Life–A Complicated Text

CW: Ordination exams, trauma, abortion, abuse, hazing, genocide, violence, murder

“There are two myths of humanity” I like to remind people, from the pulpit, “The myth of human progress, and the myth that everything is getting worse. The reason that the Bible still speaks to us, is that humans remain humans, a mix of good and bad, and we are still struggling with how to follow God in the mix, and we need that reminder. In fact, God suggests we get that reminder, at minimum, weekly, so here we are reading those stories, and trying to do with this complicated thing called life.” I feel like a preach this kind of reminder at least once a year, because the Bible, and humans and life is a complicated text, and the mythology of humans or the Bible being either perfect or completely terrible are both so easy to run with

“Your baptism is sufficient for your calling” we also tell each other–even as we make each other confess our faith publicly, or run a bunch of tests or learn creeds. This one, we are not so good at. My middle child who is twelve has autism, if we run a membership class (in my teeny-tiny church), we will have to do something completely different for him, which is kind of silly if you think about it. He loves church, for him communion is holy. He loves to participate in the ritual of belonging to God. He knows he is completely part of the community in that moment. He gets it. Plus, he is completely focused on the moment and teeters in anticipation for the bread and cup, unlike the rest of us who are thinking about grocery lists and the like. But he is partially nonverbal, so I don’t know if he will be able to confess his faith (at least that day) Is his baptism sufficient for his faith? Of course it is and my church will accept him with open arms, but I know that the hoops that we have set up are ridiculous, because he has grown that awareness in me.

So when we argue about the ordination tests, and talk about how difficult the texts are for translation, I think about a. our baptism is sufficient for our calling and b. we will run into difficult texts in life. Of course we will, that is the point.

The people who say that the Bible is full of terrible texts are completely and absolutely right, because the Bible is about the tapestry of human life: child abuse, genocide, queer abuse, sexism, rape (of all genders), infertility, xenophobia and more. (I mean you don’t need me to name them all, but I feel like I have to demonstrate my awareness here, which says something in itself, doesn’t it?)

There are times I say this is the good news of the Bible, thanks be to God after reading the text and my voice shakes. I have told my congregation that sometimes I am nervous to preach, and they have displayed surprise that I, a confident extrovert with much experience get fearful sometimes, that sometimes the text is very important, because life’s text is so important. I have explained to my congregation, that if I am not afraid of doing a difficult text justice after another Black or Brown person dies in the context of genocide; or talking about someone being exiled right after another terrible anti-LGBTQIA law has passed; or calls for peace when another mass shooting has hit the news or a healing text comes forward and great tragedy has struck the congregation; or the texts that call to bring down demagogues right after Jan 6th–if I am not awestruck by the timeliness of the texts and a little afraid I am probably not doing God justice.

And at those times, I try to say, publicly, look God I don’t know how this is good news. I am struggling with this text. I am reading this story this week and I am saying “really, really this one God?” (I really do voice this, out loud from the pulpit, I do not hide my reactions when I preach) and the difference is, I’m talking and questioning with my congregation in a sermon, not doing exegesis in a test for my very ordination, alone. I am getting nods, and murmurs, and sighs and catching their eyes. I can do all of that in a sermon: ask the hard questions, leave things unresolved, get reactions and encouragement from the people around me. I try to model that we are in this messiness together.

And I should note, something really important, that we end by praying for things to change, together.

The Bible is a difficult text, because human is difficult. The older I get, the more human Jesus becomes.

I used to take comfort in Jesus being holy, now it seems to be the opposite. I imagine Jesus Christ as a human being. I am able to see him struggling as a human being and find that oh so comforting. I understand that God became human to get closer to us, that the Bible is a difficult text, but Jesus is God contextualizing God for us. And so I write and and I write and I write Jesus into human form, easing Jesus into our lives in ways that I can understand. Because I do not always understand God, but I believe God always understands us, and that brings me comfort.

I love words, I love translating texts, I love the Bible, and I love to hear people’s stories and how God has contextualized them. However, mostly I love wrestling with them all together, in community. I love telling one another, yes being human is hard. Yes, God loves you still. Yes, there is still good news in your life even after that trauma.

And yes, I am advocating looking at all our systems, and figuring out how to be less traumatizing, and still how to evaluate good pastors. And no, I do not think telling people if you have not worked through all of your trauma you cannot be a pastor, because we are human, therefore, we have trauma. The church is one of the least supportive places for trauma, I am sad to say. We can do better. There are ways to understand that human life is a trauma text, and not ask us to produce, produce and produce, and say, your baptism is sufficient for your gifts. It would be good to find spaces for safety for all.

I want to tell people who are wrestling with being human, the church is a good place for you to do that.

I want people who have done all the work to become pastor, to find ways to be competent without being broken.

I want us to be faithful, together.

Katy Stenta is a writer, Student of Creative Writing as Public Theology at Pittsburgh Seminary, and creator of liturgy.

Addendum on Listening: I want to add this in but could not figure out where. I am trying to listen carefully to my colleagues who are LGBTQIA and Black and POC who are stating frankly that the whole Bible is triggering, and that trauma figures in differently. I am sure that the scripture is weighty in a different way for them, and that majority culture has been ignoring what they have been saying and why for basically ever about the ways we talk to them in addition to how we evaluate them, their ministry and what they do. I am also hyperaware that these conversations on social media can be easier or harder depending. Thus I am just trying to observe and listen. I have no doubt that these colleagues are right. It definitely further complicates these conversations–especially as we can fall into demanding Cis-Hetero-White-Norm-Patriarchy Majority reactions without realizing it.

Self care

Self care means setting boundaries so that people don’t abuse you

It means saying no

It means tearing down the structures that don’t serve people

Jesus knew about self care

Jesus would have torn up the ordination test into pieces

He would have held the traumatized and told them their gifts were worthy of the church

Jesus would say this does not need an overture, he would have healed the wounds immediately

Jesus would have listened to those arguing for order and structure and tradition and asked, patiently, with compassion: where do you hurt?

Jesus would have said well done good and faithful servants to the committees who put in 3 years of work, and then dismissed them to do other things, not to worry that everything would be changed

Jesus would then sit and tell people the beautiful story of the kin(g)dom; where peace is everlasting, everyone has food and shelter and healthcare, no one argues over the color of the carpet, and violence is unnecessary

And the children will play

And everyone will have access to their counselors, their comfort books, movies and music

Before they snuggle up and sleep safe and warm.

Because pain is not holy, trauma is not holy

But healing and love and access to the means to do so…that is

Judges 19*, ords, seminary & the PCUSA

When word broke that the PCUSA ordination translation exam in Hebrew would be on the rape located in Judges 19.* I like most of my colleagues had to go and reread the passage to familiarize myself as to just how triggering it might be. (This is a passage on abuse, rape and violence, all the trigger warnings)

This passage is not included in any of the lectionary (cycles that are regularly preached upon) in the Bible, for good reason, and thus is not at my fingertips in meaning. I just remember it is bad. Upon rereading, it’s really, really terrible and should only be studied in certain settings and with care and understanding.

Ordination exams in the PCUSA are, in my opinion, similar to Doctoral exams and lawyer bars because they harken back to the days when pastors, doctors and lawyers were the most educated and well paid individuals in the community. Let me say succinctly that although pastors positions have changed, the tests in the PCUSA have not changed much, in fact what used to be referred to as the Baby Bible: a quiz on Bible knowledge, has become more difficult.

To put to task someone, five days alone, translating a triggering and traumatic text is the opposite of pastoral. Especially when we require all of our candidates for ministry to undergo psychological assessments before they go into ministry. A good and just practice for everyone involved.

Let me first break down the responses I have seen to those who have objected to the test and then take a big picture view of the entire situation.

First, the responses are completely insufficient. First the committee said that they had someone did raise objections that the Judges 19* might be triggering but they met and prayed on it and proceeded anyway.

Then they said that the fact that this is a 3 year process to set up tests and readers means that at this juncture they consider it too late to do anything more.

Now the committee is stating they will let people take the next round of tests without charge, which will still delay ordinations, jobs and not be that helpful. Also the committee are responding individually and have not yet made a public statement meaning some students will be left in the dark.

To take a more broad view, let me just say that there is a huge pastoral shortage, seminaries are in flux about how to educate people, finding readers is a huge task and most Presbyteries, Synods, etc. are also understaffed. In short the denomination has hit the wall. The last gathering I went to with a bunch of PCUSA attendees I heard more than once people voice that they were uncertain that the denomination would last more than ten years.

Additionally, in light of Covid-19 et. al, I want to say that I can understand that the committee probably, was in survival mode, and missed what they should have seen. However, it’s not too late to change course.

I also want to say that, probably why it is so hard to change course is because I believe that it is not just Judges 19* that is on the line. The entire ordination exam program is not working. The reason why the committee feels like they have to go forward, is because everything will crumble if they do not keep going as is–maybe it’s time to let things crumble.

The ordination system is not working anymore, the seminary system has the fewest number of students ever, I and my parents were shocked to hear of the handful of attendees that are now in the seminary we attended instead of the couple of hundred that attended when I was there a mere twelve years ago.

Change is upon us. The programs that are succeeding, like my doctorate of ministry in creative writing at Pittsburgh Seminary, are so different that they seem to come out of left field and surprise everyone. Even the successful things seem to be overwhelming at such a time as this.

Sometimes I think all the church people are walking around saying to each other “Do you mean we have to change everything?” and the Holy Spirit just keeps coaxing us along in the best possible ways. I think there are faithful and joyful ways for it to all happen, if we have the ears to hear it all–however the signs of change have been around us for a while and we are reaching the point of no return where it will only get harder, not easier.

I am a revitalization minister. My specialty is to take a ministry that has hit rock bottom, and know it has to change, and to work with the strengths it already has towards the new thing God has already planted within us. It is different than interim work, it’s not just shaking things up or holding the position for the new person, it is planting a million seeds, building trust and doing the work of transformation.

I believe that God can revitalize the PCUSA, but it would take a lot of change, a lot of money, and a lot of new things. It would be very scary. It would mean admitting that the old ways are not working, and seeing those things that signal to bigger problems.

It takes a lot of good hard work, but then Presbyterians are not afraid of work.

Also, I believe in resurrection. In order for us to be a resurrection people, some things have to die. This is the harsh truth of who we are and how we live. I believe in the resurrection and the life everlasting and the Kin(g)dom–this is part and parcel of why I am a revitalization minister. It’s not all about heaven for me.

I think we all need to look at the Judges 19* conversation again as a broader one of what we mean by ordination, church, seminary and our denomination in general.

And yes, we need to change the test too, immediately.

*I am not inviting you to read Judges 19 if you are a victim of abuse or sexual violence. Please take care of yourself.

Also People who are writing about the inherent sexism and privilege intrinsic in this decision, which is true and harrowing. I myself am thankfully not a victim of violence. Here is a good place to start Traci Smith

Petition to sign here

Addendum: Here is a response from the Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney who is a renowned Womanist scholar and Creator of A Women’s Lectionary for the whole church

This Outlook article gives another good perspective

Here is a link about how Jesus might do self care in light of the exams:

Katy Stenta is a writer, Student of Creative Writing as Public Theology at Pittsburgh Seminary, and creator of liturgy.

The Fight, a Prayer

I’m so tired of fighting the same fight
Over and over

And yet here we are
Fighting…or is it trying
to find the solution together.

Sometimes, it feels the same
as words fail, time is on repeat
And hurt seems inevitable

It’s like a storm inside your heart rages
And it meets the hurricane of the other
And you are both striving, and beloved

God do you have teenagers?
Are you tired of repeating yourself to
Humanity, the Church, Powers and Principalities?

Do you speak so softly God,
That people get even more fiercely angry,
Because they think you sound condescending?

God what did you do, when after isolating us (Eden)
Punishing us (Babel, Noah’s Ark)
How did you realize the right way to be in relationship with us?

Was the moment when you said, You can cry and scream at me all you want
And I promise I will still love you

Well that’s something I can get behind

Grace in the the storms

God be with us in the fight

Image Source:

Feel free to use/adapt/share with credit to Pastor Katy Stenta

Top Ten of 2022

Top Ten Prayers of the Year

1.…/31/god-of-pronouns-a-prayer/ A Prayer to Our God who IS the God of Pronouns (This was the clear winner this year)

2.…/god-bless-the-church-a…/ Blessing all the KINDS of Churching we are and do. (This was a VERY strong second)

3. A prayer about being tired of the Pivot!

4. A Prayer for “Thoughts & Prayers”

5.…/mothers-day-confession…/ Just a confession for mothers day, there’s not a lot of those written

6.…/the-lord-is-our-shepherd…/ fun Psalm 23 Prayer, which Sheep are you?

7.…/prayer-for-canceling…/ Prayers for all those who have to cancel in 2023 in blizzards, cold and sickness

8. Prayer Remembering and Honoring Betty White

9. Mara: A Bitter Prayer (about Gun Violence)

9. Jesus’s very human moment to do Palm Sunday

10.…/11/coming-out-day-a-prayer/ A Prayer for God Coming Out as Queer

10.…/disability-glorified-a…/ Jesus and Disability, starting with “doubting” (I call him brave) Thomas

Top 10 Resources I’ve Written, from 2022

1. “This Here Flesh” Sermon Series…/this-here-flesh-sermon…/ (again a clear winner this year)

2. Narrative Lectionary Advent Candles Liturgy…/narrative-lectionary…/

3. Narrative Lectionary Fall 2022…/narrative-lectionary-fall…/

4. Christ the Lord is Risen Today Alternative Lyrics

5. Advent Extended Liturgy: Justice, Mercy & Light…/justice-mercy-light…/

6. Gathering and Gospelling, Worship Series based on The Art of Gathering and Unbinding the Gospel:…/gathering-gospelling-the…/

7. Blue Christmas, a Comfort Candle, Take home Liturgy…/blue-christmas-comfort…/

8. Lent Narrative Lectionary: From Lament to Hope…/lent-narrative-lectionary…/

9. Narrative Lectionary Fall 2022 Rainbow God/Queer Edition…/narrative-lectionary-fall…/

10. Gun Violence Prevention Prayers

It’s nice to see everything in review–Happy 2023, may it be full of Blessings

Longest Night Christmas Prayer

Nativity, 2022 (Ukraine) by Irenaeus Yurchuk.

Sweet Baby Jesus
Born in the midst of a collapsing empire
Hidden in plain sight from everything and everyone official

When different factions of the religion
were all claiming to be the “truer” one
Each saying if you don’t worship our way
You don’t belong to God.

You were born when a Messiah
Seemed to be around every corner
Lamps were left on at night and demagogues and dynamic cult leaders
Were followed at whim, because people needed hope

And the gulf between who was poor and who was rich
The distinction between who was citizen and who was not
The taste in one’s mouth when people called one another
Foreigner, Outsider, or Different was sour and full of hate

Violence was everywhere
Children, the Poor, The Elderly, The Lonely, the Sex Worker
were Ignored or Forgotten
Laws were passed against anyone deemed Unclean in any way (oh my Queer siblings!)

Jesus Christ, you were born in a time
When no one was receiving proper healthcare
So people banged down your door
for a bit of healing

And my heart aches
With the familiarity, you could be born today
Is this why you have to be born into today’s world?
Have we forgotten why we need you?

Sometimes I wonder if you haven’t returned
Because we haven’t learned enough?
Heretic thought I know
But I sit in the hate and terror and worry Jesus

Jesus Christ, we need you. A baby
A sneak king full of healing and mischevious teachings of Grace
Jesus we need someone who will sit in the dirt with the marginal
and embody the Peace so much that we will sit in the dirt with you.

Sweet baby Jesus, though I know we picture angels, shepherds, & magi
I think that a baby born in the war-torn dark
might be the truth
Help us to sit with that, in the shortest day and longest night I pray.


Feel free to use/adapt/share with credit to Pastor Katy Stenta

Books, Books, Poetry, Books

Here it is, the Booklist (Remember this is TWO classes worth) One is Poetry and the other is Experimental Poetry

……so it can be seen as either intimidating or fun
Please peruse and find what you can at your local library! I’m told with ZONG its best to read it before Splay Anthem and to start with the end, which explains a lot of it!
Maggie Nelson, Bluets 
Sam Stephenson, Gene Smith’s Sink 
Aisha Sabatini Sloan, Borealis 
Nicole Rudick, What Is Now Known Was Only Once Imagined 
Terrance Hayes, To Float in the Space Between 
Aracelis Girmay, The Black Maria 
John Edgar Wideman, Writing to Save a Life 
Chris Kraus, After Kathy Acker 
Heather Christle, The Crying Book 
Muriel Rukeyser, The Book of the Dead 
Eileen Myles, Afterglow
M. NourbeSe Philip, Zong! (Wesleyan Poetry Series) by 
Nathaniel Mackey, Splay Anthem 

About 1/3rd I could acquire from the library (not bad) only one was an expensive new release and it was half off (whew originally $60). I, of course, bought a bunch used. So the total was $113.80. I admit I was like wow that’s a lot; ok not really for two classes of books. So if I could grab another $120 of fundraising that would be amazing.

Writing, Creative Writing D. Min

Hello Folks,

Do you know that an average over 200 people use my resources a day?

That means that everyone gave me $10 my Doctorate in Creative Ministry would be funded.

The next step is a double week intensive in January!

I have successfully funded 2 years in Creative Writing and shared resources thanks to all of the donations I have received thus far.

This means that every single contribution counts! It has been so meaningful to me to have your support along the way. I would not be writing without you. I have received contributions from $10-$500, and each of them have been so amazing.

If you have found my work useful, and are able to please give a donation. And if you need a receipt–drop me an email Katyandtheword at gmail and I’m happy to send your church a receipt for Katyandtheword resources

The official Go fund me is Here:

You can also give these ways:Venmo @Katy-Stenta (last four 7841), Paypal @KatyStenta, Google Pay, Cash App $bookkats

Thanks for your support.

And thanks for praying with me!

#Advent 2 RCL

Isaiah 11 Advent 2 assumes we are broken and withered,

No one is healthy and whole

We are the remnant in need

and need care, the shoot comes from the stump

And glorious rest is promised at the end

That is The Emmanuel

Advent promises

Give everyone sick leave

medical care


And mental health care

Art by Katy Stenta on Canva, feel free to use