Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Pentecostal Mother's Day

Jan reflects on a fairly common dilemma that preachers face on Mother's Day:
Here's the thing: it's never felt as comfortable being the mom as it felt honoring the mom on the second Sunday in May. I go along with the whole thing because my kids and husband generously want to give me "my special day." But for lots and lots of people -- women who long to be moms, people with mean moms, people with moms who left, people whose moms died giving birth to them, moms of children who died, moms with children in the military, people with sick moms, and my own club: people with dead moms -- it's a virtual pain fest.
I myself was not overly aware of this side of Mother's Day until seminary when classmates shared how they experience the day, which was certainly not the stuff of Hallmark cards.

At one of my field placement churches, I was actually told to preach on Mother's Day because everyone else on staff hated doing it. They felt the congregational pressure to address it; they knew the true complexity of the day for some, and they didn't like dealing with it every year. So I dealt with it, choosing to reflect on how God can be like a parent--not specifically mother--to us. I aimed to give a message of assurance that God is in relationship with us even when our own parental relationships aren't what we'd like them to be, and then I said something about giving thanks for those who have been like parents to us, biological or no. Something like that. Afterwards, one little old lady pulled me aside and chastised me for using gender-neutral language for God. So for some, I didn't do any better than my colleagues would have.

For me, nearly every Mother's Day since and including that one, I've only alluded to Mother's Day rather than giving a full-out reflection on it: I tell a story, or I do some other small thing to acknowledge it or tie it in, and we always sing "A Christian Home." I say "nearly" because last year I was as direct about it as I've ever been, although the specifics are lost to me now. I do remember not feeling especially proud about it, though.

So this year, preachers have an extra special treat: they get Mother's Day and Pentecost on the same day. I didn't fully realize this until after I'd already come up with a decent theme for Pentecost: I'm going to contrast the sentiment that "church is boring" with some of the exciting things that churchpeople have done over the centuries: the Boston Tea Party, the Civil Rights movement, stuff like that. I was going to argue that exciting church isn't all about upbeat music or climbing walls or the pastor loading his sermons with jokes, but moreso about Spirit-filled people daring to go out on a limb to live out God's kingdom.

Yeah, I haven't quite figured out how to tie Mother's Day into that yet.

As I reflect just now, however, I'm seeing firsthand how much of a risk parenthood (inclusive language~!) is. It's something that for some is easy to minimize or discard or shy away from, but it takes some patience and strength to stick with. There's probably a tie-in between the kind of patience and strength that it takes to be a Christian and the kind that it takes to be a mother, or father, or parent, or guardian, or whatever. And neither of these things are boring, if we're open to the experience, the Spirit's call, or both. Maybe that's my link.

I have a couple more weeks to think about it.