Here is the World, Beautiful and Terrible Things will Happen, Do Not Be afraid…

Content Warning: Sexual Abuse, Ordination Exams, Trauma

Bad Theology Kills
There are nicer terminologies to make
and there are definitely complete lexicons and entire books written of theology
Karl Barth has a really complete theology of love
Elie Wiesel asks tough questions about genocide war and abuse
Just today, Amanda Palmer
a somewhat Radical Feminist, who is all too imperfect herself (might I add) cited a quote her friend’s book
who quoted the famous theologian Fredrick Buechner
Amanda Palmer says “I feel this sentiment in my core today. I have seen, heard, been privy to so much darkness lately. I feel honored to stand near it, but also see – laid painfully bare, more than I ever have – the unfathomable and sometimes unbearable wounds of trauma. The depths. The seemingly unhealable.” She says this not knowing that this is a theological quote, but Amanda Palmer, pop star, gets it
that Life is a Terror text

And for me Theology is how you practice your Christianity;
It is where the rubber meets the road

Not being afraid means, dealing with the trauma as it comes, but also acknowledging that the trauma is real. One cannot pretend it isn’t real.

Because the reality is–Bad Theology kills

White Page that says Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid–Frederick Buechner

But for me…

When you force the people you want to be pastors
to sit in a room
utterly alone
with what is possibly the most traumatic text in the Bible
its abusive

I guess I should start with this: I believe in apologies. I believe in full and complete apologies. I believe in confession. I believe in stating fully who you are, what you have done right and wrong and trying to fix what is wrong so that we can fix that wrong things, and make things better. It is a core theology of mine.

I think that there is confusion
Those who are hurt do not want an apology for the Bible
The apology would be for the trauma

And when you don’t apologize
And you say–we have done such things before

And that does not make you examine how you have done things before

And when you feel like the entire weight of the church
and the denomination
is on your shoulders

And that does not make you pause
and confess
and think

Maybe there could be
a more life-giving
way to do this

And when person after person
has come to me and say
This is the last straw

And these other people tell me
I’m leaving ministry
and the process of becoming a minister
because of this test…

To pretend we have all sufficiently dealt with trauma
On the eve of the third anniversary
Of a worldwide pandemic
Is ludicrous–there is not such thing
as an untraumatized person right now
So yes, we know trauma is real
We also do not want to practice bad theological practices
Because Bad Theology Kills
We know this!

It is different to deal with a text
Where you know in advance about it
In community
When you can call your therapist
When your entire job is not on the line
When you can ask for help


If you don’t think that the Judges 19 scandal
Isn’t cut from a similar cloth as the complementation scandal the Gospel Coalition is dealing with…
You are missing how women continue to be subjugated and ignored via the Bible…(See Also: How is this coming to a head when trans bans, drag bans, books bans, teaching history bans and rest is happening gives a lot of food for thought)
Because Bad Theology Kills: it is Killing calls to ministry right here and now

Picture of a women facing a panel of just men who say: It’s not that we don’t believe your story. IT’s that we don’t care. Cartoon by NakedPastor

Welp..I guess you were right..
I guess this test is that important
But not in the way you thought it was

If more self care is needed for pastor
By God, let’s do it!
I’m all for it!
What resources can we provide
Let’s hire full time Sabbatical pastors,
a therapist and a Chaplain, One for every
Synod or for General Assembly
If you want to be generous
For every Presbytery!

You think more education is needed?
Great lets open up free schools!

Let’s provide arts clubs and places of music & PE
all those things schools are cutting
(Fun fact Sunday School taught kids to read
When School was inacessable, because kids had to work;
what could Sunday School be for the arts now–
If we took that as our model?

Lets be the most educated denomination
In the land. Let’s get that equity going!
I bet all the kids would enroll
In free college classes
In LGBTQIA and Community Organizing
What more could we provide–could we give free virtual classes in the Bible?
What about classes about theology? The latest books? The Nap Ministry?
This Here Flesh? The Possibilities are endless.
Faith Seeking Understaning, we could learn so much together!

Lets help support all those Black and Brown Churches
The ones we’ve been ignoring for years
What resources do they need?
I bet they could tell us what they need, and why,
and give us a host of ideas, quick!
Let’s start it tomorrow.

You think everyone is overworked and tired?
Great, lets start pay equity and healthcare,
Could we provide healthcare for our support staffs
even more than we do now?
How much more can God do?
How is that Family Leave Overture going?

I can tell you every pastor I know is looking
at if your Presbytery has it before they consider moving there

Did your Presbytery, Synod or Leader agree or disagree
with the Judges 19 test?
Is your area dealing with a pastor shortage?
I bet there is a more experience oriented,
Justice-giving, innovative Matthew 25 way to
Educate and Support Pastors.

Did you know most pastors are older, LBGTQIA, POC?
They are not going to be the married white man
with children, and that is great, because most
ministries are going to be different from here on out.

If we are going to reach the community,
We are going to have to ordain pastors beyond the pews.

While we are re-imagining what it means to be a minister
(Hint: look at all the ways to minister in Matthew 25)
It might be time to rethink how we evaluate minister

I don’t know about you, but while I am running my church’s
3 nonprofits, and taking care of my congregation,
I don’t have time to conjugate Greek and Hebrew verbs–
I love the vocabulary, but the community is just a bit more important

(Don’t worry its just me, I preach 48+ sermons a year, 13+ years, Princeton Trained, but my credentials matter less than my ministry work)

And while we are speaking of that and entry level ministry
How many entry level ministers go to a flourishing ministry
with associate ministers who take care of other things,
while they sit in the office and work on their sermons,

My theology is to take care of the people first
Of course I do that about talking about the Bible
I reference (and study) the Bible EVERY single day
But I don’t do that in Greek and Hebrew
I do that by sitting by the Well and listening,

and Walking in the Community and meeting people where they are at
every chance I get to Community build and partner..
I’m just following the example of some Rabbi I admire…

I hope you have time to do that too
And maybe someday, we will realize that our goals are the same
To be a Matthew 25 Church
And to serve God and God’s people, together

Article by Pastor Katy Stenta
Feel free to use/share with attribution

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.