What is Holy?

By Rev. Mindi

I’m writing on Tuesday of Holy Week, forgetting that a) it’s Tuesday and b) that it’s Holy Week all too often today. I have gone from volunteering at a neighborhood school to preparing for a PTA meeting tonight and in the meantime making signs for our Easter Egg hunt. After I write this, I’ll be helping to stuff about two thousand eggs for Saturday.  I keep thinking that Thursday night is one night I don’t have meetings this week. I have forgotten it is Maundy Thursday, as it is not my current church’s practice to observe Maundy Thursday. I also keep thinking I have a free day on Friday and can take my day off, forgetting that I do have a 6:30 p.m. Good Friday service. All I can think about is this damn egg hunt on Saturday (note: it was my idea this year).  Oh yeah, and on Sunday I’m supposed to celebrate the Resurrection.

Holy Week? What is so darn holy about this week? It’s just like any other week, except with more things to do and I have a fuller scheduled than I anticipated. But it wasn’t always this way. When I first entered professional ministry, I loved the pace of Holy Week. I loved the joy and wonder and the premonition that something different was going to happen on Palm Sunday. I treasured the quiet contemplation along with the preparations that took place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I always felt like I had time to be ready. Thursday’s service was met with darkness, fear, and still hope. Friday was often a day to be gathered with other Christian brothers and sisters in ecumenical services. Saturday was a day of rest. There were no egg hunts then—they were saved for Sunday morning.

There was a pace that brought peace to me, as a pastor, as a Christian, as a human being. That was before I was juggling services with my husband or had a child or became involved in other community activities. Now, Holy Week seems to have lost its holiness for me.

Or is that I am just out of touch with what is holy? Was it just another week back then? Was it just another gathering of friends and family sharing the Passover meal, but then words were shared that were different, actions that went along with those words that turned bread and wine into symbols of remembrance? Was it just another time like so many that happen to the incarcerated today, when a friend betrayed a friend, the authorities arrested an innocent man, and there was a hasty trial? Was it just another death, just another funeral, just another day of mourning and rest?

I wonder if Holy Week felt very holy to Peter, James, John, Judas, Thomas, Mary, Susanna, Joanna, and others. Even Jesus.

It probably didn’t feel holy until they began to remember. Maybe it was on that Saturday when they couldn’t believe that just twenty-four hours before their friend was alive and now dead. Maybe it was when they shared their mid-day meal that they remembered it was just a couple of days ago they had shared the Passover meal together, broke bread and shared the cup with Jesus. Maybe it was on that Saturday night that they remembered it was just six days before when they entered Jerusalem and people were shouting “Hosanna!” Maybe it was only after they got through it that it seemed holy, special, set apart. Memories that they wanted to preserve and never, ever, ever forget.

Or maybe it wasn’t until after they found the tomb empty, after the angels spoke to them, after they saw Christ, after, after, after—maybe it wasn’t until the mourning and crying were done that they were able to rejoice and see how holy the last week had been—how death had died, how sin had died, how love had prevailed.

Maybe for those of us who are church leaders, clergy, lay, committed volunteers—maybe we find the holiness in the looking back, in the memories of washing each other’s feet and the extinguishing of candle flame, in the haunting echoes of “Were You There?” that ring through our head, and in the darkness we leave on Good Friday and the dark cloths we hang on the cross. Maybe we find the holiness in the picking up of broken plastic eggs on Saturdays (or the joy of finding an unfound egg hours after the hunt is over and the kids are gone). Maybe we find the holiness in the living out of these memories, year after year after year, of that time so long ago, when Jesus’ closest friends may have had a hard time finding the holy in the ordinary.

May you find the holy in this week, in whatever act of remembrance, and remember that sometimes the holy moments are found after the week is done.

Priesthood of All Believers

Some of my deepest rooted religious ideas come from my childhood. I bet this is true of most of us. It’s why I’ve had experienced ministry mentors tell me that if a church has a strong children program, those kids will likely come back to church later in life because of those warm feelings brought on by cotton ball sheep, fuzzy shepherds, and tender safety. I think my mentors have partly been right – the lessons about faith that we receive from our family, neighbors, mentors, and tradition help set the stage for how many of us come to understand and realize the importance of the spiritual journey, for better and for worse. In my case, my parents were intentional about the gifts they had to offer to others. They opened their home to kids who were in trouble and needed a temporary shelter through the local juvenile protection system. They spent their lives caring for babies, mothers, parents, and children in hospitals and schools. They lived their faith beyond Sunday mornings.

On the other hand, their understandings of religious traditions also shaped me. I can remember conversations with both of my parents about other denominations. Why are we different? Why do we do communion every week? Why don’t we go to the Baptist or Methodist church? I got plenty of answers, one to two sentences in length, which seemed to indicate, at least to my young inquisitive mind, that we went to church where we did because we had it right.

For example, the Baptists voted on new members. If the congregation didn’t like you, you didn’t get in. We believe everyone is welcome, so we don’t do that.

Or you can’t take communion at the Catholic church, because they don’t believe you really are a Christian. Our communion table is open, like Jesus would have wanted it.

The Mormons think it is okay for one husband to have many wives, and they believe in things that are not in the Bible. We believe only in the Bible and only in normal relationships.

The Methodists don’t own their building. Scandalous! And yes, if you were wondering, we do own our own building, not some overbearing denominational institution.

Our Stone-Campbell tradition had it mostly right, according to my family, though the fact that we Disciples had a general office and trappings of a denomination was borderline heresy (as my parents came out of an independent Christian background).

One of the values espoused over and over again in our tradition was the democratic process behind everything we did. It’s the priesthood of all believers! We all have a responsibility to lead our church! We all have a say in the process! We all can shape the direction that we feel God is calling us to go! We all get a vote!

When asked by a friend or stranger about my denomination, in quick bullet points, I usually include our “democratic flatness” near the top of the list as what defines us and what makes us so relevant today.

But despite how ingrained that idea is in my Stone-Campbell marinated experience, I have discovered plenty of holes in its fuzzy ideals over time.

In their book, Missional Spirituality, Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson suggest that the priesthood of all believers may in fact have nothing to do with a democratic/flat church. Did Jesus hold a vote when he sent out his disciples, two by two, across Galilee or commission them to go to the ends of the earth? Since when does a democratic vote decide the will of God? Aren’t there times when a missional community must do what is unpopular in order to be faithful to the gospel they proclaim and the God that sends them?

The flatness and democratic process of a congregation can be a gift, but it puts us no clearer to better hearing or following the call of God than any other tradition.

The democratic process is also not the grand idea it once was. Like other systems, democracy can get stuck. Democracy can exclude voices. Democracy does not make a government or institution immune to bad leadership or poor decisions.

Likewise, our churches may claim to honor the priesthood of all believers and still live out a deep divide between clergy and laity. And as much as I like being treated like an expert in all things theological, it can become an idol that prevents me from learning, growing, and responding to God. Imagine instead a community where every member takes their call as minister and missionary seriously, in their workplace, home, neighborhood, and church.

As we seek then to be faithful Christians and communities in our world, it can no longer be about perfecting our system or tradition. Sure, the tools and resources we have at our disposal make a difference. The way we as communities make decisions, include and empower voices, and come to common direction is important.  Just as the early church did (looking at you, Jerusalem Council), we will have to deliberate and choose a course into an uncertain future.

I am grateful for what I inherited. I am thankful for my tradition’s rich resources, strengths, and challenges. I am honored to have received such treasures that help guide me in my faith. I plan to pass many of them on to my children and those I have the privilege to mentor.

But I recognize that those gifts are not always relevant in the ways I think. Like every generation that has come before, I honor them but also seek to discover richer meaning, to cast my net into the deep, to discover the precious jewels hidden in a field of weeds. It is not easy.

Helland and Hjalmarson insist that a priesthood of all believers, when practiced, ”suggests a missional adventure for entire congregations who have direct access to God and who mediate God to their local communities.”

Not quite the cotton ball sheep and fuzzy shepherds some people may be expecting - but something worth living into and passing on to future generations all the same.

Take the red pill

Outlaws? Radicals? You go, sis! Bro! Take the red pill. I see a lot of radical beliefs, but professing any particular thought is not as life-threatening or illegal as it once was or is elsewhere. So let's move on with a few ideas that might make also broadcast the message.1. Don't buy Christmas gifts. Think we've over-commercialized our annual Common Era Anniversary events? Stop feeding the beast. 2. Throw away the pulpit. If you think pastors shouldn't be on a pedestal, get off the pedestal. We might consider spending less time on the soapbox as well. 3. Spend more on missions. Use your vote, your influence, and your office to direct a higher percentage of church funds to feeding the poor, housing the homeless and healing the sick. Where's your heart? Hint: follow your treasure. 4. Insert beatitudes here. You want to be radical? Revolutionary? There was this preacher who proved his God content by giving his life away, because he thought it belonged to God and drew from God's endless supply He lived like he actually believed the scripture, ignoring the cost, and it was enough to reset the calendar. Some think he took the blue pill. Others think he didn't, but his biographers did. We remember Saint Francis and Mother Theresa not for their opinions, but for their service. A belief is an opinion, but a life of service makes a statement. Did we benefit from their fantasy, or were they operating with a clearer view of reality? Take the blue pill and have a nice dream, or take the red pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.