Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Interrupted By God: Interview with Dean Tracey Lind"

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to have a very rich and meaningful conversation with one of our great city leaders and clergy women, The Very Reverend Tracey Lind, Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio. With energy, transparency and conviction, “Tracey” (as she prefers to be called) shared snippets of the many and varied experiences that helped to shape and mold her into the clergy woman that she is today. Included in this blog are highlights of our discussion as well as excerpts from her book, Interrupted by God – Glimpses from the Edge (2004, Pilgrim’s Press).

A portion of her bio reads…

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind is Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral as well as a city planner and author. Her ministry includes work for environmental justice, interfaith relations, sustainable urban planning, arts and culture, and the diversity of the Episcopal Church.

Lind came to Trinity in 2000 and led the development of Trinity Commons, an award-winning, environmentally-sustainable campus that is home to Trinity Cathedral and the Diocese of Ohio. During her tenure, Trinity has experienced tremendous growth and development as a diocesan cathedral, a vibrant and inclusive community of faith, and a leading institution in the heart of the city.
As Dean of Trinity, Lind speaks, teaches and preaches around the country, including at the Chautauqua Institution, the Episcopal College Conference, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a variety of churches, conferences, seminaries and theological schools.

Shepastor Blog Interview With Dean Tracey Lind
(Some answers – with permission, are quotes from Dean Lind’s Book, Interrupted by God – Glimpses from the Edge)

At what age did you first “hear” a call to the ministry?

Age 11. I was raised in a Jewish and Christian home. It took me to age 25 to determine if I would be a Rabbi or Christian minister. (The quotes below from chapter 5 expand upon this response…)

My mother’s family came from England. To the best of our knowledge, her ancestors arrived in Jamestown during the seventeenth century, settled in the upcountry of Virginia, and eventually moved west to Southern Ohio in the late eighteenth century…

My father’s ancestors were Austrian-German Jews who came to this country with the great wave of nineteenth century immigration…

I think of myself as half-Jewish and half-Christian, and I consider my rich heritage a mixed blessing. As a child, I wanted to be a preacher – I just wasn’t sure whether I should be a rabbi or a minister. Since my mother wasn’t Jewish, I wasn’t considered a real Jew, so I didn’t think I could be a rabbi – and anyway, I assumed I could never learn Hebrew. When I imagined becoming a minister, I couldn’t figure out how to do that either – you see, I wasn’t baptized, so I wasn’t a real Christian, and I didn’t want to be baptized because I had learned somewhere (an untruth, I now believe) that the Nazis baptized Jewish babies and then sent them to the gas chambers. Anyhow, I was a girl, and back then girls couldn’t be ordained either as rabbis or ministers. But I loved being in the house of God, and I loved playing “Saturday-go-to-temple” and “Sunday-go-to-church.” I still remember setting up the chairs in our family room, putting my stuffed toys and dolls in straight rows, and preaching to the silent, appreciative and complacent congregation of inanimate worshippers.

How did you “process” the Call?

(Excerpt from Introduction to Chapter 5, The Question… as well as other statements from the chapter…)

Thirty-five years ago I sat in a classroom with fifty other adolescents watching the movie Let My People Go. It was the first documentary of the Holocaust, and I’ll always be haunted by the memory of emaciated corpses being pushed down a slide in the Warsaw Ghetto. At the end of the film, a young rabbi tried to elicit responses from a stunned and silent class of usually loud and obnoxious ninth graders. I’ll never forget the moment when he looked at me, the only kid with a non-Jewish parent, and said: “Tracey, you don’t look Jewish. You could have passed. What would you have done? Would you have died for your faith or denied it?” I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t know what it meant to pass. I didn’t know what it meant to die for one’s faith. I didn’t really know what my faith was. I only knew that I was angry, embarrassed, confused and alone. So I just stared back at him and finally said, “I don’t know.”

That accusatory statement, “You could have passed,” followed by the probing question, “What would you have done,” has haunted me all the days of my life. It has permeated my dreams; it has kept me awake; it has stood with me in the pulpit; and it has influenced every major life decision I have made. And just when I think I have put the accusation to rest and answered the question, it re-emerges as a beast from the deep recesses of the ocean called my unconscious. This question, “will I pass or will I claim who I am and what I believe regardless of its cost, even to death?” is the angel with whom I wrestle causing me to walk with a limp. It is the burning bush in front of which I stand barefooted, the slow burning flame that keeps alive my passion but does not consume my spirit. Whenever I travel into the wilderness of my soul, I am tempted to avoid this question’s pain and confusion. Yet, it remains the blinding flash of light that forces me to my knees when I try to run away.

You had a very intense conversation with God concerning your calling. Could you say a word about that?

(Book Excerpt…)

My first semester at Union Theological Seminary in New York City was a wrestling match with God. Exhausted from taking on someone bigger and stronger than me, I found myself walking down 42nd Street one day in January asking God to let me go. And then it happened. Suddenly, a voice called out to me from within me saying, “I’m not going to let go of you.” “What do you want with me?” I asked. “I want your life,” the voice answered. “Why me?” I responded. “Why not?” the voice replied. At this point, I realized that something was happening and I needed to stop and pay attention to this voice.. I went into a near-by McDonald’s restaurant, ordered my usual cheeseburger, fries, and coke and began frantically scribbling down a conversation with this voice from within.

The voice called me by name, identified itself as God, confronted me with my own issues and private wounds, contradicted my theology, answered lots of questions, called me to the ordained priesthood, and reassured me when I protested. The voice said, “I brought you to New York for a reason, to look beyond yourself and those like you… I want you to celebrate my Eucharist…You must feed my people…You will guide people to come to me through this and other acts…You will help people to love each other and me…. You’ve changed, why can’t others… It’s a loving revolution so be my hands and my mouth, not your own.”

In the course of the conversation, I questioned why the voice was talking with me, and it responded, “Because you’ve been asking for it.” It was true. I had been asking, begging, even challenging God to be clear with me, to help me answer The Question. And here I was – on a cold January afternoon, sitting in a McDonald’s Restaurant on 42nd Street in Manhattan, having this private conversation with a voice. At the end of our time together, I asked, “If you’re inside of me, then how can you be God.” The voice replied in words I’ll never forget, “What’s so special about me is that I’m inside of anyone and everyone who wants to know me. And, if the world would hear me and follow me, my kingdom would come.” With that comment, the conversation ended. I got up and walked home in quiet amazement, wondering if I had really spoken with almighty God. Like Mary, I kept silent and treasured these words, pondering them in my heart.

Did you share your call experience with anyone? If so, how did they respond?

Yes I did. I wrote one of my seminary professors a letter, sharing my call experience. She wrote back and told me that I had no choice but to respond. She told me, “Faith is a two way street – it is a gift from God and the decision is to accept the gift.”

What role models impacted your perception of ministry (male and female)?

Men and women have deeply influenced my life. As a child, I was in awe of Dr. MLK, Jr. I’ve also been greatly influenced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (For two years, I slept in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s old room at Union Theological Seminary in New York City), Mother Teresa, My Bishop and great leader of the Episcopal Church - Paul Moore and my seminary professor, Dr. Carter Haywood. I’m also inspired and impacted greatly by the urban clergy in the South Bronx - Roman Catholic Sisters who galvanize people in the faith – how they are able to embody the prophetic words of Jesus in the world – how they are able to hold onto their faith without claiming it is the only truth.

Are female pastors strong advocates for other female clergy? Why or why not?
The pastors I respect are advocates for competent and faithful clergy, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. I don’t believe in advocating for individuals just because of who they are, but because they are competent and called.
What challenges have you faced in your role as a clergywoman?

I have always been the first woman in my positions. What do they call you – Ms., Elder, 1st name? When I lead with strength, I have been perceived as aggressive. When men lead with strength, they are respected, beloved and viewed as a “tough but strong pastor.” When a woman is strong and holds staff and others accountable, she is viewed as a “B…” Oftentimes women pastors are viewed as “everybody’s mommy.” It is sometimes a challenge because we attract those who weren’t nurtured. We therefore find ourselves trying be all things to all people and become apologetic when we can’t.

We also find it challenging to stand up for the benefits we deserve such as salary, housing, car, vacation etc. We feel the need to suffer for some reason.

What suggestions do you have to help create greater opportunities for females desiring to become pastors?

Mentor young women. Stay in touch with young women. Suggest names of competent, called and faithful women if you are in a position to do so. Be honest with those you mentor – tell them, “try this” or “consider that.” Give them honest feed back from their sermons. Network, influence and promote them. Be a positive role model, mentor and colleague. Offer support.

What words of encouragement and caution would you give to those who are currently serving in a ministerial role?

Develop your strengths and don’t focus on your weaknesses. Be creative about what the doing of ministry looks like. Don’t believe you have to do it alone. Don’t feel that you need to take on the bad habits of some men. Change the rules a little bit. Develop the priesthood of all believers. Don’t try to micro manage. Use technology wisely – don’t fight it. Take preaching seriously – remember those 15 or 20 minutes are a great privilege. Take days off – take your vacations, eat and sleep well. Enjoy your spouse or significant other. Say your prayers – take care of yourself.

Have you ever experienced “God’s interruptions?” Have you ever decided that you were going to do or be something and God had other ideas? Do you have experiences or words of wisdom or encouragement that you’d like to share with others regarding this topic? If so, post a comment or send me an email at

Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris

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