Ruby, our rust colored Viszla, has some interesting traits to her personality. She is very smart, learned how to behave quickly and truly yearns to please. A high energy dog she requires a lot of exercise to off set her natural tendency to be a little anxious. Over time we’ve come to recognize when she has done something she should not. She paces. Back and forth, around and around. Sometimes she has something in her mouth – a candy wrapper she found somewhere or a piece of plastic from a dog toy. When this happens we tell her to “Drop it” – and she does. It’s rather hilarious to observe.
On those occasions when I have received difficult news and I feel emotional, Ruby sidles up to me, leans her body against me and puts her nose in my face. It’s a bit overwhelming, actually, but she clearly gets that I am upset. She even has a way of looking “worried” or “concerned.”
I’m doing a little bit of pacing about myself these days. Not literally, but internally. A few weeks ago I preached a sermon that included a reflection on my experience of growing up in the Mormon church. I talked about how much I loved the church and the values I appreciated as a child. I also talked about the issues I had with some of the church’s teaching. I connected this to the Old Testament readings and the perspective we heard all summer about God’s “chosen people/kings.” I then concluded that Solomon changes the paradigm by opening up a more expansive vision of God due to his intermarriages with women outside his immediate tribe.
Following that sermon one of the parishioners told me that the sermon was “inappropriate” in these cultural times and that it was proselytizing. Admittedly I was a bit stunned. As a preacher I know that people don’t always hear what the preacher actually says – they hear some variation of it filtered through their own personal life experience. Sometimes this means that what a preacher says and what is heard are vastly different. Worried that I had somehow misunderstood what the sermon communicated, versus what I intended to say, I had a lot of people read it. No one else has heard in it what this parishioner did. But I clearly stuck a nerve. This person has left the church.
And so I am pacing and pacing. What in the world did this person hear that caused them this strong reaction? At first I thought maybe they heard me criticizing on of the presidential candidates. I did not. Or maybe they did not like that I criticized the Mormon church? But then I realized it is just as likely that they were upset because I spoke well of the Mormon church? I did both in that sermon. Because this person has not been willing to engage me in a conversation beyond that initial critical comment I have no idea what was heard or to what they are responding.
In reading that sermon over again I don’t find it to be particularly provocative. I tend to not be, in fact I avoid being provocative. I like to be thought-provoking, however. A number of other parishioners have told me that the sermon served that purpose for them – gave them much to think and talk about.
I’m in a strange place internally. Part of me is slowly moving into a place of being more “political” and outspoken, the result of also becoming more informed. This shows up on my Facebook page and sometimes in my reflections on this blog – but rarely in my sermons. It is also the source of my work with the Episcopal Women’s Caucus – for whom I serve as a Co-Convenor. My role is to be political – to care for the injustices in the world and to work to mend them.
Admittedly the more I learn the more I cringe at the state of the state of this world. It’s frightening. By the same token I am not really comfortable being outspoken. It doesn’t come natural to me and I hate it when I upset people. Yes, I want to be the “good girl.” And so I am pacing inside, emotionally. I wish I had not struck that nerve with that parishioner. I wish they had not decided to leave the church. I wish we could have had a conversation. I wish I understood what nerve was struck.
Pacing and pacing.
But, what I don’t wish is that I had not preached that sermon. It was an honest reflection of my life. And, it was very emotional for me.
Pacing and pacing.
I cried afterward (not in the service, but later). It took a lot out of me to write it and preach it. That, however, is not apparent from reading it. Even now when I go back and re-read it I have to wonder what all the emotion was about.
It’s difficult to offer an honest reflection on a part of one’s life that carry deep emotions of love and loss. It’s even more difficult when someone tells me that me feelings and my sharing of them was inappropriate. The real challenge for me is to wrestle with my inner sense that what I said was not wrong, not inappropriate, just my honest reflection on my life experience of faith and church and a complicated social state.
I’m not going to let this go. I’m going to discuss it with my spiritual director next week and with the vestry when we meet.
And then I’m going to drop it.
(until the next time….that is)…