Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Being Ruth

In case any of you who were hoping I’d update regularly once I re-vamped the blog, sorry to admit the cold hard truth. I will never make it as a professional writer because I procrastinate and have less than zero self-discipline. That’s why I’ll make an excellent pastor – right? *sigh*

Whatever, this space isn’t about eloquence. It isn’t about building a “platform” for my latest book project, or my church plant. It isn’t about me selling myself as a specialist in this or that. It’s about me having one space where I can live into the awkward, painful, beautiful reality that I am – reluctantly – a shepherd of God’s people. Or something.

My two favorite books in the Bible (yeah, yeah, you aren’t supposed to have favorites – whatever) are Jonah and Ruth. Jonah I identify with because he absolutely does NOT want to go where God sends him (sound like someone we know…?). And Ruth – well she’s an outsider brought to live as a witness to God’s love and faithfulness (and to teach some good lessons to those ol’ Israelites).

I see much of my own weird faith journey in Jonah and Ruth. Now, let’s be clear – I am not someone who God is bringing to teach some marvelous lesson. I’m just me. But there is a truth in their stories that resonates so loudly with my story that I cannot help but love them, and lean on them.

So Ruth. That pesky Moabite who is so damn good and faithful and obedient that you can’t help but like her. She works so damn hard in those fields, you can’t help but admire her. She’s so damn loyal, that you can’t help but hope she gets included in the covenant by the end of the story. Even if it means going expressly against the Law? (Deuteronomy 23:3 anyone?)

Yep. Because God is a God who loves in bigger ways than we can imagine. God is a God who constantly is push the bounds of who's in and who's out. God is a God who is not just for us, but for all. And God is a God who uses the most unlikely people to teach us about that love. Even a widowed Moabitess.

I feel like Ruth.

Not in the “I’m an outsider profoundly used by God to teach love” kind of way.  That would be entirely too arrogant (even for me and my puffed-up seminary-educated self).

I feel like Ruth who has bound herself to Naomi (which in my case is the Presbyterian Church USA). I have promised to sojourn with Naomi. I have dedicated myself to her God and her people. And damn it, I am trying to be a good daughter-in-law.

But what does my Naomi do? She tells me to go and “uncover the feet” of Boaz (y’all that’s a sexual reference in case you didn’t know).

Let me assuage your fears – I’m not hooking for Jesus. But I do feel a bit like some kind of dog and pony show, constantly jumping through hoops and playing this made-up game of “are you good enough?” so that I can do what I know in my soul God has called me to do. My call came long before I was formally a part of the Presbyterian family. My call came as an arresting assault on my life plan (which involved getting a Masters in Teaching and marrying my college sweetheart). My call came like the devastating shock of losing an identity. For Ruth, she lost her identity as the wife of Mahlon. For me – it was the loss of my identity as the fiancé of Matthew. It meant a reimaging of myself inside a family that I had never really belonged to (the Church). And while I have loved this man called Jesus for a long, long time, I have had some serious misgivings about the Church (that’s a great story – for another night).

But, like a good daughter-in-law, I abided. I pledged my love and loyalty. I went where my adopted religious family asked me to go (kicking and screaming and nail-biting the whole damn way). I have gleaned in the fields. I have even received praise from those within the covenant.

But I still am reminded that I am a Moabitess. I am a foreigner for whom this Presbyterian language is not native. I am an outsider who must constantly prove that my call is real and true. I stand in the doorway, looking into the room, but not quite comfortable enough to enter.
You can say that all Presbyterian Candidates go through this gauntlet-like rite of passage before they are admitted into the “pastors club” whereby a bunch of people who don’t really know you – or in my experience care about you – decided you have the “gifts” for ordained ministry. Lest my sarcasm isn’t clear enough: that is bullshit.  And I will one day write a more articulated Reformed Theology response to why our system is bullshit. But not tonight.

Tonight I feel like Ruth. A Moabitess.

Saturday marks my 4th year since I (first) sent in my paperwork to begin this process. I know there are people who’ve been at it for twice as long (or longer!). But all I see of my Naomi is the bitter, unfeeling commands to go and glean, to go and paint my face and lay at a stranger’s feet. To go and do, and do, and do – because you are not yet allowed in and these are the decent and orderly rules for getting in.

My hope on all of this is that I will have the strength and courage to abide long enough to be welcomed into the family. My hope is to feel genuinely apart of this adopted family – a family that I have literally and figuratively fought to be a part of. My hope is that I do not grow bitter and resentful, but rather come to see that all the while my Naomi was in the background, watching and scheming so that we both would be cared for and looked after in the end.

I hope, my Naomi, I hope.

But for right now, I cannot get past the overwhelming feeling that in the eyes of my Naomi I am first a Moabitess, and second a daughter.

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