|Stains or Stained Glass?
In Marcia McFee's Lenten series entitled "Holy Vessels," she speaks on acknowledging those places in our lives that feel "stained" in order to reclaim them as places of beauty and healing which can become "stained glass." She goes on to invite the reader/worshiper to consider how "together with the gift of community, we can create new and different pictures of our lives-different than the ones drawn for us or imprinted upon us without our permission."
Her words struck a chord and I began to think about our "stained" places as the internal scripts we often carry in our hearts, minds, and spirits. These scripts often get in the way of us seeing, claiming, and experiencing fully an image of others and ourselves as what McFee calls "holy vessels" through which the image of God is carried and reflected in the world.
To give you an example of what I mean by such scripts, I want to share very vulnerably with you as an invitational "I'll go first" style by sharing the scripts of my own family. (Don't worry just as I have always practiced in my preaching life, I asked their permission to use their stories.)
When I first met Todd, he was running as far away from ministry as he could. Even though it was clear to many that there was a call on his life, for a long time he fought against that call. Growing up, both his grandfather and father were parish pastors. In watching them, he learned church life could be difficult.
As a seminary professor once confirmed for him, "No one can love you like the church and no one can hurt you like the church." He also believed to be a pastor he had to be perfect, but he knew he wasn't perfect so he thought he could not answer a call into ministry.
The script he developed was that church life can be painful and clergy need to be perfect.
Finally, he could no longer fight the call, and he learned from other pastors that pastors were simply ordinary, imperfect people who had been called by an extraordinary and perfect God to serve as best as they were able.
Yet, even now the script remains and can often come to the surface when people expect clergy to be perfect.
Our oldest daughter
When we moved from a church I was serving in Missouri to a new church in the Chicago area, of course, Abby had to start a new school. As she entered junior high, we quickly learned the curriculum of the Chicago school system was much further ahead of the St. Louis schools. She had to work hard and she struggled to catch up.
The script she developed was that she was not smart, and she was not a good student.
In high school, she identified more as an athlete than as a student. However, when she got to college, she rediscovered a love of learning. Once again, she enjoyed school and more importantly developed an insatiable hunger for knowledge.
Yet, even now, the script remains and I can see and hear it come to the surface when she calls me in a panic about an upcoming test or paper. Even though she has a 4.0 GPA at Saint Louis University, will graduate with honors and many academic awards this spring, there are times when she still feels like she is not smart or a good student.
Our youngest daughter
Megan is twenty-one, but because of some specific health issues, her body- and bone-ages are more at the chronological age of a 13 year old. Megan has dealt with some tough issues and has become a very mature, resilient young woman.
She wears a lot of makeup, heels, and very grown up clothes to cover up her insecurities.
The script she has developed is that people will always see her as younger than she is and will not take her seriously or see her as an adult.
Even though at every job she has ever worked, the owners always offer her lead, manager positions, her script says, others do not and will not see her as a twenty-one-year-old young woman capable of handling grown up responsibilities.
When I was younger, I struggled with my weight. I dreaded the back to school shopping rituals in which my mother would often struggle to find me properly fitting clothes. My family affectionately called me "chunky." At family gatherings, extended family members would watch what I ate and comment to my parents about how odd it was that I weighed as much as I did when it seemed I ate so little.
In high school and college, I exercised obsessively and I developed an eating disorder, but I was thin.
After I had children, I was tired of working so hard to be a normal size. Having daughters, I also wanted to break the cycle of poor body image, so I quit obsessing over losing weight and trying to be a size I probably wasn't created to be.
I continue to struggle with my weight. I find it frustrating that I have gained success in many parts of my life, but in this area, I still struggle.
Recently, I was reminded again how much this script still affects me. As I looked at the incredible photos that people took the time to take at my installation, instead of focusing on how precious it was that they had captured some incredible holy moments, I am embarrassed to say that my first thought was, "Gosh, I look so fat." My script immediately surfaced.
Even though I do many things well, the script that I carry with me is that people will not fully love me or accept me until I am thin.
Our stories, our scripts, our stains
I wanted to share with you our stories and invite you to think about your own. Each of us has similar stories. Each of us carry a script (or two) in our head that rob us of seeing and accepting the whole picture of ourselves. They are our stains.
Yet, our stains can become part of the bigger, beautiful mosaic, stained glass work of grace. Just as it is proclaimed in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of a new creation. The old things have gone away, look the new things have arrived (The Message version)."
However, in order for this transformation to happen, we must be willing to be vulnerable and honest with each other and ourselves. We must be willing to wrestle with questions such as: What is getting in the way of us reflecting and claiming the beauty of God's design? What scripts do we have about ourselves? What scripts do we have about others that rob us of the opportunity of truly seeing and experiencing the image of God in them?
The beautiful mosaic of the Church
I believe the gift of the church is that we CAN "create new and different pictures of our lives-different than the ones drawn for us or imprinted upon us without our permission." This can happen when we invite and allow the transforming power of God to be at work in and through our lives. The beautiful mosaic of the Church of Jesus Christ is that coming together of people who are not perfect, only forgiven, blessed, and made new through the power and presence of Christ's healing grace.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister