Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Church Life

The Three-Legged Stool

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.

23 thoughts on “The Three-Legged Stool”

  1. Amen, Oh, Yes, yes. Praise Dog! (Do you suppose that clergyman is actually a stool pigeon?)

  2. When I finished reading the entry, I will admit that I was mildly relived to think he isn’t “one of ours” in the denominational sense; but also saddened to know that he still is, in the “universal church” sense.
    I think your church leaders made a good choice… and I think his metaphorical stool, as Molly illustrated, would be aided by more working legs.

  3. Songbird, this message sings! Too bad he probably won’t see himself or his church as the “lame dog” in this parable 🙂

  4. Crumbs. I’m not sure I would have been able to restrain myself from saying something.
    And I grow more impressed with Molly every time you post a story about her, I think.

  5. Lovely perceptive writing, as always my friend…and blessings on you and on Molly xxx

  6. I am certain you all came to the best decision for your church. Allowing someone to use your space to practice exclusion would almost feel like condoning it I suppose. The sadder thing is that he’ll never “get” it really.

  7. When someone says he or she is “Bible Believing”, that right there is an exclusive statement. It is code for “The way *I* read the Bible is the ONLY right way.” I had a yuck feeling in my stomach as I read that. I agree, probably not a good fit for your space.

  8. Do he and his parishioners earn interest on their money? Or did they cross those parts out?

  9. Well, you made me nervous with the three legged stool part because, of course, that is an entirely Episcopal/Anglican teaching. Straight out of Richard Hooker, I think. And, sadly, this pastor’s being charismatic reminded me of a committee I sat on once whose charge from the bishop was to come up with guidelines for “dealing” with charismatics in that diocese. Exclusion takes many forms. The Episcopal Church has suffered from its embracing of charismatics; this is the root for the Virginia and Pittsburgh departures and not, as most believe, the election of a partnered bishop.
    So, as I sit here reading my notes for Saturday’s church history lecture, you have reminded me of some history and started me wondering how the split in my denomination will play out in the eyes of future historians. Can we all still claim the three legged stool? 😉
    Thanks to you and to Molly.

  10. I’d love to know how he had the GALL to be asking you for space, at the same time he was telling you that your ministry isn’t valid…
    And I bet he has a passel of children. That sort always does. Lord have mercy!

  11. How beautifully Molly illustrated the inclusion of all creation. Too bad he couldn’t see past the end of his nose.

  12. It makes me so sad when the church excludes anyone. And I wonder how a Bible-believing person can be so closed. The Jesus that I know, love, worship, preach and teach is most INclusive.

  13. I come proudly from a 3-legged stool tradition, but at the moment my urge is to pick it up and bang someone over the head with it, trying to knock some sense into him. Not charitable, but a first impulse. I really struggle with how, in my own heart and mind, to include those whose approach is to exclude others.

  14. Sadly, there are groups of people in all denominational traditions who are exclusionary and condemning, just as, fortunately, there are groups of people in all traditions (including three-legged traditions!) that practice Jesus’s call to repentance and community and love.

  15. The Lord’s Table is open to all who profess Christ as their saviour and who come to the throne of grace with a repentant heart. That is what I take from the Bible.
    The issue of women not being priests to me should be a non-issue. I know of nowhere in the Scriptures that it says a woman may not serve in that capacity. To disallow that today because Jesus had no women disciples (but He sure had a pack of them among his followers!) is to me pretty much a chauvanistic or even cowardly stance.
    However, I do agree with not allowing gay and lesbian people to take communion. The key phrase in my first paragraph is repentant.
    Since the Bible states quite clearly that homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord, that sets it clearly as a sin. Not a biological condemnation but a sin. And those who continue to commit homosexuality are unrepentant sinners.
    It is not phobia nor exclusionary tactics that cause us to bar these people from the table but by their own embracing of sin. The Lord’s Table is for all who turn from their wicked ways, not for those who continue their sinful behaviors with no intention of repenting.
    There is very little way to spin the phrase abomination. And that which the dictionary defines as a vile, destistable or despicable act cannot enter the presence of the Lord.

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