New Year's Eve - what better time for a reflection on planning for the future?
Going back to the church where I grew up means a bundle of mixed emotions to me. I love the Northlake Church of Christ - these folks modeled the way of Christ for me in such a compelling manner that I knew I wanted to throw myself into it too. Still, there's nothing like the distance of a 1,000 miles and seven and a half years to hamper our reunion. As graduation quickly (and yet slowly) approaches, there is a significant increase in the number of people who ask that question I don't know how to answer yet: "So, after you graduate, what's next?" I respond with a goofy grin and flashy, hope-the-parachute-works-cause- I'm-jumping-anyway eyes and say, "I don't know yet." Like most major life changes, this one fills me with excitement and dread all at the same time. Ever the optimist, I try to let the excitement triumph over the dread.
This was a somewhat more difficult to pull off this morning because I was feeling a little discouraged. Our service was centered around the communion table. In so many ways it was refreshing. The seats were arranged so that you could see most people in the room. We read the whole book of Ruth in lieu of a sermon, highlighting the way that the Lord provided abundantly for Naomi and showed steadfast love through Ruth and Boaz. The repeated references to grain and Bethlehem made the connection with the Lord's Supper natural. We participated together in our Great Story of God's faithfulness in Jesus Christ. I'm still thinking about it... and yet, it was discouraging too.
Like every other worship service at Northlake, this one was led exclusively by men. (And Northlake has always been a moderately progressive congregation.) A few years ago, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. This time it stood out like a brightly festooned, strutting peacock in the middle of a multi-laned highway. It strikes me, nearly every time I'm in church, that the most important criterion in whether a person can play an active role in the worship service is not age, spiritual maturity, competence, or thoughtful preparation. It's gender. Maleness is the common denominator. What seems to me to be the most arbitrary consideration of them all is the deciding factor.
The table is a crucial moment in worship, one which is, among other things, an expression of our unity in Jesus Christ. And yet, we do not approach the table as equals. Well, we do in theory, but our practice suggests otherwise. In Matthew, Jesus says, "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." Usually we proof-text this passage when we're discussing holy speech. But it further suggests that our concrete actions correlate to the inner reality. Jesus' teaching conflates mind, body, and soul over against the faulty distinctions we make between them. What we do outwardly matters as a tangible expression of who we really are, what we really believe. Regardless of what we might say we believe about gender equality, our practice at the Lord's Supper, indeed at anytime in worship, reveals that as a corporate body we believe that men are inherently spiritually superior.
Anyway, this renewed realization gave me pause as my graduation date approaches. "What's next?" they ask with genuine interest. Giving my normal response aloud, I silently wonder to myself, "What indeed?" Maybe the best answer is to rely on the same loving-kindness that the Lord showed to Naomi (without renaming myself "bitter" in the meantime!). Thus, a single worship service delivers discouragement while also giving significant impetus to press on with hope and trust. I'd like to hold to the latter without being smothered by the former, but for that task, my anamcharas, I will need you!
You know what I hate? It seems like every time I start to write something about my future plans, it ends up being a complaint about my battle with the suffocatingly low glass ceiling. I'm sure my friends and family are as weary of this topic as I am. This isn't the post I thought I was sitting down to write. Perhaps I'll try again tomorrow. After all, if there's any day for reflecting on future plans, it's New Year's Day, right?