Dry-Cleaning Gratitude

Being a pastor is a weird job. I love the freedom to read, plan worship, talk with interesting people, and sit with scripture and the tradition. But sometimes I just have to laugh at myself and at any expectation I have or someone else might have that I can come up with a spiritual word or reflection. Some weeks the consciousness feels clearer, a gift of the Spirit, and usually a result of time spent reading good words, sitting in silence– God’s primary language– or with loving friends. But what about those other weeks, the weeks like this one where I don’t have childcare and I feel my children and their needs pressed up against me, inseparable from the August heat?
I wake up groggy and Perl is cranky, using her “small voice” demanding apple juice in a sippy cup and determined to change out of her pajamas with flowers on them to pajamas with monkeys on them even as I explain that it is daytime and so we should really be putting on regular clothes. In the end I cave and just let her dress herself and she walks around in nothing but soft blue elastic-waisted pajama shorts pulled up to midchest and a pair of lime green sandals. Richie comments that she looks like a retiree in Florida. Later she dons a string of pearls. 
I imagine most of us have situations that push us back to our own version of the small, whiny voice within. Our own challenges and frustrations feel like big rock formations encircling a valley of despair, loneliness, and at times self-pity. Ironically the only path I can find up and out of the valley is compassion for myself, what wisdom teachers call “Compassionate self-observation.” Don’t try to force a change in attitude, just observe the dark stuff and don’t hold on to it. And sometimes, when I do that, life provides situations that help me reconnect to gratitude and the dark stuff shifts at least for a moment and I can see my next step on the path.
On Monday I gave myself permission to do whatever it took to make it through the day with small children, so that meant we went to Taco Cabana for lunch. And I had a large Diet Dr. Pepper in lieu of a much desired nap (sorry new baby). As we left I noticed a dry cleaner across the parking lot and remembered the soiled cushion cover in the back of the car needing some attention after one of the children from our Montessori preschool co-op spread Aquaphor (which is basically non-petroleum derived Vaseline) all over our new vintage chair. So I drove 20 yards and parked, feeling grumpy in the 107 degree heat as I unbuckled my kids again from their seats and we went inside, where it was even hotter. They had all the doors open and no air conditioning on and the poor man who rang up my order was soaking wet.
He was kind enough to let us use their bathroom, even though it was clearly not meant for the general public. And so we went, like a parade of very pregnant and small people, through the back room filled with clinking irons and steam machines and equipment that hissed and sputtered. There were about six people working back there and most of them looked like they had just stepped out of a shower with all of their clothes on. It was hotter and wetter than a sauna and by the time we emerged from the restroom a few minutes later all three of us had very pink cheeks and sweaty brows. This was my gratitude reality check.
As I buckled Coleman back into his seat I explained that mommy and daddy were lucky to have jobs that we both really enjoy and where we get to work in comfortable conditions. I swear I even felt a shift in the energy of my little people as the AC in the car cranked into high gear, and they seemed more appreciative than before. And then, gracias a Dios, they fell asleep, and after they got in a good nap we made it through the rest of our day.
This week at Church in the Cliff we are talking about
emergent church experiences with Janalee, Stephanie Maxson, Lisa and others sharing some of their story. I still don’t have a good short definition for “emergent” but one feature of emergent communities that I do understand is an emphasis on authenticity.  Say goodbye to Saturday night/Sunday morning Christian dynamics: we are called to be our whole selves all the time.
I find the focus on authenticity very comforting. It means I can be a cranky mother of young children and a pastor. I can be exhausted and barely put together whole sentences one day and able to articulate complex theological arguments on another. I can enjoy cooking and making art and being sweet to my husband sometimes, and other times just want to lock my bedroom doors and take a nap all by myself or watch Madmen on Netflix and eat popcorn and drink ginger ale. I don’t have to pretend to be loving or profound or self-less all the time but rather can just pray that God use all my pieces, including the ones that seem to me less worthy or interesting.
As a church that is ecu-mergent I think we are on a similar journey toward integration. I look forward to talking about it more tonight and Sunday with you all.
Joy and good things,
PS Tamales and conversation tonight at our place, 2515 Gladiolus Lane Dallas 75233. 6:30pm. new and old friends welcome!


Adam asked me to share info about this upcoming Brite Event which looks important and right up our alley. Anybody want to go? I likely will have a newborn by then, but would love to support it and hear a full report.

Beyond Apologetics:
Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 7:00pm
Robert Carr Chapel at Brite Divinity School
Cost: Free and open
Beyond Apologetics is a symposium of scholars and practitioners who are committed to developing a new generation of thought and practice for ministry with transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay people. The work of participants is based upon the belief that it is time to move beyond an “apologetics of inclusion” to develop theologies and practices that recognize, respect, and integrate the realities of GLBT experiences and new scholarly insights emerging from these communities. Institutional support for the symposium is provided by Brite Divintiy School and Phillips Theological Seminary and funded by a grant from the Carpenter Foundation.


Church in the Cliff Board 


Ross Prater, Moderator
Damon Petite, Treasurer
Kristin Schutz, Clerk
James Fairchild, Trustee
Cara Stoneham, Trustee


Please contact Kristin Schutz, clerk at kristinl.schutz@gmail.com or moderator Ross Prater, at pprate@verizon.net with any questions or feedback.


Comments 2

  1. Richard Rohr (who is pretty much my favorite contemporary religious thinker) has summarized ten characteristics of the emerging church movement that really resonate with me and that remind me in some ways of what our church is doing. A few that are particularly meaningful for me are:

    -“Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.”
    -“Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.”
    -“Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (which will take care of itself).”

    A few of his emerging church principles that I think accurately describe our church are:

    -“Inviting questions is to be valued more than supplying answers.”
    -“Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.”
    -“Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.”

    The entire list was printed in a newsletter published by the Center for Action and Contemplation, which can be found here: http://www.cacradicalgrace.org/rg/issues/2010/1/RG_2010_Q1.pdf. It’s on page 22. The whole newsletter is devoted to exploring the idea of emerging Christianity and has lots of good stuff in it.

    Hopefully these thoughts will add to our “emergent conversation” . . .


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