Friday, October 05, 2007

An Attitude of Gratitude...

is the title of this Sunday's sermon, which I'll post later. It had been scheduled for an outdoor service on Aug. 19, but we got rained out that day and had to go to a neighboring house. I chose not to preach the sermon, since we had a tiny crowd, several small children roaming about, and it just wouldn't have worked well. But it's gotten me thinking again about gratitude. More on that in a moment, since there's something related I've been thinking about as well.

It's interesting to be a minister, a clergywoman, with a blog. Because ministry is one of those callings which is all-encompassing as a vocation, I find myself writing posts with this awareness in the back of my mind. Oh, that doesn't mean that I am serious all the time or that I piously avoid certain words or jokes or attitudes. But I have been forcefully reminded many times that it is nearly impossible to shed the mantle of ministry and be something else for awhile.

I deliberately cultivate friends outside my congregation, I do not advertise my vocation, I do not discuss my congregational responsibilities with outsiders; I do not tell most people what I do with my life. Nobody at the gym knows, for example. My singing group members mostly don't know. Because the minute they find out that I am a parson person, their perceptions of me shift and their expectations of me change.

So, in the year and a few months that I have been writing Ms. Kitty's, I have come to see my readers as a kind of cyber-congregation. You all know that I am an ordained minister. And because I want to enhance your perception and understanding of ministry, I write like a minister (albeit a Western-style, casually dressed, interested in goofy quizzes minister). I want you to know how the mind of this minister works. I am careful about personal stories and apologize if I overstep boundaries. It's not always easy to tell what should be used as material and what shouldn't; I'm learning all the time.

Like any congregation, you manage to give me feedback. You expect me to behave myself and remind me when I don't. Sometimes the feedback feels kind of mean, but it's valuable nevertheless and I appreciate it, even as I smart, even when it takes me a long time to get to that point of appreciation!

Anyhow, back to gratitude. In the upcoming sermon, there's a story about a painful time in my life, when I was struggling to make sense of a conflict in the congregation I was serving, angry with a particular set of people who were trying to force me out with dishonest, unkind methods. My anger and resentment toward those people festered for a long time. It was painful just to visit the town where that congregation was located because I felt so angry about the treatment I'd received. And I posted, not long ago, about how hard it was to forgive someone who never apologized.

And then it hit me one day not long after that post: I actually owe that small group of people a debt of gratitude. It was because of their unkindness and poor treatment that I resigned-----and found a place to minister where I have been so well treated, so well received and appreciated, that I am happier and more content than I have ever been.

That realization, that I am actually grateful for that terrible experience because of what came out of it, has given me peace of mind that I never expected to find. And it has encouraged me to look for other reasons to be grateful to my enemies. Those reasons are not always easy to find; they take time. But I am reassured that if I am mindful, I will discover them.


LinguistFriend said...

I have had thoughts about personal relationships similar to what you say about being with the wrong congregation: the person who is making one miserable, even if one is conniving at it oneself, is probably not the right person to try to be with, barring miracles of couples counselling.
But about this Ms. K's readership-as-congregation stuff, I think that I wrote here about a year ago. Perhaps it did not sink in at that time, or just bobbed up from the depths, or has been bobbing around in the sky like a balloon and just leaked enough helium to be grabbed for a post.
Now I go back to translating a lousy medieval Latin medical text into English.

Lizard Eater said...

This is beautiful and so honest. Thank you for sharing; it helps.

ms. kitty said...

LF, I remember when you mentioned something about that, but it didn't sink in completely till recently. I had read something someone else wrote, elsewhere, describing herself as a "religious journalist" when she blogs. I questioned that, in my mind, because my experience with ministry is that we can't shed the mantle, once others know we are ministers, that, for better or for worse, that is our core identity. So I guess my post is acknowledging that understanding of my readers as a sort of congregation, to whom I have a responsibility to be pastoral.

Comrade Kevin said...

I agree, once a person mentions they are a member of the clergy, then our whole perspective of them changes. I wonder what it would take to demystify the role of ministry in our life and if doing so would unintentionally remove the reverence from the vocation.

I think with time each of us can understand that sometimes our most troubling times can be a blessing in disguise. I wonder if perhaps that's a revelation we all receive when we reach the last stage of grief--resolution.