guys, consider this.  The really scary ones don't wear signs.  It's not like they're contained in an offender zone that we can avoid.  And so if a woman doesn't get in an elevator with you, doesn't make small talk at the bar, or if she doesn't, heaven forbid, smile at you, don't make it about you.  Don't tell her you're just being friendly or whatever and make her feel like she's hurting your feelings because she doesn't choose to interact with you.  Be a good guy.  Respect her.  Respect her space.  Leave her alone.  If you're with guys making cracks about women, calling names, and telling dirty jokes, say something.  Don't use your size, strength, and privilege to do more damage.  Be that stand-up guy, and speak up, speak out, speak for, and above all, listen to the women who tell you their stories.  Believe them when they tell you of feeling unsafe, and be part of the solution rather than part of the blame the victim brigade.  That's what being a good guy looks like. 

And if you're wondering if this somehow connects to the usual subject matter of my blog, well, yes, it does. I'm thinking of another Sarah. Sarah Ryan was one of the "Mothers in Israel" I wrote about, and she was victimized by many of the men who were closest to her.  Married to three different men who deserted without divorcing her, she was treated her as a sex object and even contracted a venereal disease from one of them.  

Even after she discovered that the depth of God's mercy included her and she became a Methodist class leader, the housekeeper at the New Room, and even an exhorter, her reputation was in tatters.  Her frank retelling of the brutality of her former life earned her scorn even from some other women, including Molly Wesley, the wife of John Wesley, but he saw in her something no one else had bothered to see, perhaps because he had seen the ways his intelligent and talented sister Hetty had been treated by some of the men in her life.  Sarah wasn't just someone's wife, or daughter, or sister.  She was someone.

John Wesley helped her believe in her gifts for ministry, for encouragement, and for mentoring others in faith. She became so well-respected for her testimony of what God had done in her life and her work with poor children that Charles Wesley lauded her in her funeral sermon as a "mother in Israel." That, too, is what being a good guy looks like.

Sarah Ryan was such a powerful speaker and spiritual leader that she became what Mary Bosanquet called "the friend of my soul," and was a mother in the faith not just to Mary but to other women, as well. When she died, aged only 44, her gravestone hailed her as a "mother in Israel" along with two other Methodist women preachers given that accolade, Ann Tripp and Sarah Crosby, who also share that final resting place.  

If it hadn't been for "good guys" like the Wesley brothers, who knows what might have happened to her?  Who knows how many lives would have perhaps remained untouched by the gospel, had she not been encouraged by them to speak of the love of God and how it changed her life?

If you care about women, go and do likewise.  Our very lives may depend on it.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Book News and Video Link!

 I recently had a book signing event at City Center Gallery and Books in downtown Fayetteville for my first ever book about early English Methodist women preachers and leaders, Mothers in Israel: Methodist Beginnings Through the Eyes of Women. These are a few recent pictures and a link to my interview with Brian Allain of Writing For Your Life.

Click on the link below to view the video!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Impudent Women of Methodism: Past and Present

Yesterday, a box containing five copies of my book Mothers in Israel:  Methodist Beginnings Through the Eyes of Women arrived at my house, and though I was dying to rip it open, I waited until Scott came home so he could record a short video of me opening the box and removing them.  This was the first time I had seen the actual book and held it in my hands, and I was beyond excited.  

Just a day or so ago, the bishop of the North Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, my bishop, Hope Morgan Ward, read and reviewed the book, commending it by saying that it is "thoroughly engaging, beautifully written, and provocative for conversation and spiritual growth."  She then goes on to highlight my desire that we learn from these women and not just about them.  

And just today I saw that Cokesbury, the bookstore and supplier of all things United Methodist, has the book in stock and on sale, another exciting step in this journey.  Friends have been posting pictures on social media of them holding their copies of the book in their hands, and I have several opportunities lined up over the next two months to talk about these incredible women of the past and their relevance for the present and future. Truly, my cup runneth over.

I'm a bit nervous about these appearances, as self-promotion does not come naturally or easily to me, but I am passionate about this subject.  I believe we owe it to Susanna Annesley Wesley, Mary Bosanquet Fletcher, Sarah Ryan, Sarah Crosby, Mary Tooth, and so many more to tell their stories.  It is vitally important for us to celebrate these "impudent women" whose love for Jesus and whose zeal for the gospel led them to engage in "unladylike" public acts of leadership because of the strength of their call.  

Every woman of today in every branch of the Wesleyan Methodist family who stands in a pulpit and preaches, teaches Sunday School, heads up a committee, writes curriculum, directs a choir, or leads a financial campaign is standing on the shoulders of these giants, these remarkable mothers in the faith, whether or not she realizes it.    Their voices matter because their witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ matters, and it is my fervent prayer that this will spark a desire to know more about them and their holy boldness in ministry that visibly bore the good fruit of changed lives and growth in holiness.

Part of the book's dedication is to the memory of Marie P. Fowler, my own mother.  She was my first mother in the faith, a devout and loving woman who read the Bible every day and prayed without ceasing, who prayerfully nurtured me and my sister in the things of God.  She has already entered the Church Triumphant and stands shoulder to shoulder with these other "mothers in Israel," but I can feel her with me every time I step into a pulpit, open the scriptures, or bow my head to pray. Though she is the last person to ever be considered impudent, in her own quiet, gentle way, she kindled the fire in my bones that burns brightly in the pages of this book and in my ministry, and the gift of her life and her love is a treasure I will hold forever dear.  

Who are the "mothers in Israel" who have left an indelible mark on your soul and your spirit?  What are the names of the women who were not content to keep silent when the Spirit was prompting them to speak, to act, to take up space, and to change things?  Add their names to the roll of the impudent women of my book; for whenever the gospel is proclaimed, these stories will be told in memory of them.

Mama, Diana, and me, Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina, 1975

Friday, January 29, 2021

Wholly Given Up

Mary Bosanquet Fletcher was one of early Methodism’s most well-regarded preachers and teachers. Though somewhat diffident about her own abilities, she became a mentor to women and men through her preaching, her letters, her Christian conversation, and her relentless faithfulness to the call of Christ. She kept a spiritual journal in which she reflected on her struggles with faith, her failing health, her deep and abiding relationship with Sarah Ryan, her love and respect for her husband John Fletcher, and her overwhelming sense of God’s goodness and her gratitude for it. She wrote:

I would be given up, both soul and body, to serve the members of Christ. My firm resolution was to be wholly given up to the church, in any way that He pleased. I desired not to be idle, but employed as those described by St. Paul to Timothy, “If she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, and diligently followed after every good work.” I can hardly express with what power these words would come to my mind. It seemed to me, the Lord had planned out all my way; and I only wished so to walk.

In doing research for my book Mothers in Israel: Methodist Beginnings Through the Eyes of Women, I encountered women of various backgrounds, educational levels, economic status, and ability. All of them possessed a fierce sense of the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives and a purpose which God called them to fulfill. I hope you will enjoy getting to know these amazing “mothers in Israel “ and that you will be inspired and encouraged by their example so that you, too, may be wholly given to God.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

My Book is Now Available!

Mothers In Israel:  Methodist Beginnings Through the Eyes of Women
is now available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, 
Upper Room Books,, 
and locally at City Center Gallery and Books, downtown Fayetteville NC!

Book Launch and Book Signing 
at City Center Gallery and Books
February 11 and 13, 2021



Friday, January 8, 2021

Trust in the Strong for Strength


First blog post of 2021, and I hardly know what to say.  I knew that merely turning the calendar to a new page wouldn't magically eliminate my husband's lymphoma, destroy coronavirus and end the pandemic, or create harmony amongst the fractious political factions here in the US.  What I didn't know was that I would be witness to a pivotal moment in history in which armed protesters-turned-rioters would vandalize the US Capitol while waving Confederate battle flags and "Don't Tread on Me" banners and ironically carrying proclamations of Jesus as Lord.  That they would trespass into private congressional offices, throw their contemptuous jack-booted feet onto desks, while wallering on "Old Glory" and calling themselves patriots. That the occupant of the White House would pretend to call for peace, peace, while there is no peace, telling them to go home  while simultaneously stoking the fires of fury in his insistence that the election results were fraudulent.  All this, on one of the holiest days in the Church year, Epiphany.

I must say that Epiphany never shone more light than when the abuse of human power was revealed in its darkness, both in the time of Herod and today.  Saying Jesus is Lord while wreaking this kind of havoc and terror in the halls of government is a lie, and I don't care what your political affiliations are -- if you are a Christian, your allegiance is to the Lamb that was slain, not to an elephant, a donkey, or a tyrant who incites mob rule and spits on the Constitution.  This goes way beyond differences on policy or party politics; after all, neither party has a monopoly on getting everything right or getting everything wrong.  But this is a clear example of trusting in one's own power, of relying on the sword (or the gun), of drunkenly swallowing the rhetoric that burns and destroys and kills.  It was shocking and frightening and nauseating.

In my distress and horror, I turned to scripture, to prayer, to poetry, and to the writings of someone who had seen political insurrection and danger many times over.  Listening to Handel's Messiah while reading Isaiah stirred the flickering flame of hope in my heart and prompted me to search out some of my photographs to express my thoughts. Malcolm Guite's poem written in response to Psalm 70 was written during lockdown last year, and Pray As You Go (an app and website) had pre-recorded their devotional moment, but their posts over the last two days were spot on, perfectly capturing my feelings and yearning for God's Light to penetrate the darkness.  And John Wesley, who witnessed the Jacobite uprising, war with the French, the American and French Revolutions, and countless other diseases and types of human suffering, left a record of his faith in the steadfast love and strength of God no matter what might happen.

Riffing on Job 9: 19 -- If I speak of strength, lo, he is strong: and if of judgment who shall set me a time to plead? -- Wesley again and again, in sermons*, letters*, and in his journal*, offers encouragement to himself and others by speaking of crying to the Strong for strength, of trusting the Strong for strength, of looking to the Strong for strength, of fleeing to the Strong for strength.  Whether referring to having to endure bodily illness, crises of faith, physical danger or violence, or contentious conversations, Wesley did not dare lean upon the broken reed of his own abilities, nor did he wish to see the people called Methodists do so.  It was all too clear to him just where that would lead.

I write this today, not to engage in argument or disputation but simply in order to point to the Light and to the Lamb, the Strong to whom we may always approach for strength:  strength to endure, to persist, and to challenge the forces of oppression and hatred.  We are certainly going to need it for the living of these days.

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. (Isaiah 60: 1-2, KJV)

*see Wesley's letter to William Minethorp of November 30, 1776, his letter to Eliza Bennis of December 16, 1772, his journal entry for May 26, 1752, and various sermons ("Self Denial," "Of Evil Angels," "Spiritual Idolatry," etc.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Adventure Yourselves With Him


On this, the last day of what has been the longest year in our lives, our thoughts turn towards the future in hopes that 2021 will see an end to the ravages of coronavirus, the beginning of less political squabbling and ill will, and the dawn of more just treatment of those on the margins.  2020 has brought heartbreak and illness and sorrow and loss to nearly everyone, but we are still people of hope and trust in the God who is with us through it all.

The above picture is of the convergence of Saturn and Jupiter as seen from my front yard a few days ago, a sight that calls to mind the Star of Bethlehem which led the Magi to the Christ Child. As we recall their journey at Epiphany and prepare for the new year, it is also a time for many Methodists to celebrate a covenant service just as the Wesleys and other early Methodists did. Whether we are able to participate in one or not, it is helpful to reflect upon Wesley’s words of instruction for the covenant service, making them a mandate for our travels into the next year.

Adventure yourselves with him; cast yourselves upon his Righteousness, as that which shall bring you to God: as a poor captive exile, that is cast upon a strange land, a land of robbers and murderers, where he is ready to perish, and having no hope, either of abiding there, or escaping home with life: and meeting at length with a pilot, who offers to transport him safely home, he embarks with him and ventures himself, and all that he hath in his vessel: do you likewise; you are exiles from the presence of God, and  fallen into a land of robbers and murderers: your sins are robbers, your pleasures are robbers, your companions in sin are robbers and thieves; if you stay where you are, you perish, and escape home of yourselves you cannot: Christ offers, if you will venture forth with him, and then he will bring you home, and he will bring you to God... ~ John Wesley (Directions for Renewing our Covenant with God)

Not knowing what lies ahead but hoping for a much better year, let us nevertheless go forth with holy boldness to adventure ourselves with Christ, remembering always that he is Immanuel, God with us.

She's Someone

  A few days ago, I thought, "Oh, I really need to find time to write another blog post," but planning worship and writing sermons...