A few months ago, my daughter and her friend introduced me to a reality show called, “Nailed It.” The show features three amateur bakers tasked with the job of recreating a professionally decorated cake. The challenges begin basic and increase in difficulty throughout the show. The girls love the show for the humorous endings which feature two cakes side-by-side; the model cake and the contestants. Typically, there is quite a dramatic difference making it unfortunately hilarious. Thus, the tagline, “Nailed It.”
When I revisited this Scripture on Thursday, I imagined that there should be a lectionary version of the show, “Nailed It.” People roaming around the world, trying to live lives of generosity and grace and falling short when the unexpected pops up and they inevitably react in hilarious ways to the viewing audience. I thought of this because footage from my personal life over the past week would make excellent content for the first episode.
“But I say to you that listen; Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…”
There are two unwritten rules floating around the mainline clergy circles. This week I will have broken both.
The first unwritten rule is that clergy should refrain from officiating the funerals and weddings of family members. This is so that we can be fully present just as family. “You can’t be a pastor to your family.” Having now mis-stepped into the cow pie of this scenario, I realize this fair warning was indicative of something much more complicated.
The second unwritten rule is that clergy should avoid preaching on real and raw wounds. This rule, I am breaking right now. The content of our Scripture, the context of Lent, the reality of the past three days, seemed to set in motion a one-way road to authenticity and I am sorry, but I couldn’t find an exit and now you are all along for the ride.
Many of you know that my sister was married on Thursday. I know you will ask me how it went and I know that I should respond with, “GREAT!” or “WONDERFUL!”, the way we seem to respond when we are trying to overcorrect for something rather horrible and unpleasant. But our scripture seems to place me in a position of risking blatant hypocrisy if I were not completely honest that I was probably the least loving and forgiving and compassionate person the evening of my sister’s wedding.
Through a rather upside down planning process, it was decided on Monday morning that, since time was short and there was no other real plan, I would conduct a brief civil ceremony for my sister and her fiancé. Since her fiancé is a Jehovah’s Witness, he asked that I not include anything religious to which I happily obliged, secretly giddy with joy that I would be able to officiate even a five second service for one of the persons to whom I feel most connected to in this world; my little sister.
All week I researched “vows for civil wedding ceremonies” and “how to not be religious when you are a pastor officiating your little sister’s wedding and you don’t want to ruin her wedding day.” I told everyone, rather pridefully, that I was officiating the service now since there were no other options. At a clergy gathering on Wednesday, I shared that the thing I was most grateful for was this unexpected opportunity to conduct an intentional, definitely non-religious(!), ceremonial pause that could be the foundation for all that was celebrated.
Now, evolutionary psychologist, Michael McCullough, found that when a person is seeking revenge their brain lights up in the same exact way as a craving for food or for water. This makes a lot of sense to me because when I received a text message the morning of the wedding that the groom’s mother had said I could not officiate the civil ceremony I was flooded with incredibly creative ideas to seek revenge.
The reality that the groom’s mother, whom I had never met, would rather my sister not have a ceremony than have her sister, a female ordained clergy, officiate a very non-religious civil ceremony triggered a craving for revenge that felt beyond my ability to control.
Despite spending the few hours leading up to the wedding reminding myself that the day wasn’t about me while fantasizing modeling some Marvel Christian Super Hero on a Love Steroid, the reality of my behavior ended up being high rated footage for the new hit show, “Nailed It: Lectionary Style.”
In short, when the moment of truth came and the groom’s mother walked over and introduced herself, I almost fell out of my chair in a morale brain freeze and ran to the bathroom like I had just peed my pants or was going to vomit. Take your pick. All of this to avoid shaking his mom’s hand.
I forced myself to hold it together long enough to get pictures taken and bustle my sisters dress before slipping out the door, wandering around downtown Denver lost and alone in Uggs and an oversized bridesmaids gown (because I couldn’t remember where my parking garage!) before remembering I had both a parking ticket and a GPS that ended up leading me to my car like that North Star where I arrived to the sanctuary of my car where I immediately cried like I was a teenager who had really peed her pants at a wedding reception.
“Revenge,” Michael McCullough says, “does not come from some sick, dark part of how our minds operate. It is a craving to solve a problem and accomplish a goal.”
In retrospect, my problem was I had fantasized about this being the time I could fully show up and be seen. To experience, in real time, a reconciliation of my roles as sister/daughter/mother and priestess.
The goal, of course, was bound in an illusion that, if I could just shapeshift myself enough, no one would notice what I was doing and I would get away with something scandalously sacred; to be fully myself in an expression that challenged no one and connected everyone. I could walk on glass and breath in fire and perhaps wrap it all up with a silently sung rendition of“Defying Gravity” from the hit Broadway Musical Wicked.
“In daily life,” Michael McCullough writes, “forgiveness is more often like a band-aid on a scrape and, at first glance, only slightly more interesting. But, of course, uninteresting doesn’t mean unimportant.”
I regret always advising that the path to forgiveness was to identify the Holy in each person. I’m not quite sure I believe this to be true anymore. I think it is more accurate that forgiveness becomes within reach when we can identify the humanity of another. When I allow my broken heart to intake the reality that the groom’s mother was driven by a deep abiding love for her child, I may still tear up, but I also feel my fists soften and my chest decompress. When I embrace the new opening my brokenness created, acknowledge it and thank it for its presence, I can see a blurred vision of the connectedness that exists in our mutual love for the same two people.
This process, of opening to allow the coexistence of others pain alongside my own, is responsible for the ongoing evolution of my ministry as a female clergy person. Perseverance in my profession has always been dependent on hundreds of invisible moments of forgiveness, given silently to those who deemed me unworthy of the task of church leadership. Salvation, I imagine, was never the construct of one heroic event, but more likely the placement of millions of Band-Aids on the broken places of ordinary people.
This pilot episode of “Nailed It Lectionary Style” ends with the soft forgiveness of myself for falling short, cut to a scene of me grabbing a bandage from a store room labeled “Grace” and settling into the reflection of my own humanity. I think, for the trajectory of love that reaches beyond the scope of my vision, for the sake of my calling which comes from a place deeper than any one person could grasp, for one step closer to building a Church without walls, I can add another silent sorry to a bridge built of Band-Aids and cross over to forgive the groom’s mother for loving her son as much as I love my sister.