Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Respecting the Call

I have this friend who recently changed jobs.  Having been in academia for a number of years, she has now moved 1,000 miles away to pursue life as a housewife.  This has been a difficult transition for her.  Of the things she misses about her previous job, it is status and respect for her position that I hear her mention most.

And I've been rather miffed by this.

Because I didn't understand it.

I grew up in a family that was neither respectable nor respected.

First off, we were poor.

Secondly, my father is an alcoholic who was actively using drugs and alcohol through most of my childhood.

Thirdly, he was a violent drunk.  It wasn't unusual for the police to show up at our house.  Or for my father to have standoffs with them in the street, waiving a(n) (unloaded) gun at them in a threatening manner.

As a result of these factors, among others, it comes as no surprise that three of the four children also turned out to be addicts and alcoholics who have had significant trouble with law enforcement officials.

And when you come from a small town, and have a specific and easily recognized last name, it was easy to choose to be blind to the looks of pity and disgust that were often cast my way.

I couldn't wait to get out.  And I thought surely education was the key.

So, I pursued it.  I pursued it out of my small town, and out of my rural state, all the way to the glorious metropolis of New York City where I met people who thought my last name was something I had made up and which would most likely be found in a fairy tale as opposed to real life.

I met people who had no idea who my father was, or who my sister was, or who either one of my brothers were.  People who for a very long time were not aware that I had any family at all, because I spoke of them so rarely.  I love my family.  But I wanted to be known first and foremost for who I was, not for who I was related to, and this was finally my chance.

And then, I ended up back in my small town, in my rural state, in my home church where sidelong glances had been endured or ignored for years.

Except, now I was an intern.  Now, I was in a transitional position between congregant and pastor.  Now, I had status.  And that status brought with it respect.  And I was blind to it.  I didn't even realize it.

Until Christmas morning.

There is this family in my home church who are like royalty.  They're the quintessentially good family.  Good parents, good kids, successful, wealthy, and multi-generational.  There are currently three generations of them attending our church.  I secretly think they need to change their last name to "Jones."  As in "Keeping up with the Joneses" because they are those kind of people.  They set the bar, and no one can quite match their perfection.

I know this is all illusion.  I know that no one, and certainly no family, is perfect.  But these people are intelligent, attractive, wealthy, kind, generous, well liked, and respected.

And growing up in a church alongside that, with certain members who did not always seem so kind or generous only served to accentuate how incredibly poorly equipped I was to do anything life.  Because I came from that other family.

I know that this is an illusion to.  God equips whom God calls, and thus, I must be equipped, because Baby, I have been called!

But none of this was really evident to me.  It was always simmering just below the surface.  I was never fully comfortable around them, but I could never articulate why.

Until Christmas.

I was serving communion.  By intinction.  The pastor was handling the bread, as I refuse to touch it.  I was holding the wine.  And as each person walked by, breaking of a small piece of bread to the pastor's, "The body of Christ," and dipping it into the chalice of wine to my, "The blood of Christ," nearly every single person's gaze was on their hands.

Now, I don't know how many of you have experienced communion by intinction, but we're a church that typically passes the elements in trays of bread cubes and tiny glasses (think about 1/5 of a shot glass) of wine or grape juice, each person holding the elements until all have been served and consuming them communally.  I love communion.  I love taking it as a community.  As an entire community.  I love the ritual, and the intimacy of sharing it as one big group, collectively acknowledging who God is and what God has done throughout history and specifically in the person of Jesus.

But communion by intinction, though each person consumes the elements individually, is incredibly intimate.  A one-on-one exchange of blessing and God-ness in the body and blood of the Christ.  And though I'm sure it's more just the quietness of the act that leads people to stare at their hands, I wouldn't be surprised if some of them did so, because the intimacy of the act is uncomfortable.

But not so one individual of this family.  And for the record, this is the one person in this family whom I have always found intimidating to no end.  Utterly terrifying.  When I applied for ordination, I almost threw up when I had my interview with the deacons because he asked me questions.  When I preached my first sermon, I almost threw up because he was sitting in the audience.  When I was pulpit supply for the first time, I wanted to cry because I was so stressed about doing it on my own for the first time.  And because he was in the audience.

There are reasons for this.  And I know what they are.  But this is not the forum in which to discuss them.

The point is that when I served communion to this member of the royal family, he made eye contact.  He caught my gaze and held it, while I served him the wine, and uttered, "The blood of Christ," softly to him.  And he smiled at me through the process.

And I felt accepted.  I felt respected.  I felt affirmed.  More than any of that, I felt validated.  I felt as though he was recognizing my authority as a person in a pastoral position within the church.  And my throat tightened and the corners of my eyes pricked with tears.

I had no idea that some part of wanted this family's approval.  They are, after all, the royalty of our little rural church.

Suddenly I had it.  And I wasn't sure what to do with it.  Or why it meant so much.  But it made me think maybe I can do this.  Maybe answering the call wasn't a mistake.  Maybe someone who has known me whole life can see in me what those who have known me only a few years are convinced of: that those whom God calls, God equips; and I'm equipped, because, Baby, I have been called!

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