I have written about agape love : all embracing, unconditional and loving. However, this blog has not covered voices of silence from marginalized communities when it comes to agape love. I am referring to people who receive messages that they are not worthy of being loved by God. Messages are from certain religious, social and cultural institutions So I decided to interview Reverend Nancy Brink, who is the Donna Ford and Fahmy Attallah Endowed Director of Church Relations at Chapman University. She is very accomplished with an undergraduate degree in religious studies and Masters of Divinity from the seminary at Vanderbilt University. She has also served and ministered to different communities.. I met her through a centering prayer group that she facilitates at Chapman University. She is not just accomplished and very knowledgeable, but, has a very loving , kind and nurturing presence. I interviewed her about her service to young people, especially LGBTQ+ communities, who are traditionally shunned by certain religious and cultural organizations.
I set up my computer to videotape her interview, which was fantastic. But alas, the account that I used did not have recording device. Very bummed about this. I expressed my sincere apologies to Nancy. Therefore, I am writing up the post.
AG (Anindita Ganguly) : Welcome Reverend Nancy Brink to the blog for the interview. I have so honored to have you for the interview. How do you see yourself serving other people?.
REV. NB (Reverend Nancy Brink) : I see myself as someone who walks alongside other people who are walking on their own journey.
AG: You are very open about working with people from different religious and spiritual traditions, theistic or nontheistic?
REV. NB: I work with people from different religious and spiritual beliefs and the centering praying is very powerful.
REV.NB: The centering prayer is similar to mindfulness practices. It originated from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of early Christianity and then later picked up by people, like Thomas Merton. It is a practice of contemplation which originated in Christianity. Since God is everywhere, there is a piece of the Divine in all of us. Therefore, the practice includes stillness in body and mind while repeating a word that one chooses. Most people think that how can I do this because my mind is always racing. But the idea is that despite the wandering mind, we come back to the word and listen to what God has to say to us. Prayer traditionally meant I talked to God, but, centering prayer is listening to God and allowing space for God to work in us. Whatever that may be.
AG: This is an absolutely wonderful practice because of my belief that God speaks in silence places and our busy lives create a lot of noise.
REV. NB: This practice is about being and not doing.
AG: Most of us are so caught up in doing.
REV. NB: The centering prayer was very powerful for me to understand, challenge my internalized homophobia and process my sexuality. As I challenged my internalized homophobia, I realized that God is BIGGER than these homophobic statements. I grappled with the thought that as a lesbian woman, coming out was a scary process. I was afraid of rejection as I ministered a parish in Omaha, Nebraska. I practiced centering prayer for seven years which helped me to decrease my fear of coming out. After coming out to the congregation in Omaha, Nebraska, I was was embraced and welcomed by the congregation.
AG: The agape love of God which is deep, unconditional, fierce and fearless is for everyone. Yet, certain cultural, religious and institutional messages state that agape love is not for the LGTBQ+ communities. People are given the painful message that there is something deficient, wrong or bad because they are not heterosexual.
REV.NB: Yes, agape love is for all. God does not create trash.
AG: You said in one of your interviews that “you can be gay and loved by God”. That is incredibly affirming to people struggling with homophobic messages in our world. That is incredible. You embody the powerful message of agape for all. I think that this is very important because having worked with LGBTQ+ youth, there is a belief in some LGBTQ+ youth that there is something “wrong” or “bad” about their “core being or essence” due to their sexual orientation. LGBTQ+ youth seem have to have one of the highest risk groups for depression, suicide and homelessness as they are running away from families who reject them because of their sexual orientation.
REV.NB: Absolutely. I run a spirituality group for LGBTQ+ youth to support people in their spirituality. The whole discussion on critical race theory led me to study more about the civil rights movement. As I study the civil rights movement, I realize that African American people attended church and built spiritual community and worshipped and this was a powerful source of strength for the civil rights movement.
AG: Absolutely, even with Gandhi with his nonviolence program and Martin Luther King, influenced by Gandhi. Both Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King were very spiritually grounded men with movements firmly based on spiritual principles.
AG. There is also the discrimination of LGBTQ+ communities at institutionalized levels and microaggressions (e.g. name calling) on individual levels. Discrimination deeply wounds the heart and soul. Privilege of heterosexism which we also need to be aware of. For example, when I walk to the movies and hold my husband’s hands, no one looks. But with same sex couple, people may look and or say mean things.
REV.NB: Things are getting better as progressive movements are more embracing of diversity, especially on college campuses. I teach classes on topics, such as, “Reading the Bible through Queer Eyes” where we analyze statements in the Bible which “clobber us”. We study that certain statements in the Bible are mistranslated from original text to English. For example, if you are to read Shakespeare, you read the footnotes, which is essential. But for the Bible, people do not always read the footnotes, which they need to. For many college students, the sexual orientation issue may not be as polarizing due to their progressive values.
AG: That is true of college campuses. However, in different parts of the world, people are killed because of their sexual orientation.
REV.NB: That is very true. The cultures of different parts of this country too are so different and unique.
REV.NB: One of the concerns I see in college students is that they do not define themselves as binary (either male or female) but exploring both aspects of gender and have pronouns (they/them).
AG: This reminds me of certain spiritual traditions, such as, Hinduism, where God has both male and female aspects.
REV. NB: Yes, in Christianity, there is a tradition of Sophia which addresses the Divine as Female. In my trips to India, I have also seen the female aspect of Divine. I have also learned that most westerners have the misconception that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion when it is monotheistic. There is one God but different aspects of God are expressed in different forms.
AG: Very true. The female aspect of Divine, Goddesses, are described as sources of strength. The other thing about Hinduism is the belief that one worships God as one wishes to perceive God, (with or without form). I am been influenced by Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism.
AG: Is there anything else that you want to add before we close interview?
REV.NB: I also want to add that restriction of voting rights is not just because of racism but the threat of young people voting. Young people tend to more progressive in their beliefs.
AG: Very True. How do you do self-care?
REV. NB: I love to walk, listen to audio books to learn about issues, centering prayer, travel. My wife and I love to travel but that is not happening now. I also hope to entertain and have groups of people together which is very healing.
AG: I miss parties too.
AG: Thank you so much Reverend. This is a wonderful interview. You are not only accomplished but, very generous, loving and kind. I love attending your centering prayer group. I also want to end with a very powerful anecdote which I read about you. The article stated that the the Chapman University has four pillars at the center of the campus for intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual aspects of development. When you interviewed for the job, you were asked about your thoughts regarding the spiritual pillar being shorter than the others. You answered beautifully which is that the spiritual pillar is lower because humility is key on the spiritual path.
AG: I love that. You got the job.
REV. NB: That was the Holy Spirit inspiring that answer. That was a sneaky question. It is also interesting that with Chapman University campus closed and less water supply to the pillars, the pillar representing spirituality still pours the most water.
AG: Wonderful. Thank you so much for the interview.
REV. NB: Thank you, Blessings
Ag: Much love and Blessings to you too.