Intersection member Tracy Muffett Mills is our Featured Member this week. Tracy is an ordained Disciples of Christ minister and a social services caseworker in western Pennsylvania. She also writes a great blog, With My Face to the Rising Sun: Diary of a Mad God Woman. Rebecca Bowman Woods interviewed Tracy via email. Rebecca Woods: Tell us about your call to ministry. How has that calling, or your understanding of it, changed over time? Tracy Muffett Mills:
Coming into ministry was not a single, "burning-bush" moment for me;
it was - and still is - a vine that's grown leaf by leaf over time, carrying me along in surprising ways. Born and raised in Disciples churches, I first sensed a call when I was a teen, but I didn't dance seriously with it until I was nearly thirty. I just didn't see myself as minister material. But the vine kept on growing and the still small voice kept on speaking, and eventually I found myself living as a full-time ordained minister with a solo pastorate. And I loved it! I thought I'd found my forever home in full-time church ministry, that I'd "arrived" at fulfilling my call. But over the course of my pastorate, I made a strange discovery: the vine never stops growing, and the voice never stops speaking. No one was more surprised than I when, in 2008, I found myself called away from traditional church ministry for an indefinite time; by then I'd grown so identified with the role of full-time church pastor that I couldn't see myself doing anything else! But the vine and the voice what they're doing, and I have learned to trust the process. I suppose you could say that I'm undergoing a transformation process in terms of my understanding of my call.RW: Tell us more about the work you do. What parts or aspects are most
rewarding, and which are discouraging?
I'm on the front lines as a caseworker with the local Assistance (welfare) office. It's as challenging as one might think: the bureaucracy is mind-boggling, the clients can be difficult at times, and the overall problems of systemic poverty seem insurmountable. Even so, the most discouraging aspect of the job comes from outside the office: so many people, when they find out what I do, immediately start to complain and speak disparagingly about the folks I serve. We dehumanize others so easily. Perhaps, in time, I'll be in a position to effect some change on that front. For now, being fairly new to this world, I focus on what Mother Teresa counseled - "doing small things with great love". I try to see each client as a unique person, with a unique set of needs and potentials, and to work with them in such a way as to leave them feeling like they've been heard and respected. And in so doing, I meet some really neat people and learn from them what it takes to REALLY love and care for "the least of these."RW: You also maintain a blog
called “With My Face to the Rising Sun: Diary of a Mad God Woman.” Tell us more about the title, especially the “mad God woman” part.TMM:
"With My Face To The Rising Sun" is my life-outlook in a nutshell:
I can't go back to yesterday - I can only stand where I am and face the future, trusting that the One who "rises with healing in his wings" is somewhere within it. "Diary of a Mad God Woman" is, of course, a riff on a great title for a great movie ("Diary of a Mad Black Woman"), but it is also truth in advertising, letting my readers know exactly what they're in for. "Diary" - it's personal, rather than theme- or topic-driven. You get whatever's on my mind. "Mad" - a triple-play on meaning: mad/angry (or at least mildly incensed) about a few things; mad/zany, madcap, off-the-wall, random; and mad/mentally-less-than-well at times, as I do struggle with depression and the aftereffects of some rough life experiences. Readers will find elements of all three types of "mad" in my postings, depending on where I am in my head at any given time. "God Woman" is a statement of identity. God is what I'm about, Whose I am, the core around which I wrap my life. Better than Swiss Rolls, and less fattening.RW: You have eclectic taste in
music and movies. Do you ever see messages in popular culture that resonate with the Christian faith? If so, what are a couple of examples?
"Star Wars" is far and away my #1 choice. I was nine when the first
movie came out, and I've been a die-hard fan ever since. I even brought my son's lightsaber to church once and used it as a sermon illustration! "Star Wars", however, is just one of many, many instances of a theme known as "the hero's quest" - check out Joseph Campbell's classic book, "The Hero With A Thousand Faces,"
if you want to know more. That's the theme that, for me, resonates most strongly with the Christian message. You've got a "little guy" (or gal) awakening to a larger reality, going on this amazing outer and inner journey, having to choose between good and evil, realizing how much they really do matter to the world they live in, and usually making the final choice for good with the help of a good teacher/mentor/protector who dies to save them from the bad guy. That's a great storyline, and it is used over, and over, and OVER in popular culture. Star Wars. Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter. Spider-Man. Most Disney movies. Even some of the theme/concept albums in secular music over the years - Savatage's "Streets" comes most quickly to mind, but there are others.
Of course, sometimes I just like to rock out, and sometimes I just like to turn off my brain and watch something with a lot of cool special effects. Who says you have to find Deep Meaning in everything all the time? Sometimes "Boom Boom Pow" is enough for the moment at hand.RW: Your profile says you’re
passionate about really good pie. So, what kind of pie do you like
best? Do you have a favorite pie recipe? And finally, do you eat the crust or leave it on the plate?TMM:
Well, it depends on the crust. If it came out OK, then yes! If it
came out more like a doorstop, well...maybe next time. As to what kind I like best? Aside from kidney pie (which I've never tried and never plan to; can't get past the whole "kidneys?!??" concept)...I never met a pie I didn't like! I have two favorite recipes: one for a cherry cream cheese pie, and the other which is really a quiche - spinach and feta.
The cream cheese pie is easy: mix up 8 oz. softened cream
cheese with a 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk and a smidge of lemon juice, pour it into a graham cracker crust, refrigerate till it sets, dump a can of cherry pie filling on top, and try not to eat the whole thing in one sitting. The quiche is also pretty easy: chopped onion sauteed in butter, cooked spinach, feta and cheddar cheeses and garlic/spices to taste, all stirred up in a big ol' skillet, then spread into a deep-dish pie crust, filled in with the egg-milk mixture that makes a quiche a quiche, baked at 450 for about ten minutes, then sprinkled with more cheddar cheese and baked standard 350 for another thirty minutes or so until it's done. I'll try to get the more specific recipe up on my blogsite in the next day or two.
RW: What do you see in the world, and in your world, that gives you hope? TMM:
that shove their way up through cracks in sidewalks. Flowers and green things growing stubbornly in the ugliest and most hopeless of landscapes. People who not only survive, but thrive, when neither seems possible under the circumstances. The way folks respond when disaster strikes even perfect strangers. Recovering addicts. My children and their friends. In short, the everyday choice that life, on so many levels, seems to make: as poet Gerard Manley Hopkins put is, to "not choose not to be."
RW: What else would you like people to know about you? TMM:
That I wasn't formed in a vacuum. I carry within me the faces and voices of countless Disciples
: pastors, church family, my own nuclear family (I'm a third-generation Disciple), camp directors and counselors, peers, professors, mentors, churches along the way. This is my spiritual home, and I hope and pray God will make me even a fraction as much of a blessing to the Disciples, as the Disciples have been to me.
That I'm working on a "memoirs-of-a-lady-preacher" book that started as one book, then became two, then one again, then switched gears, then...yeah, so, it may see the light of day eventually. Like its author, it's very much a work in progress. But it seems to want to be born, so I'm sure it'll get there. In its time. Oh, and, that I have the best family in the whole wide world. Ever. My own unbiased opinion.