Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Of Pilgrimage, Guilt, and Social Change

I've included below some reflections - really unfinished thoughts - about the march and rally I attended for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (labor organization behind the Taco Bell boycott, earlier McDonalds post, etc.) The experience itself was invigorating and hopeful, and I even got to address the crowd, which was a thrill. Here is a link to the Presbyterian News Service article regarding the rally in Miami. However, while I was there, I couldn't shake the feeling that I wasn't doing enough - that there is so much more work I could be doing to actively change our systems of injustice. I felt guitly for times I had chosen not to act. I heard in my own explanations for how I lived in Louisville during the Taco Bell campaign but didn't turn out that same hollow ring I get at times when people who I know have a few hours to donate to a good cause beg off from taking direct action on social issues. I know this sensation of shame is a fairly common phenomenon. What do you all think about activist guilt? Am I a closet subscriber to works-righteousness? If so, is that a bad thing? Is this a motivating force for good? If so, how do I keep my sense of guilt from spoiling the victories I do see?

Pilgrimage of Social Change

The pilgrimage has a long history as a ritualistic journey of urgent piety and desire for change - both inward and outward. Tom Driver describes it as "a journey undertaken not so much for empirical as for moral reasons.... First of all, a journey undertaken out of felt necessity." (Driver, 42) Whether in the mandatory trek to Mecca, the pious paths leading to and fro throughout medieval literature, or in modern day horror tourism, where sites of rampage and grief become centers for popular education and communal mourning, people throughout history and across cultures have learned that the act of travel with moral purpose can transform the heart and mind. It is a personal ritual, enacted across long stretches of public space, and through this journey the spirituality of the environment we come to adopt is challenged and challenges us. Through the motion of walking, flying, biking, we ourselves are moved to spiritual transformation. In this process, we also become a public witness to the possibility for transformation, and hope that the new reality will embrace will spread to those around us.
I, too, took a pilgrimage of sorts this month. Through a sense of moral urgency, and the desire for personal and communal transformation, I embarked on a wearying journey of a spiritual - and political - nature. I took this pilgrimage alongside 2,000 others, declaring together that, this time, the spiritual journey of moral necessity would change not just the souls of the pilgrims but the soul of our economics.

Pilgrimages begin with a sense of moral urgency - the raising of consciousness that something must change for the process of spiritual rebirth to continue. My consciousness-raising began about 5 ½ years ago as I was reading about the proceedings of the General Assembly. I saw an article describing the Assembly’s decision to endorse a boycott of Taco Bell in support of tomato pickers in Florida. I was brought back to 2nd grade, when my mother dutifully explained to me that we didn’t buy Nestle products because they made families in Africa dependent on formula that they couldn’t afford, and our faith (and the United Methodist Women) taught us that this was not alright. I did not yet understand the working conditions of Immokalee, the lack of labor law as applied to undocumented peoples, or the growing influence of agro-business on our economic policies. What I did know was that my church had spoken out against Taco Bell, and that my church provided moral guidance in the ways of economics. As I learned more about the movement, and saw it grow, my sense of moral urgency grew with it.

I then moved to Louisville, and saw this moral battle play out before my eyes. I scoured the want ads, and felt a tug of resistance each time I saw YUM! brands advertising for another customer service assistant. I worshipped in the same space where local people planned the demonstrations that would eventually prove a victory for Immokalee. I felt guilt about my own inability to get involved because of a work schedule that conflicted with each event they had planned. I saw how my beliefs and buying practices had not yet been realized in my actions enough that I would make the commitment to action, even while living in the shadow of YUM! brand’s headquarters. I saw, in myself, how my own actions needed transformation in ways I had not yet been able to embrace.

And so, I admit, I embarked on my pilgrimage to Miami partly out of guilt - out of a desire to mediate this conflict between orthodoxy and orthopraxis that had nagged at me since I first came to Louisville. In this I am not alone. I stand with all those through history who have embarked on a pilgrimage as a way of penance for actions of which they are ashamed. Yet part of the power of the pilgrimage is its ability to turn this shame into inspiration and devotion.
18 hours of travel brought us to the city center of Miami. Having driven all night, 6 of us joined an ever-increasing crowd of devotees who marched together for 9 miles in 90 degree heat, partial penance for our complicity in exploitation. Communally, we were bearing witness to the hope that not only would we, individually, be transformed in the way that we saw the labor of others, but that this transformation would extend to those who witnessed our dolorous journey. In our pilgrimage, we made our selves representatives of our society, and hoped that they, too, would take note and repent of their sin as we were repenting and making reparation for our own.

In fact, I believe that it is this hope that personal penance become social penance that inspires all marches for issues of social justice. We walk together, knowing that the journey binds us together as a community of hope and repentance. Martin Luther King described this phenomenon when he described the March on Washington, stating "The enormous multitude was the living, beating heart of an infinitely noble movement. It was an army without guns, but not without strength... It was a fighting army, but no one could mistake that is most powerful weapon was love." (King, 123) In these words, King describes the reality that this was a group who came together to usher transformation into the world around them, through hope and a love that rectifies injustice. In doing so, this march, like all marches of its type, acted as a beacon to the community that there is a greater, transformed, possibility for our world if we will journey together on a communal pilgrimage.

We walked by faith, through faith, in faith that change can and will happen. It is that desire for change that is at the heart of all pilgrimages, and the heart of all great social movements. And so, in a way, the archetypal march for justice has become a communal means of sharing the truth of pilgrimage - that change and transformation occur through the journey, whether we will have it or not, and that those who choose to ignore it are those who should be shackled by shame. Through this journey, I personally learned to embody the convictions I had been declaring for years. For me, that was the transformative power of ritual pilgrimage - the spiritual change and charge that come from an arduous but inspiring journey.

Driver, Tom F. "Liberating Rites: Understanding the Transformative Power of Ritual." Boulder, Co: Westview Press 1998
King, Martin Luther, Jr. "Why We Can’t Wait." New York: Penguin 1963

Monday, October 22, 2007

Results are in

And the verdict is...

Two exams passed, and two failed.

I expected the results on the Exegetical exam but...

How in the world did I fail POLITY?!!!!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Over and done... Maybe...

I've spent nigh on the last week buried in the Song of Songs, Chapter 1, and while I found it intriguing, I'm glad to know that it's over - maybe. In a fairly typical, flaky move I misread the time the test was due by three hours. Thankfully, a classmate asked me about it around 9, when it was due. I had the paper in by 9:25 (though the sermon outline wasn't nearly as formed as I would have preferred), and my proctor had me staple a note to the front telling them what time I handed it in. So, either they reject it and I fail, and they accept it, and I still may either fail or pass. I feel good about Exegetical questions, but the sermon outline still needed alot of work. I guess I'll find out the verdict on Oct 22. At least it was an intriguing text...

I'm looking forward to the semester that's looming ahead. My classes are looking to be quite fascinating, and I've got an internship in our denomination's national offices working as support staff to 10 advocacy networks, collectively known as "Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Assocation." I'll be swamped in issues regarding community transformation, reproductive option, mental health issues, child advocacy, domestic violence - all sorts of social issues the church needs to be addressing. This should prove to be exciting work.

Right now, I'm glad to be done with ords, at least until January. I'm fairly certain I passed everything but Exegesis. I hope all is well in your respective worlds. Take care.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Things I Learned this Summer

1) I really like living in my hometown.

2) Therapeutic lying is a riot.

3) My CPE supervisor thinks I'm "enigmatic."

4) That said, I'm still really bad at anything that requires hiding what I think or feel.

5) The ordination exams aren't nearly as intimidating as I had feared.

6) My Preparation Committee knows me better than I think they did.

7) As much as I talk about the need to "preach prophetically," it scares the bejeezus out of me when I do it.

8) 12 hours of travel each way for a 48 hour meeting is no longer exciting and fun.

9) I can live in the same house with someone who annoys the heck out of me, and remain civil.

10) But I do so by making up errands for myself and avoiding going home.

11) Mandolins have two strings for each note, and they're a lot harder on your fingers than a violin.

12) Sometimes, it's refreshing to not see another Presbyterian for days at a time.

13) However, I really love the richness and variety of our Book of Confessions.

14) While the signs say that I'll be cleared to seek an ordained call in March, chances are good that if I were to find a job within my home presbytery, I would be denied membership for my political views.

15) I grieve deeply because of statement #14.

16) But I'm also emotionally ready to take the risks associated with stating it out loud.

Quite the summer, huh?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Blessings to you all from Washington State.

I'm currently sitting in the Spiritual Care office of St Peter's hospital, the same building in which I was born 27 years ago next Thursday.
I have attempted to write and post several times over the course of the summer, but the computer at the house where I have been staying seems to have a specific block that only targets new posts in this particular format. Odd, I say the least.
The summer has been full. CPE has been rewarding, as I have delved inward, built community, and discovered that working with people with dementia can be riotous fun. I preached to my home church for the first time since learning how to go through the full process, which was intimidating but powerful. And, I have adored living in Olympia again after 6 years as a domestic ex-pat, which was my biggest fear for this summer.
These two months have been more rewarding than I had hoped.

Now, just for a little notice - I finally figured out how to track where my readers (0-5 per day) are coming from, and how they get to this website. I've discovered that there are a few blogs out there that have linked to me without telling me (Namely, Levellers and Prog(ressive) Nostications). While I am horribly flattered, and will return the link, I would love to be notified in the future when such unknown alliances appear. Also, there seems to be one reader in Georgia who keeps returning to my page. Please leave a comment so I can hear back fron you!

Thanks, everyone, and you'll hear more from me when I have access to a computer that doesn't detest blogger (I know, promises promises....).


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Surprise! You're Published!

Conversation at lunch yesterday:

Becky: I got Horizons Magazine yesterday, and read your article!

Amy: What article is that?

Becky: The one on No More Deaths.

Amy: They published that in Horizons?!

So... The news is... Horizons adapted a resource I wrote for Presbyterian Women's Justice and Peace committee into an article for their magazine... With a circulation of about 45,000... The issue arrived in mailboxes Tuesday, and hasn't yet been put online. I'm still rather surprised - shocked - excited - all rolled into one. As they didn't tell me they were adapting it beforehand (or if they did, I skipped reading the memo), I was rather bemused for a good portion of the day yesterday, but it's still quite thrilling. I've written for the magazine before, and am currently working on a book review for the October issue, but, beforehand, I've always known I was writing for publication before it was sent in. Golly, what a week!

Monday, May 14, 2007


This poem shook me today as I read about the organic nature of pastoral care. May it shake you as well.

When the hands that hold the host
Have plunged fingers, with seeds into damp soil,
Or swung an axe in sweat-soaked toil,
There's blessing in the cup.

When hands that break bread in remembrance
Have tenderly birthed a lamb,
Or cradled an infant at midnight,
Life itself is elevated on the altar.

When the soul of a celebrant has known
The sweetness of friendship ripened on love's vine
Been duly crushed by heartbreak, flattened by aching loss,
The wine of the covenant is richly shared.

For the soot of the city,
The pain of the people,
The touch of another,
Stain the tablecloth, yet
Consecrate many hands.

By them, bread is blessed, and rises,
Thus, the corpus contains
Every grain of creation, broken
In bright conspiracy --- transformed.

by Kathleen O'Toole