Sometimes we have to let each other fail

Train_wreck_at_Montparnasse_1895My spouse and I are four and a half years into our adventure of co-pastoring.  Will it be our last such adventure?  I have no idea.  Other married co-pastors have written great things in the last four and a half years, and I am grateful for the wisdom they have shared.  As we move further along in this relationship, new and subtle facets of working together emerge, and I think about them, and sometimes share them my husband.

There’s a meeting tomorrow with the city about some of our building issues, and one of our great members is going and said one of us needed to go with him.  It’s in an area I’ve been working in.  As my husband and I were going over the calendar, he said, “I think both of us should go.”  It seemed a reasonable statement.

And then I started wondering.  Does he think I can’t manage it?  Because it deals with money and property, which are more his areas, does he want to be there?  Or really, does he think I can’t manage it?  When I told our member that both of us would be there, he said only one of us needed to be.  So I told my husband I would go, since this involves a project I’ve been working on.  But a larger question looms.

One of the benefits (I think) about having co-pastors is that you get people with complimentary gifts and skills.  In a nutshell, he does numbers and I do words.  More than fifteen minutes on a financial statement and my head starts to spin.  Writing a sermon, or a newsletter article, or an annual report is his idea of hell.  You get the picture.

Still, it occurred to me that for the sake of our pastorate – and probably our marriage – sometimes we need to let the other one fail, or not do as great a job, or work in those areas where we’re not as strong.  We won’t learn if we always let the other do the heavy lifting, whatever the area of work may be.  It may also be a good model for the larger staff or congregation, to explore what it means to be not-gifted at something, to struggle with something, or even to deal with that which is usually tedious or confusing.

Maybe it’s just that none of us can be strong and talented all the time; if we were, we’d be walking around like arrogant snobs.  Maybe.  Or maybe we would get out of touch with what it means to be ignorant (in the best sense of that word) or an amateur.  Maybe it would help us expect less, and encourage more.

So failure is an option.

But so is grace.

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A New Thing

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I’ve been feeling old lately.  I have a tear in some tissue in my hip that’s causing me no small amount of pain and discomfort and causing me to limp.  I’ve decided to stop coloring my hair and am a bit surprised by just how much gray I have.  I turn 50 this year, and, well, that’s not the age of a young person.

This week I attend a church conference – a really good church conference – and I feel both old and strangely young and renewed and a bit excited about the future.  Because here’s the thing, at least for me as I limp into the conclusion of my fiftieth year: I’m not really afraid of the things I used to be afraid of.  I don’t really get too excited about pies in my face, epic fails, minor fails, or not being one of the Beautiful People in whatever circle I happen to be traveling.

There is a great freedom in not fearing failure. (I am so sorry for that alliteration.)  Not fearing failure opens up so many doors.  I lived whole lot of my life not doing things because I was afraid I would not do them well, or not be able to do them at all.  And that’s a terrible way to live – a safe way, yes, but a terrible way.  It’s more existence than living, really, and since we only get one go-round on this life thing, maybe we should live it.

Because I’ve been at this church conference, I think about what it means for the church to live and not merely exist.  Maybe some of you who read this blog don’t care much about the churchy posts, so you can just skip this one.  But my vocation and avocation are in the church, the mainline Protestant church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  This is the church that raised me, formed me, challenged my, called me, disappointed me, bored me, inspired me, gave me the best friends one could ask for, and where I found my husband.  It’s the church into which I was baptized and in which I was ordained and married.  I love this church and I want it to live, and not just exist.

That’s true for the congregation I serve.  I am blessed beyond measure to have been called, with my husband, to serve where I do.  There are not mean people in this congregation.  There are not people who complain after every worship service, no people who leave snarky notes in my hymnal.  They are lovely, faithful, honest people, and I hope they are ready because I think I am going home from this conference ready to light some fires under our collective patookies.  (Please substitute your favorite euphemism here.)

One of my favorite lines from the musical Mame is “life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Well, little baby Jesus grew up and gave us a banquet and we act as though we’re getting soda crackers and room temperature water most of the time.  To hell with that – literally.  To hell with the tepidness and things that won’t upset our stomachs.  To hell with fear, because that’s where it belongs.

Come Sunday, I’ll be limping into the chancel because of my hip.  But I’ll be dancing on the inside, up to the pulpit and around the table and down the aisle.

Join me!

Keystone Kommunion

For some, the sacrament of Holy Communion, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist -whatever you call it – is a solemn and holy occasion. It is replete with mystery, with grace, with all that church should be. Delicious, inclusive, meditative, intimate, theological.

And it is all of those things, except when it’s not, which is just about every month for me.

Everybody does communion a little bit differently. In our congregation, and I would guess in the majority of Presbyterian congregations, we celebrate communion once a month, on the first Sunday. Usually, but not always, we “do” communion by intinction, which means that the people come forward and take a little pre-cubed bite of bread and dip it into the chalice of grape juice. We say “the body of Christ” or “the bread of life” or “the bread of Heaven” and “the blood of Christ” or “the cup of salvation” or “the cup of forgiveness.” And the people partake, and then return to their seats as guided by one of the deacon ushers with all efficiency of a flight attendant giving safety instructions. We also sometimes pass plates of bread and trays of little cups of juice out into the congregation, but that does not make for very many good stories.

So here are three common communion mishaps that make it not a solemn and holy occasion but a joyful, mirthful feast.

1. Floaters

It always happens, and usually at the beginning. Someone very understandably drops their tiny piece of pre-cubed bread into the chalice. We always tell them to take another piece, that it happens all the time, but the partaker usually feels deep mortification, which I think is a spiritual discipline among the Opus Dei folks that involves flaying oneself with a studded whip. But I could be wrong. But maybe dropping the Bread of Heaven into the Cup of Salvation is the emotional or spiritual equivalent of flaying oneself. I actually wouldn’t know, as I always go last when there are plenty of floaters in the cup and it’s no big deal if my bread goes skinny dipping with the other pieces.

2. Drink Ye, All of It

Occasionally we have people who are from a different tradition within Christianity who are used to coming forward and actually drinking the cup. They’re usually from a tradition in which only men in white regalia will serve them, and in which they stick out their tongues and someone puts a communion “wafer” (read: piece of cardboard treated to look edible) on their tongue so they don’t have to touch anything. These people get confused by us Presbyterians. First of all, there might be women up front, and people who aren’t clergy. But our guests are game and hungry and faithful, so they help themselves to our nice yeasty bread cubes. Then they want the cup. Sometimes they get. Sometimes there’s a wrestling match. Sometimes they drink the floaters. Then we all pretend we’re not throwing up just the tiniest bit in our mouths, and we move on.

3. “But all I wanted was a little blessing…”

We have guests with us who want to be a part of the party but they’re really not sure about the whole body/blood thing. That or they’re scared of the floaters, or the person in front of them just drank the cup. Anyway, all they want is a blessing, but sometimes they’re not sure how to get that. I once attended a Catholic wedding, and one of the bridesmaids was Jewish. She had been instructed, when the wedding party was served communion, just to cross her arms over her chest to indicate she would not be partaking. In the heat of the moment, she forgot the choreography and instead clamped both hands over her mouth as though coming into any contact with the Body of Christ would magically indoctrinate her into the Christian Club, or would so offend the priest that he wouldn’t finish the wedding ceremony. (The couple is no longer married, but the bridesmaid is still a faithful Jew, so there you are.) Sometimes our people who just want a blessing do that too, put their hands over their mouths or cross their arms over their chests and that would all be fine. Unless the pastor and her serving partner misread the cue, and we end up trying to force-feed them the dang bread and cup, already! Yes, that happens. To me. More than once.

My husband is best on his feet at the spur of the moment and I love it when he offers the invitation to the table, because he manages to weave in the theme of the sermon or the image from scripture or some phrase from a hymn along with the graciousness to be someone who creates a floater or otherwise does thing not so decently or in order. And I love that, because really it is all about grace, about being invited to a table regardless of whether we’re hungry or sated, perfect or really screwed up, faithful or doubt-full, good/bad, wise/foolish, ballerina or bumpkin or clown.

clown communion

When I did a google image search on “clown communion” none of the clergy were the clowns. Pity. I think that’s more accurate!

So now, would you be gracious enough to share your Mirthful Feast stories?