Thursday, December 28, 2006

speaking symbolically

Here I am at St. Frank’s again, doing my outreach hours. I couldn’t get in here for the past two months or more due to low staffing at our primary office. The time that I was unable to come here, as those who read my blog will have noticed, had a direct effect upon my overall mental health and well-being. My job totally sucked ass. I mean, even more ass than usual.

Coming back here after stress-o-rama gave me some added insight into my own career meanderings. I mean, I come from a clergy family and I earned all the degrees to become a minister. Then I got stalemated by the doctrines and church traditions and blah-blah’s that I would have to sign on for to do ministry.

I did a stint as a hospital chaplain for coursework and that was great. The thing is, you can’t be a hospital chaplain without being funneled through a church system. So here I am backed into a career corner.

The thing I like about chaplaincy (and that even my Baptist supervisor said was my strength) is that chaplaincy demands that the chaplain be open to the faith journey of the patient. It is not a good place for evangelists – anyone rigid about the belief structures they can allow into their brain or tolerate in others. I have the opposite problem – self diagnosed as hyper-fluidity.

So I was good at it and enjoyed it – but my difficulties with ordination power-structures have dead-ended me every time I tried to approach that career path. I ended up in human services – first doing residential care and then the job I have now at the domestic violence place. A lot of the work is similar, but there is a piece missing that I think I bumped into today.

I had the church to myself for a couple of hours and I love that. Call me anti-social, but churches are always best when they’re empty. I love my little office, which is a partially-converted vestment closet. I engage in an ongoing OCD battle with someone from the choir about whether the little St. Frank in the window should be facing out toward the landscape or in toward the room (i.e. closet). I mean, don’t you think St. Francis of Frigging Assisi or what-all would rather look out the window than stare at a closet? They bill him as nature-guy. Right now we have a fragile truce in which Frank is angled so one eye could see out the window and one into the closet/office – provided he wasn’t a frigging block of wood. I have a lot of time on my hands, here.

So on. I was in the sanctuary looking at the statuary. The giant St. Frank on the wall (rosary at hip, foot on the globe) had a bundle of fresh bay leaves tucked under the foot. Someone had clearly gathered it at the beach and stuck it on there.

I have always liked this particular statue – problematic doctrinal symbols set guiltily aside. That’s my fucking problem, by the way. You should see me trying to sing a hymn or do a responsive reading without stalling out to scowl at the intricacies of the text. And don’t tell me to go be a Unitarian. They thought I was too Pagan. Yes, they allegedly allow Pagans but you are apparently supposed to be UU first and Pagan second (actual quote). I am the other way around, thanks very much. Plus the local ones have a vehement hatred of vegetarians. Yep, religion is just that stupid. Hence my preferring a church when its empty.

Okay, back to the thing – the idea that I bumped into. Something about the image of the fresh bay leaves tucked under the foot of that old statue reminded me (or made me realize) why I got into religion in the first place. And being stuck in our central office for all these weeks, sometimes as the only staff there, facing crisis after crisis – ugly mess after ugly mess – it helped me to see how the religious symbols help life to mean something. They give us something pretty and hopeful to hold onto. Even those male-centered, Caucasian/European-heritage-centered and anthropomorphic, middle class, diversity-excluding hymns that drive me up the fucking wall every time.

So – I will try to appreciate what people are holding onto in those hymns, and take comfort in the religious imagery that nourishes me. Yay.

Oooh! Gotta go. I’ve got the church to myself, again. Time to go ogle the solid wall of Poinsettia’s under the organ pipes.

Happy New Year – filled with diversity, empowerment and peace.

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