Monday, July 24, 2006

PeaceBang And Ministerial Jesters

We've caused quite a stir over at Beauty Tips for Ministers,
Check it out, y'all!

As it turns out, Gender Ambiguous Liturgy Dude is Rev. Jack of the Midwest Discordian Ministry, and was ordained (he says "registered" on his own website) through the Universal Life Church. The argument in the comments section runs along the expected lines of "What nonsense, he's not a real minister if he's ordained over the internet," to "But if you knew Rev. Jack you would realize he's the real deal," etc.

What do I think about all of this?

I am a congregationalist in body, mind, heart and soul. To me, a divinity degree does not make a minister, although I heartily believe that seminary training is essential to clerical formation.
I acknowledge, however, that theological education can be had elsewhere.
I believe that God calls us to the ministry, our own nature and temperament outfit us for it with varying degrees of effectiveness, and that our congregations ordain us to it. If communities accept Rev. Jack as a minister, if they ask him to preach to and to counsel to them, to marry them when they love and to bury them when they're dead, he's legitimate to them, and my opinion matters very little.

My opinion, for what it's worth, is that I will probably never consider someone ordained through the Universal Life Church a colleague in the true and full sense, while I may sincerely support their ministry. In that way I am an institutionalist. I also fully support the importance of collegial vetting through the MFC, for the Unitarian Universalists reading this.

There is something else, though, and it has to do with the sort of Holy Fool element in all of this.

I am not a fan of the Holy Fool approach to ministry, which embraces the wacky ways of the Holy Spirit over-against the orderliness of tradition, however unintentionally silly and nonsensical tradition may be.

Ministers who create a kind of holy fool persona for themselves mostly strike me as a jejeune lot -- dramatically and publicly ambivalent about the grave responsibilities of the office of minister. As a committed irreverent reverend myself, I can see the allure of the jester role. However, it's too easy to stay on the sidelines as a self-appointed mocker of tradition and etiquette; to make big clown eyes when you feel like it and say, "Gosh, I'm just a joker here. Don't take ME too seriously."
Yuck. My eyebrow cocks in suspicion just writing about it.

( Clarification: This is NOT to presume or insinuate that Rev. Jack sees himself as a Trickster/Joker figure in any other ministerial matter than that of his ordination. Although he's obviously a non-conformist, he doesn't seem to be presenting himself as a Holy Fool. But reading his website reminded me that I wanted to write about this phenomenon some time ago. I just wanted to make that clear)

Perhaps this is a gender issue. Women in religious leadership can hardly afford to wear the motley cap when we've struggled for thousands of years against sexism to earn our authority in the first place. That may be why I hold my jesting male colleagues in something close to contempt, although my heart wants to be far more generous. I want to say, "How dare you monkey around with this cutesy persona when human lives and souls are at stake?"

"But Jesus was the Lord of the Dance!" people say. "He was the ultimate Fool!"

Sure. But let's remember the full lyrics of "The Lord Of The Dance,"

I danced on the Sunday when I cured the lame,
The Holy people thought it was a shame,
They whipped and stripped and hung me high
And left me there on the cross to die.

Dance, then wherever you may be,
I am the lord of the Dance said he,
And I'll lead you all,
wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the dance said he.

I danced on the Friday, when the sky turned black,
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back.
They buried my body, and they thought I'd gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.

They cut me down and I leaped up high
I am the light that will never, never die,
I'll live in you, if you live in me,
I am the lord of the dance said he.

Being the Lord of the Dance -- wild, eternal, unkillable, insistently joyous and unquenchably charismatic -- is far different from the role assumed by too many self-appointed Holy Fools of today, some of whom I have personally experienced as pathologically passive aggressive ("Hey, ya can't take a joke, can you?"), egregiously irresponsible ("I'm the Joker, I'm the Holy Fool, you do the work. You answer to the people's expectations.") and basically just full of baloney.

I believe we have some authentic Holy Fools and Sacred Rebels among us, and that the twinkly and reportedly beloved Rev. Jack Ditch might be one of them.
I don't know. He lives in me as Gender Ambiguous Liturgy Dude. And wherever he may be today, I'm grateful to him for giving me the chance to spout off about Jesters I Have Known And Not Loved.

Dance on, everyone. I'm dancing off to Quebec tomorrow early afternoon and will not have access to a computer for nearly a week.
Comment away, but don't be disappointed if I can't keep up.


Blogger Reverend Jack said...

"Ministers who create a kind of holy fool persona for themselves mostly strike me as a jejeune lot -- dramatically and publicly ambivalent about the grave responsibilities of the office of minister."

It's not that I wish to turn serious things into jokes, so much as I take my jokes very seriously.

"Women in religious leadership can hardly afford to wear the motley cap when we've struggled for thousands of years against sexism to earn our authority in the first place."

Well, on the one hand, I'm gay, so it's not like mainstream hierarchies would be lining up to hand me authority if I sought it. But the point of the "Holy Fool" I represent is that I do not seek such authority in the first place. Authority is just not what I'm in this gig for. People will listen to me when they think I'm right, and correct me when they think I'm wrong, and I won't have it any other way.

The "Lord of the Dance" archetype you spoke of is what I'm going for: laughter and joy amidst chaos and condemnation. I'm sure I slip into a bit of "you just can't take a joke" and "I'm just the comedian" from time to time, but nobody's perfect.

Anyway, the real lessons to be learned from Holy Fools come not from what they say, but rather from how we react. When you stare into a fountain of nonsense and confusion, do you judge or accept? Despair or celebrate? Love or hate? I've always figured, if we can't abide a Holy Fool, then how are we to abide the far more wretched sinners that we as Christians are called to love and embrace? Holy Fools are like training wheels for compassion; our ability to take a joke is the seed of our ability to forgive the world.

As I hope I've shown in this post, I'll get gravely serious with whomever wants to get gravely serious. But personally, it's those times of gravest darkness when I most need and seek the light-hearted.

Blogger Jamie Goodwin said...

I would think that the vast majority of ULC ministers sought out said ministry because they felt they had something to offer or because the believed they could make a difference, each in their own way.

I think you would find very few of them who would try to compare their qualifications as on par with collegically trained ministers.

I kind of view it as a professional teacher, and the dedicated and intelligent parent who home-schools. One is essential in an institution beacuse of their training and specialities the other, while not specifically trained, can use their own knowledge and life experience to touch lives in an equally meaningful way.

I guess I sould point out that I am also a ULC minister, although i do not go by the adjective Reverend and have not yet sought a ministerial license.

Blogger Oversoul said...

I certainly have nothing against anyone attending divinity school, but I do think there is an interesting irony that none of the great religious figures of antiquity (Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Zoroaster, Moses) had any formal religious instruction. All sought, found, and then preached.

Blogger Chalicechick said...

That doesn't seem so weird to me, O-soul. You don't need an art history degree to be a famous artist, after all.

Creating ideas and transmitting ideas to the masses are two different jobs.


Blogger Sun Warrior said...

It is bizarre to think of The Lord of the Dance in jester terms. Why is joy foolish? Maybe some institutional schlerosis there. Not sure.

Kinda like knowing when God is laughing. You only know when you are laughing with Him. And its usually laughing at yourself. When you can laugh with God at yourself, you know you've grown.

As for seriousness... there are enough educated charlatans in the institutional Church to rival any mail-order ministers.

I guess it comes down to guts. The cacophony of theology is so dense, it takes a bull to charge through its barbed-wire, while everyone screams that the bull is actually in a china shop.

You go with what God has Given you, Jack. My prayers are with you, as the institution writhes in agony over your sexuality.

Right now I am having a ball with the Emergent Church sorts. It appears that for all their yearning to modernize a post-modern Church, they still cannot fathom who they are outside of their complex theology. And this despite having the best intellectual tools available that civilization has ever provided.

Just remember, there is only one entity that God calls a fool. It is a sin to call any of His Children that. But then I'm paraphrasing that other uneducated rebel, aren't I?

Dance then, wherever you may be... and damn the mind when it kills the heart.

Sun Warrior

Blogger UU Jester said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger UU Jester said...


I step out of the blogisphere for a week (due to circumstances beyond my control) and upon my return I find a jeremiad against ministers with jester personaes. My first reaction, understandably I think, is one of defensiveness. After setting that aside and reading through your post for a fourth time, I discover something rather distasteful.

I can't disagree with anything you wrote. (Well, most of it anyway).

The words you use to describe the "jesters you have known" are accurate for some jokers and clowns I have known as well-- and disliked as well. Since you and I have never met (that I know of) and have had only one or two brief blog exchanges, I'm going to take the safe route of assuming you aren't talking about me at all.

That being said, I feel a need to still defend the sacred fool, the role of Minister Jester. I take my ministry and my Jestering very seriously. I mock not for mocking's sake or out of passive agressivenes. When I am in the role of Jester, I am looking for the best way to get across a message that I think some people don't want to hear. For me, humor is the best way to convey that message in a medium others can accept and understand. Does it work? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Such is this case with all forms of ministry, though.

Jestering is not about being always funny, nor is it about being always joyful. It isn't about attacking tradition (thought that has its place sometimes). And it certainly isn't about sitting on the sidelines disengaged. True jesting is about pointing out our inconsistencies, our foibles, and our hubris-- and helping us to laugh at them. That laughter is both a highlight of such behaviors and an invitation to choose different behaviors.

It isn't easy work. People don't like to see themselves as fools. They certainly don't like to change. Often the message is heard and unheeded and the messenger is punished for their audacity and "presumption".

So has it always been in ministry.
And Jestering.


(Note to self: Write, Edit, then Post. No sense looking like a fool for poor word choice and poor spelling.)

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Hi Jester,
Thanks for your post. I wasn't writing about you or Jack, although you both prompted memories of jackass rebels and jesters I've known all my life.

The fact that you talk about taking on the "role" of jester indicates to me that jestering is something you do when you deem it necessary, as one mode of ministry. That's a lot different than what I was remembering, which is guys (and to a lesser extent, gals) who adamantly refuse to ever relinquish the jester and/or rebel outsider thing.

I'm sort of amazed how the Jack conversation has taken off.

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

I think Reverend Jack is awesome. I am not the type to seek out ministers for help or advice just because they have the title of ministers (there are a few people who I seek to be near who happen to be ministers).


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