Friday, May 06, 2011

Living the Other Truth

Contributing these reflections to Rachel Held Evan's SynchroBlog festival over at her blog today.  It's a "Rally to Restore Unity"  a la Jon Stewart et al, and it's been both fun and inspirational to see all the wonderful signs 
and essays that have poured in this week.  
I have wrestled hard with what to say in this space 
and here's where all that angst has landed me.

I disagree with a whole lotta people about a whole lotta 
faith-related things.  And most of them are not make-or-break issues for me.  But there is this one whole area of my life as a disciple of Jesus that is so filled with both joy and pain that I hardly know what to do with it all.

I wrote the sign pictured above with tongue firmly in cheek, wondering as I tried to take the picture, 
"Do I even mean this?"  
Oh, I hope I do.  
I hope I could endure, maybe even enjoy,
 a good lunch with someone on the opposite end of this particular discussion.  
Because if not, 
then I'm not quite as far along on this journey as I hoped.

What I've come to, after a lifetime 
of wondering, 
of working through the biblical evidence for and against, 
of reading widely on both sides of the 
whole male/female thing,
of arguing with others and with myself and even with God - what I've come to is this: 
the thing I'm called to do is,
to live the other truth.
As a trusted counselor said to me this morning,
"That is the revolutionary act."

So that's what I've done, by God's grace, 
and my own determination here and there.
I've swallowed the angry retort (most of the time!),
I've quietly contributed what I could to 
caring for others,
teaching the word of God,
leading in worship, 
offering the sacraments, 
proclaiming the gospel good news.

And I've stood astounded,
mentally open-mouthed,
when men (and women) whom I love and respect 
say and do things that are stunningly at odds 
with what they say they believe.
Because, as I have learned to my chagrin 
and sometimes very deep personal pain,
 giving mental assent to an idea, to a doctrine, to a denominational stance ...
and living that truth in day-to-day practice are 
two very different things.

Long ago, I decided that becoming an angry woman
in an ecclesial setting was not going to accomplish anything.  
In fact, an angry woman in church is always, 
and I do mean always, viewed as a threat, 
as a living oxymoron, 
as a strange and frightening being,
 somewhat outside the pale.
An angry woman is seldom, if ever, actually heard,
and sometimes not even seen.

Anger was not going to do a thing to bring change.
 But living that change just might make a beginning.

So that's what I've tried to do - 
to live the change I hope for, I pray for, I long for.
I've been a woman in ministry for 17 years, 
serving the church in a denomination 
that has been ordaining women since 1974.
But that same church has not been proactively engaged in making that act a reality in the day-in and day-out life of the local church until fairly recent years.   
I thank God for my denomination.
I love who we are and who we are becoming.
But getting here has been tough sledding.
Real progress is being made, now on an almost daily basis.
And God is doing wonderful things 
in our broader community.
 Increasingly,  the partnership of men and women committed to reflecting the image of God in all its mysterious beauty is being experienced at all levels of our institutional life - 
the local church, the regional conference, 
the university and seminary.  And it's lovely to behold.
And here, in the bosom of my ordination-wielding church family, I am increasingly comfortable and grateful.

But ask me to step very far outside of this particular comfort zone and I am, to put it bluntly, both terrified and exhausted.
I've done this work, 
I've come to the place where I believe God has led me, 
I've gratefully received and accepted a call on my life 
that I never anticipated, 
sought or even thought about very much.
And I don't want to have to justify, 
supply biblical warrant, 
or in any other way try to make someone else understand 
why I am who I am,
why I am where I am.
I just want to be those things.
I want to be a living, breathing example of the 
powerful truth that God calls all of us to ministry,
that God gifts all of us for ministry,
that God blesses all of us in ministry.

The year I was ordained,  a group of six women pastors somehow came together in a loosely associated group.  
We laughed a lot, 
we shared deeply, 
we prayed for and with one another, we became one another's fervent cheerleaders and supporters.
  We even took retreats together - 
days spent in silence and solitude, 
evenings spent in community and sharing.
Over the 14 years of our connection to one another, 
one by one, every other woman in our group 
lost her church position.

All of these Amazonian friends continued to do ministry, wherever they landed - but oh! it was so painful to watch them being mistreated by colleagues and/or congregations.
And then - I was the only one left - the remnant,
the hold-out, the last one standing to fly the banner of 
female presence in local church ministry.  
And now I am retired.

And so I wonder, not so much for the congregation that I've left, but for so many others out there in Christendom,
who will pick up the banner next?
Whom will God call?
Who will model week-by-week the fullness of the image of God as we worship together?
Who will bring the complementary 
(and I use that good word very carefully, 
and specifically here) 
 the complementary gifts/presence/experience 
that only a female can bring to
offering the sacraments?

God will provide.  That is my hope, my trust, my dream.
And God will also continue to provide 
open-hearted, big-vision men
to partner with, encourage, and empower those women
 who come along on the next leg of this journey.
Hopefully, the groundwork that I and so many others have laid, will make their leg a little less painful
and a lot more straightforward.

In the meantime, I hope I can manage to share a table with someone who hasn't yet seen what I have lived.
Marriage?  Not a chance.
Lunch?  Maybe.