So, you may know that I was a parish pastor for 20 years. It was a brutal ride most of the time.
As I reflect upon those years now, from the relative safety of 9 years away, I think it would have been a joy if I had felt that my seminary education and the role I was given in the churches I served really wanted ME to be there. Me, rather than some kind of cut-out, public symbol and personal mascot to the historic values and expectations of ministry. Because I will tell you, my life as a pastor was the life of someone shaped to live a role a certain way, and while it worked for me on occasion, all the while it was strangling me.
As I listen to Nadia preach and speak, as I read her sermons (link below,) I recognize in her words so much of what I wanted to say, to be and to be appreciated for as a person, as a young adult, as a mother, a woman, a spouse, a pastor. Her journey, unique as it is, makes me wistful for a past I didn’t get to have : the chance to be a pastor as a real, full, imperfect, intolerant, anxious but bursting with ideas, concerns and love of God person that I was.
Maybe this is the core difference : she started her church and shaped it around the goals she brought to it. I inherited systems that were so entrenched, there was no moving them without someone accusing me of all manner of untrue and awful things. I had to work in the shadow of pastors who were living lies and working full-time to keep them hidden. I had to work with the feeling of judgment from unhappy people in every, single moment of my work day. Honestly, I’m not exaggerating.
So I listen to preachers like Nadia with joy as well as a heavy heart. I would have like to speak as colorfully as she does because I use those words every day. I would have liked to bring that kind of full person-hood to my work. It just wasn’t the road I ended up walking. So here is what I say: you go, girl. Preach. Because I’ve moved over to make room in a church that needs more preachers like you.
For all the talk in America now and forever about how spiritually diverse we are as a nation, it seems that many people have been lying to the researchers. Or just maybe have been trying to spare their mother’s feelings and no longer feel they should.
Here are the surprising statistics I found as I was thumbing through my latest The Lutheran magazine (3/2012, p. 8):
One of the most striking trends in religion statistics in recent decades is the rise of the Nones, people who checked “no religious identity” on the American Religious Identification Survey. The Nones went from 8% in 1990 to 15% in 2008.
So, while America grows increasingly vocal on the edges of the religious landscape, there appear to be lots and lots of people, young and old, who are opting out of the conversation completely. Somehow the core issues of faith like belonging, meaning, forgiveness, renewal, love and compassion, have not been compelling or important enough to draw people toward the discussion.
So what? I’m not very excited about a secular culture. Despite all the problems that religiosity and diversity bring (and I could go on and ON about that), our life in America has been immeasurably enriched, challenged, and improved by the influence of faith on daily life. Just a few examples spring to mind, institutions and events that were driven by religious values: the establishment of colleges, the building and staffing of hospitals and nursing homes, the abolition of slavery, and the provision of food shelves, homeless ministries and chaplaincy to prisons. These are key aspects of American life may or may not ever have happened without people of faith sacrificing and organizing around the life principles of love for the neighbor, and compassion for the sick, poor and suffering.
If those of us who remain connected in some personal way to religious communities need to take anything away from these current statistics, it may be that we need to do a better job speaking, living and working out of our core principles. We may have been doing lots of stuff in the past 25 years, but it doesn’t seem to have captured the imagination of our children, our next door neighbor or the college student across the country. And why should we? So that these disconnected might have a real chance at hearing why we think faith is central to life in the first place.
That this is not all there is. That Love created the universe. That we’re in this together. That we hurt each other, and yet we can repent, forgive, even start over. That we all belong to God. I don’t want anyone to miss out on this ‘eternal wisdom’ because it saves lives from despair and emptiness. So what? That’s what.
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Book of Hours, I 59
I see it this way : God is part of the human experience. Constantly.
I believe that God uniquely joined with the one called Jesus and through him embodied the will and desire of God. I hear in the NT gospels the constant pull of God toward healing, God’s compassion for all human suffering, and God’s dreams for a more just creation.
When Jesus was executed / crucified, I see the worse of human power brutalizing and silencing truth. God doesn’t answer. Death happens. God allows the silence to speak.
And then God raises Jesus up from death. God heals Jesus even from death itself.
This is the central proclamation of the Christian faith: God is our Creator force whose hallmark is life, healing, and restoration. Along with others of the Christian community, I bear witness to God’s drive to heal and restore the world. I have been healed. Over and over again.
And in death, even then, I will be healed and rise.
These are the central powers of God. And this is what Jesus, the Cross, the silence, and the Resurrection mean to me.
Image: “White Crucifixion,” Marc Chagall, 1938