Saturday morning I was reading on my front porch, coffee in hand as usual, enjoying the gorgeous morning when 3 geese flew down Pope street honking loudly. They circled around as if they had seen me, and then flew in a kind of boomerang past me again, as if to say – or honk – “Hey!! We are flying past you on purpose! We don’t usually do this kind of thing!” I was taken aback. I have never seen a goose in the hood. Or at least I wasn’t aware of one. I felt that old tug of “uh oh – this means something” happening. So I sat present to it for a while and then did a little research.
This is not my first spiritual encounter with an animal. There was a hawk and a coyote before. These experiences ended up being markers in my life, preparing me in an unbidden and unexpected way, for what was to come.
Yesterday the message of the geese came to pass. It is kinda woo woo, I know, but bear with me. This is what the “meaning” of such an encounter is from a spirit animal reading … “the quest you are currently on is about to take an abrupt change of course. Know that this is only a temporary thing and that you will soon be back on your chosen path.” I sat with it and then I knew for sure. It was confirmed today. My job as reconciliation catalyst for PCUSA will end April 29.
Thank God, Presbys will continue to prioritize the campaign work through better funded programs: the Presbyterian peacemaking program which birthed me, and Presbyterian Women. This is only part of my work, but the crux of the decision making weighed that heavily. Will pieces be lost? Of course. But I am optimistic the ways in which I was able to help move some of us toward more fluid work across the agencies will continue. The biggest hole will be connecting US constituents to work of global partners working to stop sexual violence. But with excellent communicators and committed networks and area directors, the work will continue on, but with a lesser focus. But to be clear, these systemic issues are not going away without some serious long term collaboration and effort.
The burden and cost of leadership in these decisions cannot be underestimated. Please remember this in reaction to the cuts coming not only in my circles, but in every other mainline denomination. We all face the same realities.
So in this moment, I want to begin with a reflection. What are they going to do, fire me?
What a gift it has a been to serve as part of a global community that gives a damn about justice and tries to do something to support, accompany, and advocate for people on the margins. As people of privilege, this is so important for our souls. Not in response to guilt or because “it’s the right thing to do”, though these things certainly plays into the complexity of our motivations. But because we are in this whole life thing together. Each person is precious and deserving not simply because they are “God-breathed and imaged” but because they are human. It is not enough for me to say a person is created in the image of God and thus they are worthy or deserving of my respect. Each person is precious simply because they are their unique beautiful selves alive to possibility and life. I do not need to see the image of God in someone to love them. I need to see them.
Here us what I want to say on this memorable day for me: we are part of the world even if we, as American citizens, see ourselves as just a tiny bit more special than the rest of the world. (And oh Lord, Christians are the worst at this!) It can no longer be “us” and “the rest of the world”. That is not the reality in which we live. It is a construct to keep people at arm’s length. Name any global issue and you will find U.S. hands all over it. For good and ill. If we are going to work on resolving systemic injustices, and not simply throw candy to the crowd, we simply have to be willing to engage them as “our” issues. And by our I mean all of ours. Whether we are stay at home moms, corporate execs, factory workers, pastors, bedouins, or bar tenders. We are entrusted with a broken, beautiful world that requires our love and engagement. It is not just for us. The limitations and borders we imagine are just that: arbitrary and imagined borders. And as Pablo Casals penned, “Why should love stop at the border?”
I work with a great team. World Mission, supported by the visionary leadership of Hunter Farrell, my fellow catalysts, Juan Sarmiento and Frank Dimmock, my amazing and always supportive colleague, Stephanie, and those across the agency focused on peace and justice have been and will continue to be, a huge gift to the church, the world, and to me.
As I was reminded recently, I love easily. It is both a blessing and also such a pain. Still I believe that everything can be done with love, though much of life isn’t. Fear and anxiety and rage are important emotions that must not inhibit us from doing the work we need to do. They must fuel us for the only thing that can overcome hate and fear: connection and love and mutuality.
When I travel and speak, I tell people that my job title is theirs also: reconciliation catalyst. If I could, I would commission your work with a stole today. As the agency lets go of a reconciliation catalyst next week, I am asking you to take that stole on your shoulders. It is a holy calling that never was exclusively mine in the first place. It is ours to wear with imagination and commitment every day.
And by the way, I still have work to do. Think of me when openings in justice and peace come your way. The best is yet to be.