A couple of nights ago I wrote about rage and within five minutes, took the post back down. In the morning, I had read a piece of writing on the website of Postcolonial Networks. This organization was founded by my colleague and collaborator in ministry, Joe Duggan. For the past two years, Joe and I have had a sustained conversation, sometimes weekly, about the ministry I was engaged in and the work of the church. My dialogue with Joe has called me to consider the intersection between my life and the Gospel in ways that quite radically confront my own willingness to accept the status quo and the ways the Episcopal Church defines what it means to be the “Body of Christ”.
To see my own role in patterns of idolatry, exclusion and paternalism is hard but also the more hopeful part of my work. On the thirty day retreat, in the “cotidianidad” of my ministry (the daily-ness) sometimes in small, sometimes in really significant ways, I have been my own witness to change and conversion so it is a path I trust and follow with real joy. My steps falter when I engage the larger structures of power. Last March, I discovered a blog, Women In Theology, and more particularly a theologian doing doctoral work at Vanderbilt, who gave me a framework for hope. She identifies herself as Bridget and she has given me a way to stay in ministry by stating that hope is “the conviction not that things will right themselves, nor that we’ll be able to right them, but that God’s power will work to overturn whatever wrongs our systems can devise” (WIT: Hope In the Storm Tossed Church).
For the place I find myself in, there is both a harsh critique and a glimmer of light. Even now, I want to right some things that went horribly wrong with the ministry I poured myself into for the past 7 years. Her critique pushes me to step back, as does the quiet voice of my friend Joe who insists on holding me accountable in ways that are especially tough because they are very gentle and kind. Over the past two days, I have had to come to terms with the realization that stepping back is stepping into the pathos, almost maudlin, if it weren’t so caustic, of what it means to live through a failure in ministry. Now, for some, that I should say the work has been a failure will be offensive. After all, the programs are still running on the campus of St Ambrose, we sing and pray and break bread together every Sunday, I still sit with grieving families to plan funerals and celebrate the children in our program who made honor roll this quarter. But we are also at what can only be described as a dead end and I can no more imagine what comes next for the ministries I have so loved than the two disciples on the way to Emaus could imagine two days after the crucifixion.
I learned to receive and accept the grief that accompanied the losses of the past few years in my life–losses that are the inevitable consequence of loving a mother, loving a daughter. Especially in the past two days, and especially after reading the conversation between Joe and Jason Craige Harris, this time, in the midst of loss, I am aware of rage. Deep, powerful, barely contained rage. I don’t do so well with rage. And at least part of the work I have been given to do now is to allow the rage a place in my life. I can no longer hide behind the magical thinking that claims I can’t rage because somehow that will prevent me from righting the things that went wrong within the NRRM.
I have also been looking at the workspace I created for myself in the past few weeks–the carefully calming blue, the clean white lines of my desk, the thoughtful cards on one of the shelves right in front of me, the chair and small table I set up to come to for refuge. Day before yesterday, after reading Joe and Jason’s work, I took some extra time to buy irises and daisies, a combination of flowers I’ve always loved. I put them in a small Swedish crystal vase I got from my mom when I was very young–maybe 10 or 11. It has an etching of a little girl sitting with her lips poked out; when se gave it to me, my mom told me it was fine, signed piece of crystal and described it as one of her gifts for my “Hope Chest” (?!?) for the day when I had my own home. That pretty little piece in turn reminded me of the two snuff bottles I inherited from her as well, that have been carefully put up to stay out of harm’s way in a household of dogs with big wagging tails and ham-handed husbands. I set them out on the table as well, and sat for a long while looking at that pretty still life tableau.
I had been filled with white-hot rage all morning and somehow, I thought what I was doing was a small act of self-consolation. My hermeneutics of suspicion now question that motive. I wonder if, along with a lot else, I inherited from my mom the instinct to surround myself with fine and beautiful things because that would help me contain and suppress anger. At the very least, I have been trained well because I sure would not have hurled those beautiful miniature works of art against the wall, though that was exactly what I wanted to do on Monday. I wonder: have I created this pretty–and bland–work space to quell and silence my own self more effectively than anyone else could?
There is plenty of academic research that disputes the value of cathartic rage, of allowing anger to spool out unchecked. I see the effects of rage up close and personal with the members of the marginalized community I serve, where domestic violence is devastating. All that makes me cautious. Besides–always wanting to do things right, and be constructive, I want to do rage right as well. But for now, I have a sense that it is crucially important to my own spirit that I allow rage an honest space in my life. Last night, when I was out walking, I called one of my dearest friends and we got to talking about all this–he had actually read my previous rage post before I took it down. Len is a gifted artist and pushed against my impulse to gloss over and change the subject when it all started getting raw again as we talked. He also gave me the link to an artist from Mexico who explores death and devastation in some astounding ways. She works with pastels–the quintessential medium of demureness–in the most beautiful, powerful, subversive, raging ways. This morning, I have been spending time with her Juarez series. A small first step.