church leadership, race and a question i was asked

wordcloudI was sitting alone in the parish hall of Ascension on Christmas Eve, when someone approached and asked if they could join me. We talked of this and that for a while and then they changed the subject and asked me a remarkable question.They prefaced it with a set of warm compliments about their assessment of me as a leader. Then the question was gently but honestly put on the table: “Have you found it difficult to obtain rectorships in our church body, as a person of color?”

The question took me by surprise but what surprised me even more was my initial internal response. I immediately wanted to defend my church from any charge of racism. I wanted to point to the election of bishop Curry as a sign of how far we’ve come. I wanted to avoid having a conversation about race and leadership, especially in the church and all the more if that conversation involved me.

I took note of my first feelings but made an attempt to reply to the question. Before I got very far into my response our conversation was interrupted. I admit that I was relieved to be given an “out” from the subject. However now that the question has actually been put to me, I’ve found it difficult not to think about it.

I suspect that I’ve marked the issue as “out of bounds” and undiscussable for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s hard to discuss race in America without hitting the familiar land mines that blow to pieces efforts to be honest and sensitive about the topic.
  2. When race and religion are on the table the effort to be honest becomes even more fraught with danger. The Let’s-Be-Nice factor is so high in church settings that hard discussions are even harder to have.
  3. There is my own desire not to offend and my own need to just get along. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that is a part of me that doesn’t want to rock the boat too hard for fear that I might end up in the drink.

Having said all of that, the topic is actively back in play for me for the first time in a long time. The question has compelled me to revisit my experience of leadership and race in my beloved church. Additionally the question has led me to reconsider how I’ve navigated the related issues of leadership and gender in my church. On top of that the question has sparked me to reexamine my theology of leadership.

I don’t know how much of my thinking I want to share publicly on this topic. Yet the topic is live. It is not on the back burner these days. I think I’m in a good enough place emotionally, spiritually and vocationally to delve into this issue. I’m wondering where this will take me. I guess we’ll see.

a knock at the door of my mind

Sometimes there is no darker place than our own thoughts; the moonless midnight of the mind

Sunday I was home in the evening with a pretty bad cold. I had the rare opportunity to have a few hours alone as the family was out doing some fun things with the little one.

It was not an entirely fruitful few hours. At some point the upstairs neighbors were doing what they do, which is to make a lot of noise. I try to excuse this for after all they do have three adults, two small children, two dogs and a partridge in a pear tree in a space that is far too small for them. Despite all my efforts to be forbearing, to excuse and to rationalize, I simply could not get the rest I needed and I was angry at them for it (as if it were somehow their fault).

Then the last thing I really wanted to happen happened. There was a knock at the door of my brain. I opened the door and that was a mistake.

“Hello Carla. We’re so glad to find you at home,” said a voice faking cheerfulness. “Do you mind if we come in? We knew you wouldn’t.”

A train of characters slipped in through the door before I could say anything. The leader of this slipshod crew said by way of introduction, “You remember us, don’t you? The inhabitants of your traumatized psych?”

She went on calmly enough. “We saw that you were alone and we decided this might be a good time for us to drop in. It’s been a long time so let me introduce you to the group.”

“This is your unresolved complex grief over the death of your husband and your parents. She’s been wanting to visit but you keep refusing to answer her calls.” A sad woman dressed in grey nodded meekly.

“Over here is your unspoken set of feelings about your vocational underachievement.” A silent woman, much older than I, with no expression on her face stepped forward.

“Oh yes, and here are your on-going issues around body image.” A woman who looked like me but must have been 7′2″ and weighed over 350 pounds nodded but did meet my gaze.

“And of course what would this meeting be without your silent questions around spirituality and faith.” A pious looking pleasant woman smiled at me.

“I also took the liberty of inviting your insecurities about work and employment and money. I knew you wouldn’t mind if they came along.” A worried looking woman shook her head.

“And we brought along your personal score-keeper. She has been keeping careful count of how many times you’ve missed morning prayer, failed to exercise, ate the wrong thing, had too much to drink. For added measure she has been tracking the number of emails you haven’t responded to, the promises you haven’t kept, the hours of time you have wasted and a number of other personal failures on your part.” A woman with a calculator was too busy to even acknowledge my presence.

“And finally, here is your frustrated writer, whom you have ignored for well over a year now.” A frowning woman sitting at my computer with her hands tied stared at me with bitterness in her eyes.

“Now I think we are all here. I really must insist that you respond to us,” the spokesperson concluded.

I looked at this formidable gathering and my anger rose to red hot flame. “Get out,” I cried. “All of you. I don’t have time for this. When I’m ready to speak to you, I’ll let you know. Now, get the hell out of my brain!”

At first none of them moved. I walked to my tool storage space and picked up a crowbar. Advancing toward this motley crew I said, “You will leave and I mean now.”

The spokesperson took a step back and said, “We had hoped that you would be reasonable but I see you are determined to be resistant. We waited until an appropriate time, according to your schedule. We’ll leave but the next time we come it will not be convenient and we will not be so kind.”

The sad parade left one by one. However they left a calling card, a terrible and unmistakable sign of their displeasure and their inescapable presence. I fear that the time when I can dismiss them so readily is coming to an end.

merry christmas from the sideline

I have done precious little in the way of WordPress posts, blog entries and Facebook posts over the last few months. Somewhat this is because I’m still figuring out the new balance between my life and my family’s life, between what is my public life and what is my private life. Mostly it’s because I’ve moved into a new place in my life.Support

Living with my family means that a good bit of my time and energy is spent in the pursuit of daily life that includes more than just me. I end up with experiences and thoughts that are not just about me. Since my blog is about me, I jealously guard the privacy of my friends, family and those with whom I’m in ministry with. The shield of confidentiality is central to what it means for me to practice priesthood. I feel that same strong desire to protect the confidentiality of friends and family as well.

Interestingly enough the current reality leaves me with very little to say in the social media these days. This is all the more the case as I begin to inhabit the role of elder. My life is becoming less and less about what I have to say. It’s becoming more and more about how I can support those who are coming after me and how I can help make a space for them to speak.

My time on center stage is over. It is now time for me to go into the role of supporting actress and special guest star. There are so many voices out there from the generation after me (and the generation after that) for me to hear and to support. That is my place now.

I acknowledge the gift of words that God has given me. I use that gift when I must, not when I want. I never thought I’d come to this place. I never thought that I’d be content to come to this place. Yet here I am and to my surprise I’m happy to be here.

And so my friends, if you hear less from me that you are accustomed to hearing, please know that I am well. I am content to be where I am in my life.

Merry Christmas to all. May these 12 days bring you grace and peace.

changing the schedule

Now that I think about it, yesterday was a pretty crappy day. I did a lot of things wrong. In fact I did everything that my doctor asked me not to do. I ate too much, I don’t mean a little too much, I mean a lot too much. I had too much wine. I packed too much into the day’s schedule. I skipped my daily meds. I over-stressed my injured arm. I stayed up too late. I didn’t take my sleep aid. No wonder I feel crappy this morning.

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So here’s my plan for today:

Pray

Skip breakfast. Have a light breakfast—half of a banana (even though my stomach feels a little unsettled)

Pack and move three crates of books to the car and race out of the house to work. Take a 30 minute walk after breakfast

On the way to Ascension stop at the Print Center, do my banking, drop items at Mary’s Place

Race up to my office and plunge into work. Have the rest of my light breakfast with a cup of tea.

Clean up the Advent Calendar project

Advent-ize the Church School space

Don’t stop working for lunch. Have a light lunch and take a 1000 step activity break

Take the daily meds

Write CYMbals

Plan in detail for December 6th Church School

Leave Ascension at a reasonable hour

Have some veggies for dinner with one glass of wine

Stay up, watch TV and eat again. Take the sleep aid

Pray

Get in the bed at 9pm

 

May God help me to do the day’s plan.

 

another poor night’s sleep

Last week I found myself in my doctor’s office with a list of complaints. One of them was a recent bout of sleeplessness. It started about three weeks ago. She said that it is probably the time of year and she reminded me that I’m only in my second year after the three losses that have totally changed my life. She suggested that I be easy with myself and go easy on my body—less food, less wine, less busy, more sleep. To help with the last of these she re-prescribed Ambien.

I’ve been hit and miss with taking my sleep aid and last night was a miss. It was a troubled night’s sleep. I got in the bed after midnight and was out of the bed before 4am.

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The dreams—again the dreams. In one of them Howard and I were visiting someone he knew from his school days. I couldn’t tell if it was from his med school days or his time at UW. It felt like we were in Seattle at her home. It was a pleasant visit for all three of us. At one point I spilled something in her kitchen. I was trying to clean it up and I couldn’t. The spill kept spreading and it would not be absorbed by the cloth I was using. At one point I started crying. I wanted to leave. Howard came in to see what was wrong and I told him I wanted to go home. All he said was, “We can’t.”

Half-awake, I reached for him. I wanted to say something to him, something small but I didn’t really know what. I became fully awake and I knew that this night’s time in the bed was over.

I sometimes believe that I am “over” my grieving. I feel like I’m having a normal life. Then something happens to remind me that my normal life has been completely re-ordered. What is normal is that I am a lifetime member of the grief club, that huge number of those for whom grieving is now a big part of this season.

As I write this I’m angry. Oddly enough I’m angry at my doctor. It’s as though I’m holding her responsible for making me aware of my grief. My head knows that I’m not really angry at her. My head knows that this is intentionally misplaced anger. It’s what I do all the time. I feel anger at something and I mis-place it so that I can feel anger “safely.” However I know myself well enough to move past this and get to the real locus of my anger. It’s part of the work I have to do, perhaps all the more during this season.