Thursday, March 29, 2007

lenten journal: every last one of us

Of my two days off during the week, Thursday is usually the run-the-errands-and-hang-out-at-Panera-with-Ginger day. Not his week. I met with my spiritual advisor this morning because he’s going to be gone for the next couple of weeks, then I went to work because there was a function this evening (I was off yesterday), and then I came home to hang out with Ginger and watch Grey’s Anatomy, which was a rerun but one we’d not seen.

I jumped the gun a little bit in spiritual direction. When Ken asked me how Lent has been for me I ended up talking about resurrection, even though we’ve still got a week to go. Actually, I think he brought it up. I talked about my realization this week that I had made it through the winter without a major depression. What I see looking back is I started seeing Ken in October 2005, when he challenged me to figure out what I most wanted to do with my life, determine what it would cost to do it, and then figure out how to pay the bill. In December 2005, I committed to writing regularly – five days a week. In October 2006 I chose to step out of professional ministry and be the spouse of the pastor rather than the pastor. I also became a full-time chef. Though I can see only through a glass, darkly when it comes to where this road is going, I like and trust the direction in which I’m headed.

“It sounds like resurrection to me,” he said.

The conversation that ensued will show up again in my writing, I’m sure, because it was rich. What comes to mind now is a comment he made a few moments later:

“I think most people are afraid of resurrection.”

His words were like a finger on the “Play” button and my mind was the CD player. Resurrection is about more than death. Jesus pushed beyond the known boundaries to show what was on the other side. When we talk about what is happening in Darfur and feel overwhelmed or helpless or even indifferent, resurrection calls us to push on through to find what is on the other side of those feelings, just as Jesus pushed beyond the tomb or walked through the walls to get to where the disciples were. Resurrection means we are not confined by the boundaries to which we have become accustomed, or which make us comfortable. Ken responded by quoting the story, "The Truth Shop" by Anthony de Mello by heart:

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the name of the shop:

THE TRUTH SHOP.


The saleswoman was very polite: What type of truth did I wish to purchase, partial or whole?

The whole truth of course. No deceptions for me, no defenses, no rationalizations. I wanted my truth plain and unadulterated.

She waved me on to another side of the store.


The salesman there pointed to the price tag. "The price is very high, sir," he said.

"What is it?" I asked, determined to get the whole truth, no matter what it cost.

"Your security, sir," he answered.


I came away with a heavy heart.
I still need the safety of my unquestioned beliefs.


When I came home tonight, I found this comment on an earlier blog entry:
Milton, would you think about, and comment on, the story that aired tonight on All Things Considered about the UCC congregation and the man who is a registered sex offender?

I always appreciate your insight,
Charlotte
Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, California is struggling with how to respond to a twice-convicted sex offender who asked to join the church. The man visited the church for a few weeks and then came to the pastor and told him who he was, what he had done, and that he wanted to join the church because it was a community where he felt safe. The pastor introduced him to the congregation at the end of worship one Sunday, explained the situation, and then asked the man not to come back until the church had figured out how to respond.

I’m writing about this as a fellow struggler and a fellow traveler in the UCC, not as a critic, judge, or any kind of expert. Ginger and I have no children of our own. I was not abused by any adults as a child, though we have a number of people close to us who were. I’m aware of the damage that lingers in their lives alongside of the healing.

When I asked Ginger about it, she said, “I’ve thought about this a lot. That’s why I went to the police station to find out who is on the sex offender registry in Marshfield. If someone came to us, I would want us to welcome them and I would want us to be very clear about what the boundaries were: they could never sit near children or sit near where the kids come for the children’s message; they could never teach Sunday School or be in the Sunday School area; they could never talk to a child one on one; I would assign a deacon each week to stay with them during Coffee Hour and to help them keep the boundaries.” She continued, “We are called to welcome everyone and we also know the high rate of recidivism for sex offenders. The issue is how do we make everyone feel safe, the offender included.”

She was talking about resurrection: beyond death, beyond violence, beyond abuse, beyond despair, beyond comfort. No wonder it scares us. The watchword of the UCC these days is “Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” Situations such as this provide the opportunity for us to step into the heart of those words. Whoever and wherever are expansive and exhaustive. The whole truth of Jesus’ resurrection is God’s grace is unlimited and unearned for all of us.

Every last one.

I will pray that Pilgrim Church will be able to incarnate that grace as resurrection people in wonderful, frightening, and uncomfortable ways. And with that prayer, I send them a song I remember from my days leading youth camps. It was recorded by the Lost Dogs ten or fifteen years ago and is a wonderful expression of the wideness of God’s mercy.
"Breathe Deep (the Breath of God)"
music and lyrics by Terry Taylor

Politicians, morticians, Philistines, homophobes
Skinheads, Dead heads, tax evaders, street kids
Alcoholics, workaholics, wise guys, dim wits
Blue collars, white collars, warmongers, peaceniks

Breathe deep, breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep, breathe deep the Breath of God

Suicidals, rock idols, shut-ins, dropouts
Friendless, homeless, penniless and depressed
Presidents, residents, foreigners and aliens
Dissidents, feminists, xenophobes and chauvinists

Breathe deep, breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep, breathe deep the Breath of God

Evolutionists, creationists, perverts, slumlords
Deadbeats, athletes, Protestants and Catholics
Housewives, neophytes, pro-choice, pro-life
Misogynists, monogamists, philanthropists, blacks and whites

Breathe deep, breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep, breathe deep the Breath of God

Police, obese, lawyers, and government
Sex offenders, tax collectors, war vets, rejects
Atheists, Scientists, racists, sadists
Photographers, biographers, artists, pornographers

Breathe deep, breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep, breathe deep the Breath of God

Gays and lesbians, demagogues and thespians
The disabled, preachers, doctors and teachers
Meat eaters, wife beaters, judges and juries
Long hair, no hair, everybody everywhere!

Breathe deep, breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep, breathe deep the Breath of God
Yes. Every last one of us.

Peace,
Milton

4 comments:

takemyhand said...

Thanks for this post, Milton. I was hoping someone in the blogging world would reflect on the Pilgrim UCC thing...

We used to sing that song during youth group at my church some years ago... and then we got in trouble for saying "pornographers". Since of course, pornographers -- or sex offenders for that matter -- are certainly not deserving of God's mercy!

Thanks for keeping up with the Lenten posts... I've been reading even though I haven't commented.

By the way -- and I realize how random of a question this is, so I'm sorry -- have you ever listened to Antony and The Johnson? Particularly the song, 'Bird Gerhl'? You should check it out... I bet you'd like it.

Take care. And sorry for the randomness.

Cheers,
Natalie

Charlotte said...

Thank you very much for this patient and thoughtful post. I appreciate the connection to your own experiences and to the actions of Holy Week.
I would hope that my church would welcome this stranger in the same manner that Ginger articulated. We lose some of our call as Christians when we close the door on the least of us.
~Charlotte

Cecilia said...

Milton thank you for reflecting honestly and courageously about this incredibly difficult situation. I feel that this is the heart, in many ways, of the "upward call" of Christ... up and out of ourselves, even out of our fear.

Pax, C.

Mother Laura said...

Pilgrim Church has already made a big mistake on this one, with severe consequences for a small Independent Catholic community pastored by a friend of mine which rents their space for Sunday evening mass. This gentleman was regularly coming to meet with the pastor at around the same time and attended the mass at least once; though he was in full knowledge of his criminal history the pastor chose not to share this crucial information with the Catholic priest or her congregation, which includes children and was prevented from taking appropriate protective measures such as you mention by this betrayal. When they finally found out they had a community meeting to decide how to handle the situation, but one extended family with several children had already become very upset to find they had been put in danger by this negligence, and has pretty much left the small and struggling community, much to everyone's discouragement. I hope they continue down this path with more integrity and caution.