Sunday, February 08, 2009

It's a hard thing to have a blog specifically for processing the stuff you find hard to talk about (or lack the audience for talking about with?) and then find yourself with the need to process something that you feel is too iffy for the blog, for whatever reason. This is partly why I try not to remember how many people I know who seem to read this blog (for whatever reason; it kindof mystifies me) even though I've discovered in doing this that I need to feel that there is some kind of "audience" for these words in order to have the motivation to set them down...but I digress. Get used to it because for this post I'm not aiming for coherence or any kind of narrative structure or any kind of thematic point whatsoever. I just need to barf it all up. That seems to be my motif this week. I'm over my physical stomach bug at this point, with its attendant nausea and the vomiting so violent I wet my pants every time I hurled, but I'm a bit soul-sick and there's no cure for nausea of the spirit. Other than just trying to get it all out, I guess.

It's been a week since CCfB learned that we were losing Joe and Laura. Like everyone else, I guess, my first reaction was simply anger. Not at them; it's clear that they are doing the only possible and sensible thing given the situation. My anger is more for them--born out of a sense that they deserve better than to be dropped without ceremony at a particularly vulnerable time. Secondarily, I feel a bit of the same on behalf of CCfB as a community, that we deserve better than to be dropped without warning at a particularly critical time. But even that is secondary to just being plain pissed off, with the frustrated sense that, in the body of Christ, we're supposed to be about taking care of people, not shoving them out the door with apparent indifference to the personal and communal consequences.

For all of that it is only fair to say that I know pretty much nothing about how and why Manhattan CofC chose this time to begin termination of their financial support for CCfB, and my anger about it--I know myself well enough to know this--is more about my personal tendency for coping with grief than it is about anything anyone has actually done, or not done. Like all the women in my family, I do mad a whole lot easier than sad. Hand me a tragedy and I'll hit you back with some righteous rage. It's not, probably, the most balanced way to handle shit, but I have never claimed to be balanced.

So was mad for a few days and then I was throwing up, and then everyone else was throwing up, and that kind of eclipsed things. It wasn't till I was sitting in church today that the sadness actually hit, and then I found that I couldn't trust myself to speak enough to answer the question, "how are you processing things?" I figured it probably wasn't going to be helpful to have someone start weeping on the front row, so I took a few minutes in the back to compose myself. It's nice to be known as such a die-hard coffee addict that no one thinks twice when you get up in the middle of church, just figures you're going for a refill.

So now I'm sad, which I find much harder to handle than mad, and having spent some time on the train in transit without the distraction of Clare, I'm realizing just how much of a crisis this is--for me, a realization I've been staving off with the help of anger (and vomit).

First, it's impossible to avoid realizing now how much harder it's been to remain a real part of CCfB after our move to NJ than I thought it would be, and admitting that really, the last few months, I'm barely there. There's not much I volunteer for anymore, because I know how unreliable I am and I figure it's worse to say you'll do something and not than to not confuse the issue by volunteering when I shouldn't. I would love to be on the teaching rotation again, but my attendance, while theoretically every other week, gets preempted by everything from stomach bugs to choir concerts and somehow, inevitably, it seems I am there one Sunday out of four every month. Realizing this makes me sad.

Second. I've been very conscious the last few years of what a haven CCfB has been for me as a somewhat alienated theologian within the Churches of Christ. (side note: "alienated theologian" is a reference to a bit of commentary in Paul Tillich's Systematic Theology, vol. 1; it's not a complaint, just descriptive of the odd relation in which theologians often find themselves with respect to their ecclesial communities.) On a personal level, being involved in a church in which I did not feel obligated to hide either my interest in theology nor my actual theological opinions offered a kind of healing I didn't even know I needed until I experienced it; being able to preach, to create liturgies, to pray--all that offered a healing that I knew I needed and had never been hopeful of getting. On a pragmatic level, being a theologian hopeful of gainful employment someday in the future and hoping that CofC schools would consider me a candidate, CCfB functioned as my official tie to the institution. (For my non-CofC readers, in a denomination with no denominational structure, an institution that exists without any actual institution-ing, the only way to be officially CofC is to be a recognized member of a CofC congregation.) For years now I have been able to say "I'm a member of a Manhattan CofC sponsored church plant" when inquiring minds wanted to know. Now my dodge won't work anymore. Personally, I think CCfB as a community needs to go its own way at this point, and not regret the loss of official (=financial) ties to the Churches of Christ. But what that means for me personally is that I am now faced with the necessity of finding another way to validate my ties to the CofC world--or entertain a question I was hoping to avoid for at least another decade: is it time for me to leave the Churches of Christ? I am not ready to face that question. Part of the CCfB crisis for me is that it seems I cannot avoid it, because my haven is disappearing.

Finally. As if the above were not existential/spiritual/pragmatic-career-choice crisis enough, I found myself crying on the way home when I realized that there's a reason I introduce Joe to the people he's met here in Summit, not simply as my friend, but as my "pastor." Because he is, has been. And, though this may sound odd to you, he's the only pastor I have ever had. Things are different when you're a PK, and married to a priest. And in losing Joe and Laura for the reasons we are--we simply cannot support a full-time minister on our own yet--means that it's not just that I am losing my first and only pastor in exchange for some unknown replacement. There is no replacement. There is no successor. I am losing my pastor.

I have no doubt that CCfB will continue. And I have no doubt that the future is a beautiful one. I wish that I could be a stronger participant in bringing it about, but the truth is, I probably can't be--though I plan to stick around, at least. Despite my confidence in this community that I dearly love, the unwanted unwelcome truth is that CCfB will no longer be the haven for me that it has been, and I have some hard questions to confront.


Krister said...

JTB-I've not commented in some time, but I wanted to let you know that I am really touched by your transparency and want you to know that it is so helpful for me to hear you give voice to the unique position "alienated theologians," fill in the life of the church. While not many communities have ears to hear much of what you have to offer, it has been refreshing to me as one of your readers. On a more emotional level, I feel sad for you and your church community, not to mention how all of this impacts the Hays family.

My thoughts are with you as you think about how all of this will impact your ecclesial loyalties. Mostly I just want to tell you I'm sorry.

Hilary said...


Just wanted to say that I really resonate with a lot of the what you expressed. I stayed at MCC for a long time because I didn't want to go home to the Pepperdine Lectures and say that I wasn't attending a CofC. And because I didn't want to "leave my heritage". I still don't. CCfB was the answer to that for me for a long time. And even when I realized that the demographic had changed and CCfB had become primarily a couples and young families church where I didn't really have a Friday/Saturday night social circle and started looking elsewhere, I always said I go to ____ & am also a part of a little church plant out in Brooklyn. It's just been recently that I have so strongly become a part of Trinity Grace Church in Chelsea that I've felt more at peace with "letting go" of CCfB. Nonetheless, I still always say in longer conversations about church/church history in NYC, that I haven't "left" CCfB. I always talk about how I love the people there, love what they have meant to me for years, and so I love trying to get out there every now and then and keep those connections.

In particular, I so miss seeing you on a regular basis. You are one of the wisest, most inspiring, honest women I've ever met. I felt so privileged and "cool" to be a part of a tiny church that someone with your knowledge and insight would want to invest in and be a part of too.

I'm not sure what the future of CCfB is, but I optimistically hope that there is a way to continue to maintain those relationships. For now, I'll even just settle for precious stories of Clare declaring herself a princess to the dismay of her feminist mother. :) Or, more poignantly, your post about Sarah Palin as "Supermom", which I have quoted countless times in the past 6 months.

JTB said...

Krister, thanks for your pastoral presence in my little virtual community here. It is comforting.

Hilary, you always blow me away with your wild compliments, I never know how to respond other than with a sort of bewildered humble thanks. Know that I admire you and your dedication to your vocation and faith just as much!

I think there is probably a postscript to this post brewing on the mental back burner (which may explain why I've gotten very little work done the past few days). Hopefully that will be a little less depressing and ominous. I do have a great capacity for self-pity and a tendency to over-dramatize...not that I don't feel like this is a real crisis, but there's nothing very constructive in this rumination so far, and that's certainly not where I want to leave things.

Vasca said...

Jen, why would this particular instance cause you to question why you remain with the CofC? Is it this or a culmination of feelings...past and present?

JTB said...

Vasca, it's more a pragmatic question than a theological one--I've been a theological misfit for a long time. What CCfB offered me was a real spiritual home, still connected to the CofC, so that there was no necessity to choose between spiritual nurture and official CofC-ness. CCfB will continue to be the vibrant community that it is, and I will feel no less at home there, but maintaining clear denominational ties is a pragmatic issue for a theologian who hopes to be eligible for a job at CofC schools. So the problem is not that I'm looking for an opportunity to leave the Churches of Christ...very much the opposite really--the problem is that I'm looking to stay.

Personally, I think it's fair to say that I will always be CofC in a very real, demonstrable sense because this is the tradition that has formed me as a Christian and theologian my entire life. This will be true no matter what church I attend, and no matter what theological oddities I espouse.

Anonymous said...

Jen, I am so sorry you are experiencing this. The loss of the Hays will hurt (on more than one level). Take care of yourself, allow yourself to mourn and get angry. Remember it's healthy to process it.

And technical struggles such as being affiliated with a certain group and remaining true to yourself, well, they are just hard at times. I hate that and I don't understand why it "has" to be hard, but I know it is. I fear it's one of those unfortunate things that will always remain true in one form or another.

I don't feel I have offered much help or hope to you, but know that we love you and that we care about you and that we are praying for you.