15 January 2006

Zinnhead Priest

I've realized that the worst thing that the establishment of the Churches could do would be to send me to seminary. In sending me to seminary they set aside time for me to learn the history of the Churches, how beliefs were established and solidified, and where the power was and the relationship between power and orthodoxy.

They have helped me set aside time to learn that I am bound to those who differ from me. That those who claim all the answers need sisters and brothers who don't employ that kind of absurdity. That the establishment requires some kind of anti-establishment within it to keep it honest. That there are people waiting outside the doors to hear something compassionate from the pews, and waiting to see if the people will ever leave the pews and speak peace outside coffee hour. That I won't leave the Churches if I'm condemned as "un-orthodox," because that only means they are trying to convince me that I have no power. I don't believe them. I know that I am bound to the Churches, and to Christ, and to identifying the kingdom the way Christ did.

I can't be quieted with the threat of un-orthodoxy anymore. I can't be shamed by the father-figures of the Churches that they know best, that they own orthodoxy, that they own history. I won't be intimidated by those who complain about female priests as too affirming, too compassionate, too open, too feminine. I will continue to question white priests of black congregations. I will continue to challenge who is allowed to bless, and who defines a curse. I will not stop shuddering at patronizing sermons about poverty, racism, and "women's ministry."

The establishment has sent me to seminary and put me in touch with resources about oppression of all kinds, within and outside the Churches. And they've raised me up to question and challenge them, and call them on their patriarchy, classism, and racism, wherever I see it, whether in their stewardship campaigns, at their altars, in their classrooms, or how they meet for Conventions. What are the Churches preparing its members to do? This is why some of the Churches are emptying -- because they have not convinced them there is anything to worry about. The Churches that are filling persuade their members that safety, morality, and orthodoxy are all under fire. They are rightly scared that they do not own safety, morality, and orthodoxy anymore. Their soldiers will someday be forced to discover that their war is in vain, because poverty is moral, human rights are moral, lynchings are moral, oil spills and mining accidents are moral, and their views are so narrow they will self-destruct. Orthodoxy is about power. Justice is about Christ.

13 January 2006

Are You Being Served? (Are You Being Watched?)

Grades for my first seminary semester are out. I've been evaluated based on my work for these academic classes and my participation within them. What I have to show for my first semester of seminary is the same as what I had to show for my first semester of undergraduate work: four little letters.

Quickly I arrive at my own internal question: What processes of evaluation serve us, and which ones oppress us? My first semester of seminary was NOTHING like my first semester at ol' KU. There I was an over-confident, over-privileged suburban brat with holes in my jeans and a poster of Janis Joplin on my closet door. I mostly went to class, and did all the work required of me, but I never spent time reflecting on what I was learning. I didn't digest any of it beyond what I needed to write a clever essay on the material, and move on to the next one. I worked more than I went to school and spent it all without really planning, often not having enough even with what my benevolent parents gave me every month.

Seminary has been different. Putting myself through school and working our way through our savings is, of course, soberly motivating. I have spent much more time integrating the class work with my personal belief system, with my own personal headtrip psychological theological neurosis. I actually pulled aside classmates to work through concepts and historical lessons, and I started my papers long before they were due. The time beteween undergraduate and seminary was a short two years, but put quite a distance between the girl who finished her second red stripe at the pizza joint she worked at each night and smoked American Spirits until 3 in the morning ot finish her Greek homework and this person I am trying to be now, who does all (okay, most, and more most than ever before) her reading, writes all her papers early and edits them, and makes time to journal (electronic and paper, where the really juicy stuff is) and talks to her professors outside of class instead of ducking because I've skipped the last three classes to finish somebody else's assignments.

But the grades are the same. The same letters, and probably few people see the incredible difference between my work then and my work now, but it's a lot harder now. Now I can't write something unless I reasoned my way to it first, and made sure that's what I want to say before I say it. Now I go back and read the damned theology instead of quote-hunting to fit my thesis.

Those that took the General Ordination Exams for the Episcopal Church had many conversations about their experience, and I was particularly interested to hear their anticipation of how they would be graded. Some presumed to know the biases of the graders, and how their answers would be interpreted. The evaluation, then, had become key to the answering of theological, liturgical, historical (and so forth) questions. One of my professors told me yesterday he has to write a reflection on each student for each semester once classes are finished. At a round-table discussion this past semester, one of the faculty pointed out we are always in some state of evaluation -- by our teachers, our advisors, even our peers. We are being watched. The recruitment material at my seminary boasts "spiritual growth" as the #1 reason to attend it. "More than 75% of our recent graduates experienced strong personal growth in formation, spiritual life, trust in God, self-confidence, self-knowledge and clarity of vocational skills during their years at CDSP." How do we REALLY evaluate this kind of thing? There is a 2nd-year review here that encompasses those elements, but I can guarantee when I go through that process I'm going to be very influenced by what's going on spiritually and formationally THEN, and it will be hard to remember what was going on at the end of my first semester.

So, are we relegated to evaluate ourselves? How helpful is that? Is it our partners' jobs, or our close friends and family? They surely are affected by their own state of existence, and their own tribulations at the time. Is it my professors' jobs -?- because they don't know whether I wrote that paper in a cloud of Humboldt County weed or whether I pondered and researched and pushed the baby out. They may think they do, but my undergrad professors sure couldn't tell the difference!

How should we best evaluate ourselves? My journal chronicles many of my formational adventures, but there is some kind of law that dictates that when i need to write the most, i often write the least, and vice versa. My spiritual director? The Dean of Students? The person who makes my coffee at Brewed Awakening?

I've concluded that it is up to us to evaluate our level of emotional and spiritual health, because only we know how we have integrated academic, relational, spiritual, physical, economic, psychological, and emotional health in each stage of our lives. And learning to trust myself to evaluate myself might be the greatest challenege of all for me, who waits for the grades to tell me how I did, and longs to see those GRE scores, the essay grade, the annual job review. I don't tend to evaluate myself but only seek to please the evauators. And that's a practice whose time as come.