Driving down the road these days, I spot occasional bumper stickers which, of course, I need to get close enough to read. There are the usual political bumper stickers supporting various candidates and or tickets, some making humorous statements ( a personal favorite is "I support the right to arm bears"), some sporting the names and logos of churches and a pithy little saying like "No Jesus, no peace, Know Jesus, know peace", and some straddle the line between political and religious statements of belief. It's always interesting although sometimes it is tempting to judge the intelligence of the driver by how much I agree with their posted statements on the back bumper of their vehicle. My truck, however, gives them only one expression of my belief and that is an Episcopal Church shield on the back window. I'm rather proud of it and this is the second vehicle upon which it has been placed. I haven't gotten egged yet because of it, nor do I think the sticker has caused upraised fingers or derisive comments. It's my way of saying "This is important to me and I hope it makes you curious enough to investigate it."
I've seen a lot of bumper stickers advocating the pro-life position, insofar as the unborn are concerned. That's fine with me; folks should have a right to express their beliefs, even if it is on the back end of their cars or trucks. I do wonder, though, if they also support the ones who have transitioned from womb to world, or does the support only cover those in weeks 1-20 of their prenatal lives?
One thing I wish I'd see, though, is the bumper sticker supporting the Roman Catholic sisters who put their faith where their mouths are and are actually out working with the poor, the homeless, the abandoned, the sick, the undocumented and umpteen other un-(fill in the blank) things. What's got my knickers in a twist is the pronouncement from the Vatican that some of the sisters are spending too much time preaching and doing the social gospel when they should be speaking out against abortion and homosexual marriage. I don't think it's just me, but doesn't that sound just the slightest bit strange? A church claiming to be universal (Roman Catholic) and the true way to God, ignoring all the things Jesus taught and demanding public stances on things about which Jesus didn't say a word? And this "investigation" and declaration against some sisters who do follow Jesus's words and teachings who are now being threatened by a bunch of men in lace cottas and bright red dresses who have generally tried to sweep the pedophilia (and hebephilia) of some of their brother priests under the rug and pretend it really didn't happen? Is it me or does that seem just the slightest bit inconsistent and, truth be told, unChristian?
Ok, so what is it to me as an Episcopalian? Well, I did try to be a Roman Catholic for several years a long time ago. I tried hard, but in the end I couldn't do it. There were just too many things I thought I could live with but which I found I couldn't and still be honest about my faith. I think God had a hand in that because when I walked back into the Episcopal Church after my walkabout it felt like coming home. I could almost hear God saying, "Ok, SIT! STAY!" I did, even thought there were times I didn't darken a church door. This was also long before I ever really knew the word "feminist" much less thought about being one myself. I knew I wasn't going to burn my bras and I didn't hate men so what did feminism have to do with me? Over the years I've learned that I am one, if for no other reason than I believe women have the God-given ability to be more than second-class citizens, accountable to any male who has any bit of authority over them, and who are not allowed to fulfill some roles because "The Bible clearly says that the man is the head of the woman." Thanks, I have my own head, and even if it forgets things now and again, it still functions fairly well. So do most of the women I know. They're really a pretty amazing bunch.
I didn't realize how powerful it could be to have a woman at the altar, not just setting up the chalice, candlesticks, book stands and all but actually elevating the host and blessing the water and wine. I didn't realize how affirming it could be to hear women read or preach in church instead of sitting meekly in the pews listening to men do those things. I didn't realize how strong women were in their faith until I read of the murder of the nuns of El Salvador or the work of Mother Teresa and her sisters serving in the slums of India and other countries. I never thought of the power and clarity of women theologians like Sr. Joan Chittister OSB or Sr. Elizabeth A. Johnson CSJ until I read their works and then the criticisms of those works by male clerics in the church hierarchy who disagreed with their conclusions and sought to muzzle them for their words and beliefs. They have all had a powerful effect on me as an Episcopalian, a woman and as a moderate feminist. I still don't want to burn my bra or hate men, but I sure can have a very strong dislike for men who feel they are entitled to the power to keep other women from being and doing all that they are able and are called by God to do, not to mention use their brains for more than remembering how to make baby formula or reciting a rosary. Even contemplative nuns have my respect. It takes a lot of gumption to spend a life cloistered and in prayer, faithful to the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. Being obedient, however, shouldn't mean there is no room for thinking, reasoning and even arguing if they believe something is wrong.
So, hopefully in the next few days, there will be a bumper sticker somewhere on my truck's chassis or window that proclaims that I support the nuns. I support them in their vocation and support them in their desire to follow the teachings of Jesus, the same Jesus who spent a lot of time with women, taught them, healed them, laughed with them and could even be persuaded by them. I'd make a lousy nun, but I certainly admire those who answer that call and live that life fully and faithfully. And by faithfully I mean faithful to God, even if it goes across guys in red dresses and yards of lace.
Oh, and if I get honks, snide comments or even an elevated digit, so what? Who knows? Maybe I'll get a smile, a wave or even a thumbs-up. Call it ministry by bumper sticker.