birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

"A Dog's Walking On His Hind Legs"

I recently saw the movie The Post. Kay Graham (publisher of The Washington Post), while talking to her daughter about a fateful choice, begins to quote Samuel Johnson—I gasped aloud, “Oh, my God!” The quote is this: “A woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

I had heard that quote—had had it directed at me, by a seminary teacher, in my first preaching course in 1978. It wounded me deeply, and it galvanized my intention to become a preacher—all the time believing that “it is not done well”. I cannot become a “man,” and I must reclaim the use of my own voice from its false assignment to “manliness.”

There weren’t many women students in the seminary, and only a few were training to be ordained ministers. Many Christians believed women shouldn’t preach—that the Bible prohibited it. The Apostle Paul said in a letter to Timothy, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men”. So women can’t preach, since preaching is the epitome of “authority”.

Besides I was always afraid talking in front of people—even a few. So, I didn’t even want to preach, or teach. Though, I taught children—but that was different somehow. And, I’d been taking care of children since I was a child.

So, women and words, the spoken word, didn’t—and shouldn’t—mix. It just made sense.

The same teacher who first shared the Johnson quote was in the room when I preached my first sermon. I mean, I wasn’t supposed to do it, but it was a class requirement in a required class, so “required” trumped fear and prohibition.

Besides I could trick myself into thinking that I wasn’t really “preaching”—I mean I wasn’t in a church, and everyone there was a man who was CALLED to preach, BY GOD, for a living. I was just learning to be a better Christian—I was going to be a pastoral counselor, not a preacher.

Anyway, I had worked very hard on understanding the meaning of the assigned passage—the story of Jacob tricking Esau out of his inheritance with a bowl of beans. I had sweated over every word of the manuscript—because I was no writer either! I was a microbiologist.

I started shaking before I even got to class. I was first up, and I was shaking so I could hardly speak by the time I got into the pulpit. I croaked softly, “Let us pray” and stumbled through the requisite, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.”

I began to read the Bible story.

At the back of the room, the teacher, who had been leaning against the wall, began to push away to standing. He stood tall. I felt terror rising as bitter bile in my throat.

He opened his mouth, and his basso profundo, theater-English-accented voice emerged, “My dear—”

The pitch changed to a strident and nasal falsetto, “Do you always speak like this.?!”

Then he body relaxed again to the wall. He gazed at me and waited. I did too.

“Go on!” He commanded. The male students laughed.

I blinked back tears, swallowed hard, and squeaked on—for an eternal fourteen minutes more.

He didn’t like my interpretation of the story either—I was angry that a man chosen by God—Jacob—was rewarded for being sneaky and dishonest and exploitive with his brother.

It was “not done well,” and I was (and still am) “surprised to see it done at all.”

The bigger surprise! I came to like preaching—much later, with much more practice.

And, some seemed to think it even “done well”!

He Told me About Hitler

Role Playing