Today’s UCC Stillspeaking Daily Devotion was something I wrote, about going with Mr. Dimples to the Climbnasium, and the way our friend, Mrs. S, held the rope for him.*
I’m not a climber, but I understand the concept. You plot a route up the wall, and you count on the person holding the rope, the belayer, to offer suggestions and to keep you from falling even if you lose hold.
Last year, I made an enormous move, leaving Portland after 25 years and parish ministry after more than a decade. A wonderful change personally brought with it some significant upheaval vocationally. More than once I’ve declared myself a writer on this very page, but I continue to struggle with finding the places to put my hands and feet, to climb the wall of faithful service to the One who gave me the gift of writing, among others. I don’t feel called to parish ministry now, but I miss living the rhythm of a preaching life; I often wonder if I’m doing anything that actually matters when I spend my time writing. There is no ramp-up to worship or a sermon, measurable in their impact on a community of faith. I continue to decide and undecide what sort of larger project I might undertake. I keep reaching for a hold and not finding the right one. Not yet.
The truth is I most love writing about and in conversation with scripture. There are numerous small endeavors, being an occasional sub for Daily Devotionals among them, along with writing the Prayers for Pastors I publish on this blog. I’ll be writing some curriculum (for a paycheck, amazing!), and today I’m starting a project writing liturgy to go with the Narrative Lectionary’s Year 1 (with the hope preachers might wish to purchase it).
But there’s something, I think – I hope – something else.
Until the route becomes clear, O Great Belayer, please hold tight to the rope. And feel free to make a suggestion about where to put my hands next.
I want to know how you want to use me.
I want to know how I can serve you.
Sometimes the path seems clear,
the people congenial,
the call strong,
the moment right.
On a piece of paper there’s a church name,
a box number,
On the screen there’s
a street view on Google Maps –
but is this the place?
(Is it a church at all?)
I want to go where you want me.
I want to serve where you need me.
It’s not about the desk,
or the window in the office,
or the height of the pulpit — really!
I swear to that.
I want to use the gifts you gave me,
to use them fruitfully,
for the benefit of your people, your world.
It sounds like the right place.
Please, help me to know for sure.
Be with me when I unpack my boxes,
put my books on new shelves,
arranging them just so:
Mark here, and Matthew, then Luke
and John, and Jung and Tillich and Barth.
Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza.
Borg and Crossan.
That book by Walter Wink I never read all the way through.
Be with me when I hang the picture
of the church I left,
that favorite Confirmation photo,
the wall hanging from the silent auction,
touched by hands of people who formed me.
Be gracious with them, Lord, and keep me
graciously at a distance, loving from afar,
leaving room for new love,
Be with me when I stand among them,
just a pastor,
faithful to you,
committed to them.
Help me bring the words of life
(Let the sound system work.)
Give me patience with their eccentricities,
and give them patience with mine,
love for all that is unique,
the kind of love you have for all of us. Amen.
I don’t always listen well. Ever since I got to Pennsylvania – almost nine months ago – I’ve been going around in circles about my vocation. I make declarations, and then I double back on them. My identity and security have been wrapped up in serving as a local church pastor. Who am I without that? Lesbian Stepford Wife, Writer, Director of RevGalBlogPals – some of these sound better than others. I’m called to all of them, maybe without the Stepford part. But scratch the surface of the circling, and you’ll find one concern: who am I if I don’t have a regular paycheck?
This is where the UCC employment listings become like crack.
Thankfully, the lectionary steps in to kick my – ahem.
It’s that great story of Lazarus (not the brother of Mary and Martha) and the rich man who ignored him even as the dogs licked his sores, bleh. Lazarus gets his reward in heaven, rocked in the bosom of Abraham. Even in hell, looking across the great chasm between them, the rich man expects the poor man to serve him, to pop back to earth and warn his brothers to behave better and avoid hell.
Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'” (Luke 16:29-31, NRSV)
Mmm-hmmm. People are stubborn, and let the signs go by, and even the sense of rightness, because they have their eyes on the wrong things. I indict myself. If I don’t learn anything else from this gospel lesson it should be this: God’s priorities do not equate to the world’s priorities.
My story with its circular details –
both health and sense of call lead me away from parish ministry, other opportunities feel rich with possibility, I panic over LP’s tuition, I smoke UCC job listings crack, repeat ad infinitum
– yes, those – may not be universal in its details, but I suspect its common in its circular themes. A person feels led by the Spirit to do something meaningful, then backs off in favor of a more practical decision. Where is God in the middle of the practical concerns?
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria. Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away. (Amos 6:1a, 4-7, NRSV)
The revelry of the loungers shall pass away. Amen.
I have a well-documented fear of being a lounger, with or without the revelry. It’s doubtful anyone who observed my activity on the average day would accuse me of lounging, and in fact I probably don’t rest enough for a person with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I work hard at whatever I do to shake off the memory of being enervated by depression and to prove to my small f father who is in heaven that his then-true statement, “Martha has never really applied herself to anything,” is no longer remotely true. I don’t want to spend my spouse’s money on a new book even if she says it’s ours. (Well, I want to, because I want the book, but I don’t, generally.)
Money. You know what’s coming if you’ve read all the lectionary passages.
The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves with a lot of pain because they made money their goal. But as for you, (wo)man of God, run away from all these things. Instead, pursue righteousness, holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness. (1 Tim 6:10-11, CEB)
It’s not that I love money. It’s just that I worry I won’t be loved if I can’t provide it when other people need it.
Yesterday, a friend and colleague called to talk about her own life, and in the midst of the conversation about some serious financial strains, she said, “There are many times it looked like things would not be okay. But God has been faithful. God has been faithful.” She may even have said something about money dropping into her lap, but I am not confident enough to hold onto that one too tightly. “You can’t put the money first,” she said, and if we had been face-to-face rather than on the phone, she would have seen me nodding.
“You called for my support,” I told her, “but you are saying things I needed to hear today.”
So thank you, God, for messengers who are alive. I’ll try to listen more closely to the one who rose from the dead.