Jeremiah, Ministry, Narrative Lectionary, The Inner Landscape, Writing

Drink coffee where you’re planted

Feeling a little sorry for myself, I drove to the Starbucks in Camp Hill this morning to work where I wouldn’t be underfoot for the cleaning lady.

A mother and son sat down next to me, the mom an elegant, Middle Eastern woman with dark skin and long hair, an expensive though casual outfit, and a pair of unlikely and inelegant shoes – desert boots – which, along with her face, said sixty. The son was nice-looking, maybe 30ish, dressed in jeans and a windowpane-checked shirt with a lightweight quilted vest, and loafers without socks. They talked about a family business, a restaurant. He complained, mildly, that his mother compared his new girlfriend to his old girlfriend, “practically every day.” Her smart phone (cracked screen, fuschia case) sat on the table while she ate food she brought in with her, but they both drank coffee from those red holiday cups.

Wherever they came from, they’re here now. Their family owns a restaurant. They meet and drink coffee.

He goes back for a second cup, an Americano.

They are living fully where they are planted.

At Starbucks.
At Starbucks.

Part of my pity party revolves around my grown-up children. I miss them. They are living their lives in Brooklyn and Boulder and Northampton. I am living mine in South Central Pennsylvania. They are doing what I hoped, pursuing their interests and working hard to make the most of the gifts God gave them. The actor (Brooklyn) and the musician (Boulder), both craftsmen, audition and perform and take class and rehearse. The student (Northampton) shows us with each passing week that she is truly a scholar as the grades come in and all the things she feared weren’t good enough get an A-.

But what am I doing with myself?

I’m continuing to grieve the end of my work in the local church. Most of the time it’s okay. I understand the reasons it isn’t happening and may not again. There are other things I’m doing, but they don’t pay anything right now and they may not, ever. I find that hard. There is, after all, a daughter in college, and a younger child who will get there eventually. I sort of thought if God really wanted me to be doing particular work, it would end up paying, which would be great for practical reasons even though it’s not the ultimate mark of value.

In the midst of my pity party (Classic Coffee Cake and a Tall Mocha), I opened the text for this week and proceeded to be worked over by it.

Honestly, I expect this from the Revised Common Lectionary. We’ve been in relationship since the late 1980s. Inevitably, some portion of the various texts takes me by the shoulders and gives me a good shake. But it’s all new with the Narrative Lectionary. How can it know me so well?

Still there he is, Jeremiah, ready to take me for a ride around the block. Not only is he exhorting the Israelites to make a life in Babylon, he assures them that God has a plan for their future.

Shoot.

I am such a proficient mourner! By the waters of the Yellow Breeches I lay down and weep for Back Cove. I pine a little, anyway. Mostly I pine for a sense of identity and a place to go.

When Google Maps asked if Kathryn’s church was my “Work,” I admit to feeling a sense of despair. Instead, I typed in this Starbucks. (12 minutes from home, under average circumstances. Clearly, this is a first world pity party.)

Immigrant or exile, I admit I am struggling to carve out a new identity for myself and to get somewhere in the work I am doing.

“I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, Common English Bible)

I’m calling.

“Write your stories. Craft your prayers. Listen. Read. Turn the farm share into a nutritious and interesting dinner. Love your family. What’s next is next. For now, drink coffee where you’re planted.”

Ministry, The Inner Landscape, Writing

I am not writing.

The remote office.
The remote office.

It’s Thursday, which is known as Sermon Cave Day around here. Kathrynzj and I meet up in the early afternoon and go somewhere to write. For the past four months, we’ve both been working on sermons. Before that I was writing and revising material I wrote during my sabbatical time, sitting here in our loft or at my remote office.

Now I’ve got nothing.

The truth is, I took a rejection earlier this year very hard. I was just finding direction for a project I hoped to develop into something other people would want to read, and when a piece of it got an unqualified rejection, I didn’t bounce back from it. It didn’t help that this rejection came from a Famous Institute That Gives Workshops for Clergy Writers, and that many people I know went this year. I am happy for them, delighted, in fact; please don’t take this any other way. But I was admittedly discouraged. What did I do wrong? I chose a piece I had been working on for some time. I put other people’s eyes on it and took their feedback seriously. I revised the piece. It was an inventive (I thought) examination of something personal, theological and cultural. It was ruthlessly honest. 

Thank you to the few people who knew and were encouraging nonetheless. I appreciate your efforts.

Even more charmingly, this disappointment came just after I declared myself to be a writer and resulted in limiting my writing almost entirely to things I had to do for my then new job as a Sabbatical Pastor.

Some writer. So embarrassing.

But there it sits on Facebook, for the whole world to see: “Writer at Reflectionary.”

Aargh.

After a summer of writing sermons and liturgy, but not much else, I really don’t know how to start again. My other role, as Director of RevGalBlogPals, is full of detail-oriented tasks right now, to do with the new website and its enormous blogroll and its wonderful community of contributors who need to get signed in to actually use it, in addition to exciting longer term planning about expanding the reach of RevGals’ ministry with more in-person events. It is a currently unpaid, theoretically part-time, call that could end up taking all my time if I let it.

I miss writing, but I am not writing.

I am not blogging.

I am not scribbling in my journal except in response to the Bible or other people’s writing or prayers.

I *am* writing prayers, for myself and for others. That’s something.

But I’m not feeling the way writing used to make me feel. Just as it is solved by writing (Solvitur Ambulando), it is solved for me by writing. Writing always gets me somewhere. Perhaps this is why so many things feel unsolved right now. And while Sunday’s sermon was probably not the last sermon I will ever write, it’s the last one for a long span, and I can’t use “saving it up for the sermon” as a reason not to express my thoughts in writing anymore.

I admit, abashedly, that despite the advice and counsel I could give to others, I stood in the kitchen this morning and had to listen to words I know very well are true, coming toward me from my spouse. “If you want to be a writer, you need to have a thicker skin.”

The home office, when I was still writing.
The home office, when I was still writing.

The last time I read the material I wrote during my sabbatical, I decided it was all terrible, horrible, no good and very bad. I admit I was thin-skinned at the time. I also admit I concluded I wasn’t ruthless enough to write about my life when other people might be hurt by it.

Maybe it’s time to take another look at all those pages. Maybe there is some other way to employ the stories and feelings and memories I explored.

Maybe it’s time to start writing again, whether anyone else likes it or not.

Sabbatical, Writing

#amwriting

Where I wrote today.
Where I wrote today.

(Warning: This is a little meta.)

I guess I’ve said already that through the great generosity of my dear wife, I am taking a sabbatical, which gives me time to think about what’s next, but also gives me time to write.

I’ve been a writer since I was old enough to put words together on paper: childish poetry, romantic stories, terrible one-act plays, school papers, religious songs (teenage variety), the many college papers of an English and History double major, short stories (a little better than the earlier era), one act plays (just as awful and maybe worse), dozens of journals (almost all burned on the fire at the house in Portland before I left), poetry that was one step better, records of dreams you really wouldn’t want anyone to ever see, many reflection papers (we’re in seminary now), and then sermons and reflections on scripture and that public journal that is this blog and its forerunners, which is, on the whole, far cheerier than any of the private journals and perhaps also far more self-deceiving.

Now my commitment is to write for the next couple of months, at least, the way real writers do it, to sit down at the desk or table at the same time every day and simply write.

On Twitter, writers use the hashtag #amwriting. I’ve been checking in there and making a note of myself this week. Before I went away, I had two articles to finish (the dreaded sermon reviews for Lectionary Homiletics) and another piece to work on for a deadline. Now I have only the writing I’m moved to do, with no one looking over my shoulder…and not for the blog. It occurs to me that if a person wants to put something in a book someday, it’s probably better not to give it away to the world on the blog. It also occurs to me that writing for the blog is seeking the kind of instant gratification we used to get back in the day before all the community mojo moved to Facebook. That isn’t likely to happen. And I do hope to get into some kind of groove again with the lectionary and maybe even the (gasp!) Narrative Lectionary since kathrynzj’s church will be moving in that direction later this year.

But the most important reason for writing just for myself for now is the cultivation of ruthless honesty. I’ve been very, very careful for years now, not to hurt anyone’s feelings with my writing. And it’s not like I’m setting out to damage others, but I want to tell my truth, at least to me, while I still can.

Listening for Madeleine -- and my new library card.
Listening for Madeleine — and my new library card.

Hilariously, and in a spirit of complete contradiction, I’ve been reading “Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices,” in which her daughter, Josephine Jones, and others make it clear that a lot of the stuff she published as memoir was simply made up. “She would make up a narrative to confirm what she thought should have been…She would make sense of a thing to her own satisfaction. Then for her that story was reality,” says Josephine (p. 171).

It was her version of the world.

Maybe what I think of as ruthless honesty is my version of my world.

Maybe, if anyone else ever reads this material, people will say, “Oh, I don’t remember it that way at all!” LP can tell you I retell conversations that happened earlier on the same day in the way I think they make sense rather than the way she remembers them, so this is entirely likely.

Another day perhaps we’ll take on the difference between facts and truth. Meanwhile, #amwriting.