Bishop Beverly J. Shamana, Retired
Speaking the truth in love demands creativity. A straightforward whack at harmful, entrenched belief is sometimes best, but not every time. Diversity in speaking the truth in love is what counts, especially since we live in a time that still calls us to break open the Church’s frozen imagination. Filled with images rooted in the past of who is qualified to lead the Church, most members still doubt whether clergywomen have the requisite skills to lead the denomination. Even after fifty-five years of witnessing their competence and grace and their transmission of the good news of Christ in ways that cross all barriers in its appeal, members continue to doubt.
Unfreezing the imagination that has shut out untold numbers of passionate and skilled clergywomen requires creative tools. Hence, a creative whacking wardrobe can stimulate the Church’s imagination to embrace God’s new day. Here are a few tools to woo the spirit away from lifeless images and get the Church’s attention.
Music makes an excellent wardrobe because it comes in all colors and styles. Particularly, the text of the hymn “We Meet You, O Christ” swings the whacking tool with engaging poetry before the preacher even says a word about greed, race, or prison reform. Who could ask for a better setup than “involved in our life, you live down the road. Imprisoned in systems, you long to be free; we see you, Lord Jesus, still bearing your tree”? 1These lines can take us to the borders of the immigration conflict or to the boardroom of the health-care debate. The line “For freedom you march, in riots you die” is perfect for commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr., Day or holding a public vigil or demonstration. Stanza 3 asks our congregations where they have seen Jesus’ face in the newspaper and what is needed to plant the tree of life in our communities. By singing a stanza between sections of a sermon, the seeds of grace and truth are planted by the congregation for us to come alongside and pour the water of change and challenge. The hymnist, the congregation, and the preacher share the fifty-pound hammer. Pick another hymn if it is closer to the heart of your people.
Also, working for change is as much about wooing as whacking, and sometimes it is more. The pain of racial conflicts is so deeply embedded in our history that talking about it is still hard. How do we circumvent the yawns, growls, and gritting of teeth so that we can make some headway? How about coming through another door to start the subject? Granted, it is especially hard when you are the subject. President Obama, for instance, walks a fragile line, for no matter what he says about race, he steps on countless toes, coming down hard. His race, just like clergywomen’s gender, calls up deep emotions and cannot be ignored. The Church must be prepared for conflict, negativity, and knee-jerk reactions that can harm the effectiveness of its ministry.
With knotty subjects, a low-threat approach can open doors that have been nailed shut for a long time. Hosting a series of talks on human relations, with guest speakers first addressing the thorny issues, gives the pastor the opportunity to continue the talks that imagine a new future. Cultural wisdom says we will never get to second base with our feet firmly planted on home plate. Creative risk is the key.
Another strategy means wrapping the subject and the whacking tool in different attire. How about scrumbled yarn? Scrumbling, a women’s hand art of the past, is the art of making something new out of the strands and straggles long forgotten. It tosses out the old rules of knitting one row and then purling one, or of single crocheting to the end and then repeating it. Scrumbling changes the old patterns of colors and traditional designs. Scrumblers freely construct their own designs from the yarn in the bottom of their baskets and give the yarn new life in the center of the pattern. No longer are they bound by chains and how-to books. Fifteen hundred members of annual conferences and other groups have dared to scrumble new symbols with me as they literally crafted and knitted colors, patches, braids, and circles together during and after my sermon.
A different door is opened when the preacher paints a new racial landscape that restores those on the margins to the center of decision making while your audience creates a symbol of economic and social change. During my years as president of the General Board of Church and Society, a uniquely scrumbled piece of art was created during and after a presidential address. The board members, a women’s group on retreat, and hotel workers added their handcrafted pieces of the vision to a shared symbol of hope in our world. A similar experience was shared at the California-Nevada and the Rocky Mountain Annual Conferences as we explored the theme of diversity in the Church and the world.
Art and creativity have the power to thaw the imagination as we sneak past the watchful dragons of tradition and logic. Often considered simply a “women’s craft,” these hand arts hold the potential to voice new cultural, religious, and political realities. They can still change lives.
What is your passion? Each of us is filled to overflowing with God’s creative energy. Do you paint? Garden? Run? Cook? Build? Sew? Are you passionate about science, swimming, aerobics, architecture, writing, or preaching? The abundant gifts dwelling in our female bodies are the holy links to the prickly subjects of our day that can disarm the most ardent defenders of the past with grace and possibility. As Christ’s leading women, may our creative gifts be the bridge that lead our communities of faith to boldly embrace the difficult themes of our day with imagination and hope.
1 Fred Kaan, lyricist, “We Meet You, O Christ,” The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), no. 257.