I suppose January is as good of time as any to take stock in an organization's progress. Annual meetings dot the calendars of churches, college presidents reassure alumni and alumnae with updates, and the United States president interrupts prime time television with his State of the Union address.
Sadly, there is no potluck luncheon following this address, but happily, there will also be no democratic and republican reactions, either.
I struggle with the notion of embodied faith, not because I don’t like the idea, but because I don’t like my body. My body is a place of deep imperfection and frustration. It’s never thin enough, perky enough, cute enough, strong enough, or beautiful enough.
As the chaplain to a small women’s college my misperceptions of my own body rise to the surface on a regular basis. My day-to-day actions set an example for the women around me. The amount of rest I get, my fitness level, my stress level, and my eating habits are of as much interest to the students as my theological knowledge or spiritual well being. We often imagine that the minds of small children are like little sponges, absorbing everything around them, and assume that by college age this formation is done. But college students are much the same, soaking up the adult world around them, trying on identities to determine which ones might fit. I know that just as they try on the personas of the other students, they will also try on my identity to see if it mirrors what they would like to be themselves. I would hate to find out that my body issues reinforced or supported the same self-loathing behavior in anyone else.
The mother can lay her child tenderly to her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus can lead us easily into his blessed breast through his sweet open side, and show us there a part of the godhead and of the joys of heaven, with the inner certainty of endless bliss (Ibid. 239).
When my husband and I signed up for our labor and delivery classes at Meriter Hospital, I looked forward to these sessions with both excitement and trepidation. It was unfortunate that we missed the last class, which was on breastfeeding. I never really thought it would be a big deal. After all, my mother never had any problems, and I knew women had been doing this for ages. The thought of taking a class on a "natural" biological event seemed a bit strange.
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I am a bit of a curiosity in town. I know this, and if I go out wearing the collar, I now expect it: cordial smiles from the nuns and nurses at the Catholic retirement home, curious stares from many people, trying to figure out if I should be called "Father" or "Sister" or something else entirely, nods of bewildered greeting from all manner of people on the street, from policeman to punk rocker wanna-be. All in all, it's usually a much more positive reaction than I would get in some other regions of the country and the world. And it's not so bad, most of the time.
But what I didn't expect is what happened to my parents on the other side of the country. In my hometown, they have become minor celebrities.
Because nobody else has a pastor for a daughter.
“Do you want to be made well?”
What an Ash Wednesday question.
On a day where we traditionally hear about our own sinfulness
and are faced with our own mortality,
“to dust you shall return,”
what a question to consider.
Of course we want to be made well. Of course we do. Duh.
Oh, The Conversation. We've all had it. It's a vocational hazard of being a female pastor. It often begins with the uncomplicated question, "What do you do?" But we just don't have an uncomplicated answer, do we? Not only are there people who don't know women can be ministers; there are also plenty of folks who believe women shouldn't be ministers.
In the time since my ordination, I've gotten a better at navigating The Conversation in all its permutations. A lot of practice and a little bit of confidence go a long way. I try to be gracious and understanding and educational, but sometimes I wish I could just be feisty. Recently, a guy came to do an estimate for some work in the parsonage. He knew it was a parsonage, so when I opened the door to let him in, he asked, "Are you the pastor's wife?" I politely explained that no, I am the pastor, but I can't tell you how badly I wanted to retort, "Are you the sub-contractor's husband?"
They say mirrors never lie, and mine said “You look fabulous!” It was one of those nights when my clothes fit perfectly, my hair did exactly what I wanted it to do, and my skin had spared me its temperamental breakouts. I swayed to the beat of my stereo while applying mascara to my lashes without even worrying about whether I’d put out an eye. A little lip gloss, a final full-length mirror check, and I was ready to go. Extrovert that I am, I almost always love going out with friends, but that night, my whole body practically vibrated with energy. I was ready for something to happen. I was on the prowl.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the flash of the simple, silver cross I usually wear when preaching. Just before I slipped out the door, I swear I heard it whisper, “Remember, you’re still a minister.” As if I could possibly forget!
an only child, I never really understood the whole issue of sibling
rivalry. I grew up with my own room. My toys were safe from
the hands of younger siblings who might play with them and perhaps break
them. I had the attention of my parents and maternal grandparents,
without the competition of siblings. Then I married an only child
as well. We are a good match because we understand the other’s
need for space and independence, even though I have no sister-in-laws
to share stories with or nieces or nephews to dote on. Two years ago,
we gave birth to our child, who is still an only child herself and an
only grandchild on both sides. She has our attention, her own
room, the loving attention of four sets of grandparents and one Busha
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace
The lyrics of our final hymn at the Christmas Eve service rang in my ears as I peered into the cold silent night outside the church doors. After closing the doors to this holy night, I blew out the candles that had lit our way to the birth of peace. I gazed out the window to wonder about this tender and mild child that tore open the heavens and came down incarnated in Corinth.
It had happened again. Jesus Christ was born again this day. The mysterious wonder of the incarnate had torn through the heavens as the prophets had hoped. And yet, as I blew out the candles, I couldn’t help but wonder what had changed. We have been waiting for this for the past four weeks. We’ve been preparing for this miracle of birth as Jesus came through the birth canal. We’ve gotten ready for this moment when he was named King over the powers that be, this helpless child over the State, over the ones who loved to oppress. We have been waiting these days for justice to reign. And yet, as I settle into my new home and see this world with new eyes, I wonder about this silent night.
As I blew out the last few candles, my breath mingled with the lyrics of the familiar hymn.