Gospel of John, Ministry, Pentecost

We Can’t Handle It

My dream, as yet unfulfilled.

It is the Week of the Skunk. Or more precisely, skunks.

A guy from Lewiston I’m calling my New Best Friend set some traps in my yard, and when he came back and found only a pregnant possum and heard my report that the skunk had been seen nibbling the marshmallows at the door to the trap in the middle of the day, we had a talk about what would happen if she appeared to be rabid. “Then we’ll have to dispatch,” he said. “Call Animal Control,” I asked? “No. I’ll have to dispatch … her.”

I couldn’t handle it.

A clergywoman knew she had bats in the attic of her parsonage, and on a summer evening she distracted some children of the church by sending them to count the bats flying out from the eaves. 1, 2, 3. That was expected. 15, 16, 17. When does it start to get really creepy? They finally stopped counting at 450.

I really couldn’t have handled that.

I’ve been in the hospital when a beloved church member revealed more, shall we say, than I wanted to see. I’ve been on the phone with someone whose diagnosis brought my mother’s death right up in my face. I’ve gotten the email telling a story so much like my own that it makes me shudder.

I didn’t want to handle it.

In my first church, the organist resigned during announcements one Sunday morning after calling me out on referring to God as “She.” She gave a week’s notice, then sat down and waited to see what I would say.

I had to find a way to handle it.

Jesus, in the Common English Bible, tells the disciples, “I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.” He knew their limitations.

People won’t respect that boundary – really, why should they? I don’t always. I bet you don’t either. But if you’re the pastor, you’re supposed to know how to handle it.

The trouble comes when we decide we know everything we’ll ever need to know. We’ve achieved this stage in life – adult, seminarian, graduate, ordained pastor. We’ve read the Bible. We’ve prayed. We’ve discussed and pondered and written. We’re set.

Until we reach the next stage. And there is always a next one. (Just ask the oldest people in the room.)

“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.”

Jesus knew how hard it was going to be for the disciples, but he also knew they would not be alone after he left them. He knew that just as he had come, part of God’s own self, to live in human form, so would the Spirit come to be available to his friends. The Spirit of Truth and Love would come to guide them and illumine them and inspire them. And it wasn’t just for that spring in Jerusalem, or the next five years, or the first three centuries of the new era his life began. It is true for us.

Here’s the tricky part.

You might think it would be easier for pastors. After all, it’s our job to attend to things of the Spirit, isn’t it?

(Please laugh now.)

Well, it’s true. But it’s also true that it’s our job to attend to people, and the world around us, and there are going to be medical crises that call up our personal history, and there are going to be skunks in the yard, the four-legged and maybe the two-legged, and there are going to be bats in the attic of the parsonage and in the belfry and in our own personal belfries…and possibly those of our church members, from time to time. There are going to be emails and phone calls and walk-by shootings in the receiving line that take our breath away.

There are going to be things we feel we just can’t handle, but we won’t have much choice about it. And those are the times we need the Spirit of God.

“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.”

Thank goodness that isn’t the last word. I’m grateful Jesus did not leave his friends, or the rest of us, on that note, aware that there is more to know and not brought into the secret, left with the conclusion that we just aren’t ready to comprehend…yet.

We can’t handle it, not alone.

But God will allow things to unfold at the right time, when we’re ready. In the Spirit of Truth, there is a New Best Friend better than any other. That’s the Good News, whatever confronts us, whether it’s skunks or bats or slipping hospital johnnies or theological disapproval or all of them at the same time. When we need to grow in knowledge or understanding, when we need to love more or believe more, when we need to see visions and dream dreams that take us further, when we need the courage to prophesy, we are not alone. In the company of God’s Spirit, we can handle it.

(I had the privilege of leading a worship service for Members in Discernment in our Association today, as well as advisors and members of the Church and Ministry Committee, and this is an adaptation of the meditation I offered. Many thanks to kathrynzj for the bat story, which I am thankful is not mine.)

Gospel of John, LGBT, Pentecost

You can’t handle it now

There’s a lot of ugly talk out there. There’s a lot of ugly talk by Christians about LGBT people. It pains me.

Even before it felt so personal, it would have pained me.

I’m still learning how different it feels when the words apply to me as well as lots of people I love and plenty of people I don’t even know and even a few I don’t like, but for reasons having nothing to do with the fact about their lives and mine that puts us in the middle of a cultural flash-point.

And in case you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. When a preacher stands up in a church and suggests that gay people be enclosed in electrified fences, as a way to get rid of them since they can’t reproduce, so surely they will eventually all die off…well, it is such a collision of ignorance and fear and bigotry that I finally understand in a visceral way the meaning of homophobia.

I had the luxury of parsing the word, before, you see.

Here’s Jesus speaking to his disciples, from the Farewell Discourse:

“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.  However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come.” (John 16:12-13, CEB)

You can’t handle it now.

That’s what I want to say to the preacher in North Carolina:

The little mama skunk in my backyard

Dear Brother in Christ,

In my backyard there is a family of skunks. I live in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood. The single-family houses are close together. If one of us has skunks, all of us have skunks. Friends with a more rural mindset have suggested shooting the skunk, which would be illegal in my city, and also not something  would ever consider doing or be able to do. But we can’t live together, so there are traps in my backyard, and I have the number of the nice man who will come and take the skunks away if they follow the bait of marshmallows and end up with the trap door closing behind them. 

I really wish we could live in peace together. They eat pests and are rather adorable, although I never imagined I would be saying that and seeing one up so close. But I have a large dog who needs his small backyard, and I have neighbors, as I mentioned before. So if all goes well, the skunks will be relocated. Because the mother would abandon her young if set free, they’ll go to a place where they are kept together until the babies are weaned, and only then will they all be released into the wild. 

I have suffered in mind and heart over the fate of the skunks. Right now the cages are in my yard, empty, and I do not know what I will find in the morning. I guess I hope she’ll catch a hint and move her family, but more likely in a day or two, I’ll be calling the nice man to tell him the mama is in the trap, and he’ll come look for the babies, and this will become a story I tell later, in which I remind myself that in a difficult situation, in which we cannot all share the same space, I did the best I could for the skunk family.

And I compare that to the way you would like to treat human beings, and I cannot understand how it is we claim the same Lord, the one who loved us so much that he laid down his life for us, the one who said over and over again that people would know us as his followers by how we love others.

People like you sometimes suggest that people like me cannot really be Christians. I don’t want to be a person who sets those kinds of limits on others. I like to leave a little more room for the Spirit to work. I am praying that your heart and your mind will be opened, and that you will close your mouth long enough to listen for the Spirit of God. 

Maybe you can’t handle it now. But that doesn’t mean the day can’t come. God is pretty amazing, after all. 

Your skunk-loving Sister,

Martha