Street Preaching? Let Your Life Speak!
If you are personally connected to me at all, or you are a part of my blogs very small following, you will not have missed my participating in advocacy on behalf of the gay and transgender community both for marriage equality and now for the #AddtheWords movement trying to get the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” added to Idaho’s Human Rights Act.
A week or so ago a friend mentioned to me that he was excited to see me out there at the Capital in my robe and stole… and then added, “even if it is a preaching robe.”
I’m not sure if that friend even meant anything by that last comment. But I’ve reflected quite a bit on it. What does the robe mean when I wear it? It is just a preaching robe? And if it’s a preaching robe should I be wearing in moments of advocacy out on the streets?
I’m thinking on this partly because I will confess that I don’t like wearing my robe at these events. It makes me uncomfortable. It feels in varying ways: pretentious, out of place, self-important… but I wear it. I wear it because I’ve been repeatedly asked to. The robe symbolizes religious establishment and authority and the role of leadership in the church and when a major force holding back LGBT equality IS the religious establishment people want to see that symbol used to endorse that equality. People are turning bibles into weapons to hurl condemnation… so we also need to show them bibles and churches as messages of love that build bridges, tear down walls, and offer sacramental inclusion. Here I stand. I will offer you the same awareness of blessing, the same service of washing, the same meal at the table… you are as welcome to my love and community as anyone else. This is good news. This is THE good news; this is the Gospel. And… this is preaching.
You have probably heard it quoted before, from St Francis (see foot note below about that), “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” The sentiment reminds us that our deeds and our words need to both “preach” the same message. It is incarnation theology. We need to “make flesh” the ideas we believe. What we do – our actions – in the world tell a story. Our actions preach. So what are they preaching? Are they preaching the story we wish they would? Are they preaching the gospel? If every day we are basically writing the next chapter of our book… we are, each of us, in the act of writing our own Acts of the Apostles. How does it read? Mine is a pretty winding road… more winding; less pretty.
But as I was standing out on the Idaho State Capital steps this morning in silent prayer for our legislature and the LGBT community whose vulnerability our legislature will not fully acknowledge or protect, this is what I was thinking. And what I realized was. This is preaching. My robe belongs here. This means as much or more than any 15 minutes I have spent in the pulpit of a church – my life is the pulpit and here I stand today… preaching.
But it’s not about me. Me and my fancy robe feeling all too awkwardly pretentious. It’s about all of us. We may not all have a robe or stole or even a brightly covered scarf… but we all are called to preach with our lives. What news does your life preach? Is it good? Is it freeing? Does it build community and people up? What story are you sharing with the world? For whom do you preach, and for what? Because you are always preaching, one way or the another, whether you recognize that or not. So – to quote (more assuredly) another great spiritual thinker, Parker Palmer – “Let your life speak!”
As far as I can tell there is no actual documented place St. Francis of Assisi said this, and multiple places name it a misquote or mis-attribution. There are comments in his writing about the journey and the message needing to be the same. That is about as close as he comes to this actual quote. This doesn’t make the thought wrong, and it doesn’t mean he may not have agreed with the thought, it does means the thought isn’t given authority by being “from him.” The authority it does have is on the basis of being true to you.