Women In My Testament

I recently took a seminary class called Women in the New Testament. We explored a wide range of topics, from feminism to killer seals. By the end of that week, something occurred to me. Throughout my life, women have played pivotal roles in my faith journey:

  • My grandma taught me how to thank Jesus...all the time! No matter what she was doing, where she was, or who she was there with, when she recognized a blessing, no matter how small, "Thank you Jesus!" was sure to be heard from her lips. 
  • My mom taught me how to pray. Not our usual Lutheran variety of prayer mind you, but good ol' fashioned Pentecostal prayer. Nothing too charismatic but a heartfelt prayer, said in a tone that was sure an answer was coming.
  • My sister brought me to church, a place that I felt valued and loved, in spite of the fact that we were the only Hispanics there. There my gifts were not only nurtured but put to use. Little did my sister know that this would lead to a future pastor (God willing)!
  • My wife teaches me hospitality...extreme hospitality. When you are around her, you are home. She is comfort food personified. She makes people feel cared for, safe, and loved, and she probably couldn't even tell you how she does it, she just does.
  • My oldest daughter (16) teaches me how to rage against the injustices of this world, past and present. Her blood quickly runs hot, pumped by her egalitarian heart, when faced with the unjust treatment of others, be they people, animal, or tree.
  • My middle daughter (12) teaches me how to love those who are "different" than us, who have less than us, whom society has marginalized. When she sees a need, she finds a way to fill it, no questions asked. She loves...no matter what.
  • My youngest daughter (8) teaches me how to bless. Not the kind that some say after someone sneezes; but for her, blessings are real, they are from God, and they are to be expected. When she prays, she blesses...everyone; from the people sitting at our dinner table, to her classmates, or those "who have no place to sleep tonight."
I have truly been blessed, and continue to be blessed, by wonderful women in my faith journey. Don't get me wrong, none of them are perfect. But Lord knows, I would hate to see what my faith would be like, without any of these amazing women in it. Thank you Jesus!


Can a Man be a Feminist?

This is certainly not a new question, and I'm not even sure how provocative it is today, but it's something I've never thought about before this past week.

In her book Back to the Well, Frances Taylor Gench provides four interesting descriptions of what a feminist is, from four very different people:

  1. "A feminist, broadly speaking, is one who seeks justice and equality for all people and who is especially concerned for the fate of womenall womenin the midst of all people. Such a definition means that issues pertinent to racism, classism, and ecology, as well as peace-making, are part of the purview of feminism." Katharine Sakenfeld

  2. "A feminist is someone who believes women are people." Alan Alda

  3. "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute." Rebecca West

  4. "Feminism is advocacy of women. It is not, therefore, against men, but only for the needs of women, needs that cannot be met without changes in the lives of both men and women....It represents a search for liberation from all forms of dehumanization on the part of those who advocate full human personhood for all....This means that men can also be feminists if they are willing to advocate for women." Letty Russell
To be honest, I like all of these descriptions. I can see myself in all of them because I am a person who feels called to advocate for those who have less of a voice than I do in our world: people of color, LGBT, children, youth, animals, the disabled, trees, women, the poor, etc. I am reminded of that great line at the end of the movie A Few Good Men, where one of the characters owns his wrongdoing by saying, “We were supposed to fight for people who couldn't fight for themselves.” Can there be a greater calling in this world?

However, I have resisted the label "feminist" for myself. Why? Well, it seemed inauthentic. What I mean by that is this. Just because I'm an advocate for a certain group of people doesn't mean that I know what it feels like to experience life in their shoes. To label myself as one of them just seemed disrespectful to their plight.

But now I'm pondering these great descriptions that Gench has provided us and am wondering if I've been a feminist this whole time and just never knew it.

Whenever the word "feminist" comes up in conversation among the circles of men I find myself in, it sounds more like the "F" wordused with the same disdain and attitude. I wonder why that is? Is it because they have experienced ineffective or poor representatives of feminism in their pasts? Or is it more of a reflection of themselves?


"I'm Afraid..."

I hear phrases that begin with those two words a lot, more than I think is healthy. I live in the seminary world, which makes this even more disheartening. Fear can be a great motivator. Fear can be a great protector.

But fear can also be a paralyzer.

In Luke 10, Jesus sends out many disciples into the towns to share the good news and to do God's work. He tells them to take nothing with them, no snacks, no back pack, not even an extra pair of sneakers. To make matters worse he tells them up front that they are being sent to the wolves.

So out they go, with just a pocket full of faith.

Fear was not an option for these first followers. That's not to say that they didn't have a healthy dose of it, but if they allowed themselves to be controlled by it, they never would have taken one step out the door.

I hear a lot of fear today, the paralyzing kind:

  • I'm afraid that if I preach on that topic then...
  • I'm afraid that if I encourage social media in worship then...
  • I'm afraid that if I join that protest then...
  • I'm afraid that if I use digital ministry then...
  • I'm afraid that if I support gay rights then...
  • I'm afraid that if I write that then...
Need I go on? Just like we can't live our lives in fear, we can't do our work in fear either, whether that work is ministry, writing, social work, or tattooing.

Let me give you a real world example. I have helped quite a few people, who are significantly older than me, use their computers at home. One thing that I have noticed is that if they don't know where to click, they won't click anywhere, for fear of "breaking" their computer. By contrast, people of my generation or younger, when faced with the same scenario, will begin to click everywhere. One group is full of explorers, and the other is full of the paralyzed.

What do you fear? Or more importantly, what is fear keeping you from doing? If fear is keeping you safe or motivating you to do good work then great! But, if fear is keeping you from doing things that you know are important, worthwhile, and can make a positive difference in this world, then...

I struggle with this too. But there comes a time when I have to take control of fear, have confidence in my God given abilities, remind myself that I am not alone, and head out the door in faith, even if it's just a pocket full.


What's Your Personal Brand?

In my Religion & Media class we talked today about our "personal brand." In the same way that companies spend billions of dollars creating their brand, which they hope will be promulgated by their consumers/fans, we too have a brand on an individual level. All of us, no matter our field of work. Our brand is the way in which we are presented to the world around us, whether that be to the person standing in front of us, or to our thousands of fans on Facebook (wishful thinking never hurt anyone).

[By the way, and I'm going to date myself with this, but every time I type "personal brand" the song Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode plays in my head.]

Our personal brand is shaped by us and by those who experience us. It encompasses everything from our belief system to the way we dress. Everything about us communicates something and we have a certain amount of control here but not total control. We are misinterpreted constantly.

So what is my personal brand? To answer that, I have to begin with who I am. What makes me...me? A helpful exercise for this can be to come up with one word descriptors that shape who you are, from your physical appearance and demeanor, to your beliefs and passions. These descriptors can be from your own mind or from what others have told you how they perceive you.

Some words I came up with for myself in no particular order are: Lutheran, Christian, Mexican-American, advocate, casual, liberal, confident, humorous, sarcastic, realist, moody, passionate, caring...one could go on forever if they really let themselves.

After an honest personal inventory, I then take a look at what my characteristics have to offer the world, and then which demographics they will translate well to.

In other words, if a church is looking for a traditional pastor who keeps regular daytime in-office hours, wears a collar all the time and maybe even a suit, keeps his negative emotions at bay in public, is always cheeryyou know the kind I'm talking about, the kind of pastor that the Protestantism is full ofthen I'm probably not the pastor for them. And that's ok!

Because not everyone is looking for that kind of pastor, nor is that the kind of pastor that everyone needs. The people who fall in this "other" category, those are the people that I believe my personal brand will best fit.

In my ordination application, I wrote that Jesus, time and time again, pushed the social boundaries to open people’s eyes to see that God’s love was to extend to all people: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the outcast, the sick, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and every other person that the world was categorizing as unworthy, unlovable, and worst of all…not…one…of us. Today this list would include the LGBT community, minorities, immigrants, children, youth, college students, people of other faiths, and so many more.

I hope and pray that my personal brand will allow me to serve the people that God places in my path, whether that be in the real world, or here.

How about you? Ever thought of yourself as a brand before? No matter who or what you are, you have influence over people, and passions that you would like to share, and your personal brand plays a huge role in all of it. Just don't go making a logo for yourself! ;-}



...and to my credit this is the first time this has happened in my 16+ years of fatherhood. I think that's a formidable record. Now, my sixteen year old will try and tell you that I did this to her when she was little but the reality is, I was watching her the whole time and after numerous attempts to tell her to stay by my side, she strayed, and so I taught her a lesson by allowing her to feel like she was lost for a minute.

Today however, I honestly lost my eight year old daughter. I thought she was behind me and when I looked back she was gone. Granted, she was not paying attention to where she was going either but, I was not watching her.  After realizing that she didn't merely stop to look at something and that she was really lost, the panic ensued. I sent my sixteen year old with her cell phone in one direction and my twelve year old daughter and I went in another direction.

I was angry.

With every passing minute my blood boiled with fury. I noticed a sales associate staring at me. It must have been noticeable by now that I was frantically looking for my lost child.

I was mortified.

Totally embarrassed. Now that sales associate is talking to her colleague (do they even call each other that?) while pointing at me! Yet, she doesn't ask if she can help. More great customer service, but that's for another post. My countenance morphs from anger, to embarrassment, to...


I just want my baby back...now. I want to see her, to see with my own eyes that she is ok. Rampant thoughts, thoughts that I can't share here are racing through my throbbing mind. Why won't she just appear around the next corner? I get a glimpse of my oldest daughter from across the store and there she is, my little one, safe and sound.

I refrain from rushing toward her (one of the hardest things I've ever had to do) and instead walk towards the exit wanting desperately for her to learn to be more careful, knowing full well that this is my fault but if this can keep her safe in the future than it's worth it. By the time we get close to the car I turn around and make eye contact with her. Then she breaks down and falls into my arms. I assure her that all is well. And we leave for home.

Why am I sharing this? Guilty conscious? Therapy? Not exactly. Let me back up a bit. While I was in the midst of my frantic search in the mall, as my anger turned to desperation, my thoughts turned to God. No, not as a prayer, oddly enough, but rather, my thoughts turned to the mind of God. Damn these theology courses!

I thought to myself, is this what God goes through with his children?

When God's children get lost, does God's countenance go through similar transformations? Am I comparing myself to God here? No, but my role as father is the closest thing I will ever get, here on earth. When we get lost, stray from following God's path, does God begin with anger, and maybe a whole host of other emotions before God turns to a desperate yearning to have his child back?

I believe the answer is yes. If a broken father like myself can yearn so deeply for a reunion with his child, how much more, and to what greater lengths will God go, for a reunion with his children, for a reunion with me?