Taking 32 Years To Answer My Call: Interlude

At the end of my last post, Taking 32 Years To Answer My Call: Part 2, I said that I would devote the next part to my mother and how her death further shaped my spiritual path. That was two weeks ago. I’ve been trying to write this post for two weeks. It is still not written.

Thirteen years have passed since my mother died and I am still not ready to do this. What is “this,” you ask. Well, that’s a hard question to give a clear answer to. Part of it is that I am still not ready to talk about my mother’s death and what I see as my failings as her daughter. So many negative emotions are still part of my memories of that time. Feelings such as regret, shame, anger and longing. It’s funny how the platitudes that are expected to bring the most comfort are often the most insensitive and angering. I can recall being told that “time heals all wounds.” What a crock. Time gives distance and sometimes perspective, but it does not always heal. I can testify to that.

I recall a favorite scene from a favorite television series. In an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, Xena is trying to tell Gabrielle, her friend/sidekick/soul mate, why she dedicates her life to trying to atone for who she was in the past. They are standing by a lake. A stone is thrown into the lake as a metaphor for the damage Xena has caused. Gabrielle notices that the lake eventually becomes smooth again but Xena points out that it is permanently changed now. The rock is still there under the surface. Deep pain is like that. You learn to live with it, maybe even push it to the edges of your consciousness, but it’s still there.

I do wonder what mama would think of this journey I am going to undertake. I think she would not understand. She was not a religious person. She wasn’t even an atheist. If she believed in a God, she hated him/her/it. One of the (many) things that sent me into a blind rage at her funeral was the statement by the officiating minister that my mother had “accepted” Christ on her deathbed. A lie. I wonder how many non-believers and believers of other Truths get re-Christened like this when they pass and can no longer object to such distasteful practices.

I think this is one of the things that planted the seed of my call to chaplaincy. My mother and I did not share the same belief system but I wanted hers to be respected. What she felt was legitimate. It was real. It was her right to feel that way. I understood her anger at God. And I think God would have as well. God doesn’t need people to white wash or sugarcoat the truth of things. Maybe the people left behind need that, but this is not about them. It is about the inherent worth and dignity of a person. I want to empower people to feel what they feel and believe what they believe without apology or fear. Even at the end. Especially at the end. Because if not then, when?

This is not the story I planned to tell. But. It’s the story that I *can* tell. At least right now.

Taking 32 Years To Answer My Call: Part 2

This is a continuation of my first post on this topic.

Taking 32 Years To Answer My Call: Part 1

The last post was mostly about my decision to pursue ministry and the specific type of ministry I would like to do. This post is going to go back to the beginning. To my childhood, that is, and explore my faith journey from there to here. Hmm. Maybe I should subtitle this entry There And Back Again–A Faith Seeker’s Tale.

My childhood experience with religion and faith is quite a bit different than the experiences of a lot of people I know. For one thing, I was never forced to go to church. My family is traditionally Apostolic Christian, but that was really in my great-grandmother’s generation. My grandmother HATED being forced to go to church and broke her own family away from it when she had children. My mother, aunt and uncles grew up in a non-religious setting–as did I.

That said, I was always drawn to the church as a child. I yearned for whatever it was that I thought church and religion was. I went to church quite often–on my own. If anyone invited me to go with them to church, or to visit their church, I was there. I even recall dragging my mother with me a time or two. I find it funny that most kids had to to be dragged kicking and screaming and I eagerly went (most of the time).

I wasn’t drawn to a particular faith. I wanted to experience them ALL. As an adult, I can clearly see where my interests in interfaith work stems from. I loved the differences of various denominations and churches. How one dressed, the music played, the size of the congregation, how one listened to the Word was all different depending on where you went to worship. It was all so fascinating.

I never had a bad experience with faith as a kid. That’s important. Everyone was so nice and welcoming to me. So pleased and happy that I wanted to learn more about them and their idea(s) of God. It was always especially impressive to them that I was a youth and would come on my own (without family support). In my later years of high school, I carpooled to school with my very devout neighbors. They were a true patchwork American family! Black father, white mother and a gaggle of multiracial kids–biological and adopted. Everyday, while waiting for their kids to get ready (I was always on time 😉 ), I would read this Bible for teens their middle daughter owned. It was called “God’s Word For Students.” I really liked it. It was very accessible to teens and was full of daily lessons for guidance. Of course, the parents noticed my interest and got me my own copy as a graduation gift. That and a little stuffed graduation owl. I was so pleased. It was the second Bible I had been given as a gift. The first one was from a friend’s mother. I would go to her mostly all-Spanish speaking Apostolic church several times a month. She gave me an adorable Precious Moments Bible with my information lovingly written in her beautiful, almost calligraphic handwriting. I cherish both gifts. They truly came from the hearts of the givers.

Now, I should make it clear that I did not always actually agree with what was being said in all these churches I visited. These were often quite conservative congregations and denominations, especially my friend’s Apostolic church. This eventually created quite a conundrum for me. On the one hand, I LOVED the communities I was welcomed into. Like I said before, everyone was so warm and genuinely welcoming and loving. But. I couldn’t always make myself agree or not question certain beliefs and teachings. This was especially true as my feminist identity emerged in high school and college. This conflict didn’t make me angry or bitter, but it did make me feel deeply disappointed. I tried so very hard to reconcile what I felt with what I was being taught.

I can recall being in college and joining a Bible study group for young adults. The young men and women were so nice. I really liked them. Problem was, I was really having a hard time at this point with what I saw as rampant misogyny in the Bible. My devout friends explained to me that saying the man was head of the household, for example, was NOT an invitation for a husband to rule like a tyrant. In fact, it was the opposite. He was supposed to “rule” benevolently with wisdom and kindness. They were sincere in their beliefs.And the men were very kind. But, again, I could not reconcile what they told me with what the text actually said. So I told them that some things I could never accept (from the Bible) and they told me, not unkindly, that I would have to in order to be a Christian. This was devastating. I felt like such a failure. I wanted so badly to believe, to be a “good” Christian, but I could not push myself that final step.

Later in college I did my work-study hours with Claremont’s Office of the Chaplains. This is the religious center of the Claremont Colleges. There are three chaplains that serve the religious needs of the students, faculty and staff of the five undergraduate colleges (5Cs): a protestant minister, a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest. It’s a great example of three mainline faiths coming together in harmony. This experience was incredibly important to my developing religious views. First, it was wonderfully interfaith. Second, it exposed me to nothing but positive experiences with these three faiths.

I often tell people that the Catholic priest who was there at the time, Father Wayne, single-handedly redeemed the Catholic faith for me. He was one of the best men I have ever known. He was extremely warm, very funny and a true activist. Totally anti-war AND pro-choice! I knew a faith couldn’t be all bad if Father Wayne was a willing member. When he eventually lost his decades long fight with cancer, the entire community mourned deeply. We all knew that something precious and unique was now gone. His family spent their time not mourning the passing of their son, brother, uncle and so on, as one would expect, but hanging out with his colleagues and the people he served. They brought photo albums with them and told us stories of Father Wayne’s life. They were so pleased to see how much he had been loved and the impact his life had made on others. That’s what I thought ministry was. I could imagine no higher calling. To be trusted with a person’s soul is such a precious thing and such a huge responsibility.

I met many people, many young people, of deep faith at the Claremont Colleges. Considering how liberal the colleges in general are, it was of no surprise that these young people were also liberal and progressive. There was no conflict for them! They were feminists, activists, QUEER and faithful. They brought their whole selves to the table and were welcomed. It hurts me to see so many people damaged by the Church and faith. Religion is about all-caps ACCEPTANCE and HOPE and LOVE. If your creator can’t accept you, than who can?? In my experience, the people who have walked the hardest roads in life are often those with the most faith.

When I was a kid, I almost always had my head in the clouds. This hasn’t changed. I’m a spacey person. I have an insanely active and HUGE inner life. My dreams-waking and sleeping-are larger than life. I easily adjust my worldview when needed and I am always open to new possibilities. I think I have always been close to The Spirit. To me, faith isn’t about rules and dogma or restrictions; it’s about freedom and possibility and potential.

I think my next post will be on how I “lost” my religion when my mother died and how I found it again, years later.

 

 

Taking 32 Years To Answer My Call: Part 1

This post is inspired partly by a friend’s post explaining her Call to ministry. Her story is very different from mine and is a good example of the multiple roads that can lead people to ministry. Sarah’s Call: http://futurerevcaine.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/my-call/

My Call

Some people know this and some do not, but after a lot of deep thought, soul searching and observation, I have come to the conclusion that I want to be an ordained minister. I  specifically want to to do interfaith chaplaincy with sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors.

So. why ministry?

Since graduating from college in 2005 with my degree in sociology, I have pondered many post-graduate paths. I considered social work, counseling, therapy and other career paths, all with the intention of working with the same groups: survivors. I could work with survivors in any of the fields I considered, but I want to work with the mind, heart and soul.

I am a volunteer advocate with my area’s local rape crisis center. In that capacity, my job is to advocate for the rights and dignity of sexual assault survivors. I sit with them while they are in the hospital getting treatment, testing and/or a rape kit done. I am there on what is often the worst day of the person’s life with the intention of making it a little easier to bear. That might be with a sandwich, a warm blanket, a teddy bear or just someone to listen or distract them with meaningless chatter. Whatever the person needs from me. I am part of the S.A.R.T (Sexual Assault Response Team) group.

Everyone on the team has a specific and precious role to play: the S.A.R.T nurse collects physical evidence for a possible trial, the police investigate the crime, the hospital social worker takes care of things like getting the survivor into a shelter if needed or arranging transportation from the hospital to a safe location, and the advocate gives referrals, comfort and looks out for the survivor’s best interests and wishes.

A lot of what I personally do is what I think of as “soul work.” It’s very important for me to use the little time I have with a survivor (usually a few hours) to put their injured soul on the path to healing. Their body will heal–it’s amazing like that–but the flame in their soul can be extinguished. I try to make sure that this precious light does not go out. Sometimes it’s with a touch, a smile, or a word. It doesn’t take much to make a small difference. The last survivor I met with (before going on a hiatus with the center) was a young woman. She told me that I was the first person to tell her that she wasn’t at fault and didn’t deserve what had happened to her. She sobbed when I told her that she was courageous, strong and worthy. Worthy of safety, of love, of respect, of kindness, of happiness.

It hurts my heart to think of all the souls that do not know this fact. I want to walk around and give smiles to those that need them the most. I want to tell people that they are AMAZING and compliment their choice of shoes and listen to the people who are not heard. I want to look into the eyes of all the people I can and tell them, like I told a mentor of mine, that I see God in them. I believe because they exist. How could so simple a thing change the world? I want to find out.

Now, it may seem like I’ve always known or wanted this calling.

No.

It hit me  with the force of a blow. And it may not have happened at all if not for friend and mentor Rev. David Helfer who saw in me what I did not (yet) dare to see in myself.

Several years ago, David and I were at a District Assembly in Pasadena, listening and interacting with a delightful gentleman who was expressing his gratitude to the local church for taking care of him when his mother died. This man clearly had some mental challenges and was very, very chatty. He was the kind of person that society overlooks everyday.

In the little bit of time we had, I gave him my full attention and consideration. He was the center of my world for ten minutes. Afterward, David turned to me and said, “I see a minister in you.”

I was shocked. His observation shook me to my core. I spent the next couple of years coming back to that simple statement. It took awhile before I could see a minister in myself.

Was I always destined for this path? Maybe.

Is this what I really want? Yes.

Is it going to take me another 32 years to get to the point of my title??

…I hope not.

In my next post, I’ll explain how I found my faith as a youth, lost it as a young adult, found it again in a way I didn’t expect, and what it means to me now.