Thursday, September 06, 2012

At the Pace of Life....

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)...


altar ego said...

I've been thinking about you since this has happened, and wondered if you were still feeling the sting of the the parishioner's words and subsequent action.

I know that you know that the reaction is not about you, but instead is a manifestation of something at work in the other person's life. That knowledge can take the edge off of the discomfort causing you to pace, but you are still left with that sense of disequilibrium that you feel. I've been there and know the feeling.

Is it presumptuous to suggest that God may well use this moment in that person's life to catalyze some kind of transformation? You may never know.

I have no wisdom to offer, only prayers for you and the individual involved, and the hope that God will grant you serenity and peace as you move forward.

Terri said...

Anne, one can hope that this may become a catalyst...sadly it sometimes becomes the fuel that tightens rather than opens one's self. sigh....

I am looking forward to discussing this with my spritual director - I think that will be useful fodder for my own formation.

Martha Spong said...

You have to wonder what the person meant by proselytizing. It's not a word I would have associated with your sermon at all. Glad you have a place to pace toward with this.

Terri said...

Martha, that word affirms to me that it was something about the Mormon church, perhaps that I was speaking well of it? Since the Mormons are reknowned proselytizers.....? Regardless, a peculiar word choice, even as it is a clue into the mindset of this person....

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

tears and exhaustion were precisely because the sermon was deeply personal. i read it and found it honest, balanced.

i agree with altar ego - something is at work in the person who left. it is nearly impossible to know what associations folks have with words... it could have been a single word in your sermon, maybe even the word "mormon" that this person associated with something in their heart/mind/experience... hard to tell since they've cut off the lines of communication.

my friend, exploration of this is good, but please don't beat yourself up.

Terri said...

thanks, Hot Cup. Like others here, I trust your perspective - you've been honest with me along the way. I think this is less about beating myself up (so there is progress!) and more about how hard it is for me to speak and stand in my truth when it has impacted someone else in way that feels critical. Goodness, how do some people manage the criticism?

Lisa :-] said...

It's good to see I'm not the only one who "paces" about one critical comment while positive comments and praise swirl around me.

I find it hard to believe this is the first time you've ever had a parishioner criticize a sermon. Or is it that because of the personal nature of this sermon, you feel personally chastened? Either way, it stinks that this person was so miffed that he/she left the church. Obviously this person understands, on some level, that his/her reaction was inappropriate, since he/she refuses to engage with you further on the subject. Most often, people refuse further engagement because they don't want to be proven mistaken. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has said this is obviously more his/her problem than yours...

Mary Beth said...

And I came over to say what they said: It's not about you. It's about them.

Also, it's possible that they were looking for a reason to leave. Again, their story.

Praying for you and hoping that you will be able to open your hands and heart to bless them on their own personal path. I often hold onto, "I love you. I bless you. I release you to your own indwelling power of the Spirit."

love to you.

Sherry Peyton said...

It's often hard to find a more difficult situation when you think you have communicated one thing only to be stunned by someone who sees something in it you can't fathom, never meant, and can't relate to. But it only goes to show that we are so all different, that it is bound to happen. You have reflected, you have bounced it off a cross section of your parishioners and that is all you can now do, but as you say, let it go. I'm sure it will happen again, as we all have found out. The fact that it bothers you, is all that needs be known frankly. Blessings Terri.

Terri said...

Lisa, when people critcize my sermons it usually because they are boring, or they didn't understand what I was trying to say or it was too long. Never have I had someone say that what I said in my sermon was inappropriate. That's the piece that is startling.

Mary Beth, of course, thank you for that reminder. I release do them in love. At this point the journey is theirs to pursue. But it is also mine, how do I reconcile this within me? Although the nerve hit was their nerve, what I said hit it. And so I have some accountability here - even if that is just taking the time to reflect on what I said and why.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...