Saturday, November 6, 2010

Reflections from the "Call to Action" Conference

I write from Milwaukee, WI where I’m attending my first “Call to Action” conference.  Though my first time in attendance, the conference began in 1978.  It’s hosted by an organization that’s tag line is “Catholics working together for justice and equality”.  

I didn’t know what to expect since I’ve attended fewer religious conferences than I have fingers on one hand.  I found people of all ages with deep convictions, passionately trying to align their actions with Jesus’ examples. They want to render human dignity.  They want to work for peace.  They want to include people.  They want to hold leaders accountable.  They want to feed hungry people, house homeless people, and heal broken people.  More than “want” to do these things, their passionate desire to imitate Christ leads them to action.

Simple acceptance by their faith community is the most they ask in return. They just want to be accepted as God authentically made them.  Yet due to their prophetic voices unsettling some church leaders many have experienced or are experiencing rejection by the church’s institutional hierarchy and/or orthodox laity.  Others feel church leaders and the ultra-orthodox will only “accept” them if they pretend to be someone other than who God made them to be.

Listening to their stories of injustice and rejection within the institutional church might lead one to expect a veil of bitterness and antipathy enshrouding the conference.  Instead, I found hopeful and hope-filled people.  I found joyful people.  I found peaceful, gentle, compassionate, humble, loving people who pray for those who persecute them and support fellow humans suffering persecution.  I found strong people who remain in the church despite pain to provide guiding voices.

Their collective rejections give them a sliver of insight into Jesus’ pain of rejection.  This increases their compassion.  More importantly, they identify with the leper, the tax collector, the sinner and the outcast to whom Jesus rendered human dignity.  They have no pretentions. 

I imagine this eclectic group of ecclesial outcasts and institutional fringe dwellers resembles the sort of people towards whom Jesus gravitated.  They identify with people like Mary Magdalene, ridiculed by religious leaders when their passionate response to Jesus’ call to follow him results in breaking cultural or religious norms.  However, their convictions and love of Jesus and God’s people are greater than the pain of enduring criticism or rejection by hierarchical figures or laity.

One speaker told a story about a rabbi and student.  In this story, the student told the rabbi, “I love you.”  The rabbi did not reply.  The student repeated, “Rabbi, I love you”.  Again the rabbi did not respond.  Finally, the student shouted, “Rabbi, I love you!”  The rabbi paused, looked at the student and said, “Do you know what hurts me?  Until you know my pain, you cannot love me.”

The people I’ve met at this conference listen to people’s pains so that they may love them.  To do this they err on the side of feeding people, including people and healing people rather than judging people.  

I just wonder how church hierarchical leaders learn people’s pains.  Do they love or demonize people like those attending this conference and those for whom the attendees advocate?  Do they include or exclude them?  Do they heal or hurt them?  Do they listen to them or tune them out?  Do they know them and their pains or dismiss them as caricatures?  Do they welcome them or fear them?  Why?

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