Thursday, November 03, 2011
The Obvious Answer
A group of about ten clergy gathered for our monthly meeting. One of us was presenting a paper on The Resurrection.
It was a very good presentation, indeed, exploring what the synoptics and John and Paul had to say on the matter - with some good contextual explanations as to the theology of each disciple - as well as a little venture into myths and redactive, form, and literary criticism.
One of the comments made was that the Resurrection is less a cognitive and more an experiential experience.
I was reminded what my friend and colleague Robert Corbin Morris, who has frankly talked about his struggle with depression, once said: "We go to bed at night. We get up in the morning. It's an every day resurrection."
I also found myself scribbling notes to myself about difference and similarities between words like "revelation", "insight", "vocation" and "resurrection".
As I said, it was a very good presentation with much food for thought.
At one point I asked, "So, am I to assume that no one in this group believes in the 'bodily resurrection'?"
There were giggles around the room. The obvious answer was 'no' - not unusual for a group of Episcopal clergy.
Perhaps, however, the not-so-obvious answer was that, even if someone DID believe in the bodily resurrection, no one was going to admit it. Not in that group.
I offered as how I asked the question because, since I've moved to Delaware - or, more specifically, Sussex County, DE - there are three questions I'm often asked, whenever it is discovered that I am a member of the clergy.
The first is my least favorite question: "You're a pastor/minister, eh? So, what do we call you? Reverend? Pastor? Mother? Father?"
Sometimes the question is asked with a less than obvious snicker. More often than not, it's a genuine question because folks want to be polite and respectful and ordained women are - still - something of a novelty in these parts.
The second question is also like unto it on my popularity scale: "Are you born again?" Sometimes, it's: "As an Episcopalian, are you born again?"
I give the obvious answer: "Yes, I'm baptized."
That's usually not good enough - or, perhaps, too obvious - and, before too long, I find that I'm in the middle of a story of how that person "came to the true faith" and "committed my life to Jesus Christ". The obvious implication is that, as an Episcopalian, I have not.
I have learned not to engage in an argument but simply listen. That's the obvious pastoral thing to do because clearly, this person wants to be able to "witness" to someone about his faith.
The obvious way to answer this question is to throw it back with a question of my own: "Well," I ask, "what do you believe?"
It's obvious because, what I've discovered is that the question isn't so much a question as it is a test. I said to the group that I've learned that it's really not so much a faith question as it is a political question - especially here in the rural areas of Sussex County.
Actually, these three questions are not so much questions of faith as they are political questions. I believe that I'm being asked not so much because anyone wants to hear my answer because it's an issue of faith with which they have been struggling, so much as they want to hear my answer because they think they already know my answer (and, they are probably right on that), and want to argue with me.
Moreover, I think I probably get questions like these because I'm "from away" (as they say here), and because I'm ordained and...and...and... because I'm an ordained woman.
As such, I'm not only an oddity, I'm a threat to "traditional" (read: patriarchy) thinking. They want to know whether or not I will be teaching and preaching "the party line".
Well! One of our members took great umbrage at my statement. A younger man, he has, once before, challenged me on a statement I made which was prefaced by, "As a woman . . .". He said, "Well, I talk with lots of ordained women, and that's just not their experience."
Talks to lots of ordained women, he does. How 'white' of him, eh?
When I offered a further explanation - which obviously began to make some sense - he dismissed it with "well, it must be a generational thing".
Right. I felt the sting of that, but I let it pass.
This young man then went on to chide me about the fact that I was getting it all wrong. These were 'faith' questions, not political ones, he said. And, obviously, I was missing the mark.
Faith, he said, is not political.
Well, there were a few challenges to that statement from around the room which only served to make him obviously uncomfortable.
Finally, he said, "Well, no woman I know gets asked questions like that."
"Ah," I said, trying to diffuse the suddenly escalating tension in the room with some humor, "The obvious answer is that I guess I get these questions because I'm queer."
"No," said one of my colleagues, "It's obvious that you have weird neighbors."
We all laughed and moved on. It wasn't worth it.
Except, I find that I'm still sitting and stewing about it this morning.
Oh, not about that young man. I believe him to be a fine priest and a good pastor. He's young and he's smart and he's got 'career aspirations' which, I have no doubt, will find themselves in fulfillment. He's very committed to the institutional church - which I find a bit disturbing for someone as young as he - but, then again, so was I. Once.
He'll do just fine, I'm sure. There will come a moment when he discovers that we - as a church and as a nation - have not brought about parity and equality for women. In that moment, he'll have an opportunity to make a choice about what he's going to do about the truth he's learned.
And, it will change him. Or, not.
And the church will be better. Or worse.
Either way, I've learned that there is obviously nothing I can do, in the short term, to change any of that. As the Buddhists say, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
That's probably because I was brought up on the feminist aphorism, "The personal is political."
And, there's nothing more personal than one's faith.
Except, perhaps, reproductive rights and abortion.
Or, the color of one's skin.
Or, one's gender and sexual orientation.
Or, one's age or physical ability or class status.
Which is why these issues are political. It's also why religious organizations and denominations are so involved in all of these 'human rights' issues.
Jesus was frequently 'tested' on issues of the resurrection and sin and grace and the commandments. These were not questions asked because people were struggling with issues of faith. They were political questions, designed to 'trick' Him - or, at least, discover where He stood, politically, on certain issues.
I suspect women are 'tested' - or, at least, I am being tested - because women in authority in the church are a challenge - if not an out right threat - to the status quo.
I understand. It's what comes with the territory. At least, it's been part of the religious landscape of my life for the past 25 years.
The obvious question is: What are we really afraid of?
The obvious answer is, I fear, obvious.
And, it has everything to do with death and resurrection.