Shattered and Whole

Shattered and Whole

Last month my blue Cath Kidston mug broke. Cath Kidston discontinued the style and none remained in stock. However, several of my readers found the mug online at another British company. Unfortunately, it was four times more expensive than the original piece. Nevertheless, someone decided to have the mug sent to me, which was so very thoughtful. I am drinking my morning tea from the mug as I type.

In a meeting last week in which the pastors of our new church were telling our Leadership Council how we were doing, I said, “I’m not going to lie. My life is really difficult. It is hard to be hated by so many people.” In the previous seven days I had been mentioned negatively in scores of alt-right and fundamentalist Christian publications and web sites. When I was speaking with Bishop Gene Robinson last year, he said, “The toll of being attacked is cumulative. You think you can dismiss the ignorance, but it finds it way past your defenses.” Uh, huh.

But life has these wonderful compensators. The attacks against me have been matched by a phenomenal outpouring of generosity. Since my TEDx talk became popular, people from Australia to Sweden have written to express their appreciation for my openness, authenticity and spirit. One writer mentioned she had never seen a YouTube video with as many “likes” per views as mine. I took a look on the Internet and sure enough, a lot of people have liked my video.

Then the mug arrived. I was with my fellow pastors when we saw the box. Given the threatening responses I received from the alt-right, I was afraid to open the package. Jen’s husband Eric opened it for me. We were all a little nervous. But when the opened box revealed a beautiful blue mug, I was more than relieved. I was elated. And I was reminded, “Yes, love wins.”

I am keeping the broken mug. The new one has a spot on the bookshelf where the old mug used to be displayed. The broken mug is on my grandmother’s dry sink in my office, all of its pieces gathered on a gold dinner plate. I see it all day long, just to the left of the Rocky Mountain view outside my south-facing window.

This is my life, shattered and whole, hated and loved, torn apart and put together. I will keep both mugs close. I love the broken mug. I identify with its jagged edges, the handle clutching the memory of a space, and the tiny specks that cannot be reassembled. I love the new mug, a sign of so many that love me so well.

As a white male from the privileged side of the tracks, I had no idea just how difficult life is.  I thought it was hard fighting gender dysphoria.  What I faced back then was nothing compared to what I face now.

Not long ago a female client of color said, “There is nothing I am facing that my pastor has not faced and he seems to find the strength of the Holy Spirit to take him through his dark days.  Why can’t I?”  She attends a megachurch.  I thought long and hard before I responded.   “Your journeys are very different,” I said.  “You might find more help from the words of Jesus than from the words of a successful white male pastor.”

I am not diminishing the experience of her pastor, a man I know.  But his experience has little in common with hers.  Sometimes I want to go back and re-preach every sermon I ever preached as a male.  Instead, I must show myself grace.  As I said multiple times in my TEDXMileHigh talk, “I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

As a public figure, generous gifts have always come my way.  I have also always had my share of detractors.  But there are so many more detractors now, which makes the gifts mean so much more than they ever did before.

What I did not mention at the outset of this post is that I have received two identical blue Cath Kidston mugs within the past two weeks.  A note in the second mug had the name of the gift giver, but it was not legible.  So, whoever you both are, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.  I am blessed beyond measure, far more than two cups worth.

9 thoughts on “Shattered and Whole

  1. Thanks for all you do and share. As Kentuckians of the same age, I’ve read your posts for many years and found your thoughts insightful. You have always been a ray of hope in the world of Christ followers, perhaps now more than ever.


  2. Dear Paula,
    Please excuse my poor english, but I like very much to comment on your last post about the broken mug. Being a potter in my first profession (a second and third followed) I have a strong interest to the metaphor of the vessel as a human life, or as a container for our souls, our innermost aspects. Therefore it was very touching when you combined the story of your broken mug and the attacks you receive. I am very happy you wrote that you kept the pieces of the broken mug, because I want to tell you something about a wonderful Japanese technique to “repair” broken ceramics. In fact, it´s beyond repairing, it is about questioning our concepts of wholeness and our concepts of beauty: with the kintsukuroi or kintsugi technique the broken pieces of a vessel are put together again with a golden glue. The scars of the vessel remain golden and give the piece a new beauty, a beauty of real life, a beauty far more touching than before. Perhaps you cannot use the piece in the old ways, but you might cherish it in a new way. I guess when you put your broken mug on a plate, it was already something in this direction.
    I am very grateful for your generous sharing your experiences and insights. I saw your TEDtalk only some days ago and I am still thrilled of your authenticity and bravery. I wish you all the best,( much more than I can express in a public blog ;)).
    Heartfelt regards, Claudia

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Claudia. I am aware of kintsugi, and I seriously thought about putting the broken mug together again, but I have decided against it. I actually prefer its pieces broken. I’m not exactly sure of the reason, but right now I’m following my heart. And thank you very much for your kind comments about my TEDx talk.


  3. What I like about these cup givers is there is more than one. That means the love and the growth of open and true equality is gathering momentum … “For where two or three are come together in my name, there am I among them”



  4. Dear Reverend,
    I was touched by your TED talk as well as by the story that you tell in your web site “shattered and whole” I tried to attach a beautiful picture that I have of a Japanese object that is shattered and made whole more beautiful than before as a result of its transformation. The Japanese form is called “Kintsukuroi”


  5. Hello Paula, I don’t know if you remember me; but, I knew you when you were Paul.I was so intimidated by you, that I don’t think I ever spoke a word to you. But here you are this beautiful humble woman, a woman I would love to get to know. Hopefully we will meet someday.


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