I am jealous of Elle Dowd. I heard her on Speaking in Church, a feisty podcast hosted by Spencer Rose Taylor and Josie Jael Jimenez that highlights deconstructionist voices across the Christian tradition. Elle is on the ordination track in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and she just published what looks to be a fantastic book called Baptized in Tear Gas: From White Moderate to Abolitionist.
When I was listening to Elle speak, I found myself utterly engaged….and jealous. She is so gifted, so well-spoken and so inspired that I couldn't help but become a fan. As a young woman, she has already accomplished so much: gone on mission, adopted two girls, built a loving family, received her degree, written a book. She is an unstoppable force for justice, and she does it with flare--rocking her clerical collar with a poofy white skirt and platform heels.
It’s not Elle’s fault I am jealous. She is living her best life and it’s really important for me to see the success of women in traditions that fully embrace all that women have to bring to the table. In ministry. In leadership. In life. The bigger person deep down within me celebrates her for the great gift she is to the Christian Church. But also, I shouldn't romanticize: I am quite sure she has many of her own challenges to face.
But as much as I dig her, I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge this other part of me—the part that feels small, petty, trapped. I simply cannot live out my vocation in the same way Elle can. I toil away day after day trying to make a life as a Roman Catholic priest in a tradition that refuses to acknowledge my call. I work a full-time secular job while attempting to generate a ministry on the side. There are many days I feel exhausted and sad, and I question whether anything I do makes any difference at all.
I have to be honest and admit that maybe my work doesn't make a difference, at least in terms of any headway in the Roman Catholic Church. But, deep down I know that even if I will never be allowed to live out my vocation the way God intends, my yes makes a difference to God. God is moved and inspired by my yes, and isn’t that what life is all about? My road is uniquely my own—as is all of ours—and each one is of supreme significance to God.
As I pray with today’s gospel, Elizabeth is my teacher. As an older relative, Elizabeth offers an authentic deference toward and loving affirmation of the much younger and more gifted Mary. I follow her lead and offer gratitude and reverence to Elle. "For at the moment the sound of your voice reached my ears, my spirit leaped for joy.”
Thank you, Elle, for your fierce and fearless ministry, and for teaching this girl a thing or two.