Soup for Lenten Supper at church.
I reached out to an old friend a month or so ago. He was my confirmation minister, but left the ‘burbs to lead another United Methodist Church in Central Phoenix 15 years ago. The church is near my office, which is 20 miles from home, and I’m quite comfortable attending the UMC church in my neighborhood. Nonetheless, Jeff pulled me from my comfort zone and lured me to making the ridiculous drive on a weekend to attend services at his church.
I am so glad he did.
The church is a perfect reflection of why I love Jeff. He is the minister who helped initially sculpt my faith. He made me think, ask tough questions and look within myself to find the voice that guides you to what is right and wrong. He then nudged me along to have a conversation with that voice, gently teaching me about the Holy Spirit and how to develop a relationship with God.
His church is a welcome sanctuary to anyone and everyone who wants such a caring guide. Some people wear jeans, while others have on suits. There are swarms of happy, colorful children. There are loving and sweet couples of all persuasions. Mentally handicapped and homeless folk sit in the front row and shout “Praise God” at the most inopportune times. Everyone keep smiling. There is a feeling at this church that I’ve never experienced before — one of complete and total acceptance. I swear this is where Jesus would go to church if he swung by Phoenix on the Resurrection Tour.
A couple weeks ago I asked Jeff if he had any reading recommendations for Lent, which begins today — Ash Wednesday. He suggested “Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott. I read it in two days, aching when I had to put it down to work, sleep, drive, etc. I’d never read anything by Lamott prior and I fell for her style. This memoir about her faith emphasizes the importance of accepting your imperfections because “focusing on that last 5 pounds is just really such a waste of time when you could be enjoying a Coke and Oreos.”
Lamott made me laugh:
“I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools — friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty — and said, ‘Do the best you can with these, they will have to do.’ And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”
She made me recognize a battle I didn’t realize I was fighting:
“You could be all the traditional feminine things — a mother, a lover, a listener, a nurturer — and you could also be critically astute and radical and have a minority opinion that was profoundly moral. You could escape the fate of your mother, become who you were born to be, and succeed in the world without having to participate in traditionally male terms — without hardness, coldness, one-upmanship, without having to compete and come out the winner.”
In a chapter where I couldn’t stop crying, Lamott talks about losing her best friend to cancer and going to sea to spread her ashes.
“I tossed a handful of Pammy’s into the water way out past the Golden Gate Bridge during the day, with her husband and family, when I had been sober several years… Ashes are deeply contradictory — they are both so heavy and so light. They’re impossible to let go of entirely. They stick to things, to your fingers, your sweater. I liked my friend’s ashes off my hand, to taste them, to taste her, to taste what was left after all that was clean and alive had been consumed, burned away. They tasted metallic, and they blew every which way. We tried to strew them off the side of the boat romantically, with seals barking from the rocks on short, under a true-blue sky, but they would not cooperate. They don’t. They cling, they haunt. They get in your hair, in your eyes, in your clothes.”
In reading, I couldn’t help but take a look at my own expectations of perfection. I have been hearing, “You are too hard on yourself.” “You are anal, aren’t you?” “Wow. Miss Type A. Nice to meet you.” since my mother had me placed in kindergarten at age four, because I could be in first grade by five, so why wait? There is beauty in imperfection. Today, I officially resign as chairwoman of the perfection committee. I’ve got Oreos to eat.
P.S. CAOK III kicks off today. Read more about the Calculated Acts of Kindness Campaign and if you decide to play along, please consider posting your photos here.