At a Zoom meeting a few weeks ago, Bishop Bickerton of the NYAC asked attendees three questions: How do we effectively address and dismantle systemic racism within our denomination and in the world? How are we to overcome the coronavirus crisis? How do we prepare for “amicable separation” after the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace is put into effect, allowing churches to go separate ways over the issue of the LGBTQ clergy ordination? One attending clergywoman asked to add to a wider discussion the sexism that still challenges women in ministry, especially in Korean churches. Bishop was empathic toward the Korean American pastors serving in multi-racial congregations and he thanked them for keeping up the good work in difficult settings.
It was both humbling and eye-opening to hear how different each ministry context can be. Humbling, because I realized how narrow is the scope of my experience and reasoning. Eye-opening, because it helped me see with greater respect all the hard and earnest work each pastor was giving in their respective settings. It must take a lot of self-giving commitment to wrestle with ministry realities all the while navigating through language and cultural differences, gender stereotypes, and racial/ethnic biases. And I reflected on my myopic tendency to think that Korean American immigrant church contexts are harsher to pastors.
I shared a thought as the meeting drew toward the end. “Being true to our commitment to resolve issues of racism, sexism, and denominational split requires that we first overcome the ‘us vs. them’ mentality. At the basic level, it means to trust that all parties are doing their best in the given situation. Furthermore, it means that we stand in solidarity as partners and work together to solve the problems.” I said this hoping that our discussions would go beyond merely laying out problems and bring out specific and actionable proposals for solution.
I find it important that we make friends with actionable facts. The comments and feedback we give each other are either actionable or unactionable; and it is usually the latter that is constructive in nature.
Those who see a prophet in Francis of Assisi say that his was a “soft prophecy” – a way of life that was counter to the ways of the world, rather than direct and challenging words of judgment. We’ve heard the stories that Francis treated all living creatures with kindness, and that his gentle love had the power to tame even wild beasts. We all want the world to change. But Jesus calls us to change the world through the change of our lives, right from where we are, starting from little things we can do with people around us. So Jesus ate and drank with sinners and the sick; he talked with them and healed them. That’s how Jesus brought the kingdom of God to us. That is how the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. This is the blessing of God’s kingdom, Jesus explained to questioning John the Baptist. Through following Christ and living in his presence we experience the kingdom of God, both already and not yet.
The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented crisis, but God lives and continues to work in us and through us. We need to open our eyes and hearts to the life-giving, life-sustaining work of Jesus Christ happening in every given moment. The saving power of Jesus is with us all the more faithfully today, here and now.