Friday, August 21, 2009

Ministry in the Encounter

So, just what is the "public world" in which/about which we are to have conversations? We enter the public world whenever we go out our front door...or back door. Well, actually, even when we are still inside we are in the public world. Our actions need deliberation, conversation, as they impact society, such as the ELCA's Social Statement on education, particularly advocacy for public schools. Or, careful study on and public voice on health insurance reform. Or, our just-passed ELCA statement on human sexuality. We are always using our public voices.

Sometimes ministry is intentional; sometimes unintentional. I entered the public world, the world where I might encounter people who are strange to me and I to them, when I went for an early morning walk two days ago. I'm visiting my son, Mark, and his family in Phoenix. Yes, I know it's August, but a new baby, Aimee, had arrived, so, of course, I had to come.

Mark lives beside a golf course. Almost everyone in Phoenix lives near a golf course. That doesn't mean they have the finances to play there, but early morning, before the golfers come out, people can walk the golf cart path. I walk when the daylight is breaking, before the sun comes out.

On my walk I simply said hello to a worker passing by, one of many who daily groom the greens. No matter that I saw only one set of golfers out the day before (It's 110 degrees here.) Their work of service calls them to serve everyday.

I walked the path the next morning, having forgotten the brief encounter of the day before. But the same service worker approached. He stopped his service vehicle, and smiled and initiated a "hello." We connected, there in the public world. He would not have needed to do that. In fact, usually in our society we have clear, if unstated, boundaries of non-conversation between service people and those they serve, whether that be in hotels, or convention centers, or, perhaps in one's place of employment. So this second-day intentional encounter, reciprocal, is rare, especially when initiated by the service person. Now, granted, I was not a fee-paying golfer. There are layers of class lines in this "classless" society. But, still, it was remarkable and appreciated. There was genuine mutual appreciation; although only one or two words were exchanged, I experienced conversation in the public world, mutual ministry in that early dawn hour.

I had walked this direction, because the other would have brought me to the gates, the "no trespassing" signs. A few years ago one could walk by those houses, but not now; that neighborhood is now a gated community. No trespassing allowed, no public encounters with those unknown, or with those one refuses to notice, no conversation. Of whom or what are they afraid? And why? Really, why? Our call to ministry is a call to encounter, to conversation, and for us to create and help sustain trustworthy places for us all to meet, across the invisible but all-to-real barriers of class.

This morning, again at dawn--the sky was red--I walked. This time I climbed 1/4 the way up a mountain...a Phoenix mountain, not the Rockies. I had a wonderful view of the city. I watched Jack Rabbits and saw a family of Quail pass by, and caught a glimpse of some hummingbirds. Special! All special. But the most surprising was a third meeting. On my way back, once again the service man came by. Recognition. Encounter. He stopped; perhaps it was because there was trash nearby to pick up. Perhaps because we were, if not friends, then certainly welcome acquaintances. I said a full sentence this time; but further communication across language barriers would have been hard, and perhaps "uncalled for." But this encounter I won't forget. The sun came up. I could feel the intense heat of the day begin. No matter. The warmth of the ministry in encounter would set the course for my day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Life of Love and Advocacy: Eunice Kennedy Shriver

"Eunice Kennedy Shriver," said the family this morning as they released the news of her death a few hours ago,"was the light of our lives, a mother, wife, grandmother, sister and aunt who taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to other. For each of us, she often seemed to stop time itself -- to run another Special Olympics games, to visit us in our homes, to attend to her own mother, her sisters and brothers, and to sail, tell stories, and laugh and serve her friends. Her work transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe, and they in turn are her living legacy."

Shriver is best known for her work with the Special Olympics and for helping establish the games 40 years ago. Unspired by her sister Rosemary who lived with with intellectual disability, Eunice began the Special Olympics which have brought tens of thousands of people with special needs into the public world. She consistently saw the value of every human being and believed they had talents to develop and gifts to cherish. She was an advocate. She ministered faithfully and boldly in the public world.

In two congregations I served years ago our educational ministry included those with intellectual disability. In one case we had special outreach to children. In another a lay woman urged us to start evening adult educational ministry with intellectually disabled adults. We did1 Every congregation has a calling to serve through educational ministry opportunities people with the whole range of intellectual abilities. In many cases this will be in regular classroom settings. However, it is very important that congregations discuss how they will minister, including what methods, materials and settings will be used. Letting this ministry be known, even just by word of mouth, says, "You are welcome. You are God's created, gifted people. You belong."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Two Reminders of Responsible Service

At 11:00 a.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) Saturday, August 8, 2009 Judge Sonya Sotomayor became the 111th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. She pledged “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States… administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich….”

At 11: a.m. (Central Daylight Time) Saturday, August 8, 2009 the life of Rev. Dr. Raymond A. Martin was celebrated as Christians gathered at his funeral in Dubuque, Iowa. Ray had taught at Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa, Gurukul Theological Seminary in Madras, India, and for many years at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. He was my colleague and friend. He was a faithful teacher of Scripture to many. He loved the Bible. He loved to teach.

So what do these two events have in common, besides the hour and day? They hold up for me the joy of leading a responsible, faithful life of service. Both people, who, of course, never met, and one might say, had little in common in terms of background, family or profession, simply worked hard. They prepared thoroughly. They cared about people, all kinds of people. Their dedication reminds us all of the value of lifetimes of diligent, hard work. Ray’s work is complete although his memory, his body of work, his students continue. Justice Sotomayor’s work, some would say, is just beginning. But, in reality her new position is a continuation of the all that she has been every day of her life. In that reality they have much in common. For that reality I give thanks.