Friday, July 29, 2016

The First

I am the only woman pastor in the small city of Shawnee, Oklahoma. There used to be another woman minister, but she has moved on to a new call. So I'm it. When people here find out that I am the Presbyterian minister, some look surprised or confused. Others do not hide their disapproval. Some folks in other churches embrace my ministry because they like me, but that does not change their mind about a woman never being in their pulpit. I am the only one. It is a lonely place to be.

Because I spent several years serving in ministry but without my own call to a church, I stood in many different pulpits. I was often the first ordained woman to be in that position.The congregations I faced ranged from open hostility at a woman leading them to uncomfortable but trying to hide it. I understand what it means to be a woman in a man's job. I understand what it means to be put into a position of standard bearer for my gender. At one church I was the second ordained woman to serve them, but the woman before me was greatly disliked. I was told, "I had given up on lady pastors, but you're good."

While living in Richmond, Virginia in 1991, I called my parents and told them that I was discerning a call to seminary, to ministry, and that I was applying to the Presbyterian seminary in Richmond. My parents were thrilled. I think they cried. My parents are PK's (pastor's kids), and I come from a long line of ministers on both sides of my family. I asked my dad if he thought my Grandfather Busse would be proud of me. He said, "He would, but he would be spinning in his grave because you are a woman."

One of my oldest and dearest friends is also a PK. Her father was ordained, and her mother went to divinity school when we were in high school. I had no use or time for church back then. I definitely did not see ministry in my future, but I was thrilled for my friend's mom to be ordained. I was told by members of my family (not my parents) that her ordination was wrong. It went against scripture and God's will. She can certainly serve God, they told me. But why can't she just be a missionary or a teacher?

When I was a little girl I drank from two ceramic mugs that were originally given to my older sister and brother. They were red and white. One said, "Future Miss America." The other said, "Future Mr. President." I never questioned which mug was given to which sibling. Although the stereotypes about women's roles were being questioned and confronted in the years of my childhood, the strict categories those mugs represented still existed. They permeated my world. But deep down I knew that they were wrong.

I have not been a Hillary Clinton supporter. Along with my family, I worked on the local campaign for Barack Obama in 2008. While I don't completely dismiss her record and her accomplishments -- her work and advocacy for children is a great accomplishment -- I was not convinced that she would be the right choice for president in this election either. Along with many others, I decided to support her more out of my fear of a Trump presidency rather than on the merit of her abilities. But last night, as I watched her accept the nomination for President of the United States of America, I cried. I cried as I did when President Obama was nominated and elected. I cried because another wall has fallen. I cried because I feel as though one more step has been taken on the road to equity and true representation of half of this country's and the world's population.

I realize that there are many questions about Hillary Clinton that were not answered last night. I know that she struggles to present herself authentically, which is something that President Obama and our amazing First Lady have done with grace and elegance over the last eight years. While I have not always agreed with the decisions that President Obama has made, I have been unwavering in my belief in the strength and goodness of his character, and in his good intent and purpose for our nation and this planet which we share. I have not always agreed with Hillary Clinton's decisions in the past, and I imagine that will hold true for her presidency. But I do believe that she wants to continue the good that President Obama has done. I believe that her intent and purpose for this country truly is a more perfect union for her grandchildren and for all of our children.

So while I don't think she can accomplish everything she promises -- no president can -- I will hold her accountable to her promise to listen; to listen to those who are marginalized and those who are forgotten; to listen to the voices of people who, as Jon Stewart said, just want to take their place at the table. I hope that she will use the power of her position to help dismantle white privilege and the systemic injustice that it fosters. While I know that sexism has thrown barriers in my path, the color of my skin has not. It has to stop. White people have to acknowledge it in order for it to stop. I pray that Hillary Clinton will make that a priority.

Most importantly, I hope that she will be a role model of determination and empathy for my daughter and my son, just as President Obama has been. How grateful I am that my children have grown up during his presidency. To borrow from the First Lady's speech, how grateful I am that Phoebe and Zach take for granted that skin color, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, faith, creed, etc. are not the factors that disqualify someone from holding the highest elected office or any office, any position, anywhere, anytime. Not only do they take this reality for granted, they live it. They testify to it everyday: at school, at home, in church, and in the world through their friendships, through their words, through their actions.

I may have started this election season thinking only, "Anyone but Trump." But now I not only want Trump to be defeated, I want Hillary Clinton to be President. I want her to be given the chance. Being the first is harder than most people in the majority will ever understand. I am proud today. I am proud that she is the candidate. No matter what happens, this is a victory. The words on that mug from my childhood are being rewritten: Madame President Now.

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