I try not to rant, well, not too much. I try to give proper respect to the pulpits I serve, both in person and in print. This is all a pre-emptive apology for what I need to get out of my craw. Stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this.
Here it is. I have been spending a lot of time pouring over church newsletters and websites as I seek a new call. To the good, this weekly practice of mine gives me a periscope on what is happening out there in our ELCA congregations. This is the luxurious part of being on leave from call. Pastors working 50-60 hours a week don’t have this kind of availability. To the not-so-good, I have been stupefied trying to make sense of the endless anagrams by which h we name our groups and ministries. Some are really quite cute: FLY, BREAD, OWLS, ROMEOS, and so many more that I think The Lutheran should write an article about them. (Hmmmm, maybe that should be me?) At first it’s kinda fun trying to figure out what the letters mean. After six months of this, I’m not having fun anymore.
Between navigating the Church and navigating government programs, the cavalcade of anagrams and abbreviations are mind numbing. For those who are cued in to what these letters actually mean, it creates a sense of comraderie and insiders coziness. If you are on the inside, you sincerely believe these often humorous anagrams make people want to sign up and be a part of it too.
So it probably comes as a complete surprise if someone says it ain’t so. Unbelievable, in fact. If you ever sat with a committee/ team trying to come up with a memorable name for something you do, you are probably jumping out of your chair to defend the amount of time you all spent just trying to name that something. This is where the “holy” part of being a “holy outsider” comes in. The more anagrams I struggle to decipher, the more outside I feel. “You” become a “them” to me. And if this is the way I feel, a very much attached and involved member of the club/church, what is it like for those who have no idea what we are doing with all our time on Sunday mornings and the rest of the week?
Being able to rattle off the codes with which we name ourselves and our ministries gives us a chance to demonstrate our belongingness. It says “I know my way around here.” Good church folks never imagine the message the outsider gets: “I don’t know jack from J.A.C.K. around here. How long will it take? Is it even worth the effort?” Brain cells are diverted from the purpose of the conversation to the task of arranging the letters into something understandable. Sometimes that process falls completely apart, and my brain becomes that little computer icon of a wheel going around and around and around until the message “Still thinking”pops up.
What gets me most of all goes deeper. Much deeper. The miracle of Pentecost is that all the barriers evaporate, and each hears the preaching of the Good News about Jesus as clearly as if it were their own native tongue. Like most of the miracles of Acts, it takes only a few verses to reverse them back again. How long did people succeed in sharing everything in common, pray and worship together? (Read Acts 2, then keep reading to find out how long it takes someone to start withholding.) How long does it take for the miracle of understanding and the dissolution of barriers by the indwelling of the Spirit that is Holy to become divisions over whose spiritual gift is most valuable and loved by God? Then there’s the shocking fulfilfillment of Joel’s prophecy that old men who don’t buy green bananas will start dreaming again, and young men who think they are bullet proof and immortal will have the sense to have visions. How is it that even women, filled by the Spirit that is Holy, will speak of what God has done, only to be silenced and returned to their places in very short order? How is it that the heirarchy so quickly reasserts itself that we must carefully contain who can speak about God? How is it that the Spirit that is Holy always manages to liberate only those to whom we can give our approval?
Take the dotted lines wherever you are brave enough to take it. Pay attention to those little detours you take along the way, marked with the signs “But” and “Yabbut.” Pay attention to the skid marks your feet leave on the pavement as you push back.
Anne Lamotte said that you can be sure you have made god into your own image when all of god’s enemies look like yours. The Comforter has a funny way of comforting. This Comforter brings you into the presence of your enemies, and invites you to take a seat. Hellfire, we can’t even get comfortable in the presence of those who are merely different, let alone those who wish us harm. Why do we always assume that when God lays a table in the presence of our enemies it means that we are fed and they are not? Of course, that’s the way the world would comfort those who yearn for spite and vengeance. What if this Comforter that is holy spreads the table with fine linen, brings out the bread basket and butter, and pours the best wine from a flagon that never runs dry…for both you and your enemy? What if we spent less time worrying about who might eat with us without proper age, understanding, credentials, and purity, and more time worrying that there is enough for everyone to eat and have enough?
I admit, my rant about anagrams might appear petty. The reality of being pushed to the outside because of one’s language, economic status, community affiliations, literacy, education, and wherever else you want to take this….these are not petty at all. These are the limits to which the Spirit that is holy will push us. These are the limits to which the Spirit that is holy pushed Peter, telling him to satisfy his hunger with food he had always been taught was unclean and objectionable to God. These are the limits to which the Spirit that is holy pushed Philip when the Ethiopian Cut-Off Man asked what there was to prevent him from being baptized. Think carefully before you pray or sing Venite Sanctus Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit.) Look intently at your guest list before you add the Holy Spirit’s name to your party plans. Someone just might want to call the police if She shows up with all her friends. You could wind up singing at the top of your lungs or spread out under the piano, hanging out with people you never knew before and speaking languages that everyone understands. It’s just so…..reckless, the way the Holy Spirit wrecks our neatly organized dinner parties. Enough anagrams already. What would happen if we committed to absolute truth and clarity in advertising? Would anyone come? I don’t know. Go read Acts again.