My Facebook page transformed overnight from a place of support and encouragement to one of harassment and cruelty. It is clear that some people do not appreciate my challenge to long-held traditions—traditions they rely on to make sense of the world around them. My ministry threatens their worldview, and so they lash out in an effort to keep things stable and familiar.
I have been diligently praying through the comments and reactions, trying to discern whether and how to respond. I have to take the time to sort through the emotions that rush to the surface. I ask the Spirit to look with me, to teach me about myself, about the situation, about the path forward. Only when I reach a place of inner freedom do I respond with loving kindness to those who degrade me. I do this in a true effort to make a respectful connection across the great chasm of difference between us.
I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, perhaps it is a waste of time. Have I really changed anyone’s mind? Also, it is draining, and it is particularly demoralizing to see this behavior from women--especially young women--who have internalized the Church's sexism so completely that they actually believe women are deficient. On the other hand, it’s important to show what female priests experience. The anger. The derision. The hatred. The disrespect. There it is, in black and white: the tangible effects of a Church doctrine that teaches inequality. There is no denying the darkness. And practically? Well, its good practice: I need to sharpen my chops. I want to be like Rev. Shanon Sterringer, who swooped in on my page and blasted these folks with both barrels. She is so educated, so competent and so articulate, no one can touch her. My goal is to be like that. After all, the more support I gain, the more public condemnation I will receive. (I will really know I’ve made it when I start receiving death threats.)
An interesting effect of this ongoing harassment is that I feel much closer to Jesus--and in a new way. For the first time, I have a *tiny* taste of his particular experience of rejection and humiliation. In my prayer we were sitting together on the trunk of a fallen tree at the edge of a meadow. He looked at me and with a wry smile said, “It’s not that fun, is it?” Shaking my head, I chuckled, “No, it isn’t.” He skooched closer, threw his arm over my shoulder, and we laughed. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I got you.”
What I realized this week on a visceral level is that I have to come to grips with the reality that an important part of my ministry is enduring this abuse. I cannot let it eat away my spirit and my stomach lining. Instead, I must welcome it, purify it, and offer love back as a response--and to do all this as prayer... for the Church, for God, and for justice. This is the way of Jesus, and it is the only way the cycle of darkness can be broken.
It is perhaps true that most people would much rather have things remain the same--even if that means sacrificing the salvation God is so generously offering. But convincing people to change is not the point. As the reading this week from Ezekiel reminds us, God does not ask us to bring about results necessarily, but rather to be faithful to what God calls us to do--who God calls us to be. For the point is that, whether the people heed or resist, it is through us and our love that they shall know that God’s Spirit has been among them.