Saturday, April 11, 2009

Doorways: Whose Call is it Anyway?

Praying by Mary Oliver

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
(from Thirst, Boston: Beacon Press, 2006, p. 37)

It seems fitting to be writing on Saturday before Easter when historically, traditionally, candidates for baptism would keep vigil along with those who were their mentors and sponsors. Before you cross that threshold, before you go into those waters, consider well what you are doing.

As I begin to try to wrap my head, heart and arms around the findings of this directed study to write it up, I realized that really where we: I, you, clergy, congregations, denominations, must start is by considering God's call. Whose call is it anyway?

Thanks first to PB for the comment last week: "Too many churches need pastors for any one called to clergy to allow cultural denominations to compromise their calling. No matter how spiritual they profess to be, denominational hierarchies always seem to be represented by humans in the flesh, people who are sinners like you and me, people who did not initiate our calling. Why give them power they do not own? Having said this, now I will continue writing answers to questions posed by the UCC for ordination. I expect not to be stopped by age or beauty or geography. The need is great and few are called."

Indeed, why give them power they do not own? Whose call is it anyway?

Last night I was reading Gifted by Otherness: Gay and Lesbian Christians in the Church by L. William Countryman and M.R. Ritley (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2001). They discuss the tensions that gay and lesbian Christians have in trying to live both as GLBT folks in the Christian church where they are often reviled and scorned, and as Christians in the GLBT community where many GLBT people see most Christians oppressively denying GLBT civil rights and being anti-gay (side note: despite Rick Warren's comments to the contrary this week). Gay and lesbian Christians are called to live between, on the boundary, not really in one place or another.
From the perspective of Christian faith, this awkward business of living on the boundary looks very much like vocation—a call from God. When you answer such a call, you discover the meaning of your life. God has drawn us to this difficult place in order to reveal God's grace to us and in us and through us. The boundary where we're living, however inconvenient, is a place rich in spiritual discovery—which mean, of course, that it is also largely uncharted territory. (p. 6)
This rang true for me, that I experience much of my own call and the strengthening of my call in doorways and as a doorway. It is in liminal space, that transcendent threshold space, between one thing and another, in holding paradox, that I know I am called and that I know God's presence. And I think that what they write about doesn't apply just to gay and lesbian Christians: all followers of a spiritual Way are called to live on the boundary, between secular consumerism, or whatever other idols we pursue or are tempted by, in and of the world and the sacred path of a life in and with the Spirit.

Where are our thresholds, our doorways?

Music often opens doors for me and I rediscovered the power of reading the Scriptures through singing the Psalms, and that remains true for me (see my Maundy Thursday post). Let me share some other musical doors with you. I often use the iTunes playlist as a contemplative musical medium.
Hear the call is an
iMix playlist that has songs to remind me about my own calling.

Yes…holy…God has been my Holy Week contemplative listening iMix playlist while driving.

When I rediscovered prayer it was as a doorway. John Koenig in Rediscovering New Testament Prayer (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1998) talks about our prayer opening a doorway for God to be in the world. In discussing "thy kingdom come" in the prayer that Jesus taught us (the Lord's Prayer), he writes, "We do not stand alone at the doorway to the feast but in the company with the Go-Between God. And somehow, through God's overflowing mercy, our prayer helps to bring the kingdom in, and us into the kingdom." (p. 47)

My own call comes from, and contains, a strong commitment to hospitality, which includes holding the door open and welcoming people in.
Matthew 25.34-40 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
In ministry, in my preaching, in my pastoral calls, in leading worship, in teaching, I am often aware that I am the doorway. Somehow, through me, people get a glimpse of God. Not that they can't get to God on their own—I firmly believe that we all can, but God calls and gifts some to stand by the door, to hold the door open for others. When the breath of the Spirit comes through, it sometimes feels like holding open a really heavy door in a gale force wind, and I am exhausted afterwards, but I know that I have been in that ancient intercessory role of priest, or even prophet—the vehicle through which God is known or heard. Sometimes the Spirit moves more gently, and it's not so obvious—more like opening the window a crack. That is all part of my call.

Whose call is it anyway? Who should define my call?

Here is good advice, for all of us, again, not for just gay and lesbian people, but all people on the margins, who know what is to be "other" from Gifted by Otherness, p.24
The time has come for gay and lesbian people as a community to give up the futile attempt to justify our existence in the church or in the world. We are here. We have always been here. The fact that most of the churches have lived in blissful ignorance of our presence means nothing. Our task—our ministry to ourselves and to the church—is not to justify our presence, but to tell the church who we really are by our own definitions, rather than by theirs, because we know who we are. And it is a kindness neither to them nor to us to continue pretending that they have any superior knowledge or authority on the subject.

In other words, it is time we took the high ground, and began reeducating ourselves to what the task really is. It is not for the church to admit us. The church did not call us; God did. It is not the church's gospel; it is Christ's. In asserting our right to the selfhood that God bestowed on us, we are not in fact threatening or attacking the church, the gospel, God, or Christ, but asserting the primacy of the creating God and the liberating news of Jesus Christ.

Granted, this is bound to upset the church a great deal, but the fact is that if the church is not upset, it is not doing its job. If there is not heated discussion going on in Christian communities about something, we are not following the gospel (that is, we are not allowing ourselves to be pushed beyond our comfort zone or our personal interest).
Whose call is it anyway? "The church did not call us; God did." Claiming our call, defining ourselves, living into our call, is what God desires for us, no matter if we are gay or straight, rich or poor, male or female, slave or free, "for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3.28).

One disappointment so far in this study has been not being able to figure out how to get inside the thinking of one or more congregations who are in the process of calling a pastor. Anyone have any hints or connections or resources about that?

When congregations call a pastor, how do they really go through the process? Or does a call come from just a few key people in a congregation? How [well] do the representatives really discern the congregation's needs and will in this matter, or does it resemble the union bargaining table I'm familiar with where the interests of the people at the table are most well represented? Those who are not at the table are occasionally consulted, but their best interests aren't always represented. I would like for the church to be different from labor negotiations, but I am also fairly pragmatic about human nature.

Whose call is it anyway? Who is opening or closing the doors in the congregation?

And, on this Easter eve, my personal question is, where is the congregation to whom I am called? How are they discerning what kind of pastor they need?

May God show us the open doors, may they be in our own hearts and minds and congregations, and may we know ourselves and claim our calls. Amen.

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