Saturday, September 16, 2006

Eat This Book!

I just finished reading a truly delicious book, Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. It's one of those books that fell into my lap at exactly the right time. I wrote on the blog a while ago about hearing Terry Gross interview Taylor, and falling in love with her before I even knew who she was.

Who she is: Episcopal priest, was on staff at a large suburban church in Atlanta as one of several clergy, then left for her own smaller church in rural north Georgia. Writes for Christian Century, and is a nationally recognized preacher. (Man, would I love to hear her preach some time.) And I tell you, this woman can write, too!

Here are a few tastes:
On entering the priesthood: Being a priest seemed only slightly less dicey to me than being chief engineer at a nuclear plant. In both cases, one needed to know how to approach great power without loosing great danger and getting fried in the process.

A priest is someone willing to stand between a God and a people who are longing for one another's love, turning back and forth between them with no hope of tending either as well as each deserves.

On moving away from the cacophany of city life and the dissatisfactions of ministry in a large urban church, and moving into a rural environment, and a smaller, more intimate church: The sounds outside my windows were no longer car horns and traffic helicopters but migrating geese. Like them, I had left my old home when all the food was gone.

She works her butt off as the only priest in this congregation (which by UU standards isn't all that small--probably a few hundred). Eventually she grows bone-weary, and finds that she is crying all the time. This is a deeply moving story of a pastor who discovers that she can be closest to God on her own terms, and not leading a church. While her descriptions of her growing sadness in ministry are... well, sad... they are beautifully descriptive of what we parish ministers know all too well: the transference that makes us think we are more powerful than we are, the compassion fatigue, the irritation with all the crazy-making pettiness of the church narcissists, the numbing awareness that no matter how much we do, it is never enough.

Here is one that blew me away: Along with the difficult people were the people whose feet I would have gladly washed if I could have gotten them to take their socks off. Unlike the difficult ones, these people did not ask for much from me. They tended to be givers, not takers, and if they asked for help then I knew that their resources were truly exhausted. I am not sure that I served Christ in them as much as I met Christ in them, but either way they were not the problem. The problem was that I wanted everyone to be like them.

A good mantra for survival in parish ministry: The people you think love you don't love you as much as you think they love you, and the people you think hate you don't hate you as much as you think they hate you.

I would like to share much more of this delectable book with you, but even more than that, I would love to have you go out and buy your own copy, and mark it up all over as I have. In a book like this that doesn't have an index, I make my own index on the end-papers, jotting little notes and page numbers for the wise words I find therein. It makes it a lot easier to go back and find the quotations I know are in there somewhere. My copy of this book has the end papers covered in handwritten notes.

There is sadness in watching her gradual realization that the parish is not the place for her any more, but there is also joy in being present to her discovery that her relationship with God improves a great deal once she gets out of the church. Here is my all-time favorite quotation from the book: On the twentieth anniversary of my ordination, I would have to say that at least one of the things that almost killed me was becoming a professional holy person. I am not sure that the deadliness was in the job as much as it was in the way I did it, but I now have higher regard than ever for clergy who are able to wear their mantles without mistaking the fabric for their own skin. As many years as I wanted to wear a clerical collar and as hard as I worked to get one, taking it off turned out to be as necessary for my salvation as putting it on.

You can go here to take a look at it, but of course you will buy it at your local independent book store, noting that (a) when you figure in the shipping costs, it is NOT less expensive to buy it on line, and (b) your local bookstore owner can get it for you just as fast as you can get it on line. You will understand the economics of supporting small local businesses where you live, as part of your effort to keep the local economy healthy and diversified, and to encourage sustainable living in all of its forms., Powells, and Wal*Mart are not your friends.

Bon apetit!


Blogger Siobhan said...

Berrysmom: saw your comment on my blog about the Kookaburra or Euclan wash for hand knits- and dont know how else to get a response to you:
You can order either product from Knitpicks: select Tools, then Sweater Care.

I knit lots of socks for gifts, too-- am currently working on a great hand-painted pair- vivid greens and multi colors-- hand wash, though! My husband has a drawer full of hand knit socks- and he takes very good care of them! His daughter also loves them- says that's all I ever have to send her for her birthday-- so of course, she gets a pair every year!

9:09 PM  

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