Location and Dislocation

A Disney Princess

When my 11-year-old daughter was little, I stressed about her obsession with Disney princesses. As a feminist, the last thing I wanted for my daughter was to internalize the message that her value as a human person was dependent on her outward beauty or physical appearance or that to be a whole, human person meant that there would be a “prince” on the other side of the equation. I want her to have agency – I want her to imbibe media in which the characters (particularly the female characters) have agency. I was excited when Disney began releasing films like Brave, and Tangled, and Frozen because they flipped the script in many ways.

In the last few years, Disney released the films Moana (2016), the live re-make of Aladdin (2019), and Frozen II (2019). Moana is the story of a girl who grows up on an island, isolated from the rest of the world, but embraced in a community which loves her. But unlike the rest of her community, the sea calls her. She discovers that, in fact, her community is descended from sea voyagers – explorers, and she cannot escape the voice that calls her. In this movie, the sea is personified, and Moana, with the encouragement of her eccentric grandmother, pays attention to this call and follows it, rebelling against her community, yet for the sake of her community. In the re-make of Aladdin, Princess Jasmine becomes a central character in a way she was not in the original animated film. She knows she has a voice, and she knows that for her whole life that voice has been silenced. Throughout the film, she leans into her voice and uses it for the sake of her community.

Frozen II is the sequel to Frozen, and while typically sequels (especially animated ones) are never “as good” as the original, I would argue that this one is even better. Elsa, discontented and restless in her place as queen of Arendelle, hears a (literal) voice calling her – she senses that something new (and not necessarily good) is on the horizon. When things get critical in Arendelle, she leaves with her sister, Anna, and the crew to chase this voice. She discovers that this voice is her mother, and in a mysterious and beautiful twist, this voice welcomes her and also affirms that she has everything she needs to live into her calling. Meanwhile, Anna, in a moment when all hope seems lost, moves forward in grace and courage, knowing that she can do “the next right thing.”

I watched Moana at home and the other two in the theatre. I did not arm myself with adequate tissue or emotional preparedness, for I had no idea these films and characters would resonate so deeply with my own journey. Come on, Disney! And in “princess” movies? Moana sings:

Who am I?
I am a girl who loves my island
I’m the girl who loves the sea
It calls me
I am the daughter of the village chief
We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call me
I’ve delivered us to where we are
I have journeyed farther
I am everything I’ve learned and more
Still it calls me
And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me
It’s like the tide; always falling and rising
I will carry you here in my heart you’ll remind me
That come what may
I know the way
I am Moana![1]

I wept the first time I heard this song, feeling solidarity and empathy with the fictional character who is trying to discern her identity in an environment which is not open to her call. And then Jasmine, in a powerful anthem belts out the lyric:

I can’t stay silent
Though they wanna keep me quiet
And I tremble when they try it
All I know is I won’t go speechless
[2]

I understand that feeling so deeply and powerfully. My life has been a journey in spaces that have not welcomed my literal voice, cultures in which silence was expected in certain environments, sometimes literal but mostly by way of exclusion. And finally, Elsa:

Show yourself
I’m dying to meet you
Show yourself
It’s your turn
Are you the one I’ve been looking for
All of my life?
Show yourself
I’m ready to learn

I’ve never felt so certain
All my life I’ve been torn
But I’m here for a reason
Could it be the reason I was born?
I have always been so different
Normal rules did not apply
Is this the day?
Are you the way
I finally find out why?

Show yourself
I’m no longer trembling
Here I am
I’ve come so far
You are the answer I’ve waited for
All of my life
Oh, show yourself
Let me see who you are…

(Elsa’s mother) Come, my darling, homeward bound
(Elsa) I am found!
(Elsa’s mother) Show yourself
Step into your power
Throw yourself
Into something new
You are the one you’ve been waiting for
(Elsa) All of my life
(Elsa’s mother) All of your life
Oh, show yourself
[3]

This song brings me to my knees. When I imagine Elsa’s mother as the divine – as God, calling, prodding, and answering, “Come my darling, homeward bound!” and then “You are the one you’ve been waiting for!” I feel God inviting and sending me. I know what it feels to have “always been so different,” and to desperately seek answers and affirmation that God is calling me.

These three Disney “princesses” have given voice to what many women called to Christian ministry and leadership have lived, feel, and are currently journeying, particularly women who grew up in or are currently still in religious communities which have traditionally silenced and postured themselves as non-affirming to women who have gifts and passions for public ministry. My journey is not unique, per say. The human condition leads all of us to ask questions about identity and vocation. But my story is particular and contextual, and I dare say it resonates with many women in ministry leadership, particularly women who sense God is calling (all of us) to wider vistas of equity and inclusion. I wrestle daily with my place in the spaces I find myself a part of – at home, at work, at church. I feel called to leadership. I feel called to use my voice. I feel called, particularly, to use my voice in ways that have not been made widely available to women. This sense of vocation often means that I feel rather dislocated – out of joint, wandering, lonely. And perhaps this is because I also feel called to a particular community – a particular location. Maybe these Disney princesses have struck a particular nerve in me because they all feel both stifled and restless and sure that their life trajectory is larger than what they are currently experiencing, and yet also feel they are connected deeply to a particular place. And so, with Moana and Jasmine and Elsa as my cloud of witnesses, joined by the hundreds of women in ministry, in discernment, in waiting, and on the verge of giving up, I wonder, what could it mean to lean in to a calling and lead from a place of tension between locatedness and dislocatedness?


Leading from Locatedness

My parents named me “Beth.” Not Elizabeth, not Bethany, just Beth. Many have asked, “Is your name short for something else?” to which I have always proudly answered, “No, my parents knew they wanted to call me Beth so they just named me Beth.” If you ever visited a tourist town in the 80s or 90s, you will have been to stores that sell magnets, coffee mugs, and other various sundries which are personalized, many citing not only a name but its meaning. I had a mug and a bookmark with my name on it, both of which told me that my name, derived from the Hebrew, meant “house of God.” I liked that. And then, in my college Bible classes, I learned that, actually, my name (plain “Beth”) simply means “house.” That seemed a lot less spiritual to me. The “of God” was added to sell more mugs and bookmarks. My husband, when we were first married, liked to joke by saying, “Get it? As for me and my ‘house,’ we will serve the Lord.”

I grew up in Churches of Christ. Men were the spiritual leaders. Men preached. Men led prayers and singing. Men spoke publicly. Men taught adults. Women did not. I grew up helping my mom in the toddler class and eventually teaching it on my own as a junior high student (why we differentiated “levels” of spiritual leadership I cannot understand – apparently leading children, who are actually the most vulnerable, is okay but leading fully consenting adults is not?). I was on all of the youth group leadership teams and participated fully. And my “dream” became to “marry a youth minister” so that I could participate in ministry. That was the extent of my imagination as an 18-year-old. Ironically, that is exactly what happened. Brian and I were married in the summer of my junior year of college, and after I graduated a year later we moved to Petoskey, MI and participated in youth ministry together for a little over three years. We were a team, but in my mind and heart, it was his “job,” not mine. I leaned into his calling. Although operationally we have always had an egalitarian marriage, my identity and call to ministry was firmly wrapped up in my husband’s ministry. We moved back to Rochester, MI after our time in Petoskey so Brian could begin grad school. After a few months, he was offered a full-time preaching ministry position in Lansing, MI. This time, even more than in Petoskey, I leaned into his calling. I found ways to participate – I ended up creating and planning worship almost every week, though someone else led it. I, too, began grad school during this time and began to ask larger questions about my own calling and identity.

We only stayed in Lansing for two years, and this is where my daughter was born. When she was about 5 months old, we moved back to Rochester and Brian began working for Rochester University as their senior admissions advisor. I began teaching adult Bible classes at our church, Rochester Church of Christ – a pretty big deal in Churches of Christ, and felt fairly content in that occasional role in which I was able to use my gifts. Brian worked at RU for five years, taking on a part time ministry role at our church, working with young adults. I also had a very part-time role at our church in publications and communications. After five years, Brian moved to the church, full-time, as their minister of community life. Through all of these transitions, my identity and calling have been largely wrapped up in Brian’s calling, and this mainly stems from physical location – we are rooted in whatever congregation he has worked for. This has provided a certain sense of locatedness – groundedness, for me. It answered questions, in many ways, about who I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to do, or at least what is actually tangible – I have had to find my place and calling within the physical location of his calling. And this has been a choice we have made – a choice I have made. We have been here, in Rochester, as a family, for almost twelve years.

This place is home for us – the place where I grew up, where my immediate family still lives, and attending and serving with the church that raised me and has loved me well. David Leong, using a garden metaphor, says, “to root is to intentionally dig down in the local soil. Putting down good roots is the key to health, growth, and stability.”[4] Similarly, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, in his book, The Wisdom of Stability, writes about rooting ourselves. He says, “Stability is a commitment to trust God not in an ideal world, but in the battered and bruised world we know. If real life with God can happen anywhere at all, then it can happen here among the people whose troubles are already evident to us.”[5] I listen to Leong and Hartgrove’s words in light of what it has meant and what it means to be a woman, from Churches of Christ and still in a Church of Christ, called to public ministry. To be certain, I am painstakingly familiar with our particular (non?) denominational “troubles.” And even more, I am familiar with the troubles of my particular group within the group. My urge is to dig-in and stick it out with this particular church for the long-haul. Maybe this urge is located somewhere in my family of origin – my parents have rooted themselves in this community, and particularly in the Rochester University family for the last 90+ years, collectively. They are loyal people; rooted people. Or maybe it is in my name, my very identity – maybe “beth – house” – a place of stability and rootedness – has been a harbinger of my journey.

Leong encourages his readers to ask the question “why?” Why have I been planted in the particular location in which I am trying to bloom and grow?[6] I have good friend who has been a companion on my journey, and she has encouraged me numerous time to lean in to my particular church community – lean in because she sees that it makes a difference. I had a similar conversation with an elder at my church recently who encouraged me to “keep doing what you are doing; keep speaking up,” because this church needs my voice. Conversations like this make me feel a little like Queen Esther – wondering if I have been placed here “for such a time as this?” Maybe I like to think of myself that way, in that particular story, because after all, Esther risks it all and it turns out well for her and her people in the end. If I knew that is where this story ends, I might just have enough faith to see it through! The truth is, though, that my story and the story of my people is not finished – it is in process, and I do not know the ending. And not only do I not know the ending, I struggle to know my place in it at all.

Curt Thompson writes a phenomenal book about shame in which he states, “Shame is a primary means to prevent us from using the gifts we have been given…shame leads us to cloak ourselves with invisibility to prevent further intensification of the emotion.”[7] As I have begun to disrobe my shame in the last ten years – the shame of being different, of feeling like an outsider in my church, of feeling sometimes like my true identity was a problem to be solved – I have become better equipped to lean into my calling and experiment with my gifts. And at the same time, I often have the urge to retreat into protective hiding after each instance of teaching or public participation, knowing that in my particular church space, I am an outlier. Women are not welcomed to participate fully in all areas leadership and ministry within my church, though the doors have been opened wider in the last ten years. This creates a certain layer of fear and distrust, and shame kicks in regularly, nagging me with the lie that “you are not good enough; you are never going to be enough.” Parker Palmer states this well:

In families, schools, work places and religious communities, we are trained away from true self toward images of acceptability; under social pressures like racism and sexism our original shape is deformed beyond recognition; and we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain approval of others. We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then – if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss – we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.[8]

I unknowingly and quite innocently betrayed my “true self” for almost thirty years. And I now find myself recovering and reclaiming my identity. Palmer continues:

As I learn more about the seed of true self that was planted when I was born, I also learn more about the ecosystem in which I was planted – the network of communal relations in which I am called to live responsively, accountably, and joyfully with beings of every sort. Only when I know both seed and system, self and community, can I embody the great commandment to love both my neighbor and myself.[9]

My ecosystem is complicated! And yet, I feel grounded here – rooted. And so the question I wrestle with is this: How does one lead from a place of locatedness when the location often feels like an inhospitable ecosystem?

Palmer suggests an embodiment of love of both neighbor and self – a balance to strike. Christine Pohl provides an interesting take as well. She says the following in her classic, Making Room:

The most transformative expressions of hospitality, both historically and in our own time, are associated with hosts who are liminal, marginal, or at the lower end of the social order. These hosts are essentially threshold or bridge people, connected in some ways to the larger society but distanced from it either in actual social situation or in self-imposed distance. Without these crucial dimensions of marginality and liminality, the relations between hosts and guests often serve the more conservative function of reinforcing existing social relations and status hierarchies.[10]

Marginality. Yes, I know (to a certain degree) what this feels like. I am a white, cis-gender, married, Christian female. I have a great deal of privilege. And I am also, as a woman, on the margins of my particular Christian community. My imagination has been piqued by this idea of being a “host.” Typically, the role of host implies a certain groundedness and locatedness – a particular location in which to provide hospitality – the opening of one’s home and life to another. And in ways I have described already, I embody this sense of locatedness, even a (for now) vocational calling to “stay put.” So I wonder about Pohl’s assertion that “marginal” hosts make for excellent “bridge” people, connecting the “stabile” system (in this case, the church – host), to the rest of society (outsiders- guests). Hartgrove says this:

Jacob kept running—and we keep moving too—but in time he came back to that place God met him again at Bethel and gave him his new name, Israel. Out of a fugitive, God created a placed people. Scattered and divided though we children of Jacob may be, our story still calls us to remember that the place where we lie is holy ground. The house of God is as close to us as the people whom we eat and argue with, and it can become our home, a foundation for the life of faith, if we trust God to sustain us in community. That it will be a struggle is assumed from the start. Israel means ‘the one who wrestles with God.” But getting down to the business of wrestling with the One who made us is a big step toward addressing our most fundamental need. It is the foundation work all our struggles point us toward, the starting place each of us needs.[11]

The place where we lie is holy ground…That it will be a struggle is assumed from the start. Am I like Jacob, pulled into the rootedness of a people? I think that if my story paused here, and if my life-circumstances had remained as they were for the first eighteen years of my marriage, camping out in my “locatedness by default” would provide the theological structure for framing my vocational narrative. But life has been disruptive, in the most beautiful and painful and sacred ways, over the last three years.

Leading from Dislocatedness

In January of 2017, Brian and I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I have written about that particular journey in various mediums, but suffice it to say, this was a watershed experience for both of us. We learned a great deal about ourselves, our connection to physical creation, and our connection to others. Before this climb, my heart was inclining itself toward going back to grad school to get a terminal degree – a ministry degree in missional leadership and spiritual formation, no less. In order to do this, I needed to make the decision to take some pre-requisite classes. Over the course of the climb, I felt an assurance that my path was leading to school. So I enrolled in my first leveling class. And in the months that followed our return from Tanzania, I experienced some deep shadows in my relationship with my church – specifically, I asked if I could preach the sermon I prepared for this leveling class for our Good Friday service, assuming the answer would be an easy “yes.” It was not, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I was devastated. It was not just that the answer was no, it was that I expected it to be yes. The shame kicked in. The doubts were loud. I wrestled with God. And yet, in this season of shadows, I felt God distinctly calling me to lean in – lean in to school and lean into my calling despite certain doors being closed.

In my training for Kilimanjaro, I found a new love: hiking. Brian and I spent hundreds of hours on local trails, sometimes together, but mostly alone as we each found time individually, working on stamina and longevity, training in the ways we could given our close-to-sea-level-altitude. This image of hiking – literal boots to the ground connecting with physical earth, yet also constantly moving forward, has become a way for me to understand my own place and vocational journey. Sometime in the spring after Kilimanjaro, I came across a sermon by Vincent van Gogh:

I once saw a beautiful picture: it was a landscape, in the evening. Far in the distance, on the right, hills, blue in the evening mist. Above the hills, a glorious sunset, with the grey clouds edged with silver and gold and purple. The landscape is flatland or heath, covered with grass; the grass-stalks are yellow because it was autumn. A road crosses the landscape, leading to a high mountain far, far away; on the summit of the mountain, a city, lit by the glow of the setting sun. Along the road goes a pilgrim, his staff in his hand. He has been on his way for a very long time and is very tired. And then he encounters a woman, or a figure in black, reminiscent of St. Paul’s phrase: ‘in sorrow, yet ever joyful’. This angel of God has been stationed there to keep up the spirits of the pilgrims and answer their questions. And the pilgrim asks: ‘Does the road wind uphill all the way?’ To which comes the reply: ‘Yes, to the very end.’ And he asks another question: ‘Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?’ And the reply is: ‘From morn to night, my friend.’ And the pilgrim goes on, in sorrow, yet ever joyful.[12]

This excerpt has become a word picture of my journey – the uphill climb of a woman called to ministry, particularly a woman called to ministry with very few road markers to indicate what that even means or looks like, practically speaking. And Brian was on his own journey. Though I did not know it at the time, for over a year after Kilimanjaro, he was struggling with his own sense of vocational calling.

I began a DMin program in the spring of 2018, almost exactly a year after my Jacob-at-Beth-el moment of wrestling with God. When I arrived home from my first residency in July, Brian and I sat down to catch up and he told me about his vocational angst. Within two months, he resigned his position at our church and began a new career with UPS as a package deliverer. He has found new life and particular joy in living out his missional impulses, his minister’s heart, in this very different environment. And this also left me in a new space. I have experienced a certain sense of freedom and also a very new sense of dislocation. We have lived in the same location and rooted ourselves in the same church for almost twelve years. This is home. This is where our kids have found life and love and friends and faith. And yet, I now found myself in a place in which it became a more tangible reality that my calling could lead us away. But even more than physical dislocation, I have experienced a deep sense of vocational dislocation. For the first time in our life together my place in ministry is not at all wrapped up in Brian’s location in ministry.

I like what Walter Brueggemann proposes in his theological work in the Psalms: “The life of faith expressed in the Psalms is focused on the two decisive moves of faith that are always underway, by which we are regularly surprised and which we regularly resist. One move we make is out of a settled orientation into a season of disorientation…The other move we make is a move from a context of disorientation to a new orientation.”[13] Brueggemann expresses the tension of location and dislocation. What I have hinted at, thus far, is that another way to conceptualize this is positioning oneself, either by choice or by circumstance, as host (locatedness) or being hosted (dislocatedness). Pohl says, “Persons who have never experienced need or marginality, or who are uncomfortable with their own vulnerability, often find it easier to be hosts than guests.”[14] Pohl is speaking of hosts and guests in a very tangible way, and I hesitate a bit with pushing something embodied into the realm of metaphor, but it seems to me an astute comparison. I have found myself, for most of my adult life, in a position of tension between locatedness and dislocatedness both physically and vocationally.

Metaphorically, the position of host is the position of location – the position of a settled, comfortable home or space or faith in which to invite others in to share. The position of guest, on the other hand, is a position of dislocation – it takes a certain vulnerability to open oneself to another’s space – another’s territory, to be hosted by them. I have never been either fully comfortable or fully lost in either position. My own (past) shame, fear, hesitancy, and also (current) certainty about my calling coupled with the ethos which limits women has made the solid position of host seem off for me. How can I live fully into my vocational calling in a space which does not fully affirm my identity? And yet those very same things have made the position of guest seem uncomfortable, too. If I move on from this space in which I have been rooted and grounded, will I not just be trading in one set of frustrations for another? And besides that, what do I do with the sense that God might actually be calling me into a rootedness that feels like an uphill climb? I have one foot in each space – I am treading the waters of feeling grounded locationally and dislocated vocationally. And I wonder if this tension space between host and guest is not exactly the ground in which God can birth something new? Parker Palmer says it like this:

As often happens on the spiritual journey, we have arrived at the heart of a paradox: each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around – which puts the door behind us – and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls. The door that closed kept us from entering a room, but what now lies before us is the rest of reality.[15]

In this season of my life, I am learning how to be hosted. I am learning to navigate the trail without the same sense of groundedness I have been accustomed to. I am learning to pay attention and to listen. I have spent time, recently, in the Old Testament book of Numbers, learning from a people who were located in Egypt and now find themselves wandering in the desert for 40 years. An important detail I had failed to notice in the past is just how long they stayed put in certain locations while on the journey. Israel embodied the tension between location and dislocation. Leong notes, “In order to be faithful to the mission of God while on the journey, Israel has to be willing to uproot and go whenever God’s purposes are on the move…Ultimately, to go is an act of obedience to the missio Dei, the sending-ness of the triune God, who commissions the church into the world.”[16] Maybe this uprooting is a physical move to a new location. And maybe it is a spiritual uprooting – a new way to posture oneself in the world in order to pay attention to the work of God in the world. Ultimately, it is the posture of missional leadership.

Leading Missionally

To assume that I have this next part figured out would be presumptuous, but I am encouraged by the words of Henri Nouwen: “I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.”[17] And from Parker Palmer, “[I] have come to understand that for better or for worse, I lead by word and deed simply because I am here doing what I do. If you are also here, doing what you do, then you also exercise leadership of some sort.”[18] I am called to participate in Christian ministry, in Christian leadership. I suppose each of us, called into relationship with Jesus Christ, take on a certain level of commitment to Christian leadership. And so we do what we do, offering our own vulnerable self, in service and participation in the life of God. And for a very, very long time, I have assumed that to be a validated minister or leader meant a certain role or job. I will admit that I still land there sometimes. There is no question in anyone’s mind that a vocational pastor or minister, ordained and commissioned, is doing the work of Christian leadership. But that has never been my reality – and I do not know if it ever will be. So as I wrestle down my own demons of expectation and legitimacy and find myself in this tension of location and dislocation, I am learning to discern what it might mean to lead from this particular space.

Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk define missional leadership like this: “At its core, missional church is how we cultivate a congregational environment where God is the center of conversation and God shapes the focus and work of the people…Missional leadership is about shaping cultural imagination within a congregation wherein people discern what God might be about among them and in their community.”[19] The work of discernment and listening is my default posture in the space of tension between location and dislocation. I am beginning to understand that God is forming me as a missional leader – as someone positioned to lead, missionally, right now in my own church and spheres out of my own posture of listening and discerning the work of God in my vocational calling. In some ways, I am a guest among my own people – I feel on the outside, a stranger. Sometimes I see myself as missionary to my own church. If that is part of my calling, my posture ought to be one of deep listening and discernment as to what God is up to among this particular people. And sometimes, I see my very presence as a woman crying out for equity and inclusion as prophetic – a voice calling out in the wilderness preparing the way for God’s preferred and promised future. Both of these postures stem from a space of dislocation. Roxburgh and Romanuk state:

In his dispute with the Pharisees over the appropriate way of keeping the Sabbath as well as the rules and expectations they laid on ordinary people in terms of their religious responsibilities, Jesus revealed how good people had become enmeshed in and organizational culture that blinded them to God’s work. Their institutionalized practices and convictions created a culture that kept them from seeing Jesus as they eagerly sought God’s purposes. The same thing happens in congregations. Organizational culture shapes how we think about and see the world. Forming a missional community requires asking hard questions about the organizational culture of our congregation.”[20]

I am, with my embodied presence (and my voice), begging this conversation. It is a conversation about women, yes, but really it is a larger conversation about what God is up to in the world and how we are (or are not) paying attention to God’s radical project of new creation.

This posture of missionary-prophet-guest is not usually easy or comfortable, particularly when the embodied location of this posture is “home.” I have felt a particular solidarity with the sentiment of Jesus in Luke 4 when he suggests that a prophet is never accepted in their hometown. I am beginning to understand that my role will likely never be an “official” ministry position within my church. The systemic structures of leadership in my church (and in many churches of Christ that run from an elder-as-business/decision-maker leadership model) create a “closed doors” model of leadership. That is, decisions, both large and small, are made behind closed doors with relatively little input from the congregation as a whole. This creates an environment of secrecy and can lead to distrust (both ways). Roxburgh and Romanuk suggest that, “Character is the place where one’s deep hunger, personal identity, and calling merge to generate the confidence that allows people to trust a leader and agree to journey together in a new direction. Such character is observed in four personal qualities: maturity, conflict management, personal courage, and trustworthiness and trusting.”[21] Becoming this kind of leader – the kind of leader who generates confidence and trust, takes a great deal of personal spiritual formation and shadow work. That is, “Leaders who have not plumbed the depths of their own self-awareness have neither the resources nor security to cultivate an environment of awareness within the congregation.”[22] This journey into self-awareness is teaching me a lot about vulnerability. I am fully aware that I mess things up – a lot. In so many ways, I am navigating leadership on the sidelines and without a map. And sometimes my very presence brings with it an air of “dissent.” I have become (in the words of one of my elders) a “lightening-rod.” When you throw a “lightening rod” into an environment in which decisions are made behind closed doors (by a group of all men, in this case), sparks will fly, metaphorically.

Nevertheless, I am leaning into what I believe God is calling me to be: “Personal courage is the capacity to go on a long journey in the same direction, even when few seem willing to follow. It means keeping to one’s core values, ideals, and sense of call, even if they have become unpopular.”[23] Lord, have mercy, and may it be so for me. I do not fully know what this means for me. For now, it means that I lean into the hard, formational work that comes with encountering my own shadow side and learning to become more fully who God is creating me to be. It means daily examining my heart, my sinful impulses, my rough places – all of it, to mine the depths where the Spirit of God dwells and is creating a heart of flesh, willing and available to listen and discern the work of God in the world. And it means that for now, I dwell, locationally, with a particular people. Parker Palmer uses seasons as a metaphor for life, and says this:

The notion that our lives are like the eternal cycle of the seasons does not deny the struggle or the joy, the loss or the gain, the darkness or the light, but encourages us to embrace it all – and to find in all of it opportunities for growth…In my own life, as my winters segue into spring, I find it not only hard to cope with mud but also hard to credit the small harbingers of larger life to come, hard to hope until the outcome is secure. Spring teaches me to look more carefully for the green stems of possibility: for the intuitive hunch that may turn into a larger insight, for the glance or touch that may thaw a frozen relationship, for the stranger’s act of kindness that makes the world seem hospitable again.”[24]

I think I am in an early spring. I see harbingers of new life and I also daily cope with the mud. And I think I am in a long spring. And I think that is okay. Spring is a season of formation. It is a season accustomed to darkness and waiting. I love what Barbara Brown Taylor says:

As many years as I have been listening to Easter sermons, I have never heard anyone talk about that part. Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sounds of trumpets, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. If it happened in a cave, it happened in the complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air…new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.[25]

It starts in the dark.

And so, when I listen to the songs of Moana and Jasmine and Elsa, I am called over and over again into an assuredness that my story matters – that my calling is real. And I am reminded that I am not alone – though my story is particular, it is not unique. Certainly, it rings true with women walking the journey of vocation in Christian spaces, and I think in some ways it is part of a larger story of human vocation – who are we and who are we becoming? I will continue to learn and grow and lead from a space of location and dislocation. And for now, with my great cloud of Disney princesses bearing witness, I will posture myself with Anna, Elsa’s sister, as she commits (in a dark cave, by the way) to do “the next right thing,” even it means a journey of unknowing – a journey bridging the space of location and dislocation.


[1] Source: LyricFind. Songwriters: Opetaia Tavita Foa I / Mark Mancina / Lin Manuel Miranda. I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors) lyrics © Walt Disney Music Company.

[2] Source: LyricFind. Songwriters: Alan Menken / Justin Paul / Benj Pasek. Speechless (Full) lyrics © Walt Disney Music Company.

[3] Source: LyricFind. Songwriters: Kristen Anderson-Lopez / Robert Lopez. Show Yourself lyrics © Walt Disney Music Company.

[4] David P Leong, Race and Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation (InterVarsity Press, 2017), 73.

[5] Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture (Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2010), 24.

[6] Leong, Race and Place, 64.

[7] Curt Thompson, The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2015) 13, 29.

[8] Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pub, 2000) 12. (Emphasis mine).

[9] Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, 17.

[10] Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) 106-107.

[11] Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability, 26.

[12] Nicholson, Michael. “A Life of Aching Beauty: Vincent van Gogh as Preacher, Failure, and Painter.” Mockingbird. March 09, 2015. Accessed March 18, 2020. http://www.mbird.com/2015/02/a-wasted-life-of-aching-beauty-vincent-van-gogh-as-preacher-failure-and-painter/.

[13] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary, Augsburg Old Testament Studies (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 20.

[14] Pohl, Making Room, 119.

[15] Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, 54.

[16] Leong, Race and Place, 76-77.

[17] Henri J M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 17.

[18] Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, 74.

[19] Alan J. Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk. The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 26.

[20] Roxburgh and Romanuk. The Missional Leader, 22.

[21] Roxburgh and Romanuk. The Missional Leader, 127.

[22] Roxburgh and Romanuk. The Missional Leader, 132.

[23] Roxburgh and Romanuk. The Missional Leader, 138.

[24] Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, 96 and 104.

[25] Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 129.

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