Ordination of CB Stewart

March 07, 2015

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

I think of you in at least three ways. You got your Ph.D in the school of hard knocks early enough to make a real difference. People who have genuine first class trouble later in life usually flunk out. You made Phi Beta Kappa in suffering at a young enough age to really have an education. Thus we expect great things of you.

First you remind me of a daffodil. They have the courage to stick their heads up before spring is guaranteed. They come out in the cold. They get snowed on. Then they bloom. You have the courage of a daffodil. That courage will serve you well as a pastor.

Second, you remind me of a canary. You tell us what’s coming. Your queerness is splendidly prophetic as it shows how absurdly the binaries bind us. You announce the dangers early enough for all of us to see them.

Finally, you are a stubborn and persistent decolonizer. I so wish we would get beyond that word decolonizer into something more positive. But in the 21 st century we are in the early stages of decolonization, not the late stages, when empire will be no more. Thus we lead with the down beat in much of our language. We appear to be demystifying everything. In the Progressive churches, as Phyllis Tickle says, we are having a giant rummage sale. It will be your task to come up with the words that come after decolonization. It will be your task to make sure we don’t sell important matters like the Trinity, or heaven and hell, or sin, at too cheap a price in the rummage sale. It will also be your task to get rid of the junk, to declutter the place. You are wise enough and courageous enough to be a superb decolonizer. Go for it – and not just in your mind but also in human economic, spiritual and cultural reality. Question everybody who keeps their head in the ground. Tell them they won’t be able to bloom that way.

Continuing the yellow theme, of canaries and daffodils, you are also mellow. You aren’t always mellow, thank God. But you have the capacity to be mellow. When I hand you the task of decolonization, I know that can be anxiety producing. Seriously? Me? Like Samuel, you have to wonder why you. Daffodils look best in their mellowest yellows.

If you were to "decolonize your mind," what would that look like? Would the house be empty? Or would the designer’s best advice – use restraint – come into focus? Would the few pieces carefully chosen to keep really be highlighted?

I hope you will always be able to say outloud, given the size of your tasks and the size of your gifts, “My shadow is showing.”

And while your shadow continues to show, help us get to a new kind of Christianity. Today American Christians support war at a higher rate than the nation as a whole. We have totally misunderstood Jesus as advocating redemptive violence. Today American Christians denounce homophobia at much less a rate than the nation. Our support for violence and hate outpaces that of the nation.

Robin Meyers has defined the church at its best as an embodied non-compliance. Not the unfortunate negative again. Instead of praying your kingdom come, your will be done, we are praying for our tax exemption status and our housing allowances. “Please do nothing to threaten our tax exempt status, “ is not really a good prayer on behalf of Jesus. I imagine that your work with empire and decolonization of the spirit and the body will take us to a time when we are in trouble with the empire. When clergy will encrypt their sermons or look behind themselves to see if we are being followed. When sermons will show up on Wiki leaks. When sanctuaries will be under constant surveillance and when ICE comes in to get undocumented people out, they will be met by congregants who say take them , you also take us.

Then we will truly pray, Your kingdom come, thy will be done, not my kingdom come, my kingdom stay.

We don’t just live in the empire, said Harvey Cox, the empire lives in us.

Soren Kierkegaard, the real meaning of delusion is that we are deluded about being deluded in the first place. Nature of an illusion is to caress, to keep us from confronting the world as it really is. Are you able to drink the cup, asked Jesus? Are you able to take your Phi Beta Kappa to Soul Beta? Can you keep that daffodil and canary courage alive long enough to lead us to where we really do want to go?

Bill Coffin said, “We avoid sorrows too deep and therefore lose joys too large. This emotional mediocrity is what empire does to us. Empire flattens us, like the flat screen TV or the cell phone made in places you don’t want to know about or visit or see.” Take us from flat to curvy.

The only thing an ordinand really needs to know is what we mean when we say Jesus Christ is Lord. We don’t mean some mushy flimflammery. We mean that the empire is not Lord and that Jesus is. From there we enter a cosmic resistance.

Again from Robin Meyers, people still talk about the social gospel as if there is any other kind. Walter Rauschenbusch understood, Salvation of the soul and changing the system…. whoever sets any bounds on the power of religious life…. denies the faith of the master. Can’t be personally redemptive without being socially responsible. Again please save us from the myth of redemptive violence and bring us into the salvation of Jesus Christ who is Lord.

Kathleen Corley says it was probably the women who opened the Jesus file, which the Roman Empire so wanted to close. Corley also says that women head towards the grave, men tend to move off. I don’t think that is true completely but it is interesting. Privilege passes by. Suffering enters in. Corley argues that the women disobeyed the first of the Roman objections. In defiance of roman prohibitions of just such rituals, they went towards the body and found it missing. The Empire really wanted to close the Jesus file. They wanted to say, here is a nobody who has come to nothing and is now nowhere. Because the women went to the grave, they failed. That is not redemptive violence. That is redemption. The women said no to the violence and yes to the life. The church is embodied non-compliance to the status quo. Non-participation. Decolonization. What I want from you and your whole generation of magnificent clergy is to get us out of the no, into a yes. It can’t be a yes to empire. Empire destroys. It can’t be a yes to war. War destroys. It can’t be a yes to mythologies of redemptive violence, the kind that brought down the Twin Towers and continues droning on in Afghanistan and more. It can’t even be Kingdom. But it could be the mellow yellow of the courageous daffodil, who knows how to stick its head up in the cold. It could be the commonwealth of God, the time beyond violence, the time when everybody is a somebody who lives somewhere and has come to something. It could be singing the canary’s song and telling us yes there is danger and yes there is hope, if we see the danger soon enough. I hope for you and your generation that you will live in a church that is not only done with the rummage sale but has cleaned it up and is singing a new song.

The Church is embodied non-compliance to the status quo. Enjoy it.

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