This fall, I had the opportunity to substitute teach.
For six weeks I wandered into middle school science and social studies classrooms,
first grade intensity,
and everything in between.
Always, in each new assignment, I was asked,
are you Ms. Miller, or Mrs. Miller.
At first, I just said, it doesn't matter.
But it does, I know.
When I was teaching in the late 80's and 90's, I was emphatically MS. Miller.
Not Miss Miller. Not Mrs. Miller.
I didn't feel like I should have to have my marital status be a part of how my students and their parents perceived me. Men only have one choice--Mr. -------. I know that most people at that time and place thought that I ought to just give in to the sexist paradigm. They all knew that Ms. was just a feminist who was single.
Apparently, here, in another part of the country, and a new millennium, the Miss has been dropped. And it wasn't clear whether Ms. was just non-sexist, but I felt like when I was asked, that Ms. meant single and Mrs. mean married. OR--actually, Mrs. meant you were married, but Ms. was more neutral.
Here is the thing--this fall, I started off as being Ms. You know, the whole neutral, non-sexist word.
But then, the children, especially the little ones, would call me Mrs., and hey, it wasn't worth correcting a six year old, especially as a temporary teacher for the day. And--I found I liked being Mrs. Miller! I *am* married, for goodness sake. To a wonderful woman.
So, for a few weeks, I just went with being Mrs. Miller. The first time in my 50 years of life, and I liked the public addition to my identity.
Here is another thing--I now am at the age I don't mind it if I am called "Miss". This happens ONLY at Starbucks, so I think it must be a customer service rule--call all the women "Miss" unless obviously she looks older than your mother. Oh my goodness, I would have been ruffled to pieces if this happened to me when I was 33.
It's funny, though, how the title in front of our names means something. Or not. For example, I am proud that I am Rev. Karla, or Pastor Karla. I worked HARD for that! Those who have earned a post-graduate degree, whether Ph.D. or D. Min or Ed.D. have earned that DR. in front of their name.
When I was a college chaplain, my name was always listed formally as The Reverend Karla Miller. The students started calling me "The Rev." I must admit, I loved that, because it was a term of endearment.
But in congregational polity, we hold close to the priesthood of all believers, and since I don't call my parishioners Ms. Polly, or Mr. Mark, why should they call me Pastor Karla? I know this is common in many Christian traditions. I know that in the denomination of my cradle, Pastor is like a first name. You just don't refer to the minister by her first name alone. Or--you don't very often.
So, on Sunday, during the children's time, my colleague in ministry was introducing me to the children, and asked me what I would like for them to call me. I sort of flustered in the moment, because I hadn't thought about it--in my last parish I was a mix of Rev, Pastor Karla, and Karla to all ages. That just evolved.
Without thinking, I said, "Karla is great!"
After musing about this, it was the perfect thing to say.
I wonder, if part of my thrill of being called Mrs. was in part because it gave me a little sense of identity that fed into my ego. I was a Teacher! A Wife!
Part of the landscape of the past few months of sabbatical and time off involved a stripping off the outer ways in which I identified with the world--and gained a sense of worthiness from those identities. Not always a good thing to do.
So I am really grateful for having that time in not being a pastor in a congregation (it can be quite heady, you know, at times....). It gave me pause to consider my calling. Was I continued to be called to parish ministry? Should I start a dog walking business? Get my teaching certificate?
It also gave me space to be myself, reconnect with my deep self, my knowing self. This wasn't always easy, mind you--I did a couple of temp jobs where I wanted to SHOUT OUT "do you KNOW what I AM?? A freakin' professional that doesn't give a flip about counting ceiling tiles!!!" Humbling, at its best. Its very best.
And I had to remember, over and over, that the most important part of me is that I am Beloved. And that I am called to be Love, as best I can, in this world. Whether or not I am Ms., Miss, Pastor, or Mrs.
Thanks be to God.