There’s no denying I knew what I signed up for when I was approved for commissioning two years ago; I was prepared for the unpredictable space of pastoral ministry. I was aware of the constant balance of church and personal life. But I also knew I was walking into a hot mess.
If you ask me or my colleagues about the future of the United Methodist Church, we might tell you that the majority of our eyes have been glued to our denomination’s news sources than perhaps they ever have been, for some with the same attention given to the NCAA tournament. Some might tell you that they are soaking in the ambivalence knowing of their impending retirement. Others have already or are in the process of jumping ship. When you ask our local churches, however, many have no idea. Some are asking, “really?” Others are threatening an exodus.
My UMC colleagues and I, no matter which side of the conversation one falls, are living in a conditioned timeline that, in some ways, mirrors our own nation’s political primary season. No sooner had our Council of Bishops tasked a Commission to do the challenging work set before them of addressing the conflicting language in our discipline around human sexuality did outspoken groups and cells start bubbling up or chanting some version of Jesus Christ Superstar‘s “What’s the buzz, tell me what’s happening…” (At least it played out in my head that way). The faces and names of everyday clergy have now been aligned with sides to the extent to which our news channels and print sources have become politically-charged.
It is a peculiar year to have the opportunity to write my ordination papers when I know my interviews are just shy of a gathering of disparately-minded people where overdue change could come or the recycling truck will need to come gather the pileup of cans collecting by the curb.
It’s the tugging on my heart, daily and the very pain I feel when we preach “we, who are many, are one body” from the Communion table when that unity doesn’t exist from the moment one walks through the church doors. Sure, I wholeheartedly believe that we have unfairly drowned the conversation around human sexuality into a series of objective “issues,” but I also believe this has done a number on the meaning of vocation.
To me, vocation can easily become unnecessarily static. But I think the moment we think stability and security are wrapped up in vocation, we fall short of living in the tension of a dynamic God. When I think of vocation, I feel the scorch of the hot coal that touched Isaiah’s lips upon his call to prophesy. The fear running through his veins knowing that he, a man “of unclean lips” could be used by God in a world of “unclean lips.” A big piece of me looks at the UMC landscape and sees scorched earth while our own lips have been brushed with wasted coals. Words have done more harm than good. Justice has become a bad word instead of a divine attribute. Holy conversations around the diversity in interpretation have been viewed as unbiblical excuses to further an agenda instead of furthering the spread of an impartial gospel. Have we moved away from language of “Here am I. Send me!” to one of “Here I am. Sign me up!”?
The reality is sobering. We can’t approach February 2019 with rose-colored glasses nor can we completely discard the hope we have as Easter people. I recognize that I am wrestling with a call that is fluid, not sticky. My call is not bound to some pinnacle date where God found me on some mountain nor is it closed off from the realm of a God who makes the seemingly far fetched possible. The truth is, my theology is my constant, but my lived expression of it, my vocation is always open to change. My sincere prayer, though my heart is heavy with fear of no change around contours that currently exclude my LGBTQ friends, is that God can broach this mess with hot coals that counter complacency.