On January 5th my husband Donnel and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary. This anniversary was particularly special, as we were celebrating it together with Donnel's family and friends in his hometown in the Philippines. I can still remember one premarital counseling session 17+ years ago in the library of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church where we explored boundaries and compared patterns of "distance" and "closeness" in our respective families of origin.
In that session, I remember Donnel describing the difference between our respective cultures and families of origin like this: "From my perspective, Sylvia's family, and Americans in general, are like hard boiled eggs. On the other hand, my family, and Filipinos in general, are more like scrambled eggs. I'm hoping that in this new family we're creating together, we can find a happy medium-- something like over-easy."
It's not just families that can be like hard-boiled eggs in upper-middle class Anglo-American culture. In my experience, we tend to opt for fairly clearly defined boundaries around everything--our families, our houses, our money, our possessions, our churches, our communities, our lives. And when those boundaries are dissolved or transgressed, it often makes us very nervous.
I suspect this was one of the roots of the discomfort and conflict that surfaced in my former parish with the influx of unhoused people into the church. The boundaries between "us and them", "rich and poor", "inside and outside", "clean and dirty" were transgressed. And whenever our boundaries are transgressed, there can be a sense that our liberty is in peril and chaos and danger are close at hand. The current "crisis" along the US/Mexico border is a case in point.
I get it. I could feel an uneasy sense rising within me as soon as we arrived in the Philippines. It's hard to say what the feeling was, exactly. Anxiety? Judgement? Perhaps the most charitable and accurate word to describe what I was experiencing is simply "disorientation."
It seemed like practically every boundary that was familiar to my upper-middle class Anglo-American context had been dissolved. In the Philippines, to my Western eyes at least, the boundaries were noticeably permeable and blurred between:
Did all this "mixing up" of people and practices and creatures make me uncomfortable? Sure it did. But as the days went by, I actually found myself relaxing into the "chaos" and coming to love it. There was real beauty and holiness in the mixing. Somehow this messy, mixed-up world felt more lively and alive, more honest and real than the more sanitized, ordered and boundaried world in which I normally reside.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised. After all, when all is said and done, isn't this the whole POINT of the Gospel in which I claim to place my faith? I mean, in the Incarnation of Jesus, God chooses to transgress and dissolve the boundary between Divinity and Humanity, between Heaven and Earth. How messy and disorienting is that??? And we all know how kindly the religious and imperial authorities take to Jesus and his boundary-busting. Ha ha ha. But, despite religious and imperial attempts to discipline the disorder of Jesus by nailing him to a Cross, Jesus goes on to transgress and dissolve the ultimate border--the boundary between death and life--in his Resurrection.
As we move into this New Year, I wonder if we might take a page from the Divine Playbook and dare to mix things up a little bit? Get a little messy? Will you join me in cracking some eggs? We don't necessarily have to scramble them. We could just crack them open for now. Maybe let some faith and some music spill out. Maybe let some fresh air and strangers flow in. Perhaps in the process we'll find ourselves living just a little bit more fully into the Kingdom of God.
My name is Sylvia Miller-Mutia, and I am a priest in the Episcopal Church. I have recently accepted an exciting call to serve as assisting clergy at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Albuquerque, NM with a focus on outreach, evangelism, and family ministry. I continue serving as "priest at large" for the larger church and wider world, assisting the people of God in whatever ways I can, and developing new resources for spiritual formation to share. Prior to my current call, I served as Rector (aka Pastor) of St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Albuquerque, NM (2015-2018), Assistant Rector at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, CA (2010-2015) and Pastoral Associate for Youth & Families at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belvedere, CA (2002-2009). I am married to Donnel (grief counselor, couples coach, artist, best dad ever), and we have three awesome kids, ranging in age from 7 to 13.