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Prescription for a Pauline Headache


The Word of God proclaims, “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church."  1 Corinthians 14: 34-35  (as quoted on

 "Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." - Romans 16:7

 “…It ought to be said that from a biblical standpoint, there is no tolerance in Scripture for women leaders in the church, apart from women leading other women--older women teaching younger women and leading their children and so forth.” –John MacArthur

“About the injunction of the Apostle Paul that women should keep silent in church? Don't go by one text only.” – Theresa of Avilla

This subject of a woman’s authority has been a thorny issue for the church for a very long time. Entire denominations have split over this. People’s lives are ruined over this. Which perhaps is understandable, if, as many Christians believe, Paul’s writings are The Word of God. Because if they are the words of God, how can God contradict himself so often?  And apparently contradict Jesus, too?

Paul’s words were used over the centuries to justify Antisemitism, authoritarianism, slavery, misogyny and sexual bigotry. He also wrote tender love poems memorized by people around the world.  Which Paul should we listen to? Or should we listen to him at all?

Now, I think there is an enormous amount of good stuff in Paul's writings. There’s a lot we can learn from what he has to say and a lot (but not all) of his advice is well worth heeding (even though he is really not advising “us” who came 20 centuries later – Paul thought the end of the world was just around the corner). It’s even been said that Paul, and not Jesus, was the true founder of the Christian religion.

But a lot of what he says just doesn't make sense to contemporary ears and a lot of today’s Christians have dismissed Paul as irrelevant or even dangerous to the faith.  I even considered doing so myself but then remembered that Paul’s work is the earliest known written account of the Christian faith, years before the earliest Gospel. If the Gospel writers were likely influenced by Paul then how can we ignore him? And then how do we reconcile him to the Gospel? This used to give me terrible headaches.

Unless I stopped trying to make this first-century square Jewish peg fit into our Western culture’s round holes I would always  bog down in his words. Instead of some iconoclastic mouthpiece for God I needed to see Paul as the man he was, when he was, and where he was. Paul needed to be put back into the scope of real history, freshly scrubbed of all the unfortunate doctrines and dogmas that his writings are the source of.I believe that many of Paul’s words are taken so far out of context that the resulting Christian theology is tragically flawed -so flawed that the world has suffered terribly for it. This theology has become the conventional Western Christian wisdom and, using circular reasoning, is now the distorted lens through which we view Paul - as well as Jesus.

That’s why I am excited about this upcoming series on Paul and Empire at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center.  I’ve read a couple of Crossan and Borg’s books and they were mind opening; intelligent and scholarly - not written for seminarians, but in a way I could understand. I’ll admit it was hard for me at first because they so thoroughly skewered ‘truths’ that I once held to be sacred. But when I began to learn about Paul and Jesus’ “back stories”, the story of Israel under Roman domination, everything began to make sense. The now obvious parallels to our day and age began to emerge and I was able to understand better what Jesus meant by the ‘coming Kingdom of God’ and what my minor role might be (or how I might be standing in the way).

But more importantly, the headaches are gone.


Appalling Paul?

Like many people in "liberal", mainline churches, I used to have a very negative view of Paul. 

My view was actually the byproduct of an attempt to have a positive view of the Bible.  When I was a kid, the Bible didn't really seem to belong to Christians like me.  It was the '80's, the time of the (so-called) Moral Majority and the rise of the tele-evangelist who (in my stereotype) made hateful comments about gays and feminists and non-Christians while holding a big black Bible in their hands. 

Most of the time, these preachers were using a passage attributed to the Apostle Paul to back up their statements.  I quickly learned to respond to the argument that homosexuality is un-Biblical, for example, by saying, "Well, Jesus never said a word about homosexuals.  In fact, he actively sought out the people who were socially ostracized at his time."  If someone told me, "The Bible says women should be silent in church," I'd respond, "Paul says that.  Jesus never says such a thing.  In fact, he honored women in a way that was very radical for his time."

In short, I learned to love the Bible by learning that Jesus trumps Paul.

The preference for Jesus among the Christian left is alive and well.  Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo started a group a while back called "Red Letter Christians" after a popular version of the Bible in which all of the words of Jesus are printed in red type.  A "red letter Christian" is a person who embracing the teachings of Jesus as the core message of the Bible and then evaluates the rest of the Bible according to its alignment with those teachings.  Another group I joined recently calls themselves the "Beatitudes Society", making a similar point:  the part of the Bible we honor is the part that comes from Jesus.

Now, the Bible is a very diverse document, and there is a lot to be said for having a "hermeneutic" (a good Divinity school word), a guide for reading it a making sense out of it.  But over the past several years, I've begun to re-think my evaluation of Paul.  I've come to believe that he has a lot more to offer than I had originally thought--to my personal faith life, and to the church as a whole.

I'll save my comments about how Paul has shaped my prayer life for another blog.  The thing that has spurred me to re-evaluate his teachings for the church is the scholarship and writing of John Dominic Crossan.  A few years back, I read Crossan's 2007 book, "God & Empire:  Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now".  More recently, I read his earlier, longer work, written with archaeologist Jonathan Reed, "In Search of Paul:  How Jesus's Apostle Opposed Rome's Empire with God's Kingdom."  

The central point Crossan makes about Paul is that the Christian movement he forms is deeply anti-imperial.  Paul's most fundamental commitment, according to Crossan, is to the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus, arising in the world here and now, in opposition to the Kingdom of Caesar.  At the heart of this opposition is non-violence--instead of bringing "peace through victory" as Caesar claims to do, Jesus brings "peace through justice", which is, in the end, the only way to peace.

When we understand Paul in the context of his opposition to Rome, his work becomes much more radical, much more political, and much more relevant to our own context in the United States in the beginning of the 21st century.  What would it mean for us to have our primary citizenship in the Kingdom of God?  How would that challenge or even change our relationship to the Kingdoms of This World (are what are those Kingdoms, anyways?)

We're going to begin to explore those questions tomorrow night beginning at 7:30 pm at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, the first of five Lenten Friday evening discussions.  The series will make use of a DVD called "Eclipsing Empire:  Paul, Rome and the Kingdom of God" featuring Crossan and his colleague Marcus Borg.  A whole group of Columbia churches are coming together for this discussion--and its open to the public.  You are welcome!

Thoughts on Lysistrata

As part of his greeting at the start of worship this morning, Chris said, "If you're new this morning, you can probably tell by looking around the room at the massive icons hanging from our balcony that we're a bunch of neo-pagans.  Actually, I'm kidding--the props you see around the room are for a play that's being held at our church for the next several weeks.  (Pause.)  Of course, if you are a neo-pagan, we certainly welcome you here too."

It's not every church which begins the Lenten season with a disco ball and three giant-sized puppets of Greek gods hanging from the ceiling of the sanctuary, but then again, KC is not every church.  I've tried to explain this to the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company folks ever since we started talking about their using our building as the location for their winter performance this year.  Everyone I spoke to had one reaction to the possibility--they were delighted to have theater performed once again in Oliver's Carriage House.  There was a theater group here for many years (composed of people from the church and from the community) and we miss it.  The fact that the play to be performed was an adaptation of Lysistrata made not a whit of difference to anyone.

Lysistrata, as I had to explain to some of the Sunday School this morning, is a comedy about Greek women coming together and stopping the wars that raged between Greek cities by witholding sex from their husbands.  The theater folks kept asking--did I understand that the play is about sex?  Did I understand that there would be fart jokes?  Did I understand that it would include "baudy" humor?  I did--we all did--and to be honest we didn't care.

But it was with some anticipation that Dan and I went to see the show on Opening Night this past Friday along with a few other folks from our church.  There was a good crowd, but my main impression of the show was that they had missed their target audience.  They were quite clear that no one under the age of 16 would be admitted, but half way through the first act I leaned over to Dan and said, "Our kids would love this."  I am the proud mother of two middle school boys, and I thought the humor was right at their level.  You know--American Pie level.  Lots of sex-related jokes but somehow the play is never actually very sexy at all.  Just stupid.  And I'm not saying that in a bad way.  Stupid can be very very funny at times.  Especially if you're into fart jokes.

There wasn't a lot of deep meaning to this play.  Even the anti-war message at the heart of the plot was basically dismissed--the women are mostly interested in peace so that their husbands would be home and they could have sex more often.  And to be honest, the most entertaining part of the evening for Dan and me was eavesdropping on the exceedingly awkward first date that was taking place next to us.  The show was a really bad choice for this date--both parties were extremely embarrassed to be there.  At intermission, after a long silence, the guy said to his date, "Well they have some good choreography...."  She managed a weak smile in response.

But there was an aspect of the show that I really liked.  There was a group of maybe 10 women who were the core members of the cast, portraying Greek women from various cities.  They had excellent costumes--short, sexy, playful dresses in different colors, all with a kind of gauzy drape that was a bit reminiscent of a toga.  Each dress was different, and each played up the strengths of the woman who wore it--cleavage, shoulders, legs, backs, whatever they had, they flaunted.  I first saw this as a tribute to the costume designer, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated the way in which ten different women with ten different body types all looked great in the show.  And they all stood there and acted in a way that showed you they knew they looked great.

Despite the utter stupidity of this play, these women got a message across:  women can be confident in their bodies, all sorts of bodies, assured that they are beautiful, sensual, powerful.  I can say amen to that.

First Sunday in Lent, Year C

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

Lent is a season of introspection and preparation - preparation for a new way of being, a new life, a revised view of how the World can Be, preparation for God's Kingdom here among us.  For many, it is a time of examining their lives, their faith and their actions and choices to see how they all fit together.  Are they living what they Believe? Are they moving their life and presumably the lives of those around them Toward something new? That is hard work.  It's really easy to sort of swim around in ideas about right and wrong ways of being but it is really hard to live out good choices in every life circumstance.  And God's got grace close at hand, and that is a huge Gift.

The readings this week reminded us of how important this time of preparation can be.  The writers lay out some very basic premises of faith and commitment - rules and guidelines and understandings that we can use as a compass.  Given the KC community's consideration of veils that cover our seeing during this season, we can look at these guidelines and patterns and ask ourselves, "What veils keep us from seeing the Way Toward these ideals?" 

Throughout Deuteronomy, Moses is instructing the Israelites about how they are to live in the Promised Land.  It's sort of a rule book and it will be important later in our readings to understand that the Jewish people knew these instructions well.  The message in this passage is that the Israelites should return to God who delivered them to this land flowing with milk and honey the very first fruits of their labor and harvest in that land.  The message here is the basis for many people's understanding of tithing today - You have not received these things by your doing - God has bestowed these gifts upon you and in exchange, you return to God offerings of the very best products of that life.  For the Israelites agricultural society, that meant the best and earliest of their harvest.  Now we garden...and it is hard to imagine giving away that first tomato when it starts to turn pink on the vine.  But really, it never was "our" tomato.  And so we hope to be aware of that and give it away.

The psalmist is praising Yahweh's power and protection - a recent theme in the selected Psalms.  The psalmist is also providing us with a better understanding of who God is and what God does.  But this specific Psalm is also an historical backdrop for the Luke passage that follows in this week's reading.

In Luke, Jesus has been "anointed" during his baptism by John and has been driven into the wilderness where he is tempted for 40 days and nights by Satan.  What a wild and crazy stretch of life, eh?  (For the record, 40 days is biblical code for "a really long time.")  Satan taunts Jesus, offering him relief, authority and power over harm and with each taunt, Jesus responds with words from Deuteronomy that clearly guide his understanding of who God is and what God does.  Satan even quotes Psalm 91, citing God's protection.   Jesus understands that Satan is seeking to test God, but as a good Jewish teacher, Jesus knows that there is a difference between testing a relationship and Trusting a relationship.

Finally, Paul's letter to the church in Rome reminds us that Jesus' ministry was not just for the Jews.  And it was not just against the Roman Empire.  It was teaching for all, and our following Jesus should not separate us but rather unite us.  Every now and then, we need that reminder.  How about you?

God, I am trying to be grateful for what I have
right here
right now
It is easy for me to yearn after
more things,
more money,
more love,
more power...
more things.
However, I am trying to be grateful for what I have
right here
right now

© matt & laura norvell 2010
we want to share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.

Finding God--Alone

The Washington Post has a stunning feature today on one neighborhood's recovery from the earthquake in Haiti called "The Spirit of Survival" written by Manuel Roig-Franzia.  I haven't read anything like this in the newspaper for a while--a truly vivid portrait of human community and human suffering which never crossing the line to sensationalism.  The piece begins, "Earthly spasms could not undo the Village of God," so needless to say I read on.

Roig-Franzia captures some of the voices he hears in this Haitian tent camp in a former soccer field:  a "preacher lady" screams "There's nobody who can do anything for you if you're not a God-fearing person; only Jesus!"  A "lawyer" yelling on a street corner "If [international relief agencies] want to help, the aid has to be distributed!  If they can't bring the aid, we should tell them to go!"  And a "gangly teenage boy" raps along with a song on a stereo, "fight for what you believe/if you want this life to change/don't just sit and look around."

Those three speakers concisely summarize the range of options we have when we are in crisis:  call on God, call on others, and call on yourself.  I imagine that all three appeals are needed for Haiti to rebuild.  But in the end, I guess I'd have to side with the preacher-lady:  when everything falls down around us, the love of God gives us a foundation on which to rebuild.

Chris Beyer spoke at KC this past Sunday, and he ended with an image that has been on my mind ever since.  Chris was reflecting on two passages from the week's lectionary (Exodus 34:29-35 and Luke 9:28-36) which both describe a direct, unmediated experience of the divine which a group then tries to manage or control in some way.  He reflected on how often we put up barriars, "veils", in between ourselves and God, valuing a leader or a church or a practice or a call or even an identity more than we value God.  That's all well and good until we lose the leader or the church or the identity, etc., and suddenly realize that we don't have no sense of connection to God, no spirituality, no faith, without those things.

Chris ended by saying, "All my life I've had this recurring nightmare; I am trapped beneath tons of rubble, in pitch-blackness, unable to move any part of my body.... As we've just seen in Haiti, many people have suffered this precise horror.  I just pray that, if ever in that situation, I would not panic because God would be there with me, and that I wouldn't be too afraid to see Him."

I pray the same thing.  I put a lot of value on my call, my community, my family, my sense of purpose, my identity, etc.  But I pray that if I were to lose those things, I would have a connection with God that wasn't dependent on anything other than God's own love for me.  I trust that connection exists, not because of I have a particularly pure faith (I don't) but because that's who God is. 

The unfailing, freely-given love of God is, in the end, the only thing I know that can combat despair when other people and groups fail us and we have lost even our own sense of self.

Pared Down by Snow Days

I've been incredibly curious all week about what people are doing with all the time they suddenly have due to a week of snow days.

When the snow days first began, I was remembering the delightful tradition of "Reading Week" at my college.  We always had a week between the last class of the semester and the beginning of finals to catch up on all of the reading you hadn't had time to do during the semester.  A couple of snow days can serve the same purpose--a chance to catch up on housework, clear out our email and call elderly family members.  I've been wondering of the Post will write a story on how many people filed their taxes this week (we did!) and how many people cleaned out at least one closet (we did!).  How many people cleaned their oven?

The only news I've heard about snow day activities, however, was a segment on the Kojo Nnamdi Show with the buyers for supermarkets.  People were calling in to answer the question, "What do you stock up on before a big storm?"  The buyers talked about the run on frozen pizza and chips, but almost all the callers talked about getting food for soup, stew, brownies and other things to cook at home.

The evening after I heard that segment, I look out my front window and saw the glowing windows of houses up and down my block.  I had the image of families, behind each of those windows, sitting down to dinner together.  I imagined big pots of chicken soup and homemade banana bread.  And since no one had anywhere to go that evening, I imagined everyone lingering at the table for a while, having a second glass of wine, telling stories, laughing together.

And all week, hundreds of thousands of people slept in.  We hung out in bed for a while after waking up.  We took afternoon naps.

At least in our house, the more snow days we had, the less closet cleaning we did.  Things started to get really basic:  sleeping, eating, shoveling, lying in the bathtub, eating some more, laughing.

I know that it's unnecessary to turn every single experience into a sermon, but it does strike me that the simplicity of snow days offers an important lesson about our calls.

David Spangler, in his near-perfect book "The Call", tells a story from his time as the codirector of Findhorn, a spiritual community in Northern Scotland in the early '70's.  Findhorn was formed, in part, in response to an expectation that massive social and spiritual upheaval was going to lead to the birth of a New Age.  Spangler writes that one day he received a letter informing them that the world was about to end with nuclear war, earthquakes, the melting of the polar ice caps, etc. 

What to do with this prophecy, they wondered?  The Findhorn community decided that even in the New Age, they would still need to cook and eat.  They would still have to nurture their relationships with each other, raise children, care for the earth.

He concludes, "So many people in those days were caught up in thinking, 'What are the alternatives?  What could be different about our world?'  But I think the important question is, 'What would be the same?'  Because if we start with what is the same, we can go from there; we can focus upon how we do what is already at hand for us to do.  The differences will emerge as they need to.  What is that same is that I still need to learn how to be loving to you."

The call to love, to be loving towards each other, the earth and ourselves, is really our only call, Spangler argues.  All our particular activities are just particular ways to live out that call.

I hope that this past week, with all our time at the table with each other and all our time in bed with each other, we were able to live into that most basic call a bit more fully.

More Thoughts on Call: Being a "Non-Essential Worker"

We're experiencing the Snowstorm of the Century here in Maryland (a.k.a. Snowmeggeton, Snowpacalyse, snOw M G, Snowtorious B.I.G.) and for the fourth day in the row there is no school in Howard County.  All the Columbia Association facilities are closed (no gym, no art classes) and all Howard County facilities are closed (no library).  And for the fourth day in the row, the Federal Government is closed.

I remember the first time I heard about the government closing, back in 2003 when we also had a ton of snow.  The news struck me as funny.  I mean, I understood that it was going to be hard for people to drive into D.C. and I understood that the metro wasn't running.  But how can you shut the government down?  Isn't that like saying that we're going to shut down the highway system or the water treatment facility?  Isn't government essential?

Turns out it's not.  At least, most of it isn't.  There is a category of federal employee called "non-essential workers", and the vast majority of jobs fall into that category.  My husband explained it to our kids this way a few days ago:  "Well you see, in this area we don't actually produce anything.  We just manage things.  So it's probably a relief to everyone when we take a few days off."

Neither Dan nor I have been able to get to our jobs since this past Saturday.  We've been doing our best to telecommute and plenty of our work just requires a computer.  But I've had to admit something to myself this week:  I too am a "non-essential worker." 

This doesn't mean that I think my job (my "call") to be unimportant overall.  I love being a pastor of a congregation, and I am reminded on a daily basis that other people value and appreciate my work.  But if I am not able to do it for a day, or two, or four, nothing falls apart.  The world can very easily go on without me.

This is a pretty helpful discovery, I think.  It might even be a good reason to have a 30" snowfall.

Back in December, the last time we had an enormous amount snow, I was not surprised that we canceled worship.  But I was very sorry that a wedding scheduled for the Saturday of the storm was canceled.  On Sunday morning, when I got back from three hours of incredible cross country skiing, the phone was ringing.  It was Tracy, excitedly announcing that her wedding was going to happen that day--in 45 minutes, in fact. 

I went from a state of total relaxation and contentment to near hysteria in a split second.  In the next 30 minutes I showed, changed, blow dried my hair, printed my homily, shoveled my driveway and cleared off my minivan.  I drove out of my driveway ten minutes before the wedding was supposed to begin and promptly got stuck in the unplowed street.  It took another 10 minutes and five neighbors to push our van back into the driveway.  I tearfully called everyone I could think of who would be at the wedding while trying to figure out what my Plan B would be.

Sandy called back a few minutes later and put Tracy on the phone.  To my complete shock, she was totally unconcerned about my inability to get to her wedding.  Sandy would fill in for me she assured me (Sandy can legally perform weddings).  Everything was under control.

From all accounts, it was a totally wonderful wedding.  Sandy did a great job, people from all over the neighborhood walked over, musicians showed up and started playing their instruments, a pot-luck reception was just what was needed.  I was so glad, for Tracy's sake.  But the truth is, I was a little hurt.  It had absolutely never occurred to me that I was "non-essential" at a wedding.  I'm the minister, after all!

But after a few hours of sulking, it occurred to me that this is good news.  Knowing that other people can do what you do removes the heavy load of "have to" and "ought to" from much of our work and replaces it with the graceful reminder that we do what we do because we have chosen to respond to God's call in this way.

Maybe this is an essential part of understanding our work as a call, a response to God's invitation to participate in actualizing God's desire for the world.  We can affirm the importance of our work and understand that we are part of something which is bigger and more "essential" than any of our individual efforts to respond.

Transfiguration Sunday, Year C

Exodus 34.29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2
Luke 9.28-43

What does it take to get your attention?

What has to happen to really shake you our of your normal way of seeing or hearing or living to where you view a person or event or the world with a new or different understanding? 

Can you think of a time where this has happened to you?  Remember the circumstances that led up to it and surrounded that particular moment.

Now, what did you do with that particular new insight?  Did it change the way you interacted with the world?  Did it change your ability or intention as you interact with others?  Did it make you more gentle or more aggressive as you interact with yourself?

Seeing something in a different way is important.  However, even more important are the ways we integrate those new perspectives in to our lives.

In the scriptures this week we get some different stories of New Perspectives.

First we see Moses coming down from Mount Sinai. He would climb up to his special spot and be in the presence of God, talk with God, or maybe receive messages from God--any way you look at it, when he came down from his sessions on Sinai, he shone.  He had some sort of visible manifestation of having been in the presence of God.  Now, we don't know exactly what happened up there or what Moses saw or experienced.  However, we can guess that something big happened that got his attention.  And then, a second version wave in this particular story is how Moses brought the presence of God along with him to the Israelites.  The shining face of Moses Got Their Attention and caused them to know there was something special about the relationship between Moses and God.

The Psalmist gives us a good historical retrospective about a few epiphanic moments in the history of Israel with great praise for God's mighty Attention-Getting.  These psalms are indicators of what the Jewish community held dear, revisited and praised.  They acknowledged the importance of Paying Attention in their praise.

In Paul's second letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, he is doing some comparing and contrasting (and even a little challenging) about what it takes to Get Their Attention and change the ways they are relating to God.  He is comparing the experience of Moses with God and then with the Israelites to his current experience with Jesus.  He is encouraging them to understand that while Moses was an intermediary between the Israelites and God, the birth and life and death and resurrection of Jesus changed that system and made it where there is no need for an intermediary between the individual believer and God.  Paul is encouraging them toward a new epiphany....he is sort of leading them toward it logically to help them understand what it is they have available to them through Christ.

The passage we find in Luke is the Classic Transfiguration Passage.  You know the story.  Jesus takes Peter and John and James up on a mountain to pray.  While they were praying, Moses and Elijah appeared and started talking with Jesus, and then the voice of God came from the cloud that surrounded them saying "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him."  As would be true with most of this, this Got Their Attention.  And look at the next story that happens the next day when they come down from the mountain.  A man met them whose son was possessed with a spirit that made him hurt himself, the man had asked the disciples at the bottom of the mountain to help him, and they could not.  Jesus offers some slightly terse words to those present, and then he heals the boy.  And this scene (like so many Jesus was a part of) Got Their Attention.

Now we know the follow up to some of these stories.  We know that some of their lives were different from these moments forward.  We also know that some of them were not.  And so we return to the initial questions:

What does it take to get your attention?

What has to happen to really shake you our of your normal way of seeing or hearing or living to where you view a person or event or the world with a new or different understanding? 

Can you think of a time where this has happened to you?  Remember the circumstances that led up to it and surrounded that particular moment.

Now, what did you do with that particular new insight?  Did it change the way you interacted with the world?  Did it change your ability or intention as you interact with others?  Did it make you more gentle or more aggressive as you interact with yourself?

Seeing something in a different way is important.  However, even more important are the ways we integrate those new perspectives in to our lives.

How many times
have I looked away
when You were
standing beside me
trying desperately
to Capture my Attention?
Help me to pay Attention,
to be Alert,
to Watch
for You
and to be Aware
of what that means
to your Kingdom.

Who Is Called to Do the Laundry?

While we're on the subject of Call (thank, Matt and Laura, thanks lectionary and thanks Kittamaqundi Community for never letting this topic drop) I'd like to raise a question which has been on my mind for years:  Who is called to do the laundry?

And not just the laundry.  Who is called to do all the mundane, scut work of the world.  You know, collecting garbage and cleaning the bathtub and proof-reading the latest version of the church directory?  I know that I'm not called to do these things.  But is anyone?

There is a conversation that happens at churches with great frequency which goes like this:  "We need to fill four more slots on the Christian Education committee.  Let's think of all the people who aren't already on a committee who are free on Tuesday nights."  Then, someone in the conversation responds, "Shouldn't the people on the Christian Education committee be called to that work?  We need more people to feel a call to serve our youth!"

Which is the more "spiritual" response?  The second comment certainly sounds more spiritual--it uses the word "call" after all.  But is it really true that God arranges our communities in such ways that there is a person in the community who is really, truly called to each essential task?  I would certainly like to believe this.  I would really like to think that there is someone genuinely called to do all the work I don't feel like doing.  But are they?

In my experience, this is how a great deal of the work of running a church gets divvied up:  The church cultivates a clear expectation that everyone will take their turn to pitch in and do their share of the work.  People either understand this and therefore volunteer when it seems like "their turn" or they don't don't understand this and are therefore asked quite directly to take a turn.

Is taking your turn, doing your share, acting out of a sense of duty distinctly different from following a divine call? 

A couple of weekends ago, the 2010 Church Council spent Sunday afternoon together, our annual team-building retreat.  Rick Miller led us in an exercise in which we all drew a picture describing our "call" to serve on the Council.  I was struck by the answer so many of us gave: "I love our church, and I realize that a lot of people have put their time into running it, and I feel called to take my turn and do my share of the work." 

People didn't say they felt called to administrative work.  They said they were willing to do administrative work because they felt called to be part of a community.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I agree that there are all sorts of ways to be Called.  God doesn't just need ordained ministers and missionaries.  God needs every one of us to build the Kingdom, in small and big ways.  Last night my neighbor told me about her bus driver, Mr. Mike, who has touched her deeply with the caring and attentive way in which he does his work.  "He really is like Jesus," she told me.  "He shepherds us with such love."

But maybe the issue is not that we haven't valued calls to small acts of caring and inglorious jobs enough.  Maybe the issue is that we have imagined calls to be much more specific and defined than they really are.  God may not call each person to a specific job--big, little or in between.  Rather, God has work to do in the world, and invites us to join in, however we can on any given day.  "Pitching in" may be as worthy a response to the invitation as any.

5th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

Isaiah 6.1-8
Psalm 138
1 Corinthians 15.1-11
Luke 5.1-11

Are there Bigger and Smaller Calls?  Are some Calls More Important than others?


Of course, we need to spend a moment thinking about what it means to Be Called.  For us, in its simplest form, a Call is a nudge or pull by God toward some specific work that in some way shares Love or creates Light in the world.  Well, maybe that is not so simple.

We think it is important for all of us to broaden our idea of call a bit. In the churches we grew up in, we mainly heard about people being "Called to the Ministry" or "Called to the Mission Field" or "Called to Work With the Poor", etc.  Being Called by God meant huge things...big changes...grand sacrifices, etc.

But are all Calls huge?

When we look at the stories found in scripture we see all sorts of Calls. We see all sorts of people that are Called to do all sorts of things to share the Love and Light of God with the world.

In this week's scriptures we see a wide variety Calls being experienced and lived out.  Let's look at some.

In Isaiah we see an unusual scene being played out.  Isaiah is having a vision and in this vision he is Called by God to deliver a difficult message.  Isaiah's initial response is one to which we can relate.  Isaiah protests that he is unclean and he is among those unclean.  We have experienced times (and we suspect you have, too) when we don't feel adequate or skilled or good enough for what is placed before us.  But Isaiah is assured he can do this - in fact, he is called out as one to address those around him.  Have you ever had that sense of call that you were to do something pretty bold amidst a whole group that you counted as friends and peers?  Perhaps felt called to speak a truth among close friends?  This passage ends with words that have become familiar to us in a popular hymn, "Here I am, it I?"  Isaiah moves past his doubt to say, ok, here I am.  Send me.  Do we feel called to that same response?  Is there a choice?

In Psalm 138 the tables are turned a bit.  We see a Psalmist who appears to be completely committed to a life of worshiping God, and in his confidence he calls on God when he is in a difficult space.  And when God reaches out and answers him, that further increases his confidence in (and commitment to) God. We were reminded when reading this of the things we'd often like to ask of God when facing a tough spot.

In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, we find Paul living out his Call.  The message of this particular passage is important because it is another example of him telling his own story of how he got to where he is and what he is doing.  But while he is doing that, he is living out his Call...which is to share the message of Jesus with others.

In Luke we can see a wide variety of Calls in one short passage.  Jesus is living out his Call by going to the lake to look for disciples.  These soon-to-be disciples are actually living out their Call by being fishermen (this can be understood as a Call because it provides others with food). And then, as the scene plays out we see Jesus Calling these fishermen to a different life.  And they dropped their nets and followed.  What bravery. What bravery?  Have you felt called specifically to shift gears like that at any point?

There are many calls - to be a good parent, to feed the hungry, to speak to a co-worker who seems overwhelmed, to build homes for the homeless, to tutor, to sit with a dying friend, to bake brownies for the new family down the block, to pick up trash along the road, to fight for just systems.  It makes us a little dizzy.  How about you?

Place your hands on our lives
and use our skills, our gifts and even our deficits
to shed light and hope and faith
in dark and lonely places
in warm and sensitive places
in overcrowded, undernourished places -
places that confront us
sometimes without our awareness
or understanding.

© matt & laura norvell 2010
we want to share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.