Saturday, November 27, 2010

octopus balloon story

My sister recounted this vignette, told originally in her Plants and the Environment class at Pepperdine: the professor of this class has a young son (about three years old) who one day saw a shiny metallic balloon, shaped like an octopus, and begged his mother to buy it for him. She was reluctant but eventually gave in. Little boy enjoys balloon, until it slips from his grasp and floats away into the sky. Little boy cries and cries. His mother tries to console him, saying, it was only a balloon. "But Mom," he weeps, "the fish are gonna die!"

In the words of my other sister, "That's one awesome little kid."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Further Reflections on "Candidating"

As I stood in line to take communion at the presbytery meeting last week, I was thinking to myself, "How incredible, that in spite of all my faults and flaws, not only does God accept me, but even this group of people has accepted me--and not just as a member of the Christian community--but as someone genuinely called to pastoral ministry. I guess you don't have to be perfect to be a pastor. And thank God, 'cause otherwise we wouldn't have any ..."

You don't have to be perfect to have a genuine calling to the pastorate. I can imagine that's a good thing to realize sooner rather than later. Not that it isn't imporant to strive toward living a holy life, pleasing to God. But as someone who holds herself to the standard of perfection and constantly, constantly falls short, I tend to get discouraged. So it's good to have the affirmation of a large roomful of pastors and elders that I am not too much of a failure to be recognized as having a genuine call to ministry.

Friday, November 12, 2010

We Need More Angry Preachers!

At the presbytery meeting this past Tuesday evening, I was advanced to the Candidacy stage of the ordination process. I have shared below the statement I submitted for that occasion. There were only two questions from the floor (so disappointing), but one of them I've been thinking about. Someone asked me to explain how suffering is a gift for ministry. I incoherently muttered something about how suffering opens up this tender place in your heart so that you can really empathize and be sensitive to others' pain.

But I was thinking--perhaps I am a little more unusual in feeling that not only can I bring to ministry what depths of sadness, loss, and despair I have felt, but additionally, anger. Perhaps most people would not think of me as a particularly angry or violent person. But indeed I have long struggled (especially in adolescence) with feelings of terrible rage.

Some people are afraid of their own and others' pain, and many are terrified by their own and others' anger. Having suffered some prolonged, seemingly unbearable emotional pain (and survived) I'm not so scared of acknowledging others' pain. And likewise, having myself experienced seemingly boundless rage, I am not too worried by others' expressions of anger.

This becomes an asset for ministry because it helps me both to be able to create space for someone to express their anger and be accepted (rather than shut down or ignored) and because sometimes people are upset about injustices that the community ought to get on board trying to address.

I think we could really use some more angry preachers in middle class American churches. I wonder to what degree the repression of anger in our society is symptomatic of a socio-political system where those "at the top" need to keep a lid on the righteous indignation of those "at the bottom."

Statement of Faith, Motivation, and Service

This is a statement I wrote and submitted to my presbytery as part of the ordination process.

When I was twelve years old, I read G.K. Chesterton’s account of how, after Thomas Aquinas had written an important treatise on transubstantiation, the crucified Christ appeared to him in a vision, saying, “You have spoken well of my body; what would you have as a reward?” And with the innocent audacity of a genuine saint, Thomas replied, “I would have thyself!” And thereupon he was blessed with the beatific vision, after which he said all his voluminous works seemed to him like straw.

And so for years, in spite of my Presbyterian upbringing, I believed in the doctrine of transubstantiation. I don’t anymore. But I still identify myself with Aquinas--the mystic theologian. My desire is to see God. And like Aquinas, I strive with intellectual ardor to know God more fully.

Even as a small child, I knew the joy of being in God’s presence; I am blessed to have had a deep faith from as far back as I can remember. But I first started to feel a call to ministry around age 14. In retrospect, that’s interesting, considering it was also around age 14 that my life became hellish. Though suffering severe stress for three years, I never sought relief in external things--drugs, alcohol, etc.--rather, I turned inward, searching out the blackest reaches of the soul, daring anguished inquiry into the darkest of life’s questions. And there in the dark night, Love found me.

I put off starting the Inquiry process for a long time--years, in fact. I think partly it’s because, even though I have been quite sure of my calling to ministry for a long time, I still felt unready. Years of internal struggle have made me acutely aware of my weaknesses and limitations--but they have also forced me to discover where genuine strength and help can be found.
Being about halfway through my CPE unit at Children’s Hospital, I have been amazed at how easy it has been. And I think that’s because I’ve been through some difficult times, and have already had frequent occasions to reflect theologically on questions of suffering, and of who I am, what I believe, and how that informs my work and relationships. My time at Children’s Hospital has demonstrated to me how my suffering is a gift for ministry, and how surprisingly well it has prepared me for entering a pastoral role.

I have also had the opportunity this fall to begin an internship working with various ministries at Immanuel Pres., including their Healing Center, Young Adult Group, and work with One L.A. (a community organizing group). My internship at Immanuel is stretching me in an area I had been worried about not being gifted in before, namely the more practical, mundane, yet nebulously defined area of planning and developing events and coordinating programs. As more of an abstract, big picture thinker, I’m more comfortable in the roles of preacher, teacher, counselor, not so much administrator. So I’m really glad to be getting experience in that area.

I continue to be amazed by the faithfulness of God in preparing me for the pastorate. Looking back over my life, I can see the hand of God forming my heart for compassionate service, my mind for theological perspicacity, my soul for reliance upon grace, and my will for seeking the righteous rule of God. I am eager to continue to serve my Lord Jesus Christ in whatever way God wills, and particularly as I continue to prepare for ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacrament.