I was a square peg in a round hole in church. I didn't feel good enough for church since I was 13 years old. If you're from Brooklyn, the F word was part of the vernacular; and I didn't do frilly or pot lucks. As a child, I strived to be perfect for God. Perhaps not good enough originated at my confirmation party...
With my new confirmation Bible in hand, and wearing the pure white dress I made myself, this was occasion to celebrate. Confirmation was a rite of passage, indicating you were almost grown up. And you didn't have to go to Sunday School anymore. Seeing as I was almost grown up at a party celebrating me, I did what seemed the next indicated thing.
I asked my parents if I could have my first drink.
Both parents said yes -- If I promised not to tell the other parent. And yes to another round. Do the math. I hiccuped the whole way home in the backseat of the Turquoise LeMans with the black vinyl top, once owned by Danny Thomas. And so ended my perfect run of perfect church goer with perfect attendance and the pins to show for it. It only got worse.
In Brooklyn, the F word was part of the vernacular; and I didn't do frilly or pot lucks. Boyfriends really put a squash on it. In time, I identified as a bad Christian . Whenever invited to church, I respectfully declined by saying, *Thanks, but no thanks. I'm a bad Christian.
I still told the truth.
That's how it's been for me and Christianity. Part of the Christian story kept me coming back off and on through the years, but not regularly. It connected me to something deep within that can't be described using words. At the same time, I didn't connect to its culture as I knew it. I tried too. There were too many shoulds. Too many boxes I'd never fit into. Too many expectations that didn't leave enough room to allow the journey's unfolding. I needed the freedom to grow and learn and create the life God had put in front of me. It was just too organized. Too scripted. I am so not organized.
Or at least that's how I imagined or projected it was - how I assumed 'they' expected me to be. I made an appearance now and then, and that's all. Working the cookie sale was off limits.
I'm on the other side of the fence now. Today, I'm the pastor's wife. And it looks nothing like what I imagined from here. I don't have those expectations of other people, nor does my husband. That's not how we look at people - or life.
I don't even have to attend church if I don't want to. I could watch Oprah's Soul Sundays each day and call it good. That's the lazy man's way out. I've come to find gems inside this world I hadn't seen before. The real jewel in this church life - and one I didn't expect - is seeing the same faces each week. Faces that make up a room of love from different generations - and even understandings of their Christian path. True community. I used to think everyone looked at church the same - and I was wrong.
What they share is this place they meet. And a God that's bigger than them. And friendship. And prayers for the other. And singing together. And the fundamental understanding they are spiritual beings being human. In other words, there's a whole lot more to this life than meets the eye. That's what it gets down to. They each practice their walk differently. It's my guess they imagine God differently too. They have a collective agreement to share fundamental beliefs. But, unless they're not thinking, they know we only know what we know. After all, what we choose to believe is based on faith and trust, not certainty. That's kinda the point. Even Peter made this clear in scripture.
Faith is a choice to believe something we hope is true. Or the result of experiences so far beyond our understanding that the only explanation that comes close to making sense is God. Both good reasons for faith. But when you get down to it - it's a shared spiritual path that everyone wants to make sense of.
It's a sweet journey together. Who doesn't want hope?
This church life is more like a John Irving novel than a Norman Rockwell painting. Don't let the white clapboard and steeple fool you. I wouldn't trade anything for Madge's blunt truth each Sunday, or Jack's barreling voice traveling across the sanctuary airwaves. He can't carry a tune if his life depended on it, but it lights up our hearts. The smile on Pete's face, and the joy in his spirit as he sings, makes me feel like God is right there with us reminding me of the sublime beauty and random quirkyness that make this wonderful world whole. I might catch a glimpse of Heather and Irene rocking to the beat of a song the older folks aren't sure what to do with.
Each one is a special and cherished part of my life these days...and there are many more in this room who have made my life richer since we arrived. So unexpected. Particularly since some don't appreciate my presence. I think I mess with their idea of what a pastor's wife is supposed to be. I'm probably a great disappointment to them.
Sometimes I want to leave. Being disapproved of hurts when I work so hard to please them. A woman can feel invisible in some churches. I can't change it. In a traditional church, a pastor's wife can be blamed, scapegoated, or accused of everything from interfering with the church rummage sale, to putting lipstick on during the sermon. Conflicting expectations are so dangerous.
Rummage sale: not even a little guilty.
Lipstick: Guilty as charged. Geez.
My lips were dry. I had three hours sleep creating the service.
Sermon was ending. I was about to hug the entire congregation at the door.
Damn, if I wasn't going to put some lipstick on.
Actually, it was gloss.
I was dehydrated and looked like hell. Felt like it too.
Lipstick is not a sin. Or is it?
Was this vanity?
It was thirst.
Not a sin.
Not belonging is painful. Especially in a new place at middle age -- I'd hoped this would feel like family, but there was conflict, not everyone liked me, we wanted different things, and some men thought women shouldn't lead -- and then I remembered --
This is exactly like family!
Be careful what you ask for. ;)
I will just keep doing my part and remind myself a squeaky wheel can feel like everyone. It's not.
I love the sweet laughter that fills this holy room on Sunday mornings - even if I'm shaking in my boots each time I walk in the door. It's hard not to wonder what criticism those who look for it will find in me each week.
The resentment baffles me. Most days, I choose to not take it personally. Other days it has a life of its own.
Thank you sweet, quirky people of the sanctuary. Each of you reminds me that life is filled with rejection and fear, and balanced with beauty and love. Our job is not to believe someone else's ideas of us anyway. It's true what they say.
What someone thinks of me is none of my business.
What I can do is respond to their fear with love - and keep the love real. I can speak truth to power. I can keep my heart in servant mode, protecting it when necessary. I can reject spiritual attack trying to take me to my knees. It manifests as a shame-based self-loathing I don't deserve. Churchy folk would call this a sin.
Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself. Which implies love is at the heart of being, if we're doing it right. (And loving ourselves too) So, forward ho, I suppose. Love, kindness, and speaking truth to power will move me forward.
Bring it on, personal defect hunters.
I'm ok with being imperfect. My prayer today is: God, make me a catalyst to stretch others beyond their paradigm of what Christians are.
I'm good with that.
There are more people in the world who treasure uniqueness and individual thought, than those who want to bring you down. More who acknowledge and can admit faith as real, and certainty not relevant. That can honor the distinctions of difference, and revel in the gifts it brings. This worldview may someday bring Christianity to its right place in the spiritual landscape.
To a place where our true nature is oneness with all that is, non-duality, which doesn't judge or hate, but shines light. Perhaps we will someday hold in our sights an interior place that knows enlightenment and transformation comes from the journey into this oneness, not by dividing ourselves from it, and all it manifests as life. I imagine this is where Jesus hoped we'd someday be.
See you Sunday morning, sweet and quirky people of the sanctuary! I love you!
This was first posted in 2015. For the record, those squeaky wheels were WD-40'd. Just like in a real family. Gotta love love.
Until the next time,
Peace to your house,