Dear Member of My Congregation,
I wanted to respond to your statement the other day. As I was leaving church on Sunday, you came up to me and said, “You’re trying to get pregnant, right?” At the time I was too shocked to say anything more than, “Um, uh, no, not yet” to you, but upon further reflection I think a longer response is warranted.
Now, I know it is no mystery that I love babies. I grab babies at church every chance I get. Holding one of those warm, wiggly creatures gives me a rush of endorphins unlike anything else. When I first got married, members of the congregation to whom I was close would often joke about whether or not I was pregnant and that felt fine and funny because I had pre-established rapport with them.
We are rooted in the earth, sinking our roots deep. We create safe places for conversations. We make homes sharing our hospitality. We engage in deep breathing and thinking, making way for the sacred within us. Three women began conversing over a year ago about each of their ministries and what each felt called to. Each voice was rooted in the sacred, womanly presence of Mother. I began to reflect on each of us, women in ministry, as trees taking root in our various places. Some are transplanted to a space with other trees close by, while others continue to grow in wide, open spaces...
I was standing in my dad’s—no, my parents’—kitchen on the day of my mom’s funeral. The service, the huge service in the huge church, was over. We were all utterly spent. My aunt, my dad’s sister, was handing something to my dad. “You have to eat this,” she told him. She had a tomato sandwich in her hand. It was early August, and the farmer’s market had been full of big, beefy heirloom tomatoes—reddy-purple ones, green stripy ones, yellow and orange ones. It’s a miracle that tomatoes grow at all in Oregon, with so much rain, but somehow they manage to, and they were at their peak when mom died.
“I love tomato sandwiches!” my dad told his sister. “Tomato sandwiches?” I asked. “You mean just tomatoes?” Well, almost. The tomato sandwich, I was told, is an exercise in simplicity. Bread. Thick-sliced, good tomatoes. Mayonnaise. Salt. I watched my dad eat the sandwich—really revel in its flavor—in his grief.
Reader: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined… For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6)
I have a confession: I have never before actually used the Bibles I received at ordination. We get a small portable one for our Diaconate, and a big desk one for our Priestly. They are very, very nice Bibles- we're talking gilded edges. They are the same edition- the New Oxford Annotated New Revised Standard Version - that I bought when I went into Seminary. I arrived at Seminary having done my homework- which was to read the Bible cover to cover. (Something I had not done before the summer I went to Seminary!) Of course, that assignment did in my high school student bible. Revelations and most of Mark and I think some of the pastoral letters just fell out as I packed for Seminary. So on the advice of a professor, I picked up the NOAB-NRSV. It is a paperback and has been practically colored in with highlighters and scribbled on in notes.
Dear Single Rev,
I've been asked to officiate at my first wedding, and I'm getting anxious. Seminary taught me how to perform the service, but what they didn't mention is what to do about the reception! Should I go at all? Bring a date? What should I wear? Is it okay for the minister to dance? Help!
~The Marrying Kind
Dear Marrying Kind,
Your anxiety is understandable; weddings can be sketchy enough for singletons without the added pressure of being the religious figure in the picture. The good and bad news is, there are no hard and fast rules here. Every wedding is its own creature, and what is perfect behavior at one might be horrific at another. I would be willing to bet that you would get different advice from every clergyperson you asked about wedding-appropriate behavior. But, you asked me, and so I offer you a few of the tried and true tests that have helped me be a better officiant - and guest!
Lord, you have my heart, and I will search for yours.
Where do you bring the things that cannot be said out loud? To whom do you turn when your heart is brimming with secret joy, and there is no one, no one, that will ever understand? Who do you talk to, about those life-changing events that can't be allowed to change your life, when you live in a city where everyone knows everyone, and everyone really knows the pastor?
In his new film Religulous which opened in theaters last month, political humorist and comedian Bill Maher travels the world to talk to faithful people about God. The film bills itself as the “#1 Sacrilegious Comedy in America,” which may explain my discomfort. Discomfort is a nice way of expressing how I felt sitting amid the amused laughter of other movie goers. Anger might be more appropriate. Outrage might get the heart of it.
I think religion can be funny. We should be able to laugh at ourselves and wonder about the strange stories that we tell each other. As a clergy woman, who is familiar with doubt, I know that our Biblical narratives are often hard to swallow. However, I have also sat with people that have opened the Biblical canon and found something that they may never heard or seen before. It happens. In fact, it happens every time I sit down for Bible Study.