Building Context

Back in my seminary days, I had to choose between a path toward ministry and simply getting a masters degree in Religious Studies. To be on the path toward ministry, there was a paper we had to write, what the seminary called “A Constructive Theology” paper. In that paper, you were to contextualize your call to ministry and theologically analyze your relationship to God, church, the call, community, spirituality and the larger culture in which you would be engaging in your ministry. I couldn’t write this paper. 

Many in seminary were called to ministry because of trauma – trauma from the religious institutions from their childhood, trauma from a sin-sick world, trauma of white supremacy, trauma of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other abusive systems of soul-negation.

In relationship with the church, I had no such trauma. I really didn’t know church. When I landed in seminary, I was seeking meaning and union with God –  wanting to simply understand my spirituality. I was relatively unchurched. 

When it came time to think about the constructive theology paper, at that point in my life, I couldn’t write about trauma. I couldn’t write about church. I had nothing to say about it. I didn’t know it. I didn’t have a relationship with it. 

My life in ministry was yet to be contextualized. I didn’t write the paper. I didn’t get my M.Div. Instead, I sought a spiritual path – to live in a spiritually minded intentional community – which I recently wrote about in the “Story of Me.”

In this year of pandemic, of being away from the church, I’ve been on a year long spiritual retreat – a sabbatical of sorts – and have been reliving my seminary days.

Spiritually:

I’ve wrestled with the prophets. 
I’ve been uplifted by angels. 
I’ve read and reread the social gospel.
I’ve engaged with the mystics. 

And I’ve looked deep within and asked myself two very serious questions:

  • What ministry have I been placed on this earth to do?
  • What keeps me from doing that ministry?

That said, it’s time to delve deep into my relationship to the church. I simply share a story – my story. My experience no way reflects on anyone else, but it does shape what’s to come…

How I Met You….

Upon this truth that I stand…

I am 
and will always be 
primarily responsible 
for my dismissal from the church.

If you read the “story of me”
you will see that 
I hid myself 
from thee.

When you found me
and I found you,
I was –
my soul, my body, my spirit –
broken.

Broken in heart
Broken in spirit 

You welcomed me.

I remember my first day clearly,
All the good kind people
Streaming into the office
Happy faces, future friends
New colleagues in ministry.

I remember my first days
simply learning the job
the routine

All the time wondering if I
was deserving of your welcome.

It was in your rooms,
on your floors and in your ministry
that I found Sanctuary.
A Refuge from ALL the shameful things that 
had happened to me, 

I had found
a Safe-house away 
from the mind-fuckery.

In your Sanctuary, 
I served like Martha,
doing my work
all the while believing
I had nothing to else to give 
to the world

My purpose
to simply serve you and
those who had a voice
those who spoke better 
than me.

As I learned the routines
the rhythms and seasons of the church,
I began to serve proudly, 
hiding away the shame.

Serving you became my life.
You were more than just
a “job” –
you were my saving grace.

I could sing “hallelujah” in your halls.

Your love, my victory march,

I was made better.
your ministry, your love,
was ALL to me.

Your church – my soul’s salvation.

With gratitude I
prayed with you
cooked with you
ate with you
studied and read with you.
hugged and cried with you
worshipped and mourned with you,
rejoiced and sang with you.

I did serve –
maybe not perfectly –
but faithfully and loyally.
Again, it was never just a “job.”

And in this work
I still hid myself from thee.
I pushed my brokenness down deep.

I suffered anxiety – for
truthfully, if you knew about me,
you wouldn’t want me.

I was a part of you,

I was a part,
but not really a part.

See…
If you knew the “Story of Me”

Of this I was sure – 
I would no longer be welcome
to be a part of your table.

My Complicity Was My Own Demise….

And then, one day the mind-fuckery
came back to me.

That brokenness I held at bay
came back to me – for one day
in my beloved Sanctuary when the 
new pastor said to me:

“Don’t expect me to get to know you. I have no use for you.”

Needless to say, this admonishment
shook me to my core. 

With that statement uttered aloud
to my face, well….
the church was no longer 
Sanctuary, a Refuge
A Safe-house
away from the mind-fuckery.

For two years, I danced among you
my “safety” dance. 

I absorbed the contempt and scorn. 

I watched my church
divided and ill-at-ease.

I desperately wanted to hold 
onto the church
which once welcomed me 
in that long dark night of my shame.

I absorbed the contempt
Quietly grieving
the inevitable loss to come.

I asked for help
from leadership that did not come.

The mind-fuckery gaslighting of leaders 
who held me to blame
without hearing my story.

Scolding me  – my “friends” –
turning their backs to me. 

Leonard sings it best:

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but….

Desperate to hold onto my comfort, 
I became complicit. 

I toed the line, 
walking on egg-shells as those 
around me battled for the soul of the church.

There were things I wanted to say,
to leadership,
to the pastors,
to the staff,
to the congregation.

I so wanted to speak
on race
on leadership
on marginalization
on division and divide.

I wanted to find common ground
for all of us, 
to sit at the table together
in real conversation
in real communion
to break bread together
sit next to one another
embrace one another
to heal the divide
and begin doing the ministry
we were called and charged
by our God to do.

But really… 
Who was I to bridge the gap?
Who was I to speak?
Who was I to lead?
Who was I to heal?

With my job, my livelihood, my ministry
in jeopardy,
leadership wouldn’t have listened to me.

And I didn’t want to lose everything.

My complicity was my own demise.

There was nothing I could do to save
my Sanctuary, my Refuge, my Safe-house 
from the mind-fuckery.

And in the end, 
– despite my inability to lead
to call forth and engage
for the heart of my beloved –
I lost everything anyway. 

I lost everything anyway
in spite my complicity.

At this point, it is what it is.

Recently, I gave up my membership.

I won’t be able to join you in your grand re-opening.
I’m no longer the person you knew.

I won’t be able to sing “hallelujah”
I won’t be able to rejoice in your victory march
for your love is no longer my victory march,

Rather, my hallelujah feels cold.
My hallelujah feels broken.
And my work
in the weeks, months and years
to come is mine and mine alone.

It diverges from you, my beloved community.

But it speaks to you.
It is for you.
It’s my love letter to you.
My constructive theology paper dedicated to you.

Because you are my love,
my greatest love,
and my work to come is simply my gift to you.

Love me
hate me
scorn me
embrace me
it won’t deter me.

For me it’s about going home in Love…
Again…Leonard sings it best:

Going home without my sorrow
Going home sometime tomorrow
Going home to where it’s better than before
Going home without my burden
Going home behind the curtain
Going home without the costume that I wore

It’s about Love! It’s always been about Love! It will always be about Love!

~XOXOX

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.“

Power: the drive of everything living to realize itself with increasing intensity and extensity.” ~Paul Tillich

“Love: the drive towards the unity of the separated.” ~ Paul Tillich

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