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.