Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A head spin worthy of Linda Blair

I wasn't going to blog this, because it may sound like an attack on particular individuals. But since I've been pondering it for 24 hours, I'm forging ahead, fully aware that someone in the SF bay area, someone else is blogging in shock over something I've said.

Yesterday I visited my alma mater seminary. Our church decided to welcome a minister-in-training next school year and I was there to sit at a table for questions and give a two-minute promo for our church.

BACKGROUND: My alma mater is pretty liberal.  Its self-image derives from a certain kind of wide-open ecumenism that welcomes seekers and strangers and the estranged, is uncomfortable dictating expectations, and hopes to encourage the Spirit in all of us. So, for example, a gay leather daddy with a sense of how The Unnamed Divine is working in his life would be welcome to attend.  In this way, it is an amazingly open and diverse place. 

Because of this openness, it is historically wary of more ... traditional? that's not quite right .. approaches to faith. And, because it is founded in the work of white liberals, by and large, it tends to treat its very welcome people of color as exotica. So, for example: if a black lesbian attended the school, and spoke comfortably of Jesus' activity in her life, her confession of Jesus might well be viewed with kind and gentle cultural sensitivity. "She's black, right? and her culture thinks of Jesus this way."  The underlying message would be, then, that unfortunately we are all shaped by our culture, and if she were more self-aware she might find more open and non-discriminating ways to express her experience.  But -- thank The Divine! -- her (black, not gay) community will no doubt benefit from her experience as a lesbian and learn from that, plus she'll be able to reach them because she speaks their language.

A white woman saying the same sentence, though, must be, well, a bigot, or sheltered, or at the wrong place, or straight, or... you get the drift.  Since there's no cultural excuse, confession using "traditional" language is suspect.

The other outcome of this openness is an aversion or unreflective neglect of public prayer.  We talk about prayer, but don't do it. Just don't think about it, or craft it very carefully so as not to either offend or go too deeply into treacherous waters.

EVENT: So anyway, the event starts. The host welcomes all of us, tells us how it will work (pastors and agency reps get 2 minutes to talk about the uniqueness of their settings), introduces his staff, etc.  No opening prayer. No blessing. No mention of call or God or anything like that.  The parade of speakers goes on.

At some point one woman goes to the microphone and apologizes for the absence of her senior pastor, who is attending the family of a young man in surgery that very moment with a broken neck after a motorcycle accident. She makes light of the circumstances (which, in a broad comedy movie would be funny, were there no injuries), and assures us that the good news is that the young man is able to wiggle his fingers.  Immediately she launches directly into a rah-rah about her church, which does sound very interesting, and sits down.

Two or three more speakers follow. Not one of them acknowledges that we have just been told about a young man with a broken neck in surgery at that moment, with the good news being that he does have some movement in his fingers.

Remember that scene in the Exorcist where Linda Blair's head is spinning? That's exactly how I felt, sitting in my seminary, with  2 dozen clergy, maybe 3 dozen students, a dire circumstance, and not even a dash, a smidgeon of prayer.

So of course when I got up my heart was pounding. I couldn't remember what I had planned to say; I just knew I had to pray.  So invited everyone to pray. I think I prayed for the man and the doctors and family. I think I prayed for the seminarians and their call to follow Jesus and to serve him with their lives.  I feel confident I forgot to mention where I was from or what my name was. I know I said I missed prayer while I was there 12 years ago, and that my field education way the most important part of my training. I did say that we take prayer seriously, and the Bible seriously, and because we take the Bible seriously we are a progressive congregation. I did say that if they spend a year with us we would take them seriously, encouraging them to aim high, risk big, fail dramatically, and try again in the name of the gospel.

Another dozen speakers. No closing prayer. No blessing, but an invitation to have a cookie.

No one visited my table, but two clergy thanked me for the prayer. One student assured me that they don't pray there at all -- that they talk about it but don't do it. So I didn't feel insane.

Even though 60 eyes or so suggested I was. Or at the least, a white bisexual tattooed-and-pierced Jesus-freak threat to liberal thinking everywhere.

1 comment:

Debbi said...

Wow....interesting!