Monday, June 13, 2011

...And Old Women will dream dreams.

Oscar Romero said …this

It helps, now and then, to step back

and take the long view.

The kingdom [of God] is not only beyond our efforts,

it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of

the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.

Nothing we do is complete,

which is another way of saying

that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No programme accomplishes the church's mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:

We plant seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything

and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.

This enables us to do something,

and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,

an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,

but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders,

ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

A friend and colleague from the UK sent me this. She had been given this poem at her 75th birthday party. It is a wonderful way to look at what it is we are and do as ministers of the Gospel. I don’t think that there is anything that puts life into perspective—at least the perspective of God. We long to have that view but it is not ours on this side of the chasm.

Birthdays and anniversaries give us time to reflect. I celebrated a mere 28 years as an ordained person this past Saturday. And today I had lunch with the new deacon of our diocese. She asked important questions about the tensions between the older women and the young. She had experienced some of that at a gathering of women clergy she had attended. I appreciated her questions and challenge because it has made me reflect on what has happened in my lifetime in the ordained ministry. It has also helped me reflect on my own ministry at the beginnings of women’s ordination in the Episcopal Church.

Like St. Oscar Romero has said: We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.

And as impatient as I am to see the Kingdom come with regards to women’s ministry and the acceptance of LGBT people, I know that what I have been a part of is a great river of the Spirit as it went out of its banks. I will never know how fertile the delta will become because of that flood. But I am so glad I was able to be in the boat.

The first wave of women in the Episcopal Church who were able to poke a hole in the dike was those who were ordained in 1974 and 75. They were women who could no longer wait for the Church to catch up. They were ordained by ‘non-juroring bishops’ and broke all the ‘rules’ so that women could be a part of the rule-making. But they paid greatly for their brashness. Only a few of those women really got to serve in parishes. They were often marginalized long after the ordination of women was legitimized. Some taught, or were chaplains. None got to be rectors of large parishes or major voices in the structure of the Church. But that was not what God had called them to be. God called them to be those door-kickers or the boat rockers that got the church off its collective duff to be about justice, and more importantly, about the wholeness of humanity that the Gospel is really about.

The second wave was those who were the ‘good girls’ who observed all the rules. We jumped through momentously sexist hoops, we learned to how to play by ‘boys rules’, the rules that had always been played. We wore our dog collars and our blacks and tried to fit in. If we became rectors of parishes we tried very hard to maintain the ministry just as if a male priest was doing it. Oh, yes there were some attempts to institute ‘inclusive language’ but for the most part, it fell on deaf ears. We were just grateful that we were given a place at the table. Some of the second wave saw that their job was done. They had gotten their foot in the door and felt that was enough. They did not have a vision that God was calling the Church to something radically new. They wanted equality and parity. They were about just having a job, even if the ceiling was low. Or if there were one’s who were able through perfecting the male model and were especially capable at that role, often played into the hierarchical competition that so marked male privilege in the Church.

The second wave did not show the real changes that women’s ordination really herald. Women were still rare on seminary faculties. Feminist and womanist theologies were only beginning to be developed, and they certainly had not gotten into the DNA of the way that the Church was run. Slowly the men of the clergy began to understand that there were women who were just as talented and just as spiritually adept as they. And begrudgingly they realized that the Church was better off with their presence. Hesitantly they allowed themselves to work WITH women rather than against us.

I am part of that second wave of women who were ordained in the church. I naively enjoyed being a novelty. I smiled and answered “what do we call you? questions. I glibly thought that ‘inclusive language’ was not necessary because I was the sign and symbol of inclusion. Horse puckey!

There are women who are being ordained now who are as equally naive as I who enter the ordained ministry thinking “we have arrived!” And they maintain that second wave by thinking that all they are going to do is what the “good fathers” have been doing for generations. But there is another group that is coming into the ministry who realize that the job of women in the Church is to go beyond “we have always done it this way before’. They see in the gifts that women bring naturally a way to change the Church radically for the future. They see at the centre of their call to minister in the Church in a remarkably communal way. They see domination as wholly contrary to the Gospel. Their goal is to change ‘boys rules’ into something that is much more homogenized.

I love to see these younger women begin to claim their power. I am energized by their willingness to try new things and absolutely exult in the freshness of their approach. At the same time I hurt for their naïveté, for I know that they will be battered and torn in their lives as they run into the patriarchy that still freezes the Church in its failure to proclaim the Gospel.

They can envision a Church that is not based on the ‘family model’ with ‘father/mother knows best’ continuing top-down leadership. They are a bold group that can take up post-modern issues facing Scripture, the stories of our faith, and remind us that Christ still lives within us and more importantly pointing out the moving of Spirit in our midst.

It is at times like these that Romero’s voice speaks so clearly: “We are prophets of a future not our own.”

I have moved from one who sees visions to one who ‘dreams dreams.’ And I give thanks for that. Perhaps my dreams will be able to plant a seed that some young one can nurture. And one day the patriarchy will not dictate the Gospel and no one will wonder what to call me.

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