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Job Hunting for the Two Career Couple: When the Right Call Is Not the Church

fargoneI sat on the bed, listening to the shower. At my feet there was a massive pile of laundry, mostly my husband’s clothes. He was packing a large suitcase and moving to the East coast for a job. For the second time in 12 months, we were going to be separated.

When we first met, we were graduate students. In our blind optimism, we assumed that we would work hard, get good grades, and find work anywhere. We had no idea that the Great Recession was months away from crashing down upon us, and we had no inkling that a prestigious, demanding school which is well-recognized in the East would carry zero weight in the West. He graduated with distinction in Connecticut. Two years later, his job hunt has been fruitless in Oregon. In desperation, he accepted a position in Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park, and we separated for the first time a little over a year ago.

A two career couple has been a very difficult thing in ministry. I find it has been a constant dance of discernment, opportunity, and choice. On one hand, I love that he has different, non-church work. He keeps me real. Sometimes I wish that he was a nurse or a dentist or some other highly transportable profession, but the reality is that he is gifted with artifacts. But one of us (me) believes that God is in charge of my career path. And it was dawning on me that Oregon, the beautiful breezy place where I thought we had found our dream, left him with a choice between living  here and taking a job cleaning out dog kennels, or living apart and having a professional job. I couldn’t ask my spouse to make that sacrifice. But I also couldn’t believe that God would bring two people together, only to split them up. How could God ask that, even of a priest?

There have been ways to cope. We prioritized face-to-face communication. We Skype every night and have “happy hour dates”. (We each make a drink and call each other.) We text constantly – his early morning messages arrive while I sleep.  But we spent Thanksgiving apart, he eating oysters with his brother in Maryland, me sharing stuffing with a coworker in Eugene. Every night, we sleep alone. I snuggle his pillow and negotiate space with his cats, who spent last week sulking in his closet, buried under the clothes he left behind. We used an app called Couple to share secrets.

Unbidden, negative emotions have roiled. I became jealous that he could spend Sundays watching football on his best friend’s couch, knowing I would come home to a dirty cat box and a cold kitchen after a grueling day. I panicked when I couldn’t reach him, so we decided to install “Find My Friends” app which we call “iPhone Stalker” so we can tell if the non-answering person is on the road. He gets frustrated when I email a dozen articles overnight during my frequent insomnia bouts. Trash talking via text message leads to fast misunderstandings when he threatens to pick up Tom Brady as his fantasy quarterback against my strident objections. Sometimes, it feels like we spend most of our time apologizing to each other.

Good friends saved my bacon. Time after time, friends talked me off my ledge when I had convinced myself it was the end.  They shared so many stories of breakups, separations, reconciliations. They told me of the bruises in their own loves, and reminded me to see the best in my spouse. Friends convinced me to see a counselor at my lowest point.

Deciding whether love or career won out was agony. As a priest, my life is so public. Parishioners worried, knowing he was gone. Why had such a happy couple split up? One person suggested that, since we had no children, a divorce would be easy. What kind of couple would choose to live apart? I can point to Gabrielle Giffords and her astronaut husband Mark Kelly, or to military couples, but the reality is that those couples have resources and innate support systems than I did.  We honestly questioned: was this really the end? Did God call me here to show me that my calling as a priest was more important than any relationship out there – spouse, family, friends? For one horrible week, we talked about divorce.

I loved my job, my people, my town. I thought this was my dream. Yet the dream hadn’t accounted for distance from family and friends. I missed major East Coast milestones. My dream was killing my spouse’s spirit. I couldn’t bear to disappoint or hurt anyone – I imagined waves of anger and disappointment flooding towards me no matter what.

The reality is that church work is tight. The reality is that it’s difficult for women. Changing jobs can be a political dance. Was it the right time to leave? Would it be a bad career move?  Would a future church look down on my moving? Could I take the time to seek a job I truly felt called to, or should I just choose the first option that would bring me back? Logically, I knew we weren’t alone. During this year, at least five other couples in my circle of friends moved away from our small town. Who was being the selfish one in our little twosome – him for taking fellowship offers, or me for sitting on our deck looking out over the rolling hills and not wanting to move? Was I just paralyzed by fear of disappointing people?

Finally, the financial stress was unbelievable. We have always been a fairly frugal couple. But after years of grad school, then a major car repair, then a year of unemployment, followed by another car crisis, my once-healthy emergency fund was screaming for relief. We needed more money, money that wasn’t going to be found in my paralysis.

Making the choice to leave the parish has been the hardest one I have ever made. How could I get so involved in people’s lives, only to leave when my own got tough? People were in love; I wanted to watch them get married. People were pregnant with babies or waiting for adoption matches; I wanted to be there when the babies were baptized. We were getting ready to remodel our kitchen and parish hall; I wanted to walk the new labyrinth and sit in the center.

At the end of the day, I hadn’t actually taken vows to the parish, yet I was treating it as though it had more claim on my love and care than the actual husband. We had always said that the place that was right for one of us was the place that was right for both of us. My heart broke as I finally admitted my parish wasn’t it.

After I dropped him off at the airport and returned home, I opened up the Transition Ministry Newsletters and began emailing my information to open churches. For the sake of love, it was time to leave.

Difference: Stone Walls or Open Doors?

Follow the LightWhen my partner Steve and I met, we learned quickly that our family cultures would collide. I was studying in seminary; he studied science in college and worked in sales.  I spoke the spooky Minnesota “oh’s”; he spoke a southern drawl.  I devoted my life to the church; he was not a churchgoer and frankly didn’t care to be a churchgoer.  We often found ourselves caught in the middle of his family’s Southern gentility and my family’s Northern brusqueness.

Two months after we started dating, we went out for dinner. He drove me home and left. In my solitude, I launched my computer to start a search on WebMD. I had felt pain behind my knee for about four weeks, and I started thinking that it wasn’t merely a strained muscle. I called my doctor and was advised to go to the emergency room.  ASAP.  Sure enough, it was a blood clot.  It was urgent.  I didn’t leave the hospital that night.  I also didn’t call Steve.  He had led me to believe that he had one of the most important meetings of the year that next morning.  It was midnight – too late to call anybody.  I didn’t call my family.  They lived eight hours away from me, and I didn’t want them to wake and drive in the middle of the night. I was safe, I wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t want to risk their safety.  I called them early the next morning.  I called Steve during his lunch hour, after his important meeting.

Steve was outraged that I didn’t call him. Certainly a blood clot trumped a business meeting! He burned to question me upon entering the hospital room, but my parents were already there. Yes – my future husband and my parents met over my hospital bed! It was awkward, and the culture clash made it more so. Our relationship was new and we were still adapting to that while simultaneously my parents were forced to deal with my illness and this stranger in their midst. Soon the conversation fell silent between the four of us. I was in and out of queasiness from the pain meds.  We were fishing for things to do. My parents and I tried to show Steve the card game euchre. We failed miserably. Not because Steve didn’t show any interest or want to learn, but because we were too good at playing cards and too bad at teaching. Then I puked.

I spent five nights in the hospital.  Two days later, it was Christmas.  Our Christmas was a mish-mashed mess of mixed family traditions. It was filled with uncomfortable introductions and last-minute gift purchasing.  There were many quiet moments because I needed to rest while everyone else hung out, almost twiddling their thumbs at one another.

These days were exasperating.  New people and situations, uncertainties, insecurities, and misunderstandings seemed to be a whirlwind that lasted two weeks.  When everyone went home, I finally had the chance to process the craziness that had transpired.  I realized the differences that I found so challenging in Steve and his family were exactly the reasons that I knew I would be with him forever.

We’ve made many interesting memories since that hospital Advent in our relationship.  Our Southern family is astounded at the ambiguous gender roles we exhibit.  Our Northern family sometimes shrugs their shoulders.  Some people see our relationship as challenge.  We see it as opportunity.

What would our world be like if we saw differences as opportunity?  Jesus loved Samaritans; Paul welcomed Gentiles.  Could the church be so bold?  We build stone walls between one another in so many ways.  These walls often birth the ugliest parts of humanity: sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, classism, ageism, etc.  I easily see my family differences as opportunity; it’s harder to see when looking at my congregation, my community, or at the larger context of today’s world.

I try – sometimes well, most times wretchedly – to express difference as opportunity.  I often feel as though I am the one behind a stone wall, desperately trying to find a door to open. It took me nine years to get through a four-year process for ministry candidacy and ordination.  I am one of the youngest adult members in my congregation and my rural community. God has called me to be the first female (sometimes pregnant) pastor of my congregation.

I bring an unusual liveliness to ministerial meetings simply because of who I am. For example, when a conservative pastor shares a generalizing opinion about Christianity or what “we” believe, I tactfully remind him that there are Christian people outside of his ideology.  That’s not generally popular.  Some believe this may give people more fervor to say that women shouldn’t be pastors.  Many pastors loathe participating in this kind of conversation. I feel strongly that we need to plant conversational seeds that ask, “Who is this Jesus that we follow?  How do we faithfully follow together? How do we stop building stone walls? In our differences, how is God opening doors for new life?”

Eight years into our marriage, Steve still does not define himself as a churchgoer. He comes to church because it’s important for me and our family. He made the promise at our children’s baptisms that he would.  It’s not easy to be a single parent in the pews.  He supports me wholeheartedly; and when not wrestling with a toddler, he can listen to my sermons.  Steve gives excellent feedback.  He’ll say, “This didn’t make any sense; too much jargon.  Real people sit in the pews, not theologians. Talk to us in real language.”  Every once and awhile, we dig deeper in conversation.  He asks me why I believe the “silly myth” that I believe.  I challenge him to think anew about life lived in Christian community. We have conversation that helps us understand one another and our differences and binds us together as we discover new similarities.  People struggle opening themselves to those who are different.  I struggle with it too.  But living with someone who is so different from me opens all kinds of doors for us to learn more about ourselves and one another.

Steve and I have learned together that we can build doors into those walls our society puts between us.  This helps make our relationship authentic.

We keep hearing from the blogosphere that people in the postmodern, post-Christendom church want a reformed, authentic church. We lose authenticity when we ignore the truth that everyone is fundamentally the same. Differences can overwhelm the similarities; they keep us from seeing that we have the same basic goals: love, security, dignity, legacy, wholeness. When you tear down those fractious walls, our diversity becomes beautiful and we can actualize our common humanity.

I crave that people in our church dig deep into uncharted horizons where we love, honor, and invite different people to join our table. I want to see conversation that is tender yet challenging and visionary.  I hope to find doors built into our defensive walls so that “different” is no longer taboo heresy.  I long for the day when, rather than blaming someone for being offensively different, we embrace one another for our common humanity.  I yearn that one Christian learn from another’s human experience as if it was her own.  I pray to God with Jesus, “that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11b, NIV)  My dream for Christ’s church is that it’s an open door, as bright as a skylight in the dark, thick walls, connecting two divided sides.  It’s an illuminating place where all God’s saints can peaceably abide together.

Rev. Brenda Lovick is the pastor at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in the rural village of Manlius in northern Illinois.  She graduated from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary with an MDiv and an MAMFT in 2006 and completed coursework at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 2009.  She leads a hobby-less life as she loves church people by day and chases small children by night.

Photo by Victor Bayon, http://www.flickr.com/photos/formalfallacy/2367382622/, August 13, 2013.  Used by Creative Commons License.

Making Lists: One Mom’s Response to the Trayvon Martin Case

As a wife, mother, and clergy person I struggle with what to tell my son about Trayvon Martin.  As the mother of a five-month old black male, I am particularly concerned about what I will tell him.  There will be a day when my son will ask me some hard questions and I hope I am ready to answer his questions.  I hope that I’ve laid the groundwork for him to understand how incredibly valued he is and how racism is not his fault.

Because I needed to grieve for Trayvon and because I needed to think through what I was going to say in the future, I pulled together a list of the things we say to him now.  I have seen several of these lists already, but they all seemed to be missing something. They were all missing God and they were all missing an important lesson, that humans are valued.  This list is my attempt to make sense of a world that sometimes doesn’t make any sense, to myself or to the tiny human that is my son.

 

 

 

 

What I say to Isaac :

1).     You are loved. Isaac, you are loved and beloved by God.  God loves you and knit you together.  God loved you so much that he sent his only son to live, die, and be raised again so that you could have eternal life.  Isaac, God loves you every second of every day and will love you forever.  God loves you in your joy and in your sadness. God is always with you and God always loves you.

Isaac, your parents love you.  We love you and will do our best to make sure you know that every day.  Some days we will definitely fail and some days we will not get along, but we will always love you.  Your extended family loves you.  Your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, (and because we are southerners all of those people we aren’t related to but call aunts and uncles — they love you too).

2).     You are wonderful, you are beautiful, you are strong, you are smart, and you are worth it.  God holds you in God’s hands and cherishes you as something marvelous.  God surrounds you with his grace, not because you are perfect, but because you are complex, interesting, and wonderful. Thankfully we are not made to be perfect.  We are made to stumble and fall, we are made to be human.  Our humanity makes us fragile, but we are made to be good.  We are made to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with God.  You are so wonderful; you are so worth it, so keep trying.

3).     We expect you to strive to be a good man.  We expect you to be respectful, helpful, thoughtful, and kind.  We also expect that you will not live up to those expectations all the time.  You will eventually be a teenager, you will probably rebel, and that is part of your job as a child.  You will have to figure your own way to be a good man.  During all of this though, we expect you to be a good man.  We will work very hard to teach you all of this by modeling this behavior, but as I said in #2, we are all human and we make mistakes.  We promise not to just say these words, but we will try and live them out everyday.  I pray that we can live in a way that teaches you how to be a good man, and I promise, we are doing our best.

4).     Some people are mean and it has nothing to do with you. There are a lot of hurting and broken people in our world.  There are a lot of people that are mad and that don’t know how to deal with their anger.  You have seen firsthand that there are people that are hurting, both your parents are clergy; we are up to our eyeballs in the hurt and pain of others.  Some of these people might take their own issues out on you.  Their issues have absolutely nothing to do with you.  Some of these people will assume terrible things about you just because of the color of your skin.  Never. Ever. Believe Them.  Re-read #’s 1 and 2; there is nothing wrong with you.  Some people may even try and harm you, do not engage them.  I can imagine you will want to stand up to them, (you have a lot of me in you) but sometimes to survive you have to run.  Keep walking, run if you have to, call an adult, call the police, and ask for help.  (Sometimes the police will not be on your side, but please assume that they will be).  Do not try and fight crazy; crazy will always win.

Right now my little son is exclaimed as cute wherever he goes.  Our congregation lines up to exclaim at his cuteness, and little Isaac obliges with giggles, coos, and smiles; he’s already the overly accommodating PK (we’ll have to talk about that).  We live in the south and since we are all generally cousins and overly friendly, whenever we are out with him we are stopped and told that he is very, very cute.  It is true, I think he is absolutely adorable and his fans have fomented my belief that he is as cute as I think he is.

When most people see him they see an adorable little face they want to kiss and hold.  But what is society going to see when he becomes a teenager and then an adult black man?  If he is so incredibly cute right now, what are we all going to see when he is big?  Are we going to see that same cute face only bigger, with opinions, attitudes, and thoughts?  Or are we going to see a threatening face, meant to rob and kill?  Are we going to assume my little Isaac is nefarious or are we going to remember that he is Isaac?   Something changes in people when a black male child becomes a black teenager and then a black man.  And so I am working to prepare little Isaac for a world that is not ready for him.

I saw a cartoon the other day that hit entirely too close to home. It showed a mother handing her black son a sign to pin on himself that said, “Don’t shoot, on my way to school.”  Am I going to have to make Isaac that sign?  I know that most of the time we don’t know what to do or say when it comes to talking about race. And that makes me afraid for my son.

A Review of Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology by Mihee Kim-Kort

kim-kort-coverIt’s not every day you get to read a seminal, formative work in a still-emerging field of theology.  But that is exactly what Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology by Mihee Kim-Kort is.  If you ever find yourself agreeing with the writer of Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun,” pick up Making Paper Cranes and see if you can still say that when you are finished.

 

It’s not that feminist theology is brand new.  And while it is relatively new on the scene, this isn’t the first volume of theology written from an Asian American perspective.  It’s not even the first book to combine the two.

 

Kim-Kort’s work is formative and important to the entire world of theology because the way she pinpoints where her experience and the work of God intersect models the way all of us might undertake embodied theology—theology with meat on its bones. In this way her theology is neither a majority theology or a minority theology—it simply is authentic theology for a Korean American Presbyterian young woman in dialogue with all of the traditions in which she happens to be rooted.  As such, it is a model of how all of us might undertake similar theological pursuits authentic to each one of us as children of God.

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Equal Work for Equal Pay?

When it comes to salaries, women clergy are hit with a double whammy. On top of the regular socialization that most women face—you know, the encouragements to “play nice” and not make a big deal about our pay or inequitable treatment—we’re also smacked with a massive dose of spiritual guilt.

Whenever our discomfort about pay comes up, we’re told, “You really didn’t go into the ministry for the money, did you?” People question our personal commitment to our calling or they wonder why we don’t have a servant’s heart. We’re told that we should be more like Jesus, Paul, or Shane Claiborne.

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