Sunday, July 27, 2014

2014.07.27 A Nun On The Bus

Last week we heard Simone Campbell, SSS (Sisters of Social Service) speak about her vision to work for dignity and justice for all people and her experience as a practical contemplative. Campbell is an attorney, lobbyist, executive director of Network, and the author of the book, A Nun On The Bus.



To say that she is a good speaker, would be to understate it. She is all flamed up with vision and praxis. The symbolic story in Exodus about the voice of God calling to Moses from a burning bush is her biblical metaphor for the voice of God: something quite ordinary that you see every day suddenly flares up. Moses' bush-voice begins with a statement of compassion: I hear your people’s cry and their needs. I’m aware of their suffering. I know. (The verb form of know in Greek used here is the same as the form for the intimate knowing that happens in sexual intercourse.) Whoa! There follow a suggestion, just when Moses is the most turned on, something like: “So now I am sending you to Pharaoh.”

What? Not me! I can't stand Pharaoh! I'm terrified of his power. I have no voice. Moses mightily resists.

Campbell said that transformation begins at the point of intersection between a vision of total compassion (through deep listening) and an equally forceful resistance to it. Head straight into the resistance to find the dangerous truth.

What do you resist the most? What do you eschew? Who gets the blame, self or other? Who or what would be on your “mistakes of God” list? (Campbell has a list. Some politicians are on it.) Who or what point of view would you have the most trouble dialoguing with?  What do you resist accepting, trying to listen deeply to?

Confession: I scorn Christians who think Jesus the Christ is the only Name, the only, authentic access to Godde. If I head into my resistance to this point of view I discover my impotence, my fear, my vulnerability, my anger, and my limited ability to change fixed mindsets, let alone accept or love those of such mindsets. BUT. . . I do think I could listen. Hang in til you find common ground, Campbell said, and from there build bridges. She was trying for common ground with Paul Ryan—not exactly her "type."  

About ten years ago or so, I tried to set up a dialogue between my liberal parish and a neighboring parish, which was rooted in exclusive Christian theology and politics. I framed the purpose as loving our neighbor’s and received assent for my proposal from the rectors of both parishes. I even recruited dialogue facilitators. It turned out that one of the rectors failed to help bring about the dialogue, causing it to collapse. Soon this rector left the parish to start his own ultra-conservative one, taking a lot of the moneyed with him. I can only assume he never intended to dialogue. All he wanted to do, he had said, was to preach Christ— his own point of view, his own Christ. (Is there such a thing?) We had common ground in our love for Christ; it just wasn't enough to build a bridge. 

As a pastoral counselor, I sometimes saw couples and families.  I would first invite and listen to each person’s story. I tried for experience, and usually got interpretation, according to each point of view. Usually everyone was doing the “Eden thing”— blaming everyone, including God and the snake, for their own pain, powerlessness, and anger at the unhappy dysfunction. Then I’d try to find a common ground—just one thing they all could agree upon so we could go from there. Sometimes we never got to the common ground. Sometimes deep listening was blocked and the vision of radical acceptance too much of a stumbling block.

If anyone wept, I knew there was room for the vision to begin. I would follow the tears. Tears would happen at the intersection of rugged resistance (fear) and deep listening that led to broken hearts, opened hearts, radical acceptance, and yes, good old love hidden underneath bushels of powerless resentment.

Campbell proclaimed that we are all in this project called life together! 100% of us in church and society. When she and others decided on a road trip to spread the vision and help the poor, no one later remembered who thought of that idea. No one remembered, but the flame came upon them from somewhere.

The practice of justice for all is, Campbell believes, the vision and story of the corpus of Holy Scriptures. She's not a contemplative, although she has a daily meditation. Contemplative meditation stills her (like when you stop shaking a snow globe, the snow settles, and suddenly everything in the globe gets clear.) The practice daily places her on the path of compassion, and fuels her for the immediate task of, in her case most recently, meeting with Congressman, Paul Ryan, about his budget and to lobby for immigration reform.
Their common ground? All they could agree on was that they shared a passion for their country—such as the passion shared by me and the rector had for Christ.  

Campbell spoke with vibrancy and humor. She told poignant stories, saying that ideas were important but that ideas alone could keep us talking and debating forever—while people starved and children died in poverty. Congressman, Pete Gallegos from San Antonio, TX. was ready to address a group of reformers about immigration policies when suddenly his small son waved vociferously and shouted, “Hi Daddy.” Then he ran up and into Gallegos’s arms—like a veritable burning bush.

Gallegos canned his prepared speech and shared instead how he came to change his attitudes about immigration reform: in the delivery room when his son was born and he suddenly knew he would give his life for this little child and fight FOR his freedom to live a stable life, not by fighting against another child's freedom. In that moment, Gallegos knew that he was every parent. He knew the hope and the hunger and love of every parent.
Children and parents flee across borders to the US and other countries. They run from violence, economic and physical. They run for a vision. They run for their lives. US border guards found the dead body of a woman under a bush. When they unfurled her body they discovered that it had been curled around the body of a little child. (Think Hagar in the desert with Ishmael. Then think of a God who provided them a well.) The story made me weep, broke my heart. Oh Godde!

Immigration reform is not THEIR issue; it is OUR issue. Nuns rode the bus for "faith, family, and fairness"—for ALL people everywhere, the 100%.

Do you remember when the Church added an alternative to the Nicene Creed?  We used to say: “I believe . . .”  Now we say, or should say, “WE believe . . .”

“We are all called to be a burning bush in a hungry nation,” Campbell declared.

And I would add: we are all called to be a burning bush in a hungry church, starving for wholeness, unity, deep listening, and radical acceptance.

What bus will you take to see “pharaoh”?