Tuesday evening, Virginia Lohmann Bauman was ordained to the ministry at First Baptist Church in Granville, Ohio. Gini (as we know her) is Sojourners' Ohio Field Organizer. In her ordination paper for the American Baptist Churches, Gini wrote:
My faith journey began in my childhood and continues to evolve in wonderful and challenging ways. I am a preacher's kid, a wife, a mother, a lawyer, a mediator, a minister, an ecumenical bridge-builder, and a child of God who feels called to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and to serve God and the church through prophetic ministry and advocacy.
I had the privilege of participating in the service, along with several other staff members. It was truly a memorable occasion, full of the special joy I always feel when women are ordained to ministry, after long being excluded from church leadership. I was especially struck by the reflection by Dr. George Williamson, Gini's former pastor and a key mentor in her life and a long-time friend of Sojourners. George spoke about Jeremiah, Gini's favorite prophet, and his call to prophetic ministry. With his permission, I share it with you.
ON BUYING A FIELD IN ANATHOTH
A mentor's reflection upon the ordination of Gini Lohmann Bauman
by George Williamson, Jr.
Gini said for me to speak to prophetic ministry with reference to Jeremiah. Okay. Jeremiah clearly says prophetic ministry's a damn fool thing to do. It's certainly not something you choose to do. You get chosen - like being entered against your will in the divine lottery, and losing. In which case, he would have you beg to get out of it, and failing that, whine and complain to God.
Jeremiah, you know, was not a happy man, because the depth of human wretchedness revealed itself to him. He was not a married man, because who would marry him? He was not a pretty man, or pleasant to know. But he had a huge voice, like a volcano, stored in soul barrels between eruptions. His images got under peoples' minds and gnawed on them. He was a prophet. Everybody knew he was a prophet, and mostly left him alone.
Jeremiah never did any good. His first prophecy was of invasion by a mysterious "foe from the north," which never happened. He joined King Josiah's religious reformation, whose politically appointed revolutionaries didn't need him. Anyway, he decided it was a cover for rampant injustice, and as it became law, he came out against it. He got ordained, but was defrocked and disfellowshipped for preaching unbearable sermons. So he preached from the temple steps, and was jailed.
The king made war with Babylon, ancient Baghdad; its king, Nebuchadrezzar, an ancient Saddam Hussein. Jeremiah called Saddam/Nebuchadrezzar "servant of God," not because he was good, but because, like Saddam Hussein, he stood up to the self-proclaimed "people of God" - who, Jeremiah said, had forsaken their calling. Jeremiah fastened an ox yoke to his shoulders, a bulky new appendage to an already considerable frame, and for three years jostled irritated passersby on narrow streets with four extra feet of shoulder, saying they were "yoked" to Saddam/Nebuchadrezzar because of their moral apostasy. And when the Babylonians surrounded Jerusalem, Jeremiah made daily rounds about its wall, calling to soldiers to surrender! He was clapped into the stocks; then in prison; then, finally, now aging, was dropped unceremoniously into a clammy cistern, the stone lid clapped thunderously closed on light and day forever, the three cannibals - hunger, thirst and creeping mud - let loose to divide the spoils of his sorry life.
He almost had one success. Zedikiah, a later king, was awestruck by Jeremiah, even in his ultimate insurrectionist and swashbuckling treason. As the Babylonian siege tightened, Zedekiah secretly hauled Jeremiah from the cistern and asked how to appease God. Free the slaves, Jeremiah said. So he did. But the slaveholders were apoplectic, Zedekiah relented, and Jeremiah's one prophetic achievement was revoked.
Sick of a long life of failure and abuse, Jeremiah resolved to quit making prophetic outcries, but even failed at that. He said the divine indignation was like a fire, shut up in his bones, and he couldn't keep quiet.
Gini, Jeremiah would say, you don't have to do this. You went to law school and have something to go back to - unless, he'd say, like him, you have the fire in your bones and are weary from holding it in. In which case he'd say,
God help you.
Buy a field in Anathoth, he'd say. Here's the story about the field in Anathoth. The Babylonians had long since laid claim to Jeremiah's home town, Anathoth, and had destroyed it. Nonetheless, he hocked everything he had and bought his cousin's abandoned field. He said, in God's surely coming, eschatological future, the reign of God will come in this land. And sure enough: 2700 years later, despite our violent, greedy, ecologically disastrous age, at or near Jeremiah's field is a socialist kibbutz doing subsistence farming.
Gini. If you persist, against Jeremiah's advice and mine, in this insane calling, you'll be buying a field in Anathoth; cashing in a perfectly decent life to live, not according to the realisms of frustrated and frustrating history-but after the siren call of God's surely coming future.
"I set you this day," said God upon calling Jeremiah to prophetic ministry, "over nations and empires" - the company, we might point out, of world-conquerors and megalomaniacs. Jeremiah would know nothing at all sophisticated about nations and empires, nor set foot in any of them. But his name - Jeremiah - would become a title, worn by a very long succession of Jeremiahs dogging the rulers of nations and empires for 2700 centuries. King Saddam/Nebuchadrezzar, the most powerful ruler of his time, never even heard of Jeremiah. But I'll say this. Twenty seven hundred years later, we would never have heard of Nebuchadrezzar, except for his minor role in the story of Jeremiah the prophet, of whom we've certainly heard.
Gini, unlike most prophets - who generally rejected priests - Jeremiah was ordained, as you are about to be. So we, in the name of God, will set you over nations and empires. We'll commission you to the success record of Jeremiah, who didn't accomplish a thing - except to leave the echo of unavoidable, unsilenceable, undeniable, uncompromising truth in the lying cacophony of political history.
Among the prophets, Jeremiah is most famous for his eloquent whining at God for getting him into this. From your new perch up there, over nations and empires, you're entitled to whine at God. As a text for your whining, I recommend the powerful, self-pitying prayers of Jeremiah.