We received a summary of a speach given by Joan Chittister from a friend of ours. Wow, it contains a powerful message! You can read more about Joan here. I don’t care what your opinions are on the ordination of women to ministry in the church – she says some powerful stuff!
Here’s a copy of the report we received:
More meat than mince
Church isn’t meant to be non-prophet, nun tells Women’s Gathering
by Alexa Smith
LOUISVILLE – In her sermon during the final plenary of the 2003
Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women last weekend, Sister Joan
Chittister didn’t mince words.
Making nice is just not her style.
Chittister, one of the first journalists to criticize the Bush
administration in print for its war-making, has insisted repeatedly that
it does matter whether the government decided on the basis of bad
intelligence to invade Iraq, and that it does matter whether U.S.
officials lied about the urgency of destroying what apparently may have
been non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
In Louisville, she took on the Church, capital “C” – without naming names.
She told her audience that too many religious institutions – run by
establishment-comfy, offering-conscious clergy or pietistic bureaucrats
– would rather “bind up wounds made by the system, but do nothing to
change the system that is doing the wounding.”
In other words: Real ministry means exposing the underlying causes of
suffering, not being satisfied merely to be present – to use a “churchy”
term – with those who suffer.
Chittister challenged her listeners to do better than clergy and church
leaders who fear that speaking prophetically might cut into their
offerings and their numbers: “Our ministry must be not only to comfort,
but to challenge the state, community and church,” she said. “Not just
to attend to the pain, but to advocate for change; to be not just a
vision, but a voice; not simply to care for the victims of the world,
but also to change the institutions that victimize them.”
That is what is required of Christians who balance contemplation and
action, who refuse to simply “play church” or be tempted to settle for
bureaucracy, weekday mysticism and office management, she said.
In a gathering of more than 4,000 women that was otherwise subdued,
Chittister’s words brought her listeners to their feet. The diminutive
nun was applauded loudly and long as she stepped out of the spotlight
The reason people tend to sell prophetic witness short? It costs too much.
“The church became part of the establishment,” Chittister said over a
breakfast of eggs benedict the morning after she preached. Somehow, she
said, personal spirituality and action – especially political critique –
got separated in the minds of U.S. churchgoers who often confuse
Americanism with the Bible, and good citizenship with unquestioning
loyalty to the government.
On the other hand, she said, Jesus was a contemplative who practiced
active reflection and demanded more from his disciples than personal
faith; he wanted commitment to the process of bringing about the reign
“I never read a Bible story where it says, ‘Jesus didn’t want to rock
the boat, so he decided not to say anything that day.’ Or, ‘Jesus went
home with the rich man and decided not to say anything more,'”
Chittister, whose father was a Presbyterian, is a Benedictine Sister of
Erie known nationally for her opinionated column, “From Where I Stand,”
in the National Catholic Reporter. She is engaged in international peace
work, now with the Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and
Spiritual Leaders, which is funded by the United Nations. Her role is
leading the Women’s Partnership for Peace in the Middle East, which
brings together Israeli and Palestinian women.
Chittister became a national voice as a Benedictine prioress, spiritual
director and social psychologist who refused to splinter her diverse
perspectives and insisted on applying the principles of spiritual
awakening to the political realm.
Preaching on the Transfiguration story from the Gospel of Matthew,
Chittister told Presbyterian Women that on Mount Tabor that night, Jesus
identified himself with Moses and Elijah – not David, the king, or
Aaron, the priest, Biblical characters that represent royalty and ritual.
“Jesus identified himself on Tabor … with Moses, who led people out of
oppression, and with Elijah, whom King Ahab called ‘that troubler of
Israel,’ the one who condemned the compromise between true and false
gods, the one … who exposed to the people the underlying causes of
their problems,” she said.
“Jesus, the minister, identified himself not with the kings and priest
of Israel who had maintained its establishments and developed its
institutions, good as they were,” she pointed out. “No, Jesus, the
healer, identified himself with the prophets, with those who had been
sent to warn Israel of its unconscionable abandonment of the covenant.”
Nor does Jesus stay on the mountaintop, as Peter is prepared to
do.Instead, he comes down to the plain below, to walk among crowds of
Chittister said Christians are called to do more than be pietistic or
merely to move among the hurting. Ministry, she said, means exposing to
the wounded the underlying causes of “all the wounding in this world” –
and doing so in the face of opposition from those “institution-saving
types for whom saving the system is much too often a higher priority
than saving the people.”
She told her audience: “Service people can pay for, and many people do.
But ministry, real ministry, is priceless, and can be done only in the
name of Jesus, not in the name of careers, professions or promotions.”
The root causes of suffering in the world are many, she said, and too
few ministers speak about them.
Churches minister every day to hurting families on the verge of
financial collapse, she said, but no one speaks about the loss of
industries to Third World countries whose people are reduced to
Seldom mentioned are seniors losing Medicare benefits; the one in six
Americans who can’t afford insurance; the fact that more money is put
into weapons of mass destruction than in human development.
“Let’s put it this way,” Chittister said. “If you were to count one
trillion $1 bills, one per second, 24 hours a day, it would take you 32
years to finish counting. But with that trillion dollars, you could buy
a $100,000 house for every family in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska,
Oklahoma and Iowa and you could put a $10,000 car in the garage of every
one of those homes. Then there would be enough money left to build 250
$10 million libraries and 250 $10 million hospitals for every city in
those states. And after that, there would still be enough money left
over to put in the bank and, from the interest alone, pay 10,000 nurses
and 10,000 teachers and still give a $5,000 bonus to ever family in
those five states. That’s what one trillion dollars will buy in this
“But Star Wars, the ‘death star’ weapon being sold as a defense system
but which most credible scientists say can’t possibly work, now – this
morning, while we sit here – has already cost more than that. And, the
Brookings Institution tells us, nuclear w
eaponry alone already carries a
price tag of over $5 trillion.”
Such demons, Chittister told her listeners, are not driven out by
insight, vision, contemplation and compassion, nor by organizational
niceties, canon law or clericalism.
“This kind is driven out only by prayer,” she said, “by ‘putting on the
mind of Christ,’ not by putting on more titles, or roles, or uniforms,
or offices, or money. This kind is driven out by soul-sightedness, only
by risk, only by courage, only by a care that supersedes cost, only by a
heart devoted to causes rather than to symptoms.
“This kind is driven out only by the spirit of Moses and Elijah, whom
kings expelled and professionals despised and the temple feared, but to
whom the people looked for truth.”
Chittister said in an interview that women’s ministry can be powerful in
such times, precisely because institutions seldom support them well. In
her own tradition, she said, religious women have received paltry
salaries, but managed somehow to build their own institutions and still
pay their bills.
Economic independence from the larger church, she said, allows them to
read the Gospel without wearing ecclesiastical fetters. Pastors, she
said, will tell you in a heartbeat that a hard word may be costly in
terms of money or support.”Preaching the Gospel is something you do
without counting the heads,” she said. (We are called) to be a leaven in
the society, not to be the population.”
In her sermon, Chittister drew knowing laughter from her female
listeners by reminding them of the poor treatment of women by
institutions they serve. She criticized churches where God may be called
“rock, tree, key, wind, door and dove in centuries of litanies without
bringing the church to perdition, but … can never, ever call the God
who is endless being, eternal womb, mother.
“How can we think we minister to women and erase them from the very
pronouns of the church?” she demanded.
Chittister said she has tried for decades to learn how to faithfully mix
contemplation and action, piety and politics. The church has tried
dogmatic clericalism, she said, and discovered that it doesn’t work.
Also insufficient is simple sharing of the suffering of others, a kind
of misguided solidarity.
She said she is now counting on the concept of co-creation, the idea
that the church is creating a new model for living inside the shell of
“If you are seeing the world through the eyes of Jesus, Moses and
Elijah, you understand that you have to do something about what you see,
” she said. “You contemplate what is going on … seeing it with your
soul. “Then you do something.”