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Paying Attention

4 Apr

This is for my White friends and acquaintances who I still see talking about #JesusChristSuperstarLive but who aren’t talking about the role race played in the show.

I don’t normally watch the “Live TV” events that occasionally happen because I find them pretty awkward, but I will confess I was excited about NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar. It is a musical that I love and the cast looked fantastic. I figured we would give it a try.

The opening was amazing, but when Mary (played exquisitely by Sara Bareilles) began her iconic Everything’s Alrightmy focus shifted and I realized that I wasn’t just watching a new staging of an award-winning musical; I was watching a commentary on black/white relations in the United States: Mary, a White woman, was pleading with Judas and Jesus (played by two Black men who knew things were escalating towards disaster) to calm down and not take things so seriously. “Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to problems that upset you, oh. Don’t you know, everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine.”

White friends – Did you notice this? Did you notice that it was a White woman who was telling these Black men to calm down. How often do we White people get uncomfortable at Black rage? How often do wetone police? And here it was, starkly presented, right here before 9.4 million viewers, most of whom were probably white.

We’ve seen before how flipping the racial narrative on a cast can give new understanding to an old story. Hamilton, anyone? If we want to become allies, the first steps are to educate ourselves and to pay attention.  #JesusChristSuperstarLive can give us a lens into our own commitment level to confronting racism and white supremacy, especially in the context of systemic oppression via police brutality, militarism and the prison/torture industrial complex.  Here are eight other ways that I caught (and I know I didn’t catch it all) that race played an essential role in the production:

1) Having a Black Jesus.  I don’t know about how other white people grew up, but Jesus was never ever black in the traditions of my experience. At best, and I mean at very best, he was a bit brown. But even that was unusual.White people seem to get upset when Jesus is portrayed as anything other than White. I would link to site after site trying to argue that fact, but I don’t want to push traffic that way. Look it up yourselves: many White people can’t handle that Jesus was not White. But he wasn’t. Having a Black Jesus is an important corrective to the dominant narrative. Especially as we will see below.  Seeing someone who looks like you on tv, in books, in advertising, in the toys children play with – this sort of representation is crucially important. We know this. From the chatter I’ve seen on facebook from Black friends, having a Black Jesus was absolutely a game-changer.

2) Having a Black Judas. Now, Judas has been portrayed as black before. In fact, Judas (played by Carl Anderson) was one of only a few black characters in the 1973 movie Jesus Christ Superstar. What was new here in #JesusChristSuperstarLive was the dynamic between a Black Judas and a Black Jesus. In the song Heaven on Their Minds, Judas sings “Listen, Jesus, do you care for your race? Don’t you see we must keep in our place? We are occupied! Have you forgotten how put down we are?” These lyrics take on a totally different meaning when Judas is singing to another Black man. We are reminded of the distinction Chris Hayes introduced many of us to in his book A Colony in a Nation, which highlights many of the ways that Black communities and Black men in particular are treated as if they were unruly colonists who must be controlled and managed by those in power.

(The fact that the part of Judas was played by Brandon Victor Dixon, who gave the Hamilton cast speech when VP Mike Pence attended & who did a Wakanda salute at the end, just added to the awesomeness.)

3) Notice how both Herod and Pilate are White. The men making the decisions, the men with the power, are White. Just like 7 in 10 senior executives and just like the vast majority of our elected national representatives in the House and Senate. Yeah, Pilate may be tortured about his decision, but he also caved under pressure. How many of us white people have done something similar? Maybe we have cringed silently and not spoken up when we we were in a situation with a work colleague spouting racist ideas. Maybe we strive towards being colorblind and don’t even realize how we are unwittingly contributing to racism.

4) So now you might be saying, “But Caiaphas was black!” And that is true -Norm Lewis was amazing in the role. But Caiaphas, as a Pharisee, didn’t have the power to have Jesus arrested on his own, did he? He just made the recommendation to Pilate (a White guy), who had the actual power. Having the Pharisees all be people of color invoked classic Uncle Tom imagery of a Black man who sells out his race in order to get a little power – just like the slave drivers who would beat their own for whatever scraps the white slave master would throw his way. Dynamics of divide and conquer and starvation economics where there isn’t enough power so we grab what we can are both at work in this dynamic. I’m reading Trevor Noah’s book Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood right now and the passages on the creation of apartheid are stunning to me in that this was a system that was intentionally created to turn the black Africans against one another by giving different groups different sets of rights. How else do you control a population 4 times as large as your own? It is a stunningly effective strategy for mass oppression.

5) Let’s go to Mary again. This time, singing I Don’t Know How to Love Him when she asks in the chorus “Should I bring him down, should I scream and shout? Should I speak of love, let my feelings out?” – How many of us White people are in that situation? We are trying to be allies, but we don’t really know what to do. Do we join the with the anger? Do we fight back with love? What does it really mean to be a White ally to Black people in the United States in 2018? It can get complicated and confusing. But unfortunately, our confusion and our fear of making a mistake often leads us to wring our hands and offer vague comfort from afar.

steps

Steps to Ask Yourself Before Calling the Police

6) When the police show up in Gethsemane, Judas kisses Jesus and they embrace, and the police try to pull Jesus away. Judas has suddenly realized how this is not going the way he expected, and he holds on to Jesus and tries to pull him away from the police. Judas learned the hard way: if you call the police on a Black man, prepare for it escalating. White people, in particular but not exclusively, who think the police are benevolent forces of law and order often have a difficult time realizing that a call to the police about something innocuous like vandalism might result in the murder of an innocent Black man with a cell-phone in his backyard. In case you are wondering, there are some excellent online resources for trying to determine whether you should call the police.

7) After Jesus is taken away and Peter has betrayed him, Mary comes to comfort Peter – to offer him forgiveness. Both of them are non-black. While they are both rightfully upset, they turn and walk away. They have the privilege to be able to sit with each other, comforting one another, while Judas and Jesus are both tortured (Judas internally) and die. How often do we, as White allies, return to our bubbles to lick our wounds? What would it be like if Mary and Peter had gone to Judas and included him in their circle of grief? Instead, far too often, we retreat instead of laying our lives down on the line for the beloved community that we crave. What would it look like if we didn’t let each other off the hook quite so easily?

8) This last one is about what you didn’t see rather than what you did. Rather than invoke the imagery of a slave receiving a whipping by having Black Jesus flogged, the creative choice was made (brilliantly, in my opinion) to instead have different members of the community beat Jesus. Yes, it showed up as whip-marks on his back, but in this case, it is Jesus’s own extended community that turned on him. How often and in how many ways do we turn on the Black men in our community? Eric Garner shouldn’t have been selling cigarettes. Tamir Rice shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun. Stephon Clark shouldn’t have..what? Been in his grandmother’s backyard with a cell phone? We blame the Black victim – sometimes because we are trying to make sense of a situation that makes no reasonable sense and other times to try to protect ourselves from a world of violence that feels out of our control. But the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. As White people, we have power and we need to use it to end systems of oppression like our prison industrial system, policing system, and work for solutions like felon voting rights. Can you imagine what our country might look like if 2.3 million Black men weren’t incarcerated? If 1 in 8 of them weren’t disenfranchised from voting?

So there you have it. Here are just 9 (including the first Mary example) creative decisions, brilliantly made, that expose a mainstream audience to the epidemic of violence against Black men. And I know I missed quite a few.

I had no idea when turning it on that this new production of Jesus Christ Superstar would be an allegory for what it means to be a Black man in the United States in 2018. #JesusChristSuperstarLive used an old story to offer a new challenge to those of us who wish to be White allies: Pay attention, and then go educate ourselves on how systemic racism and white supremacy culture are alive in the United States today, so that we might be a part of the solution.

the changing face of entrepreneurs.

2 Feb

I have passed this billboard more times than I can count in the past few months, traveling hither and yon across the southern U.S. And each time I do, I cringe inside. I cringe for the same reason that I cringed when, at a workshop on entrepreneurial ministry recently, it was quickly pointed out that in Unitarian Universalist ministry, we invest more innovation dollars and think of entrepreneurial ministers almost exclusively in terms of young, white, charismatic men (even with a sketchy return on investment). Why do we continue to perpetuate the myth that an entrepreneur is a young, white guy?

Some facts. In 2014, Harvard Business School reported that women are starting new businesses twice as fast as men. (1) In 2015, the Atlantic reported that “About 29 percent of America’s business owners are women, that’s up from 26 percent in 1997.”(2) Just two years later, in 2017, CNBC reported that women now make up 40 percent of new entrepreneurs in the United States – so the trend is growing, quickly. Out of the 25 promising young startups on CNBC’s 2017 UpStart List, 10 were organizations started by women in fields from from neuroscience to finance to retail. (3)

And lest you think this phenomena is the realm of white women – “The progress for minority women has been particularly swift, with business ownership skyrocketing by 265 percent since 1997…and minorities now make up one in three female-owned businesses, up from only one in six less than two decades ago.”(4)

As if this were not enough on its own, consider the Forbes report which shared that “women were more likely than men to introduce products and services that are new to customers and not generally offered by competitors (40 percent compared to 35 percent).” (5)

So really, if you want to advertise your business program, you would be better off with something like one of the advertisements below.

 

 

 

 

 

(1) https://hbr.org/2014/06/more-women-starting-businesses-isnt-necessarily-good-news
(2) https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/04/women-are-owning-more-and-more-small-businesses/390642/
(3) https://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/28/the-inaugural-cnbc-upstart-25-promising-young-start-ups.html
(4) https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/04/women-are-owning-more-and-more-small-businesses/390642/
(5) https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanprice/2017/11/15/as-entrepreneurship-thrives-women-are-starting-more-innovative-businesses-than-men/#644f56483da5

faith on a plane, part 2.

26 Jan

As I passed through security, something unique happened. An older man looked at me, smiled, and asked what denomination I was with. For a year now, I’ve made a practice of wearing my clerical collar when I fly. I haven’t worn it every time – but probably about 90% of the time I do. I would guess I’ve been on around 50 airplanes in that time, so we are talking about a substantial number of flights. My uniform is pretty standard: collared shirt, sweater, jeans, and, of course, the pins that I wear every day (Black Lives Matter, rainbow flag, world religious symbols and a safety pin). After all this travel, this man was the first to comment on my collar and ask my affiliation.

Instead of asking me about it, I’ve found that most of the people who catch the collar quickly look away as if they don’t want to be caught staring. Whether it is staring at a clergy member in general, or at a female clergy member in particular, I don’t know. Interestingly enough, I’ve also found that seatmates talk to me less when I am wearing a collar than they do when I am in regular clothing. I don’t know if they don’t know what to make of me, or are intimidated – but my collar provides a strange boundary that allows me more personal space since for decades I seem to have had a neon sign above my head that says “Tell Me Your Problems!”

I began wearing the collar when I fly after reading story after story about unruly, rude, oppressive behavior on planes. I was hoping that people would be on their best behavior around a clergy person. Or that I would be a calming presence. I’m not sure my presence has stymied any potential fights, but I do know that the woman who I was seated next to on one flight, who was very angry with the couple in front of us, felt she had to tone her vitriol down since she was seated next to me. So maybe that is something.

Here is what I think is going on: people still don’t know what to do with a female cleric. It makes them confused from the get-go. And if they happen to look at me long enough to see the pins, they get knocked off-balance. I should make it explicit: I don’t get any negative comments about the pins. Maybe I would if it were just a rainbow flag pin, or just a Black Lives Matter pin. But the combination of the pins makes is quite clear that I am in support of those who are oppressed and marginalized in our society. Unfortunately, this is often in direct opposition to the image the clerical collar presents. Generally, I think the intersectionality of a woman in a collar wearing these pins makes most people especially confused. When I have a chance to interact with someone for more than a couple of seconds, if that person is a person of color, they almost always comment on how awesome my pins are. The only white person who ever said anything presented as gender non-conforming.

Meanwhile, I don’t believe I’ve gotten any special treatment while wearing my collar. Due to my obliviousness of things that happen behind my back, I have no idea what sort of snickers or other comments might follow in my wake. I suspect it changes my own behavior more than anything else – I find I smile much more at people, and am unerringly polite – this behavior doesn’t feel like a burden, though. Instead, it feels more like a way to gently bless the world with my care and consideration.

It seems a small thing, this little piece of plastic tucked into my shirt, but it makes me a walking, breathing testament to what should be impossible in many people’s minds, and it makes me move in the world with just a tad more grace. I’ll continue to wear my uniform when I fly.

If you are a clergy member who wears their collar when you fly, what are your observations?

faith on a plane.

25 May

Talking with a colleague recently, he asked about the increased travel I am doing as a Congregational Life Consultant for the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I told him I enjoyed it, and that I had worked out most of the details – what processes work for me, what hotel chains I like, when to fly. At that last point, we talked about how difficult it can be to fly as clergy – as soon as our seatmates ask what we do for a living, it opens all sorts of doors for conversations we may, or may not, want to have.

When I told him that, for the past 9 months, I have been wearing my clerical collar whenever I fly, his face took on a shocked expression. “Why on earth would you do that?” he asked me.

I shared with him that I was bothered by the increasing violence that is occurring on planes, and that I wanted to be prepared to be a force for good if something happened in my presence. I know that people respond differently to me when I wear a collar. If I were to witness something violent on a plane, in a collar I could stand up and be a witness in ways that are more powerful than I could as a mid-40 year old woman. Especially if I then started singing or praying.

I also want people to know that I am a safe person – that I am willing and able to try to de-escalate a situation, or be a good ally if that is needed. So in addition to my collar, I also wear my Black Lives Matter/Pride Flag/World Religions safety-pin (which I wear every day).

I completely understand why some of my clergy colleagues prefer to travel anonymously. But for me, this public witness is a part of my spiritual practice when I travel. It is a away to claim my religious authority and put my faith in action and declare that I am on the side of the marginalized. As a white minister, I have so much privilege. This feels like a good way to use it. I hope I am never needed in such a way when I travel, but if something does happen, I am ready.

Beyond the Balcony and the Dance Floor

10 May

Originally shared in the Southern Region blog, but I like it so I am sharing it here, too.

It’s been quite a while since I last joined a mosh pit. No, I am not speaking metaphorically (yet). For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a mosh pit is an area, usually near the stage at a live concert, where people engage in some pretty full-contact dancing – bodies slamming into each other, usually to loud, energetic music. I loved being in the pit when I was younger, but as I was nearing my 30s moshing evolved into people throwing elbows at the faces of other dancers and I decided that I had had enough.

When my spouse recently got us tickets to one of his favorite punk bands from the 70s and 80s, we decided, rather than getting general admission tickets which would put us down on the floor, we wanted to be up on the balcony with secured seats in case we needed to give ourselves a break. It was worth the extra expenditure, but not because of the seats. Instead, I found that I spent nearly as much time watching the dancers on the floor as I did watching the band (who were amazing). And I saw something I’d never noticed before.

There was a group of young adults, slamming away. Old school – no elbows, just running into each other, bumping shoulders. Full-contact but not violent. As I continued to watch, I noticed that there were a few big, older guys around the edge of where the pit had formed. They stood in front of people who didn’t want to be slammed into, protecting them from the dancers and simultaneously allowing the dancers to lose themselves into the abandon of the dance. These guys would also push the dancers back into the pit if they strayed too far, picking them up if they fell down – occasionally even getting the dancers going in a circle pit.

I’d never noticed this role when I had been in the pit in my younger days. I’m not sure if they existed, or if that is a role that has developed over the years as moshing and the pit have evolved. It almost made me wish I was down on the dance floor – these “conductors”, as it were, made the dance floor a safe space not only for the concert-goers who didn’t wish to be bumped into, but for the young people in the pit as well.

So now let’s expand this into metaphor. Business and leadership guru Ronald Heifetz often refers to the concept of “getting on the balcony” when he talks about leadership. He talks about how our view and experience of something is different depending on whether we are on the dance floor, or if we are able to get up on the balcony. From the dance floor, there is just the music and the dancers, but from the balcony we can see all sorts of patterns. In Leadership On the Line, he writes “The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray [by getting up on the balcony]…[but] if you want to affect what is happening, you must return to the dance floor.” The magic spot is the place of balance, going back and forth between the two, using our experiences on one to shape the other.

In leadership development, we often encourage those in leadership to “get up on the balcony” – particularly when there is a situation that is fraught with conflict. Remove yourself from reactivity, from the heat of the moment, and get up to the balcony and watch the patterns, the process. Then you can go back down to the dance floor with greater clarity about a situation.

But after my experience at the concert, I’m going to add a new role when I talk about the balcony and the dance floor -“Floor Conductor” – for those times when we are on the dance floor and see that space needs to be made, both for people who need to dance a bit more exuberantly than others, and for those who just want to enjoy the music. Floor conductors can help ensure that all participants are able to dance and participate the way they want, and need to, safely.

So get up on the balcony when you want a view of the big picture and the patterns that you can’t see from the floor. Go to the dance floor when you want to impact a situation beyond making observations about it. And be a floor conductor when you want to help create a safe place where all can dance however they choose.

sharing stories.

30 Mar

I had to laugh when my Public Management professor was giving me feedback on a recent paper. “The content is good, but you sure use a lot of words!” Yup. I do. Not just because I’m used to writing sermons, but because I’m used to writing in such a way as to tell a story. Not because I use metaphors – I wish I was more adept at that – but because when I write I like to have a beginning that flows into the middle and then comes to a conclusion that makes perfect sense given all that has already been shared. Apparently, this is not how public managers generally write.

His comments got me thinking about why I write this way. I think it is because I am so curious about the whos/whats/whys/wheres/hows that I end up incorporating that sort of detail when I write. And because personally, when I read someone else’s narrative, this sort of flow keeps me engaged, nodding my head. I get it better.

I remember hearing a piece on This American Life about how canvassers, going door to door in California to change minds about Proposition 8, were able to do so by having lengthy conversations with the people who opened their doors. Conversations where they shared their stories. The evidence that TAL quoted has been disputed and retracted, but based on my own experience, I think there is a lot of truth here: When we listen to someone’s story, it has the capacity to change our hearts, and maybe even our minds, in a way that listening to a recitation of facts does not.

I was thinking about this a recently when I attended one of Donald Trump’s rallies here in Louisville. The place was packed. I went inside with a few clergy friends of mine, in collars and stoles, because I had heard it was a mad free-for-all of violence and hate and I thought we might be able to be a calming presence.

But where we were in the arena, it was all families. With babies, toddlers, children of all ages. They were excited to see the President. I don’t even know how many of them were Trump supporters (many of them left 5 minutes after he started speaking). I was curious – what were their stories? Why had they come? It was not at all what I was expecting.

I realized, too, that listening to their stories wouldn’t only satisfy my curiosity, it could also be a good strategic move. If I know what motivates someone, then I am more able to speak in such a way that they will hear. I wondered what would have happened if I had had time to listen to the stories of some of those families, and if they could have heard the stories of some of my compatriots outside at the protest. How might that experience have changed us?

Sharing stories, our own stories, helps us understand each other. It gives context to dry demographic details and helps us understand each other. It allows us to deepen our empathy for one another. It gives us a chance to experience someone else’s perspective, at least for a short while.

I wish we had more opportunities for such sharing.

Leaving a Congregation: Epilogue.

3 Jan

This is the seventh and final part in a multi-part blog series about leaving the congregation I served.

goodbye

On my last day at the congregation, I packed up my last bags, looked around one final time, and walked out the door with my family.  Never an after-church napper, when we got home that day I crashed on the couch.

I thought that would be the end. I had given myself a week between positions, mostly to catch up on stuff around the house. I knew I would still have some processing to do but there were still elements of it that surprised me nonetheless.

I was surprised by how different my facebook feed looked. Over 100 congregants had friended me over the years. Though I had chosen not to unfriend them, I put them all on restricted status so that they would only see my public posts, and I unfollowed them so they would no longer show up in my newsfeed. I never truly understood how lonely ministry is until I saw my newsfeed over the next few days after I left, for it was filled with updates from people I hardly knew.

I also found myself struggling with my role in the larger community. Prior to leaving, I had been consulted by both media and justice organizations asking for my opinion or involvement on a variety of topics. Because I’ve stayed in town, I have realized that it is better for me to get involved in new social justice organizations so that I can create a new role for myself in these regards.

I have also realized that my departure from the congregation while still staying in town is much more difficult for the congregants at the church I served than it is for me. I am easily able to make small-talk when our paths cross, but I know it is hard for them to not fill me in on the latest at church and in their own lives. They struggle to maintain boundaries and this means they err on the side of not saying much and not asking me questions about how I am doing.  This is probably exacerbated by the fact that they will be without a minister for several more months.

But the most surprising struggle for me is in my identity. I am no longer the minister of a congregation. For some people, this seems to mean that I am no longer a minister. But I am still a minister, even if I don’t fit into an easily identifiable box the way I used to. This gives me sympathy for the rest of you community ministers out there – I frequently find myself explaining to people that I am still a minister, even though I no longer serve a single congregation.

Two months after I have officially left, I continue to be surprised by how my leaving process progresses internally. This blog has been in process, in various stages and pieces, for the past four months. I started it two months before I left. I’ve decided that, though my process may continue, the blog needs to end and be published.

The changes in myself in these past four months have been intense. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions. And, at the same time, I am blissfully happy in my new vocation. I know that it was time for me to leave, as emotional as the process was.  I am not sure whether I left a year too early, or a year too late. Or maybe, possibly, I hit it at just the right moment.

If you are leaving, or are contemplating leaving the church you serve, you have my love and my sympathy. I can tell  you that it will teach you a lot about yourself. And that, if you are in a situation where you are able to be present to the bitter and to the sweet, it can be a gift both to your ministry and to the church you serve. May you and your congregants, present, past and future, be so blessed.

Stage 4: Fallout/Resolution.

3 Jan

This is the sixth part in a multi-part blog series about leaving the congregation I served.

goodbye

In the last six weeks of my ministry with the congregation, all of us seemed better able to hold the duality of being both excited and sad at a same time. The feelings were bittersweet – something to be cherished.

Soon after the announcement of my departure, I had sent an email to every member and friend inviting them to schedule time to meet with me. Nearly a third of the congregation did so.  In those final weeks, I no longer had two jobs (starting the church year and saying goodbye) – I just had one.

Sometimes my meetings with people were long – pushing an hour.  Sometimes they were short – 10 or 15 minutes. Sometimes we talked about all we had done together. Other times we talked about our hopes for the future.  Sometimes they had questions for me. Other times they talked, and talked, and talked, while I sat and just listened. Sometimes there were tears. There were almost always hugs.

I was surprised that, even a week before my departure, some people were just finding out. It had been in every order of service, it had been announced at the pulpit multiple times, it was in the newsletters, and had been blasted out in email. But there were still a few people, usually only peripherally connected, who were late at hearing about it. The closer it came to my last day, the more upset people would be that they were just learning about my departure. I’m not sure what we could have done to prevent this, but it was difficult nonetheless.

In between meeting with people, everything I did was in preparation for my departure.  I documented passwords, procedures, and points of information that others would need to know. I transitioned all the technology that my account “owned” to other people (google groups, yahoo groups, calendars, the church facebook group, etc). I went through my own facebook page and started shifting congregants to “Restricted” status (meaning they would only see my public posts) and unfollowing them (so that I would no longer see their posts).

I changed my plans for Sunday services. I shifted my second-to-last sermon from a sermon on the ministry theme for the month to a question box service. In part, this was to respond to the questions I knew people still had for me. In part, it was self-preservation – I did not have the emotional energy for a sermon on “Reason”.

Throughout my ministry, I had always had firm boundaries on my Sundays off: I only attended if my children were participating in the service.  In the last month, on the Sundays I had “off” I asked the speaker if they would like me to be liturgist. They all said yes.  Unlike the situation most ministers will find themselves in when they leave a church, I knew that the congregation would be lay-led for up to 9 months before the interim minister arrived, so this was helpful to them. And it was helpful to me to be able to participate in worship without the heavy lifting of sermon-writing. It was part of saying goodbye.

img_5722My last sermon was emotional. The Worship Associates had predicted that and put tissue boxes at the front of the sanctuary and throughout the seats – easily accessible to all of us.

It was difficult for me to be present in the moment. I was afraid that I would burst into uncontrollable tears, so I put funny little emoji’s into emotionally heightened portions of my text so that I would have that half-second of wondering “What the heck is that?”  – just enough time to stave off great heaving sobs by putting me back into my frontal cortex.

img_3092There were several sweet surprises during the service: gifts that were lovingly explained and given. I took a panorama picture from the pulpit.  The receiving line at the end of the service was longer than ever. There was cake – someone saved me a few pieces when they realized I might not make it to the social hall in time. There were hugs.

I packed up my last bags, looked around one final time, and walked out the door with my family.  Never an after-church napper, when we got home that day I crashed on the couch.

go to Epilogue: Having Left

Stage 3: Blaming.

3 Jan

This is the fifth part in a multi-part blog series about leaving the congregation I served.

goodbyeLeaving the church was exhausting. I was constantly both excited about the upcoming transition and sad about leaving behind people I loved.  I know myself well enough to know that if I am  constantly vulnerable and exhausted, I am more likely fall back into my own bad habits, including bad habits around leaving.

In CPE many years ago, I learned that I hate long goodbyes. If they are quick, I can process my feelings and move on. But when they are longer, I don’t like to sit with those uncomfortable feelings. In these situations, my old pattern of behavior is to find fault in every little thing the other party does; I nitpick. Doing this makes it easier for me to leave because, for me, anger is a much more comfortable feeling than the pain that comes from sadness.

I knew I didn’t want to nitpick and blame as I was leaving the congregation, which meant I had to allow myself to feel the pain. This meant I had to be strong and healthy enough to do so – to sit both my own and the pain of others – some of whom were blaming me.

One of the areas that caused pain to congregants was the sermon I had done in January where I had recommitted to the congregation and wondered what the next seven years would bring.  Since this sermon was a recurring source of pain as I was saying goodbye to people, I ended up writing a newsletter column about what was going on with me at the time.

There are only two things I would change about my leaving process: first, I would leave during the regular transition cycle (which unfortunately wasn’t an option) and second, I would not have given this January sermon. 

A tipping point came six weeks before my last day. The Board held a leadership retreat and I was invited to come and lead the retreat for the last hour. During that hour, I presented suggestions for how the leadership of the congregation might turn this transition into an opportunity. I utilized a paper I had written for my “Strategic Human Resource Management in Nonprofits” class about executive transition, my understanding of the history of the congregation, and my own hopes and dreams for them as I outlined 3 pitfalls they would want to avoid, and my suggestions for how to best make use of this opportunity.

At the end of that hour, all of us were in a new place. The leadership understood in a new, visceral way that this vocation change of mine (from parish ministry to denominational/community ministry) was not about them but was about how I was called to serve our faith.  They were excited about what the future might hold – for me, and for the congregation. I walked away feeling proud, and hopeful.

In some other traditions, the standard amount of notification for a minister ending a settlement is six weeks. In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, it is basically twice that: 90 days. When I first gave notice, I lamented how long that is – it seemed excessive. However, this retreat came right smack in the middle – the day before what would have been my last day in another tradition. It was at this point that I began to appreciate the wisdom of the extra time that Unitarian Universalists work to achieve. Up until the retreat, I had been all business – getting things done, passing on information, coming to terms with my own feelings. But after the retreat, right at the 6 week point, all of us seemed more comfortable holding the duality of being both excited and sad at the same time. Rather than being overwhelmed, the experience became bittersweet – something to be cherished.

go to Stage 4: Fallout/Resolution

Stage 2: Drama.

2 Jan

This is the fourth part in a multi-part blog series about leaving the congregation I served.

goodbyeI had thought that breaking the news would be the most difficult part of the leaving process and that things would get easier from there. While I was indeed relieved after having broken the news to the congregation, that was just the beginning of a lengthy and emotional process.

As the news began to settle in, people began to grieve – not only were they losing their minister, but for many of them I was the minister who was supposed to do their childrens’ weddings, maybe even the minister who was supposed to perform their memorial service. It was difficult for them to lose their vision of the future. This is where Thistles and the Berry Street Essay were the most helpful – in dealing with people’s grief.  It was indeed as though I were dying to them.

I repeatedly normalized their feelings. I told people it was okay to feel grief, to feel anger. And to feel excitement and wonder at what was to come.  The temptation was to try to problem solve with them, to try to fix their feelings and my own, but I knew I could not do that.  So I sat with them.

At the same time, the church year was just getting started. I felt like I had two jobs: getting going for the fall (with water communion, RE startup, all the normal church-year busy-ness) and, at the same time, leaving.

I scheduled an open house at my home, just for church members. I also noticed that people were not reaching out to meet with me the way I thought they would so I sent out an email to every member (and called those without email):

Hi!

I was wondering if you might want to meet with me before I leave First U on October 23 – maybe to talk about future plans for the church (any hopes or fears you might have), to hear more about my plans, or maybe just to check-in.

Towards these ends, I am scheduling 30 and 60 minute visits (daytime or evening) with First U folks throughout October.

If you would like to schedule something, let me know what works for you!

Blessings,
Rev. Dawn

The email also caught some people who hadn’t yet realized I was leaving, so I continued to have to explain the situation and go over the same details repeatedly. I was also amazed at the people who wanted to meet with me – some new members, some visitors, some long-time members who said “I always meant to sit down with you before now.”   I started spending more time in the office, available for drop-in visitors – something I had not really been available for before.

It was exhausting.  I began to shift from a time-management perspective to an energy-management one: I had to prioritize leaving, but I could only spend so much of my energy on it without feeling drained. I knew I didn’t want to feel too drained because that would increase the vulnerability hangovers that I was feeling each night. And I know myself well enough to know that in that vulnerable, exhausted state, I would more than likely fall back into my own bad habits around leaving. Namely: that I would begin to get angry at people in order to make saying good-bye easier.

go to Stage 3: Blaming

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