Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Debriding our wounds in faith community

During high school, college and seminary, I worked in my parents’ home health agency.  One of my tasks would be to procure fun supplies, including wound care products.  I loved browsing product catalogues to see what all these “next generation Band-Aids” could do.  Some contain silver, others contain pig tissue.  Still other wound care products included oxygen pumps or vacuums.  Whatever the specialty bandage would be, the directions included always begin the same: debride wound first.  That means the nurse and client need to agree together to experience some temporary pain before any healing can begin.  In no uncertain terms, the companies that produce these 21st century items state their products will provide limited benefit if the cause of infection remains in the wound.

I’m frequently asked why such emphasis is placed on Adult Religious Education (ARE) in our congregation all of the sudden.  In short: to debride wounds.

As liberally religious people, we come to The Unitarian Society seeking something.  For some of us, we come here because of our inter-religious marriage.  For others, we could no longer say the creeds with integrity; we needed a place that better resonates with us.  Some of us were told we were born with original sin, or that Jesus might not allow us into heaven if our gender matches that of our partner, or that we are unworthy of some eternal reward.   Those of us who had secular childhoods might come to The Unitarian Society for our children.  So here we are together, liberally religious, and sometimes very sensitive to the things that have wounded us in the past.  Our ministers and musicians, and the Worship and Music Committees shape our worship services at The Unitarian Society, which are absolutely wonderful.  Worship often salves our wounds.  The positive effects of attending worship will relieve some of us for a few days, weeks or even months.  Gathering during coffee hour or committee meetings can feel beneficial for us, too.  But those feelings of comfort, too, might have limited benefit if we do not address something deeper.

I’m no doctor, but I have exorcised my own deep spiritual wounds, and I will do so again if I need to.  I feel I can say as a survivor of spiritual abuse, “If pain persists, get rid of the cause of infection. Try Adult Religious Education!”

As a Unitarian Universalist congregation, we can and will explore all Six Sources of spirituality and belief during worship and religious education.  The repeated use of any particular Source does not indicate priority over any other Source but, for the sake of cultural competency, is called to our attention when they play some pivotal role in society at large.  Therefore, let us embrace all of our Sources: let us explore humanism in worship and RE, and let us quote the prophetic words of people such as Dr. King in worship and RE, and let us read texts that celebrate the earth and our relationship to it, and let us read non-UU texts that promote ethical living and love, and let us consider the ways in which UUs can directly encounter truth, and we will explore the Bible in worship and RE.  Failure to do any of the above threatens to make us religiously conservative, exclusive, and precisely what many of us came here to escape: being closed-minded.  When we look at these Sources, we always do so with a critical eye, without creed, in rational consideration, and in order to build-up our entire faith community.  We quote these Sources not to harm those who have been wounded, but in love for the community and to point to some truth beyond our wound.  Naturally, some of us will be attracted to one Source above the other, but our community must never reject even one of these Sources.  And if we are tempted to do so, then we know we have hurt and pain that must still be debrided, then healed.

Consider the Sankofa way.  Said UU minister, Dr. Michelle Bentley, “Sankofa is a West African Akan word and concept that means, ‘We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward: To better understand why and how we came to be who we are today.’”  Instead of rejecting our past, let us strive to become integrated selves are reclaim every virtue in our past.  Instead of living outside ourselves, let us find virtue in the religion of our dominant culture, even if some aspects of the monotheistic West irritate us.  We can’t extract ourselves from our culture, but rather our congregation has covenanted to transform our culture into a unified world community characterized by peace, liberty and justice for all that has or gives life (6th Principle). 

Anyone who ever said “being UU is easy” is wrong.  Being religiously liberal requires putting the spiritual yearnings of the congregation above our own sensitivities.  It requires more than tolerance.  It requires love without condition. 

It is time to confront our wounds and to move forward in faith.  We can go much deeper.  Not everyone will go on this journey, but we should not prevent others from exploring a Source that might benefit them in their moment of need.  My hope is that our ARE courses will bring healing to your soul and allow freedom to enjoy worshipeven when the music or sermon makes reference to a text that once hurt you.   Let us grow and heal and care for the wounds of each other, as one people of faith.  This is our privilege as a liberally religious congregation.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A belated eulogy for Wendi Roper

Today, I learned that one of my best friends passed away.  She had "an accident" about the same time my mother died in a car crash, but Wendi had been in a coma since then.  There is a cloud of mystery surrounding the nature of Wendi's accident (meaning I don't know anymore whether it involved a car).  All I know is that Wendi is gone.  I had planned for Wendi to be in my wedding party next summer, and Kevin and I will certainly proceed with special reflection on the lives of Wendi and my mother at the ceremony.

I have so many thoughts whirling through my mind today.  The tragic news of Wendi's death and the approaching hurricane along the Eastern seaboard where I reside reminds me of the perpetual nearness of mortality.  My life could easily pass this weekend, but that awareness must not paralyze me in my daily activities.  I have to make sure I stay healthy, and drive away from the hurricane if it gets too close, and treat my life with the respect and value it has inherently.

Wendi Roper's life gave me life.  During my junior and senior year at Olivet Nazarene University, Wendi was a steadfast friend.  She loved me when others rejected me due of my sexuality.  Wendi and I were inseparable my senior year: working at Lonestar Steakhouse, quoting Zoolander, taking roadtrips, wondering together what it will be like when we lose our virginity (with someone other than each other), planning our lives together...  I spent so much time with her that I paid tribute to that fact in the activities profile of my senior yearbook.  Look-up the 2002 ONU yearbook; I list "WCBS" among other legitimate campus activities, in honor of an inside joke with Wendi, which I presume she took with her to the grave. 

I remember an unseasonably warm February 19, 2001, when Wendi wished to honor my 21st birthday.  Olivet is "dry" campus, and I had never had liquor anyway (other than sips from my mother's wine glass with her permission).  Wendi cleverly purchased Daiquiri Ice from Baskin Robbin's, a popular Midwestern ice cream chain.  It took me a long time to eat it, so I arrived to choir practice late.  The dirty look and loss of clout gained from our unpleasant choral conductor was well worth the extra time with Wendi.

Wendi also taught me how to respect myself and listen to my body.  She was my first friend to own a pair of "butt jeans," and she introduced me to the tanning salon.  That was a short-lived fad for me, though I think maybe she continued without me.

In every single picture I have from my graduation, she appears in it with my mother and father.  She is my family of choice.

I also remember preaching at her Nazarene church in Peoria for a weekend (three services, I believe).  The sanctuary was very warm in the Sunday evening service, and the people were inattentive.  Yet, Wendi sat in the front pew like a dear family member and complimented me afterward.

The last time I saw Wendy, she was in the hospital.  Like my mother, Wendi had worked in, been a patient in, and died in a hospital.  She worked as an intern, then as an advocate, then as a social worker, also as a patient, and an active participant with a recovery program.  I note irony when health care and social service providers lose their lives in the institutions that once relied on their healing abilities.  In fact, my mother was on her way to heal others at the hospital when her car crashed.  I am still unclear on the circumstances surrounding Wendi's "accident."  Regardless of how it happened, she ended her life a devoted churchgoer, a talented waitress, an empathetic social worker, and an irreplaceable friend.  No one can replace her and who she was for me.

May your coma-tormented body and your larger-than-life soul find peace, and may you family find closure  and rest.  I love you always and will miss you, my dear Wendi.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pride and Prejudice... and Multiracial Ambiguity

A few years ago, I visited Chicago after being away for three short months. I had recently moved to Kenosha, WI to serve a UU congregation as Director of Religious Education and teach a college course. I returned to the Chicago rarities I frequented, including Medici on 57th, Nookie's Tree and the Seminary Coop Bookstore. My hair was getting long, so of course I went back to my favorite guy-in-a-barbershop business on Broadway. I liked this barber for two reasons. First, he likes real conversation and always entertains. He's not like those college student stylists and Great Clips who feel they must work for their tips by chattering. This guy talks politics, religion and all the topics I appreciate. Second, he knows how to cut Asian hair, as he himself is Asian. There are so many cool hairstyles I have wanted, but my head would never cooperate.  I know I look Latino or Greek or Persian or something exotic--not Asian.  Still, I have strong Filipino genes. My hair needs to be cut either very short or very long. Anything in-between gives that legendary "Asian hair" that "white people hair products" simply cannot tame.  Sorry, Crew brand.  The shape of my haircut must never be blended, or else a horizontal spike grows around the sides of the head and on the top.

This guy went to Great Clips:

Frequenting this guy-in-a-barbershop storefront had always ensured my hair would look nice for the next three weeks, and I always complimented him on knowing what to do with my Asian hair.  He always thanked me and told me my mother raised me well.  I always tipped well.

You know how those Great Clips college students pretend they remember how you liked your hair cut, even though you have never visited that location before?  Well, an Onion News in Photos installment riffs on this phenomenon.  But, apparently, Great Clips is not the only forum for this white lie.  When I returned to my barber on Broadway shortly after leaving Chicago, he said he knew me and that he remembered how I like my hair.  I continued our normal discussions and told him I couldn't wait to have my "'Asian hair' cut" again.  There was silence in the barbershop.  Tension.  He paused for a few seconds, then he asked me what I said.  I repeated that he really knows how to cut "Asian hair."  For about eight minutes, he was silent.  No talk of politics or religion.  No eye contact, just trimming.  I tipped well, and he took my money.  I left the shop, though, with one of the worst haircuts I had ever received.  When I got back to Wisconsin, I had to do more trimming, but my bangs were too short, and the sides and top were all wrong...  Then I realized: he had probably been too proud to admit that he didn't remember me, though I had visited only a few months prior.  He pretended to know all about me, and I assume his intention was to make me feel welcomed.  When I resumed our conversations that he indicated he remembered, he probably picked-up on the fact that I was telling him that I like how Asian people cut my hair, but of course he missed the fact that I am also Asian.  I look Latino or Greek or whatever.  Taking his false cue, of course I did not remind him that I am, in fact, half-Asian and that my hair is a gift from my Asian mother.  He must have assumed that I am racist, and he punished me by butchering my hair in a way that would make any Great Clips stylist blush.

In our categorically oriented society, any exception of a norm requires apology and explanation.  We like normativity, which creates bigotry on both sides.  With heteronormativity, gay people have to "come out" (read: apologize) to their parents because they have no chemistry with people of the opposite sex, and bisexual individuals have to advocate for their existence to both heterosexual and gay/lesbian communities.  Mixed-race individuals can be rejected or unrecognized by those who share our ethnicity.  The barber on Broadway helped me understand that.  With racial purists, some white people pretend that Obama has nothing to do with them, and some black people pretend that any opposition to Obama is racially motivated.    People on both sides of the political aisle have said terrible things about Obama and race.  These violators are all bigoted and oppressive.  They are like barbers and stylists who make damaging assumptions about a multiracial President.  Whether they are non-mixed black or non-mixed white supporters of Obama, they tokenize Obama as a racial object to support, and that bigoted act dehumanizes Obama.  (Unfortunately, the mainstream media rarely attacks Obama's supporters as tokenizing and dehumanizing Obama.)  Similarly, non-mixed white detractors who create slightly clever bumper-stickers about "A village in Kenya is missing an idiot" are also dehumanizing Obama.  Both experiences are equally racist.

Given the above, I understand.  I really do.  Yet, I object.  We are no longer living at the dawn of the 1900's. We are in the second decade of the third millennium in the common era.  Regardless of whether one is completely heterosexual or perfectly gay, purely black or totally Caucasian, we need to get beyond this categorical thinking.  Our inability to do so creates destruction.  Whether it is political destruction or an embarrassing haircut, it is our pride that disables us.  Our pride makes us look weak and incapable.  When we embrace the full complexity of humanity, then we are strong.  Our failure to look beyond the binary or the categorical has created the political hostility during this national downturn. I have a feeling that this period of economic downturn and the racial contentiousness will be the reason posterity looks back at this generations as another "Great Depression."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Towards a UU Doctrine of Wholeness

I still receive alumni publications from my Bible college, Olivet Nazarene University, which had prepared me for my short-lived career as “Local Minister.”  With the arrival of the latest issue of The Olivetian, the school and its doctrine are freshly in my mind.

My former denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, is a part of the “holiness movement” and has strong historical ties to abolitionism.  At the beginning of the 1900’s, a large percentage of Nazarene ministers were female.  Unfortunately, the social justice orientation of the denomination stagnated in the early 1900’s, and archaic regulations preclude ‘homosexualist’ involvement in religious education.  That’s how you got stuck with me!  Unusual practices survive as relics from days before the Model-T, including abolitions against consuming alcohol, viewing motion pictures and playing games of chance with cards that have faces on them.  Yes, ladies and gentleman, that is my religious heritage.  However harshly I may criticize their war against culture, I find that the doctrine of holiness has real implications for our liberal religion.  In my personal humanistic worldview, the doctrine of holiness helps me illuminate humanist and other theologies.
Two basic distinctives for the doctrine of holiness promote entire consecration to the service of God, then the belief that such consecration brings peace and freedom from sin.  If salvation is the first work of grace and a gift from Jesus, then this “sanctification” becomes a second work of grace and a gift from the Holy Spirit.  Undoubtedly, Unitarian Universalists will reject the necessity for salvation, since we promote the inherent worth and dignity of all humans, and some of us will object to the proposition that a work of grace can be a work of a divine entity.  Granted that a divine entity cannot be directly responsible for this work of grace, can we still assess the doctrine for its merits?
Consider the assertion that Unitarian Universalists, for the most part, already consecrate their lives to the service of humankind, through struggles of justice and acts of compassion.  Our Denomination’s “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign provides a public stage on which our members may advocate for fair immigration trails and marriage equality, not to mention our heritage as abolitionists, suffragists, and desegregationists.  Locally, our congregation has also participated in endeavors to abolish capital punishment.  One may argue that the Church of the Nazarene might look a lot like the Unitarian Universalist Association if it cared to revise its doctrinal statements after slavery. 
Also, consider the idea that living for the service of humankind offers peace to the world and spiritual freedom.  You may have heard that simple practices like giving to charity and “thank you” helps us feel free, if not empowered.  It would not be a leap, therefore, to say that consecrating our lives to the service of humankind offers the world peace and frees the soul within.  This is my doctrine of wholeness.
Why do I write this theology?  Today, the UUA staff reported the following:
Adult membership in the Unitarian Universalist Association in the United States has declined for the second consecutive year following many years of positive though nearly flat growth. Enrollment in children’s religious education programs also dropped this year, continuing a slow decline that began in 2002. […] Many Protestant denominations also reported declines this year, including the Southern Baptist Convention, -.24 percent; United Methodist Church, -.98 percent; Episcopal Church -2.81; and United Church of Christ -2.93. Five denominations reported increases. Jehovah’s Witnesses is up 2 percent, Church of God 1.78, Latter-day Saints 1.71, Assemblies of God 1.71, and Roman Catholic Church 1.49. These figures are from the National Council of Churches 2010 yearbook. http://www.uuworld.org/news/articles/160696.shtml
Our mission is to serve the world and each other.  Even ancient Christianity, before the Council of Nicea, believed with St. Paul, that we are collectively God’s Temple, and with Jesus, that whatever we do in charity we do unto God.  Our heritage in ancient Christianity and our unique identity as a liberally religious congregation tell us that we ought to solemnly consider our purpose as people who reach out.  We risk neglecting the concerns of the world, yes.  More importantly, we risk the stagnation and loss of identity that the Church of the Nazarene has experienced since the early 1900’s.  We know our mission.  For the sake of our movement and our religious education programs, my hope is that we use campaigns such as Standing on the Side of Love to impact the world in a new and profound way.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Not cast away

Living in isolation is no fun.  Just ask Tom Hanks’ character in the film Castaway.  Sometimes, having affiliation with a movement so often regarded as a “heretic Protestant denomination” makes a Unitarian Universalist feel like s/he is a star of a Tom Hanks sequel.  UUs who are teachers, attorneys, researchers, middle management and executives are equal when presented that pesky question: “You’re a Uni-what?”  We scramble to give our best elevator speeches during the week, and we’re thankful to be back together on Sundays.

It’s not just adults who share this situation.  Children and youth get the same question, even though they’re quite familiar with early Unitarians and Pilgrims from Social Studies class.  At school, the social pressures of missing a common bond with other practicing UUs might cause added anguish.  We are fortunate to have a larger medium-size RE program in which the children and youth have many friends that share their values.  Part of the joy of being together involves not having to explain our living tradition and why we’re not remotely Jewish or even traditionally Christian.  (Though we cover the basics here, we quickly move into the social justice implications of our pluralistic faith, which non-UU education programs frequently avoid.)  For the child or youth who just wants to fit in at a school with few UUs, however, being a religious liberal can be a sacrifice.

I am very happy that member congregations of the Clara Barton District UUA have planned two distinct events to reach youth and middle schoolers, coming this month and next.  This first event is a mini-Con that will take place at USNH on Saturday, February 27, beginning at 9:00am.  Youth members of the planning team are Talia Erris and Joe Gayeski, while David Jones adds the parent perspective.  Joining USNH are the RE staff and youth of the UU congregation in Northampton and Florence, MA.  We expect that youth who feel isolated from their peers at school will find comradely with several dozen other high schoolers who are also pumped to be UU… or who might consider staying UU if they can make the right connections.  While youth Cons and mini-Cons still cannot reach every isolated teenage soul who needs to feel a sense of belonging, it’s a great “next step” towards meeting that need.

The second event is Clara Barton District’s annual Middle School Youth Rally, to be held in Hartford, CT on Saturday, March 6, beginning at 9:00am.  Workshops range from pizza making to a youth choir , which I will direct.   Transportation will be provided for those who sign-up.  Registration forms and information are available from the teachers of our two middle school RE classes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Moses' 11th plague, or medical leave as spiritual practice

Yesterday, I started writing a poem about Sabbath and how wonderful it is for ordained and lay ministers to enjoy their day off.  Overpowering my desire to be creative, however, was that drone lack of concentration that accompanies the cold or flu. Instead of finishing my poem, I put my head down on the pillow of the couch for what I thought would be a few moments.  Two hours later, I woke up feeling congested and guilty.

Today, instead of attending a staff meeting, I called-in sick.  Apparently I sounded disoriented on the call.  My persistent cold symptoms and my compliance with my body's nagging really surprised me.

What is it about self-care that makes us feel guilt when we give-in when my body tells me to take it easy?  Why would we feel shame in the midst of modeling exemplary "right relations" with our immune systems?

The dilemma has something to do with a conflict between the American imperative to be productive vs. the Sabbath.  Today, I had literally 36 emails I wanted to read and respond to this Wednesday morning and a planning meeting that would have influenced the next six months for my RE program's Family/Intergenerational ministries.  In other words, it was just another day at the office, but I was very much looking forward to accomplishing these routine though foundational tasks.  When things depend on us, but our bodies won't let us be dependable, the American tradition of productivity grinds to a halt. 

Perhaps there is a different cause for our guilt.  Many of us were raised under the Mosaic commandment, "Thou shalt honor the sabbath day to keep it holy."  It is possible that part of the dilemma of conscience we feel is the conflict between being productive vs. the Mosaic commandment that we must rest and reflect, in order to follow the pattern that the books of Moses established for God's created order.  What insight have the writing communities of Moses' books obtained with regard to the body/spirit and the need for rest as a way to honor our covenant with God?

Traditionally, the monotheistic people of Moses' time were Egyptian slaves who, like the American workforce, would have felt tremendous pressure to be as productive as possible.  Resting, therefore, is counter-cultural both for the Hebrew monotheists as for the American workforce.  Whether to honor God or to help us get over our colds, we can take comfort in knowing that the desire to keep working has been a dilemma of conscience plaguing the Judeo-Christian world for at least 6,000 years.

What is the answer?  Whether we like it or not, we are all subject to that commandment of "thou shalt." This is not to say we will burn in a lake of fire if we fail to take a sick day, but it is to say quite confidently that our cultural, if not religious, situation confronts us with two competing values.  So, to congratulate a student for having perfect attendance may be rewarding an important character-trait, dependability, at the peril of honoring our bodies or our Lord.  Contrarily, to reward individuals unproductive work might easily be abused.

It all boils down to the agreements we make.  Whether we agree to follow the Mosaic Law or accept a job with limited sick day benefit, we must follow through on the commitments we make.

So, I will reply to those three dozen emails and reschedule that foundational meeting, which will probably compound the number of tasks in my Microsoft Outlook for the next three days.  I am blessed to work for a congregation that values my commitment to care for myself.  Keeping this sick-day Sabbath has also helped me reflect on covenanted living--horizontally, vertically and inwardly.

Therefore, the final element of the Sabbath is integration.  The anxiety of the dilemma of conscience begins to disappear when our religious, cultural and workforce expectations become integrated with the self-expectation.  The guilt dissolves and the healing begins.

For the secular American workforce, may we make peace with the counter-cultural precedent set by Moses and embrace this commandment to be good to ourselves.  As Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, "You were bought at a price; therefore honor God with your body."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

To will one thing.

When I held more orthodox Christian beliefs, it would have been easy for me to articulate the one thing I pursued.  The answer was "Jesus."  Now, as a member of a congregation affiliated with Unitarian Universalism, which many regard as heretical or even "a cult," I find refuge with those who appear to will more than one thing. What is it UUs seek, and why do our congregations seem so darn heretical?  What attracts me to an apparently schizoid movement?

Kierkegaard writes that remorse is a guide that calls out to the wanderer that he should take care.  It is precisely the divided mind that makes a person seek to be centered in all that we call Love.  This being of two minds can lead us towards feeling remorse for past transgressions, perhaps, or more generally, simply lacking integrity.  Kierkegaard argues that, in confession, one becomes at one with himself.  Kierkegaard argues that a mediator--an outside actor--is necessary to make an individual whole again.  In Protestant and some Orthodox churches, the mediatrix is Jesus.  In Roman Catholicism or other Orthodox traditions, a priest or deceased "saint" may hear our confession or bring our petition to the foot of God for us.  For secular humanist, a confessor might be a psychologist.  Well, what about folks like me?  What about religious, humanistic Christians?  For us, we still have a mediatrix.  We call him by the name of Christ, but our Christology becomes inseparable from our ecclesiology.  If traditional Christians took seriously the call to become the hands and feet of Christ, they too would connect their Christology to their ecclesiology.  Yes, the congregation is the one who becomes our confessor--not that we actually share personal gossip with our fellow members of Christ's body--but that our common struggles, our joys and sorrows, our shared outrage at dehumanizing transgressions against civil and human rights, and our shared vision for the kin-dom of God become different criteria we apply to a single thing we will: unity.  

If it seems that UUs seek more than one thing, it is only because the certainty of creedal language can disguise the truly schizoid nature of orthodoxy.  The seeming disunity of Unitarian Universalism only serves to expose the shallowness of orthodoxy.  What is it that orthodoxy seeks?  Is it belief for the sake of belief, or to see Jesus in the afterlife?  And if it is the latter, is it in order to be united with Jesus, or is it to excape punishment?  

Kierkegaard's admonition to seek one thing challenges us all.  It makes me reflect upon my preparation towards ordination in this new denomination.  Have I stripped away all the distractions from nurturing the Body of Christ, or am I still struggling with orthodoxy?  Am I engaging the congregation in order to become one with myself, as Kierkegaard invites me to do?  I must confess more with the kin-dom of God.  I need to forgive my debtors.  I have responsibility in bringing "thy will be done on Earth..."  Where it seems that this response divides my thinking, it is an effort to create more of one single thing: unity.

So, I still desire Jesus, or even Christ, but that means more now than it meant ten years ago.  Jesus has been fleshed out.

Friday, January 15, 2010

This sickness unto death

Ministry is not for the faint of heart. When I first began pursuing the religious vocation to serve the church, I was under the impression that the louder I preached, the more the Holy Spirit's anointing was over me. For many, the "loud-mouthed preacher" archetype still represents authority. I have found that the full power of words becomes manifest in what is said softly.

All people who work directly with people in a church should have a call to do the work of the people. OK, anyone reading this who has ever worked in a church realizes how easily this statement can be romanticized. See, we encourage people to cast their burdens unto Jesus and so forth. That can also be a problem. For clergy who are not individuated selves, this call to worship becomes our career's benediction: ministerial suicide--especially since our ecclesiasiology tells us that we become the hands and feet of Christ.

Doing the work of the church (or God's work) is really difficult when the demands of the outside world pull on the hearts of the faithful all week long, then are brought into the church and displaced onto those who work in the church. The frustrations of marriage, unfair circumstances at work and financial woes all come to church with the people who attend church. When they are not voiced in Joys and Sorrows but are instead cast upon those who work in church--in blame or anger--then the price of the call to ministry increases dramatically.

While I would love to say, "Depart from me, you evildoer," the words of Jesus, "Pick up your mat and walk," are the only words worthy of this situation. The goal of ministry is to care for people, yes, and that care must help people pick themselves up. That can be accomplished by setting clear boundaries, modeling integrity and helping people find spiritual renewal.

I have no sagacious words to share here other than a call to love thy neighbor--even thy enemy. Unfortunately, not all members of the church will appreciate the church worker's self-sacrifice in order to remain in ministry. It is the task of the minister to find edification and reinforcement elsewhere. However we feel about those to whom we minister, church worker must respond with an empathetic ear, the love of the crucified God, and when all else fails, a stiff drink.