Presumed Familiarity

This prim note of reprimand comes to you from The Reverend Doctor MISS PeaceBang to you.

It was prompted by the video that is going around of a 110 year old woman named Ms. Flossie Dickey being interviewed by a perky newswoman.

Awesomely Luvvie wrote up one of her typically hilarious take-downs on the situation , and you should read it. You should read everything Luvvie writes, because she is hilarious and brilliant and sharp as it gets — but wear Depends.

My point, in an amen to Luvvie’s observations about the disrespect being shown the elder here, is that I too am tired of the presumed familiarity of the young.

I am in full pursed-lip New England spinster mode, here. Don’t roll your eyes at me.

Just because we are ministerial colleagues doesn’t mean we’re friends.
Just because you have read my writings or seen me preach or had a brief conversation with me at an event does not mean that I know who the heck you are. Please introduce yourself.
Just because you’re the hottest stuff at your seminary and feel that you would be an amazing intern or summer minister doesn’t mean you should dispense with appropriate salutations in your introductory e-mail — or subsequent follow-ups.

I will set the tone. I am the senior colleague and you should follow my lead. If, after several exchanges, I take on a more casual tone, feel free to drop the “Sincerely yours” at the end of our correspondences. But don’t start there.

I am Miss Weinstein, or (grammatically inappropriately but socially acceptably) “Rev. Weinstein” or even, in ministry settings, “Dr. Weinstein.” (Within my congregational setting I’m Vicki or Rev. Vicki, but you’re not part of that setting).

Introduce me by my full name and title if you’re introducing me in a professional context. Get my permission to refer to me as “Vicki” rather than “Victoria” in a professional setting. When attributing me in print, please use my full title and name.

This goes for everyone, of course.

I am not one of those democratizing feminists who feels that titles are elitist and that they separate people. I happen to think that women should use all our titles — and insist on their use — to claim our authority in professional spaces. Academic achievement is not something to be erased or ignored in the effort to make everyone feel comfortable or equal.

Don’t call me “hon” or “dear” if you’re younger than 80 years old unless you want to get dropped off at the corner of “Bye” and “I-Don’t Think-So.”

And while we’re on the subject, the new “Dear ones” salutation favored by clergy gives me instant cavities. Pass the stevia! Saccharine is toxic!

I, of course, will carry on calling my readers Darlings and Pigeons and cupcakes and dear ones. You know why? Because you ARE darling dear cupcake pigeons and also, I’m not addressing you personally within your context of professional authority.

Happy Birthday to Miss Flossie Dickey.

On Not Bleeding All Over Everyone

I wrote last week about feeling particularly depleted after giving a very personal sermon about my father. I thought I would share the link here so we can talk about how much intention, preparation and discipline it requires to mine our own painful memories and experiences for the work of ministry.

In this sermon, I tell a story about my father breaking down crying one night the year before he died because he prophesied that he would die, and he was grieving the loss of seeing me grow up to become “an amazing woman.”

“You’re going to be an amazing woman and I’m not going to be there to see it,” he said.
It was the worst thing anyone has ever said to me, or could say to me. It shattered me. So, how does the fifty year old minister retrieve that memory, mine it for pastoral wisdom, and share it with a congregation thirty-four years later?

First of all, I think, she does wait thirty-four years so she can tell the story without choking up or going into trauma mode.

Second, she tells the story only because she feels it has something deeply spiritually valuable for the congregation, and not for therapeutic reasons.

Third, she writes out the story and tells it aloud several times the week before giving the sermon to assess whether or not she is able to preach it without revealing so much vulnerability to the congregation that they will feel compelled to worry about her emotional well-being.

Work it out in therapy or with a spiritual director before you bring it to your congregation, or to your ministerial Facebook page, or to your church group e-mail! Please. It is not fair to bleed all over people.
It’s one thing to shed a tear or two, because emotion is real and physical and it surprises us. That’s okay! What is not okay is to manipulate our communities by going before them in obvious distress in a way that makes them feel that they are obligated to comfort or take care of us. That’s manipulative. When I am in a congregation when this happens I just think “Oh no, honey, get a therapist. Get one quick. We are not here for this.”

Henry Nouwen changed ministry forever when he wrote The Wounded Healer. However, our woundedness is not best or wisely applied to our work when it has not been thoroughly processed and is not adequately supported by our subsequent understanding and emotional integration.

I will never “get over” that conversation with my father. It pains me still. It broke my heart.
But my pain, relatable as it may be, was not the pastorally useful part of the conversation. I felt, therefore, that it was my spiritual responsibility to hold this story in my heart until such time as I could, if I so decided, sift out its insights and lessons for consideration by my community.

I hope I did that.

Now: visuals! The fun stuff! My hair makes me look like a pinhead and my stole is askew in the back, but you can see how I have left my robe unzipped a bit at the top because I LOATHE the unflattering neckline on me. I don’t have enough neck and I have too much chin to carry it off. Working on it! I may just get the robe neckline altered.

Kisses of peace to you as you integrate your most painful stories and mine them for shared pastoral wisdom.

Post-Bagel Lippy Check And The Ministerial Coffee Hour Mental Fog Challenge

You know, we have talked about the importance of all of us checking our teeth after eating to make sure that stray chives aren’t working their way into our supportive pastoral smiles, but here’s one I hadn’t thought of that Devoted Pigeon, The Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, posted on Facebook today:

When eating a sesame seed bagel before presenting, check after each bite for seeds stuck to your long wear lipstick like PeaceBang taught you.

Yes! Indeedy, yes! Surreptitiously, though, when we’re with the community to whom we are presenting. I feel like I do this most coffee hours. By the time I finally make it into the fellowship hall, I am experiencing the post-service blood sugar drop and mental fogginess that only a bit of protein and carbs can fix (“God, give me the strength not to reach for the sugary coffee cake!” is my prayer). We often have seeded bagels and I grab a quarter of one, dab on a “schmear,” and get the first bite into my face when someone engages me in conversation. This launches the Ministerial Coffee Hour Challenge:

“Smize” (smile with my eyes) to indicate attentiveness while busy chewing. Don’t smize too much or risk looking wild-eyed and deranged.

Maintain eye contact while chewing — try to remember not to actually smile and show poppy seed or cream cheese teeth.

Try to time verbal response between bites while still not recovered from post-service and post-post service blood sugar drop and spiritual blitzedness.

Use napkin to both hold the bagel segment and delicately dab at lips.

Make mental note to make actual note of what people say so I can remember it, while accepting that I won’t remember it.

Ask everyone to please remind me of whatever ew were discussing via e-mail because I won’t remember it.

Head to coffee table and hope there’s still some caffeinated java left.

Skype Interviews

Hello, Halloween Pumpkins!

Have you put away the candy yet? PeaceBang had precious few trick-or-treaters and wound up with an enormous bowl of Twix, Starburst and Rollo caramels that she is trying to unload on everyone she knows.

Anyway, I’ve been kind of bombarded with life being interesting and busy so I haven’t had much time to thoroughly answer some of your “PeaceBang, HELP” letters. A couple of you have asked about Skype interviews recently, and I directed you to do a keyword search and find old posts like this one that I wrote way back in 2011.

I’ll add to my original thoughts that it seems important to keep patterns and accessories to a reasonable scale and proportion that does not distract from your face. You can make a handy dress rehearsal video of your own using the camera in your computer, and you should. Take a few minutes’ worth of footage of you talking. Are earrings swinging around, is there a funny thing that you do with your lips when you get nervous? Are you looking down into the camera lens like a cow?

Why do so many people still DO THAT? I really like cows but I don’t want to Skype with them! Find a good angle!

Wear something that doesn’t squish your neck (including clericals unless you feel wrong without them), make sure your shoulders aren’t bunched up with fabric, don’t sit on a swivel chair if you can’t stop squirming around, and make sure that when you clear your throat and shift in your chair during the interview you don’t move forward toward the camera lens and SUDDENLY BOMBARD THE SCREEN LIKE A COW.

I suppose I’ll have to make you a cow video so you understand what I’m talking about.

You know what I’m talking about, right?

Here. I made you a little video.

Pastoral Presence

Pigeons, if you want to see pastoral presence embodied in the most elegant, faithful and dignified manner possible under the most stressful and painful circumstances possible, please watch the funeral of the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pickney on CSPAN. There are no words. I cannot respect deeply enough. That is what religious leadership looks like, is, and does.