Bad God/Good God

My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, NE

June 18, 2019

I was ten or eleven when my older brother mustered the courage to ask the question every kid on the Vacation Bible School bus was dying to know the answer to. “Hey, so what happened to your hand?” Our bus driver was also the preacher at our Grandma’s little church. The convenience of the bus pick-up service meant my brother and a bunch of our neighborhood friends and I all went to Grandma’s church’s VBS instead going to our own churches scattered across the city. When John asked, the bus driver stopped the bus, turned around in his seat and held up his right claw-like thumb and pinky of a hand. “Children, I’m so glad one of you asked. God did this to me.”

His story was God wanted him to be a preacher, but he didn’t want to be a preacher, so he ran away from God and went to work in a lumber yard.  God cut off his fingers so he couldn’t work there anymore, and he gave in to God’s call on his life and became a preacher. Moral to the story? —don’t mess with God or God will get you.

That’s some messed up theology!

I was just a kid, but I knew the preacher’s story about God didn’t sound at all like God who loves us. Love doesn’t chop off fingers.

Later that week my best friend, Carla and I were scooping ice cream in her kitchen and I told her about my day at Bible School. I’d been “saved” because if you got “saved” you got to go to the stage and pick out a prize. My prize was a short chapter book about a girl who was kidnapped, but because she loved Jesus, she was able to escape from the back of the trunk where she had been stuffed. Carla’s mom was in the kitchen. She said, “Becky, I don’t think that’s a good way to think about God. God doesn’t scare us into loving him. God loves us into loving him.” (God doesn’t bribe us with prizes, either).

Carla’s mom that day in her kitchen was my first theology teacher. I had good Sunday School teachers since pre-school, but Mrs. Acker was the first person who taught me to think critically about what was being said about God rather than simply absorbing a story and believing it hook, line and sinker solely because it was about God. Theology means to study, to think about the nature of God. (“Theos” –Greek for “God” and “ology”—the study of something). Theology requires of us some wrestling with God (like Jacob in the Old Testament and like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane).

Bad theology does a lot of damage. Bad theology keeps women in abusive relationships. Bad theology causes gay kids to commit suicide. Bad theology fuels racism. Bad theology combined with nationalism fuels wars. Bad theology denies science and skews priorities.

Humans are spiritual beings.  We all need to nurture our spirits. We benefit from being in relationship with God and from gathering with others to practice being together in loving community. We also owe it to God and to our neighbors to think, to wrestle with our ideas about God so that what we claim in God’s name does good instead of harm.

You are always welcome to join us at Park Congregational United Church of Christ ten miles west of Elgin and ½ mile south off of Highway 70. Worship begins at 9:15 am on Sundays.

I would love to hear from you. My email address is

Unlimited Calling

My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, NE published 11.13.19

“Ah ain’t never seen nuthin’ like that before!” said the scraggly-looking fellow I found standing inside my study at the church when I got back from lunch. It was years ago in a county-seat town in Illinois where the church building was on the highway just off the town square. We got a lot of transient folk stopping by looking for assistance with food or a night’s stay in a motel, or money for gas to get them a little further on down the road. Startled by the man standing stock-still and silently dripping rain water onto the carpet, I asked, “May I help you, sir?” “Uh. Uh. Well, uh, I’m lookin’ for the pastor.” He said.  I extended my hand to shake his and said, “I’m Becky Brown, I’m the pastor here. How may I help you?” And, instead of shaking my offered hand, like a character from a looney-tunes cartoon he hit himself on the forehead and shook his head like he was rattling rocks inside, blinked his eyes wildly and said it, “Ah ain’t never seen nuthin’ like that before!”

The man had been to a lot of churches asking for help, but apparently, I was the first female pastor he encountered.  My gender, though shocking to him, did not interfere with his mission. Gladly, he accepted the help I offered and went on his way, still shaking his head like he’d seen some sort of apparition.

In the thirty-plus years I’ve served in ministry since that rainy afternoon in Illinois, I’ve encountered a good deal of sexism in the church, rarely so unmasked. Often it comes cloaked in subtle ways; the ministerial colleague who keeps standing up to assert his dominance in the middle of a casual conversation over a cup of coffee, the dismissive “I can tell you are emotional about this” response from a male leader to a clearly stated concern, the, “well, I knew you were a strong woman the first time I met you” backhanded questioning of my femininity as an excuse for the bad behavior of another man by a male church leader, introducing me by my first-name while at the same occasion calling my male colleagues, “Reverend” or “Doctor” or “Pastor” as appropriate, and so on.

It’s curious how such diminishment of women occurs in the church when it was women who first proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning. It’s time, past time, for the church to repent of sexism—overt and over the top, and covert, subtle and masked.

The United Church of Christ, of which Park Church, where I serve here in Elgin, and First Congregational Church where I serve in Neligh are part, was the first Mainline Protestant denomination in the United States to ordain women to ministry in 1853. In the United Church of Christ, women in leadership are not novelties.

If you are looking to be part of a church where your gender does not determine nor limit your calling maybe Park Church is the right church for you. We worship at 9:15 every Sunday morning. Ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome in the United Church of Christ. I love to hear from you.


My Season of Unfortunate Events

My Column for The Elgin Review in Elgin, NE published November 6, 2019

This past Saturday I stood precariously perched with my left foot on the edge of the bathtub and my right foot on the lid of the toilet trying to maneuver myself to get one foot out the window and the rest of me to follow. Laughing, I thought, “I guess this is just my season of unfortunate events.”

The parsonage is half a year older than I am. The house has reached its’ sixtieth birthday, and I will in February. By sixty, things begin to wear out. On Saturday morning, it was the door knob mechanism on the bathroom door, after my shower, with me stuck inside the bathroom. The good news was Mike was home from Lincoln and could come to my rescue and I had taken clothes with me into the bathroom before my shower so I wasn’t trying to climb out the parsonage window wearing only a towel.

My husband is handy and by the time he left to go back to Lincoln on Sunday afternoon, the door was back on its hinges with a new door knob set and all new innards and should be good to go for the next sixty years. The whole episode cost us some time, some muscles stretched in interesting ways from climbing out (me) and in (Mike) the window and less than ten bucks for the new hardware at Bomgaar’s.

The season of unfortunate events, of which I hope Saturday’s climb out the bathroom window was its culmination, began with a speeding ticket on my commute back to Antelope County from Lincoln a week ago. I stopped in Stromsburg to stretch my legs and forgot to turn my cruise control back on when I returned to the highway. The audiobook I was listening to was really good and my foot got too heavy on the pedal and a highway patrol woman was sitting right there on the west side of Highway 39.  The good news was I wasn’t in Antelope Country so it won’t show up in the newspaper (why am I writing about it here?), and, while expensive and inconvenient, I have money to cover the ticket.

The second of the “bad things come in threes” unfortunate events started Monday.  I am one of the unlucky ones for whom the new Shingles vaccine knocked me out. Tuesday morning after the vaccine on Monday afternoon I was kaput. Low grade fever, chills, a really sore, itchy arm and oh boy! I was tired for most of the week–even still on Saturday as I climbed out the window. The good news was it wasn’t a bad week for me to be under the weather. I had time to cozy up in the parsonage, do some reading and a lot of sleeping.

The writer of Ecclesiastes in the Bible said, “For everything there is a season.” Some seasons last a long time, some are fleeting. Some seasons leave us in tears, and some leave us laughing. Some seasons find us living high on the hog, and some leave us broke, or broken.  That’s the way life is. None of us is immune to going through times of sorrow or testing and none of us live without joy forever.

No matter what season you find yourself in. No matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ where this past weekend they laughed with me over my season of unfortunate events. At Park Church we’ll laugh with you, cry with you and share all of life’s seasons with you in the love and grace of Christ.

We’re ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. Worship on Sundays is at 9:15 am. Set your cruise control and head our way soon.

I love to hear from you. My email is