Friday, August 24, 2012

Armor of God, Amor of God

This post was the seed of the sermon that I eventually preached for 16B, you'll notice that a good chunk of it ended up on the chopping block and a good chunk got rearranged into the actual sermon...

The propers for this coming Sunday include the Ephesians' 6 passage on garbing oneself with the armor of God.

Which causes me to ponder the various ways in which I have found the metaphorical "armor" to be essential as I've gone about my work and my life.

When I was a pediatric hospital chaplain the staff requested that I, the first chaplain they'd ever really had at the hospital, wear my collar.  This set me apart from the rest of the staff rather dramatically--in my black clergy shirt and white collar I sometimes felt like the harbinger of doom.   I frequently had to explain to folks that I visited EVERYONE, not just families whose children were dying (and not just Christians).  However, despite this rather significant drawback to my uniform, I found that being set apart allowed everyone to clearly identify my role in a crisis.  Further, it allowed me to serve as a liaison between families and hospital staff--by being neither fish nor fowl I was able to support families who did not trust the medical staff while at the same time I was able advocate for the staff and for the families.  In my clericals, people knew who I was and I could go and be where other hospital staff could not (frequently I was the only hospital staff person in the room after life sustaining treatments were withdrawn and I would guide the family as needed as they accompanied their children in their last breaths).

But, those were outside perceptions and projections placed upon me in my uniform.  For me, wearing a collar allowed me to take off my collar at the end of the day--a signal that I could let go of the trauma and tragedy that surrounded me in my work hours.  It allowed me to feel the weight of 2000 years of tradition and the institution of the church accompanying me in what felt like an impossible and unbearable calling for any 26 year old, newly ordained priest, to undertake.  The collar helped me to remember that I was not alone--I stood with God and sought to bring love and comfort.  My clerical helped me to feel "strong" when I needed to be impossibly present to the nightmares of other people.

Yet, not everyone can (or, really, should) wear a collar.  And I have found, that as a priest whose primary ministry is the care of a two year old, that I still need armor.  Whether, it is a morning shower and decent clothing after being up ALL. NIGHT. LONG.  or switching from a nursing bra to something a bit more supportive and less utilitarian...there are certainly days when I need a uniform to give me strength, confidence and endurance that I would otherwise lack.

But, it's not just about the clothes I wear.

I have found that the clothes don't matter if my prayers are not present.  Twice now I have gone to phone bank with the organization Minnesotans United For All Families.  The first time, I remember taking a few minutes to pray quietly before picking up the phone for my first call (we were calling the voter rolls to have listening conversations around the issue of gay marriage).  That night, while difficult, felt promising.  I felt like I was able to be fully present to those on the other end of the line and even felt as if I was able to be a force of transformation to a few.

I returned almost a month later, feeling confident, I headed right in to start calling.  But, this night was different, in fact it felt disastrous...I was easily flustered and sensitive.  Every negative comment or hang up felt like a personal affront.  My heart still aches remembering my awkwardness and the ineffectiveness I felt that evening.    I felt vulnerable and exposed.

And, in retrospect, the only difference was my lack of prayer (or indeed, any time taken to calm and center myself before walking into the storm).  I walked into battle without my armor--and without my armor I couldn't find the love of God surrounding me and those I was calling.

I haven't been back to phone bank--my mother died shortly after that disastrous evening and I haven't felt able to muster up the courage to go back.  But I will, I will return and I will go with a friend and I will pray and I will find my calm and my courage--I hope.  I will find a way to put on some metaphorical armor--so that I can feel the love of the community and the support of God in the midst of what feels like an attack on who I am and who my family is.

Armor becomes amor, battlefields become the embracing community--and the armor becomes a friend and a prayer and the knowledge of solidarity.

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