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There is a postcard taped to the wall over my desk with a picture of Olivia (the pig, for those not familiar with children’s literature), and she is walking across a tightrope with a look on her face that does not inspire confidence. Also on the wall over my workspace: a print of The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, a picture of my kids (circa Christmas 2008), the quotation, “nothing is too wonderful to be true,” a photograph of three female priests and mentors who together embody almost everything I want to be, a picture of a tree my friend painted, another one of a bird that a different friend created, a RealSimple one-week workout routine, a torn-half-sheet of paper with three key ideas scrawled during a meeting about my dream for our church, a postcard with a verse from Walt Whitman, and there is a post-it that reads “smoothie instead” which is meant to help me make better choices at lunchtime. I am realizing that this collection might just be a visual representation of my quest for balance. It’s all there: family and kids, church and vision, exercise and diet, art and poetry. But it’s the picture of Olivia on the tightrope that sums it all up for me most days. I am in search of balance, and occasionally the search itself brings more anxiety into my life than any of the component parts.
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And now, on to this month's feature...
While I am a married clergy person, I’m sure that many of the people in my congregation think of me as a single person. You see, my husband isn't involved at all in church life. This whole church and religion thing just isn't what makes him comfortable and he's definitely not sure that he wants to swallow the church's "truth" hook, line and sinker. And that's probably putting it nicely.
Our faith journey together started way back in high school when we started dating. At the time, we were all giddy about this new love and would pass notes back and forth to one another. I remember vividly this one note we passed that talked about all of our “favorites.” When asked what his favorite book of the Bible was, he answered that ALL of the Bible is inspiring. Now it is strange to think back and realize that at the time, he was probably more religious than I was. Our relationship continued to develop and I grew in new directions in my faith, but experiences in the real world caused him to question the rigid roots to his.
On the night on which he gave himself up for us, Jesus said to his disciples, "I am the vine, you are the branches." God my Father and Mother is the vine grower--the gardener. She removes any branches that don't bear fruit. Every branch that does bear fruit, she prunes, to make it bear more fruit.
I got pruned the other day. There were some dead, unfruitful, suffocating branches that had grown up out of me, making me ugly and overgrown. And God came over to me with some big sharp clippers and pruned those dead branches right off and threw those useless pieces into the fire and burned them to ashes.
Even though online dating is widespread and fairly socially acceptable these days, there is something a little humiliating to me about having succumbed to it. I still haven't gotten used to the idea of putting myself out there in this, "Hey, look at me, don't you want to date me?" way. Every time I log in, a little burst of shame rushes through me as I wonder, does this qualify me for the adjective "desperate?" Then there is the ever-present fear that one of my parishioners will come across my profile. It's one thing for them to think of me as someone who dates, and yet another to find me being advertised on the internet meat market. None of these irritations, however, are the real reason I am seriously considering pulling the plug on my online dating life. The real reason is that I have come to a conclusion about internet dating for ministers (or at least for this minister).
It is impossible to let a relationship develop in a way that even vaguely resembles natural if you are clergy, because of one factor: sex.
If the indignity of the whole enterprise isn't enough for you, when your profile lists your occupation as "Minister," you tend to be subjected to a whole other line of questioning. Allow me to give a recent example from my own experience. I received a first inquiry from a fairly promising candidate. A quick perusal of his profile told me that he was able to construct a grammatically correct sentence, which automatically boosts him to the top 5% of online daters. His first message included topics of substance and reasonably successful attempts at humor, which easily raises him into the top 2% range. But there it was, mid-message, my favorite question: "What are your practices/guidelines for sex and sexual relations?"
Over the course of the past ten years, my cache of ministerial experience has changed in so many ways. I’ve served in four different ministry settings, learned how to navigate my denomination’s search and call process, finished seminary, been ordained, written and/or edited two books, fallen in love with group after group worth of kids and their families, and fallen in love with preaching the Good News. Through a theological lens, I have been fruitful – and through the lens of the world, I’ve even been moderately successful. But I’ve never been able to enjoy that fruitfulness or success.
Last August, my husband, 6 month-old daughter Claire and I took a trip to Santa Cruz, California, to introduce our young daughter to my husband’s family for the first time. Remarkably, the entire family still lives within a few miles of one another, making the commute between homes easy. Up and down Soquel Avenue we drove, every day, strapping Claire in to the car seat, enjoying our freedom from the tyranny of the subway, and feeling very… suburban. It was a nice change of pace for us, to temporarily relinquish our gritty Brooklyn neighborhood for the beachside cottages and coffee shops of Northern California.
One afternoon, after finishing a late breakfast with one relative and heading to lunch with another, I glanced out of the window of our rented car and noticed a small church. It was a quaint, modern structure, unassuming and pleasant. By the side of the road stood a huge welcome sign for the church with the words “Organic Jesus” printed underneath the name of the congregation. We drove by so fast, I was sure I had misread, but later that day, heading back from lunch for an early dinner, we passed it again. Sure enough, the sign read as I had first thought -- Organic Jesus. Well, this is Santa Cruz, California, after all; the birthplace of the New Age movement, as my husband likes to say, but this was too much. Organic Jesus.