A Space to Weep

These are images from my thesis which is referred to in previous blogs. Last week, on March 22, I performed a ritual around this installation where I invited friends and family to honor our grief. I reflected upon my own story with the death of my mother and mingled this story with Mary's story in chapter 20 of John's Gospel. I asked the congregation to paint and we concluded in communion. But, early in the service, I spoke these words:

Why are you weeping? Our Savior asks us why we might weep. But, we know that something has changed. Our world has turned upside down. And in all of the uncertainty of what might be, there is a hole. Just a hole. A big, vacant hole. Nineteen years ago, I was the one gazing into this vacant hole. My mother had spent most of my childhood wrestling for her life at the gripping hands of cancer. We didn’t really know that much about cancer then. And it was certainly not something that you shared with your seven-year old daughter. But, soon, something changed. And she was gone.

Maybe it didn’t need to be explained. Maybe there are no words to tell a child that her mother has died. Maybe there are no words to really tell this story.

But, I still remember. I remember standing in the bathroom when my mother lifted her shirt to show me. She has just had a mastectomy, a word I wouldn’t know for a long time. But, I remember the jagged wound that lined where her breast once was.

I weep with Mary. She was left to gaze into this big, vacant hole. And she wept. It is only a moment. There is only a moment for sadness. There is only a moment to mourn. And, then it is over. Three verses later, there is a new beginning. This sacred story that offers us such hope and wonder tells us that he came back.

Why are you weeping? It wasn’t a kind question. We’re supposed to let go. We’re not supposed to cling. But, we can’t help but notice the hole. Why are you weeping? Three days after my mother died, one of my classmates stopped me in the hall at school. She asked if it was true. She had heard the rumors. She wanted to know if my mother had really died of breast cancer. I nodded. Oh, she said. My aunt lived through it.

Why are you weeping? She only had a moment. But, it didn’t happen like that for me. That’s not my story. My mother never came back. There is just a hole. Just a big, vacant hole. My mother died when I was seven. I used to introduce myself with these words. Hi. My mother died when I was seven. And I’m still weeping. There is still a hole. It hasn’t gone away. I’m not quite certain what to do about it. It was only recently that I decided that I could paint it. I’m not sure if it articulates my grief. I’m not sure if it’s really about Mary’s grief. I’m not sure if it’s just scraps of fabric sewn together to try to piece together the holes.

I’m not sure if it’s a creation for all of us. Mary wasn’t alone in her grief. And even if she was alone at the tomb, Mary would have shared this hole in her heart with friends and loved ones. Maybe I’m waiting for you to fill in the holes. Maybe you are waiting for me to caress your holes. It might not be a moment. It might not answer all of our questions. It certainly might not heal us. But, it might give us a space for the holes. It might just give us a space to weep. Just to weep….

The Church and Homelessness

A poor people's movement in Philly once preached, "How can you worship a homeless man on Sunday and step over one on Monday?" I think it's true. I see it every day. Hell, I do it. I don't know how to deal with the people asking for money in the subway. I don't want to ever assume what the money is for and I rarely offer anything from my own pocket. Instead, I bow my head and I pray. If s/he has been bold enough to offer a name, I lift his/her name to God. I ask them to be safe and warm. I bow my head and avoid making eye contact.

Tonight, I was frustrated by this same hypocrasy at the church that I serve. The discussion of homelessness has been a hot topic during the years of construction. There is a scaffolding around the church that has opened the church to a new level of intimacy with the homeless community. And this is a false intimacy. The homeless are not wanted. It's not welcoming. It's scary. It's intimidating. These are valid emotions. I don't want to deny these emotions. But, Jesus asked us to love our neighbor. Tonight, our neighbors are huddled in cardboard boxes upon our steps. Tonight, our neighbors might not have had enough to eat because the shelter system will not allow their level of intoxication. Tonight, a child of God feels lonely. Who will love them?

I attended a church meeting tonight where there were moronic statments made about the homeless situation. I'm amazed that 20 years in the pastorate in New York can allow for anyone to be so blind. I'm amazed when we let our human fears overcome what we know about God. Sure, I struggle with the drug abuse. I think it's hard to deal with alcoholism. But, that's not everyone's story. Indeed, there is mental illness. But, there is another side.

And that is how we react. The city has a horrible shelter system. These are not just stories. These are real situations where people -- God's people -- have been made to feel unsafe. And like it or not, these same attitudes and fears are held toward the shelters in churches. We may worship a homeless man, but we really don't welcome him in on Sunday. We don't want him on our steps. We want to pretend that he is not there. We want someone else to deal with it. We want easy answers, and there are none to be found. Sometimes, we need to accept that God's world is bigger than us and all that we can do is pray for change. This is God's prayer as much as it is our own.


Traditional Ministry

Today, the New York Times reported that fewer and fewer seminarians are going into traditional ministry. First, I want to comment on traditional ministry. For most people this is really narrow. For most denominations, it's still a plight for a student to advocate for a call into "alternative" ministry. Ministry happens in all places. There is not one of my peers in seminary that is not in ministry. Indeed, not all of them are currently in a church or have any interest in being in the church. But, this begs us to look at what we mean by traditional ministry.

Tonight, I met a young man in a bar. A young Irish Catholic man. He is not alone on his assumptions about seminarians (though this word was new to him which is a deeper problem that I'm not going to touch). But, to him, ministry is reserved for priests. Even though America was founded by Protestants seeking religious freedom, we are a nation that believes that every religious leader abides by the laws of chastity and poverty. That's just not the case. Joel Osteen and Jim Forbes are only two examples of wealth. And let's not even get started on chastity. But, we think priests. Why? I have no idea. It makes little sense to me. But, I'm a young woman and I'm going into ministry. As it turns out, I'm seeking a call into traditional ministry. I want to be in the church. I believe in the power of the church.

Think back to Katrina. Think of the number of people that responded to this tragedy. Or think further back. Think about the tsunami. There were countless checks that were written. Thousands of hundreds of millions of dollars, which is nice. But, who was on the ground? Who were the people that actually went when they first learned about the disaster? People of faith. Not always people that wear a collar (and again, that's not limited to the Catholics). There are so many lay people that believe it is their call answer the cries of crisis. This, dear friends of the New York Times, is ministry. Ministry is not one thing. Ministry is not preaching or teaching. It can include these things. But, it is not limited to these things. If ministry was to be defined as any one thing, ministry should be understood as being with the other. When you sit down and share with someone's hardship -- a breakup, a death, a tragedy -- then you are in ministry. Motivation doesn't matter, though I beg for an open heart. It's the desire to sit there and listen. It's the love within. This is ministry. Perhaps it's not traditional, but this is what ministry always is.

Now, the New York Times seems to express some shock and dismay that seminarians could do other things besides work in the church. It's as if our fear of religion (Islam, Christianity, you name it) has eroded our intelligence. People of faith can actually be useful? They can be productive citizens? I regret that this is a little insulting. And yet, I wonder if the question shouldn't be turned toward our fear of religious fanatics but to the Church itself. If the Church cannot learn to really and truly love, then why would seminarians accept a call to "traditional" ministry?

You don't believe me? Think of the number of times that we use the name of God to condemn others. My Christian sisters and brothers, I don't care if you are conservative or liberal. You use God in this way. And if the Church can't stop condemning, then what seminarian is going to spend three years learning about the love of God only to preach the opposite? Oh, hell no.


Do your research

This question appears in this week's New Yorker Shouts and Mumurs column, entitled A Memo From the Vatican.

16. In the Gnostic Gospels, which apostle is referred to as “scrumptious”? (This is a trick question, because, no matter what Luke says, it’s not Mark.)

Other than the fact that gnosticim is no longer believed to exist, neither Mark or Luke are gnostic texts. I believe the correct word would be synoptic, as both Mark and Luke are synoptic gospels. Grrr.