From Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
From Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

I am fascinated by the story of Jennifer Cramblett, an Ohio woman who is suing a Chicago-area sperm bank for giving her vials from the wrong donor. She and her partner had chosen a donor who was white. They were given vials from a donor who is black.

Among the complaints detailed in the suit, Cramblett is concerned her community and family are too culturally insensitive to raise a black/mix-raced child in racially homogeneous Uniontown, Ohio. She has anxiety when she thinks about her daughter entering an all-white school for the first time. And doing her daughter’s hair poses an issue because she does not know how to properly care for her daughter’s unique texture, which means she often goes to a salon in a black neighborhood where she is not “overtly welcome.” (By the way, Rory Mullen is a white mother who adopted a black daughter and blogs about hair care at Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care. I know many black moms who take pointers from her, myself included. She’s that good.)

I will attempt to be pastoral. I know Ms. Cramblett loves her daughter. I can see the love when she talks about her in interviews. I know she doesn’t regret having her. She and her partner have every right to sue this sperm bank; they were negligent. This couple did not get what they asked for, and I don’t think any of us should tell them to be just be happy they even have a child. They have a right to be angry and to seek damages. I only wish her complaint didn’t come with so much language about how having a black child is problematic. The sperm bank is responsible for their error. They’re not responsible for systems that make it difficult for a little black girl (and her lesbian mothers) to live freely in northeastern Ohio.

These moms have had the unusual experience (perhaps opportunity?) of being thrust into the world of “the other.” Even as they have been encumbered by their own blues, they’re now suddenly acquainted with the blues of others — and it’s understandably jarring to them. Up until now, it was easy to relegate these experiences to other people in other communities. It’s now at their own front door, crawling through their windows, and seeping in through their vents.

I wonder how many of us truly care to step into someone else’s world.

Reports of systematic rape and widespread crucifixions carried out by ISIS in the Levant saturate our news programs. Do we ever willingly and earnestly step into their horror? It’s difficult to do from the comfort of our couches in North America, and so it’s easier to not try.

As a Washington football fan (who would not object to and would even encourage a name change), I watched the uncomfortable exchange on The Daily Show between fans of the team’s name and members of Native American tribes who want to see the name go. The pro-name panel — one of whom is a friend — spoke passionately of their support of the name. But the mood visibly shifted when they were joined by the Native American panelists. Whatever your leanings are on the name or the nature of the controversial piece, you couldn’t deny that things got “real” in that moment. An issue was given flesh, and as such could not remain just an issue. The flesh had to be acknowledged.

When the Ebola virus was ravaging West Africa, it was sad. When it was diagnosed in Texas, it was real.

As we approach World Communion Sunday, a Sunday on which we celebrate and affirm our unity in Christ the world over, perhaps we can begin to move from mere platitudes toward an actual understanding that we are connected — in both Christ and humanity. Let us not be comfortable ignoring what devastates our neighbor, be they a county or a country away. As we take in the tangible Body, let us remember the tangible bodies around us, that they are real even as Christ’s presence is real. Their reality and Christ’s reality should move us beyond ideology to action, beyond comfort to connection. Hopefully this World Communion Sunday compels us to speak up and act up for those who are going through things we don’t understand, but that we can still acknowledge as injustice. I don’t have to know your suffering to know you’re suffering.

If your church sings “They’ll Know We Are Christians” this Sunday, can you do me a favor? Can you mean it when you sing it?

5 thoughts on “The Pastoral Is Political: We Are One In the Spirit?

  1. Denise, what a compelling story and challenge to all of us. I guess I wish this story were not about lesbians, who face their own difficulties. This morning my wife and I, who now live in a manse across from her church, said goodbye in the driveway and did not give each other the customary morning send-off peck on the lips we would have if we had still been inside the house. We made an unspoken, mutual adjustment because even though our lives together are (like it or not) a slow-moving political action aimed at normalizing a marriage between two women who reside in South Central Pennsylvania, now we live across the street from the church, and it feels less safe than it did in our other neighborhood, where most people didn’t know where we worked or that we were both pastors. It stings to have it feel less safe across from the church.
    My church is singing that hymn this Sunday. I hope we can all mean it.

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    1. I hate this. I hate that the church isn’t safe for you. I hate that some of us are so blinded by ideology that we don’t see people. We don’t want to consider what it might be like for them, because we don’t have to.

      I hope sharing the story wasn’t insensitive or aggravate any wounds for you. That isn’t my intention. Speaking generally, I just wish we were all better at bearing one another’s burdens.

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      1. No, no. Not at all! I couldn’t agree more with your desire that we all look at and carry each other’s burdens with some love. I came out late, and I admit I did it from the point of view of a very privileged person (white, educated, from a family with a name in my home area), and it was a little shocking to recognize *personally* what I already knew intellectually – plenty of people are still homophobic, as well as racist and sexist and the other “ists.” My wife’s church has been great, but living across from it feels, and is, more public.

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  2. I think that you speak of nuance and how we can distance or judge suffering that we don’t understand personally or don’t care to know because we are made uncomfortable by it…because it is SO real, and we are often forced to examine our own difficult choices in ourselves and in our families, etc. Suffering takes many forms– one of which is the suffering that is engendered when we become more conscious of a “larger picture” or other paths that people take or things that have been inflicted upon them over time (which isn’t always a friend). Our IVF journey included a sperm bank and a severely disabled child. We were encouraged to notify sperm bank, not to press for damages (as in the above example) but because there were unresolved issues about why my son had such an unusual brain stem issue (with no family history). There was a difference in racial background (though purposeful). This is experience has taught me to be very compassionate towards parents who have a severely disabled child who lives– and their choices/ or frequent lack of choice around that. As a person who had a Native Amer. great-grandmother, I am sensitive to Native American concerns– AND, hard as this is to admit, increasingly sensitive to the ways I have benefitted from “passing” as a privileged white (with an education, though hard won). My husband and I walked a kind of middle ground in our relationship too, and that alternative relationship with a significant age difference has taught me so very much about marriage, sacrifice, divorce, and LGBT issues, including safety, and what safety can mean to others. What I am saying is that the issues of the day truly have a “face” and a “name” and if we could learn personal stories that are different from our own, we might find that we ourselves are even more en-fleshed and real as a community…and more helpful to each other, more forgiving, and more generous with intangibles. Our neighbor’s flesh and our flesh beg to be acknowledged for the complexity of being that we truly and utterly are.

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    1. “What I am saying is that the issues of the day truly have a “face” and a “name” and if we could learn personal stories that are different from our own, we might find that we ourselves are even more en-fleshed and real as a community”

      YES!!!!

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