To Read or Not To Read (the Bible)

How do we “teach” the Bible to 8-year-olds when we’re not even sure what we think about it ourselves?

A family member with young children recently shared that their children had asked why they, as a family, don’t read the Bible. A recent experience at a church summer camp seemed to spur the children’s question, and the adult family member wasn’t sure how to respond. The family actively attends a faith community, participating in a wide variety of church activities and weekly worship.  Yet, the children perceived a gap between themselves and others and were curious about it.

One evening a few weeks later, the adults of the family were sitting in our living room and raised this question: How do we “teach” the Bible to 8-year-olds when we’re not even sure what we think about it ourselves?

After talking around this for a while, I turned the question back to the parent. I asked, “Why would you read the Bible?” — asked not in a rhetorical way, but with an intent to draw out a positive Bible-reading ethic, if they felt they could.

In the progressive-leaning faith communities I’ve been a part of, attitudes toward the Bible have been mixed. There’s a desire that our children are exposed to the Bible, but we don’t want to gloss over that scripture is complex. We’re not interested in passing on the old legalism we were raised with, but we also think there’s a fair amount of wisdom in Jesus’ teachings.  We’ve lost our naïveté that God’s a big guy up in the sky, but we’re captivated by a sense that there’s Something More.

And each time we do crack the book to begin reading, we come with an awareness that these texts weren’t written for us 21st-century readers. The Bible was written in many times and places, by many people shaped by their particular cultures. It spans multiple genres, is written in multiple languages (not English!), and includes no extended information on the authors or their motivations.

It’s a lot to hold. 

Teaching the Bible from a place of uncertainty is really hard, especially when we’re trying to teach it to children. So, what is our responsibility, as adults in a faith tradition that values voluntary membership? (Here “adults” includes both a child’s parents and other adults in the faith community.)

I offer three main suggestions:

First, let children direct you. Follow what they’re interested in learning about. Equip them to ask questions and create a safe environment for them to ask. Ask other adults to help. Help other adults when they ask. Exploring the Bible can be playful, imaginative, and mysterious.

And second, following the wisdom of Celtic Christianity, allow the natural world — the “big book of scripture” — to shape your understanding of the Divine, of justice, of compassion. An awareness of the natural world is vital to understanding the written word of scripture, regardless of one’s age.

Meanwhile, within the Anabaptist tradition, rigid indoctrination of the young actually violates our core value of being a believers’ church.* That’s not to say that we should shield our faith from the next generations; rather, it is an invitation to live with integrity. Children (and youth especially) can sense when we find something is important, often through the way our words and actions align

So, how do we “teach” the Bible to 8-year-olds when we’re not even sure what we think about it ourselves? We can allow—or even encourage—our children to explore sacred texts they’re interested in and to provide the tools they need to do so. We can notice and point out the ways that our everyday lives are deeply spiritual, as even some of our most mundane decisions are informed by faith, ethics, and/or our understanding of the Divine. And we can foster a sense of wonder about the good news we encounter in the very world around us.

All of this is centered in trust. Our relationship with a sacred text, like any relationship, is marked by seasons of distance and intimacy, of discernment and questioning…and we trust that the text can handle this. We also find trust in the Anabaptist practice of reading and interpreting the Bible in community, in which there is safety, accountability, and support. And perhaps it’s an opportunity to trust that our children will discover and discern on their own why they might (or might not) want to read the Bible.


*This is why I’m generally wary of things like Sunday School, especially for children.

The Aches and Pains of New Growth

A midsummer Monday morning has dawned. My muscles are a little achy today and my bones feel heavy. My mind and body show signs of hard labor as sweat gathers on my forehead. But I stoop again, to gently lift up the pea bush, eyes scanning for plump pods to snap off the vine.

My thoughts still in the garden, and it’s okay if I move a little more slowly here, listening to my body’s preferences for more comfortable positions. I find amidst the peas and tomatoes and basil a respite. A presence.

As I pinch off the tomato suckers, growing at a 45-degree angle from the main stem, I smile as I realize that now my hands will invariably smell like tomato all day: a pungent fragrance born of the plant’s hard labor.

image courtesy of pixabay.com

An Unpredicatable Office: Pastoring in COVID

Pastoring during COVID has been a mix of joys and sorrows: from the explosion of creativity, learning new skills, finding unique ways to connect, and the deepening of ‘wilderness’ wisdom … to managing disparate expectations and needs, the loss of touch, knowing people are slipping through the cracks.

Yesterday, my spiritual director asked me, “Do you regret being a pastor, or does it feel right?”  I paused for a moment and responded, “Depends on the day.”  She laughed, and my face cracked into a grin.

We were talking about the challenges facing the Christian Church, both nationally and locally. Attendance at communal worship is decreasing. White supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism are fighting to maintain dominance. Distrust within our communities festers and threatens unity.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, there’s COVID. 

The odds seem ever not in our favor. Yet here I am, strangely called to pastoring.

Pastoring during COVID has been a mix of joys and sorrows: from the explosion of creativity, learning new skills, finding unique ways to connect, and the deepening of ‘wilderness’ wisdom … to managing disparate expectations and needs, the loss of touch, knowing people are slipping through the cracks. I have witnessed incredible courage and paralyzing fear. I have seen the inspirational strengthening of communal ties and the cunning creep of individualism.

In normal times, pastors are invited into the most vulnerable spaces of human life, where we see the beautiful and the horrific. COVID has been no different in this way, only the beauty is often blinding and the edges of the horrific are razor sharp.

Who would want to be a pastor, given all of this?! In fact, many are leaving parish ministry altogether. The cost of staying is often too high.

I’m not at that point, though I empathize with those who are. Rather, the confidence in my call—at least, the confidence I have most days—keeps me tethered to both relief and hope.  There is relief that the church can actually change, and relatively quickly; the past year proves this. There is hope that pastoring will continue to allow me to witness the Divine in the mundane, in the transitions, in the crises. And, there is hope that our sacred texts will guide us toward loving our neighbors, inspiring selfless acts of collective solidarity.

Amidst the fleeting, if somewhat regular blips of questioning my vocation, there are enough moments where pastoring feels right. And if not today, then perhaps tomorrow.


Image by SvetlanaKv from Pixabay

Morsels – 4.29.21

Choice crumbs of daily living // Seedlings, Current Reads, and New Housemate

Seedlings, or lack thereof, 2021

Our seedlings are mostly a failure this year. Justin hypothesizes that it’s because our potting up mixture’s chemistry was a little off. It’s interesting to me: the more I care about starting things from scratch, the more likely it seems that results are mixed.

So, for the first time in a very long time, I’ll be buying tomato plants for my little garden plot.

One summer in college, I had enormous success with starting tomato seeds. I want to say I ended up planting upward of 90 plants—my dad would remember for certain. In preparation for living as simply/cheaply as possible, I and about ten friends planned to rent a house together and practice college-level intentional living.  Clearly, one needed as many tomatoes as possible to ensure this.


I’m in the middle of five books. I’m not totally sure why I do this to myself.

I checked this book (Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey) out from the library on Tuesday. I’ll be done by tomorrow.  It’s easy reading—kind of like reading through one’s old journal entries. The chapters are both deep and simple, approachable and distinct.

Then there’s this tome (The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler), which I’ve had for a couple months and maxed out the library’s renewal limit. The book was groundbreaking for its time (1988), and in many ways, still is. Eisler presents a more complex review of human history, the ample evidence for a Goddess-based “pre-history,” and the way such a worldview relied on cooperation and equality between genders. In other words, human history has not always been defined by dominance, violence, and war-making. I probably won’t finish the book before it’s really due back at the library, though I am trying.

The other three fall somewhere in-between. I actively read them—a couple pages from one in the morning, a few poems before bed.  And lastly, there’s a draft manuscript from a congregant. I will absolutely finish it; it’s like an asynchronous pastoral visit.


In about a week’s time, we have a new housemate moving in. Justin and I have often lived with others during our married life, so this is nothing new.  In preparation for this addition, however, we’ve really been stretched to get rid of more of our stuff to make room.  We downsized when we moved here a year and a half ago, and yet it’s embarrassing how much crap we still have and how much we’ve accumulated since being in Madison.

It’s been a humbling experience, and I wonder how much is related to the deep-seated insecurity we have as white folks.

Exhibit A: Guest Room Closet

#TheMoment, Part 2

In conversations about “returning to church,” one of the key questions that I think each church needs to reflect on is, “How has the church been changed by the pandemic?” It’s also an important question for followers of Christ to reflect on for our own spiritual growth.

When COVID Changed Me

In conversations about “returning to church,” one of the key questions that I think each church needs to reflect on is, “How has the church been changed by the pandemic?”  (In a forthcoming essay to be published in the Anabaptist World, I offer why I think this is a necessary question.)  

I also think it’s an important question for followers of Christ to reflect on for our own spiritual growth and formation over the last year.  Here are two personal takeaways from how the pandemic has changed me.

Losing Control / Needing to Surrender

One of the first things I and others came to grips with was just how little we could control. Facing the virus meant facing the façades we have built in Western civilization, namely that of individual power.

White folks especially don’t like losing control or recognizing the truth about how little we actually control.  We might be okay with losing control if we feel like we’re choosing it (playing into a martyr complex), but to choose to lose power is to still be in control.

Sadly, I have not escaped this malformation, either. 

But somewhere, in the midst of 2020, I felt a nudge to surrender.  To let trust develop, particularly in my relationship with God.  It was/is hard to relinquish a sense that “I’ve got this,” especially when I’m supposed to be leading a group of people. But the truth of the matter was I couldn’t do much. It was a wake-up call to my finitude and mortality.

It’s hard to surrender (the fallacy of) control, even in order to open oneself to the Divine within and around us. Letting go of controlling outcomes requires vulnerability, another thing white folks often feel a “right” to be shielded from (due to white privilege).

But a life of vulnerability and yieldedness (Gelassenheit) is actually at the heart of the gospel–a challenge that changed me in 2020 and changes me still.

Worship and Trauma

Webinars proliferated in the early months of the pandemic. Everyone and their mother was offering spaces to gather and process the pandemic’s effects. I signed up for a lot of these webinars—some better than others.  One, featuring my pastoral care professor from seminary, changed me.

He mentioned that in any given Sunday worship, a pastor should expect that about a third of the congregation is actively grieving something.  With COVID, though, he said that number was now a full 100%.  That was the first inkling I had that worship planning, and specifically preaching, needed to take our community’s grief and trauma into account more thoroughly.

With the murders of Breonna Turner and George Floyd, my attention turned to the trauma of white supremacy.  Reading My Grandmother’s Hands and Words That Heal: Preaching Hope to Wounded Souls, I started taking more care to craft sermons and services that attended to the unhealed trauma that nearly all of us carry around. I have been challenged to honor my own traumatic experiences and to confront the deeply embedded trauma of white supremacy within me.

One result of these two things: COVID has changed my sermon writing process.

Pre-COVID, I had a neat, day-by-day order of what I did when.* When COVID hit though, each day was full with a week’s worth of uncertainty and disorientation. I found myself having a lot more to emotionally process before I could start writing. Many weeks, I only felt ready to start writing a first draft on Saturday afternoon.

This was a shock to my careful (semi-perfectionistic) process. I had lost control of comfortable patterns and expectations about how sermons come together. Instead, I felt nudged (or sometimes forced) into relying on the Spirit’s presence in my writing. It felt dangerous. I felt vulnerable.

In its place, I experienced a heightened awareness of speaking carefully and gently to the wounded souls on my screen. I knew what weighed many of them down; we were hitting refresh on the same data dashboards and newsfeeds. The sermons probably weren’t “great” in a classical sense, which provided a necessary check on my ego. Yet, it surprised me every week that a sermon came together, and the process was still marked with joy.

As time has gone on, I’m closer to my original sermon prep process; I’m not changed to the point of always waiting until Saturday to write my sermons. (I do like doing other things on Saturdays other than work.) But my attitude toward sermon writing has changed. I pay more attention to centering in the Spirit before I start writing.** I’ve also mellowed a bit, having less to prove and more to care for. I’m hopeful that this will prove to be growth.


*I typically read all the lectionary texts a week in advance to familiarize myself with them. On the Monday before a service, I would muddle around the texts again and then hone in on one or two of the texts and formulate themes. (Parts of) Tuesday and Wednesday were spent in reflection, research, and perhaps writing an outline. Thursday was my writing day with the goal of getting a rough draft completed. Taking Friday off, I returned to my draft on Saturday morning to smooth the edges and clarify my main points. Sunday, I print it off, practice running through it a few times, and scribble changes in the margins.

**In a worship class in seminary, the professor taught us to have a prayer that we say each time we sit down to work on a service. I use the following prayer, which is adapted from Annie Heppenstall’s book, The Book of Uncommon Prayer. It is a prayer for the season of Epiphany.

Loving God, be a lamp to my feet,
the brightest star in my sky;
guide me to what is of true worth,
and give me courage and diligence to keep searching
until I find for myself
that which draws forth my delight and awe,
the revelation of your presence within me.
Amen.

#TheMoment, Part 1

NPR’s All Things Considered is inviting listeners this week to reflect on when they “first realized COVID-19 would change their world.” While I didn’t submit a response, this one-year anniversary of stay-at-home orders and the recent glimmers of hope out of the CDC have me pondering both those early moments of the pandemic and the ways I/we have changed since.

When COVID Changed My World

NPR’s All Things Considered is inviting listeners this week to reflect on when they “first realized COVID-19 would change their world.”  While I didn’t submit a response, this one-year anniversary of stay-at-home orders and the recent glimmers of hope out of the CDC have me pondering both those early moments of the pandemic and the ways I/we have changed since.

I had traveled east in late February/early March 2020 to visit family. Making my way through various airports, I noticed a handful of passengers wearing face masks. 

My last indoor Showalter family gathering, Feb. 2020.

I remember one curious, unmasked person called out to another who was masked, “Do you have the virus or just playing it safe?”  The person responded, “Wearing it just in case.”  I washed my hands a lot on that journey, the primary advice I remember hearing in those days. 

A few days later, I was meeting with the pastoral team from Orchard Ridge UCC, the church Madison Mennonite rents from. It was Tuesday, March 10, 2020. We were navigating what to do about their Sunday service that week, where I was slated to guest preach.  My sermon was titled, “Singing Our Faith: Songs of Liberation, Lament, and Praise.”

(How little we knew, then, about singing and COVID.) 

One of the pastors, away on vacation, called in.  She had spoken with the executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, who, having spoken with state-level health officials, had said we should expect March 15 to be the last Sunday of in-person worship, at least until Easter. 

(How little we knew, then, about how long this would last.)

On Thursday afternoon of that week, I met with the worship leader for the Madison Mennonite service. We had planned to meet at a coffeehouse, where they had stopped letting people bring in travel mugs.  You were supposed to ask for any drink accoutrements when ordering; there was no longer a self-serve area.

The worship leader and I sat and talked for a little while about what the emerging news about COVID meant for our Sunday service. A state of emergency had been declared, and uncertainty was growing very quickly. After a little while, I said, “I think the safest thing we can do, based on what we know, is to meet online.”  Maybe it would be a blip. Maybe it was overkill.  But we knew we could gather with absolutely no viral risk. 

(How little we knew, then, what it meant to plan virtual worship.)

Thursday night, I had a conference call with our church board and I relayed the discernment from my afternoon meeting. We were, somewhat surprisingly, in full accord with one another to move worship online and to cancel all other in-person activities. My guest preaching gig was soon canceled as well. 

(How little we knew, then, how much would be canceled.)

In the weeks that followed, I was thirsty for wisdom on how to be the church online in the midst of a global pandemic. I was fazed less by the technological side of gathering as the Body of Christ, and more by a general loss of control as speculation about time frames and viral transmission shifted hour-by-hour and day-by-day.  In a now-forgotten NPR story, probably mid-April, I heard about the likelihood that vaccines would be the way out of the pandemic, meaning we were looking at a year or more until some semblance of “normal” returned. This was my first “a-ha” moment—where the uncertainty about “Are we going to be worshipping in-person by Pentecost?” turned to “What does it look like to be in this space for a year?”

When I mentioned my shift in thinking to colleagues, saying that I thought it was possible that we wouldn’t worship in-person until Fall 2021, they looked at me quizzically.  “Do you mean Fall 2020?”  No, sadly, I had meant what I said.

That was a second “a-ha” moment.  We were all thinking about this in a dozen different ways.  The politicization of the pandemic was leaking into our churches.  It was changing us.  

(How little we knew, then, that we were already changed.) 

Our set-up for the Maundy Thursday Love Feast with Madison Mennonites.

#TheMoment, Part 2: When COVID Changed Me will be published tomorrow.

Prayer of Remembrance

For a Year of Distanced Worship

Today at Madison Mennonite, we round out a full year of worshipping distanced–a sobering, disappointing, and often discouraging reality…while also a testament to the Spirit’s faithfulness in all circumstances.

We are taking some time today and in our Koinonia Groups next week to hold the tension, grief, and anxiety of the last year. It feels important–necessary, even–to mourn the pain that the pandemic has caused: bodily, relational, emotional, economic, spiritual pain.

Then there are the divisions that have emerged or grown more obvious: cracks within familial relationships, extreme othering within political discourse, racial inequity.

Yet I think it’s important, as the church, to recognize that some of the divisions, like physical distancing, have emerged for the sake of community and the love of neighbor.  This purposeful distancing is counter-intuitive for Christ-followers, and yet it aligns with the call to think bigger, beyond ourselves, from what’s good for a few to what’s good for the collective.

These are complicated, contradicting, and disorienting realities.  I am hoping that our world grows a little gentler this week, as we hold space for ourselves and for one another. So many are dealing with pandemic-inflicted wounds that are still tender to the touch. I pray for God’s grace to abound.

A Congregational Prayer of Remembrance
Eternal Presence,
This has been a strange year.
Disorienting and isolating for some, 
liberating and full of opportunity for others,
our experiences are disparate.

As we look back on this year, O God,
help us be gentle with ourselves and with one another.
Draw us together in curiosity and compassion.
Unite us in our common commitments,
to loving our neighbors,
extending the tables piled high with grace,
as we continue to seek your reign in our midst.

We give you thanks, Abiding Spirit,
for journeying with us,
renewing our spirits
through the generosity of this Beloved Community.
In Christ’s holy name we pray. Amen.

A Blessing for Survivors When Perpetrators are Lauded

Even as I found myself moved by the inauguration (particularly VP Harris being sworn in), I’ve been thinking a lot about Tara Reade today.  And the way our society seems to so easily demand sacrifice of survivors because “he’s done so much good.”

Feeling like the world needs some blessings right now, this is the third in a series of blessings for the (extra)ordinary days in which we find ourselves.

A blessing on you who spoke up,
even knowing your voice would be drowned out.*

Yes! the Spirit’s empowering fire rests on you,
liberating and unleashing the Truth you hold within.
May you uproot the pernicious tendrils
that would have you mollify the crowds with your silence.

Even when your name is forgotten,
                       (and his is memorialized)
your story, your voice, your impact
           on our world, on humanity, on democracy, on the church
           will forever be remembered.


Mark 14:3-9
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.


*And abundant blessings on you who choose silence, exercising agency over your story. This path is just as worthy.

A Blessing for Indistinguishable Days

Feeling like the world needs some blessings right now–or perhaps it’s just me–this is the second in a series of blessings for the (extra)ordinary days in which we find ourselves.

[Is this your experience, too: conversations, events, and days melding into a congealed, homogenous lump, indistinguishable from one another? Within covid-time, memories blur and the meaning of “time” has unexpectedly shifted. Some days, it can feel like Groundhog Day, ten months in a row.]

First, may you be blessed with courage
to slip out of the shadow of shame:
           of forgetting that birthday/appointment/meeting/really important thing
           of realizing, days later, that you never followed up
           of discovering, weeks later (if you ever think of it again at all),
                      that you never sent that thank you note
                      (the one you really meant to send)
The indistinguishable moments, one after the other,
           distracted you, exhausted you,
           leaving you utterly perplexed.
Courage, though, and laughter will be your escape hatch
ejecting you safely into surrender.

And then, may you be blessed with grace,
for remembering even one out of ten
           birthdays, appointments, meetings, really important things,
           thank yous,
is a momentous feat to be celebrated.


Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV)
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

A Blessing for Those Struggling to Get Out of Bed

Feeling like the world needs some blessings right now–or perhaps it’s just me–this is the first in a series of blessings for the (extra)ordinary days in which we find ourselves.

Bless you, bleary-eyed, dream-caught one,
who cracks an eye open to gauge the sun’s ascent,
and then sighs wearily, turning over, back turned to the grey sky.
Holy hugs to you whose limbs feel like lead,
stubborn and inert, yet warm and sensitive.

While dread of the day cocoons you,
and traps you in immobility,
the radiance of Christ surrounds you,
and in a gentle voice, you hear,
“Beloved, come out!”

Like one revived,
you are unbound from the blankets,
the strips of cloth that held you tight.
A miracle to start the day.


John 11:38-44 (NRSV)
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”