Goodbye Earl for 2018

The other day when I was listening to my favorite playlist, 90s Country (don't judge) - an entirely unexpected thing happened.

I started crying.

It was Goodbye Earl.



The song wasn't necessarily a sad one, but it was a wrenching one. I first heard it from the Dixie Chicks in 2000, when I was 15 years old and just learning what it meant to be a woman in a male-dominated world.

Five years earlier I'd still thought I had a chance to be the first female major-league baseball player.

Now I was going online to a brand-new Internet already suffused with patriarchal power.

My friend, Brian, had created a list with a few of his buddies, ranking the girls in our grade by relative levels of "hotness."

I don't think I was even included on the list at that point, though my best friend was near the top. I felt a twinge of embarrassment, or jealousy. Suddenly it didn't matter that I'd scored well on the PSAT or made the junior-varsity volleyball team. What mattered was what they - they being boys - thought of me.

***

I think I cried when I heard Goodbye Earl in 2018, 18 long years later, at almost-33 years old, because I realized only now the courage behind those three female country voices, crooning about domestic violence and the limited options available to women who suffered at the hands of men they loved.

The courage to talk about what no one wanted to mention exists. The courage to speak up when no one wanted to listen.

Goodbye Earl is a purposefully upbeat song, twangy and almost backwoods country, the singing and accents exaggerated and quick. But the lyrics are, again, wrenching.



Two best girl friends graduate high school together in a small town. One moves away, the other stays and marries an abusive man.

Wanda looked all around this town and all she found was Earl

A wife and a mom now, graduate of an outer-ring suburban high school: did I know girls who'd experienced the same fate?

Of course I did.

Well it wasn't two weeks after she got married that Wanda started getting abused
She'd put on dark glasses or long-sleeved blouses or makeup to cover a bruise
Well she finally got the nerve to file for divorce, she let the law take it from there
But Earl walked right through that restraining order and put her in intensive care

I remembered the domestic violence advocacy courses I'd taken in Las Vegas: learning how despite legislation and education, often everyone in society: from churches to schools to police - sided with the abuser, and we had to work to overturn a presumption of untruth.

It's still true, isn't it? Did you see the photos last week of Rob Porter's ex-wife, Colbie Holderness?


Except it's not the same.

And I think that's why I cried. Because of #MeToo and Tarana Burke and Rachael Denhollander and Beth Moore and my mom and the 100+ women who gathered with me on Super Bowl weekend to talk about why Jesus said we should #CheerforOurselves.

I teared up because I realized what it had taken to get to this place, where women can finally raise our voices and find that maybe the world is starting to be ready to listen.

I teared up because Colbie Holderness got to tell her story, and people thought it mattered across the world - and finally, her abusive husband lost his charismatic cover - and prestigious White House position.

I teared up because I see Jesus' hand in all of this. I teared up because even though so many darn times (see: High Point Church in Memphis) the church and Christians have allowed perpetrators of abuse to escape unscathed, while shaming and re-victimizing women ... today instead I see the original revolutionary and liberating Gospel of Jesus at work in a powerful spiritual force, unleashing truth throughout America - in the voice of women who are telling the truth about Jesus and about God.

I teared up because I see it in my own life, too.


My life had some big changes this week, and answers to prayers.

I left my call at Messiah Lutheran Church in Orange County, CA, on May 16, 2017. My intention upon leaving was to take some time to transition my two boys, Jacob, 5, and Joshua, 2, to our new home in Minnesota, while reigniting my freelance writing career, and potentially finding a part-time call to a church in Minneapolis.

One thing I'd prayed about was that in Minneapolis I'd find something I'd never had before: closer partnership with female colleagues and mentors. As a former sportswriter and current pastor, I'd always worked closely with men.

Really since elementary school and as an athlete, I'd always been sort of "one of the boys." I met my husband, Ben, playing pick-up basketball in college, where I was one of about three girls. Now I have two boys, so even my house is full of boys.


I've had so many treasured male colleagues who are friends to this day. I've learned a lot from all of them: from my childhood pastor and now pastoral colleague, Peter, to my cherished editor and friend Mark in Minneapolis, to my fellow pastor Bob, in Orange County, still a dear friend and mentor.

That said, though, I felt a yearning to learn from and work with other women, especially as I balanced deeply felt callings to write, speak, preach, pastor - in addition to callings as a wife and mother.

I prayed that God might help me meet this need in Minneapolis, even as I found a new vocational path.

This week, those prayers were answered in a huge way.

After a meandering path, and several potential pastoral opportunities that just weren't a good fit or match - I finally decided to lean into my book project and burgeoning speaking and freelance writing career.

Three days after making this decision, I got a call from Pastor Kris Capel, a friend and lead pastor of Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, Minn., in the South Suburbs of Minneapolis.

Pastor Kris is someone I've always looked up to. Easter is, I believe, the largest ELCA Lutheran church led by a female pastor, and Kris balances it all with grace, kindness, humility and patience. We'd developed a friendship since I moved back to Minnesota, and now she told me there was an opportunity at Easter.

After meeting with Easter's Vision Board, I officially started my new call yesterday. I am Easter's part-time Teaching Pastor, filling in for Rolf Jacobson, who has taken a leave of absence. Incidentally, Pastor Rolf is a former professor of mine at Luther Seminary, and a noted scholar, preacher, author, and teacher. I have big shoes to fill, and am honored to fill his role here at Easter.

Also just last week, I received confirmation of another Spirit-sent opportunity. I'll be assisting my friend and mentor Dr. Karoline Lewis at Luther Seminary, helping to evaluate sermons and assisting teaching the online Preaching Course at the seminary this spring.

Adding on these two new positions to my varied plate of book writing, article writing and occasional freelance speaking gigs is a new challenge for our family, requiring Ben and me to swap some roles and change some of our routines. But we're in it together, and we are also so excited for the plans God continues to unveil in our lives.

***

What does this have to do with crying during Goodbye Earl, #MeToo, and the ever-swaying changes of our national, political and personal worlds?

What does this have to do with Jesus?

Well first, it always has to do with Jesus.

But for me, as I prepare to attend Lenten dinner and service at Easter tonight, I think it's this.

This Sunday at Easter we'll be preaching and teaching about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-17). In this moment, Jesus epitomizes servant leadership, humility, and powerful love. Women in the church have for centuries epitomized this same humble, servant leadership and love - often behind the scenes keeping churches going for years, doing the tasks no one wants to do: coordinating volunteers, organizing VBS, tending nurseries, making coffee, cleaning up the pews ...

I think what we in the church have maybe missed about this story is that servant leadership of Jesus is not just humble - it's also powerful. It is this humble, servant-like love that bends to wash stinky, dirty feet that will four days later liberate the world from death to everlasting life with Jesus' resurrection after death on the Cross.

I can sense in this moment of human history a similarly powerful movement of women in the church.

I am excited to experience just a small part of it in my corner of the world this week.

Comments

  1. Hey Angela! I couldn't be happier for you. Is it true that Earl is buried against the back edge of Easter's lot?

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