Once There Was A Girl….

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So, the rumors are true – this girl is getting ordained!  It seems like a pretty simple sentence but behind it is a lifetime or two of wading through what it means to be a woman of faith, intellect, spirit and questioning.  And it’s at once a hard and good story.   But for now I think its just good to acknowledge that I have found myself amongst some of the clearest, most loving, down-to-earth-real-people Christians and have found my home.   I have found myself amongst women and men who see no issue with being thoughtful, considered, reasoned, informed, passionate about the state of our theology and our world.   These are people who at the same time are deeply prayerful, trusting, seeking, receptive, responsive and open to the Everywhere Presence of God and the proclamation of a good news Kingdom.   I am in a place where being a woman is in no way a liability or an indulgence.   I am in a place where Jesus is pointed to with wonder.   I am home.   This is a home that has good bones and I have been wandering slowly into it, spreading out my stuff, wondering how to best let this little corner of it reflect the reconciling spirit of Christ that dwells within me and within all of us in this community.    Again, that’s a sentence that doesn’t quite portray the depth and challenge those words hold.  But I am here.

 

ANYHOO,  This is a good news story and an unexpected one. A year ago I did not have a CLUE that this was on the horizon.   My mom had just passed away and I was deeply hurting, although there was also present a sense of “enough of this” and I was starting to pray about how I might start teaching and leading more intentionally.  And then the way the opportunity opened up had some pain , some conflict, present in it’s circumstances.   That’s not lost on me – this enterprise of “church” is deeply grooved with our brokenness as much as it is deeply held by God’s faithfulness.

 

So, for those who aren’t familiar,  the CRC takes its theology very seriously (a good thing, really, believe me).  And so they take the examinations of their pastors very seriously.   I was examined on a stage by dozens of men and a few women, and asked questions that I sometimes had the answers to but also sometimes I couldn’t get my own self across to my knowledge and wisdom in that excruciating  moment.  It was hard, humiliating and had all the potential in the world to sow a deep rift of distrust of myself and of others.  But in that, and through the affirmation of a whole slew of mentors in this church,  I realized that even there, even in an examination to determine if I was truly called to this life, church and calling, it wasn’t about me and my abilities to wow anyone, or to prove myself.  It was about He who calls us, me,  into being.     And so even there, God made his “letting go” path, the actual calling we are all called to, known in a deeply visceral and ultimately redemptive way.    Again, it’s a long story….a good one I think though.  And again, this is not lost on me.

 

So this Sunday, November 26 I will officially be ordained in my church, The Road Church.  We will meet in our little chapel, bringing our bagels with us.  People I know well and some I hardly know will be there.  We will sing some songs and someone will talk for a bit about this way of Jesus.  There will be words and prayers.   There will be coffee and I will go home and celebrate with wine.    And it will be a good, normal day.

I have no idea what this means in some ways.  I still am a bit in the “well, huh!” phase of this.  But I do know this–that it is God who works within us to will and to do according to his good purpose – not to create a world of people afraid of other people, not to create a world of us and them, not to create a world where we are afraid of beauty, fun, needs, difference, or people who challenge our understandings of the way we think things are but to create a world in which HIS WAY of life, that which was intended from the beginning and carried out into completion is OUR WAY.  The way of love, mercy, justice, humility,  reconciliation, redemption.  It is the way of being seen and being known.  It is the way of sacrifice and covenant and is a whole earth life long.  It is the way of wholeness and shalom – of the flourishing of all of creation, not just some of us.   It is the way of INCARNATION—the way of Him who let go of all power to enter into real life with real love.  Not one inch of this creation is not loved, known, brought in close.

 

More than a couple people have mentioned to me “You seem happier this year.”  And I think that’s because I get to talk about and even practice these things that have been building in me for years –  And when I talk I get to point to Jesus who is “bringing unity to all things in heaven and earth.”  (Ephesians 1:10) and hopefully draw people up to the table with love and care and mercy and good laughter–and it will be my kids causing the ruckus in the corner.   I am full and I am happy and I am busy and scattered and unsure too.  I am, as they say, #allthefeels

But… to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than anything I could ever ask for or imagine, I am looking.  And so here I am getting ordained to minister and pastor and teach and lead and mostly follow, follow, follow – God help me.

And now that they have me, they won’t get rid of me.

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Conflict

Another excerpt from Jean Vanier

 

“Communities need tensions if they are to grow and deepen.  Tensions come from conflicts within each person–conflicts born out of a refusal of personal and community growth, conflicts between individual egoisms, conflicts arising from a diminishing gratuite (giving freely generously of oneself), from a clash of temperaments, and from individual psychological difficulties.  These are natural tensions.  Anguish is the normal reaction to being brought up against our own limitations and darkness, to the discovery of our own deep wound.  Tension is the normal reaction to responsibilities we find hard because they make us feel insecure. We all weep and grieve inwardly at the successive deaths of our own interests.  It is normal for us to rebel, to be frightened and feel tense when we are faced with difficult people who are not yet free from their own fears and aggression.  It is normal that our own reserves of gratuite run low from time to time, because we are tired or are going through personal tensions or sufferings.  There are a thousand reasons for tension.

And each of them brings the whole community, as well as each individual member of it, face to face with its own poverty, inability to cope, weariness, aggression, and depression.  These can be important times if we realize that the treasure of the community is in danger. When everything is going well, when the community feels it is living successfully, its members tend to let their energies dissipate, and to listen less carefully to each other.

Tensions bring people back to the reality of their helplessness, obliging them to spend more time in prayer an dialogue, working patiently to overcome the crisis and refind lost unity, and making them understand that the community is more than just a human reality, that it also needs the spirit of God if it is to live and deepen.  Tensions often mark the necessary step toward a greater unity as well, by revealing flaws which demand re-evaluation, reorganization, and a greater humility.  Sometimes the brutal explosion of one tension simply reveals another which is latent.  It is only when tensions come to a head like a boil that we can try to treat the infection at its roots. I am told there is a Chinese word for “crisis” which means “opportunity and danger.”  Every tension, every crisis can become a source of new life if we approach it wisely, or it can bring death and division.”

 

 

Idealism

Here is another of our community readings, this one from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.  It was originally published in 1939, in Germany, in the midst of the fever rise of Nazism and the Christian Community’s deep lack of response to the manufactured divide of human against human running through their nation.  He’s got a few things to say to a group of people called by love to embody love….

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had spring from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it.  But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”

“By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.  He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream…Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.  The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.  A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists on keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.  Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive.  He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

“God hates visionary dreaming: it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly.  He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.  He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds people together.  When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure.  When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to pot.  So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, than an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.”

“Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we entered into common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients.  We thank God for what he has done for us.  We thank God for giving us brethren who live by his call, by his forgiveness and his promise.  We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what he does give us daily.  And is not what has been given us enough: brothers (and sisters) who will go on living with us through brokenness and need under the blessing of his grace?  Is  the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day?  Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the hurtful brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ?  Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by the one Word and Deed which really binds us together–the forgiveness in Jesus.  When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of *actual* Christian fellowship.”

“Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.  The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.”

(This excerpt, like a lot of these community readings, was taken from a compilation of writings on community Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, edited by Charles E. Moore.  You can find it at www.plough.com )