Friday, November 14, 2014

Becoming John

I have always had an affinity for John the Baptist - or John the baptizer, as the NRSV Bible refers to him, which I have come to prefer (after all, "The Baptist" was never John's last name, any more than "Christ" was Jesus' - but that's a blog for another time). So - I have always had an affinity for John the baptizer. I say "always" because when I was very young, maybe 6 or 7, my mother was in the musical Godspell, and I would hear her rehearsing her songs and listening to the score. I loved musicals and singing, and was usually drawn to one character more than others (a few years later, when Jesus Christ Superstar came out, I wanted to be Jesus - but I digress), and the part I wanted to play was the opening voice, the prophet who shouts, "Preeee-pare ye the way of the Lord!"... and that would be John.

At age 20, when I read the Bible for the first time, I got excited to see that the Book of Matthew was where Godspell had drawn its text (yes, it is listed on the play bill, but at 6 or 7 I didn't notice such things). So this book, that was something of an enigma to an un-churched (and Pagan) younger me, was already familiar to me - or at least had parts that were, which at the time was plenty encouraging. And there it was, that invitation: Prepare ye the way of the Lord! I heard the music in my head as I read much of Matthew, beginning with that beautifully-intoned first line, and in places I couldn't help singing along.

I met with our rector, Phil, a few days ago to discuss my feeling of being called (again, really) to ordained ministry. One of the earlier things he said to me in our one-and-a-half-hour conversation was that we all have and are drawn to roles and ways of ministering that vary widely - and that I am: an Evangelist. And a Teacher, but we'll leave that for now. An evangelist (see, I can lower that first "e", even). That surprised me - isn't that "The E-word" in our church, the thing we all agree to at baptism but usually conveniently forget and tuck away in our spiritual closets somewhere, hoping it never demands to see the light of day? I mean sure, as Christians we're called upon to ev... to do that thing... but many, especially us Progressives, tend to get embarrassed by the mere thought and certainly prefer not to use or hear the word come up in polite conversation. Just setting the stage here.

But if I strip away the stigma of the word and the (to me) hateful way it's been abused by some Christian groups and individuals (who are, unfortunately, the loud and often-heard voice of Christianity in America), I realize he's right: in a (sometimes) quieter, and (hopefully) invitational way, I suppose I do evangelize - I like to share my own experiences and the things that have brought me to where I am (when I'm happy and doing well), or away and out of it (when I'm not), and I do get enthusiastic about it - because it matters to me. I can't help but comment on Facebook posts or in conversations, to try and correct people's perceptions when they post or say, "Well, The Christians are at it again", or, "Christians say that...(insert inane broad generalization here)"... because that's as accurate as saying, "(All) People with blue eyes say that..." or some such. Point being, some (perhaps many) people I know and encounter have a tendency to make sweeping categorical statements, as if all people who call themselves Christian believe and behave in exactly the same way - making all Christians accountable for the opinions and sometimes bad behavior of (once again) a publicly loud minority.

I try to live in a way that feels authentic to me and on a path that's always striving towards God. And so here I am, in the role I wanted to play, raising my voice to say, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord" - make a path for God (or if you prefer, for Love and Grace) in your heart and in your life - to any who will hear. It's not surprising, then, that the subject I chose to make an icon of (no, not one of those - think Eastern Orthodox paintings) was St. John the Baptist as an angel - wings and all. Christians - most Christians or those who hold themselves to the baptismal vows as a guideline - make it a goal to live their lives "as Jesus did" or as "the hands of Jesus in the world" - WWJD, is indeed not a bad qualifier. Perhaps my role within that is to live more as John lived - or at least to reach out as he did, to invite and draw others to or back to a path and remind them that they are still - and always - beloved of God.

It's what has worked for me, in various patterns and under different names, so it's the most precious thing I have to share. /11/14/14

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