Life is Contextual!

This past week I was tending to my Facebook crime empire and harvesting virtual crops when a little red bubble number popped up. I clicked it and read that I was tagged in a note. I clicked the little red bubble and was brought to an article regarding, Melissa Petro. Melissa Petro is a 20-something elementary school teacher from New York that was dismissed from her job when she spoke out for sex worker rights and revealed that she herself was once a prostitute in an article on The Huffington Post.

I had not heard of this story before as I do in fact live under a rock. I read the linked story and the comments following the article. Then I followed the rabbit trail and read articles with headlines like, “Bronx hooker teacher blabs on about past”, “Bloomberg wants hooker teacher yanked from classroom” and “Bronx art teacher with X-rated past hires Allred.”

I was overcome with emotion as I read the comments that folks dispensed. The anger and hate that washed over this young lady was amazing. Judgment passed out like it was Halloween candy. Moral high ground defended like it was the front of the beer line at Dodger Stadium. I could not believe some of the comments I read. I wondered what the reaction would be if the former prostitute had been a male.

The school Ms. Petro was teaching in, from what I can gather, is a chronic underperforming school in a neighborhood that deals with the hardship of poverty, crime & unemployment with a need for caring, creative teachers. I imagine the life experience that Ms. Petro could bring to the relationships she develops with her students and their parents would be invaluable. Apparently, one must not have a past that forges creativity and passion to mold our children. So then who do we want shaping the minds of our children?

I wonder if the fear behind Ms. Petro’s past is not the same fear that many folks apply to same-sex marriage, the LGBTQ community and “dissenting” sexual practices. Most folks pointed to Ms. Petro’s past as a prostitute as a marker of her inability to properly teach our children.

I am a minister in a faith community and have been charged to explore ways to live out a corporate and individual faithful response to the Gospel message of Jesus the Christ. What would happen if I were subject to my past in a like manner as Ms. Petro? Do the demons of my past bind me to a life of disgrace and perpetual penance lived out in the banning of full participation in the life God has called me to?

If they did I would not be writing this as a faith leader. In my profession the rough growing edges of life are ever present. You can’t help but remember the pain and loss you experienced in life when you are sitting with someone that has lost their best friend and lover. You can’t get too far away from those “difficult habits” of life when you are witnessing the shattered life of those left behind in the wake of addiction. I am not sure if one's personal story is viewed as a strength in any profession really. I do think it should. Our story is the only thing that is really ours. No one else owns my story. People flow in and out of my story but it has been God and I for the last 36 plus years.

It is out of our stories that we connect and nurture relationships that build community. It is in community that tomorrow hangs its hat. We cannot have a tomorrow san story. Story is very important.

I am not sure if Ms. Petro visits her teaching vocation in the same manner that I hold my vocation as a minister. I do not know the call story Ms. Petro experienced that brought her in to the teaching profession. I would wager that it is less about the millions of dollars she will make in a year and more about caring to nurture students and inspire them into new life and a reframed reality that fuels hope for a better tomorrow.

Whatever the reasons are behind her former life or teaching life we will never know the whole story. To know the whole story requires a kind ear and relationship. This is the importance of story in this fearfully and wonderfully made world in action. We share, listen and live our story and it can draw us near or isolate us as we choose.

To be a faith leader in a Christian community demands that I offer my life as a living sacrifice in relationship to those stories that ebb and flow into my story. Is this not the tootsie center of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ? To live as Christ lived calls me to the margins and to divest any power that I have to point to the voice of the persecuted.

If I am to take the “first shall be last and the last shall be first” thing seriously I must not focus upon my survival but the survival of the other. To call myself a follower of Jesus I cannot horde, collect or tuck away the idols of life. I must invest in the other and take seriously the call to challenge the status quo. As a believer in Jesus the Christ, I am compelled to embrace death as new life and live as though I am dead.

There is no room for judgment of others in a Gospel charged with challenging tyrannical powers that bind us to the suffering of this world. Jesus’ story reframes this suffering for us and offers us a new way. It is the story of God that departs from glory to be with us and light a path toward salvation. Jesus’ story is more about the salvation found “here” in community, in our stories than Jesus’ story is about that something over there, just out of our reach in that hazy cloud of “not yet.”

By Ryan Kemp-Pappan

Ryan is a minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at Douglass Blvd. Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He has a B.A. in Religious Studies from California State University, Northridge and a M.Div. from Austin Seminary (TX). He delivers mad Esoteric Piracy. He likes to think of himself as a Royal Pain in the south end of a north bound donkey, Master of 3 of the 5 logical oceans, Beloved creation, 1985 Beer Chug Champion, Amateur Sock Puppeteer, Buckaroo, Reclaimer of lost treasures, Seeker of truth, Tamer of lions, Pugilist of toothless circus bears, Servant, & Tinker of convoluted ideas…

He is a co-founder of UNCO.  He enjoys long walks off short piers. He has an inappropriate relationship with Coke Zero. He is an avid runner and blogs at #RUNREVRUN. He hopes you stay sweet and thanks you for keeping homeroom real.