Mothers, Daughters, Subversive Tea Towels and Being “Seen”

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Last fall, I had made plans to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak in Dubuque, IA. This just happened to coincide with a trip my mom was making to see us in Iowa. At the risk of wondering what she might think, I invited her along. I guess I worried how mom might fare with Nadia – her expansive, sometimes unorthodox, theology, her radical, post-modern imagining of the church, and, you know, her embrace of the F-bomb. But then I thought of other things I’ve asked mom to take me to, and I relaxed.

As a kid I was excited about The Nightmare Before Christmas, an animated Tim Burton musical about a bunch of ghouls and ghosts who are always prepared for Halloween but then one day become fascinated with Christmas. Mom didn’t get it, but she took me to see it anyway. When I turned seventeen, my sister got me tickets to Tori Amos for my birthday, but then she couldn’t go. Once again, not her thing, but mom took me. And now, here I was embarking on a mini road trip with my mom and a carload of UCC clergywomen, to hear my favorite writer and theologian talk about her journey from recovering addict and stand-up comedian to being called by God to become an ELCA Pastor.

Despite my unnecessary anxieties, mom enjoyed herself; the company, the presentation, the theology. And when it was over, she bought two books and got them signed.

A few weeks passed, and my mom was busy creating things in her sewing room; truly, her sanctuary and prayer chamber. “I’d like to embroider you some towels that say ‘Kendra’s Kitchen,’ or something like that.” It was a kind gesture, but I admitted to mom that that sentiment wasn’t really my thing. “What if they said things like: ‘But First, Coffee’ or ‘I Mom So Hard’? Or ‘Speak Truth to Stupid’?” — a saying we both heard for the first time at Nadia Bolz-Weber’s lecture.

I could almost hear her bewilderment over the phone, but being a mom who loves her unusual daughter, to my sheer delight she fulfilled my request. She sent me four of the plushest towels I’ll ever dry dishes with, embroidered beautifully with those phrases. And yes. Even Nadia Bolz-Weber’s: “Speak Truth to Stupid.”

A few more weeks passed and I learned that Nadia Bolz-Weber would be here, in our own Quad Cities, speaking as a part of Augustana College’s “Symposium Day.” Knowing I already had all her books signed, I knew just what to do. After Nadia’s riveting presentation on our need for a sexual reformation in the church, I hightailed it to the book-signing line, with no book in hand. Instead, I had my “Speak Truth to Stupid” tea towel, trimmed with leopard print and lace, tucked away in a Ziplock bag under my arm.

My body buzzed with adrenaline and espresso as I approached Nadia’s place at the book-signing table where she was sitting with an intense look on her face. I almost got skipped in line because I didn’t have a book, but I pushed myself forward and thrust my parcel at her. I told her the story of how my mom wanted to embroider me towels that said ‘Kendra’s Kitchen,’ but that that wasn’t really my jam. I asked her to inscribe something else on the towels, and that’s when Nadia looked down to see her own words, craftily adorning my kitchen linens.

I stood back and watched as the intense writer and pastor flung her head back and let out the most joyful laugh. (My friend Stephanie captured the above picture.) As I walked away from the table, Nadia waved to me and said, “See ya, Kendra.”

You know, it is a deeply holy experience when you feel like you’ve actually been “seen.” That’s what that day was for me. Not just that a theologian-writer-pastor “saw” me or even that my friends understood this wacky desire to have a towel signed. But truly, it was the trifecta of those two encounters and my mom taking the time to accompany me to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber, one hundred miles from home, and then investing time and energy into making me some deeply meaningful tea towels, one that is now even autographed.

Yes, it is a joy to be known and to be seen. Thanks, mom.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

#momtheology: Jael the Kenite and the ‘Me Too’ Hashtag

In the days of Jael, caravans ceased

and travelers kept to the byways…

Most blessed of women be Jael …

She put her hand to the tent peg

and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;

she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

~Judges 5:6,24,26

Several years ago, at the suggestion of a spiritual guide, I got back into jogging. I woke early every morning and went out on the Spring Creek bike path near our condo and I ran until I was tired, then came back home. More than just exercise, it was a way to sort through what was in my head; to deal with my anxieties, worries, fears. And it worked. I would say that it turned out to be sound advice to run.

But I noticed something every morning. I’d get about a quarter mile from my front door, accelerate up a berm on the trail, and then, struck with some sense of fear, I’d turn around and look behind me, expecting to find someone there. And not just anyone, but an assailant – someone who might push me down and harm me.

I’d think it was just a fluke deal, except it happened every day, and always at that same spot on the trail. I put the image out of my head each day when I got home figuring I was just paranoid or being too sensitive.

But at some point, after weeks of this sensation, I told a clergy friend. “Am I crazy?” I asked, after telling her my story. No, she affirmed. She, too, had experienced this fear and dread when walking alone.

I’m not going to assume this experience is universal, but it seems common enough. To walk or run alone as a woman is to tango with the risk of harm to one’s well-being.

I hadn’t thought about that visceral experience on the bike trail, nor the scripture from the Old Testament book of Judges that I quoted above, in quite some time. But something triggered those recollections. And it is something that has maybe triggered other women’s memories this week, too.

If you hadn’t guessed it, “me too” is trending on social media. This originated after allegations were made that Harvey Weinstein, cofounder of Miramax, had sexually harassed countless women and raped several others, including prominent actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow.

To further exacerbate this recent news, recorded footage of Weinstein harassing women was released and subsequently denied by the accused.

This possibly could be overlooked, explained away as the everyday debauchery of Hollywood, but unfortunately it is a narrative that sounds eerily familiar to another misogynist harasser with power and money. That’s right, I’m talking about President Donald Trump.

So many of us are raising our voices to say it is not okay. It wasn’t then, it isn’t now, and it should not be a part of our narrative in my daughter’s future.

Some of us, you might say, are praying for a reversal.

And for me, all day yesterday, as I read my friends’ "me toos" I thought of a lesser known scripture from the Old Testament.

If you aren’t familiar, during the time of ancient Israel when a Prophetess named Deborah served as judge, the Israelites were being oppressed by the Canaanites in Hazor. Deborah learned that King Jabin’s men, led by a soldier named Sisera, would be heading her way, so she alerted Barak from Kedesh to be ready with more arms, more men, more horses. Sisera was surprised when he advanced Mount Tabor and found his enemy prepared for his arrival. His fleet was destroyed, and the mighty oppressor fled the battlefield on foot, hoping for safety with a neutral family of peasants in the tribe of Heber. Instead, he met his end. Asking Jael, the wife of Heber, for water, instead he was given a warm cocktail. Hoping to rest on his sojourn back home, instead he meets a swift death, his brain penetrated by a humble tent peg. Who could have seen that coming?

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I’m not a man-hater. It’s probably silly that I even have to make that disclaimer. Because highlighting unacceptable behavior on the behalf of some men does not indict all. But it does open eyes that might deny that such a reality exists. I mean, what would cause millions of women to share the two words “me too” publicly, in a flood of Facebook posts?

Here’s what I recall from my own historical narrative of compromised safety and sexual harassment.

I remember hanging around a campfire at the Lake of the Ozarks with my boy cousins and my grandparents’ hired hand, a man who went by the name ‘Dody.’ I thought nothing of it. We kicked logs into the fire and he told a few jokes. But later, when I went into the house, my grandmother was overly concerned. “I don’t want you alone with him,” she said firmly. “He’s not family, he works for us.” I puzzled at her fear. Why were my boy cousins allowed at the fire and I wasn’t? Why was an untrustworthy man allowed to be around the house – if his presence around her granddaughters scared my grandma so much?

I was maybe eleven years old then.

I remember my first supervisor, or one of them, when I was in high school. He was a middle-aged pool salesman, who jokingly suggested one day that I wear something more “low cut” to work.

I was fifteen.

I remember a peer my junior year in high school calling me over to the lockers so he could make a lewd comment about what I was wearing. That day, as per my punky-usual attire, I was dressed in thrift store Levis and a vintage polo shirt. I remember feeling like no matter what you do, as a young woman, you are at the mercy of objectification. I fell to tears in my classroom across the hall.

I was sixteen.

There are other stories, too. In my early twenties, I left an iconic bar in Austin where I had anticipated seeing a quintessential Austin performer, Toni Price, because an overly intoxicated man was squeezing through the crowd simply to brush up against all the women gathered there. I sacrificed that fun night out because I did not want to be harassed.

We may not live in a world of ancient Prophetesses, desert tent-dwellers, and songs heralding the deadly tent peg of a peasant woman.  But I do think for some of us when we proclaim “me too” we are actually praying for a reversal of power. We are tired of expecting compromised safety is the norm, and like Jael’s tent peg, our enumerated “me toos” say: it’s time to listen - we mean it this time.

#momtheology: Grace & Skressin’, A Mom’s Travelogue (Part I)

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My family and I have been away from home for six weeks now. Mostly we’ve been relaxing, traveling, hosting friends and family at our cabin in the North Woods of Wisconsin.

Yesterday, two weeks from returning to Iowa, felt like the perfect vacation day. Not perfect because it was without glitches, but perfect in its wholeness. Perfect because I embraced my inner mom wisdom, prepared the kids’ bag sparingly yet smartly, and most importantly, was able to go with the flow; compromising on lunch plans, nap schedules, and planned activities for the day. It has taken me almost our entire vacation to learn these skills.

In these past many weeks, I’ve messed up, learned some things the hard way, even documented a few folk wisdom gems. What I’ll share with you is that vacationing with small children involves graciousness….and skressin. They are the yin and yang of the traveling mom, for sure.

Perhaps I should define my terms. Grace, as I understand it theologically—and as it goes with library book returns—is that strand of forgiveness that can sometimes be described as undeserved. Can we give that grace to our children? Our spouses? Ourselves? As for ‘skressin’ I guess I could have just called it ‘stress’ but this is kind of my new favorite word. According to Urban Dictionary, Skressin is like stressin, but somehow being chill about it. And how can you even attempt that without grace?

So as a member of the mom crowd, and a fellow traveler on the road of life (as well as summer destinations) here’s what I’ve learned:

a)     When traveling with a recently potty-trained toddler, learn his, ahem, “rhythms.” Seek out the non-scary bathrooms…preferably without Dyson hand dryers, which basically contain the fear factor of all Disney villains combined in one awful sound. Automatic toilets are out, too. At least for us. They add to the “skress.”

b)     Buy a good stain-remover, and don’t give up. It can be tempting to throw away a tee shirt because the spaghetti or jam or both make your child’s clothes look like evidence from a Law and Order rerun, but even stain remover can be a means of grace. Soak the shirt and take a deep breath, mom. It happens to all of us.  

c)     If you are having a moment of doubt, but still wonder, “Is my suitcase overweight?” IT IS. Borrow a duffle and check a second bag. Spend the money you’ve saved, by not checking an overweight bag, on a good massage.

d)     Let go – at least temporarily - of your former self who used to bike ten miles at elevation, hike to tree line, kayak first thing in the morning. This you will return, but while your children are small, enjoy what they are able to do. Do the things that you used to roll your eyes at as a single person on vacation. Trust me. Just give into it.

e)     Lastly, as you lean into being gentle with yourself, at the risk of sometimes appearing creepy, commend other traveling parents on their small victories. You’ll see them sometimes, refereeing toddler fights over French fries, exhibiting saint-like patience in public restrooms, hauling tantrum-entranced youngsters out of national parks and museums. Applaud their efforts, however unnoticeable they may seem. Acknowledge these feats because you know what it feels like to have your own wisdom and graciousness recognized.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

#momtheology: My Soul Proclaims Your Greatness, O God! (And My Hands Prepare PBJ Sandwiches)

 "Madonna of the Laptop" by Ashley Norwood Cooper

"Madonna of the Laptop" by Ashley Norwood Cooper

 A Mom’s Daily Office

It’s nine o’clock p.m., so I wonder: what prayer of the daily office goes with putting my one-year-old to bed, for the third time?

This is the way my mind works, at least lately, as I try and groove with interruptions that are just the normal parts of mom life. I could be mad about them, and sometimes I am, but when I am able to chill and roll with it, I try to see these moments as sacred pauses, holy in and of themselves.

If I were a Benedictine nun, part of my calling would involve pausing throughout the day to pray, to sit in silence, read scripture, and worship God with my sisters. If I were a Trappist monk, maybe I’d up the ante and sleep on a cushionless board on the floor or wear a humble habit to remind me of my commitment to servitude.

But I am neither of these. I am a mom.

Even so, I am trying to see a connection between the sacred calling of the cloistered life and the blessed vocation of motherhood. When I can remain here, in this healthy and calm perspective, I engage in something the monks and nuns do: I pray the daily office.

What is it exactly?

For those in sacred orders, they rehearse the “liturgy of the hours” pausing to pray six or seven times throughout the day.

I have yet to complete the full schedule in the span of twenty-four hours, but find myself asking throughout the day—especially times of stress or challenge, but also moments of joy—"I wonder which prayer is happening right now?"

And then, thanks to the lovely internet, I look them up so I can pray with my monastic brothers and sisters even as I sit here at my own dining room table.

And because I am who I am—a millennial pastor who can’t seem to keep her fidgety fingers off social media—sometimes I tweet my prayers. Here are some examples:

(Early A.M.)          “May what is false within us

                               Before your truth give way

                               That we may live untroubled

                               With quiet hearts this day.”

                               -Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal #morningprayer

 

(Morning)              My soul proclaims your greatness, O God!

(And my hands prepare pbj sandwiches.)

#feastofascension #morning prayer

 

(Afternoon)           In the spirit of Psalm 119 & in

thanksgiving for a nap: Revive me, O God,

& restore this fridge full of decay,

too, please. #afternoonprayer

 

(Evening)               Great River Nut Brown, Psalm 91,

& Today’s Hottest Country, WLLR.

#nightprayer

 

(Dawn)                   Baby back to sleep, Psalm 51, silent house.

#dawnprayer

As a mother, life is going to include interruptions. Disturbances of sleep, for me, are the hardest. So when I have to rise at dawn to console a restless child, I also try to calm my own restless mind with prayer.

 


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

#momtheology: Mother's Day and the Myth of St. Mom

  Mother with Thorns and Turkey from  Mother  by  Judy Olausen

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from Mother by  Judy Olausen

When I was growing up, there weren’t many women from the Bible elevated in sermons. Yet I could always count on the Mother’s Day service to include a reading from Proverbs Chapter 31 followed by an oration praising the noble wife presented and extolling her domestic perfection.

Because of this yearly tradition, there was a season of my young adulthood in which I resented the proverbial “perfect woman.” She seemed to have all the qualities I lacked. She was an early riser, a tidy housekeeper, and the bearer of many children. She mystified me, I guess. Was she a spokeswoman to represent the important work of womanhood? Or was she an unrealistic figure of excellence who would haunt me forever?

I have since come to see her as both. She is at once an exemplary, model woman and an exaggerated, mythical creature.

When I say "myth" I am not disrespecting sacred scripture, nor downplaying this figure’s power. Karen Armstrong, author and religious scholar, calls something a "myth" if it happened once and also happens all the time. [1] I find this definition fitting for our heroine, the Proverbs 31 Wife, because she was likely a composite made up of real traits that existed long ago … and her characteristics also echo now into our contemporary day and age.

This “myth” language gives me permission to accept our ancient Wonder Woman not by dismissing her qualities, but by holding her lightly—playing, even, with the imagination of her, contemporized. I invite you to join me as I lift up motherhood with the help of biblical wisdom.

For instance, the writer of Proverbs praises "the capable wife" (verse 15) because she “rises while it is still night.” But I say unto you, Modern Mom: “Blessed are you who wakes at 3 a.m., 5 a.m., 5:30, 6:30 (and so on…), yet still adorns her fussy infant with affection come morning.”

Or as the biblical writer in verse 16 extols the woman who “considers a field and buys it” and “who plants a vineyard with her own hands.” Lo, I say unto you, Mom of 2017: “Praised be your name when, though you are ragged, you miraculously remember to pay your mortgage each month!” And, likewise: “Blessed are thy hands that succeed at feeding your toddler food of nutritional value!”

As I revisit Proverbs 31 now, I’ve noticed some things that didn’t stand out before. For example, it seems that the woman introduced is a woman of means. She considers investments, she has support staff to carry out her household chores. However, these are not the root of her fulfillment.  Instead, verses 26-28 remind us what gives mama her true wealth, her real power. The writer says of this amazing woman: “She opens her mouth with wisdom … her children rise up and call her happy.” What is her wisdom? What makes her happy? The answer stems from the things that cannot be bought or brokered; it rests in the realm of home and hearth, the community of wise women, and the support of a loving, faithful marriage.

And so, I second those words and I say unto you: Mothers, wherever you are, glory to you for the wisdom you share with one another, for the ways you tend to your children’s hearts so that they feel loved, safe, and secure, and for the times they catch you truly delighting in them, in yourself, and in your life ... and they rise to regard you as happy.                

[1] Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (New York, 2009) p. xi.

Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Confessions of a Thirty-Five-Year-Old Mallrat

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In 1995, there was a movie. Granted, it wasn’t a great movie, but at least it was crass and juvenile. I’m talking about Mallrats. Food court debates, break ups and of course, Jay and Silent Bob doing their thing – whatever that is.

I’m not saying this movie sums up my life or anything, but lately I do spend an inordinate amount of time at the mall. I guess you could say: I’m a thirty-five-year-old mallrat.

I blame my children. And the Midwest.

I had my first child at the tail end of a polar vortex which struck Iowa in the first part of 2014. Being hospitalized, becoming a new mother, these things already cam make you feel stir crazy. But when you can’t even go outside because, with wind chill, it’s twenty degrees below zero? You figure out some way to get out of the house.

For me, I took my tiny baby to the mall.

I prided myself on a practice I call “Exploiting the Mall.” I discovered the free coffee sample, which varies daily, at the kitchen store, I located bathroom stalls big enough to contain a mom, a baby, and a stroller, I scouted out quiet places to feed my son and I often left my shopping experience having spent ten dollars or less.

As he’s gotten older, I’ve passed on “Exploiting the Mall” to my son. We visit Build-a-Bear, which may as well be a bear museum, because we never buy anything. We ‘ride’ the trains -feeding no quarters to the mechanical amusements that go nowhere. And after these rounds, we often feast on a low-budget, shared kid’s meal of nuggets, fries, and diet lemonade in the food court.

Now I am the mother of two small children and the mall remains our routine companion. In fact, my son even recognizes it from the road. When he sees the Northwest Bank building looming at the top of Brady and Kimberly he asks, “Mom, is that the mall?” He overlooks Toys-R-Us completely, perhaps because we never go there. But he knows the mall.

I’m not entirely proud of this recognition. Perhaps at some point I will be held responsible for my son’s consumeristic leanings; his own mallrat tendencies.

This pangs me a bit. But it’s not just about shopping.

I regularly have conversations with store owners, managers and baristas.  Yes, I’ve spent enough time at the mall that I’ve made friends. I know that Jim, owner of Cotopaxi, famous for Bob Marley posters and ten cent incense sticks, lives out of state but runs his franchise from a far. I’ve met the Pastor’s son who runs the Christian coffee shop that keeps me coming back with potent espresso and ten percent off coupons. (I even got a tour of their worship space and recording studio once.) I also enjoy running into my friends from church who are mall-walkers, frequenting North Park as much as I do.

Being a mallrat is about loitering and infrequently buying things, but I’d argue it’s also about finding community. Sometimes I go to the mall to shop. But sometimes I go just so I can be around people, nodding at the other moms navigating stores with bulky diaper bags and cumbersome strollers. And in the meantime, I’ve met a few people and now we are in each other’s narratives. Funny how that happens.

When my husband and I lived in college towns like Lawrence, Kansas and Fort Collins, Colorado, my mercantile wanderings took me to Mass Street and Old Town; hip districts containing shops, breweries, and bordered by bodies of water. I’m older now, I have children, and I live in Davenport, Iowa. I suppose we could go downtown to wander along the Mississippi River. I could do that, and infrequently, I do. But more likely than not, when I need to get out of the house, go for a little walk, buy some stickers, and eat a salty snack — I go to the mall


*Special thanks to Joyce Paustian who took this picture at North Park Mall and Woody Perkins who made it so closely resemble the movie poster for Mallrats.

I’m also thankful for my friends and family featured: Joe (my son), Louise (my mother in law), Bob (friend, church member, and faithful mall-walker), Andi (my daughter), John (my husband), Woody, Sarah and Matthew (friends and remarkably adventuresome collaborators).

Oh, and Danielle Parker, Owner and Stylist at Studio 714 salon who asked, “So you want me to style your hair for a blog?” But then did it anyway.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.