So, after taking a brief journey down the academic rabbit-hole, let’s get back to the question that prompted all this reflection–and quick, because Pesach starts tomorrow!
I’ve talked a lot about what I don’t do and why, how I don’t measure up to the Minister’s Wife who sits in the back of my head, quietly ‘tsk’ing at me while I write. But what do I do?
The truth is, I actually have more in common with that figure conjured from the pages of Anne of the Island (I’m trying really hard to think Phil Gordon, here, not Mrs. Allan) than I’m comfortable admitting. I put together crafts for children’s stories (in fact, the colouring-book pages I’ve been drawing for Lent this year are something I’ll probably try to scan and clean up to distribute as a resource by the next time the Revised Common Lectionary Year C rolls around). I bake. I knit for other people’s babies. I make Mark pots of tea while he writes his Sunday sermons. I help with Hebrew exegesis (in a very convenient division of labour, he assists me with Greek translations for my own work). I try to remember not to kiss him in public if we’re walking too near his parish.
My discomfort with all this is that, once upon a time, being a Minister’s Wife was a vocation in its own right, and a fairly demanding one. The minister ministered, and his wife dutifully supported him, perhaps tending to some uniquely feminine needs amongst the congregation–a position not at all dissimilar to that held by the wives of Orthodox Rabbis. Even now, it seems that a lot of congregations expect the minister they hire to come with a second full-time (unpaid!) carer attached. Even though I know that, historically, the status of a Minister’s Wife probably gave a lot of very smart, talented women more room to exercise their gifts than they might have been permitted otherwise, the idea of a vocation and identity entirely dependent upon the person with whom one is partnered (not to mention the economics of the situation) is a bit disturbing to my 21st-century feminist sensibilities. So, sitting next to the Ideal Minister’s Wife, I suppose I also have the Ideal (Second-Wave) Feminist hovering around the back of my mind. The one thing they seem to agree on most of the time is that I’m letting them down.
So, what do I do? I don’t go off to Rabbinical school–as I mentioned, a calling to ministry in any religion is serious stuff, and I just don’t have it. Not that I haven’t been tempted to go, just for the sake of text study–there just aren’t many places outside Rabbinic training where a grownup Reform Jew can do that–but I have very little interest in pastoral care. I’m more of… well, really, I’m more of an academic. (Yeah, I realise that’s a total shock to anyone who’s a regular reader of this blog.) For me, the work of teaching and learning is a vocation; what pastoral skills I have are both developed and deployed in the service of my students–some of whom, irony of ironies, are training for ministry. In that context, locating myself as a minister’s partner can actually be helpful; they can believe that I’m on their side in a way that they couldn’t believe a random Jewish lady teaching them about interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, or the similarities and differences between Christian and Jewish liturgy, would be.
So, for me, academic space is what permits me to function as a minister’s partner without getting sucked into the vortex of trying to be a Minister’s Wife. Well, that and my solitary Sunday mornings.