Dress Code

So, the original plan was to watch Preachers of L.A., and theologically reflect on its ostentatious display of wealth and ego alongside its proclamations of God’s faithfulness and blessing, because we all know that God uses the same standards we do to measure success and purpose, right? I mean, we Americans–with our 60″ LED televisions, 8-burner Viking stoves, and $95,000 cars with massaging seats–have figured God out.** It’s just a wonder that no one else has taken up our brand of Christianity, what with our ability to remotely drop bombs on innocent children and their parents in the name of terror and our disdain for those living with mental illness or in poverty. Certainly, we wouldn’t remake God in our own image now, would we?

Anyway, once I watched the show I instantly knew that I could not address the show from a theological position for two reasons–1) Others have said it much better than I could ever say. 2) Nobody actually watches this show for any sort of theological nuance. And in all honestly, it is unfair and just plain wrong for me to comment on the work God has done in and through these pastors’ lives…in all of our lives. As much as God may work through us, I have no doubt God also works in spite of us. 

That said, I have one reflective tool left to assess this show: being a smart ass.  I know that is not anything to be proud of, but you did not grow up with a sister who–in the middle of an argument–could come up with points, sub-points, and consequences on the spot. Whose mind works like that? So, rather than waxing theological on the show, I thought I’d stick with what I know best how to do.

Here are 3 cheeky and almost-facetious thoughts/questions on the LA Preachers’ Wives tea party. Granted, I did not have high expectations for the tea because the host was neither a Southerner nor a blue-blood New Englander.

130624_POLA2013_804A04531) My reservations about this tea were quickly confirmed upon seeing the apparel of the host, First Lady Myesha. Apparently, someone told her it’s okay to wear a form-fitting, cleavage-revealing dress with a blusher. No, honey. Either it’s the boobs or the hat. Not both. You can’t be Queen Elizabeth and Anna Nicole Smith at the same time. More importantly, save the cleavage for the beach, bedroom or post-5 o’clock party.


2)  Okay, I am trying really hard to look at Loretta’s dress from multiple perspectives. Perhaps, she was coming from a funeral and didn’t have time to change from her mourning dress. Maybe she was going to a cocktail party later that evening. Maybe all black at an afternoon tea is a new fashion trend of which I have little knowledge. It’s true I never know of any fashion trend until it’s over. Perhaps there are other reasons for wearing this otherwise flattering dress. I’ll take your suggestions. In the mean time, this black has got to go.


3) I’m no Carolyn Hax, but I know it’s not appropriate-especially upon meeting someone for the first time–to inquire about his/her relationship status at length. Sure, if y’all are at a girlfriend’s house where fifths of 20-year-old Grand Reserve are flowing, ask away. But at a tea? No ma’am. And let’s be real, we (and they) already knew Loretta’s relationship status with Noel Jones: they are just friends. Granted, it’s some kind of 16-year “exclusive friendship.” Whatever. We can roll with it.

I mean, I’m the least fashion-forward person among my friends, and even I wanted to clutch my imaginary South Sea pearls. Gracious. Of course, if you dropped me in some swanky Rodeo Dr. bar or lounge after dark, I’d probably go find a corner to read the book I snuck into my out-of-season orange purse and count the minutes until I could leave.

Man, it’s sure hard to keep up with the latest trends and ideas in Vogue and Town and Countryisn’t it? Perfection is a beast.

What remains?

Well, word on the street is that the invitation to Christ’s miraculous & unending feast of grace, wholeness, and healing, comes with no strings, dress code, or cost. In fact, I’m pretty darn sure the only thing we need to bring is ourselves–the stylish and not-so stylish; the broken and healed; the whiny and the grateful; the grieving and the hopeful…every single bit. 

I do hope you’ll come. There’s a seat saved just for you. And the meal–oh, buddy–its richness will just blow your mind.

**I include myself in this critique of popular Christianity in America; for while I couldn’t care less what kind of car I drive, images of homemade sauces simmering in multiple ORANGE Le Creuset dutch ovens on a Theramdor 6-burner gas-top stove make my insides tingle. Imagine the culinary possibilities…they stand right next to those seductive voices of material security.** Kyrie eleison. 

High Rollers for Jesus?


Among the benefits of my current stay in the Lone Star State are the gazillion, needless television channels at my disposal. Because I am cheap and prefer books, I haven’t had a television in a couple of years. To be honest I never missed it, and to this day I cannot watch news on the television;  however, my knowledge of pop culture has reached new lows (not that it was high to begin with). With thanks to my fashionable and hip cousin Amy, I have recently discovered Oxygen. Oxygen is one of those shameless networks with shows such as Snapped, Too Young To Marry, and  I’m Having Their Baby. As Amy would tell you, Snapped has pretty much saved my sanity after long days of revising the dissertation; watching it requires absolutely no intellectual effort on my part. As a matter of fact, I sometimes question whether I should have been a forensic psychologist. Then I remember I would have to take upper-level science courses, which stirs up 15 year-old images of my then 20-something year-old sister watching TV & playing with brightly colored models of chemical compounds for fun. Seriously? But as a result of my Snapped-watching, I recently learned about a new show premiering this Wednesday: Preachers of L.A. I originally gave it no passing thought because it’s a reality show on the Oxygen network about “ambitious and powerful” preachers.

I’m going to let you stop and think about that last sentence for a moment.

Yes, part of my interest is a bit tongue-in-cheek b/c reality TV is probably only about 10% “real.” The other part of me (and I must confess, a pretty substantial part) is curious as to what it means for these pastors to “exhibit their influence and power” as the producers claim. The biggest part of me, however, is frustrated and sickened by the notion that these MEN are the “most successful preachers” (again, the words of the producers) of the  “Black Church,” because of their material wealth and church sizes.


Folks, “The Black Church” has to be among my least favorite phrases in the world (“Washington Redskins” and any phrase misusing the word “literally” are the others. But that’s for another day.) Historians, anthropologists, journalists, and the like have employed this phrase for more than a 100 years to describe the religious experiences of African American Protestants.

9780674066274This is the thing, though: the idea of a “Black Church” assumes that among African Americans there is only type of theology, one expression of worship, one style of preaching. It’s a theory that relies on the presumption of a religious faith comprised of a few symbolic leaders (presumably male) and a monolithic group of acquiescent followers. As Historian Barbara Dianne Savage has persuasively argued: “There was no single, unified black church but rather many churches marked by enormous intellectual, theological, and political differences and independence. Yet, confronted by racial discrimination and poverty, churches were called upon again and again to come together as savior institutions for black communities.”  As Savage explained, W.E.B. DuBois, George Washington Carver, and Benjamin Mays, for example, all had vastly different beliefs about the role and faith of the Protestant church in the African American community, proving that the idea of a “black church” has always been a source of contestation. Yes, predominately black churches continue speaking uniquely to the experiences of black Americans in important and necessary ways. However, these churches and their ways of living out their mission are many and varied, ranging from the progressive & inclusive theology of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ to the conservative evangelicalism of Dallas’ Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. In making black Christians into a monolithic group (one that neglects Catholicism, including the passionate activism of Chicago’s St. Sabina), this outdated terminology also ignores the ways in which gender, sexuality, and class shape the identities of these communities.

Most importantly, these preachers do not even come close to reflecting the faith and life I yearn to embrace. They may be black, but they aren’t my church.

I’ll get off my interpretative soapbox, but let’s just say the historian in me is intrigued by the show’s concept, presentation, and all that jazz. Since the show is supposed to be about the pastors’ “other side” as fathers, husbands, and friends, I am eager to see what that means.

I am neither expecting nor wanting these guys to be perfect. Nor am I saying their lavish lifestyles are wrong (although, to be fair, I do have some lingering questions…lots of questions). As a priest with a penchant for overusing four-letter words, snapping at others in my impatience, and sundry other things, I’m the first to acknowledge I screw up all the time. But as a priest and historian who also deeply loves and is grateful for my vocation in the church, I know that the Church has  caused deep pain and shame and that saddens me. I hope this show is different. Our world is in too much pain for it not to be different. And when it leaves me scratching my head, I can only pray I will be as compassionate and merciful as I want others to be with me. For even when I forget, Christ’s table has room enough for us all.


All it took was 140 characters, and I am now blogging again. (Why this is the case is an entirely different entry.)

By now, most of you have heard about The Onion’s now-deleted tweet about Quvenzhane Wallis in which they satirically called the 9-year-old actress a cunt. I didn’t discover the vile news until I checked my Twitter feed this morning. (I decided cozying up with Amity Gaige’s Schroeder was much more enjoyable and calming than a sure-to-be boring night of Oscar-watching.) I was disgusted when I read the news, but not surprised.

However, when I checked my Twitter feed during lunch I read several unsettling tweets that caused my soul to weep a little bit more: 1) The Onion issued an apology. While I suppose I should be happy about that, I am not. That’s the easy way out, and I suspect that many people now think the issue is over and done with. IT.IS.NOT.  2) Several people said it wasn’t worth expending energy to be upset about something on Twitter. They’re right. It’s just Twitter; still, I am having a hard time letting it go. 3) Finally, some said it was a terrible thing that The Onion did, but it was simply satire gone wrong.

{Allow me a moment to count to ten.}

I wish it was simply satire gone wrong. But it’s not. Since the first African landed on our country’s shore, the bodies and souls of black women have been beaten down, ridiculed, abused, disregarded, and labeled.  As a historian, it is taking nearly everything in me not to write an essay on the history of black women in America: how we were raped by white men for centuries without any recourse…how we were either labeled seductive Jezebels or passive Mammys…how we have been blamed for the emasculation of black men since slavery…how we are angry and bitter despite progress (Consider all the articles about Michelle Obama being an “angry black woman”).

So, it is not simply satire; it is not simply a tweet. It is a reminder that despite our strength, our beauty, our intellect, and our struggle, we carry the weight and burden of having deeply bronzed skin atop our curvy bodies in a world that is better at demonizing differences rather than welcoming them. Sure, the tweeter probably had no intention for harm (nor am I mad at the tweeter), but what you must understand is that such words carry deep weight and history. And, my back is so very tired. We’re all so very tired. 

I still remember the rainy February afternoon seven years ago when I walked into a North Carolina psychologist’s office for my diagnostic interview at the beginning of the ordination process. From the moment I sat down, I felt like an exhibition. As required, I shared my life history. Upon telling the psychologist that my sister was a surgeon, he replied with a measure of surprise, “Hmm, your sister is black? And she’s a surgeon? Interesting.” And he proceeded to take notes on his legal pad. ( I could go on to tell you what my sister has endured as a black female surgeon in the heart of old-money Texas, but those are her stories to tell if and when she wants to do so.) A month later when I read his final report, he commented on having never met such an “exceptional African American woman who appears to have come from a rather stable family.” I can’t tell you what his words did to me. I crumpled into a ball of tears inside my car and didn’t stop crying until I awoke the next morning. Once again, I was reminded that no matter what I did or did not do, there were so many people who saw either an exception or a stereotype. (Thankfully, less than a year later, the diocese stopped using him as a consultant.)

So, please, you don’t have to understand the frustration or heartbreak I feel upon reading how a precious nine year old girl became a cheap joke. You don’t have to agree. Just know that for so many people, our history is not situated nicely in the past. It is woven into every fiber of our being today.

We’re not mad. We’re just tired. So very tired.

Wait, some of us are mad. The exhaustion is overwhelming. 

Our history has swallowed us whole. 

What’s next? I am not entirely sure. Who really is? People want action. People want the person responsible for the tweet fired. Fine, but that won’t change anything unless we begin to have painfully honest and candid conversations about race, gender, class and the shame, fear, and pride that such conversations evoke for people of every color.

My friends, until we listen to the stories–until we stop labeling predominately black and Latino/a neighborhoods as bad parts of town–until we realize that there are neither exceptions to the rule nor stereotypes–what happened last night will be nothing more than a tweet.

However, my life–all our lives–are more than 140 characters.

Garden Party

According to Molly, for someone my age, I don’t get out much. Personally, I feel I am plenty social. Besides, who needs to be social when you’ve got books? So when Molly suggested that I have some friends over to celebrate my 13 years in the Mid-Atlantic and a new beginning in New England, I initially hesitated. Eventually, I agreed to her idea because let’s face it, there is nothing like being social without having to leave the house. That’s my idea of fun. Besides, Molly’s glorious garden is worth sharing with others. To top it off, I realized that by hosting a so-called garden party I could make use of all those recipes I’ve posted to my Pinterest boards and practice putting on an Ina Garten/Barefoot Contessa flavored party minus the 15,000 square foot house in the Hamptons, unlimited budget, and adoring, emasculated husband. (Okay, so maybe this wasn’t going to be too Ina Gartenish, especially since living in a Kosher house for the summer meant I was going to have to use plastic silverware and flatware. Oh the horror!). So, what originally began as a few friends coming over turned into a much larger TX-DC-Howard shindig. And despite threats of thunderstorms and a raging sinus infection that decided to make its grand entrance the day before the party, the day turned out to be glorious!

So in an ode to all those pretentious cooking blogs that I disdain (even as I secretly save their recipes), allow me to pretend I have a creative, revenue-busting food blog. Thus here’s my almost-Kosher menu (I expanded all the recipes to serve 15 people):

Strawberry and Peach Sangria (I found this Bon Appetit recipe on Pinterest. It was delicious. I substituted the Essenia with a sweet dessert wine and Grand Marnier.)

Shiner Bock Beer (Because you can’t ever have enough of Texas)

Feta Dip (I found this recipe on Pinterest and have made it several times before. It’s easy and delicious.)

Homemade Queso, Guacamole, and Salsa courtesy of the great Ameila Fannin.

Summer Corn Salad (The recipe doesn’t call for tomatoes, but since they were in Molly’s garden, I decided to add them for color. This was an Ina recipe)

Scalloped Tomatoes (I made these for Thanksgiving one year and it was a hit. It’s like gourmet pizza as one of my friends said. Perfect summer dish. Another Ina recipe)

Mustard Roasted Potatoes (These were a hit and are super easy to make. It’s a Smitten Kitchen recipe I found on Pinterest.)

Mini Salmon Cakes. (This is one of Molly’s recipes, which I enjoyed during her family’s celebration of Shuvot back in May. Coupled with a yogurt-dill dip, these were easy to make and readily consumed.)

Niman Ranch Sliders. This was another Ina Garten recipe, although I did not use Niman Ranch meat because it’s not Kosher. I did, however, use the recipe for the ground beef marinade.

For dessert, I served two Ina Garten classics: Chocolate Brownie Pudding and Blueberry Crumb Cake. Both were served with grocery store-bought vanilla ice cream…that is until Myra and Jason rescued me with their homemade vanilla ice cream with fresh blueberries!

With the addition of the sliders, the meal was no longer Kosher (hence the plastic silverware and plates) so I served the sliders on those cheap disposable pans from the grocery store (Ina Garten would never do that. Of course Ina could care less about her Jewish heritage…but that’s for another blog).  Naturally, if you have a party in a Kosher house you will want this bit of pertinent information so that you don’t desecrate the sacredness of the serving ware, dinnerware, and silverware of the homeowner. (I just know you’ll be attempting to have your own party in someone else’s Kosher home in the coming days. Everybody’s doing it.)

Now for the real lowdown on what took place at the Garden Party you’ll just have to stay tuned to Myra’s blog (No pressure, Myra. Absolutely none at all.) She’ll have the scoop on the debate over dog parks vs. schools (because what kid needs an education?), the thoughts of the president of the International Pipe Organ fan club (Who know they existed?), the miserable attempts at adult hula hooping, the arguments over whether Michael Jackson’s doctor is guilty of murder, the impromptu Gospel mini-concert from Theresa’s nephew Delmost, and all the top-level spies among us.

Susannah made the banner with a flag for each guest and their interests.

Myra and Jason arriving with their delicious homemade ice cream.

Leila and Olugbenga at the kids table eating their second helping of desser

My BFF since middle school.

So grateful for lifelong friends from middle school, high school, college, and beyond to celebrate and begin anew!


Last week, the online magazine SheLoves began a new series on loving one’s self called, “A Love Letter to My Body.” Hundreds–possibly thousands–of women have written letters to their bodies and shared them on the web. It’s been fascinating for me to read these letters for they are alternately encouraging and humbling. Since the project began I’ve been thinking about what I would say to my body. What I would say has and will continue to be a journey of discovery, but over the past couple of days, I’ve suddenly begun to think about my hands.

I’ve never given much thought to my hands. As a matter of fact, I am usually kind of  annoyed with my hands: my perpetually cracked cuticles, my rigged, uneven, always-breaking nails, my long, skinny fingers courtesy of my mother and my paternal grandmother…These are my hands. They are utilitarian. With them I write my dissertation. With them, I drive my car. With them, I pull weeds and deadhead spent rose blooms–a lot of weeds and rose blooms. With my hands, I map out my course for the year and create a new budget. They do work. They make things happen. They get the job done.

But on Monday, the day before I said goodbye to the Armstrongs (Ann says it’s not really goodbye; it still stings though), they presented me with two fabulous gifts: an orange, cozy blanket and an orange and white pillow with Cal and Susannah’s handprints in the shape of a butterfly. As Ann said, “It’s in the shape of a butterfly because we are sending you on your way.” Naturally, I cried. (When do I not cry?)  That evening, I thought about how my six years in Williamsburg have felt like a cocooning process–one that has been full of richness and beauty in a way that has been healing and nurturing in a time in my life when I so desperately needed it. So, as I journaled that evening while looking at Cal and Susannah’s colorful handprints, I began to consider my own hands. Maybe, they are more than a tool, more than a mere appendage to my body.

To be sure, I still have cracked cuticles, large knuckles, and skinny fingers. Now, however, I believe it is because of all of these apparent faults that they are beautiful. For despite my annoyance and ambivalence with my hands over the years, they have made possible some of the most sacred moments of life.

With these hands, I have broken bread and poured wine and shared them with God’s people.

With these hands, I have not merely pulled weeds or deadheaded roses–I have tended to one of life’s glorious creations and renewed a love for gardening.

With these hands, I have poured out my soul into  little black, leather journals–dreaming, praying, crying, fearing, believing, hoping, committing.

With these hands, I held Cal in my arms for the first time when he was just six months old and stared into his big sapphire blue eyes.

With these hands–five years later–I played game after game of Uno with Cal, an hour past his bedtime. It’s the same game I played with my grandmother when I was his age, and I couldn’t help but be overcome with the privilege of the moment.

With these hands, I have written thousands upon thousands of words of my dissertation. The work is hard, but with these hands I have begun to tell a story. I have refused to settle for anything less than a Church that will not be afraid to admit her mistakes and ask hard questions of herself.

With these hands, I have scratched Susannah’s back until she has fallen asleep, saying prayers for my sweet lovebug.

With these hands, I have read stories with sweet Leila, watching her delight as the pages turn.

With these hands, I have made hundreds of batches of cookies, sending them to friends and family to show them I care, to share some love in the form of chocolate. I have tried new recipes, nurturing the desire to transform simple ingredients into a sublime dish.

With these hands, I have baptized a baby in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and welcomed him into the greatest family–the family of imperfect, blessed, children of God.

With these hands, I have marked a dying women with the sign of the cross and held her hand as she prepared for the life to come.

With these hands, I have written letters and notes to friends–creating memories, stories, and love across the miles.

With these hands I wiped the tears from my eyes as I hugged Cal, Susannah, Ann, and Will goodbye and drove down the road, their home fading from my rearview mirror into a privileged memory.

With these hands, I will soon drive to my new home in New Hampshire. My hands will not merely get me there. They will cary me on my journey, like wings carry a butterfly.

With these hands, I knit my fingers together and pray for those whom I love, entrusting them to the One whose love is beyond any of our wildest imaginations.

These hands are so imperfect…but you know something? I don’t think I would change a thing about them. For with my hands, with our hands, we shall live.

Thanks be to God.

Learning to Love

(For Cal, Leila, Susannah, & Kori, and to their parents for the privilege–Thank you.)

Yesterday was my last gathering of Fresh Start–a program in the Episcopal Church for clergy & congregations in transition or newly-ordained clergy. At every monthly gathering (I confess I’ve missed more than I attended this term), we begin with a check-in question. Normally, I refrain from sharing during check-in as it often takes me a good while to feel comfortable, and there are enough people in the 12-person group who would share all freakin’ day if given the chance {eye-roll; cough, cough}. However, since I hadn’t been at Fresh Start since January and because it was our last one of the year (and last one ever for me here since I’m moving–more on that later), I knew I had to talk.

This month’s check-in question asked us to share one of five critical moments in our life’s journey. While I’ve had other critical turning points in my life, my go-to transformative moment is my father’s death. For obvious reasons, it changed my life irrevocably and has shaped so much of who I am and how I relate to others. As I thought about what I wanted to share (and because I’ve felt a measure of tenderness over loss and good-byes in general lately), I decided to share something less burden-laden. So, I talked about becoming a godmother and “auntie.” (When I first wrote this post I wrote grandmother instead of godmother. Man, a good therapist could have a field day with that.)

Becoming a godmother (and auntie) has taught me how to love and receive love in a much deeper & imaginative way. Sure, I’ve forsaken all semblance of staying on budget for the sake of spoiling my godchildren and the other special kiddos in my life. I’ve bought books (…because who can fault anyone for sharing a love of reading and thus learning?), adorable truck shirts, art sets, and yummy, gluttonous meals for starters. I’ve shut down the computer early to spend hours, days, and weekends exploring the critters of nature with my lovebugs. I’ve dreamed of days when they are old enough to visit me and we can continue the excessive spoiling and dessert eating. And, I’ve gone to bed at night with tears in my eyes as I pray for their well-being and try to shut out fears of them in being in harm’s way.

But, these are all things that don’t surprise me. I expected to spoil them, love them, pray for them, and spend time with them.

What I didn’t expect was how much they would teach me what and how it means to love. I didn’t know how much they would remind me never to stop dreaming crazy, wild, God-given dreams. I didn’t know that loving Cal, Susannah, Leila, and Kori would show me how to love without any regard for what I might receive in return. I didn’t know that in them I might get a greater glimpse of God’s steady, patient, delightful love for each of us.

Yes, I know that anyone who is a parent probably already imagines and feels this. But, I am not a parent. I don’t know if I will be. What I do know is that when I thought my world would be consumed with going to school for the last time, writing a dissertation, and discerning what’s next, they creeped into my heart and stole it.

I know intellectually what love means, and I’ve experienced it in my heart and soul. From my parents, my sister, my crazy, amazing, cousins, aunts & uncles, my rockstar, enduring friends, and even in teachers & mentors. But this….this kind of loving has taken me to a place in which I see little kiddos who never question my love for them, never question my care for them, never question that a big person will keep them safe. That, my friends, is scary as hell. It’s as though they just know without a doubt that they are wrapped in an all-loving embrace even as I know my limitations, my frailties, my weaknesses, my hang-ups, my faults, my selfishness.

You see, even when I began realizing how much these kiddos opened up my heart to a life of living in the moment, looking at the world with wonder and delight, and trusting in the goodness of others, I confess that I didn’t know that one day I would have to face the reality that loving them also meant saying goodbye to what was, what is, and trusting God for what will be.

I still tear up when I think of leaving Cal and Susannah, of not getting to see Leila grow up. I just knew I would end up in the DC area, only a thirty minute drive away from Leila-Bear and a weekend trip away from C & S. But, I’m about to move 10 1/2 hours from Williamsburg, 8 hours from DC. Yes, I checked. I’m entering a world where quick get-aways won’t be as easy. But what a privilege beyond words to be a part of their lives.

So yesterday, as I shared with my colleagues, it took everything in me not to cry as I explained how they’ve taught me how to love and receive love–with no parameters, no qualifications, no control.

Yep, that’s it. No control. Will they remember these moments, I wonder? I don’t remember much of my life short of 4 or 5. And Kori, she’s so far away. My heart and my head can’t seem to get on the same stage.

And yet…Slowly, ever so slowly, I am coming to see this: It does not matter.

It. Does. Not. Matter.

Just as people loved me even when I didn’t know how to say the word love, I have loved fiercely, tenderly, surprisingly, and I will continue to do so. From afar. In new ways. But the love will remain. I cannot control how it will be received or what it will mean.

Still, it will remain.

Kind of like how I imagine my Creator loves me. Certainly I don’t love with the same depth and selflessness and holiness and all those other things that make God, God. But, in being a godmother, auntie, & buddy, I’ve begun to glimpse the way that God longs to lavish God’s love on us all with no promise of what it will mean or how it will be received.

My heart has been healed. My eyes have been peeled open wide. My arms have found a peace in embrace.

What a love. What a privilege. What a gift. None of which I am worthy. None of which I understand. But all of which has shown me the face of God.

And, I’ll never be the same.