How does one distinguish between two separate motherhoods when both are twenty-four hour a day jobs? My toddler son, Hill, knows me as Mama, while my parish (despite my resistance) knows me as Mother. These two vocations fight constantly for my attention, causing me to feel that I am short-changing them both. And so, in order to distinguish them, I try to keep them as disconnected as possible. I do not bring work home with me. Sermons are finished before the weekend arrives. Except in times of emergency, pastoral visits are made within office hours. I am only open to pursuing associate minister positions so as to keep my personal time personal.
What is more difficult though is keeping Hill separated from church. While I was pregnant, he was in church a lot. I was one of those pregnant women whose bump arrived early so folks in the parish knew I was pregnant before I was ready to tell them. As my stomach grew, so did the church’s love for this first-born child whom they referred to as “ours.” As I preached on Christmas Eve six weeks before my due date, women scattered throughout church pews dabbed tears from their eyes. Certainly, it wasn’t because of my Christmas message but instead because they all waited expectantly for their child’s arrival, and the imagery evoked from a pregnant priest preaching about Mary’s birth story was too much for them to handle.
Number Five. That’s what my dad called the baby growing inside me. He had waited long enough for us to decide on a name. This baby would be his fifth grandchild, but the name stuck for all of us until the day he was born: Number Five.
It really wasn’t until that day that my husband and I finally chose a name. It was so important to me that his name mean something—that it would express the hope we had for him, and the hope that he was giving us. Number Five would be our third child, but it was the first time that we knew early on that he would be a boy. It seemed like it would have been so much easier if he was to be a girl. We could have simply named him Hope or Faith or Grace. But the ultrasound picture was clear that we would be blessed with a boy, so I continued to struggle.
Ah, Holy Week. Slightly odd worship services most churches only do once a year, complete with lots of minuatie and logistical details that easily lead to long "notes for next year." There's trying to say something novel, or, if not novel, at least somewhat profound and maybe even somewhat memorable, about something that has been talked about for centuries.Then there's the endless cajoling, asking people to come to these services into which so much effort is going. Holy Week even includes talk about sin in denominations that try desperately to tend to shy away from fire and brimstone.
If Holy Week can be so hellacious, why do I miss it?
I would like to think that I've always been a little uncomfortable with the refrain that passes among clergy: “Divinity school sure didn't prepare us for this.” Or sometimes, from seasoned laypeople to clergy with the ink still wet on their diplomas: “I bet you didn't learn that in seminary!” Maybe this has to do with my personality, my love of the academic study of religion, and a lifelong love of school in general. I did, after all, enter divinity school with more than half a mind to continue in PhD work, and my mind still wanders to going “back to school.” But my impatience with that refrain has also stemmed from a conviction that my divinity school did an excellent job of preparing me and my colleagues for ministry because it gave us the tools to think theologically about all aspects of Christian life and ministry. Such formation helps us to reflect on the implications of budgets, whether of governments or congregations, as moral documents. To think about and talk about stewardship as more than just another fund-raising drive, as an essential aspect of Christian faithfulness. To share with baptism and confirmation candidates the richness of the tradition they're considering claiming for their own. To realize that each of us is just one member of the body of Christ, and we can't do it all – so we need to call on the gifts of other members at times, whether it's when the boiler breaks or when someone needs more visiting than the pastor can provide, or when the church needs education that's beyond our areas of expertise (be it financial planning, or that Old Testament book we never did understand, even in Hebrew). To remember to think about the broader implications of the kind of coffee we brew in the church kitchen and the palms we wave in worship on Palm Sunday.
I am a woman whose love language is touch, and as a single woman--let alone as a reverend--it’s been a big black vortex of emptiness in my life. It’s always present. Sometimes it’s entwined lightly enough I can ignore it or rationalize it away, but other times it feels more like Davy Jones’ Kraken--the sea monster that has wrapped its tendrils around me and is about to break me, throwing me into its devouring, insatiable maw.
Okay. Maybe that was a tad bit dramatic, but I do feel emotionally starved sometimes. When I end up dating someone and he holds me, I know I turn into a bit of an insatiable monster myself, trying to fill that emotional emptiness that’s been aching for so long. Memo to myself and the reader: This is not healthy.
But how do I meet that need of touch, of emotional input, when so many of the necessary boundaries of my vocation make that impossible? I’ve tried dancing, aikido--and have had friends actually suggest guys not as prospective boyfriends but as cuddle buddies. Suffice it to say, all this has left me still wanting (and rolling my eyes).
Enter salvation: The Korean Spa.
On a blustery but sunny October afternoon, I officiated the wedding of one of my dearest friends...and also served as a bridesmaid. When the bride first conceived of the dual-role minister/bridesmaid, she envisioned me processing down the aisle along with the other two bridesmaids (all three of us in matching dresses), and branching off as we reached the front and turning right as the others turned left, to position myself front and center for the ceremony. As much as I desired to be the accommodating bridesmaid and helpful pastor, the thought of officiating in a bridesmaid's dress caused me physical distress. I asked politely if the bride didn't think it would be more aesthetically pleasing to have me in my neutral black robe, a simple canvas upon which the bride and groom could paint the colors of their new union. In my dress, I continued, I would be a distraction, a disruption to the romantic scene of her childhood imaginings. No, she insisted, that didn't matter at all. What mattered was that she loved me, wanted me to be her bridesmaid, and wanted me to be no different than the other bridesmaids.
“But I am different from you; I'm a minister!” I croaked, trying hard to articulate my perspective. “ I am marrying you by virtue of my vocation,” I continued, clearly aware that I sounded both obnoxious and pleading, “... and that vocation imparts a certain kind of authority.” And, in desperation, I added, “It will make your fiancé’s religious parents happy to see a real minister performing your ceremony, not someone who received their officiant credentials online.” Ugh. It was embarrassing, and my friend was utterly gracious. A few days later, she sent me an email, “Matt and I finally agree on something about this wedding: we want you to wear whatever will make you feel most comfortable.” I was ashamed of my behavior, but more than that, I was just relieved.
Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, the highly-publicized book by megachurch superstar/pastor Rob Bell, arrived on my doorstep in the same Amazon delivery as Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. The heft of the books and the size of the type on their pages led me to an initial comparison: Peterson’s is 320 pages of thick prose that tells the story of a lifetime in the pastorate. Bell may have higher celebrity status than Peterson, but he is at least a generation younger, with far fewer years of experience. His book barely reaches 200 small pages, and that’s only because the type is so big. I’ve long been a fan of Bell’s Nooma video series, but this was my first foray into his written work, and I have to admit that I judged the book by the cover (or, by the font size).
Peterson’s own endorsement on the front flap of Love Wins was my first clue that there is much more depth to this little book than its word count lets on.
There has been no shortage of controversy surrounding Love Wins, which challenges a classical Christian understanding that anyone who does not confess a faith in Jesus Christ is doomed to eternal damnation in hell. Even before its release, the blogosphere exploded with both criticism and support, most responding to a publicity video in which Bell raised the questions: Could it really be that Mahatma Ghandi is in hell? If we need Jesus to rescue us from God’s wrath, what does that say about the character of God? Why would we want anything to do with that God? The Good News, Bell concludes, is actually better than that.