“Unused creativity is not benign” I started off my poem on Thursday with this quote from Brene Brown. Neither, it seems, is an unresponded to call from God.
It is four in the morning, and I should be sleeping. I woke yesterday at four to drive down to Virginia for the #MissionalVoices conference. Too much driving, so much to think about, too little sleep.
I am a social media manager at a Federally Qualified Health Center. I am not one of the eighty seminarians at this conference. I am not one of the many priests or other church leaders at the conference.
I had all the standard fears and anxieties I have going to a conference as an outsider, as an other, as someone who is not already well versed in the topic. Going to a conference at a seminary is not something most of my co-workers would ever think of doing, but here I am, and it feels like someone sent me.
“Unused creativity is not benign”. It is something I’ve been struggling with all my life. After dropping out of college, giving up my plans of being a priest or professor, I moved to New York City to become a poet, and instead, spent the follow decades making a living, supporting myself, and then my wife and family. I love them dearly, but I had a secret love, writing, and so at all of those events and a proper life, the gatherings with co-workers, I pined for this other love as well.
A year and a half ago, I somehow got connected with the poetry efforts in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. They have a Diocesan Poet, something it seems more dioceses should have. I started writing again. I attended a poetry conference, at of all places, Yale Divinity School. The signup form asked what sort of church leader I was, Rector, Music Director, Director of Christian Education, those sort of things, and “other”. They did not have “Aspiring social media bivocational missional priest”, not that I would have understood what that means, or identified that way, yet. So I registered as “other” and went, embracing this otherness, and encountered, not only my secret love of writing, but also the source of love, who is called by the name of Love, and Love said, “I’ve been waiting”.
That was eleven months ago. Next month, a parish discernment committee will have its last meeting with me and then submit a report to the diocese on their thoughts about what should happen next with me on my journey.
As I sought discernment, I stumbled across new a word for me, “missiology”. Then, I heard about a conference at Virginia Theological Seminary, Missional Voices, and here I am. It started off with a video welcome from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who talked, as he often does, about the “Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement”. Yup. Here I am at Jesus Movement Camp.
I chose this phrase as a combination of Bishop Curry’s comments about the “Jesus Movement” and the 2006 film “Jesus Camp”. Living in a liberal secular community, “Jesus Camp” represents all that is wrong with Christianity. To borrow from the Wikipedia article about Jesus Camp, “At the camp, Fischer stresses the need for children to purify themselves in order to be part of the ‘army of God’”
I don’t want to feed into “us/them” thinking by focusing on what I believe is wrong with “Jesus Camp”, but if I were to try and put this conference into that framework, I would say that instead of focusing on ritual purification, we are focusing on God’s love for us, something that is very personal and palpable to me, and on the calling to go out and share that love with our neighbors.
On a certain level, these words may sound very similar to my conservative Christian friends. The difference, it seems, is how we show that love. Some people seem to believe it is all about telling others that God loves them, and they will go to hell if they don’t accept God’s love.
This conference is about showing our neighbors that God loves them. It is about more than just a symbolic washing of feet on Maundy Thursday, it is about washing the clothes of homeless people while listening to them and learning what it really means to be a neighbor. It is about gathering in communities, artistic, intentional, worshipful, that provide food, housing, and fellowship to those around us.
It is about stepping out in faith and fear in failing churches, not to maintain a dying institution, but to show the love of a living God.
On the way down, I recorded some of my thoughts about the road trip. I listened to modern American Poetry. I listened to some essays by Barbara Kingsolver that she wrote after 9/11. Back home, friends gathered to protest a campaign rally for a candidate who wants to make America great again, not by loving our neighbors, but by being tough and building higher walls.
Today, when over $100 per human across the earth is spent advertising mammon, when our consumption of natural resources causes serious problems for people around the global, the need for God’s redeeming love is as great as ever, and learning to show that love, learning to help others learn how to show that love is important work, is crucial work, with all the nuances of “Crucial” fully intended.
After the conference, I will head back to Connecticut. I will talk with my priest, the discernment committee will continue to meet, and I will talk with my bishop and the Commission on Ministry.
One thing that I will recommend is that next year, the Episcopal Church in Connecticut have viewing parties of Missional Voices, similar to what we did for the Trinity Institute, that those in the process of seeking discernment and postulants be strongly encouraged to attend and have deep discussions about what it means to have missional voices heard in Connecticut.
I do not know where all of this will lead, but this much I know. God loves me, more deeply than I can understand, in spite of all my failings. God wants me to show that love to my neighbors, especially to the others, those that our political candidates seek to blame or exclude. This is what the Jesus Movement is about for me right now, and why Missional Voices, a Jesus Movement Camp, is so important.
The text for today,
the speaker started off,
and I reached for my cellphone
before I realized
he was talking about
a much older message
received thousands of years ago;
“The Valley of Dry Bones”.
I read that text
during the great Easter Vigil
It seems as if lot of old texts
have been reaching out to me
It’s like I’ve been hearing voices;
not the kind they treat you for,
at the behavioral health clinic,
but the ageless voice
that Isaiah and Ezekiel heard.
“These bones are the people of Israel”
These bones are my bones,
that have been dried up
Lord, breathe on me.
These bones are the dying mainstream churches of America
in maintenance mode
that needs to stop waiting
for the crowds to cross
whatever that is
to the laundromat.
“Can these bones live?”
Perhaps, if someone will prophesy,
but who will sing
the Lord’s song
in a strange land.
“Here I am Lord,
“Unused creativity is not benign”
I ponder these words
on my drive to work
as I wonder
what’s blocking me
from fully using
I remember choirs
when I couldn’t hit
the right notes
and was ridiculed
I remember looking at paintings
that were so beautiful
I remember going to concerts
or reading poems
“I could never do that”.
As I grew,
I used less and less
of my creativity
“Unused creativity is not benign”
into shame, anger, fear, hate.
my daughter is organizing a conference
I’m going to a different conference
these conferences are related
the Great Maker
wants us healed
to own our own
the Lamb’s High Feast
is pot luck,
with all of us invited
as restored makers.
Notes: “Unused creativity is not benign” comes from Brene Brown in an interview she did with Elizabeth Gilbert, as does the idea of it metastasizing.
When I was younger
my older brother
would hike long sections
of the Appalachian Trail.
he would gather supplies
as he made sure
and broken in.
When I go to conferences
I like to prepare
by reading the schedule
the speakers biographies
and finding out anything else I can
about what I am likely to encounter.
When I go on a road trip
I like to gather food for eating
along the way.
I like to map out my route
and make sure I have enough
for the trip.
I’ve been reading
about the Camino de Santiago
and wonder how people prepare.
Now, there are websites
and travel guides,
but what about centuries ago?
Friday, I will hit the road
I have my books on tape.
I’ve read about the conference.
I need to pack clothes, meds, and food,
and hope the kidney stone
doesn’t act up.
But this is just the physical journey.
What about the spiritual journey?
I hope to discover
something I don’t yet know.
How do we prepare for this
other than getting a scallop shell?
I am part of an online group of people seeking discernment about God’s call to each one of us. Many of the people in the group have had difficult discernment processes. As I talk about my own experiences, I find more and more people beyond the group who have had difficult processes. One person asked if any of us had things that happened to us that we wish we could help prevent from happening to others. So far, my process has gone pretty smoothly, but I remain vigilant for the bump in the road.
I started to write a comment, but as I thought about it, it seemed like this would be better as a blog post.
Years ago, friends of mine had a child die during childbirth and we all had difficulty processing the grief. Some other friends were folk musicians, and wrote a song about it. "The fallen that has fallen has given up its sweet perfume..."
If I recall the chorus started, "When every yes is answered, with a no not understood..."
Those of us seeking discernment believe we have been called to something beyond what we are currently doing. Often, it includes the belief that we are being called to the ordained priesthood. It is often with great struggle that we get to the point of being able to say “Yes”.
For many of us, e.e. cummings captured this well in his poem which starts
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
In my process, I often talk about experiences I had when I was younger with very devote people convinced of God’s will for them and for others, who would say to me something that started with a phrase like “God told me to tell you that you should … “
How do you respond to something like this? It finally occurred to me that the best response I could give would be something like, “Praise God! Pray that God tells me the same thing.”
To a certain extent those of us in the discernment process may be seen as saying, “God has told us that we are supposed to become priests”, and the discernment process should be answering, “Praise God! Pray that God tells the community and the church leadership the same thing.”
The problem is, the seeker and the church community may not be hearing the same thing, and we run into difficulties.
The discernment manual for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut suggests using Guidelines for Mutuality as part of the process. These guidelines talk about trying on new things, about how it is okay to disagree, and the importance of both/and thinking.
It seems like this is the real challenge that discernment committees and commissions on ministry need to struggle with when answering the seekers yes with a no not understood. How do we help people who feel called to some sort of ministry that we might not believe are called to ordained priesthood to not hear a “no not understood”, but to hear and accept disagreement, a call to try on something new, a “yes, God is calling you to something special,. Let’s work together to find it, even if it doesn’t include ordination.”
I know that my path is different from that of so many others exploring ordination for many different reasons. We are all seeking to serve in a changing church in a changing world. I look forward to exploring what might be down that path, whether or not it leads to ordination, and I hope that my experiences can be helpful to others, no matter what comes after that initial “Yes!”