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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Okay, I'm done now.

Up until today, I've deliberately refrained from saying anything specific about some of the controversial commentary about women's ordination that has been appearing in the blogiverse where I hang out most often. I know full well that not all, or even the majority, of Nashotah House students are included in those who have been expressing vituperative opinions of their theological problems with a woman as presider-- either as general practice or in specific, at last week's Lavabo Bowl Eucharist. And those who have done, did not address me directly, so I have chosen not to engage them personally, either. No point in picking a fight, or stirring up an argument that is destined to go nowhere.

But last night, I talked to my daughter.

She's 16, a junior in high school, and very outgoing-- the sort of young woman who sees strangers as potential friends, and will eagerly engage anyone in conversation. She's also got a generous heart, and honestly enjoys being helpful and hospitable.

So last Saturday she was in her element when our guests arrived: chatting with a whole passel of new people, helping them find their way around, and generally being her talkative, sociable self. And she generally had fun, finding most folks were very pleasant.

However, it turns out that most was not all. At one point, one of the Nashotah House students asked her if her father was among the students who played in the game. My daughter smiled (knowing my athletic aptitude is way on the low end of the spectrum) and said something like, "No, it's my mom that's a student here, but she wasn't playing." Suddenly, her conversation partner's smile faded. He said, "Oh, really?" with his eyebrows raised, turned his back on her, and walked away.

Now, I suppose I should be grateful that this person didn't feel the need to deliver a diatribe about the evils of women in ordained ministry, right at that moment. But I'm not. Rather, I'm incensed that someone who purports to be training for presbyteral ministry in the church-- called to be pastor to God's people-- has so little self-control that he would feel entitled to express his theological convictions by being deliberately rude to a teenage girl. And I am embarrassed and ashamed to think that this sort of behavior and attitude have apparently found a congenial place in an Episcopal seminary.

Lord, have mercy on us all.


Blogger Mark said...

First off, I too have refrained from much comment. But I'll chime in now, too.

Secondly I ask Jane, what theological discussion? This whole thing did not start with any theology, as far as I could tell, it started with someone being just as rude online as someone else (perhaps the same person?) was with your daughter. You are very generous in your post, a quality I admire in you, but I thought I'd make that clear. Stepping out and using terms like "black mass" while pointing fingers is not theology nor is it discussion.

A lot of what followed was good disccussion, however, don't get me wrong.

Thirdly, I thought I would share that the worst experience of hospitality I have ever expereinced in the Church was indeed at Nashotah House. I've never blogged this because I too hope that things aren't always this way, and I hate to characterize an entire institution by one experience. But I think it is worth noting. I attended a Eucharist there several years ago. I randomly stopped in after a conference up in Wisconsin. I was still a lay person and a student at Seabury, but wasn't wearing anything that identified me with Seabury. One person spoke to me in connection with the service, long enough to hand me an ordo for the second half (one of the women students). After the students filed out to change, no one bothered, not even among the families present, to ask who I was or why I was there.

I seriously do hope this is not business as usual there, because that fails to prepare people for the hospitality necessary in the parish! I have been in one parish where I had a similar experience, and people did eventually speak to me there. At Seabury you would have been greated, had at least one person offer to sit with you, and been invited to dinner.

This makes two different experiences with Nashotah House that were profoundly negative for me, my visits and some of the inflamatory blogs that showed up after the game last week (along with some of the behavior at the game). I wonder if the administration knows about the image the school seems to be projecting..? If I'd been a possible student just looking around, I would have walked away and never looked back. If I were a prospective parishioner and ran into this at a church, I certainly wouldn't come back.

Again, I am sure the whole school is not that way. Most of the folks that came down for the game were great, and I had some wonderful chats at lunchtime. For all I know I just came on a bad night, when no one was feeling particularly friendly. And the woman in the bookstore was very, very nice... Perhaps she ought to be offered a position in the chapel. too?

October 31, 2004 11:43 AM  

Blogger Dawgdays said...


CJ wasn't alone. This is the gist of a conversation I had with one of the people in the cloister:

Visitor: "What year are you?"
Me: "My wife is a senior."
Visitor: "Oh...."

At least he didn't turn his back.


no one bothered, not even among the families present, to ask who I was or why I was there.This is not unique to Nashotah House. I've encountered this same behavior at around half of the Episcopal churches I have visited over the years.

I think we could all do better.

October 31, 2004 3:02 PM  

Blogger Clueless Christian said...

In 1977, following the 1976 General convention that “regularized” the illegal ordinations of the first US women priests, the first woman priest, who was NOT ordained in active disobedience to the vows she was
making, was formally made a priest in the Episcopal church. I was still an Episcopalian at that time. My mother, when she took me to Northwestern a year or so earlier, had walked me down to Canterbury House, introduced me to the chaplain, and having found out that the dormitory did not serve meals on Sunday, pointed out that I could get an excellent brunch at the Chaplain’s home, (donation one dollar) after services on Sunday morning at the pleasant chapel opposite my classes at the Tech institute. My parents had carefully arranged that I would live on 5 dollars a week, as they felt, with some justification, that I was less likely to get into trouble on a short leash. Thus, Canterbury house’s Sunday brunch was an important part of my financial calculations. By eating at Canterbury, and then buying a “patty melt” and french fries for $1.98 at the Norris Student Center for dinner, I could clear a whole two dollars a week, or 20 dollars a term for such good things as the occasional trip on the “El” (as Chicagoans call their subway), the occasional snack with friends, or the occasional party at a fraternity house, where admission usually cost two bucks.

My parents knew me well. Skip meals and I get migraines. When I was a teenager, it was pulling teeth to get me to go to church, but even I would rather go to church than have a headache. So I was still an Episcopalian at Northwestern, though a half-Buddhist, uneasy, and somewhat torn Episcopalian. I remember the heady atmosphere at Seabury Western when the handful of women there realized that they too could be
priests. I recall one female seminarian telling us at coffee how grateful she was. She said that she could never have offered herself for ordained ministry if it were still unlawful, but that now she intended to show, with her life, her gratitude for the gift that God had given her. She made public vows to the assembled congregation to undertake a several year period of poverty, chastity and fidelity in gratitude for being permitted ordained ministry.

I did not understand her, but I did not understand any of the actually “religious” types who assembled with the rest of us “chaff”, “tares” and lightweights at Canterbury house. I personally showed up for food and fellowship, and because TEC made no demands on me that did not fit in with my academic schedule as a six-year BS/MD degree student and with the schedule of the Northwestern fencing team. I told her that on 5 dollars a week which needed to include meals on Sunday, I didn’t need to make vows in order to be “poor”. She just laughed at me and said "I know. I just want God to know how seriously I take this. I'm doing it because I want Him to know that whatever happens, I'm going to put Him first. This is not about me. This is about God, and I'm grateful, and privileged. My ministry will never be about me."

I remembered her words later that year when I moved down to the medical school campus in Chicago. My nominal Christianity slipped away (the medical school dorms provided food seven days a week) and while I still went up to Evanston to fence, my church attendance declined to Christmas services annually with my parents. However I recalled the solemn and holy joy of that seminarian, when I made my own, first vows (the Hippocratic Oath) on my induction into medical school. “My career will never be about me” I promised “Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius, and Health, and All-heal, and all the gods and goddesses”. “I will always put my patients first”.

That promise was tested almost immediately. My very first patient as a student was Polish and had suffered a stroke. The evening after he was admitted he became agitated and started shouting at me in Polish. Was his stroke progressing? Was he aphasic? Should we put him on heparin? Could he have a carotid dissection? Nobody could understand him. I rushed down the street and bought an English-Polish dictionary with my 5 dollars a week spending money. Hurriedly, I spent the next couple of hours translating the neurological examination into Polish, and then carefully re interviewed him. Two minutes after I began demonstrating my brilliant linguistic skills he plucked the dictionary from my hand, picked out the English for “Get out, I not want ‘negro’ doctor”, threw the dictionary into the hall, and jerked his thumb toward the door, indicating that I should follow.

I left. I did not complain to the attending, or to the dean or to anybody else. I explained to my resident that the patient didn’t want me on his case; I asked one of the white, male medical students to trade patients with me; and I gave him my dictionary. I also wrote a very complete “off-service note” to ensure that the patient’s care would continue without any kind of interruption. I did it, not because I have no pride (pride is actually my worst sin), but because medicine is not about making the physician feel better. (Even if the “physician” is only a medical student). The purpose of medicine is to get the patient better. A physician however well meaning, who causes a patient to get agitated and upset, is not a good physician for that patient.

It’s not about us.

That was the most painful time it happened. Something similar has happened a few other times in my career, though none for over 20 years. Last week I was called in on my weekend off because a hospitalized patient did not like a colleague and needed another neurologist in a hurry. So I came in, even though I felt that it was the patient who was at fault, not my colleague.

It’s not about us.

Ministry, by definition is about the people who come to us for healing, not about those of us called to heal. There is no such thing as an “alpha servant”. There are only servants who serve the people who turn to them for healing, and servants who serve themselves. A physician who removes herself from the case of a patient, at the patient’s request, is not lessened as a physician. Neither is a priest.

It’s not about us.

I wonder how that seminarian (wish I could remember her name) almost thirty years ago would have reacted in the situation that Seabury faced at the “lavabo bowl”. My guess is that, had she come prepared to preside, she would have graciously taken a seat in the pew instead, and let the preacher do the presiding as well. Then, all the “patients”, who came to “Christ’s Hospital” for healing, would have been able to have partaken of His saving presence. Such humble witness, would have spoken far more for the ministry of women, than attempts to force a seminarian and a guest to accept a Eucharist that he believed to be invalid. Because, it’s not about us.

It’s not about us.

Rinse, Lather, and Repeat as necessary.


October 31, 2004 7:45 PM  

Blogger Mumcat said...

I guess it only goes to show that religious people are really not much different than the regular butts in the pew -- they're as capable of bad manners as the next guy.

this makes me so incredibly sad that male seminarians must be made to feel comfortable by stuffing female seminarians back into purgatory and invisibility.

November 01, 2004 9:00 AM  

Blogger Clueless Christian said...

Mumcat wrote ”this makes me so incredibly sad that male seminarians must be made to feel comfortable by stuffing female seminarians back into purgatory and invisibility.”

Micah wrote elsewhere “What you describe, Shari, is an issue of hospitality. Let me suggest that, rather, this is an issue of identity.”

A second question is why anything other than presiding at the Eucharist is “purgatory and invisibility”. I grew up as a foreign service brat. That meant my parents entertained a lot. When we were little, that meant dinner in the kitchen and early bedtime. After we were about 12, if there were only 2-6 adults invited, we kids were expected to sit down at formal meals with them, and converse in a civilized fashion. If there were 7-12 adults present, then usually we were excused to have our meals in the kitchen, and then amuse ourselves in our rooms, while the adults ate at our large dining room table (which seated 12). If there were 13 to 19 guests present, a second table was set up in the music room adjoining our dining room, and my mother presided over it with the most important of the guests, and I (as eldest daughter) took my mother’s place at the foot of the long table opposite my father, and did my best to make conversation with the adults next to me. More than 20 guests meant buffet dining, with everyone (including us children) invited.

One one occasion, there was originally to be two tables with myself at the foot, and my brother and sister in the middle, and the guest of honor’s childcare arrangements fell through at the last minute. So my mother changed to a single somewhat crowded table with a “children’s table” in the basement rec room, and the three of us (we were 15 and 16 at the time) spent a pleasant evening eating dinner and playing Monopoly and Clue with a charming pair of French 8-10 year olds.

What I’m saying is, that my place at the table, was not dependant upon my merits, but rather upon my father’s wishes, and on the needs (and number) of the guests that he invited. However, I was not less my father’s daughter eating in the kitchen with my brother and sister, or in the rec room at the “children’s table” than eating in my mother’s place of honor. We have a saying in Sri Lanka about folks who make a fuss about where their position is at table. We say “their father was the Dobi-man” (a tradesman who comes to the house to do laundry). It is bastards, not sons who base their “identities” on precisely where they are seated at table. Jesus tells us that we should take the lowest place, rather than thrusting ourselves higher.

Jane reports that her bishop broke bread with a gay and lesbian ministry group, “celebrating the Eucharist together, sharing a meal, and telling our stories.”

Isn’t that what you should have been doing with the Nashotah crowd? The two groups of seminarians could have had a pleasant morning, celebrating the Eucharist together and telling your individual stories.

Instead, unlike Jane’s bishop, who said “no one tried to convince anyone of anything. We simply spent time together and recognized that what binds us together is Jesus.”
Seabury tried to not only convince her guests of the “rightness of WO” but tried to force her guests to accept communion from a woman presider (publically in front of their families to boot). I’m not surprised there was an uproar. I believe that Nashotah would have done better to have prayed with Seabury, but come up for a blessing instead of partaking in the Eucharist. However I suspect they did not have a lot of time to decide what to do. Nor, I imagine are they used to showing up at Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic festivals and acting in a respectful fashion without actually sharing in worship.

But Seabury was wrong to force the issue. Our places at the table are not a question of our “identity” in the family of Christ. That’s because the Eucharistic feast is not our table. It’s our Father’s table, and He gets to decide where we should sit. Our only job, as sons and daughters entertaining in our homes, is to make our guests feel welcome.

November 01, 2004 12:12 PM  

Blogger Steve F. said...

Not being an Episcopalian, nor in the inner circle of folks at Seabury (other than an acquaintance with your Registrar), and only familiar with the siutation beign described, I'm probably ill-prepared to comment on this topic.

But I *am* sorry for y'all.

And I'm sorry for the body of Christ, that we continue to fight these endless battles of "you're not worthy to be (or do) 'fill-in-the-blank'". I'm sorry that word and symbol and Spirit are not enough to make a sacrament. I'm sorry that as followers of Christ, we keep throwing "yeah, but..." exclusions into the mix, that keep "us" and "them" separated on terrifyingly critical issues like whether the hand that consecrates and distributes Communion has X or Y chromosones in it.

How I wish we could stay focused on the 1st Corinthians 15 "things of first importance," and share *that* with the world. I know...it's simplistic, and it disregards tradition and history and so much else.

That doesn't mean it's wrong.

To me, arguing about women's ordination in the face of carrying the Gospel unreached souls (within and without the church) is like fiddling while Rome burns. But, of course, as a has-been seminarian, what do I know?

November 08, 2004 2:18 PM  

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