I don't know about you, but sometimes I find being a grown-up stinks. A grown-up is expected to keep lots of papers and numbers straight and organized, to manage the care and feeding and health of other people and creatures. A grown-up is expected to listen respectfully and politely to ideas that are absolutely ridiculous, at least until the person expressing them is safely out of earshot.
Recently I've had two conversations with a clergyman from a different tradition, one that is "Bible-believing" and Sacramental and Charismatic. I heard him claim that his church honors the contribution of women and welcomes gay and lesbian people, but I also heard him say, because I pressed the point, that the gay and lesbian people would be welcome to come to worship, but not to be in communion with his congregation. I heard him say, because I pressed the point, that women can preach and pastor and teach but NOT BE PRIESTS because Jesus' disciples did not include women, and being Bible-believing, he did not go through the Bible with a black marker to cross out the things he did not like.
And while he launched on an explanation of how his church is organized like a three-legged stool, in an attempt to mitigate the horror felt by this pastor and some of her lay leaders, from whom he hopes to rent worship space, while he explained that all three legs of the stool mattered equally, we all wondered how he could say these things, when the Eucharist is central to his weekly worship service and can only be made "real" if he declares it so, and is not extended to people he does not declare welcome to receive it.
And while he went on and on, Molly, unsettled in body and spirit, rose up from the floor of my office, and because she is lame, tried to rearrange herself using only three legs.
And it was good, a good move by that therapeutic dog, composing the faces of her mother–this pastor–and the three lay leaders who adore her, too.
After he left, we all spoke of our reactions to him, and while our motivations may have differed, being theological and spiritual and political and practical in varying measures, we all agreed this would not likely be a good fit for the church.
We also agreed that the third leg of the stool clearly had certain characteristics, and if this pastor is the one who suggested it, well, we all knew I had a sense of humor, didn't we?
Molly and I got back in the car to come home, and I turned on a podcast of "This American Life" from December, "20 Acts in 60 Minutes." I was almost at the end, just finishing a segment about new students at West Point, and then a new segment began, about a group of girls in some sort of detention, singing a song to their mothers and grandmothers, in front of their cohorts, saying how sorry they were.
It was an act of confession that brought many of them to sobs before the song ended, "Mama, I'm sorry," sung over and over. I'm sorry you had to miss work to come to court with me, they sang, sorry this gave you stress and made you depressed. At the end of the song they came down from the stage and gave paper hearts, like Valentines, to their mamas and grandmas, palm-sized hearts with the words "I'm sorry" written on them.
And I sobbed, too, because this is what God wants from us, not rules and rituals and lines of exclusion. God wants the I'm sorry written on our hearts, sobbed and sung and wrung out of us, and the smiles of understanding and the therapy of dogs. That's the three-legged stool I believe She ordains, repentance and community and love.