identity and such things

I work for a non-profit. My job title is “Community Organizer.” And in one year, I’ve learned that this can mean almost anything.

For instance, Jamie and I thought it was a good idea to get some whole life insurance. We’d cover any death or disability and be saving for retirement at the same time. The application process was a pain and included a nurse in our home one morning at 7:45. Nonetheless, we thought we’d finally jumped through all the hoops when I got a letter in the mail. “Because of your job classification, your rates may change. Your insurance representative will be contacting you shortly.” I guess community organizing is a dangerous job – never mind that my specific position is federally funded. I can’t lobby. I don’t lead protests. And the biggest political controversy I’m involved in is the ongoing quest for more funding sources for our local public transit system.

People make all kinds of assumptions about what I do.

It’s a familiar experience.

Two weeks ago I was at a meeting to kick off a county-wide health assessment mapping project that will earn national accreditation for our local public health department. I was getting to know my tablemates when someone asked me, “What did you do before?” Um. Awkward pause. How do I answer?

It went something like this: I worked for a non-profit faith-based organization. Um. Well. Actually I was am a pastor.

How do I explain in casual conversation that I’m theologically educated, have worked for the church, supply preach a dozen a times a year on the side and would in fact be a pastor if the market supported more twenty-nine year old lesbians?

There’s just no easy way to come out. As gay or as a young, female pastor.

Identity is a funny thing.

I was at dinner the other night with several of Jamie’s students. The women were from the interfaith house on campus, and they were from several different countries with widely varying faith experiences. As conversation progressed, one in our group said, “Sarah, I’ve been very curious to know, what is a Mennonite?” Oh my.

Well, you know those people who dress plain and farm with horses and speak Pennsylvania Dutch? I’m not that. I mean some Mennonites are. But my dad drives a very modern, GPS enabled John Deere tractor. And peace. We believe in peace.

Since I left south central Kansas I’ve had so much practice explaining the Mennonite thing that you’d think my elevator speech would be a little better than it is.

Several months ago I was in a meeting with a Mennonite leader. One of the things he was concerned about was membership. He was committed to serving the churches and people who belonged. He meant well, but his words implied a dividing line drawn in terms of defined identity. Though there’s not a checklist that gives one belonging in Mennonite Church USA, there are many assumptions about whose church it is.

Next week I have a meeting with the NE Area Department of Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). With any luck and a little help, in a year and a half or less I’ll be an ordained Disciples minister. Someone said to me that this step of mine would be a loss to the Mennonite church, but the fact is that I’m not leaving.

The fact is we have a vibrant Mennonite fellowship group in Columbia AND I am an elder in my local Disciples church. It’s taken me years to realize that choosing one way alone would be a crude simplification of my journey of faith and life. Membership is never binary, never clear. Nor should it be.

Neither is identity, whether Mennonite, Disciple, pastor or community organizer. I think.


joy of giving 1

Every week at Rock Bridge Christian Church one of the elders gives an invitation to offering – reflections on what our congregation calls the “Joy of Giving.” I’ve appreciated these meditations since we first visited Rock Bridge well over a year ago, and as a new elder it has become a privilege to speak when it is my turn, like today. So it’s not that I haven’t been writing, despite the dormancy here. Between the guest preaching I do, these short reflections, work-related reporting and speaking engagements, there’s plenty of output. I’m just never sure what to share. But today this seemed to especially connect to those who heard.  


It’s been a bad week.


Bombings. Amputations. Manhunts. Explosions. Floods. Earthquakes.


On Monday, tragedy and heartache spilled from Boston to the rest of the county, capturing the attention of our news outlets and the hearts of our people as we lived out a plot that did not yet have an ending –


Perhaps still does not have an ending – 

Perhaps never will have an ending.


And in the absence of neat endings,

In the absence of resolution,

We looked for answers.

We ask why.


Our fears rise a bit closer to the surface,

            And we, like the Disciples in John’s Gospel

            Hide. In locked rooms.


It’s been a bad week.


The angry and hurt among us call for retribution.

            Or justice –

            Some show of power that would reaffirm that we are in control.

                        That we will not be terrorized.


The astute among us point out that evil happens every day.

And our country this time the victim

            Is just as often the perpetrator.


We all look for rational and satisfying answers

            To calm our fears

            To make sense of tragedy.

            To find causes for these effects


We all look for answers, which we will never find.


Because meaning comes from tragedy only after it has happened…

The unanswerable “Why?” doesn’t bring healing. (Barbara Cawthorne Crafton)


It’s a different question we must ask on this week of all weeks.

            Not why, but what –

                        as in “What can happen in light of what has happened?”

This is the only way to even begin mending our broken hearts.


Last Sunday we didn’t know it would be a bad week.

This Sunday everything has changed,

            Except that we are still here.


Even in light of what has happened,


We are still living into the mystery of death and resurrection

            Still gathering

            Still singing

            Still hoping

            Still giving

            Still breaking bread together

            In light of what has happened

Perhaps it is a small thing to be here today

But it is not insignificant


And how better to recapture some of ourselves

            How better to restore a bit of our fragmented hope,

            How better to help joy peek through,

            How better to affirm that we still have something to offer our world

                        Than to give.


Welcome to the joy of giving.