by Linda Ryan
One of the most important parts of our Education for Ministry (EfM) group is the TR, the Theological Reflection. We consider a word, a text, a picture, video, movie, experience or issue, form a metaphor encompassing what stands out for us from the topic or artifact (objects), and then consider the world of the metaphor through the lenses of tradition, culture, position and action. It’s a way of teaching us to look for God, faith, meaning and opportunity for learning and ministry in everyday things. The discussion varies from week to week, sometimes very focused and sometimes, as we call it, like herding cats, but the beauty is that something comes out of it no matter how scattered or tightly focused the discussion. That something often goes with us through the week and makes us see things — people and situations– in new ways.
On this occasion the metaphor we were using involved considering a washing machine, how it worked, what it did, what could go wrong with it, what could put it right. We spoke of feeling the “thunkety-thunkety” of the unbalanced load, the noise of the spin cycle and other metaphors for life as a washing machine or the clothes in it. Then someone brought up that packing the washer too tightly resulted in wrinkled clothes. I hadn’t really considered it in that light but it gave me something to think about, something that said any time something is crowded it often gets crumpled and not able to stretch and breathe. It gets unhealthy and, in the end, produces something wrinkled that doesn’t look good or seem clean enough. Someone asked if those clothes got ironed and that’s when the fun (and the “AHA!” moments) began. Some owned irons and used them, whether sparingly or frequently. One knew someone with an iron they could borrow if necessary but hadn’t felt that need as of yet. I have an iron but am not precisely sure where it is.
I can see myself as a washing machine as well as the clothes in one, but when it comes to an iron and what happens when it is used, that’s something else entirely. I’m one who ignores the wrinkles for the most part and just wants to get on with whatever has to get done. I snickered to a classmate that for me, ironing was like the doctrine of substitutionary atonement: I just didn’t believe in it. Maybe that’s a bit whimsical, but that’s how I feel about it. That’s just talking about the physical act of ironing — like clothes, church linens and the like. The metaphorical ironing is a bit different.
I have a wrinkled soul. I know it, God knows it and quite a few people know it as well. Some can deal with it, some can’t see how I can deal with it, and occasionally I wonder the same thing myself. In terms of a ministry, the wrinkles show up as wanting to do things but not being able to or not being willing to step out in faith and try. In terms of my personal life, it’s in the relationship with different people. With God, however, I sort of look at it as God accepting that I’m wrinkled and ever so gently touching me up with an iron to smooth out the rough spots, but only when I notice and am uncomfortable enough with the wrinkle to really want it gone. God will do that for me, but only if I really want it to happen. I have to invest in it myself for it to have value, just as I have to invest in the right detergent and softener to get my clothes and things both clean and soft. Some wrinkles are unavoidable but most can be, if I care enough to do the things that will help prevent them.
I don’t know what others came up with as insights, but for me, it was a change of perspective that I probably need to consider. That’s one thing about this part of EfM that we call a TR: it makes me look at how I see things and begin to discern what works and what doesn’t, what I need to learn and also to unlearn, what I think, what I believe, and what all those mean to me in my life. The trick now is to take that insight and actually do something with it, along with being glad God is there to help me get rid of the wrinkles.
Now to just remember not to overcrowd the washing machine or overcrowd my life with inconsequentialities. Oh, and I must learn to sort more carefully so the socks won’t fade on something important. Come to think of it, black socks are like sin — they kind of leave a stain, no matter how carefully I think I’ve sorted it out. I don’t want my clothes coming out looking dirtier than when they went in, or more wrinkled than they need to be. Small wrinkles may be easily overlooked like small imperfections, but dingy or spotted clothes are a lot more obvious, like the sins I accumulate during a day or a lifetime.
Gotta love a device that allows me to put my feet (and my mind) in a different place with a different perspective. That’s what TRs do for me.
Now if I could just use a TR to help me figure out how to always have socks that come out of the washer in pairs.