From The Rev. Linda Huggard
Lent, Rocket Science, and #Metoo
In writing a Friday Reflection piece, as in writing a sermon, there are usually several things that are on my mind and somehow they eventually go together. How and what will come out in the end is never easy, and sometimes very uncomfortable. I used Bishop W. Nicholas Knisely’s book, Lent is Not Rocket Science, in a Lenten study several years ago, and when I was wondering what to write about in the Friday Reflection my mind kept going back to it. So, I searched the bookshelf and found the little meditation booklet. That was the first piece of the puzzle I needed for this article, and it could easily have fallen victim to my recent purge of books. (Yes, I have fallen into the Marie Kondo organizing frenzy, luckily Knisely’s book still “sparks joy” as Ms. Kondo would say, after all these years. More about that another time.)
The part of Knisely’s book that kept going around in my mind when I returned from Clergy Conference this week was the very first meditation called, Ash Wednesday; First the Fire. In it, Bishop Knisely describes the process of transforming burned palms into ashes that was traditionally done after the pancake supper on Fat Tuesday when he was a parish priest. Now this is nothing new to most of us, but his scientific description (he is a former professor of astronomy and physics) of the process, and, in particular, that there are actually two fires, is what brought me back.
You see, there is one fire that begins the palms smoldering and smoking, and then you can light the smoke which creates another dramatic column of fire. The first fire frees the gases of the decomposing materials, taking apart all the work of the growing plant, what he calls the “work of creation”, all the organic molecules that made up the structure of the plant, through its growth and now its decomposition. The second flame ignites all the gases in the smoke, creating a fireball, and releases all the molecules so new plants can use them again, thus returning them to nature.
“In our own lives there are times when the fire must come to release the elements we’ve stored up in careful, complicated containers in our hearts. Ash Wednesday remind us not to fear that experience but to see in it the wonder of God’s economy, the working out of the plan of creation and salvation.”
The second piece of the puzzle was a meditation about the #Metoo movement we had the first evening of clergy conference (thank you Canon Anna). In it we were confronted with the stories of the hurts of those (including women clergy) who had been exposed to unwanted comments, confrontations and yes, even physical invasions.
The last piece, that I hate to even acknowledge, is that I have personally heard people in our diocese make pejorative comments about LGBT people, tell jokes using stereotypical foreign language accenting, and talk about style of dress/body shapes of people in their own congregations and communities. We live in a society that is gradually, and fitfully changing (or resisting) the way we relate to others. Some of our previously well-respected citizens are being accused of hurting others, sometimes unknowingly, and sometimes long ago. Those friendly hugs, those winks, and worse, are no longer accepted as normative business/social techniques. The way we may have “meant it” is no longer the test, but the way it was received. Those hurt no longer have to “go along to get along”. The “old boys” rules no longer apply.
This is not an easy thing to change. Snap-judgements are a primitive human survival technique. When the world was a decision between “fight and flight”, “different” was always first considered wrong, bad, and scary. Only those of your own tribe could be trusted, and even then, only those of your gender, rank, etc. In our society, crimes committed by undocumented immigrants or homeless people are still held up as examples of such untrustworthiness. It is easy for us to laugh at people who are different, to call them “weird”, to imitate accented English of those for whom it’s a second (or third) language. Its easy to fall back on sexist locker-room talk to get a laugh from our friends to try to fit in. Its easy to say, “she was asking for it”, or “it was nothing”.
The essence of this Lent is, then, to me, like the fire, not just the self-examination, the self-denial, the breaking down of those “complicated containers in our hearts”, but turning that energy of hate, fear, judgement, separation (stereo-typing, cheap jokes) to true consideration, care, and empathy for others. To see it in oneself and to call others out when you hear or see it from others. I have seen this work being done, a person in a group standing up and saying “hey, I disagree” or “is that the way you want to speak about…?” This kind of intervention is brave and unfortunately, rare.
It seems that many of us (I include myself) have become trapped between the fires, able to acknowledge, intellectually, the so-called “progressive” equal acceptance of all God’s people, and know how to “talk the talk”, but, have not completed the second fire of the real destruction of our privileged positions, our snap judgements, our unjustified fears. This is hard work, and not an overnight process, but we need to labor on. We need to look inward, find those messy places in ourselves, fix the easier ones and move on to the difficult metanoia, the true change of heart, that transformation toward God’s plan of creation and salvation. Knisely, W. Nicholas, Lent is Not Rocket Science: An Exploration of God, Creation, and the Cosmos, Morehouse Publishing, Foreward Movement, NY, 2013
 Kondo, Marie, The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2015
 Knisely, Ibid