1 Cor, Epiphany 3C, Orientation, Sabbatical, The New Normal


“I’m having a wardrobe crisis!”

“It’s just a retreat,” answered my sensible wife. “Saturday morning casual. How would you usually dress for a retreat?”

“Usually I would be the pastor,” I replied.

This was different. Today I was both the new girl and the pastor’s wife. What to wear? Who to be?

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Cor 12:14, NRSV)

It seems this body consists of many members, and keeping track of which one goes on retreat is only one of the complex calculations of my new life. The room is full of women, mostly from the church but some from the surrounding area, many of whom I’ve met but many not, even a few who have invited us to their homes for delicious dinners, or “friended” me on Facebook. One even helped unpack my great-grandmother’s china.

But many have no idea who I am. And some might rather not know, and I can’t be sure who they are. So I do what I do, what I learned to do when I was a little girl. I introduce myself to people and hope that’s enough. I put out my little hand, and I look them in the eye and say, “I’m Martha Spong.”

It’s a new, weird thing. I suspect if I had married a male pastor, I would be telling people readily, “I’m Pastor KJ’s wife.” But there’s no need to throw out Molotov Cocktails with people who may be uneasy. That’s what I tell myself.

I felt this way until I met someone who was even more new than I am, maybe not by the dates on the calendar (she has lived her a few months longer) but by her association with the church. After all, I’ve helped lead worship (August, 2011) and attended a church picnic and taken two study leave weeks in the office! I know where the super-secret bathrooms are. At the other end of the table is a woman who doesn’t know anyone yet, and as we talk on the retreat about how friendship means taking risks and doing things that might feel uncomfortable for the sake of the other person, I get my bearings. I introduce myself. Her story spills out, and there are commonalities, so I respond with a fragment of mine, and then I take the risk. I say, “Do you know the Senior Pastor?” There is a slight nod. “I’m her partner, and I just moved here, too.”

friendsI have her cell phone number. I’m going to call her soon so we can have coffee and talk about being new in town.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. (1 Cor 12:27-31)

I may not be the pastor, and I may be the new girl, and I may not feel 100% comfortable saying I’m kathrynzj’s wife in that space, but I am Martha, a follower of Jesus, and part of my calling as a faithful person is connecting.

1 Cor, I Sing the Body Electric

Things I Don’t Like About Paul, Part 103

(thinking about 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only
one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to
receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the
air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to
others I myself should not be disqualified.

Yeah. That's one of them. The athletic reference is a metaphor, encouraging us to press on toward the victory of an imperishable wreath (yes, I'm quoting Philippians, which happens to be a favorite metaphorical passage).

But is the body stuff a metaphor for his spiritual discipline? It may well be, but for some reason people hear the metaphor in the first two verses, but make the end of this passage a literal one.

Maybe it's not Paul's fault, except in the sense that he forgot people tend to be bloody literal-minded. Maybe it's us, or not you and me, but other people too inclined to make his word unimaginative and anti-literary.

The body stuff bothers me because for so many centuries we've extended it to include the earth and earth's creatures, enslaving them, using them for whatever might forward our agenda, whether spiritual or military or material. It's a usage mentality, a beating myself or you or whoever into submission sort of dominant-over-matter mindset.

And there are still people putting forward an anti-body agenda, or perhaps a better word would be unembodied or postembodied, asking us to focus like mad on the apocalyptic arrival of Jesus. I guess there have always been pockets of those people, people enamored with the idea of leaving these bodies behind for something celestial. 

But I am becoming convinced that living into these bodies is part of the experience to which God calls us. Why else embody us in the first place? And I don't buy the enslaving image, for body or spirit. Jesus came to set us free from those bonds, not to command us to cinch them tighter.

So whether it's our interpretation or Paul's personal neuroses at fault here, I reject the idea of enslaving the body as a path to the imperishable wreath.


1 Cor, Living in This World

“For the Present Form of This World is Passing Away.”

(thinking about 1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short;
from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as
though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the
present form of this world is passing away.
(1 Corinthians 7:29-31, NRSV)

I mean.

Brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short.

Let those who were born Democrats sit down and eat dinner with Republicans.

Let those who wished the other guy or the other gal won stop for a moment and allow a smile to cross their faces.

Let those of us with plenty remember those with less, and let those of us with next-to-nothing feel part of the abundance of the day to come.

For the present form of this world is passing away. 

And the only way we won't snag ourselves on the past is to let it go, to remember it with respect and value the good parts and identify the bad ones, but to let.it.go.

I mean.

1 Cor, Don't Let's Call It a Diet

Or Do You Not Know?

(Thinking about texts for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, especially 1 Corinthians 5:12-20)

When I re-purposed this blog, which I started as a 365 writing blog two years ago, I titled it Reflectionary, hoping to do more writing on the topic of the texts from the Revised Common Lectionary. And I do that, but I also do other blogging, sometimes one more than the other. I've fallen out of some habits I tried to establish this time last year, to write about all four texts, even briefly, each week, and I'm going to start again.

"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything."Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food," and God will destroy both one and the other. (1 Corinthians 6:12-13)

I'm thinking of a new subtitle: Reflectionary, where the lectionary has a "come to Jesus" moment with my life.

I've always resisted the notion of faith-based diet plans, in part because they seemed to come from a more theologically conservative point of view, both in terms of how we perceive God and in terms of assessing women's ultimate purpose. Their God micromanages too much. Their notion of women's worth has more to do with relationships to men than to anything else. These are my opinions, and your mileage may vary.

"All things are lawful for me." This sort of thought went through my head on Friday when Pure Luck and I met his BFF for lunch. We went to our favorite local place (MB, RDM, Ruby, reverendmother have all been there with me), and I ordered my favorite thing, the Thai Tempura Veggie Roll-up.

Now, there are many worse things on the menu at the place we call "The Bear," for short. Many, many worse things. And I chose the mini-salad instead of the delicious fries as a side dish, and I had it with balsamic vinaigrette that I carefully sprinkled on the delicious greens. It may be that this meal can be supported by a thoughtful Weight Watchers member, using weekly and activity points, and some of it even counted as vegetables and healthy oils. The wrap is full of lettuce and shredded carrots in addition to the tempura veggies and the *gasp* really wonderful peanut sauce.

But on the menu there are other choices, listed with all their ingredients and calories, and you can get a great big salad with a grilled chicken breast and a very few skinny tortilla strips with fat free honey mustard dressing, and that is delicious, too.


I *love* the Thai Tempura Veggie Roll-up. I want to be able to eat it when we go there.

So I did (see above). And I had all my mental ammunition ready as to why it was a legitimate choice, and what the ramifications were, and I didn't finish the wrap part when I felt full. All good.

All good except that after the meal, I felt regret. I felt regret because I knew there were skinny choices on the menu.

The problem is not the thing I ordered. The problem is in my head. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by peanut sauce or tempura vegetables, either before or after. I can choose that meal again–no doubt, I will, we go there often, and as previously stated, I *love* it–but I will also choose the context. And the context will be respectful of the body and the mind and the spirit God gave me. The context will be within the parameters of the commitments I have made to myself, not with a feeling of guilt that will have me snuffling around the kitchen looking for dessert to sweeten the sour the minute I get home.

I may learn that I cannot eat this at all, that it triggers something for me.

Paul goes on to write about fornication, but what I'm talking about is a kind of fooling around in your own head, fooling yourself, or trying to, messing up what is a good gift: life.

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. I get the message. Thanks.

1 Cor, Ministry, Mothering

The purposes of the heart

"The Lord…will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of
the heart."
(A sliver of 1 Corinthians 4:5, NRSV)

While feeling less than vibrant, I've been pondering what in the world my condition, my ailment, my diagnosis may have on my future in ministry. Certainly the capacity to turn words around in my mind and see them find form on paper, to examine my daily life and bring it into conversation with the texts I encounter (scripture, literature, the arts, family life, pop culture, dog walking and so forth), seems not to abate.

I honestly don't look at this as a deliberate act on the part of a Divine Teacher trying to lay a particular lesson on me. I can't say that enough, though one pal declares this will be on her "WTF?" list when she gets to heaven.

(Yes, that was supposed to be funny. Please be laughing.)

(Okay. The next part is serious.)

On a spring morning in 1992, I
had a conversation with a friend who had lost a baby years before, as
she offered her sympathy for my more recent loss.

"Do you
think God lets these things happen to teach us something?" Her baby had
died at birth, the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.

I replied emphatically, thinking more of her story than of mine. And
then I thought for a moment and said, more slowly, "But I guess if we
*can* learn something from the experience, that's good."

I've done a lot of working out of my theology at the back doors of other people's houses, while pushing a cart through the aisles of a grocery store, while picking up dropped stitches or winding stubborn balls of yarn. There has been no ivory tower, just a mother racing from one state to another to study, then parent, then write, then parent, then race around and start it all over again. I look back at my years in seminary and cannot imagine how I kept all the pieces of my life going. It took determination and energy, yes, but it also took faith that at some point the purposes of the heart, the purpose of my life, would be revealed. I believed that there was some way I could serve, even though my classmates' jaws tended to drop when they heard I was the single mother of THREE young children. I was a category unto myself.

If you followed me here from my other blog, you'll know that I've been in discernment, along with others, about planting new UCC churches in the Conference where I live, and about being one of the church planters myself. My friend Kathryn tells me that in the Church of England they would call that being a Pioneer Minister. I love that! I want to pioneer, to go to new places and do things in new ways. It's appealing.

It's also "now hidden in darkness" and waiting to be brought into the light.

Of course that's true for the future all of us face. In our churches or our families, whether or not we consider ourselves to be in any sort of dramatic transition, there is always something around the corner, some new leading, some new understanding just waiting to be illuminated.

I think the most uncomfortable place is the one where we know the moment of knowledge is close by, but don't have any idea what the answer will be. The Princess and I had just squealed our amazement at David Cook's victory over the other David when the phone rang. It was late, and I was surprised to see Snowman's number on the Called ID. He called from school, feeling anxious. At noon he will learn who his new teacher will be, and the anticipation he felt on the night before the big day felt almost unbearable.

I'm an old hand when it comes to anxiety. I've had the spinning thoughts (yes, I'm thinking of the lilies from a different angle here), and I've trained myself to review them, one at a time, to determine whether they were real worries, and whether I could do anything about them right now, and figured out a way to lay them aside for morning, when they often seem less enormous. And I've also felt the more primal panic, the feeling of my chest caving in with the weight of worry, an undifferentiated panic that responds to only one thing: breathing.

We breathed together on the phone, a new development in long-distance parenting.

He will know more soon; I may not know more for weeks or months; and in fact it may be years before I look back on this spring of 2008 and say, "Oh! Here is what I learned in the midst of gathering information and noticing symptoms and making accommodations and resisting limitations. Here is what that time revealed about me, about the people around me, about God's place in my life."

I don't look to a return of the Lord such as Paul expected when he wrote to the church at Corinth. He expected that return in his own lifetime! We live on the edge and at the same time in the midst of a long road with no apparent end, don't we? A Reform Rabbi explained to a group of seminarians, including me, that his tradition believed it was up to us to bring in the Messianic age, through our efforts to make the world more like the Kingdom of God we seek. And I don't think he simply meant good works; I know he didn't. He meant we needed a change of understanding. Instead of waiting endlessly, we need to participate.

The inner life of faith is not passive, not merely receptive. It is a life of of living where we are and not where we were, of looking down the spiritual road, of taking the next steps, of preparing for the future, whatever it may bring into the light, whatever it may reveal about the purposes of the heart.

1 Cor, Epiphany 3A


From 1st Corinthians~~

1:10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.      

1:11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.

Get out of town! Church people, quarreling? I've never heard of such a thing!

But seriously, folks…

What are the things we quarrel about at church? They don't tend to be very high-natured. We fuss over a page layout in the newsletter or a bit of punctuation in the annual report or a missed announcement in the Sunday bulletin. We fuss over flowers. And if someone wants to talk about something potentially more explosive, we clam up or complain in private, or in the parking lot.

I would love to have an open conversation about Communion (why do some people feel walking forward is so terrible? Can we get to the roots of that disagreement somehow?).

I would love to explore the adamant attitude some people hold about having an American flag in the sanctuary, and I would love to be heard myself.

I would love to talk about what gives anyone the idea that being rude to a church member or to the pastor is just a way of doing business in church meetings. I would love to talk about why some people think it's okay to drop an accusation against another person's honesty and then move on saying, "I got to state my opinion, I'm satisfied."

I want to think it's a 21st century phenomenon, a product of talk radio and political TV shows. But I fear it's not. I fear it's been with us all along. It's human. But I want the church to improve on other human systems, for people to remember the reason they are together: to be the body of Christ, to transcend our personal issues and be transformed, to be saved, ultimately, from ourselves.

1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.      

1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.