Last night Juan, Sofia and I drove over to neighboring Brooklyn (other side of the bay) to the Brooklyn Museum that stays open late on the first Saturday of each month. We wanted to see the Jean-Paul Gaultier show, being big fans of his design work—and thought it would be a fun night out on a chilly evening.
After seeing the Gaultier show, which was by the way, amazing—we stopped in at the café for a late-night snack.
Two beautiful women sat down next to us in the café. We struck up a conversation only to learn that one of the women is a member of an alternative religious order, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. We talked about our responses to what was presented in the Gaultier show—design, the body and creative blurring of gender lines. They
asked us to take some photos of them; we obliged and Juan ended up posing playfully for some photos together. The one Sister spent a few moments on each of us—complementing, finding a way to get to know who we were in a very quick and effective way. She made us smile, the conversation was all about us—and at the end she told us what she did, what the Order was, invited us to Google it to learn more and departed with a blessing and a hug for all. She told us to enjoy life and each other. I never got a chance to disclose what I do, and it wasn’t until they evaporated into the night and I ran a quick Google search did I know what I had just experienced.
From their website the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence say
…we are a leading-edge order of queer nuns… Since our first appearance in San Francisco on Easter Sunday, 1979, the Sisters have devoted ourselves to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment. We believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty and we use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.
“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13)
What if we as the “mainline” or “traditional” church “evangelized” like this?
- Struck up conversations with total strangers, making them feel in seconds that they are blessed, loved and the center of the universe?
- Openly discussed beauty, especially that which does not follow the “conventional lines” but helps us see more?
- Stayed out late on Saturday nights (which most “church” people don’t do because you have to get up early on Sunday morning) to find people to bless?
- Left our communities of “home” to engage others (this Sister travelled from France to Nashville to NYC).
- Expert practitioners at short, immediate, meaningful connections with strangers that noticed something to celebrate, saw each person as beloved, and offered care with no strings attached?
- Invited strangers into a conversation that leaves them hungering for something more?
- Tell people about our faith communities but the telling is 100% for their blessing not ours?
- Leave a memory (in this case, photos on iPhones).
- Have no building, no place, only clusters of community that are committed to acts of justice, mercy and love?
- Have “mission statements” that invite us to go out and find those who need to be unchained? That person who needed unchaining last night, I believe was me…and that Sister noticed it—and went at me like a laser—and in five minutes opened me up. I am so grateful…
- Use mundane moments to tell others about our ministry and offer love, grace, play and care? (isn’t that the definition of evangelism)?
For the last nearly 13 years as a local church Pastor my weekends were so orchestrated and centered around the life of a local church community. One of the deficits of that life is that I didn’t get out into the world as much as I wanted to, and so am not as open to these sorts of experiences that have a spiritual nature to them. I think this happens to our longtime members as well. We can get focused in and not out—and it’s about us and our community, about us and our survival—so it is very hard and very challenging to be like these Sisters and to be unattached to “outcomes.”
It’s not a judgement, it’s just the way it is or has become for so many of our communities in the “mainline/traditional” these days…and I wonder to myself this morning, after reading the Sister’s mission statement and experiencing it as they ministered to me last night, how are we participating in chaining the human and Divine Spirit and how can we go in a new direction?
We have to re-adjust ourselves to be open, to see and to grow.
Last night offered me much to think and reflect on—these Sisters and their brief, unexpected ministering is one expression of what a life centered around Jesus-like behavior might look like.
What a holy experience meeting those Sisters.
What a blessed re-learning about faith and evangelism.
What a teaching it can offer our communities of faith today, one that I will take with me…