4 People, 4 Acts of Faith Based Courage

In the past two days I have met four remarkable people. I met them in two very different religious settings. One was a mosque, one was my UU church. All of these people awed me with their courage and bravery. As I was thinking about them today, I realized that not many people associate faith with courage. At least not most people I know/see. Faith and religion are often seen as a “weakness” and a lack of strength. The misconception is that someone is letting some imaginary “sky daddy” dictate morality for them and refusing to face reality (or something0. I’m sure we are all familiar with the idea of religion being the “opiate of the masses.” But the truth is that while this can be true for some, for others faith takes a tremendous amount of courage. To trust, to believe, to put your faith into something Other and More is *hard*. Harder than most know if they haven’t tried it. It also takes tremendous courage to walk away from the only faith you’ve ever known. Or to choose something different. Especially when you are doing it alone.

The first two people I met were at a local mosque I visited last night. I was invited to an “Iftar” (the breaking the fast service/dinner) during Ramadan) hosted by the women’s auxiliary group. This particular mosque is mostly Pakistani. What’s really interesting is that this sect of Islam is persecuted and seen as not legit by some due to the fact that they believe the Messiah/messenger has come. So many of the people there had fled their home countries when their interpretation of Islam was declared to be illegal.. Like I said, most of the people there were Pakistani, but I met two women that aren’t. One was an older black woman and the other was a middle-aged white woman. Both were converts. They greatly stood out from everyone else. I sat next to the older woman and found her to be like  may of the older black women I’ve known: forthright, funny, sassy and earthy. I asked her at one point if any of her family were going to be joining us. She told me “no” and said that she was the only Muslim in her family. I thought of how hard this must have been for her. And what courage it took to fully embrace a new faith.

The black community is overwhelmingly Christian. Our culture is strongly rooted in Christianity. The faith of our oppressors turned out to be one of our greatest tools of survival. The black community is also very much communal. Church is definitely a family/group affair.I knew exactly what converting must have meant to her.

It’s worth mentioning that converting to Islam is NOT like converting to Christianity. If you are an American, even a non-believing one, there’s a very good chance that you are so steeped in Judea-Christian culture that you would have not much trouble learning the ropes’, as it were, of Christian church life. The Holy Book is familiar as are the holidays, the language and the rituals. None of this is true for most Americans and Islam. I think converts to Judaism also undertake a very similar ordeal. Compared to becoming  a Christian, becoming a Muslim or a Jew is like the Iron Man (competition) of faith.

As for the other woman, I imagine she had a similar struggle. She mentioned that she was married and that her husband was not a Muslim. She converted after many years of marriage. She said that it was a struggle, but that it felt so “right” to her and was totally worth it. She was so at peace with herself.

I wondered how it felt for these women to be a part of a community where they are very much ethnic and racial minorities. A sad fact of our society is that our houses of worship are just as racially segregated as many of our neighborhoods, clubs and so on. Not uniformly, but overwhelmingly so. My church has around 125 members. I am one of about 4 black members. My faith is overwhelmingly white. Of my family that is religious, all of them attend black churches. My Latino friends attend mostly Latino churches. And so on. I recall being pleasantly surprised at how much a part of the community these women were. I also recall being immediately shamed by that thought. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? But, again, this is the world we live in. People not being jerks is still something that surprises.

Today at church I met two young adults. A man and a woman. Both were ex-Mormons. The first I had personally ever met. I went to high school in an area with a large Mormon population, but all the Mormons I knew/know are currently Mormon, so I was eager to speak with these two about led to them our UU church. Both of these individuals really moved me with their stories and bravery.

The man is an academic currently writing his dissertation for his PhD at the local UC. He left the church because he’s gay. He told me that there is only so much anti “you” stuff that one can listen to every Sunday. That eventually it gets to you and starts to break you down. So he left. But that meant leaving everything. His whole family is Mormon. He is the oldest of 9 siblings. His sister is getting married next month and he can’t even attend. Non-Mormons are not allowed into such ceremonies. He’ll go to the party afterward, but it’s not the same. Both of these people found thriving Mormon communities online for “rebels” like themselves. They spoke of them like lifelines.

The woman is a young therapist. She left the church over her burgeoning feminist identity. She spoke passionately of her “awakening” to the patriarchy of the Mormon church. Particularly, she gradually realized that women don’t have much of a presence or a voice in the Church. They are not allowed official positions of power or authority. Everything is from a man’s point of view. She spoke of being flooded by things she had always just accepted, but never questioned. At one point she exclaimed, “I couldn’t be a party to my own oppression anymore!” For me, that was a “woah” moment. Watching a baby feminist take flight is exhilarating. That said, she was also being torn in two. Her husband is still a Mormon. In fact, he and her young child were attending services while she was at our church. We asked how that was working out for them and she said it was, “Hard.” I could hear how much so in her voice. She told us how she had to sit her husband down and tell him that she wanted to not only pursue higher education but that she wanted to use it. As she said, “I was already not using one degree, I wasn’t going to get another and do the same.” Such a badass.

I admit to thinking that both of my new friends were absolutely adorable. Mr. Academic told me how his nieces and nephews think he’s totally the cool uncle because he isn’t married, doesn’t have kids, left the Church and…now drinks coffee. His parents think he is negatively influencing his siblings with such scandalous behavior. Both of them were like every other Mormon I have ever known: Polite, earnest and kind. Clearly with backbones of steel, though. In our church we always make sure visitors know that we know how much courage it took for them to walk though our doors. I told my new friends that they were in good company here. Our church is full of incredibly strong people who took a literal leap of faith. Our service today was on finding Eden in the here and now. I think faith warriors, like the folks I met, will lead us there.

Life, the Universe and Everything

There are days when the ‘verse is trying extra hard to get your attention. If you listen carefully and pay attention, wonderful things might happen. Today was one of those days for me. A series of seemingly small, but meaningful things lead me to one of those moments that hits you over the head and stops you in your tracks.

This afternoon, after church service, my congregation was having a forum to discuss an issue of importance to the congregation. While I was listening to the discussion I was also thumbing through our hymnal. I don’t have a copy of my own, so I like to take the opportunity to read it when I can. I happened upon a call and response reading by the poet Edwin Muir and adapted from his poem “The Way.” I was so moved by it, I read it several times and meant to take a picture of it (so that I could have it for this blog post). Here’s the original poem:

“The Way”

“Friend, I have lost the way.
The way leads on.
Is there another way?
The way is one.
I must retrace the track.
It’s lost and gone.
Back, I must travel back!
None goes there, none.
Then I’ll make here my place,
(The road leads on),
Stand still and set my face,
(The road leaps on),
Stay here, for ever stay.
None stays here, none.
I cannot find the way.
The way leads on.
Oh places I have passed!
That journey’s done.
And what will come at last?
The road leads on.”

I knew this was meant for me today. There was a reason why I kept coming back to it again and again.

Later, I had lunch, briefly met with a friend then headed to the library to enjoy my book in the (free) AC. The book I am currently reading is the 3rd in Diane Duane’s “So You  Want To Be A Wizard” series. This series is to me what “A Wrinkle In Time” is for so many others I know. I can honestly say that this book series has changed the way I look at life, the universe and everything. Science is magic and magic is science in a very real way. In the chapters I was reading our very young protagonist, Dairine, a new wizard on her Ordeal creates a sentient species on a far flung planet then must convince them to spare the “slowlife” (humans and the other non-computer based life in the universe) when they logically deduce that entropy must be stopped until we can get our crap together (which will likely be never). She and The Lone One (basically the Power of death) are trying to sway these new beings to their respective sides. The fate of the universe literally depends on who “wins.” In the last part I read before leaving, Dairine had one last card to play. I won’t give it away, but it was very profound and moving.

As I was walking out, my head was still on that planet with Dairine, The Lone One, and the young beings she created. A church friend of mine who I happened to run into twice in the span of a couple of hours and whom I had been sitting and reading quietly with, bid me goodbye. As I watched her walk away I thought to myself, “She’s beautiful.” Not in the traditional way (she is not what most would typically consider attractive), but in a deeper, richer way. It’s like I was looking with different eyes.

Further on my way out the door, I stopped and picked up a displayed book that had an interesting looking cover. The book was “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi. This is the summary I read from the jacket:

“John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce–and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living.”

I can’t explain what happened next, but when I stepped into the sunshine I was overcome with emotion. I had such a strong desire to live and be alive that I could barely breathe for it. The thought that came to me was “I want to get old!” An odd thing for a fairly young person to wish, but in that moment I wanted to someday have the wisdom and appreciation and joy of a long life. I understood it for the gift it is. I could see the old woman I wanted to someday be. I’ve never wanted to live as much as I did in that moment. It actually hurt. I could barely keep my composure. That was a revelation. In that moment I felt like I got it. Just a tiny bit of all there is to get, mind you, but I got that one little bit of it. The universe is amazing and wondrous and so is everything in it. The connectedness I felt with the whole of creation in that moment was indescribable.

Now, you would think that after all that the ‘verse would be done with me for the day, right? Nope. It had one more thing to show me. I drove to Target for a window fan recommended to me by a friend. While I looked around for the fans, I saw some of those big wall decals for your home with inspirational sayings. One in particular said: Don’t let the world change you. My first thought was to agree with this. It reminded me of a beloved quote by Isodora Duncan: “You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you.” However, my second thought was, ‘Wait, no. That isn’t right AT ALL.” Don’t let the world change you? You MUST let it change you! You must let it teach you to see with new eyes, to open your heart, to touch the souls of others and be the person you need to be. That the ‘verse needs you to be. Not allowing oneself to be changed would be horrible. A tragedy. Every moment of every day the world changes you. And you are BETTER for it. We are better for it.

A bit of song by one of my favorite singers, folk singer Marian Call, is often running under the surface of my thoughts. In it she says, “If ever love astounds you, you have to let it. You have to let it. And if love ever surrounds you, you have to let it. You have to let it.” I think today I did Marian proud.

Marian Call’s music!

A Eulogy For My Mother

Deep cleaning my room today uncovered many things I had either thought lost, had forgotten about or didn’t know ever existed. One the things I “found” again was the eulogy I wrote for my mother’s funeral. It was two pages of yellowing paper instantly recognizable as something written and printed with 90s technology.

I read over the words I wrote 14 years ago, when I was 18. I could see myself sitting at my computer in our kitchen (the one my mother and grandmother was so proud to have gotten me, used, for homework. It didn’t have internet.) and writing this the night before the funeral. I sat there until the words simply flowed out of me. That’s how I write. That’s how I know something is ready to be put down on paper.

When I delivered it in the church the next day, It was hard to get through certain parts without crying. Maintaining my composure was very important to me then (and now). Looking out into the assembled group of my family, friends and family friends, I could see my words having a powerful affect on people. Crying, yes, but also nodding and quite a few “amen”s and “yes, lord”s. Having gone from a Christian to an agnostic Unitarian Universalist between then and now, much of the un-changed parts of my faith and view on life are evident in the words I wrote.

So here it is. A eulogy for Paula Terrell.* Daughter, sister, mother, sci-fi enthusiast. Sunrise: September 22, 1956. Sunset: October 24, 1999.

Most of you knew my mother as a caring person who was always worrying about others and putting them before herself. Well, that’s true.  She was almost entirely selfless in her actions. She loved helping others and having fun. She had a contagious sense of humor. When she started laughing at something you could not help but laugh as well. Whether it was reminiscing about a childhood memory or a funny storyline on TV, it was usually very amusing. We had fun critiquing sci-fi and fantasy so much that she always told me that she wanted to live among the stars in the future, exploring new worlds and seeking adventure. Well, she is living among the stars now, exploring a new world and having the ultimate adventure. I would say her dream has come true.

Her and I, we had our fights and arguments and so forth, but we knew each other pretty well. It’s ironic that just when we were starting to cross the bridge into understanding each other, we would be separated before we could meet in the middle. Some people say that to die so young is to live a wasted life. But I know that that’s not true. I freely admit that I do not always understand God’s motives, but I do believe that each of us is here to serve a purpose. And whether we die at twenty or a hundred, it’s okay as long as we have fulfilled our destiny. It may not seem fair to us left behind, but we can console ourselves with the knowledge that we will understand later.

She has fulfilled her purpose. In her suffering, she taught us to appreciate life; and in her death, she teaches us to live not for tomorrow but for today. God has now called her home. She no longer has to suffer in this world. To us her death may seem like a tragedy, but her life was our gift from God. And for that we should be grateful.

*The only changes to this from the original were to correct or add punctuation. No text was changed. Paragraph breaks were kept in original places.

It’s hard out there for an empath.

I always say that if I was an X-Men (X-Person?) my mutant ability would be empathy. This would be all kinds of suck in terms of a super power. Worse than that dude who is see-through and gross. Also, mine would probably be empathy and I’d get telepathy as a secondary mutation. Then I could feel and know how much it all sucks. Yay.

Let me back up and explain myself. I have what I tend to think of as hyper-empathy. I essentially take on the pain of others as my own. I have to be careful with what I read or see or get myself involved in. I have been known to burst into tears at the movies. Even ones that aren’t especially sad. Certain types of emotion or trauma are especially bad. Physical and sexual violence, particularly against women and children, are super red flags. I even have a hard time with humiliation. Even if I’m just reading about it in a story I advert my eyes and feel profoundly uncomfortable, as if I am the one being humiliated. Fandom has helpfully provided me with succinct language for this. These are “squicks” for me. Squicks are elements in a story (the term comes out of the fan fiction community) that you not only do not want to see/read about, but are often triggery in some way. Many of my triggers are triggers because I know intimately how it feels to be in that place. Humiliation isn’t theoretical to me.

When I was a child the world hurt so much that I eventually learned how to shut off my pain. I pushed it deep down inside where no one, not even me, could get at it. I took what was most vulnerable and put it away for safe keeping. I didn’t cry for years after that. Like from 8 to 15. I couldn’t. But there was a price paid. The pain was like a flood: you cut off one route, the water finds another place to go. So instead of tears, my chest would ache and I would get headaches.

I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that offered psychology as an elective. It was taught by one of the greatest human beings I have ever had the privilege to know: Mr. John Pickering. When I couldn’t take anymore of the pain of life, I confided in Mr. Pickering. I was a junior in high school and had been pretty suicidal for years at that point. He was the first person to tell me that I was innocent. That the things the world had done to me were not my fault. He also told me that my chest hurt because I suppressed my emotions. Not dealing with them was making me physically ill.

That was the start of my re-introduction to  my emotions. It took a long time. I thought that showing pain was showing weakness. People would certainly interpret it that way and take advantage. Not showing people how much they hurt me was the only weapon I had. Especially as a child. But as an adult I realized that it was a strength. It takes great courage to show the world your soft underbelly. But for me, there was again a price to be paid. Opening Pandora’s Box meant not ever being able to close it. I went from one extreme to the next. I have often longed for those days when I had the door to my heart tightly closed. I still feel shame when I am emotional. I get tired of not being like other people. It doesn’t help that I feel an obligation to witness the pain others. Too often we suffer in silence because no one cares to look. Too many others are also suffering. I feel like I must look, because someone has to. Pain and suffering should be acknowledged. If I can’t do anything else, I can at least bear witness.

You must wonder why someone who suffers from this would choose to engage themselves in the world in ways that are going to bring them in direct contact with suffering and pain. Or maybe why I would consider a vocation that will bring me in touch with much suffering. All I can say is that I feel a calling. Maybe some like me are put on this Earth for a reason. Is this my cross to bear? Perhaps. If so, I am going to carry it the best I can.

On a lighter note, I wish all these feels let me love easily. Especially romantically. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Other people seem to be able to love so easily, so quickly. I, on the other hand, seem to take an age to get to I “like like you.” I always joke about having Victorian sensibilities. I think part of this is not trusting that I can be liked back. I certainly have enough evidence to support this suspicion. I wonder if I am like the main character in the novel Beloved (by Toni Morrison). The main character is an ex-slave and has had more pain in her life than anyone should ever know. About loving she says that with each child she has she only loves it a little, so that when it is taken from her she’ll have a little love left over for the next one. In a college paper about the book, I directly quoted that. My professor remarked that this was the saddest thing he had ever heard. I understood what she meant.

You might be wondering what set all this off. Well, I was reading a story about women in India talking about not feeling safe from the threat of sexual assault. Someone in the comments said something assinine about Islam (at which point it was pointed out that the majority of Indians are NOT Muslim), then someone else posted a list of anti-woman quotes from famous Christian people in history. I was devastated by the amount of hatred and contempt in the words. That said, I’ve been emotionally raw all week, so maybe I just need to start taking my anti-depressants again.

I am watching Happy Feet 2 now. One of my very favorite movies. Dancing and singing penguins should definitely be an established form of therapy.

 

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.