So what the heck is this all about?
The Presbyterian General Assembly starts on Saturday, but most members of Team Wilkinson/Dana are already in Detroit today, meeting with young adult advisory delegates, having meals with interest groups, and attending a prayer gathering to get fortified for the work ahead (whether as moderators of the gathering or as among its 650 commissioners).
I am not with them.
I already knew that I would miss Margaret’s dance recital on Saturday afternoon, which coincides with the opening plenary of the assembly. But my heart sank several weeks ago when I discovered that the girls’ piano recital was Friday evening. In an ideal world, I would already be in Detroit today. But working parents never live in an ideal world. (Does anyone?)
Thankfully John, my co-conspirator on this great adventure said, “This one’s easy. Don’t miss the recital.” So I asked the girls’ piano teacher to schedule them in the first half of the program (which she was happy to do) and am booked on the last flight to Detroit tonight. If the timing works out, I will listen via conference call to the prayer gathering while waiting at the gate, but I am holding this and all things lightly.
I remember hearing about pastoral boundaries during the call process. Ministry is a demanding job, emotionally and spiritually, I was told. You have to protect yourself! And yes, there are more opportunities for caregiving than you could ever complete. Sunday seems to come every 39 minutes. The average congregation is not going to guard your mental health, people warned. (Guess what? Your kids don’t do that either. They want all of you.)
I don’t know whether this antagonism was intended, or whether I misheard it. In either case, I entered ministry thinking of boundaries as thick walls. Sometimes family life took precedence and sometimes the church had to come first, but there was a clear right answer—or at least, I convinced myself that there was, because the ambiguity was too uncomfortable to acknowledge.
Thanks to my friend Julie Johnson, I now think of boundaries not as brick walls but as semi-permeable membranes. Think about the wall of a cell: some things get through and other things don’t. The cell changes shape depending on a number of factors, but it retains its basic integrity. And most important, it is an organic thing, alive and changing.
To be sure, it’s disconcerting to see yourself as a semi-permeable membrane. There is vulnerability in it. You’re… squishy. But also, stuff can filter back and forth more easily. Case in point: this afternoon I was playing Margaret’s recital music from my laptop and got a private recital. As I closed my laptop afterwards, a “thinking of you as you get ready for GA” email caught my eye. So it goes.
Today I am here, but I’m thinking about my colleagues in Detroit—my heart is partly there. And Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., I will be at the dance recital, in spirit if nothing else. And that’s OK. In Sabbath in the Suburbs I talked about the importance of being present, of fully doing whatever it is you’re doing. And that’s true. But it’s also OK for your heart to be somewhere else too. That’s the way of the world.
AND! Permeability gives you some grace to be playful. Today I’ll be in northern Virginia in the flesh, but in Detroit in spirit… and, it turns out, in image. Some of John’s friends suggested a MaryAnn cardboard cutout that they will carry around with them, just for fun. We decided a MaryAnn mask, pictured above, would be more manageable. I’m hoping for pictures today, a la Flat Stanley, or perhaps Waldo.
If you’re in Detroit today, look for my disembodied head! And tomorrow, I’ll be all there. Except when I’m thinking good thoughts about the little girl dancing hip-hop to Run-D.M.C.