Earlier, I posted about the community which has emerged as a result of the experience of sitting in for, and eventually being turned down for, a Pride Parade permit in Seoul (see Part One). Something more important that has come through to me during this experience, is a part of my faith which has been long dormant, even when I was still active in the church.
This discovery began while I took part in an Emerging Church Leaders course; it was a six-week course put on by MCC (one of the groups our congregation is affiliated with) for people like me who are helping to lead Emerging Churches, or who are thinking about doing so. In it, we covered things like ‘Church Planting and Development’, ‘Ensuring Diversity’, ‘ Developing Leaders’, and ‘Branding and Marketing’ (I still prefer using words like ‘Identity’ and ‘Evangelism’!). We also worked on Personal Spiritual Formation. As part of this, we did a personal spiritual inventory, finding out where our style of spirituality fits along four parameters. Now, I will admit I have some trouble with the parameters chosen (Head, Heart, Mystic, Advocate) because I believe it leaves out one important aspect – the body! It felt like something was missing. Nonetheless, I did the inventory.
I found out that I have healthy doses of ‘Head’, and ‘Mystic’ about me (no surprises there), but the parameter strongest in me is ‘Activist’…WAIT A MINUTE! Is that for real? I, the liturgical geek of the congregation, the one who is jokingly called ‘the bishop’ (someone even talked about getting a miter and staff for me!), the one who much prefers Taize to Hillsong – an ‘Activist’ at heart?!?!? What the – ?!?!?!
Then, I looked back at my faith journey. Who inspired me the most in my home congregation? My Intermediate Sunday School teacher, who took Sunday school materials on poverty, Christology, the communion of saints, and communications and made them real to an 11-year old kid. She also let us listen to Jesus Christ Superstar when it was scandalous to do so in church. My minister during that time, was priestly in his worship leadership, but also had an eye to what was going on in the world. I’ve figured that out because people in my congregation complained about how ‘political’ he was, and ‘why couldn’t he talk about the simple things of the faith?’ It also helped that I grew up in a denomination (the United Church of Canada) that was outward-looking; unafraid to elect women as Moderators; producing ministers who cared about justice in the world; willing to take stands on things like prison riots, a strike at Eaton’s, and South Africa; and willing to tackle aspects of that word which was still dirty when I was growing up – sex.
Therefore, when I entered university and started my theological formation, I naturally gravitated towards justice concerns. I became active with Project Ploughshares, I signed petitions, I attended rallies against nuclear weapons. I really listened when I heard the references to justice in the Catholic masses I attended. I gladly embraced liberation theology.
Then, I had a summer pastoral charge in rural Newfoundland. People got bored with me quoting Allan Boesak and Desmond Tutu, and they didn’t care much about what was happening at the WCC Assembly in Vancouver. I got involved with someone who was more conservative. It didn’t help that we were on opposite sides of ‘the Issue’. I ended up marrying her. Then came another pastoral charge in rural Newfoundland, where they were concerned for ‘soul salvation’ and thought ‘Lord of the Dance’ was scandalous. A stupid call to an open-line radio call-in show more or less sealed my fate there.
Then, on to Toronto, where completing my Bachelor’s degree and getting into theological college were paramount. I had to take on a part-time pastoral charge to finance my MDiv, so learning and making it from Sunday to Sunday took precedence. And then, when it became clear that ordination wouldn’t work for me, it was another move – first to Nova Scotia, then to Asia, and the eventual drift away from the church, my first marriage, and general spirituality (that could be an entry in itself).
So, when I came back to the church, I went back to what was familiar – the liturgical nature of the Anglican church, and then at my current church, bringing what I learned about preaching and worship presiding there. I think it’s not too conceited to say I’ve still got it, although I prefer the holiness language of still ‘having an anointing’. Nonetheless, my experience with the Namdaemun-gu sit-in has revealed to me that I still have a great passion for being active in the causes which, to me, express what the essence of the Gospel is about – standing with ‘the least of these’, seeking justice and resisting evil, living out self-giving love (agape, αϒάπη), forming community with others, encouraging the fainthearted, proclaiming with word and deed that Jesus, not the domination system of our day, rules. I know all these things sound high and lofty, but these are things I’ve experienced in the last couple of weeks.
I’m grateful for being able to recover something I’d forgotten I had – it’s like re-discovering muscles you forgot about while working out, another new thing I’ve been doing recently. I hope I never lose the ability to use them, in either case..