Christopher

Author's details

Name: Christopher
Date registered: November 7, 2012
URL: http://www.amongthehills.com/blog

Latest posts

  1. Among the Hills | Among the Hills: Word Press for Android photo test — November 10, 2012
  2. Among the Hills | Among the Hills: Reflections on “The Process”, as I near Ordination as an Elder in Full Connection, Part 2 — May 22, 2012
  3. Among the Hills | Among the Hills: Reflections on “The Process”, as I near Ordination as an Elder in Full Connection, Part 1 — March 30, 2012
  4. Among the Hills | Among the Hills: Something Happened on the Way to General Conference — January 19, 2012
  5. Among the Hills | Among the Hills: How the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero would benefit from the Presence of Clergy — August 27, 2011

Author's posts listings

Nov 10 2012

Among the Hills | Among the Hills: Word Press for Android photo test

Original post at http://www.amongthehills.com/blog/?p=647


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May 22 2012

Among the Hills | Among the Hills: Reflections on “The Process”, as I near Ordination as an Elder in Full Connection, Part 2

Original post at http://www.amongthehills.com/blog/?p=604


ON THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT

“Candidates approved by the charge conference and seeking to become certified for licensed or ordained ministry shall: … b) complete and release required psychological reports, criminal background and credit checks.”
(The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2008, paragraph 311.2.b)

The ordination process has served me well, over the long haul.  There are issues with the process, no doubt.  It can be a haven for power-tripping.  It has turned away some gifted pastors and let through some unsavory people.  For me, there is more positive to say than negative.

One aspect of my ordination process that turned out to be really fruitful was the psychological assessment.  I took the exam in my last semester of seminary.  I accepted an appointment as a Licensed Local Pastor that summer, where my exam was evaluated.  The exam review was rather unspectacular.  It seemed largely accurate about who I was as a person at the time.  It denoted that I was rather objective and revealed some challenges to my introverted personality type.  In the six years since I took that exam, I have sought to better myself in every way, to be a better pastor and a better person.

There was a line in that evaluation that stuck with me.  “He is emotionally stable, although there could be something in his life at this point with which he is dissatisfied.”  Writing it out now, it seems so non-descript.  At the time, it struck me as poignant.  I did have a fair number of stressors: newly married, new home, new career, etc.  The evaluation didn’t seem to be referring to those things, however.  I also found the psychologist to be comforting, something I didn’t realize I needed until I sat down with him.  To find out the core of this dissatisfaction, I undertook counseling.

There were lots of things that we explored together.  The psychologist is also an ordained elder, so talking church with an educated, but independent man became something I enjoyed.  He was professional enough to not just be a paid friend, but someone who would proactively engage my heart, my mind and my experiences.  I was astute enough to discern when he was being a psychologist, when he was being a pastor and when he was being both.  It is one of the best things I ever did, all because the ordination process values the healthiness of my mind.

While in counseling, I recalled an incident from high school.  It was not something that was buried so deep within me that I didn’t remember it.  It was simply an incident.  Counseling helped me come to terms with the impact and meaning of that incident.

In high school, I had become quite isolated from my peers, all for very tough but normal reasons.  I was a year younger, having skipped a grade.  I was very skinny and acne-ridden.  I didn’t engage in the tomfoolery that a lot of Bluefield High students seemed to do.  My one refuge from dorkiness was choir.  I sang in the choir with a bunch of guys that I didn’t interact with in any other forum.  I assumed a kind of mascot position which wasn’t always bad.  Most of the guys accepted me for who I was to them: the goofy tall white kid who could kind of sing.  My senior year, we took a trip to Fairmont State for a choir festival.  Several guys hooked up with girls from another school.  In a move that I now know is inexcusable, I was stuck one-on-one with a chaperon for the night.  He was a college student: funny, with a big toothy grin.  The kids liked him.  When we got to the room, he decided to order a movie: Basic Instinct.  That’s bad enough for a chaperon and a 16-year-old kid.  But when he turned over to the movie, what we got was something much more raunchy.  All of a sudden, here I am watching porn with a chaperone on a choir trip.  I remember a lot of details about that night.  I remember it as a Sunday, because I was wearing my church pants, but also my t-shirt from Summer Youth Celebration.  It was teal.  I remember two choir girls coming to the room to hang out with the chaperone, only to leave shortly afterward.  When they left, he turned back over to the porn.  He began asking me about girls.  The chaperon, who was African-American explained that it was a myth that black men had bigger penises than white guys.  He let me know that it would be okay if I wanted to masturbate.  I declined, the movie ended and we went to sleep.

No, he didn’t molest me.  But the counselor helped me understand that he was warming me up for the possibility of sexual assault.  I wonder what other parameters might have changed the outcome.  I was goofy and skinny, but I was also 6’2″ and surprisingly athletic.  I could have escaped him had I needed to.  The choir had gone to the same festival 2 years earlier.  Would things have been different if I were 14 instead of 16?  I guess I am grateful that he wasn’t more aggressive.  “If you would have said yes (to the masturbation question) he would have been on the bed with you,” the counselor told me.  The double insult was that this was choir: the one place where I was not totally rejected, and it became the arena where a chaperone crossed the line with me sexually.

In the years since that incident, I have spent two years in a children’s home working with the victims of abuse.  I have seen first-hand the extraordinary damage such a violation can cause.  As a pastor, people have shared with me their experiences of abuse.  I have also acquainted myself with the United Methodist Church’s policy called Safe Sanctuaries.  When the scandal at Penn State broke out, I took a day and read the Grand Jury’s report (PDF here, graphic), spending the next several days in a state of saddened horror over what happened to those boys.  But it was the ordination process, coupled with my own initiative for self-actualization, that led me to realize just how close I came to being a victim.  God have mercy on those who live with this every day.

Here is the CODA: I am now living back in the county in which I was raised.  I played a little Facebook-enabled game of six-degrees-of-separation to see if I could find my almost perpetrator.  I think he’s still here.  And now I am a pastor, a leader in the community, mandatory-reporter even.  There’s a part of me that wants to see him and say “Remember me?”

As I near “Full-connection”, I am thinking of what it really means to assume such a calling.  In a few weeks, the Bishop will compel me to “take authority” (which, BTW, I’ve been doing for several years now).  That command comes with the blessing of the body of Christ and applies to a world-wide parish.  That authority is also informed by my experiences, including this episode at a hotel in Fairmont.  A few months after that incident, following another choir-related disappointment,  I skipped school, visited my pastor and picked up The Christian as Minister.  Initially, I wanted to work with youth, to be a man of integrity for good, for God.  Perhaps there was some holy rebellion against a foolish chaperone mixed in.  To think that almost 20 years later, I will be completing the process is mind-boggling.

In all, the process has been long and arduous, but not without its reward.  Yes, even coming to terms with a thankfully-isolated incident of impropriety has been a kind of reward: I know myself better, I know peace a bit better, I better know of the vulnerabilities of life, I better know what grace means for me and I better understand what it means to be a child of God.

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Mar 30 2012

Among the Hills | Among the Hills: Reflections on “The Process”, as I near Ordination as an Elder in Full Connection, Part 1

Original post at http://www.amongthehills.com/blog/?p=607


STANDING AS AN LP

All sort of hopes and dreams are wrapped up in Ordination: one’s hopes for the Church, the feeling of affirmation, the nerve-wracking pressure of representing God to the world, etc.

One of the hopes for me was to be Ordained with my wife.  It was the assuring feeling that I’m not doing this BIG thing alone, that I would have a companion.  I have needed her so much throughout this whole process.  But the dream of being ordained together didn’t last very long—less than six months after we began our ministries.  The causes of this separation are not worth recounting, but the pain of it was two-fold: we each felt it in our own particular way.

For me, it was like a scab that I kept picking at.  I would go about my work, just like she did.  Every so often, something would happen to remind me that I was not ordainable, but she was.  We were in the First Parish Project together, with many other Methodists.  Inevitably, the conversation of ordination processes would come up.  I remember sitting at dinner while two other young men from the same conference were talking about their processes.  They were both advancing without a hitch.  I remember keeping my head down, trying to finish my meal as quickly as possible, hoping they wouldn’t ask me about my process.  They did.  It was so shaming to say that I was still just an LP.  I was as smart as they were.  I had as good a theology as they did.  I got good grades in seminary.  I even had a mission background that no one else in the crowd had.  And yet: I was not good enough.  I established a rule early on: never to sell short Meredith’s accomplishments.  I did well to fight off the demons of envy: I wasn’t mad at her, I was sad for myself.  So as the gentlemen at dinner asked me about my process, I tried my best to swallow my hurt and uplift Meredith for her accomplishments.  Nevertheless, in a group that I was really proud to be a part of, I couldn’t really express my sadness over my failures.  I feared that it would come off the wrong way and soil my wife’s advancements.

One of the rituals at Annual Conference is the bestowing of authority upon Licensed Local Pastors, Assigned Supply pastors, etc.  For the first couple of years, when it came time for LPs to stand and receive their authority, it was okay.  I tried to appreciate my time on the lower rung.  As Meredith was commissioned, that changed.  There were two years where I stood with the LP’s and Meredith’s authority as conferred elsewhere.  I remember standing, completely unable to lift my head up.  I didn’t want anyone to know that I had failed again to get commissioned.  The kicker was that there are many high quality local pastors in our Conference.  I also believe in the ministry of the Local Pastor, that they do some of the best work in the Church.  So I felt the double whammy of disrespecting them, while feeling like I belonged elsewhere.

Nevertheless, there has been a residual effect from finally getting the approval I’ve worked so long to receive.    I had a dream that an ex-girlfriend showed up at Greenview and began criticizing the church and my leadership of it.  Another dream was located at a college reunion, where we encountered one another.  I don’t remember anything she said in the dream, just that I told her that I was an A+ pastor.  I was reminded of the very real ways she didn’t believe in me.  I’ve had other similar internal dialogues recently: fake arguments with old girlfriends, an antagonist classmate and a former employer.  In each of these conversations, I both feel the pain of their rejection and defend my worth to them.  My ordination process included a period where I was really defensive about my calling to ministry and internally doubtful that I was capable.  Now that I am approved for ordination, I have to learn to let that fight end.

Meredith, for her part, shared in my pain and maybe even embodied it a bit too much.  Time and again I would return from dCOM meetings with bad news.  She would get furious.  Those failures were tough on me for obvious reasons, but they were tough on Meredith as well.  I wonder if the joy of her ordination was a bit stifled since I had fallen behind.

 I remember standing at the altar as Meredith was being ordained.  She knelt and was surrounded by the Bishop, members of the BOOM, her mentors, etc.  We laid hands on her as the Bishop ordained her.  As the Bishop was inferring upon Meredith the authority of a Full Elder, the fellow next to me whispered to me ‘Your time will come’.  I remember thinking that I didn’t need to hear that…I had come to terms with my circumstances and was genuinely happy for Meredith.  Looking back, I know that the quality of my ministry will always be measured by the quality of Meredith’s ministry.  Six years ago as we began this journey together, that would have sounded great.  Now I know how idealistic and naïve that feeling was.  We will always be compared to one another.  And I’ll probably always struggle to measure up.  During the First Parish Project, Fred Craddock shared that it is always better to follow a good pastor, rather than a poor one.  Following a good pastor, will force you (the new pastor) to ‘up your game’, to improve your skill set for ministry.  Having a great pastor for a wife is like always following a good pastor.  My skill set has certainly improved by watching and learning from her.  At the same time, in order to claim my own territory on the Conference level, I have had to become clearer and more assured of my own abilities.  Though I may not measure up in the minds of Conference officials, I know that I am becoming a quality pastor.

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Jan 19 2012

Among the Hills | Among the Hills: Something Happened on the Way to General Conference

Original post at http://www.amongthehills.com/blog/?p=600


General Conference 2012 is approaching.  Petitions are submitted; delegates are elected; travel arrangements are being made; reimbursement accounts being tapped, as we speak.  One might get the illusion that it’s a big deal.

I was part of the illusion.  Three times in the past twelve years, I applied to be a Page or a Marshall at General Conference.  Never expecting to be elected as a delegate, I assume that is the only way I’ll get that close to the action.  This year, I was accepted.  ”Congratulations on being accepted to serve as a Page,” the letter said.  All of a sudden, I get to join the throngs in Tampa.  My family is excited.  I’m looking for money (Pages serve at their own expense).  I have an lead on free lodging.  It is the chance of a lifetime.

Except for how it meshes with my calling.

On the one hand, if ever a place in General Conference was built for a guy like me, it would be as a page.  I like politics, even church politics.  At heart, I am a servant, not a politician.  So doing the dirty work of @gc2012 sounds like a job for me.  (Okay, the janitors have the really dirty job, but I digress.)  I am fit, organized, focused, independent, disciplined: all things you need to be a Page.  I would get to see the church in action on a global scale.  I would be in the room when really important decision are made.  Being a vote-less, voice-less witness…well it just feels like me.

Who is ‘me’ anymore anyway?  Is what I am becoming at the expense of what I have been?  In terms of sin, let it be so.  In terms of righteousness, that’s another story.  Several occurrences have led me to a real conundrum about going to General Conference.

The first occurrence happened within the context of my appointed charge.  In attendance at our mission committee, an envelope was passed around from West Virginia Volunteers-in-Mission.  The envelope contained 20 different offerings of mission service.  Some as close as 45 miles away, others across the continent, others across the globe.  It’s been so long since I’ve done deliberate, hands-on, face-to-face-with-suffering kind of work.  As I seek a diagnosis for my intermittent spiritual malaise, this has to be it.  I have a craving for sacrifice, one that hits me personally.  I began thinking of the cost of going to General Conference.  Ten days in Tampa will not be cheap.  My continuing education funds are going elsewhere.  Chance of a lifetime?  Meh.

The second occurrence came to me via Facebook.  An invitation to submit my contact information, as 2012 marks the 60th Anniversary of the US-2 program.  My service through the US-2 program is still shaping me, over a decade later.  I have no regrets about the current contours of my life.  Mission service was such a big part of my life.  In completing paperwork for ordination, my two years in a children’s home kept coming up.  It shaped my approach to seminary.  It was a background factor in my biggest pastoral failure.  My US-2 classmates are still my best example of Christian community.  I doubt if I can make it to the reunion.  The spark of memory wasn’t really about the reunion anyway.  It was about recalling an important time and the importance of purpose.  It’s not that there is no importance in my current vocation.  In fact, things are going swimmingly.  It’s that mission service contains a sense of urgency that is unmistakable.  The stakes are higher; failure is more costly.  It’s about the urgency.

The third occurrence came to me during this week’s sermon preparation.  Our Epiphany process has been an exploration of the seven “I AMs” in John’s gospel.  While exploring the “Good Shepherd,” I looked up various occurrences of shepherds in the Old Testament.  Of course, Psalm 23 first comes to mind.  But then I found a recurring shepherd motif in the prophets.  I knew of Zechariah’s prophecy regarding the shepherd that gives over the sheep to a shepherd that will devour them.  I came across a companion prophecy in Ezekiel 34.

Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.

As I struggle to get my weight under control, these words have struck me.  I learned that shepherd was a common metaphor for royalty in the Ancient Near East.  I’m no king, but I am a pastor, a leader of people.  I haven’t devoured the fatlings.  But neither have I unfailingly strengthened the weak or bound up the injured.  The specificity of the Lord’s claims have convicted me.  I don’t want to devour fatlings nor any widow’s houses.  I want to be a good and faithful servant.

I know that General Conference will feature new legislation around the Call to Action.  I know that it may very well have abiding impact on my career.  But it’s not poverty.  It’s not flood relief.  It’s not orphans.

I learned a valuable lesson as a US-2.  During our mid-term evaluation, many of my classmates were struggling with various matters in their places of service.  Many were struggles related to culture shock and the process of acclimation.  Then one classmate shared of her experience in ministering to the impoverished children in her neighborhood.  Her struggle was genuine compassion for the kids.  Their pain hurt her so bad that she cold hardly speak.  Their pain and struggle in life affected her personally, spiritually.  Another mentioned that that was the experience all of us were hoping for as US-2 missionaries–the experience of costly, compassionate, sacrificial service…a glimpse of Christ-likeness.

The struggle and pain of General Conference may be genuine.  Those still hoping the doors of the Church will open for them will genuinely struggle at General Conference.  May God’s mercy be upon them.  But from a purely personal perspective, I get a sense that I need a different struggle than paging at General Conference can provide.  For the money, I could help clean Joplin or pick olives in Bethlehem.

Furthermore, the most important work in the United Methodist Church the last week of April will not be the competition for votes at General Conference.  The most important work will be done by people at Glide Memorial or Mary’s Cradle.  It will be done in places of violence and crippling poverty.  It will be the dispensing of food and the time taken to comfort the bereaved.  It has always been this way and it has been this way through scores of various conferences.  It’s not that General Conference isn’t important.  I fully believe that it is.  But its importance pales in comparison to the ongoing dispensing of mercy and grace that is the primary purpose of the Church.

I don’t know what I’ll do.  I tend to hold on to tension longer than I ought.  Regardless of ultimate actions, my ultimate belief is that service is the calling card of the true Church.  That was God’s call to action to Ezekiel centuries ago.  Perhaps it still is.

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Aug 27 2011

Among the Hills | Among the Hills: How the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero would benefit from the Presence of Clergy

Original post at http://www.amongthehills.com/blog/?p=594


You may have heard that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has organized the 10th Anniversary 9/11 Ceremony at Ground Zero in a manner that excludes prayer and the presence of clergy.  Perhaps, given that 9/11/11 is a Sunday all clergy are busy leading their congregations.  But that would only be Christian clergy.  Are there no apt clergy from other faiths available? Clearly something is missing.

During the ceremony, prayer will be relegated to the moments of silence marking the times of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Shanksville, PA as well as when the towers fell.  These moments of silence are very good, apt ways to mark those moments.

On the Gifts and Limitations of Silence

I remember 9/11/02 as well as I remember 9/11/01.  In March of 2002, 6 months after the attacks, I moved to New York City to work for the General Board of Global Ministries.  I remember the week leading up to the 1st anniversary.  There was a quiet but present fear of reprisal.  Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising came out.  I remember listening to 1010-WINS and learning about the preparations for the anniversary.  I decided to take the day off and go to Ground Zero, but I feared public transportation.  I had in mind that I would walk from 104th Street to Ground Zero, but as I calculated the actual distance, I thought differently.  I feared a suicide bomber would be in the subway.  So I began walking, but noticed all the people on the bus.  I climbed aboard and joined the strap-hangers.  The bus didn’t move.  People kept coming to the bus and squeezing in, no one said a word and the bus didn’t move.  Then, without notice, the doors closed and the bus moved…it was 8:46am–the time when the first plane hit the North Tower.  I was calmed by the calmness of the crowd.  So I got off the bus after several blocks and braved the subway.  I got on the red-line going downtown.  I squeezed in and grabbed a bar.  No one moved.  No one said anything.  No one coughed.  Others came running down the stairs in that oh-so-New-York-hope of catching the train before the doors closed.  They would squeeze in and join in the silence.  One minute, the doors closed and life resumed…it was 9:03am.

The moment of silence is classic and necessary.  But it is not enough.  All of us on that bus and all of us on that train were joined in silence, but there was no interpretation.  None of us said a word, and none of us spoke to each other when the minute was done.  Even the collective experience of acknowledging the worst day in our living history could not make us friends.  We participated but only by ceasing to do something that is at the heart of humanity–talk.  The moment of silence seeks to allow everyone to ‘pray as they see fit’.  But most authentic prayers are not silent.  Even when the Holy Spirit prays for us, there is the sound not unlike a painful groan.  The moment of silence seeks to recognize a commonality among us, but refuses to describe what that commonality actually is.  Silence can be intensely holy.  It can also be a cop-out.

A skillful clergyperson helps us all understand that actual commonality.  For a common spirit is too easily lost without a common understanding.

On Clergy in the Midst of Many and No Religion

It does not matter that those gathered at the Ground Zero ceremony will be of many faiths and no faith.  Skillful clergy negotiate differences everyday of the week.  Whether it’s comforting the agnostic son at his mother’s deathbed, participating in a mixed-faith wedding, speaking up for civil rights at city hall or serving mashed potatoes at the Community Kitchen, clergy, guided by the ancient wisdom of their respected tradition, offer the gifts of our trade to whomever is in need of them.  The vast, vast, vast majority of us negotiate these differences with grace, skill and humility.

So there will be moments of silence.  But how will we move together from those moments?

What Clergy Offer

Here are 10 things a skillful clergyperson would add to the  9/11 Memorial Service at Ground Zero:

  1. A skillful clergyperson can help us all recognize the common spirit present among the people and present a common understanding.
  2. A skillful clergyperson would help the people ACT upon and INVEST in the common spirit.
    • Why hasn’t the common spirit of 9/11/01 brought us closer?  Why are we as divided internally as ever before?  Because we did not act upon the common spirit borne out of 9/11/01 with a common understanding and we didn’t respond with a common act.  Some of us held candles, some of us counted ammo.  Some of us learned about our neighbors.  Some of us shot our neighbors for wearing a turban.
  3. A skillful clergyperson can speak to the grief that the nation as a whole is experiencing, can help us understand how this 10-year old grief is present in our lives and can encourage us on the path of collective healing.
    • Skillful clergy are adept at living with pain.  We join people all the time as they grieve, as they struggle.  With the wisdom of compassion taught by the ancient people, we know how to journey with people ‘through the valley of the shadow of death’.  Who will acknowledge the pain we still bear?  Will it be someone who knows what to do with it?  Most clergy know what to do with it.
  4. A skillful clergyperson would help the nation confess the sins that we have committed in response to the attacks.
    • The tendency will be to name the deceased and focus on the victims’ families.  I understand this tendency.  But a decade later, I feel it is inadequate.  It is, instead, a ripe time for reflecting on our response.
    • I fear there will be an implicit approval given to our nation’s response.  Will there be any acknowledgement of the fact that we have killed a lot of people, many children and many innocents in this quest for vengeance?
    • There is a need for cleansing, as well as healing.  We have responded to acts of hate and violence with acts of violence that feel rather hateful to those on the other side.  When we drone-bomb weddings in Pakistan without even saying sorry, we have clearly become too like our enemies.  Who will acknowledge this truth?  Certainly not a politician whose greatest fear is being defeated at the next election.  This is the role of clergy: to speak truth when it in necessary but unpopular.  (See Nathan in King David’s court).
    • There is a direct connection between confession and healing.  This has been taught and confirmed for millennia.  It is a basic and necessary matter to state that what bin Laden did to us was awful.  We state this truth at ceremonies every year in an innate hope that stating the truth is part of what will set us free.  That being the case, our freedom from this matter is not complete until we confess that we have sinned in our anger.  Unfortunately, we have a very hard time admitting that we ever do wrong, much less naming  the wrong itself.  Truth doesn’t beg its way into our lives, it will only set us free if we let it.
    • It is not a coincidence that America’s most notable period of spiritual cleansing was led by a clergyperson: REVEREND Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was, at once, prophet for black America and priest for the nation as a whole.  By prophet, I mean that he spoke God’s message of liberation to an unwilling nation.  He interpreted the sins of the nation as well as God’s better vision for the country.  By priest, I mean he led the nation in confessing our collective sin of racism and led us to a more godly society.
    • See also Bishop Desmond Tutu and Mahatma Gandhi.
  5. A skillful clergyperson will call us to live up to the highest ideals we have.  In a time of toxic divisiveness, this call is most aptly given by someone of recognizable moral authority.
    • Yes, there are people of recognizable moral authority outside of the clergy.  But being a ‘recognizable moral authority’ is one of the responsibilities of clergy.
  6. A skillful clergyperson would help us realize that the victims’ most fundamental identity is as human beings and NOT just Americans.
    • Our nation’s foremost religion is patriotism.  (Or maybe college football).  It is a false religion that reduces someone to their nationality and dismisses those of other nationalities.  Since the 9/11 ceremony will be led by politicians, who are expected to be adherents to the religion of patriotism, I suspect that we will hear a lot about the spirit of America and a lot less about the spirit of humanity.  I hope I am wrong.
  7. A skillful clergyperson practices the ministry of presence, which will definitely be needed at Ground Zero.  By ministry of presence, I mean that as the clergy person ‘stands in’ for God, she/he points to a higher reality.  For the religious that would be the presence of God.  But even for the non-religious a clergyperson’s ministry of presence points to the power of love over hate, of peace over war, of unity over divisiveness, of good over evil.
  8. A skillful clergyperson helps with existential issues of theodicy.  These questions (Where was God? Why me/us? Why does hate even exist?) are the elephants in the room at ground zero.  A skillful clergyperson helps us (both religious and non-religious) live with the unanswered and the unanswerable.
    • This is the clergyperson’s pastoral function, to be with the people in times of trial, to join another in pain so that they know that they are not alone.
  9. A skillful clergyperson mines the past for wisdom.
    • We are not the first people to suffer.  We are not the first to be terrorized.  Ours were not the first towers to fall.  Since the beginning of human consciousness, we have suffered.  And we have learned from our suffering.
    • Through suffering, Israel learned not to trust their chariots.  Through suffering, India learned how to creatively resist evil.  A skillful clergyperson does not speak as a single voice, but carries teachings that have stood the test of time.  That historical wisdom would be useful to the people at Ground Zero.
  10. A skillful clergyperson would save the ceremony from the scourge of cheap words.  Politicians major in mind-numbing platitudes and empty promises.
    • By contrast, Dr. King talked about Having a Dream…and then defined what that dream was: “when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”  
    • Tutu formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and led the arduous effort to heal a nation.

Anticipating Rebuttal

Anyone can do the things listed above.  Are you trying to say only clergy can do these things?

Sure, anyone can do these things.  By the same logic, anyone who can count can advise me on my family budget.  I’d rather have the best do that and so would you.  By the same logic, do we really want any old politician handling complex matters of the spirit?  Me neither.

We don’t have any MLK’s or Tutu’s these days.

Dr. James Forbes is no slouch.

Conclusion

I hope readers can discern the difference between a response and a complaint.  For clergy, our role in society is not always clear to others.  We have to explain and defend what we do.  At the same time, Christians should never be surprised when a government wants to shut us out.  When we start complaining because we didn’t get preferential treatment…well…then we have a problem.  For this matter, though, I approach this with a sense of sadness–that thousands will gather at Ground Zero, as I did 9 years ago, and not receive the best ceremony possible–all because one guy doesn’t understand what we do.

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