I have Many Fewer Followers than John Piper, but here is my response to his piece on women as theology professors and as pastors.
Though She Be But Little, She is Fierce
This quote from the Bard is on a sweatshirt I ordered for Christmas for Lynette. No truer words were ever spoken about a person. She was a fiercely loving person who was so remembered by people who knew her throughout her life.
I’ve noted that she was a member of the “Miriam Generation” of United Methodist clergywomen in Mississippi. Becky Youngblood came to St. John’s UMC in Greenwood the summer following Lynette’s freshman year at Millsaps. Becky was the first “girl preacher” Lynette (and many others) had ever seen. Another trailblazing clergywoman, Mary John Dye, took Lynette with her to Arkansas in 1982 to meet and talk with Marjorie Matthews, the first woman to be a Bishop in the United Methodist Church. Lynette knew well the barriers and resistance any woman seeking to be a pastor in the Deep South would face. She really tried not to do it. She and Susan Woodard thought it quite humorous that they were co-winners of the Pendergrass Medal at Millsaps Commencement, 1982. The medal was for “promise in the pastoral ministry of the United Methodist Church.” Both thought “Not Me.”
Even as she began her Master of Divinity studies at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary, Lynette was SURE she’d be doing “something else” with her degree, certainly NOT pastoring. She slowed the process down for a year, working full time with a social service agency in Evanston. She slow-walked the candidacy process too. After all, why would one INTENTIONALLY pursue something when you KNOW people will be mean to you?
As we graduated, Lynette chose not to pursue an appointment or any other sort of work for the first year I would be serving as pastor. She was ready to be perfectly fine looking for work in social service, counseling, even youth ministry-UNTIL the first Sunday I was to celebrate communion. It was sort of an “I’m called, Damn It!” moment that she couldn’t deny.
Once Lynette DID start going forward with the candidacy process and with pursuing an appointment, the resistance started as well. We were told “It’s going to be so hard for us to find you an appointment.” “It’s going to be so hard for you.” “Can you be truly itinerant if you are in a clergy couple?” Then she was appointed to East End and Wesley in Meridian and guess what? It WAS hard. There WAS resistance. There was resistance from lay people. There was sabotage from fellow clergy (most of them now deceased). That part strains my sense of forgiveness, if it strained hers less than mine. My 4’11.5” sweetie was a threat to people’s ways of understanding the world and the Church by her very presence. Her response was to stand firm in her size 7 shoes and say, “I’m here.” The two songs from the Broadway canon that I think of are “I’m Here” from The Color Purple and “I’m Still Here” from Follies. I had decided she needed to perform “I’m Still Here” for her retirement address. Not sure how the Bishop would have received it, but it was true. Sarah played both for her at the hospital last Saturday night.
By the way, we served appointments in some portion of ten of the eleven Districts in the Mississippi Conference, so I’d say we were “truly itinerant.”
Over the last few weeks while she was in the hospital, I was struck by how many people, from all the appointments she’s had, testified to her loving and positive spirit. I know she was hurt in many of those places, but she returned good for evil and love for hate almost all the time. She was fierce.
She was also a fiercely loving mother. Around the time our son Luke was four years old, we became aware that something was not quite right with him. It turned out that he has an autistic spectrum disorder. Lynette became his fiercest advocate. Ask school administrators in Clinton, Petal, and Rankin County if they wanted to mess with Luke Altman’s Mama. I’ve said often that “A Boy’s Best Friend is his Mother.” She certainly was his. Our daughter Sarah has soared throughout her life. We often found ourselves just reminding ourselves to stay out of her way. Nevertheless, the sturdy foundation of Lynette’s love for Sarah has let her soar. We so very much wanted to be together for Sarah’s graduation from Millsaps this May. Lynette will be cheering her on still.
Finally, no one could have been a more fiercely loving wife and companion to me. To borrow from a more contemporary dramatist, She was “my person.” I treasure so much about our life together. In the early years, a trip to Ann Sather’s for cinnamon rolls and Swedish pancakes, followed by an afternoon game (they were ALL afternoon games then) at Wrigley Field could be a treat. On a few rare occasions, we scraped together money to see touring Broadway shows in Chicago. We always enjoyed going to movies together. We had season tickets to New Stage Theater for several years and enjoyed those nights out. We had the chance to travel together to England in 1989 and to Israel/Palestine in 1992. WHERE we were and WHAT we were doing was always less important than that we were doing it together. She was my best friend.
Lynette exceeded me in emotional intelligence and was able to gently tell me where I might be going wrong in my relationships with people in and out of the church. I’ll have to be my own best friend in those ways going forward.
Inflammatory breast cancer proved a dragon that could be slowed down, but not slain. I so treasure the trips to chemotherapy, radiation, Dr.’s appointments and labs. There was literally no experience that could not be made meaningful by going through it with Lynette. One day, near the end of her time in radiation, we made connection with a woman in her early 80s who was about to begin radiation and was quite anxious about it. Lynette talked with her, cared for her and reassured her as only she could. She didn’t have to “fake” loving everyone she met. She really did. We made three trips to Houston seeking a final treatment. The hours we spent together in the car just talking with one another are precious. We enjoyed getting to know a little bit of Houston and even discovering a new Mexican restaurant, a pizzeria, and a Mediterranean buffet.
During our last weekend together, when it was clear that we were truly at the end of human medicine, I was a mess. “Ugly crying” was something I was doing, whether I wanted to or not. Lynette would lie there, just looking at me. I knew what an effort it was for her to get her breath and to talk. Certainly, the effort to “ugly cry” with me was too much for her. She was, I think, saying “We’ve gone as far as we can together. I’m all right. You’ll be all right. I love you.” All I can say is “Ditto.”