Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pastor to My People

I am driving back from dropping my husband off at work, my toddler son in the back seat, and the entire sky is a grey fog. In the distance, the naked charcoal trees atop the ridge reach high and brush the grayness with their fingertips, asking for something. We pull into the driveway as the tiniest of snowflakes begin to dance in the air, swirling up and down and liquefying before they land.

I turn off the car and sit there for a moment, thinking. It all feels so true to life, this grayness, not for its depressive quality but for its ambiguity, for it's way of being neither this nor that, black nor white. And that is how my life feels right now: indecisive, in between. It is as if nature has pulled this weather out from my own heart, to show me something. But what does it mean? What does it mean?

I have been dwelling on grey a lot lately. Last weekend we painted the guest room in our new house a sort of warm, almost lavender, grey. When we were done, we thought, "Okay, we don't love it, but we don't hate it." And isn't that just like grey, to be neither beautiful nor terrible?

Now that the room is done, I find myself escaping into it a lot. I retreat there to find a quiet place for writing words that don't seem to come out right. Sometimes I plant myself at the desk there to art journal, painting grey gradient circles that fade from black to white. All the while I am looking at the walls and thinking, "What does it mean? What does it mean?"

And isn't that just like me, to try to pull meaning from a paint color?


Earlier this week, I read a scene in Nadia Bolz Weber's Pastrix where she is asked to give a eulogy at a friends memorial service, because she is "the religious one." She says the service is filled with "cynics and alcoholics and queers," her people. As she gives the eulogy, she is suddenly struck by how she sees God there, in her "own community of underside dwellers." She ends the chapter with the realization, "I was called to be a pastor to my people."

The words rise up at me from the white page in black accusation, contrasting the grayness of my life with something unmistakable. They have lingered in my mind all week, echoing deep into my heart. Pastor to my people. Pastor to my people. Pastor. My people.

I read those words and knew at once who my people were: the cynics, the church-quiters, the doubters. They are beginning to descend around the edges of my life like flies, but instead of swatting them away, I have invited them in, if only because I don't know how not to. I can hear more of them in the distance even now, around the corner, fast-approaching.

Don't get me wrong: pastor I am not. But I am someone. I am someone who feels compelled to create a safe place for the doubting. I am someone who is learning to pull back the blinds of shame that cover our hearts and say to the Church, "Look! We exist!" I am someone who is opening up her home and saying, "Come! Come in here and be free. Come and ask your questions, the darkest of them all, and I will not answer them. I will not even flinch. I will only say 'yes, I know, me too' and invite you back."

There is something akin to pastoring in that, isn't there?

There is something unavoidable in it too, something clear and distinct and frightening, because I don't yet know whether the strange certainty I sense in it is a blackness or whiteness.


Squirming in his car seat, my son shakes me from my thoughts. We emerge from the car and into the house, peeling off jackets and shoes and hats. We head to the grey room to fill a half hour, where I do yoga as he pulls books from the bookshelf there, circling them around him in great piles.

Finished, we round the corner to the living room and open the blinds to find our warm middle Tennessee valley suddenly blanketed in white, white, white. The snow is falling down in distinct flurries now and my son is reaching out for it, signing more, more, more. So we bundle up, despite the cold, and head outside.

Walking into the whiteness, our shoes stamp clear imprints in the snow that covers the back steps and in that moment I understand clearly that I must trust. I must believe that the next steps I feel compelled to make are somehow the right ones, and move in them. I must walk forward in the uncertainty, trusting that all will be made clear, though the nature of my doubt is such that I can't say for certain who or what I'm even trusting.

Uncertain as I am about nearly everything, I am clear about this: I will always fight to take the next right step, no matter how frightening.

I will create the space.

I will open the door.

I will gather my people together.


  1. I identify a lot with this post Alissa. For me, doubt is smashing the dogmas apart and fingering the tiny pieces, eyeing them every so often in exhaustion. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever have the courage to put them back together, to reconstruct a framework that allows me to make decisions, steps as you call them, with certainty. Keep gathering your people!

    1. Mercy, Stina! I love how you put it. Even your comments are beautifully written. Keep writing girl!