[Ananias] laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Acts 9:17-19 (NRSV)
“We need movements that can hold complexity so that we can learn how to reach for one another, even when reaching for one another makes us uncomfortable. We need movements inside of which millions of people can grow and learn, movements where people can come as they are, as long as they are willing to be transformed in the service of our full and complete liberation. We need people who’ve never graduated from college. People who come from fundamentalist religious backgrounds. We need people who think that corporate approaches to solving problems are the only way to change the world. We need people who believe that charity will make the world a better place. We need people who think all these ways, because without being a part of a movement that offers them opportunity to see differently and do differently, they will continue to see the world the way they do.”
I keep my hands dirty
My mind clean
Got a new agenda
With a new dream
I’m kicking out the old regime
Liberation, elevation, education
America, you a lie
But the whole world ’bout to testify
I said, the whole world ’bout to testify
And the tables ’bout to
T-t-tables ’bout to
Turn, turn, turn (turn)
Ain’t no stoppin’ ’til they
Turn, turn, turn (turn)
In my first full-time ministerial position, I had a road to Damascus experience. It certainly wasn’t as clear and quick as the one described in Acts 9. And it did stop me in my tracks and forever changed the way I saw myself and my ministry. I was headed down a path of destruction, mostly directed at myself, though definitely laced with superiority which kept me separate and alone. Seminary had not prepared me for this dark night of the soul, when the walls came crashing in and everything I believed in for others was not as abundantly offered to me. I hated who I was as a mother. I hated who I was as a minister. I hated who I was as a wife.
Then God showed up on the phone in the form of my previous spiritual director 3000 miles across the country, who listened to my pain and connected me with a local pastoral counselor and spiritual director. All of these individuals were able to hold my brokenness and assist me in beginning a new vision of ministry that allowed space for love of self and others in ways I never imagined.
Ministry and activism are filled with opportunities to pivot, adjust, and re-frame. For me, ministry in a predominantly white community during the dual pandemics of white supremacy and COVID-19 clarified my vision of ministry and left me, at times, terrified of how to do this “right.” And, once again, God showed up to remind me that part of my inherited white supremacist thinking is that there would ever be a “right way” to do any of this. In fact, we are all just muddling through, trying our best to hold on to some remnant of hope or joy while acknowledging our privilege, and holding ourselves and our communities accountable.
Our tables must turn. Our vision must change. And the movement we need is less about “doing it right” or finding all the “good”. Saul’s oppression of the early Christians was vicious, and yet Jesus dramatically altered his vision and his path. Saul pivoted his ministry, yet his approach to reining in the early Christian church echoed the dominant and punitive seeds of his ministry. Paul/Saul is a deeply flawed, three dimensional man with all of the nicks and scars of domination and internalized oppression of his time. Our vision of him is clarified when we put him in historical context and when we acknowledge our own deficiencies and shortcomings.
For me, this time of isolation and separation has offered a new opportunity in ministry. I know what happens when I lose connection with a community that nurtures and feeds my soul. I know it is crucial for me to stay connected, foster intimacy, and share vulnerability. My practices include: reaching for people through cards, calls and silly texts; building beloved community through a weekly clergy prayer and self-care call; and creating virtual spaces for listening and stillness.
What is your altered vision of good news for this Advent time? What is holding you back from sharing it with everyone?
Susan Chorley is an ordained American Baptist minister. She is currently serving as the Minister at the First Parish of Norwell, Unitarian Universalist Church in Norwell, MA. Susan is a survivor, a single mother, a Southerner and an activist seeking to co-create justice through building authentic relationships within communities of care. You can meet her on twitter at @RevSusanB.