Monday, March 10, 2014

Darned if you do . . . darned if you don't

I read an article online today about how to spot emotionally healthy leaders.  The article itself was fine but it reminded me of a pet peeve I have these days.

#5 says that emotionally healthy leaders are "able to say no."  #7 says that these leaders "have a record of giving their all."

I've got no problem with the idea that healthy leaders can do both those things.  My problem is with the reaction they often get from other people--meaning us--when they choose not to give their all in some particular area and to say no instead.

I know people who have impeccable boundaries--not many, but a few--who are crystal clear about where they are investing their lives and therefore are also crystal clear about all the good things they need to say no to and I also know that they catch a lot of flak for having the audacity to say no so often and to such good things.  More often than you might think, I almost get whiplash in a conversation in which someone is encouraging me to slow down and say no more often and then criticizes another person for not stepping up to a pet project.   And of course, the decision to say no or to give one's all belongs completely to the person making the decision.  But it seems to me that it's not fair for us to say that people should have the right to say no when what we really mean is "except for to me or about the stuff I value."

So, yes . . . let's all take on the wisdom of finding the balance between saying no when we need to and giving our all when we're called to but let's also offer that same grace to others when they need to say no.  Even if it's to me.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ashes to ashes

I was really pleased by my Baptist heritage tonight.  We went to our new church for Ash Wednesday along with about 40 other people, gathering in the frigid sanctuary for melancholy singing and Scripture readings.  When it came time for the imposition of ashes, I sat forward, ready to stand and go forward so that our minister could make the sign of the cross on my forehead and say the words that usher in the Lenten season, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."

But then he came down from the platform (we Baptists don't have chancels) and explained that we would give and receive the ashes to and from each other.  He started with his wife, gave her the ashes and she turned to the woman next to her, holding a new baby, who then took the ashes (the woman, not the baby) and administered them to a man sitting behind her who then gave them to the elderly woman next to him and so on and so on.

There was the very faint murmur of voices . . . "remember that you are dust" . . . and a little giggling when the ashes got to the youth group . . . and the creak of pews as people stood and faced each other and made the sign of the cross on the foreheads of strangers and friends.

My first reaction: that's not how it's supposed to be done.  My next reaction flooded me with warmth:  well, of course that's how Baptists would do Ash Wednesday; of course we would share the ashes with each other, each of us a priest to the other.   (Of course, Baptists of old would be appalled by the imposition of ashes at all--so Roman, so popish--but we've come a long way.)

I've been reading lately about the polity of other Christian traditions and I can see the wisdom in much of what I've read but I realized tonight that I am still a Baptist girl through and through--part of a church that just barely still remembers the old ideas of soul competency and the priesthood of the believer and the equality of each member of the body of Christ.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A year later . . .

Can it really be a year since we left the pastorate?  A year?  Really?

One year ago, after 28 years together in ministry, we walked hand in hand up the center aisle of our church--the church C had pastored for 6 years--and we said goodbye.  We said goodbye to people we had come to love and to a church building that held so many good memories but we also said goodbye to a way of life.

The life of a pastor is a unique one.  It is not more stressful or more difficult than other lives but it is different.  The expectations on a pastor and his or her family are unique.  If C had worked for NASA or Dell, no one would have cared much about what his wife wore to church or where his kids went to school.  No one would have wanted to scrutinize his beliefs or dictate his politics.  He wouldn't have been invited into the most sacred spaces of people's lives--birth and death and illness and marriage.  We wouldn't have lived in a fishbowl but we also might not have lived in the embrace of a loving faith community.

Truly, I loved being a pastor's wife.

I loved the front-row seat for God-at-work in people's lives.  I loved the ready-made friendships.  I enjoyed the hospitality, both giving and receiving.  I took advantage of the bully pulpit occasionally and I was grateful for that opportunity.  I loved working alongside some of the best people in the world in years and years of VBS and Bible studies and women's ministry and Sunday School and worship services and Christmas cantatas.

I truly loved being a pastor's wife . . . and I don't miss it.

When we moved into our new house, the first thing I took to Goodwill was the punch bowl.  It never was very practical, since my entertaining was more likely to involve Dr. Pepper than sherbet punch but it was a symbol of my pastor's wife life.  I've exchanged the fishbowl for anonymity at church and while I was grateful for the easy entrĂ© into church life in the past, I don't mind that no one cares whether I wear a dress to church or notices whether I stop and speak to them or even knows who I am.  We actually attended a church business meeting last week and it was surreal not to know the emotional backdrop of the decisions we were making.

I think I will miss it someday.  At heart, we will always be pastors, I think.  I know that C misses preaching and so who knows what the future holds?  But for now, I enjoy having Sundays that actually feel like Sabbaths.  I like having my husband at home most evenings, especially Saturdays, since he isn't distracted by all that will happen the next day at church.  I like looking at church opportunities and thinking about what I want to do instead of what I am expected to do, not that I was ever all that great at meeting expectations!

And what is really strange . . . it's been a year!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

You are now leaving the comfort zone

I had worked hard all day and I was tired and hungry.  I had been thinking since breakfast about a Subway sandwich, tuna on white with pickles and green pepper.  As I reached my neighborhood, I pulled into the parking lot and reached for my purse.

Then I saw the group of Hispanic teenagers standing around the door to the restaurant.  They were likely high school students from the charter school across the street.  You could say that they were dressed in gangsta style; you could also say that they were dressed like kids dress today.  You could say that they were rowdy and disruptive; you could also say that they were laughing and having a good time.  I thought about walking through that group of kids to get to the door and started to have second thoughts about getting a sandwich.

Then I looked up and saw a black man walking toward my car.  He was about my age, casually dressed, smoking something that wasn't a cigarette you could buy at a store and he was walking toward me, his eyes locked on mine.  I drove away, then felt ashamed.

Our new neighborhood is majority-minority and mostly working class.  It was built as a Jewish community in the early 70s and now reflects the demographics of our city.  While the neighborhood itself is middle class, it is literally surrounded by low-income apartment complexes housing new immigrants from Africa and central America as well as locals with similar skin tones.

The hair places near my house advertise braids and wigs.  The grocery store sells as much Hispanic merchandise as it does the things I'm used to and it advertises cuts of meat I'm not familiar with.  The sheriff's office sends notices about crime in our area and I wonder how it compares to other places I've lived.  (I witnessed 5 arrests in the first 5 months we lived here but nothing since then.)   There are an abundance of pawn shops and payday loan places and deep-discount shoe stores and very few national chains.

This means that when I worked out at the gym today, I was the only white person there.  It's the same thing when I go to the grocery store less than a mile from my house or stop at Walgreens for a prescription or go into the library to pick up a book.

All this means that I live outside my comfort zone.  And I'm glad.

We didn't buy our house with any particular demographic information in mind.  We had decided two things:  we would live in the city and we would stay within our budget. We found a really affordable house that we liked a lot, that felt like it could be home.  We love the trees, the neighbors, the cul-de-sac, the proximity to our work and to stores and restaurants.

I didn't plan on confronting my prejudices and fears on a daily basis but that's what happens.  I didn't sign up for experiences in what it feels like to be "the other" but it's what life sometimes feels like here in the southwest part of our city.

And yet, I can drive a mile or two and everything changes.  On the way to church, there is a grocery store where most people--more than half--look like me.  On my way to work, the surroundings gradually change until things look like what I'm used to with all the national chains that comfort me.  Sometimes I think, "It would be easier to go to those stores, to go to that Walgreens, to switch to that library."  I would feel more comfortable, more at ease.  I hope that changes, that eventually I am so at home in my own neighborhood that I wouldn't feel more comfortable somewhere else.

In the meantime, I'm letting my neighborhood confront me.  Noticing my fears and my prejudices and holding them out for change.  Smiling at people and enjoying them smiling back.  Enjoying the different languages and hairstyles and food choices and slang.  Thinking, "This is my neighborhood.  This is where I belong."