Monday, August 27, 2007


My mother, bless her heart (as my mother-in-law would add when she was about to say something about a person who exasperated her), was NOT in favor of me becoming a minister. She thought I was over-reaching, hypocritical, and doing it just to aggravate her. “Why can’t you just marry a nice Presbyterian minister?” she pleaded.

In 1973 when I finally gave up on Bob Scriver and migrated back to Portland for lack of another destination, my mother thought this was the obvious thing to do and expected that “now that your marriage is over” I would live with her. Even though she had doubts about my new vocation as a dog-catcher, when I staggered home each sweaty summer night, stinking and sunburned, she cheerfully bought me a guacamole burger and a Margarita at a nearby Mexican restaurant, because she thought we were two bachelor girls together. Well, of course, I was the subordinate: the little sister. She wasn’t pleased when I moved to an apartment. She had a key in case I couldn’t get home in time to take care of my little dog and she’d come kidnap the dog so that I’d have to come to her house to get the dog back and, inevitably, have supper with her.

I gave the dog away. I gave away a lot of stuff, thinking in some weird way that I was joining a convent. Anyway, the seminary told me in no uncertain terms that I could bring NOTHING but my clothes -- except books, of course. My mother refused to give me any encouragement or to contribute any money at all or to store anything.

Just to make sure I wasn’t totally nuts, I signed up with my rat behavior professor for a course of psychotherapy. I told her to talk me out of being a minister. She said she had no idea how to do that since she was a secular Jew. (Also, a few years later she quit psychology to become a torch singer. I don’t know what that means. I had nothing to do with it -- I THINK.) So we talked about my mother and my dreams that she was trying to kill me. Then I started having dreams of meeting the psychologist secretly at the Blue Parrot Bar (There’s a Blue Parrot soda fountain on Last Chance Gulch in Helena and I had once taken my mother there. I had a Green River and she had a Cherry Coke. Never did figure out all the color symbolism, but we were not into booze.) In the dream the psychologist wore tennis whites under a Columbo rumpled trench coat -- I guess that’s fairly obvious. She said she didn’t see why I couldn’t be a good minister. I told her I wanted my money back.

I reminded her that I still had a terrible reaction to bossy older women, etc. but she was unconvinced. Maybe she was just bored with me. The denomination wanted me to go to their psychologist, so I did. This was standard. She gave me a Rorschach inkblot test, but I didn’t see much of anything. There was also a -- gee, I’ve almost forgotten -- Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, I think. Said I was very worried. No kidding.

It’s a great compliment to a minister if a parishioner wants to become a minister -- imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all that. My minister distrusted my motives, I’m sure, but also mistrusted his judgment and didn’t want to close down possibilities. His colleague, the female (as they always were) Minister of Religious Education, was quite different. We mutually disliked each other. She was a very organized, elegant, upper-class sort of woman with rarified tastes. (Made, not born.) But she also wanted it known that she was a “babe” and “one of the guys.” She was working on a “proper” full-fledged ministry credential and was treated by the district ministers as a princess. At that point no one admitted that she was in love with the “real” minister and would marry him. He insisted that I talk to her. It was not a success. If I said something pro, she was sceptical. If I mentioned a con, she was all over it. That really set the hook. Looking back, I don’t think either one of them was very realistic or even knew me very well.

At that time the Pacific Northwest ministers were universally male, terrifically -- even aggressively educated -- and great pals. This was before their physicians shut down the booze and tobacco, so they had outrageous boisterous meetings. (Both my “ministers” were indiscrete, plus the interns told all) They mixed discipline with support, taking the weaker aside for a little coaching or cautioning, and challenging the grandiose to have a little humility. In truth, that’s what I hoped being in the ministry would be like, or even that seminary would be like. I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

In the short time that I went through seminary, though it was a four year program, everything changed: minister, home congregation, Pacific Northwest District (the Canadian Unitarian Conference seceded from the Unitarian Universalist Association, splitting the district in half), denomination (California overwhelming New England), and the very nature of ministry. I didn’t learn much at seminary that applied to EITHER the way the UUA was when I entered or the way the UUA was when I came out. Or ran away from it. The middle had burned out of all the maps, just like one of those movie interludes. I wonder whether it isn’t always this way. And I wonder how much it was about the world changing and how much it was about me changing. Both probably. A lot happened between 1978 and 1982.

Mt. St. Helens exploded. My oldest granddaughter (actually Bob’s) died, perhaps in a suicide. My youngest brother fell and hit his forehead so hard that his personality changed. At least then my mother had someone to live with her. But my mother hangups did not help my ministry career.

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