Discarding and cherishing clothes, roles and ministries...

And so the sorting continues... this time with shirts. How many shirts, tops, blouses, etc. do two modestly middle class, professional  people need? We obviously crossed over the line at some point in our past because we now have BAGS of shirts to give away. No fooling - and I'm talking GARBAGE BAGS people!

A part of this sorting includes the conscious act of selecting: just as there are things to discard
in our closets and lives, there are also things to embrace and treasure. Jesus made the observation that "where your treasure is there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6: 21) Most of the time I have heard this quoted inversely - where your heart is, there will be your treasure also - but that is not what he said. Rather, Jesus asked us to be clear about where we gave time, attention, possession, attitude, action, money and all the rest in our real, ordinary, walking around lives. If we might look at all of this honestly and entrust it to God - wounds, failings and sin alike - then a healing change of heart and direction might take place. 

This change of both heart and direction - this quest for integrity and congruence between our deepest values and our lived expereince - is what the Scriptures call repentance in both Greek (metanoia - (μετανοέω) and Hebrew (shuv - שוב). Apparently we cannot accomplish authenticity without a change of direction. A return - a renewal - a reorientation of possessions, thoughts and activities is a requirement for right living and right relationships. It makes me think of Psalm 51 in the King James language I learned as a child.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Part of this sorting for me - this discarding and selecting - has to do with roles. For those who are not ordained clergy I might sound like a broken record. (I might sound that way to my clergy colleagues, too.) But it is clear to me that to live into a clean heart - to live with authenticity and congruence in my post-sabbatical incarnation - requires both the letting go of some roles and expectations and the cherishing of others. In this, Barbara Brown Taylor's book, Leaving Church, continues to be instructive. She writes: " Both as a priest and as the rector of a parish, I had been given my identity for so long that I hardly knew how to start making up one on my own (after her departure from serving the local church.)" 

My quest for the time being is slightly different: I share Dr. Brown's desire for passionate living but want to see if a re-invention is possible within parish ministry. Like her, some of this has to do with letting go - dying and grieving - as well as reclaiming - being born again to new life. She writes:

The vocational crisis that put an end to my wearing a collar every day exposed the pale neck of my lunar soul. My real human texture came out of hiding for the first time in years and I had so much catching up to do that I was not always pleasant to be around. I rode my mood swings as far as they would go instead of trying to get them to stop. I yelled a lot and practiced colorful language. I went to the grocery story in blue jeans and spent too much money on red clothes...

Then, at least for me, she nails the crux of this challenge: "I know plenty of clergy willing to complain about high expectations and long hours, few of us (however) speak openly about the toxic effects of being identified as the holiest person in the congregation." Ouch - but all too true! The atrophy of her soul after 20 years of being treated as the holiest person in the room drove Taylor from the ecclesiastical  fishbowl to a gig in academia. She didn't leave God. She didn't forsake Christianity. Nor did she urge others to jump ship. As I prepare to re-enter worship leadership this Sunday - and resume a more full-time work week - I am asking God for clues: is it possible to be fully alive as a person of faith AND serve a local congregation?  Is it honest to discard outdated roles like the clothes we are bagging and find news ways of being together as God's fully alive human beings? Is renegotiation of how we do church able to happen between pastor and congregation? My trust and faith point towards the positive - repentance is always on the table - especially if we're willing to trust God like St. Paul urges in Romans 12 (and Peterson's reworking speaks boldly to me right now.)

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you... Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Stay tuned...

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