The “Lilith”

I thought a huge red flag that the Marie Claire article is bullshit should have come when Lee says Miller says “This means that nearly every Sunday, at the First United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, you’ll find me mounting the pulpit in a collar and cassock, my black ankle-length robe.” Because I know no, zero, zilch, Methodist ministers who wear a cassock. Sure, you sometimes find Methodist ministers in collars, especially in heavily-Catholic areas or when they need to get in and out of Catholic hospitals without bother or when they’re trying to pass themselves off as Lutheran so as to get in on the better potlucks (ha, just kidding. Methodist potlucks are the best.).

But a cassock? We’re not Episcopalians.

Ha ha ha.

But then I’m like “Well, I don’t know as many ministers as my dad does,” so I call him up to ask him about this cassock ridiculousness. And he’s all “Of course they do, Betsy. Look at the Cokesbury catalog. The denomination you grew up in has ridiculous elements.” And then I have to hear this rant about the Order of St. Luke and how they play dress-up and call each other “Brother” (though, in the Order of St. Luke’s defense–and please keep in mind, I know nothing about them. They could eat puppies for all I know.–I wouldn’t call this get-up a cassock).

But I’m flipping through the Cokesbury catalog and I encounter something I feel we should talk about as a group.

Please turn to page 13. The “Lilith.” Every other women’s robe is named after a woman who appears in the Bible. And then there’s the “Lilith.” On page 13.

So here are my questions. Do we believe that there’s someone over at Cokesbury who knows the legend of Adam’s first wife? If so, is calling a robe for a woman pastor “Lilith” a joking nod to women’s equality in the church and the trouble it causes or a sly insult? And then, can it be coincidence that it is the “Lilith,” the name associated with demons and night and magic (though I’m glad to see the Wikipedia article goes to some length to question those associations) is on page 13? But does that mean another Cokesbury employee with a sense of mischief?

Two? Who didn’t get caught?

And why have I not met them?

I mean, aside from being in exile from the church and in the middle of writing a book about being a Methodist minister’s kid in which an illicit menage a trois with Satan is not any worse than what goes on in the church? Aside from that…

Ha ha ha.

I amuse me.

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The Marie Claire Article about Reverend Miller

Thanks to a FoTCP, I’ve seen the now-infamous Marie Claire article. I do think that Miller got done mildly wrong–that the article, even if it is an “as told to…,” puts words in her mouth in ways that makes her seem kind of gossipy and silly in ways that could undermine her authority as a minister. But, having read the article, I’m even more shocked by the responses to it that are anything other than “Wow, Miller seems to have been purposefully portrayed as silly and frivolous by Marie Claire and Deborah Jian Lee. What an asshole move on Lee’s part.”

Once you get beyond Lee’s ladymag tone, Miller says she’s celibate and wants to meet a nice guy who loves her for who she is and supports her in a job she loves. That this is scandalous or cause for shaming Miller or for being embarrassed to share a profession with her is bizarre.

In fact, once you accept the conceit that this is a story written by Lee but in a 1st person that is supposed to be Miller, any reasonable person has to see that there are only two sentences you actually know for sure come from Miller and aren’t made up by Lee.

WARNING: These are the words of a Methodist minister in a story about… sex… You might want to read through your fingers. “Oh, I work in communications for a nonprofit. But tell me about you,” and “I’m a pastor at a church.”

That’s right. Twenty words out of the whole article appear to be actually attributable to Miller. Everything else? It’s the product of a bizarre attempt on the part of Marie Claire and Lee to pass of this fictionalized account of Miller’s sexuality as an actual first-person tell-all.

People railing against Miller’s tone or word choice or saying she sounds drunk need to understand–this isn’t a transcript of a conversation Lee and Miller had. This is a piece of creative writing on the part of Lee designed to make you feel like you’re hearing from Miller when you aren’t.

If there should be outrage over this piece, it should be on behalf of Miller, not focused on her.

Maybe I’m too cynical, but I have little doubt this is going to cost her her job anyway. She’ll get blamed because she wasn’t smart enough to not participate, instead of sympathized with for being the main character in someone’s weird fiction.

And that sucks.

I hope I’m wrong.

Chapter 5

Whew, could it get any more depressing around here? Now you see why I had to write in the Satanic menage a trois into chapter 5. If you can’t reward people with some hot, transgressive devil sex, they’re not going to do the work of slogging through all the church nonsense, because it’s fucking depressing. At the end of chapter 5, Hannah and Kevin are talking theology and Kevin, who you may remember is a local professional wrestler, is talking about how he’s come to understand religion (meaning, for him, Christianity) is like wrestling. He asks Hannah if she thinks, when a wrestler gets tossed into the crowd and the crowd pounds on him a little, if that has any effect on the outcome of the match.

Of course it doesn’t. The outcome is predetermined. Sure, how the winner wins might be improvised as they go, but the wrestlers know who wins before they get into the ring. Even if the action is real and the wrestlers are athletes, the victory is already secured. What the audience does matters not one whit.

I didn’t know I had those kinds of thoughts about religion and wrestling until I wrote that part and now I can’t stop mulling it over. I think it’s right that Kevin believes it. But I’m not sure if I believe it.

But I am still resisting the urge to start rewriting. I have no self-restraint, so I’m as amazed as anyone that I’m managing it.

Inheritence

I slept like hell last night. I kept waking up to find I was crying. The thing that was running around all night in my brain like some loose animal is, “Do I do this, too?” And I think the answer is yes. It has to be yes. You can’t know such a large cross-section of Methodists, especially clergy, and know how they work and see another cross-section out on the internet acting in the exact same way and chalk it up to coincidence.

It’s not.

This is the way in which we are shaped, and it is a shape people in parsonages take on most severely.

I was thinking of it this way. Imagine a guitar string. You know they come in their little envelopes in curled circles. And then you feed the string through the hole in the bridge, up over the saddle, across the body, up the neck, and through the hole in the tuning peg. And before you can even begin to actually tune it, you turn and turn and turn that peg until the string is straight. And because it was curved gently in its packaging, it will pull straight.

But now, instead, imagine that a whole group of people have a tradition of putting a bend in one of the guitar strings. I mean, a real sharp pinch. Who knows why? And, sure, maybe there’s disagreement across the country about which string to bend and how narrow or wide the bend has to be, if it works to just fold it over and pinch down or if you need a couple of pairs of pliers. But one string is going to have a bend in it before it’s put on the guitar.

Even after you tune the guitar, you will still feel that kink in the string when you run your fingers along it. The string is forever changed by the force it took to apply the bend. Even if it’s practically straight, even if it still works like it should, you can feel it, where the bend was put in it.

I would like to believe that I am not like that–that I don’t unleash such cruelty onto people under the guise of knowing better than they do what’s best for them, that I choose the side of the person who is suffering or floundering above my own personal sense of wanting to keep order and reaffirm my own self-righteousness, that I act with humble compassion in the face of someone else’s struggle instead of jumping in to reassure myself and others that I would never be so stupid.

But the truth is that I am like that. This is what we are shaped to be, by the very forces we believe are making us better people.

There is no escaping it, really.

And I do, actually, when I am not so blindsided by how terrible it is, have great compassion for the Methodist ministers who move through the world this way. It’s a tremendously difficult job in and of itself. It’s hard on your marriage. By the time you realize how terrible it can be on your kids, it’s too late. And you are at the mercy of people you have to have authority over while, at the same time, they resent you having authority over them. And maybe they won’t take it out on you, but they’re always watching and waiting for your spouse or your kids to slip up, so they can take it out on them.

You have to have a lot of strength. You have to believe you’re doing God’s work so that your congregation believes you are doing God’s work. You might doubt privately, but doubting in public is not just dangerous for you, it threatens the tenuous position of every minister.

And I have a lot of compassion for the people in the congregation who just want, damn it, for at least their minister to be able to live in the way the minister claims God wants them all to live. Prove it can be done before you nag me about doing it.

But I was taught that a component of compassion is continuing to open yourself up to the ways people are fucked up towards you, that, if you can understand why they’re doing what they’re doing and can empathize with them about it, that you must still meet with them in ways that continue to hurt you as long as there’s some possibility of it eventually causing improvement in them.

And that’s fucked up.

That’s the bend in the string along which a gal will break. Along which we often break. Along which I broke.

And yet, fuck me, if I do not continue to put a bend in one of my strings. I know it’s stupid, but it’s how we do.