Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ants in My Pants

"Doubts," Pastor Judy Walker at Delta United Methodist Church announces Sunday morning, "are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving." She was quoting Frederick Buechner and preaching on a little piece of Matthew 28:17: "but some doubted." Matthew 28:16-20 is usually called the Great Commission, the story in which Jesus tells the Eleven to, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." But before Jesus commissions the Eleven, we see that not everyone believed that he had resurrected from the dead. And Pastor Judy focused on that, knowing that so few of us have heard it admitted in church that some doubted. Some still doubt. I shivered a little when I realized that she was preaching on the merits of doubt for faithful people: my answer to the provisional membership question for United Methodists seeking ordination concerning my personal experience of God was about the importance of struggle in my faith journey, and I even compared myself to Doubting Thomas, wanting to place my hands in the wounds of the Resurrected One.

But then Pastor Judy asked us to write down on a note card we had in our bulletin our answer to the question: What are the ants in your pants? There are times when naming holds a crushing kind of power, and naming through written word holds even more of that power for me. So here I am, preparing to be ordained in the Church, doing community organizing for a summer internship out of churches, thoroughly enjoying seminary, attributing my radical politics to my faith, and yet the first question that comes to my mind, the question that I have really been struggling with since first recognizing my call to ministry, is

What difference does Christianity make?

Notice that my question is not about if God's really there or who this Jesus guy is. It's not "What difference does Christ make?" I was thinking about why this was the other day while I was listening to mewithoutYou, and in "The Sun and the Moon," Aaron Weiss sings, "I used to wonder where you are. These days I can't find where you're not." That is how I feel. I have not always felt that way, certainly, and probably will not always feel that way, but now I can usually close my eyes and breathe in deeply, and then when I open my eyes again I see God in the laughter of a baby or the purring of a cat or in the mountains or even in the eyes of my sisters. Finding God is not the problem. I see God all the time, whenever I open my eyes even half-way--- the problem, for me, is that I often have difficulty seeing God in the Church.

In the sermon "Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity" on Jeremiah 8:22, a heartbreaking sermon written later in his life, John Wesley asks, "Why has Christianity done so little good in the world?" He saw, as so many of us have seen and continue to see, that despite the teachings of Jesus that show us a new way of living together, a way of wholeness and love, our world is just as unjust, as oppressive (if not worse) today as it was over two thousand years ago as Palestinians struggled under the yoke of the Roman Empire. But I think we have to expand the question out even more: not only why has Christianity done so little good in the world, but why has Christianity done so much evil in the world? People who call themselves Christians can often be such ugly people. I can often be such an ugly person, you know? So what's the point? What's the point of this whole organized Christianity thing if it is often the author of the ugliness in the world?

This is not a question I want to be asking myself as I seek to become a pastor.

And I can't end this blog post with an answer. I did not have some magical revelation that made Christianity, that made the Church, make more sense to me this week. I still hurt when I am rummaging through my bag and find that folded up piece of paper. I don't even read the question, but I see it in my mind, staring at me, asking me, What difference does Christianity make? But, though I still doubt, my heart was touched this week, soothed just a little bit so I don't hurt quite so much when my thoughts return to that question. And this story might not soothe you, but here it is.

On Wednesdays, I volunteer to work with the elementary school kids at York City Day Camp. I am super awkward with kids, though I love them, because I have always just let Kate and Suzanne work their magic on kids and considered myself not gifted in that department. Also, I am not even a little bit cool. So I usually let the kids make the first move, let them decide if they like me before I try and just get disappointed. Luckily for me younger elementary school kids are much more gracious to the uncool, and so I found myself sitting at breakfast with a bunch of six year olds who decided that we were friends. They just kept talking and laughing and being cute until one little girl started to sing. And then the rest of them joined in. It took me a moment to register what she was singing. It wasn't a silly song, it wasn't a camp song, it wasn't an upbeat praise song either. No, she was singing "Sanctuary."

Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary,
pure and holy, tried and true,
with thanksgiving, I'll be a living sanctuary,
for you.

Thank God I did not cry because then I would have really given away how uncool I really am, but I did choke up. See, I learned the song "Sanctuary" when I was in Bosnia and Herzegovina the first time in 2004. I always associate that song with my first intense spiritual experience, when I was assured of God's love for me (which I have written about here and here). And here were these children singing this song out of the blue in their slightly off-key fairy voices. I usually don't have as strong a reaction to the song when I hear it in church, but I had never heard it coming from just children before--- it's not one I've usually heard taught to kids, though they had learned it last year at the Day Camp.

And I don't know what it means, but now every time my fingertips brush against that folded-up index card, I hear those little fairy voices singing about being living sanctuaries. And maybe that's enough for me in this moment.

1 comment:

  1. Doubting, questioning, curiosity, inquiry all go together. I never participated in pop culture thinking it had nothing to offer me. Now I'm reading A Matrix of Meaning: Finding God in Pop Culture by Craig Detweileer and Barry Taylor. Wendel