Saturday, January 30, 2010

To Embrace a Ministry of Vomit

It is always interesting to read the final papers of my students and see what the main "take-away" of the class was for them. For my Evangelism class, which concluded in January, the take-away was a brief comment I made on my "Ministry of Vomit" (or VM for short).

Being a pastor in San Francisco, I often find myself in settings with people who have left the confines of their hometowns for the openness and freedom of the City, where the impact of "The Summer of Love" is still felt.  These folks migrated West in hopes of leaving behind the restrictiveness of the past and the rejection they often experienced. Frequently, religion has been at the root of their discontent.

For these individuals, the prevailing religious expression of their hometown left them feeling battered and bruised, as they experienced judgment and condemnation. 

I was blessed to be raised up in a faith that kept reminding me that I was loved unconditionally by God.  This love was expressed vividly by the community.  This orientation shaped my life and my vocation and has sustained me through the ups and downs of life, the good and the bad decisions and choices I have made.  Always, this love drew me back onto a path of wholeness and hope.  It is at the core of my ministry today. More than anything else, I want people to experience this love and rest in its assurance.  For me, it is central to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Pastoring in SF requires me to create the space for people to express the wounds and pains they have experienced by religious communities. It necessitates being a witness as they explain the ways they were harmed by religious people. In order to offer people a radically new understanding and experience of Christian faith, I have to allow them to emotionally "vomit" on me, knowing that at that moment I am representating a faith tradition that has done them wrong.  It is only after they have been able to get out all that has been bad, then perhaps space can be created for them to experience some good.

So for this pastor in SF, doing evangelism means embracing a ministry of vomit!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

We All Could Use a Little Good News

I just finished teaching a week-long January term class on Evangelism at Pacific School of Religion. I love teaching this class and helping progressive Christian students, who can barely stammer out the "E" word, not only say "Evangelism" but embrace it as a fundamental emphasis of their future ministry.  It is exciting to see these students strip away assumptions and previous experiences of evangelism through a study of scripture and an articulation of a theology of evangelism which seeks to invite people to participate into the Good News of God's realm.

What is sobering for this instructor, however, is how many students see evangelism as primarily what we SAY versus what we DO.  Sadly, our words don't always mirror our actions.  How can our ministries of evangelism help people experience God's love?  How can this experiences instill in them a desire to know/experience more, and begin their journey as participants in the realm of God?  It's time we did less talking and more living out the Good News in our communities.

Perhaps the best evangelism lesson of all comes from St. Francis, who said, "Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."

Monday, January 18, 2010

It Matters to Us

One of the sacred texts that has shaped my life and ministry is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from the Birmingham Jail".  Writes King: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

Certainly recent events have revealed the truth of King's words:

The fact that our Haitian sisters and brothers are experiencing suffering beyond measure must matter to us.

That there are those in our nation who cannot afford health care must matter to us.

That some households are filled with violence and abuse must matter to us.

That some couples' relationships of love, mutuality and commitment are legally considered second class must matter to us.

That bombs continue to fall upon, maim and kill civilians must matter to us.

That in a world of plenty so many have so little must matter to us.

That people are held in suspicion even in their own neighborhoods because of the brown or black skin or accent or country of origin must matter to us.

If it does matter to us, we are propelled to do something about it, to relieve the suffering, to address the injustice, to commit to equality, to address the causes of violence, poverty, and oppression.  If we are truly connected to one another, we must put our love into action and help bring healing, hope, and wholeness to a world in need.

Thank you, Martin, for modelling to us how faithful living prompts us to love in ways that challenge structures, systems and institutions that crush the human spirit and deny dignity so that the beloved community may emerge.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sometimes I Wish My Eyes Hadn't Been Opened

When I was in seminary in the early 1980's, the women at the school would sing together:

Sometimes I wish my eyes hadn’t been opened
Sometimes I wish I could no longer see
All of the pain and the hurt and the longing of my
Sisters and me as we try to be free*

The words were a reflection of the experience we shared as women entering into a bastion of male experience: theological education.  While called into ministry and pursuing a Master of Divinity, many of us would be unable to be ordained because of our gender.  Still, God's call was too compelling to ignore.

Sometimes I wish my eyes hadn’t been opened,
Just for an hour, how sweet it would be
Not to be struggling, not to be striving,
But just sleep securely in our slavery.*

Being in seminary ripped open my life in ways I hadn't anticipated. I grew up in a church where I was nurtured and mentored into ministry. Even though I had heard my call to ministry long before I met my first clergywoman, I never thought that my gender would have an impact on the journey to ordination or my participation in the larger church.

Try as I might to ignore sexism and the power of patriarchy, it was too great to deny once studying in seminary.  As other women shared their experiences, as I read the work of women scholars, and as I studied history, the sacred canopy of my worldview was torn into shreds as I learned of the sin of sexism. 

But now that I’ve seen with my eyes, I can’t close them,
Because deep inside me somewhere I’d still know
The road that my sisters and I have to travel:
My heart would say, "Yes" and my feet would say "Go!"*

Mary Daly (October 16, 1928 – January 3, 2010) was one of the scholars whose work changed my life.  With linguistic creativity, Daly critiqued patriarchy and the Church.  She was a "Revolting Hag" who challenged us to see the damage patriarchy was doing not only to women but to the entire planet.  Reading Mary Daly cracked open my mind and made me consider what it meant to seek ordination in a patriarchal social institution.  Because of Mary Daly, I was able to embrace the word "feminist" and seek to live as a "Spin-ster" whose creative acts birthed gyn/ecological justice.

Mary Daly passed away on January 3, 2010 but she still reminds us that "Courage to be is the key to the revelatory power of the feminist revolution."  As I give thanks for her life, her words and witness, I am recommitting myself to the task of feminism and daring to live with courage so that those who will come after me will find a world unencumbered by oppression due to gender, race, class, or sexual orientation.

Sometimes I wish my eyes hadn’t been opened,
But now that they have, I’m determined to see:
That somehow my sisters and I will be one day
The free people we were created to be.*

*(Words and Music By Carol Etzler, 1974 published by Sisters Unlimited, RR 1 Box 1420, Bridgeport, VT 05734)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Heart to Heart

I was at the gym Saturday when something scrolled across the CNN channel that nearly caused me to fall off my eliptical machine: "Doctors find nothing wrong with Rush Limbaugh's heart." Huh?

Several days ago, Limbaugh was admitted to the hospital for chest pains. Conservative talk show host Limbaugh has lambasted liberals, reviled revolutionary thinkers, and verbally pummelled progressives by filling the airways with half truths and mistruths.  His brand of social commentary has brought new lows to civil discourse in the public square, demeaning his detractors through name-calling and smear tactics.

So it surprised me that the doctors found nothing wrong with Limbaugh's heart. Because it means that he has one.

While we all have our political/social/theological agendas, we must never further these agendas by demeaning or dehumanizing those who disagree with us. If we are to create healthy communities and cities, if we want a more just nation and a world filled with peace, we must do it by staying connected, even to those who disagree with us.

Libaugh's tirades (even if they are to generate ratings) have done nothing to help us collaborate across lines that divide us. Instead, he has deepened those divisions. 

Rush, if you're heart is okay, use it to mend the world's brokenness instead of adding to it.