Friday, May 26, 2017

Politics, Identity, and Activism (Part II: Identity)

What happened next was feeling an unexpectedly visceral need to reexamine my multiple and often competing identities in the domain of faith.

That one of my favorite hymns is the Shaker classic, "Tis the Gift to be Simple" demonstrates my ability to infuse wishful thinking with irony. When it comes to faith-based identity, mine is anything but simple and involves the dubious gift of head-spinning turning, turning.

Longtime readers already know this about me because every book I've published includes peeking into the varieties of my religious experiences and spiritual encounters.* Still, here's a synopsis of my identities:
  • I'm a Jew who follows the Way of Jesus because of its emphasis on repairing the world through acts of social justice and gathering in chavurot (fellowship).
  • I'm a church communications consultant who was spiritual but not religious long before SBNR became a recognized acronym circa 2001.
  • I'm becoming one of "the Dones" (aka, been there, done that, and done with the institutional church as a result) while also welcoming almost every opportunity to make the church better.
  • I'm an author whose books with Catholic publishers get bragworthy endorsements from leadership in mainline Protestant churches.

With one exception, nothing new here. The exception? Becoming one of the Dones. But when it comes to that, I seem to be in good and sacred, albeit agonized, company. Pretty soon I'll lose count of how many clergy have confessed, usually through private channels (e.g., DM on Twitter), their feelings of being done with church-the-building.

These clerics are typically ones who have served in pulpit ministry for eight to fifteen years. Many are what's known as "late vocation" clergy because they had previous careers in the secular world. Almost without exception, they tell me how they encourage wannabe pastors to explore other ways to fulfill a felt call to ministry. (To be written at another time and place: my own story about discerning what I initially thought was a call to ordination.)

So if I've been managing these multiple identities for decades, what's the problem? My problem seems to be handling my identities a lot more gracefully these days, but I'm not convinced that I can—or should.

Turns out that during this time of unbridled anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia what gets posted by some Christian clergy and most Jewish clergy often differs radically in content and tone. I didn't expect that, nor did I expect my gut-level reaction to noticing those differences.

Other than reconfiguring who shows up in my Tweetdeck columns, what to do about this latest challenge to identity?

I typically introduce myself during faith (church) community Twitter chats as having a "multiple spirituality disorder" and as being "fiercely ecumenical." Is it time to add "less Jew-ish and more Jew" or will that become evident by my activism? And what does it matter anyway? Aren't oppressors, not allies, the ones who keep track?

To be continued but meanwhile, let us pray...

To bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight
'Til by turning, turning, we come round right

* As I often quip, "Don't get mad, get published." Being irked by the woeful lack of knowledge about Judaism among (some/too many) Christians, led to me writing, Why Is There a Menorah On The Altar: The Jewish Roots of Christian Worship. Further irked to report that this book never quite found an audience of readers.