Missionary Positions

October 23, 2011

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

Missionary Positions:  “Blessed are the forgiving for they are free.”

If Jesus were writing the beatitudes today, he would have said something less binary than blessed are the forgiving for they are forgiven or “free.” How do I know? Because Jesus was kind to his times and his people. He and are I freely connected…and I know he listens to us and to me. He is not time or culture bound.

Plus blessing is not just in freedom but also in connection. How do I know that? I watched a man call his S.O the first day that cell phones were available on the subway. He said, “Thank God, I can now connect with you, in case there is a terrorist attack.” Duh. Michael tells me that he did marriage counseling by SKYPE yesterday, to Texas. I received a phone call from one of you while you were in labor. “Can you pray for me as the baby comes out?” I was in France, she in New York. The baby came out. I heard the swoosh and the agony and the joy of it by cell phone, praying my little heart out. Jesus would understand that people want connection even as much as we want freedom. There is no binary here: what we want is free connection. Righteous connection. Just connection.

This quandary leads me to the missionary position, which is how I first learned about the problem with binaries. There are many ways to enjoy sex and the missionary position is only one of them. Additionally, we of the American Protestant Progressive movement enjoy our own missionary position. We only want to help, we don’t want to be helped. We don’t’ want to be forgiven. We only want to forgive. Isn’t it astonishing how often people say that they went on a mission (ary) trip and learned that it was they who were helped, not the people they sought to help?

What might a new kind of forgiveness look like? Consider being less time bound. Consider the recognition that we want help AND connection. We could note that forgiveness is a plus as well as a minus. It is to recognize our self-interest in forgiveness. I am going to reframe forgiveness from a helpee and a helper perspective, set up a framework and then show you how a different framework might relate to stewardship. Yes, it is Stewardship Sunday.

First consider the word, “snookered.” Snookered is a word that comes from a game (see the music man) and it is like pool. It has to do with beating your opponent in such a way that it leaves him behind the 8 ball. It leaves her nowhere to go, no choices left. Have you ever felt the judgment of not only being behind the eight ball, of having no choices left and of wondering how you could have been so complicity in the first place. Consider your last love affair. Did you ever say, “I should have known?” Why did someone I love disappoint me so? Secondly, why did I let it happen? The deceived are often taken for a ride of our own making. Dating someone who is married means never having to wear Mascara.

Consider what is happening now in the new American culture. Consider the Haitian proverb that all the poor will soon have left to eat are the rich. Today the rich are eating their young and African Americans who have marched and sat forever notice. Why? They weren’t noticed by this kind of press. It appears to be reserved for white people, the people who should have been rich but aren’t.

You can imagine people who have been struggling for a long time, saying, “They want me to remember their memories and I keep remembering mine, “ as poet Lucille Clifton put it. Resentment may be like eating rat poison and wondering why the rat didn’t die. Or letting someone live rent-free in your head, as many consider the true meaning of holding a grudge. Yes, we should forgive so we can be free. But there is more happening in resentment than just forgiveness in a binary way. We also want to re establish right connection, right relationship, what we know as the foundation for justice.

Walk with Jesus and imagine instead freely committed connections, imagine saying I need help and trusting that you would not be snookered. Imagine that forgiveness is a plus not a minus. Then note please that support for Judson is in your highest and best self-interest. Yes, I just made the transition to stewardship.

We will be moving out of the help only mode of budgeting into a sustainable form thereof. Why? It was a myth that we should only have a high mission budget and not a high maintenance budget. I know. I am a card carrying member of the sixties generation. I tackled many lay leaders in at least six congregations, arguing that the need was so great (as in we want to help so much) that we couldn’t pay attention to our buildings. Building/mission fights are iconic in missionary position American congregations. Instead, today, a new paradigm is trying to emerge. It is called the sustainable one. It is less binary and more organic. Don’t you see the solar panels going into the roof when we redo it? I do.

People who don’t know how to say, “I need help” as well as saying “I can help” are stuck in the binary version of the Beatitude. It is time to get out of that prison into free connection, helping and being helped, being sustainable. It is time to do fewer emails and get more exercise. Note that when we refuse to exercise, on behalf of the emails, we may be stroking the missionary position.

If you freely commit to Judson as your highest self-interest, it becomes a place, which can commit to you. It will not try to snooker you nor eat its young. It will stop bragging about fighting outside of its weight class and fight within its weight class. It will calm down and acknowledge that it both can help and be helped. I see a future beyond the missionary position!

“Here in the prison yard there is a thrush which sings beautifully in the a.m. and now in the evening too,” said Dietrich Bonnhoeffer.

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