After the sermon or music is concluded, the Worship Leader and Vision in Action storyteller go to the podium. The Worship Leader introduces the Vision in Action: In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus invites us to pray: “God, may your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” In our monthly Vision in Action, we hear stories about how people in our community live this prayer – how they shift, reform, transform, revolutionize, and nudge the world so it becomes more fully the realm of God. Today, Sarah Matsui will share her story with us as we take our morning offering. Please pray with me: Creating God, may Sarah’s story open our imaginations to the many ways in which you partner with us to bring about your realm on earth. Receive these offerings, which are also a part of this great work. We rejoice in what we have been given, and in what is ours to give. Amen.
My first Sunday here at First Mennonite was Pride Sunday. When I can, I’ve been coming back every Sunday since.
I found First Mennonite in the midst of what I called my minimum one-month Sabbath from church.
I was— still am—tired.
I felt rejected from a couple big churches in this city for my beliefs around who is welcomed into the kingdom of God and what roles they should be allowed to take on in community. I wrote letters and poems to these churches, asked questions in small groups, and received a range of mostly unhappy pushbacks from mostly straight white men unconsciously wringing their hands at me as we spoke.
I don’t have to have the same beliefs as everyone. But it was hard staying in churches where the God being worshipped seemed decidedly against my womanness, allegedly post-racial, and indifferent to the oppression of people by race, class, gender, and sexuality. And where many people seemed closed off to hearing the voices of the people they hurt/marginalized. And closed off to hearing me. I didn’t grow up in the church, but I am now part of the church. What Jim said in my first Sunday here resonated— the church is within me, too. I thought, where else can I go?
At the same time that I was having these experiences in the church, I was also feeling tired and at times lonely in my full-time work.
I recently wrote a book exploring Teach For America, a two-year alternative teacher certification program that recruits heavily from elite universities.
When I was in TFA, I observed a gap between TFA’s rhetoric of “Work hard, get smart,” “Nothing elusive,” “No excuses!” and the experiences of my fellow corps members.
Many corps members were working really hard, but they described their experiences with the words “shame,” “failure,” and “isolating.” As they served in racially segregated, under-resourced public schools, corps members reported experiencing new levels of alcohol dependency, trauma, fatigue, disillusionment, burnout, and a need for prescription medication. And these realities were often being ignored or suppressed by TFA.
There’s a Buddhist monk who said, “To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love.” This resonates with my experiences both in TFA and at the couple churches I’ve needed a break from. Without being open to having our ideas of love challenged and expanded, we have great capacity to wound both others and ourselves.
There’s a lot of cruel things that can slip by under the banner of a grand cause, whether the banner of “for God” in the church or “for the children” in TFA. We can hurt people both in our individual interactions, and also in our group participation in institutions and systems. So I believe that the work of kingdom-building, whether by participation of the church, TFA, etc., requires our own transformation as individuals and as a group of people.
In specific ways that I can talk about another time, I’ve needed for God to be greater than the reality of death, of loss, of wounded people and damaging systems. My work is grounded in the belief that hope comes from a place of reality, not necessarily the banner of the grand causes. And I am invited to name this reality, and participate in a process of grappling, asking for God’s kingdom come within and around me.
I believe we need to look at costs. Like therapy, I often take a “no-way-but-through” approach to a number of costs I encounter—individual or institutional or systemic. The narrative of resurrection reassures me that there is no cost that cannot be made up and made right, even if not by me—and definitely never by me alone.
I want to continue naming these costs, as an individual and as part of the larger church, and asking for kingdom come. It’s been lovely finding this particular church, and I’d like to continue learning alongside you all.
Joanna provided the guiding questions for my sharing today. Her last question was, “What are ways that the congregation can support you?”
In my work, I ask that you’d pray for me to claim and grow into my voice. And practically, I’ve recently submitted a piece on these topics to a Washington Post education editor, and she’s liked it at first round. I’m hoping for it to be given final approval.
I’d also like to ask you to pray for my provision. At the end of the day, I’m also a 26 year old who’s floundering quite a bit and looking for home and safe and loving community. My dear friend Liz has spoken the following benediction over me: that I might be my true self, nothing more and nothing less. Simple words, but this is a hard challenge for me. In the temptations to self-aggrandize or self-deprecate, both which seem to miss the call to be the beloved, I veer towards self-deprecation. In the temptations to either wholly ignore the cost or to see only the cost, both which seem to miss the narrative of resurrection, I’ve been staring at the costs recently. I ask that you’d pray for me to be held by a fuller reality, and to have what I need to be my true self.
At end, Worship Leader says: Thank you, Sarah, for the work you are doing (have done) to manifest the realm of God on earth. And the people say: AMEN!
This was not the only response. Another response was disengagement or politely suggesting I find another church. Many of these interactions translated to me as dismissals or rejections.
To my straight white male friends reading this: these patterns make me wonder about group structures and ideologies, not about you as an individual. I’ve observed an anecdotal pattern that so far the only people to wring their hands at me, caution me against my “selfish ambitions” via prayer after I ask why no women are allowed on that church’s leadership, ask me if I know the definition and meaning of hermeneutics, challenge the validity of my perspective based on my gender or credentials (formal credentials which, in their church, are tied to gender), and/or pray at me without my agreement have belonged to this dominant sexuality/race/gender package. I’ve observed this and wondered what it means, that some of the people sharing these intersecting identities seem physically agitated by the questions I’m asking. I hope you don’t receive this as ‘reverse racism’ or ‘reverse sexism’ or persecution of straight white men. If you’re interested in reading about reverse racism, here’s a couple links: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/reverse-racism-isnt-a-thing_55d60a91e4b07addcb45da97 & http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/reverse-racism-doesnt-exist/. Aamer Rahman does my favorite sketch on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw_mRaIHb-M.
 Thích Nhất Hạnh