So the last thing I said to my husband this morning, meant to be a funny quip to keep him company on his commute to work was, “What is the etiquette for minister-types while whipping the metaphorical ass of a bunch of old ladies at a game of cards?”

Several months ago, one of my parishioners invited me to play cribbage with her at the local subsidized housing complex.  There is a long-standing game that attracts a steady crew of women from this rural town.  I had declined the invitation at that time – Mondays are when I drive to the other side of the state for my class in early Christian history.   Plus, cribbage with old ladies?  I don’t want to steal candy from babies…

This week is school vacation week: no school on Monday, no round-trip of four hours.  Plus, it was beginning to sound fun – not so much the taking candy from babies, but spending time with this elder, who continually surprises me.  Just yesterday, during our Easter service, the congregation blessed a shawl she knit for the wider shawl ministry, to be given away to someone in need.  She is the church historian and keeps us rooted, sometimes in minutiae, sometimes in very important threads.  She recently asked me for some items to be displayed in the church history boxes so that people can get to know me.  It was a sweet gesture, one that I modestly wanted to demur, but she would not allow it.  In her mid-80s, she does not suffer fools or “no” for an answer.  (Lucky for the congregation, she asks reasonable things…)

The real reason I originally declined was because I am latently competitive.  I used to be highly and openly competitive, but I have recovered.  Or matured.  In the first months of my relationship with the woman who would become my first partner, we would play an electronic version of Risk (this was the late 1980s, so it was rather primitive) and get into tense arguments that could easily have signaled that we were not meant for each other.  (Fortunately, we opted to stop playing one-on-one games like that and chose to dilute our competitive nature in Friday night feminist poker games…)  We ended up together for a decade.

Since in my spiritual maturity I am no longer highly and openly competitive, I thought I could manage a nice pastoral visit with the old ladies of town.  Plus, just last month I played well against my brother, did not gloat one bit, and thought that my winning streak (which had deserted me for years) might be back.

I wondered if I might have to play like I did with my children when they were really little – playing slowly and deliberately, helping them to win, and certainly not gloating.  (Let’s be clear: that phase of parenting lasted only as long as they were really little.  Once they were just plain little, I followed the parenting wisdom that says that losing builds character…) Oh, well, I figured it would be a good pastoral gesture.  Plus, the RSCC wants me to spend more time with elders, since my previous profession focused on babies and toddlers.

Turns out humble pie was on my spiritual plate this afternoon.  No need to moderate my game.  No need to count aloud the points in my hand for anyone but myself (they knew the sum well before I spoke it aloud, and often corrected me).  These women play a serious game, including keeping points and financial penalty if you get skunked.*  Which I did.

I had to borrow a quarter.  I’m good for it.  They know where to find me on Sundays.


* Which is the cribbage-way of saying I got my ass-whipped…