Sunday, April 23, 2017

hallway season

So now that my formal leave request is submitted and we have announced to the congregation and etc etc, I can answer the big question:  what on earth am I going to be doing after June 30?

Some of you are familiar with our itinerant appointment system in the United Methodist Church.  Some of you are not.  Let me explain briefly:  I am an ordained elder in full connection with the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Essentially, this means I belong to one of the strongest unions still in existence.  It's a closed shop.  I am tenured.  Unless I do something ridiculously unethical (or choose to surrender my credentials), I will retain that tenure for the rest of my life.

The covenant that I have made, in exchange for this lifetime guaranteed appointment/job/minimum salary, is that I will itinerate.  This means that the bishop and cabinet will assign me to a church somewhere within the geographical confines of middle Tennessee.  I get some input into this decision, but at the end of the day:  I am assigned.  There are a hundred reasons why John Wesley thought this was such a good idea in the late 1700s, but that's not really what I'm gonna talk about today.

There are some accommodations that can be made in the case of those who need to take leave, while retaining full connection in the conference.  You can be placed on leave (involuntary), or take voluntary leave for transitions or the care of family.  I have submitted a request for one year of voluntary family leave, to begin July 1 of this year.  After seven years under full-time appointment, I will not be taking an appointment for 2017-2018.

So, what will I do with this year?  

1)  work with an area church and Vicki's elementary school to complete my Doctor of Ministry project, which focuses on increased engagement and investment in neighborhood schools to stem the tide of charterization in middle Tennessee.

2)  spend pretty much all of July on an epic family road trip, touring the West.

3)  complete a 200-hour yoga teacher training at Kali Yuga Yoga from August through November.

4)  take my daughter on her first trip to New York!  To see my best friend and her baby and her husband and Brooklyn and see the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  This is such a rite of passage for us, introducing her to The City.

5)  spend a lot more time with my son and daughter, cat, dog, and chickens.

6)  take a German class at Vanderbilt (modern languages . . . ugh).

7)  apply for about 15 more Ph.D. programs in Religious Studies/Theology.  Including reapplying to Stanford.

8)  take my kids to DC in May of 2018 for my graduation at the National Cathedral.

Big questions I've been asked:

1)  How can I do this, financially?

I am by no means independently wealthy (have you seen my house/car/life?!), but I have enough saved from inheritance and cheap living that I can afford to do one year this way.  We won't be able to live extravagantly, but I can take a year to breathe.

2)  Will I return to church ministry?

I have no idea, honestly.  I am trying to be as open as I possibly can.  I have spent a lot of my life rushing through whichever door opened easily and quickly, because I couldn't stand the ambiguity and discomfort of standing in the hallway.  But this is my hallway season.  This is the time to stand and observe the doors and see which one cracks open and which one shuts and which one can be the door that is wisest and most accommodating for all three of us.  Perhaps I am accepted to the perfect Ph.D. program, and that is the door that opens.  Perhaps I am not, and I realize that God is pulling me back to the church.  Perhaps God pulls me in some other direction entirely.  I have to take the time to see.  There is no substitute for time, not even hard work and determination and grit.  Not even pushing as hard as I can.  I have not done a good job in my life of respecting the role that simple, observant, engaged time plays in any given situation, and now I need to do that.

3)  Will I miss City Road?

Um . . . yes!  This place has been my home in ministry for the last five years, and they have seen me through some of the most horrific and celebratory times in my life.  They have seen my son born, my marriage disintegrate, my heart be broken about seven times.  They have seen me grow as a leader and a person.  They have accepted my vulnerabilities and flaws.  This church is far from perfect, but the people here are as good as any people I have met in my life.  They have cared for me in a way that is truly Christ-like:  challenging and nurturing and trusting.

This is an exciting season for me.  I am somewhat terrified, but I feel ready.  Open and ready and accepting.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

being a marlee in a lila jane world

In Todd's class at the King's Daughters Day Home, there is a girl with little blonde ringlets named Marlee.  She is everything.  She is loud and forward and always charges the door whenever anyone walks in.  She is darling and precocious and forceful.  She demands to know my name and what I'm doing in their classroom, every single day, for the last two years.  She is frequently having some sort of absolute meltdown when I drop Todd off or pick him up.

There is also a little wisp of a girl named Lila Jane.  Her hair is straight and fine and brown.  She is quiet as a mouse.  I've never even heard her whisper.  She hangs in the background.  She looks fearfully at the door when I come in.  She could be a ghost - I'm not even really sure I've seen her name listed on the sign-in sheet.  Her eyes are big and soulful.  

I sensed some sort of triangle happening between Todd and Marlee and Lila Jane about a year ago.  Marlee wanted lots of hugs from Todd when we walked in one morning.  He seemed standoffish about it.  I asked him about it later, when I picked him up.

"Yeah, Marlee always wants to sit next to me at morning circle . . . but I want to sit by Lila Jane."

UGH.  Of course you want to sit by Lila Jane.  The Lila Janes of this world - mysterious and withholding and dropping you little crumbs of their personality every now and again - they always get the guy.  The Marlees may get everything else, but the Lila Janes get the guy.

Me (and my daughter) - I'm a Marlee.  What you see is what you get.  I will show you everything, even if you don't want to see it.  I will go as far as you will let me.  I don't know any other way to be.  I have no idea how to be a Lila Jane, but I have always sensed that those little wisps are what men want.  And . . . I hate myself for even having this line of thought.  I'm a Marlee - I don't care what men want, right!?

Right. . . . right.

No shade on the Lila Janes.  I'm sure that most of them don't know any other way to be, either.  We are all just doing the best we can with what we've got.  But what is it about the men that makes them want the Lila Janes?  Do they feel non-threatening?  Like a challenge?  Uninterested in you?

I will probably never know.  And I'm chronically unable to act like something that I'm not.  But it still feels like I have spent most of my life stomping while everyone else was tiptoeing, and I'm not sure how to stop stomping, and sometimes my feet hurt.