“Our Father who art in heaven, Harold be thy name…”
No, not Harold. It took my sister several years to realize God was not named Harold. Harold was our uncle. And why was the guy in the robe named Father? I thought our Father was Dad…
My first memory of church was a small Episcopal church in Riverside, Connecticut. I can still smell Easter lilies and Chanel No.5 mixed with Vitalis aftershave – a little nauseating. It was always damp, especially in the basement where we had Sunday school, and even on sunny days, the light couldn’t penetrate the thick stained glass windows. I didn’t get why Mary was holding Jesus in her lap when he was a man, his bloody body spilling onto the ground. It seemed tragic and like we should all feel guilty about something no one talked about.
Next thing I know we are Presbyterians and the guy in the robe is just Bill. The ladies love Bill, including my mom and she told me years later when I was more mature that he carried a gun under his robe and pinched the ladies when he had too much to drink. I liked the church better – it was light and airy and there was a huge plain cross right in the middle of the sanctuary that you had to peer around if you wanted to watch Bill or the choir. Mrs.Trembly was enormous and sang the loudest, her shrill soprano voice crashing through every Sunday morning hangover like a church bell gone haywire.
I left the Presbyterian church when I left home, which was when I began running way at age 12. My parents begged me to counsel with the associate pastor there, a young guy named Terry who was growing his hair long so he could relate to the young people. He told me I should go home. And he never mentioned Jesus once.
Rebellion was in my DNA. As long as my memory stretches, from being sent to the principal’s office in the first grade to being taken to the police station as a young teen, I had attitude. This spirit dovetailed perfectly into the spirit of the late 60’s – Freedom, Love, Peace – all the things I hoped to find, my way.
Fast-forward to 1985. After 15 years of “if it feels good, do it” I was done. Alcoholic, a single-mom of two little boy-cubs, I came crashing to my knees in defeat. God delivered me from the bottle and left me with myself for almost two more years, so I could really understand that the problem was me. I finally surrendered fully, coming face to face with a Love so powerful, a Freedom so boundless and Peace – real, lasting peace. Jesus saved me. Yet it came at a cost. His part was a brutal, bloody death on Calvary’s cross. Mine was a different death and just as unfamiliar. Death to pride, to my will, to the Rebel. It meant submission.
God landed me at a charismatic church that met in a movie theatre. The pastor was a big guy that laughed a lot, kind of like Barney. He passed popcorn buckets for the offering and called me Blessing. He and his wife spread a huge net of grace for me. When they explained that Christians didn’t celebrate Halloween, they had a “Hallelujah” party instead and told us all to dress like Bible characters, I dressed my kids up as a snake and a devil. I came as me, the scariest of all.
But somehow I got it. I understood that God set up people and places of authority in our lives, and that it was for my protection. I never understood it to mean that these people would be faultless. I just knew it was something God did for us, and it wasn’t my place to question it. Submission, the way God intended it, is a beautiful posture. This is coming from a girl who threw a piece of chocolate cake at her ninth grade teacher because she asked me not to eat it in the hall, and threatened her landlord with a shovel because he asked where my puppy came from. It wasn’t natural. And that’s the point – it is super-natural.
That church closed after five years and I found another church, another pastor to come under. I was a single mom again, with a toddler and two adolescent boys – a challenge to drag to church three times a week but we went. My new pastor and his wife also loved us, the whole noisy mess and as crazy as the church and my life were, I recall God meeting me there personally, several times, in very profound ways. Then I met and married a man that God picked out just for me, and I left with my pastor’s blessing to go to my new husband’s church.
My pastor for the last almost 18 years is a New Yorker with a very low tolerance for petty conversation and social fluff. He can be blunt but also awkwardly shy. His hands look like bear paws and wrap around a guitar neck, his fingers moving with a gentle grace that confounds the listener. He is not showy or charismatic, but he is completely unafraid to speak the truth, which has dropped a jaw or two. I have not always agreed with him or my two pastors before him, but when I step back and look at the eternal view of God’s kingdom, my opinion doesn’t count for much. However, my spirit does. Where there is meekness, humility and submission, you will also find God’s blessing and grace.
My husband and I pastored for five years in a small church. You learn a lot on the other side of the pulpit. You learn that people are really messy, faithless and sometimes stupid – just like sheep. But God puts a shepherd’s heart in a pastor and his wife too, so you love them, needing nothing in return. You just pray they stay and Grace is the air you breathe. It made me remember a young woman full of arrogance and attitude that sat in the front row of a movie theater I called “church” in Wellfleet, and how my pastor would call me Blessing. I wrote them and thanked them, and they wrote back saying I made them cry; I think in a good way.
I get mad when I see how mean people can be to a shepherd that has loved them this way. And I worry about them too. I think God watches us very, very closely when it comes to the whole realm of submission; before our husbands, our bosses, our pastors, because it all reflects our true love and faithfulness to Christ. Someone once said it’s not really submission until you are required to do something you don’t want to, under someone you don’t agree with. It’s that crazy contradiction that defines a true Christian; death for life, giving for receiving, losing for finding. Heaven takes notice if no one else does. And I am convinced that the blessing we seek as children of God is indelibly linked to these covenant relationships and the humility that is required. If nothing else, it builds character instead of cry-babies.
My pastor loves to laugh, but he has also wept for me. He has loved me and my whole family and has shown it in countless ways, but more importantly he watches over my soul. I am covered. Is he perfect? He would tell you No. But he is the shepherd that God picked just for me – an imperfect, messy and often clueless sheep. All I need to know is I am in God’s perfect will…oh, and His name is not Harold.
1 Peter 5:5Amplified Bible (AMP)
Likewise, you who are younger and of lesser rank, be subject to the elders (the ministers and spiritual guides of the church)—[giving them due respect and yielding to their counsel]. Clothe (apron) yourselves, all of you, with humility [as the garb of a servant, [a]so that its covering cannot possibly be stripped from you, with freedom from pride and arrogance] toward one another. For God sets Himself against the proud (the insolent, the overbearing, the disdainful, the presumptuous, the boastful)—[and He opposes, frustrates, and defeats them], but gives grace (favor, blessing) to the humble.