Anne Howard: A Word in Time: Bubble Girl


I've got a new book to share with you this week: Bubble Girl, by Kat Banakis, just published by Chalice Press.  I'm an unabashed fan of this book and its author, and I so I was delighted to say Yes to Kat when she asked me to write the Foreword to Bubble Girl.

So here are a few bits from that Foreword. Spoiler alert: it's unabashed praise:

". . . As a member of the "first globals" generation, Kat gives us a glimpse of what the changing church might look like in the years ahead. It's worth the view. Kat nudges us into the change with her questions, her keen insight, her fresh wisdom and her good humor, just at this moment in time when we all need to grasp the change in which we find ourselves.

This change, Diana Butler Bass says in her newest book Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, (Harper, 2012) is not just about change within in the church, but change throughout the culture. Bass says that we are in the midst of a social transformation in which we see in a new generation of spiritual seekers "traveling new paths of meaning, exploring new ways to live their lives, experiencing a new sense of authenticity and wonder, and practicing new forms of community that address global concerns of human flourishing."  Kat is one of those practitioners. . . 

Now, I know that lots of people aren't interested in church-the latest Pew Research poll  (July 2012) showed that a whopping 19% of Americans check "None" when asked to name their religion-but I'd be willing to wager a bet that this book might be one that a None would like. That's because Kat tells us, with keen perception, unabashed honesty and deep intelligence, what it's like to be human, what it's like to feel alone, what it's like to be connected to someone close and Something Bigger (capitals mine, not hers.) She offers no pat answers and no TMI dirty laundry sharing, just a great conversation. It's a conversation worth sharing. I can imagine this book jump-starting great conversations in book clubs, youth groups, and maybe even families, especially families whose children have grown up to check "None."

. . .

So here's a list of delights I found in Bubble Girl:

She salts her personal stories with a bit of theology, church history and church practice, and covers topics like God, Jesus, Baptism, Sacraments, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Biblical Interpretation, and Prayer, and of course, her own wrestling with ordination. I hesitate to name such topics in the foreword, because I don't want to tip you off to the learning that will take place while you are laughing. Think Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart. This book is a brilliant introduction to the history and practices of Christianity.

She gives us some fresh vocabulary for churchy things. A sacrament, for example, is "a public moment of transparency." Not bad. Church is not St. Augustine's  "heaven full of saints and sanctity and all the sopranos singing Alleluias in key all day long" nor is it polite, pristine and pretty. It's "real people, trying to find community, trying our best to raise energetic children to be kind adults, trying to learn what it will mean to have a good death, singing songs off-key, enacting the sacraments, learning to forgive one another because we're still the same people coming back together week after week after week, and in the mist of all of this, hoping to know God."  That's the church we're looking for.

. . . She nails pie-in-the-sky Christianity with her treatment of the "superhero" version of Jesus that sees Jesus as the "ultimate roll of duct tape to patch up creation."

. . . She shows us the compassion that is at the heart of Christianity (and all the great religions of the world) in showing us a Christianity that hasn't been capturing the headlines lately, one that looks like Jesus: daring, inclusive, enthused, welcoming, a little ragged.

. . . Kat makes hilarious puns smack in the middle of clarifying theological commentary, and she has more fun with footnotes than should be legal, as in this declaration about good and evil: "He doesn't vacuum us up, up, and away from them, which sometimes totally sucksbecause then we're still stuck in our earthly lives." The footnote: "Pun intended."

. . . She tells the truth about what it's like to a stranger in a strange place, i.e. church: she  enters a church coffee hour, the new kid on the block, wishing she were Wolf Blitzer-you have to read this-and she ends up admitting that what she wants in that coffee hour is what we all want from church: "I want people to want to talk to me, to feel an intimacy with me and want to connect.  Or maybe, what I really want is to be known." Of course. Don't we all want to be known?

That brings me to her title, Bubble Girl. Where does that come from? It comes from a place we know, but a place that I haven't seen named so poignantly and pointedly before. It's about that moment we don't talk about: "I'll make a joke that flops...or try to launch a church initiative...and a Plexiglas wall descends between me and the people I was just talking to...loneliness arrives like a quarantine vessel, and I am Bubble Girl, alone and isolated in the midst of them." There is a Bubble Girl in all of us, and Kat has the temerity to name this, and to allow us to chuckle as we recognize what's really real in her life and our own.

In the end, she learns that she can bring her whole self into the life of faith, and into leadership in the church, even when she is "a hot mess of mascara and snot"; she knows herself to be accepted, to be home, to find her end in her beginning. Think Tillich, or Dorothy back in Kansas, or T.S. Eliot.

Isn't this what we all need to learn? Kat Banakis is one fine teacher, mascara, snot, and all." 

Echoes from the Edge

Summer Reading Series: Excerpt from Bubble Girl

By The Rev. Kathryn Banakis - July 1st, 2013

The summer after I graduated from seminary it felt  like all of my classmates were moving right into ordained ministry - even the ones who stood too close in conversation and petted my arm when we talked; those who adopted British accents and PBS costume drama attire (though they grew up in suburban Atlanta); and even the people who were late to class because they were slain by the Spirit in the cafeteria. (Hate it when that happens.)

I was working in a small non-profit as an entry-level fundraising assistant.  I wanted to be my ordained friends, not me, but because of a lengthy ordination process, I was me.  I called my (much younger) sister to bemoan my state. She gave an auditory eye roll. Then she said (with no compassion at all), "Kathryn, you just have to change your understanding of who you consider your church to be. You go to your office every single day. Minister to them. Be their pastor."

"But I work as an entry-level fundraising associate. I write grant proposals."

My argument didn't even deserve a response. She just waited silently until I realized the insanity of what I'd just said -- that I couldn't do ministry where I was.  Sometimes I really hate having a sister who's more than a decade younger than I am, brilliant, and so Biblically grounded that she can call my bluff even though I've been to seminary, and she was still in high school.

So I engaged in the magic prayer formula: lifting up a question to God, working my rear end off to do my part, and then trying to remain vigilant for surprise answers to the prayer. The prayer I prayed for myself and asked my friends to pray on my behalf was something like, "God, give me eyes to see how I can minister to the people around me." My part of the prayer work began with crawling in the attic of the converted auto-repair garage that now housed the non-profit where I worked. I dragged down some lamps, an old TV tray table, and a box labeled "Birthday" filled with candles. The candles went atop the rickety TV dinner table for ambience beside a dingy Ikea armchair in my office-previously a catch-all of old pamphlets-with soft lamp lighting beside. Voila! A pastoral care and counseling corner appeared. Lucy of the Peanuts comic strip was open for business. Tell me your woes, and I will listen with my chaplaincy non-anxious presence.

I waited a long time to be surprised, and nothing happened. My co-workers would sometimes come in and sit on the chair for the novelty of it. I felt like a doofus - a doofus learning more and more about fundraising but a doofus none-the-less. But then...


Finally, the Poet

Post Paschal: Prayer for Ordinary Time

By Tess Taylor, Poet-in-Residence, First Congregational Church of Berkeley - July 1st, 2013



Now we see no great descent or resurrection,

no epiphanic flash of glory-

but our earth-days lengthen in procession;


figs swell, buckeye bloom,

4th graders clean their desks with Windex,

civil servants dream about vacation,


dove & barn-swallow dart and nest.

We too plant, harvest, travel, play:

The air fills with the smell of roofing tar.


O god of fat & marrow,

god of the shadow of wings;

god of trumpets, flinty rock,


trombones, oil & honey, prophets;

of signs & wonders, justice, salt;  

God of miracles & transports,


come to us now as ordinary time,

as graduations, welcome boredom, dust-motes;

as work and rest, as naptime;


as basketball thundering on the park court.

Be as children calling before dinner, as the fullness

of freeway engines, freight trains, architects' plans


in sheaths, also as travellers sleeping

under the dark-leaved cherry with their backpacks.

Shapeshifting god, god of earthen vessels,


rest with us now as plenty, as enoughness.

Be our contentment. Let your peace

swim at dusk, let it  also be 

Taken with permission from the Beatitudes Society blog.