Sunday, September 28, 2014

Every ... single ... day

Every

single

day ...

I serve God as a priest in Christ's, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Not a call I asked for, mind you, but one born of Christian obedience to the One who claimed me in baptism and shaped me to be a priest for the sake of the people God loves. And in spite of this ...

every

single

day

I hear from at least one person why I my call as a priest is not legitimate because of I am a woman.

Every ... single ... day.

Yes, it is born of the culture of patriarchy in which I live that posits the superiority of men over women - to the great damage and detriment of men and women (and all gender expressions in between). The "great" legacy of western civilization is grounded on men having power over women and children. This same culture was inspired by God to write our sacred texts ... with just enough gender bias to make sure the status quo of power was maintained and enshrined within them to make God the "source" of male superiority ... even to the point of being described and spoken of as "He" and "Father" ... never "She" or "Mother."

Every ... single ... day

I am told I cannot be a priest in Christ's Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church because I am a woman.

The message isn't always directed at me personally ... but it is out there. Maybe it was an evangelical pastor of a mega church who claimed women were to be "houses" for a man's penis (oh yeah ... that's my single biggest aspiration in life), or a Facebook troll who excoriates me in a theological exchange in a discussion group and questions if I really am a priest, or the extended family member who quotes Ephesians 5 at me to tell me I am doing harm to my family by going to seminary, or the male clergy colleagues (even within my own tradition) who will trumpet from the mountain tops how supportive they are and blessed by the ministry of women ... but who will, when the chips are down, act in grossly condescending passive aggressive ways which tell me their respect for my ministry and that of my sisters is only cheap talk.

Every

single

day

And sometimes I even get a "two for one" special ... where I have to stand up more than once a day to claim the call of Christ face to face with people I do not know who feel the special need to tell me what the Bible "says." That was my day yesterday ... a two for one special.

The first came at an outreach event to the poor and struggling in our community. A former parishioner, an elderly woman, came over to our church's table and said, "I was a member there for 50 years." Wearing my clerics, I turned and introduced myself as the new priest and extended my hand to shake hers. She gave me a startled look and reluctantly gave me the "dead fish" handshake. She told me her name ... I knew of her and I knew she and her husband left the church over women's ordination. She was quick to tell me, "My son is a priest. He had a call from God." And I spent the next 5 minutes hearing all about her son and his call from God to be a priest before she wandered off.

The second came later that afternoon. I received a phone call that a parishioner had been rushed to the emergency room after having a seizure. I stopped to get a big cup of coffee (I needed it at this point) and fill up my car with gas. Again, I was wearing my collar and a younger man stopped me at the gas pump ...

"Um ... the thing around your neck ... are you a ... uh ... a ... minister?"

"Yes, I am an Episcopal priest."

"I have a question for you, if you don't mind."

"OK ... sure. What is it?"

"What do you make of 1 Timothy 2:12? How do you understand your role in light of that? I'm really curious and not trying to troll you." (Hint: when you have to tell me you are not trolling me ... you are)
For those of  you who don't know "chapter and verse" ... 1 Timothy 2:12 says: "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent."
"Well ... my own Biblical hermeneutic begins with a historical/critical interpretation to view the Scriptures in light of the culture and place where they were written and the audience to whom they were written. I take the Scriptures to be inspired by God but written by people who understood their experience of the Holy through their own cultural lens. To say that everything from a 2,000 old book, no matter how holy it is, applies 100% to our time, place and culture is not appropriate."

"OK ... but how do you decide what you choose to believe and not believe? Really, I want to know, I'm not trolling here." (Hint: if you have to say that a second time ... you really are trolling here!)

"We don't interpret the Scriptures alone - it is always within the context of a community and grounded in prayer."

"I see your point because we don't apply the passages about slavery anymore. We can read those in a different way today and maybe apply them to employer/employee relationships. But it still doesn't explain how you can be a minister in light of 1 Timothy 2:12."

"This is a bit too complex to stand here and discuss at a gas pump. I am on my way to the hospital because one of our parishioners was rushed to the emergency room. I need to go ... now."

"Oh ... OK ... uh ..."

"God bless you sir."

Every

single

day ...

One day we may come to a place where we regard these passages of female subservience and male domination the same way we do the ones about slavery - as a throwback to a time, place and culture which is no more.

But we are not there yet.

One day, I hope I can just be a priest in Christ's Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church ... without the word "woman" or "female" as an adjective tacked on like I'm some kind of misfit.

One day ... I pray that the gifts and graces of all God's children will be celebrated and allowed to blossom and flourish regardless of the bodily packaging this transitory life has dealt them.

But until then ... I will be questioned, grilled, condescended, ignored and rebuffed. It appears God has given me and my sisters this cross to bear

every

single

day.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

... from thence he shall come

Thirteen years ago, our nation experienced an horrific act of violence when men who claimed to act on behalf of God hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The intersection of religious zealotry, politics, and the nihilism of a Middle Eastern underclass conspired to destroy and kill on 9/11/2001.

I was the mother of two young daughters that day. I watched the events unfold live on television in a surreal nightmare of waking time. Everything would change ... but what that meant was not clear. My immediate thoughts were how to explain the unexplainable to a three-year old and a seven-year old. Hell, I didn't even know how to explain this to myself! There are no words to make sense of senselessness. I grieved that two little girls were exposed to such a horror as this and dreaded what it would mean for the world they would know.

Thirteen years have passed. My little girls are not little anymore: one is in college and the other a junior in high school. They have only known of their country at war and yet a war largely ignored and hidden from their eyes. The body counts and images of Vietnam I grew up with on television are replaced by the denial of "reality TV." Pictures of the caskets of our war dead taken when they arrived at Dover AFB ... suppressed in the media. War is a unreal reality for them and they do not know its cost.

What have we learned in thirteen years? I still do not know exactly. We've learned to be more polarized - "us" versus "them." We do it in our politics and in how we view foreigners. We've learned that our soldiers and their families pay a horrible price for being sent to fight when we don't always have a clear understanding of who the enemy is. We've learned that many of the factions we once sided with are now against us. We've internalized more violence and seen it spill into how we treat each other as we watch professional athletes beat their intimate partners or shoot them in bathrooms as they cower in fear or see those charged to protect us shooting unarmed youth. We are an anxious, fearful nation - a collective raw nerve.

I have no answers ... only grief and lament. Not only for the dead on 9/11 and for all who have died on both sides of wars that seem not to end, but also for the death of the world I once knew.

I cannot shake the old wording of the Apostle's Creed that I learned as a small child. Concerning our belief in Jesus Christ, we said he was:
... conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I doubt the existence of hell or heaven as places, per se. Rather, I believe they are states of existence in which we live - and it is much of our own making. We either live in the presence and awareness of God (heaven) or we reject and estrange ourselves from the presence of God (hell). But regardless of my own understanding ... I still pray that from the "heavenly thence" Christ will come to judge the quick and the dead and I long for the day when that which seems irreparably broken will be healed and set right.

Friday, August 15, 2014

When words fail

Dr. Wil Gafney just posted a blog entry on this Summer of Horror. It struck me because she's touched on something I have experienced - the magnitude of suffering and violence we are experiencing right now.

We have watched the Middle East explode in violence. ISIS in Iraq is slaughtering Christians. Our brother in Christ The Rev. Andrew White, the Anglican Vicar of Baghdad, is continuing to minister to the few Christians left and is desperately giving voice to the horror in his midst.

We have watched the violence erupt between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza. Given the support of the United States, Israel's ability to annihilate the Palestinians is very real. The relationships between Israel and the Palestinians is complicated, to be sure yet neither side is innocent. Just because Israel gives the Palestinians in Gaza 24 hour notice that their neighborhood will be bombed into oblivion doesn't mean they are somehow more "humane" than Hamas. The 29 disabled children and 9 elderly women being cared for at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in Zeitun could not evacuate prior to the planned bombing. Regardless of whether the church was hit or not, this was an act of war and terror against the powerless and vulnerable. My government and tax dollars are complicit in this war.

This week, we have watched Ferguson Missouri explode in racial violence. Regardless of who started what, another unarmed black teen is dead. On the heels of this, police in riot gear escalating the protest into violence ... shooting rubber bullets at a female pastor praying - unarmed, hands up and invoking the name of Jesus.

There is horror and helplessness sitting side by side for me today. The problems bigger than anything I can do. I am outraged and pained to witness such suffering ... and standing without the power, influence or expertise to do anything but cry out to God. Lament is all there is left and we do not do this well in our culture.

Habakkuk, who prophesied to the Israelites before the Babylonian exile, opens his oracle with these words:
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
How long, O Lord? Indeed ... how long ...