Posted by: Marie | February 13, 2009

(15) My spiritual journey – Part 2 of 9

Post #15
[Therapy homework assignment completed on Tuesday, April 8, 2008 – continued from previous post]

When I was 20, I spent a semester in Washington, DC as part of an in-field cross-cultural experience for college credit.  I had to raise money from churches across the county for my living expenses.  One expense I had to cover was my travel from Colorado to Washington – well, someone in one of the churches had a son, Mick, who was traveling from Colorado to Washington the same week I needed to make that trip.  I could travel with him; I only had to pay for my own food and help drive.

The weekend after we arrived in Washington was Super Bowl weekend of 1988 – the two teams playing were the Denver Broncos and the Washington Red Skins.  Mick invited me to hang out with his friends and family for the game – I accepted.  However, I had one small problem – I only had enough money for subway fare to their house, but not enough for the return trip.  I decided I would trust God – I felt I was supposed to make that trip and to simply trust that my needs would be met.  So, I went.

It was a very fun day – I didn’t know anyone, but they made me feel welcome.  They only made me take the portable TV into the powder room and watch by myself during the time the Broncos were ahead in the first half.  When Washington turned the game around in the second half, they allowed me to come back into the living room.  (Okay, really, they only threatened to do that!  LOL!)

I never mentioned my need for subway fare . . .

After the game, one couple offered to give me a ride to the subway station.  I accepted, they drove me to the station – I got out of their vehicle and started walking towards the station entrance.  All the sudden, the guy hollered for me to wait – he handed me a $10 bill and said that he felt strongly he was supposed to give that to me.  It was more than enough to cover my fare.  I thanked him, started crying and told him he was an answer to prayer.  Once again, God met my needs.

Part of my time during the cross-cultural experience was spent working with under-privileged black kids and Hispanic refugees in the “projects”.  I tutored the black kids in a church learning center – many of them had been kicked out of the grade school because they were too violent.  I also tutored junior high Hispanic kids in their school, helping to mainstream them in the weeks after they arrived in the United States.  I tutored a younger brother and sister in their home because their single mom had to work and couldn’t be there to help them with homework.  Finally, I helped Hispanic families, many of whom were illegal, to find housing, clothes, food, etc. through a church-sponsored assistance center.

Having grown up in a farming community in rural Nebraska, this whole experience was a shock to me.  I saw several Hispanic parents – hardworking, quality parents – sob in frustration because they couldn’t feed their kids.  The black kids often showed up at the learning center hungry or cold – and we treated some of them for lice more than once.  I remember struggling with the question of “why?” when I listened to an 8-year-old calmly discuss with his little friend sitting next to him at the computer how two gay men who lived with his family in their tiny apartment were raping him on a regular basis (of course, we took steps to protect him, once we knew).  These experiences broke my heart.

I had planned to return to college the following semester, but I was offered an internship at a large church (2,000 people) in Virginia as a pastoral intern.  While the church was not associated with any particular denomination, its theological foundation tracked very closely with my family’s church.

I jumped at the chance to be an intern.  For eight months, I managed the nursery and directed the children’s summer programs (Vacation Bible School, camp, etc.)  I attended all the pastoral staff’s planning and status meetings (6-7 pastors in the church), so I got to see the inner workings of the church.

The pastor to whom I reported was none other than Dr. Joel from my college in Oklahoma – he had taken a position as Minister of Education at this church in Virginia – which is how I was offered the internship.  The mentoring he provided during my internship was very positive and educational.  In fact, my experience with most of the ministers on the pastoral staff was positive – were loving, caring people with good hearts.  For example, the singles’ pastor provided much needed counseling when I was grieving in response to my premonition of my dad’s death – I was grieving before he died (my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly three years after the counseling).

On the other hand, the focus of the senior pastor and one or two of the other pastors was disturbing to me.  I had always been taught by my dad that churches should be run like businesses, so I saw the wisdom in the more business-like decisions made by the pastoral staff.  However, the focus was often on “the show”.  The more senior pastors were always looking for whatever would make the biggest “splash and flash” – sometimes parading newly converted local celebrities in front of the congregation, using expensive/posh decor, sometimes using music to excite people into giving more money, etc.

The more senior pastors wanted to go down the televangelism path and the pastoral meetings were often focused on building that “showmanship” atmosphere.  I saw them go through the motions of “caring” for people – but it felt as if they always had an eye on how it would play to the audience or to the camera.  I had a very hard time mentally reconciling what I experienced in the inner city with what I observed in the pastoral staff meetings.

Dr. Joel held a vision for launching a theological college from this church, and he launched the first classes while I was working there.  In fact, I helped set up the college and the classes.  I also attended one of those first classes as a student.  I don’t remember the title/focus of the class, but I do remember that it was taught by the senior pastor.

For one of our assignments, we were required to be part of a protest rally at an abortion clinic.  Well, because of my pro-choice stance, this assignment didn’t sit well with me – I was a little riled that the senior pastor would assume that we (all four students) were pro-life and that we were willing to take a public stand on the matter.  I told the pastor that I would attend, but only as a bystander – he reluctantly agreed to that arrangement.

I did attend the rally, but it didn’t have much affect on me except to strengthen my pro-choice stance.  This was a bit of a sore spot for the pastor when we held follow-up discussions in the class on the matter.

During my internship, the ladies of the church offered to sponsor my participation in a national convention for the Concerned Women for America organization – it was held in Washington, DC.  It was my first exposure to eating a meal with seven pieces of silverware (I felt like a real hick, LOL!), my first exposure to national politics and my first exposure to politically conservative people.

It was during our commute into the city on the subway that I discovered that I was “liberal” in my thinking (I didn’t even know what that meant until that trip!)  I discovered this when I carefully listened to the discussions on public education vs. private education vs. home schooling, pro-life vs. pro-choice, etc.  I would have been content to keep my mouth shut (I knew I was greatly outnumbered), but the ladies insisted that I share my position on those matters.  So, I did.

Let’s just say, overall, the CWA convention was an awesome experience for me.  I got to see William Bennett and Oliver North speak and I learned a whole bunch about politics.  However, I also had to listen to several days of these ladies trying to convince me that my liberal position was un-Christian – they blamed it on my youth and my lack of life experience.  I came away from that experience more protective of personal choice than I ever had been before.

[Continued in the next post . . . ]


Responses

  1. Hi Marie,

    I’m sorry that you were pressured to disclose your personal political beliefs. That is a boundary that they did not respect. They were wrong and they were wrong to try to talk you out of or pressure you about your own personal beliefs. Plenty of older people believe what you believe and they know a lot and have a lot of life experiences.

    Good for you for speaking up.

    Kate


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