Following Jesus isn't easy…

This morning in my devotion time I read from Matthew 21… the cleansing of the temple. I have been using the daily reading book from The Message and there are always good questions that pull you into the stories and make me think.

This morning, I realized that following Jesus can give a person whiplash. I imagined myself in the midst of the temple, trying to resolve my own guilt and sin, working ou my own salvation, scraping together coins to pay for the doves or goat or whatever I needed for atonement… redemption. I remember this sickening feeling that others were profiting from my mistakes.

And in walks Jesus. I’ve heard about him… seen him once… and before I realize whats happening, the table where my doves were sitting in a cage has been overturned and the birds fly free… the guy who was charging me an arm and a leg for my ticket to redemption is on his heels looking for an exit. I feel so free in that moment… like the birds.

My sin ever present, I need healing as much as the disabled and ill who crowd around him. I press in closer and realize how fortunate I was to have been “in” the system already… I was struggling… but I was not a beggar. I had opportunities many of these never had to be here and connect with God and worship in this temple… and so I fall back and let others move ahead of me.

I want to be close and I want to give others a chance… I want salvation and in a way I feel like simply in the presence of Christ it is already mine.  I feel joyful and free and giddy…

And then the priests come running out. I notice the commotion… birds flying free, goats crapping in a corner, kids running through the building, the wall of people around Jesus.

I… well, ‘m going to say it. I feel a bit ashamed. I’m not entirely sure why, but perhaps it is because these are figures of authority in my life. These have been he agents of God in my life. These are the people who always told me what salvation was. And I feel like I have betrayed them, like we are all doing something wrong.

There is a confrontation between them and Jesus and he turns his face against them and leaves as quickly as he came. And the shame and anxiety and yet residual joy and hope I felt co-mingle and I run after him. I wan to hear what he is saying. I am a flutter of so many emotions and yet I know the truest ones I felt were at his side.

Sometimes as we follow Christ we get a glimpse of possibility… only to have that hope squelched by the world, or parents, or our church… sometimes the people we have loved so dearly and who have loved us so dearly disappoint when it comes to sharing our new hopes. I’ve heard some of those stories recently and as my work… following Jesus… leads me deeper INTO the structure and the “insiders” my prayer is that I never forget that whiplash… never fail to hear Christ’s voice… never overlook those who are thoughtful and hungry and full of ideas and hopes and dreams right next to me for the sake of what I think I’m supposed to be doing. 

Carnival Mirrors

Two summers ago, our family was on vacation at Lake Okaboji in northwest Iowa. We had this tiny little house rented and with six adults and two kids and a baby, we needed to be out and about as much as we could!

One of the days we were there, we went to Arnold’s Park – this lovely little amusement park right on the shores of the lake. As we walked into the main area of the park, we climbed through a tilted house. I remember being inside buildings like this as a child, but something about walking crooked with the ceilings shrinking above you feels very odd and disconcerting as an adult!

And then, the first thing we found inside of the park was the house of mirrors.

My niece grabbed my hand and dragged me to the entrance. As we stood in front of the skinny mirrors and the fat mirrors and the wavy mirrors, she giggled and pointed as the images of each of us transformed into creatures we didn’t recognize. I had mile long legs one minute and a neck as tall as a giraffe the next. We laughed as we told stories about what it would be like to live lives with really tall tummies and itty bitty heads.

However, as an adult I have to admit, these mirrors are a lot less amusing. The distortion of these mirrors brings into greater focus small and insignificant parts of ourselves. They either expand them out of proportion or they reduce them to nothing. Our noses grow fat and wide. Our stomachs suddenly look thin. Or vice versa.

And in doing so – the truth of our bodies comes out. Our thighs might be a little larger than we would like. Our shoulders might be narrower than we assumed. That little gap between your teeth has a spotlight shown on it.

This morning, we are going to explore how Jesus helps us to see the truth in our distorted views of reality.

Charles Campbell is a preaching professor at Duke University and he tells this story about how Jesus would like to shake up our perceptions. Campbell was watching and interview on television with Dr. Phil, the famous tv psychologist. Dr. Phil was asked, “If you could interview anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be?” And immediately, he responded: “Jesus Christ. I would really like to interview Jesus Christ. I would like to have a conversation with him about the meaning of life.”

Well, Campbell was watching this on television and tells of the inner dialogue he was having at the moment. He wanted to shout out at the television and to Dr. Phil: “Oh no, you wouldn’t! You would not want to sit down with Jesus, treat him like an interviewee, and ask him about the meaning of life. You would be crazy to do that. He would turn you upside down and inside out. He would confound all your questions and probably end up telling you to sell everything you own, give the money to the poor, and come, follow me. No, Dr. Phil, you do not really want to interview Jesus, and I do not want to either. It would not go well.”

Jesus sounds like a nice and simple guy… a gentle soul… a friend to walk beside you and share your thoughts with… but in reality, Jesus turns our worlds upside down and inside out. He does the unexpected, he shows up in places we try to stay away from, he loves the unloveable, he calls the unworthy, and he brings us life through his death. And sometimes in doing so, he reveals the most difficult truths about our hearts.

His ways are not our ways – and as we walk with him, we have to be willing to let our distorted views of the world fall by the wayside so that we can see the reality of God’s love.

The main distortion that we encounter when we meet Christ is the false belief that we are good enough, that we have the answers, and that we fully understand God. This is the mirror that makes us look tall and big and fat and grand. It puffs us up, it fills us out, and we start to believe we are more important and more knowledgeable than we really are.

You see, this false understanding of faith, of religion, and of themselves is what got the priests and elders into so much trouble in our gospel reading this morning.

To put this story into context, Jesus had just come into Jerusalem the day before. The long list of things he accomplished that day included: riding into the city on a donkey and in righteous anger overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple. He was literally turning things upside down!

And so when he comes back to the temple the next morning, the religious leaders are in a grumpy mood. They want to know who this guy thinks he is and so they approach him and say very bluntly: Show us your credentials – Who authorized you to teach here?

Oh, those poor leaders. They had no idea what they were about to get themselves into. Jesus may have looked like a country bumpkin rabbi just in from the hills, but they were dealing with the Son of God. And when you ask Jesus questions… you never get the answers you expect.

Instead of giving them an answer – Jesus himself asked them a question. Jesus shed light on the true nature of their question.

Authority.

Who has it? And where does it come from?

These religious leaders had been trained. They had studied long and hard. They spent their days in the temple. They have the full weight of their culture and the institution behind them. They firmly believe that they speak for God.

And if they speak for God, then this man, this ruffian, this Jesus of Nazareth clearly does not. They want to keep things in good order, according to the traditions and the way things have always been.

But Jesus is ready to turn the world upside down.

And so he asks them a question in return: Was the baptism of John from God or from man?

He trapped them.

If they said John’s baptism was from God – then they were legitimizing his movement and in doing so, legitimizing Jesus who stood right before them.

But if they said that it was only from man – then they might have had a riot of the people on their hands… all around them were faithful people who had traveled out to the Jordan river to repent of their sins.

The distortion of their mirrors fell away. They came face to face with the truth. This Jesus did not fit in a box. Their privilege and power were more important to them than the right answer and so they responded simply – we don’t know… hoping it is the end of the story and they can return quickly to the way things were.

But Jesus doesn’t stop talking.

Instead, he tells them a story. The story of two children sent by their father into the vineyard to work. One of them refuses, but goes to work anyway later. One of them says they are going to, but never actually ends up working.
Everyone knows it was the first son who did the father’s will. No questions there.

But Jesus looks the priests and leaders straight in the eye and all false distortions fall away:

“ Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to preced you into God’s kingdom. John came to you showing the right road. You turned your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him.” (The Message 32)
Photo by: Chris
(http://vivid-blog.blogspot.com/2009/05/fun-house-mirrors.html)

Staring into the funhouse mirror, these leaders thought they were being faithful by saying the right words and going through the right motions. But they were so busy looking at the faults of others that they never took the time to see themselves as they truly were. They never took the time to actually live out God’s will. They never stepped away from the mirror to see their own sin and to repent.

As Christians today, that is often our greatest failing. We get so wrapped up in being a part of the church, in wearing the name of Christian, in spouting off moral precepts, that we forget to look at ourselves.

When we let Jesus show us who we truly are… a hard and difficult process… may we have the courage to look away from the mirror and into the eyes of our Savior. May we have the courage to follow him.

But while we are talking about distortions, I think it is also important to look at the flip side of the distortion… the one that makes you look smaller than you really are. That shrinks your head and whittles your body away to nothing and makes you small like a child.

In the story of those two sons, there was the one who said he would obey his father but never did.

And then there is the story of the one who said he wouldn’t.

I always wonder about what makes him say no.

Did he have other things to do? Kids to take to soccer practice, maybe?

Was he planning on other less than noble deeds like going out and getting drunk with his friends?

Did he doubt his ability to actually perform the work?

Was he just being stubborn?

Whatever was going through the first son’s mind… he refused to do the will of his father.

Just as there are many of us who have been in the church from the beginning of our lives, there are many here this morning who took a long time to get here. We had other things to keep us busy, distractions, feelings of unworthiness, and the pride of wanting to do things our own way.

But our false images of ourselves can fall away too. Like the tax collectors and the prostitutes, we can turn around, repent, and say yes… even if we have spent our whole lives up to this point saying no. We can see our true selves, and then lay our lives at the feet of Jesus and follow him.

When we really engage with Jesus, our carnival mirror distortions come into focus. And every single time we find out that he has very little care for what our lives have been in the past but really wants to know if we are going to let go of those funhouse mirrors, take off our false perceptions and see his reality instead. Jesus does not want our distorted image of ourselves… Jesus was us. He wants us to believe in him and to follow him.

As Paul wrote in Philippians, Jesus laid aside his glory to become one of us. He humbled himself even to the point of death on the cross so that each one of us could see the truth – that Jesus is Lord and that he is our reality.

Everything that we do, everything that we have, everything that we are comes from God. That is the truth we find when we look him face to face. He turns our lives upside down and yet does not leave us on unsteady ground.

No, he invites us to join in the heavenly parade of the crooks and the prostitutes, the gamblers and the addicts, the self-righteous and the stubborn… Jesus invites us to take our place among all of those who have said goodbye to their old ways and are now marching joyfully toward heaven.

Amen and Amen.

do I look/act like a pastor?

Today, a young man wandered into our church building and needed a place to sit for a while.  He looked like he was having a hard time and wanted a quiet place to think, pray, wrestle.

I invited him upstairs to our sanctuary and told him he was welcome to stay as long as he needed to.

In the middle of the day, I had to run a few errands, so I crept upstairs to see if he was ready to go.  Bent over in prayer, I didn’t have the heart to ask him to leave.  I let him know I would have to go, but that the door would be unlocked and he could stay in peace. He was grateful… evidently he had already tried another church in town and it had been closed.  I tried to think if any of the other churches would have staff present at that time of day and I honestly wasn’t sure.  It is a small town and pastors are often visiting or in meetings. We can’t all afford full time staff for the office. And often our buildings are closed and locked when there are not people present.  It is a sad, but honest reality.

photo by: Dennis Rassing

About 45 minutes later, I came back in. I checked on him and asked if he was okay.  I asked if he needed anything.  He didn’t really seem to want to talk.  So I left him to sit and made my way back downstairs.

He came down later and asked if the Catholic church in town had a confessional.  I gently explained that our local priest had three congregations and I wasn’t sure if he was here in Marengo today.  He lowered his shoulders and left the building, thanking me for the use of the space.

As a few minutes went by, I wondered why I had not offered to hear his confession.  Mediated individual confession is not something we do often in the Wesleyan traditions.  Often, our prayers are between us and God and the presence of a pastor/priest is not always considered.  We corporately offer confession and we leave space for silent individual confession, but it is not thought of as a means of grace in the same way it is in other traditions.  It didn’t cross my mind, to be honest. Well, not until he was already gone. Maybe I doubted my ability to offer what he was looking for.

But then I began to wonder if he had even thought of me as a pastor.  He walked into the church and saw me sitting behind a desk.  I could have been anyone.  A secretary, a volunteer.  Was there anything about me that would have led him to believe that I was someone who was willing and able to offer forgiveness and grace to him?  That I have been called to God to offer prayer and time and the word with him?  Or did he simply see a nice young woman sitting behind a desk, who offered a place to sit for a while?  As he asked about the local Catholic church, was his background such that he would have even considered a female to be someone he could talk with about what was on his mind?

For the first time in a long time, I wished that I had been wearing a clerical collar in the office.  I wished I had a name tag on that said “Pastor Katie.” I know I told him my name and I asked for his, but now I can’t remember if I had mentioned I was the pastor. We don’t normally have folks walk in off the street, but it does happen.  And I want them to know that I am here for them… and in a small town like this, I want them to know that a pastor is available and willing to minister to them in whatever way that they need. In some ways, I feel like I failed in that today. I take a lot for granted and I get comfortable in my own skin in the office.  I didn’t think intentionally about carving out space for my pastoral role regarding this particular person.

But then again, maybe space was all he needed. A friendly face, a non-judgmental smile, a place to sit.

That young man remains in my prayers.  I don’t know where he came from or where he is going. I pray that although I wasn’t the person he turned to, and although I might not have responded the way I should have, that he will find the peace and the comfort that he is seeking.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

The world we live in today has radically changed.

The people in the world have changed.

And we haven’t quite figured out what that means… yet.

At the risk of sounding like an old, worn out, cranky person, I can’t figure out what is wrong with kids these days.

That’s at least where this post starts from.  A frustration with the young people I work with week to week in youth group.  They are energetic, quick to pick fights, easily berate and offend one another, like to have fun, push buttons, and exhaust me on Wednesday nights.

I’m not trained to be a youth minister.  And the lack of respect for us as leaders and for one another as peers really drains and frustrates me.  I’m not sure how to respond, how to build the trust that leads to respect, how to encourage them to think about what another person is going through.  I’m stuck.  But I love these kids and I’m going to keep at it.

What I have realized however, is that this is not just a problem I’m having with one particular group of kids.

Lack of respect is a larger societal problem.

And I think it has everything to do with authority.

I had read Carol Howard Merritt’s Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation a couple of months ago.  In her book, she talks about the diffusion of authority, the growth of grassroots and networked communities.

I love this reality.  I love the fact that more people have a voice and power and the ability to determine their own destiny.

Yet at the same time, I live in institutional structures that depend on authority and respect in order to work.

The role of the pastor used to carry with it respect and authority.  The pastor was a leader in the community and people listened to what the pastor said.  That is not the case, today, as people double check what their pastor says with what the latest television evangelist or popular religion book says.  On the one hand, I applaud these efforts.  But it makes it awfully hard to encourage my church to think in a new way when they keep hearing different messages from other places.

But not only pastors have this problem.  So do teachers.  So do medical professionals.  So do scientists.  So do community leaders.  As power is distributed and shared, as knowledge is filtered downward, everyone thinks they know it all… or at the very least have access to the information.

Take the field of medicine for example.  I’m not feeling well and so I check some online database and think I know what I have.  So I go to my doctor and present my symptoms and now I have colored my answers with what I think I have.  If my doctor suggest something else or running tests, I look for a second opinion.  My doctor has to worry about me suing them or governmental laws and regulations and their own paychecks.

The fact that we all have power means that we no longer trust and respect one another.  We are quick to assume the worst.  We are not willing to see another person as our partner, but as a threat to what we know and believe and hold to be true.
We are living in this strange “inbetween” place. The postmodern diffusion of authority is a good thing… but our society has not yet fully adapted and been transformed to this new reality. We are living with feet in both worlds – one in which we have power and knowledge and another where there are experts in their field who have answers we need.
The simple truth is… we need experts.  We need people who truly focus and go deep in certain areas of knowledge to ask questions you can only ask and answer if you live in that field.
I cannot spend my lifetime becoming proficient in Greek and weather patterns and geometry and quantum mechanics and the policy implications of petroleum based energy.

But for the decisions I make in my daily life, I might need access to that knowledge.

So, we need conversation.  We need a two-way path between those who know things and those who have questions and insights from another perspective.
That cannot happen unless we respect one another.  Unless we can ask questions without demonizing.  Unless we can see the person sitting next to us as a human being who has just as much claim and voice and power as we do . Unless we are willing to assume that someone else just might have our best interests in mind. And unless we are ourselves willing to learn, to be taught, and to work for the common good.

What does all of this mean for postmodern youth ministry?

I think first of all it means that I have to respect the experiences and struggles that my youth are experiencing.  I need to hear what they say and make sure they have a voice and are heard.
This entails not only personally listening, but also making sure that they are heard and respected by one another.  The “how” of this first point is something I’m still working out.  It works much better in smaller groups, but we just don’t have the number of adults needed to have small groups.
This has practical implications for how we plan our activities, the kind of ownership we give to our youth, and the rules/covenant we make with one another.

Second, as adults, we have to build our own trust with the youth from scratch.  It doesn’t just come with the job.  Just because I am 10-15 years older than they are and I’m a pastor does not mean they will listen to me. And every mistake, every slip up, will set us back all the way to the beginning.

This is part of the reality of our “inbetween times.”  We simply wait for authority to rub us the wrong way and their cred is completely gone.  Discounted.  Done. If a teacher makes one mistake, they are colored that way forever.  If a pastor says something you don’t like or agree with, you are out the door or stop giving. If a doctor makes one mistake, the patient goes elsewhere. There is no room for grace with the limited authority figures we do have.

Third, we need a structure and a covenant to get us through this. Respect is not going to be the first impulse of our relationships with one another and so we need to find ways of holding one another accountable.  At the beginning of this school year, we worked hard to make a list of five things we would all agree to do in our life together.

But it has to stick.  Our kids have to believe in what those things say.  We as adults have to live by those rules ourselves.  And we need to revisit it on a regular basis to remind ourselves of who we are and why we are here.
I don’t have the answers to this problem.  Part of me wants to start from scratch, because what we are currently doing in our programs and relationship building is not working.  All I do know is that our respect for one another, our ability to honor the authority each person brings, has to be the foundation for any work we do with one another.

the world is my parish

Bishop Trimble recently reminded a group of young clergy that we are not appointed to congregations… we are appointed to communities.

It was something I had not really considered before he made that statement… and it was a refreshing thought.

In many ways, I had assumed that my ministry was both in my church and in the community that surrounds it.  That’s kind of the way my missionally-minded brain works.

But since he spoke them out loud, I have really taken his words to heart and have felt emboldened in the work I do “out there.”

If I’m honest, it might be one of my favorite parts of my job.

Way back when… okay, only three or four years ago… wait… holy crap… seven or eight years ago!… I thought I was called to be a deacon.  I felt that my ministry was as much about being out in the world as it ever was to be in a congregation.  I heard God calling me to be a bridge between the church and the world.  And that is the essence of what I understood the ministry of a deacon to be.

But then this little whisper started to tug at my soul.  It was the sacraments.  The bread and the wine and the water kept speaking to me.  And then they took hold.  My ministry might include the world… but God was also calling me to use the church as the vehicle of my ministry.  God was calling me to break bread as much as he was calling me to break barriers.

Long story short… my journey has come full circle.  I am now an ordained elder with sacramental authority AND I get to work in my community. God had a plan long before I could ever see it or understand it.
I’ve blogged before about my outreach and relationship building through funerals and weddings in the larger community. I have been the main organizer around the community worship in the park for the last two years – an amazing opportunity to share in worship with one another AND to share in the one loaf and the one cup.
What I have not done as well in my first three years of ministry was to get involved actively transforming the community.  But this year, my work with youth got to me.  I realized I had to go deeper to help them.  And somehow I’m now on a school improvement advisory committee and hosting an ongoing conversation about how the community can better support and encourage our youth.
This work is so completely different from what I do on a day to day basis in the church. Much of that difference has to do with having the authority of a pastor.

My ministry in my congregation is ministry “with”  not ministry “for.” I am not someone who throws around my weight… instead I see my role as empowering my people to do ministry themselves.  I would rather work alongside my parishoners than lead them.

But in the community, the role of the pastor takes on a different flavor.  As one youth parent said a couple of weeks ago, “When I go to the school office and talk about a problem, it’s more of the same.  When Pastor Katie says something, they listen.”

To be honest, that authority scares me a little.  But it is also exciting.  God has put me in a place where I can speak on behalf of these parents and I have a powerful voice.  God has put me in a place where I can make connections between people and provide a literal space for those new relationships. God has put me in a place where I have a real and tangible ability to make a difference.

Tonight, our little community group met again.  And while the start of this journey is small and the momentum is slow, I can already sense the possibilities.  I am energized by the true and living hope that God is doing something in Marengo.  And I pray with thanksgiving that I get to be a part of that work.

Taking Authority

In her book Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation, Carol Howard Merritt discusses the “diffusion of authority,” the empowerment of the fringes, and the “celebration of noncelebrity” in her chapter on Redistributing Authority.

As I read those words, I began to feel a strange sense of validation for what I am doing.  I have a voice.  I have the ability to write.  I have a conversation that I want to start.  I want to participate.  But I don’t want to do it alone.

This whole blogging adventure has been, fundamentally, about maintaining the connections with colleagues and schools of thought that have fed my theological and ecclesiastical development.  It is about hanging on tightly to those threads of tradition that have sustained my faith.  It is about picking up pieces scrapped by others, deemed unworthy, and trying to figure out what we need to hear about God from them.

And at times, it seems silly.

At times, I find myself floundering around, trying to make sense of the world around me.
At times, I’m wrestling by myself with questions that have no real answers.
At times, I feel a little overwhelmed by the system and all of the things that I am supposed to do, all of the details of ministry.
At times, I really do not have the time to be a part of this kind of time intensive dialogue.
At times, I don’t have the energy to fight the man and to call out the parts of our tradition and practice that trouble me.
And at times, I really really really want to share something and it’s not appropriate to do so yet.  Not enough time and space has passed to allow the insights of a particular experience to be shared.
So I give up here and there.  I flounder.  I don’t claim the authority I do have.  I feel that what I’m doing here is not really very important.
But then, today, I find myself surrounded by colleagues in ministry at an orders event and suddenly my name is called out for all to hear.  Someone has pointed to my blog as a place where vital theological reflection by United Methodists is being done.

And I feel humbled.

And a little embarassed.

And more than a little encouraged to keep doing what I am doing.
To take authority.
To keep writing.

To keep thinking.

To continue the conversation.

To accept that although I may be a young pastor, a small town pastor, someone on the fringe, someone who hasn’t yet put in my years, that I still have something worthy to say.

To give myself space and permission to keep writing.

robed authority

I was blessed to officiate the wedding of my friends recently.  And up until five minutes before the wedding, I couldn’t decide if I would wear my robe or not.

You see, I had packed the robe.  And I was most assuredly wearing the stole.  But the robe was an additional layer of formality, of tradition, of authority… that I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to assume at the time.

There is this great debate it seems among pastors about whether we should robe or not.  As a woman, I have often argued that wearing a robe keeps people from being distracted by what we are wearing.  It adds some authority simply by the fact that you are wearing something different from what everyone else is wearing.
But that in itself is also a reason to discard the robe when you are trying to be in ministry with people. It is a barrier between you and everyone else. It makes you distinct. Which in certain circumstances actually helps to conveys your authority and then I’m back to wearing the robe.

This was the inner dialogue I was having about ten minutes before the wedding – which ended when a family member said he was having a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that I was one of the college friends and yet also had authority to do the wedding… I put on the robe.  The authority and not the college student was the only image left to put out there… which of course also meant that when the ceremony was finished and the robe got put away, I felt more than comfortable dancing to “Love Shack” with everyone else.

You know how lawyers in England still wear fancy wigs when they are doing their official business in the courtroom?  It’s a trapping of tradition and old sentimentality… and yet it also marks what they are doing as important.  It sets that part of their life aside as distinct from the rest of their work and play.

I know that I allow myself to become something more… something different when that stole is draped over my shoulders. I read scripture in a different way.  I preach and the words become more than what they were an hour before as I was practicing them at home.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Colossians 3:12-14

Putting on the stole and the robe are ways of taking on God’s authority, of literally wearing a symbol of compassion and gentleness.  It is a uniform, as much as a police officer’s uniform is… it conveys my role and my task in that place.

Does a police officer stop being a police officer when the uniform is gone?  Or a surgeon when she takes off the scrubs?  Or a lawyer when the suit is hanging up in the closet?  Yes and no… sometimes we simply put on other hats and become wives and dads and little league coaches instead.  But I think that deep down, once we put on a vocation – a persona – we can’t really take it off.

Once I have put on this authority that Christ gave me, once I have put on kindness and patience and forgiveness – they aren’t really things that I can take off again.  Once I have put on love… it is there to stay.  Perhaps it is just easier for others to see with the robe on.

being hit on

**note: this post feels really disjointed.  I’ve been thinking about writing this for days now and it is just as scattered as my thoughts on this are. So bear with me.**

Three times in the past week I have been “hit on” in our little town. Never mind the rings on my finger indicating my married status.  Never mind the fact that I’m a minister and did 18 funerals last year in this little town. Never mind the fact that I’m pretty sure I’m half the age of some of these dudes. 

It always happens at the strangest times and in the strangest places.  Paying for my breakfast at the cafe.  In the soup aisle at the grocery store. Someone walks up and makes a little comment and I feel embarrased and frustrated and I try to be polite and brush it off but what I really want to do is scream, “INAPPROPRIATE!”

Maybe it’s because I’m showing off more leg with my knee length skirts now that it is summer.  Maybe it’s because my husband isn’t attached to my hip 24/7 and we kind of do our own thing when we aren’t home. Maybe it’s because I… why am I assuming it has something to do with me?

I guess I thought that the ring would protect me from advances.  I admit that I’m grateful to have married my high school sweetheart – because I really haven’t had to mess with the dating scene. But the truth is… are women EVER able to stay away from guys hitting on them?

Being a pastor also adds an additional layer of complication.  In seminary and in conversations with mentors I have always been taught that pastors should be friendly, but not friends with people in their congregation. And for the most part that has worked. It also helps that I have a network of friends outside of the community and I don’t feel the need to be best friends with people in the church. We have a work relationship, we have a pastor/parishoner relationship… and that’s good.

But what does that maxim mean for people outside the congregation? If I’m friendly to the guy in the coffee shop, he thinks I’m flirting with him. Or is he just being friendly back and I’m misinterpreting it? No, definately not.  His response was definately not appropriate.

In the back of my head, I’m aware that at any moment, someone in this town could pass away and anyone in this community could become my parishoner.  Someone might be getting married this summer and they will be at the wedding and they will in that sense be my parishoner.  I’m not a community chaplain, but I’m also not going to turn people from the community away when they come knocking. In everything that I do in the community, I try to wear my professional hat and be the pastor.

But then I run to the grocery store in a tank top and jogging shorts to get hamburger buns for dinner and someone hits on me.

I refuse to dress like a grandma just so people won’t notice me. I desperately want to feel like a normal person some days.  But c’mon people – it’s not okay to hit on a pastor in the soup aisle.