[Province VI Synod Sermon - A Message from Your Executive Council Representative - This sermon was delivered to the Province VI Synod on Friday, April 27th, in Omaha, Nebraska.]
Me Ke Aloha Pumehana. Aloha Kakou. Mahalo E Ke Akua No Keia La. Amen’e ~ I greet you with the warmth of my love. May there be love between us. Thanks be to God for this day. Amen.
I feel deeply honored to stand before you, Province VI’s very gifted and distinguished lay, clergy and episcopal leaders, to share some reflections on today’s scriptures and on my first triennium as the elected lay representative to Executive Council from our province.
I often tell people, when they comment on how many ministry arenas I seem to be present in, and how much I’m traveling, that my story is about being called for a season. Five years ago, I was not in this season, and perhaps, five years from now, I won’t be anymore, either. Spring sneaks up on me, typically not announcing itself in a big way, just giving hints that it’s around the corner. A brighter morning one day or the arrival of a few returning birds, maybe a single daffodil pushing through the dirt. Hints. Little changes that enwrap me and beckon me to attend.
I first stood for election to the Diocese of Colorado’s Standing Committee, a combined Standing Committee and Diocesan Council, and I was elected in 2007, and reelected in 2010. Then in 2008, I was elected first lay deputy alternate for the 2009 General Convention and elected for 2012 as third lay deputy. In the spring of 2009, I threw my hat into the ring for the Executive Council seat I now hold until 2015. And at my first Executive Council meeting, I was elected the Council’s representative to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Church Council, thereby sort of closing a circle, having been baptized, raised and confirmed as a Missouri Synod Lutheran.
Along the way, I have been an Education for Ministry mentor, a confirmation catechist, and a stewardship, planned giving, and leader educator. This kind of vertical and horizontal leadership in The Episcopal Church has afforded me a very unique view of our church that is also richly nuanced by the fact that I am a female, Asian woman of color, from a refugee-immigrant background. I conduct Anti-Racism Training wherever I am invited, building upon a lifetime of being a community volunteer and justice activist in Detroit, upstate New York, Berkeley, Honolulu, Amarillo, and Colorado.
I do my best to answer “YES” wherever God is calling me, because I have an abiding interest in the Gospel work of justice and peace, and a deep desire to share how much my life and my family’s life have been changed by following Jesus. I learned volunteerism from my father, who probably never thought of the word, “volunteer,” to describe himself, despite the fact that he was the Chinese cook who translated for the Chinese community members who didn’t speak, read or write English, working on their income tax returns, and accompanying their families through hospitalizations and immigration hearings.
Work done out of a desire to honor and to please others, work done with a thought for others’ benefit, work done with joy in one’s heart – that’s prayer in motion. We hear people say, “I lift up so-and-so in prayer.” The kind of work I’ve been describing – the servant posture of the foot washer, who honors and pleases another – is an incarnated lifting up of people in prayer.
The Epistle reading from 1 John 3 says, in my paraphrase: “Beloved daughter, love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. By this, you will know that you come from truth, and your heart will be reassured whenever you have doubts; for God overcomes your doubts, and God knows everything. If we’re not paralyzed and undone by our doubting hearts, then we will be brave before God, asking God for the bold desires of our hearts, such as justice and peace among those we encounter, because we will want to please God, which will make God’s heart sing.”
Shikata ga nai is a Japanese expression that means "nothing can be done about it," "it can't be helped," or, at its worst, "it's hopeless." Being an optimist to the tips of my toes, in fact, being someone who sees the cup as not just half-full, but full to overflowing, I am reluctant to subscribe to such a notion as Shikata ga nai. I prefer, instead, to think of occasions that cause such feelings to arise as "Lessons from Disappointment" as compared to "Lessons in Disappointment."
Surely none of us needs more lessons in disappointment; they come unbidden and unwanted. Dreams not only haven't come true; as we grow older, we learn that some dreams will never come true. Those dreams weren't bad. In some cases, their time has just passed. In other cases, those dreams were myths, promises that aren’t meant for everyone. I will never be fifteen again no matter how hard I wish it. The meme that I learned in my years of public school education that you will succeed if you only work hard enough and keep your nose clean, I also learned did not apply equally, or at all, to people with brown and black skin. How we relate to the world is very much about how we frame our perceptions of what we see and experience. Our choice of language to express our perceptions matters. Our choice of theology to ground our perceptions matters even more.
I prefer the posture found in the 23rd Psalm that says, “You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.”
On Executive Council, I have had the privilege of leading a team of three members who have been responsible for conducting a dispersed Anti-Racism Training for Council throughout the triennium. We have noted and tried to address some fundamental issues of Council members’ behaviors that do not match the moral and ethical standards which they espouse and strive to achieve. Certainly, racism and the goal to interrupt racism and eradicate its footprint on our expressions of church and society are multilayered, complex, and frequently convoluted to the point of resisting analysis, parsing, and deconstruction.
But one thing we know is this: how we talk to one another makes a difference. How we have holy conversations about difficult topics where we disagree vehemently, based on the theological, spiritual, and emotional ground on which we stand – the how of holy conversation – matters and can have a profound impact on how we continue walking together, or continue walking wounded and divided.
Think for a moment with me about the image in the 23rd Psalm. “You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me.” God invites me to a table filled with sustenance, food for the journey, and he invites me to that table in the presence of those who trouble me, who make me uncomfortable, who make me feel unsafe, who might be a danger to me, to my ego, to my property, to my beliefs that I hold dearly, to my physical well-being. “You have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.” God has anointed me and marked me as Christ’s own, and that anointing, that marking, is so fulsome, that my cup is running over. I am filled up and equipped, prepared for the journey, with enough, with everything that I need, so that I don’t have to worry about those who trouble me, anymore.
There are at least a couple of topics we will be addressing in this Synod meeting that are opportunities for Lessons from Disappointment. Council has expressed disappointment over the budget and the budget process. It is the disappointment that I want to look at.
“Disappointment” is the feeling of dissatisfaction that occurs when your expectations or hopes don’t come to fruition. You’re disappointed when you don’t get what you expected or what you wanted. In the vocabulary of modern slang, you would call disappointment a “fail.”
“Fails” almost always occur as a result of failures in human communications, in human relations. And “fails” are usually accompanied by a quick descent into blaming, diminishing, and justification along the lines of “Right and Wronged” – “I’m right, and I’ve been wronged.”
In Anti-Racism work, we talk in terms of having the “What you did was racist” conversation as being preferable and the right conversation to have, versus the “You’re a racist” conversation. The “What you did was racist” conversation is based on the facts of the behavior, while the “You’re a racist” conversation is based on your opinion, your judgment, which is open to dispute.
I think, in this time of tremendous change in society and in the church, we are being called to learn some Lessons from Disappointment that both invite us back to our fundamental identity as the Good Shepherd’s sheep and also invite us to partake of the wisdom from the margins, from the outer circles populated by the communities of color, from the blessed who are enumerated in the Beatitudes, who frame their perceptions differently than those who abide in the houses of privilege and the councils of power. The perception and use of resources like time and communications, like meeting configurations and silence, harken back to a restoration of Creation and God’s creatures. This is our Episcopal theology, that Christ has given us the ministry of reconciliation and restoration. When we resist taking up the yoke of that Christ-given ministry of reconciliation and restoration, our relationships get broken, our communications are impaired, and we are in a new Babel, where we speak but do not hear, hear but do not understand, and are in the company of our brothers and sisters, but not in relationship.
I’d like to leave you with a closing image. There are Turkish dancers, Sufis, commonly referred to as Whirling Dervishes. They whirl, turning clockwise, with their right hands, open, raised above their heads to receive God’s blessings, and their left hands, also open, pointed downward, to pour the blessings they have received, onto the rest of creation. This is a posture of relationship and connection. This is a prayer posture that acknowledges our interconnectedness, ubuntu, and says that being networked, connected to one another in mission and ministry, in stewardship of God’s great and gracious gifts, is a very good thing. Amen.