The Farm (22)

My doctoral training taught me to read behaviour, and to read only behaviour, by-and-large dismissing what people said.  And while I was being trained full-time I also worked full-time.  The church at which I was working had terrible problems with infighting.  Seventeen people sat in a brand new building my first Sunday there built by many more but decimated by a few; by the time two years had passed we had 120 in the service.  That growth occurred because of painstakingly addressing people’s behaviours, inviting them to imagine what actually living the gospel would look like in daily life.  I had neither intentions nor delusions about changing behaviours, but only of inviting people into better behaviours.  But in spite of the refreshing hopes of new congregants after three years it became clear that the overarching cultural values of white middle-class Christianity would continue to mitigate against any real implementation of the gospel; this congregation mostly would remain self-serving and could not even give a damn about practically addressing the genuine needs of others, even those within the congregation.  And as pastorally successful as I was, being in this place was financially killing us.  Trying to raise a family of five on $6,000/year was murder.  Paid a stipend to attend a free doctoral program at an Ivy League school I was using student loans to pay for food and electricity while working for the church 40 – 60 hours a week; we qualified for food stamps (which we did not file for).  After three years of praising me as their pastor this church full of professionals voted not to give me even a liveable wage but to start a building program for all the young families with children who were now attending.  What did I do?  What else?  I read their behaviour.  White eastern church society was extremely self-contained, monied, and exclusive.  I realized that they really did not value the gospel; they did not truly love me as I loved them.  And so it was no surprise that when I turned in my resignation the congregation reacted with calculated fury.

I also read the behaviour of those in the academy that had trained me to read behaviour.  Accusatory.  Divisive.  Punitive.  Competitive.  I simply started to ask questions and raise observations.  And for this I received a backlash from teachers and students who were ostensibly instructors of the gospel and who verbally spoke words of care, but who were in fact sadistic and narcissistic.

I had come to deeply miss the people of northern Canada…aboriginals, Metis, blue collar practical marginalized farmers and loggers living lives in genuine communities along the bush line.  And so with my coursework done and my field research to do I accepted a position as clergy in a congregation in an isolated small town in the American West, jumping from the frying pan directly into the fire, which far from discouraging me, and as physically dangerous and emotionally draining as it would prove to be, galvanized who I was becoming into what I am today.

Jonas & Ezekiel – Indigo Girls

I left my anger in a river running highway 5
New Hampshire, Vermont, bordered by
College farms, hubcaps, and falling rocks
Voices in the woods and the mountaintops

I used to search for reservations and native lands
Before I realized everywhere I stand
There have been tribal feet running wild as fire
Some past life sister of my desire

Jonas and Ezekiel hear me now
Steady now and don’t come out
I’m not ready for the dead to show it’s face
Whose turn is it anyway?
Anyway?

Now when I was young my people taught me well
Give back what you take or you’ll go to hell
It’s not the devil’s land, you know it’s not that kind
Every devil I meet becomes a friend of mine
Every devil I meet is an angel in disguise

Jonas and Ezekiel hear me now
Steady now and don’t come out
I’m not ready for the dead to show it’s face
Whose angel are you anyway?

White, chain, rope, fear
(hush my darling)
Be still my dear

A bullet in the head, now he’s dead
A friend of a friend, someone said
He was an activist with a very short life
I think there’s a lesson here – he died without a fight

In the war over land where the world began
Prophecies say it’s where the world will end
But there’s a tremor growing in our backyard
Fear in our heads, fear in our hearts
Prophets in the graveyard

Jonas and Ezekiel hear me now
Steady now and don’t come out
I’m not ready for the dead to show it’s face
Whose turn is it anyway?

Jonas, Ezekiel hear me now
Steady now I feel your ghost about
I’m not ready for the dead to show it’s face
Whose angel are you anyway?

I said there’s prophets in the graveyard
(now I walk in beauty)
Prophets in the graveyard
(beauty is before me)
Prophets in the graveyard
(beauty is behind me)
(above and below me)