Lay vs. Ordained

I once saw a photo of a lay person distributing the ashes for Ash Wednesday. Now, the lay person was Sara Miles, so there is that. She is part of an Episcopal congregation in San Francisco and she is a writer about religious matters. This congregation also distributes the sermons on podcasts, so I’ve learned that she has delivered many sermons.

Wait. A lay person, someone who isn’t ordained, distributing ashes, and delivering sermons? This is in a denomination that licenses people to be able to distribute the wine at communion. In order to distribute the wine at communion, you have to be an adult member in good standing. That translates to showing up for service weekly, and paying tithes. Then the priest has to send a letter to the Bishop nominating you, and then you get a certificate signed by the Bishop to do this.

There are a lot of control issues in the Episcopal church. I suspect the same is true in a lot of churches.

Note this is just for the wine. Regular, un-ordained people can’t distribute the bread unless there is something pretty severe going on like the priest has hurt his back. And they certainly can’t bless it. You have to go to seminary to learn that trick.

Jesus didn’t go to seminary, and neither did his disciples. And they weren’t ordained either.

There is definitely a hierarchy of us and them. The lay people are told that they are ministers too, but they certainly aren’t seen as equal, and they certainly aren’t encouraged or taught how to deepen their ministry.

So this lady, doing priest things, really woke me up. I first thought how dare she? I then thought, I wonder if the Bishop knows? Then I thought why not? Then I was jealous.

It reminded me of all the micro managing that my old priest did. And that my old manager did. And it makes me wonder why I keep getting myself into situations with controlling supervisors.

And it makes me think that the worst kind of controlling person is one who acts like they aren’t controlling you at all.

We’ve been bamboozled. We’ve been deceived. We’ve voluntarily given over the care and feeding of our souls to people we thought we could trust. Even if the priest / pastor / minister is a decent human being and not secretly embroiled in a scandal involving money or sex, you are still being led astray.

Consider a teacher. You’ll only learn what the teacher wants to show you. You won’t learn anything about what you are interested in. The teacher won’t be able to answer all your questions and if you ask a lot of questions (as I did) you’ll get some surly reactions from said teacher.

People in authority don’t like it when you ask questions. It undermines their authority. It reveals what they don’t know. It proves they are fallible. It unmasks the guy behind the curtain. You may learn it is all smoke and mirrors.

Don’t give them your power. Don’t entrust the care and feeding of your soul to another person. Question everything and everyone, and if they resist your questions, get as far away as you can. Worse, if they welcome your questions but distract you and don’t answer them or show you how to answer them for yourself.

I was lulled into a sense of complacency with the church I was in. It was pretty progressive. Big on women’s rights, gay rights, equality for all. Open to other faith traditions. But there is still that division of lay versus ordained. There is still the training that ordained people get that lay people don’t.

The priest can’t be everywhere. Remember the idea of don’t put all your eggs into one basket? Don’t put all your ministry into the hands of one person.

What would it be like if Jesus had fed only his disciples with that bread and fish?

He didn’t. He gave thanks for it, and broke it, and it was distributed and fed thousands. This is what we are do with everything. This isn’t just about food, or money, or power. Nothing is for keeping or hoarding. If we build up for ourselves treasures on earth, we are missing the point.

But I don’t have time…

You say you don’t have time to exercise or write that book. But you do. You have exactly as much time as everyone else. The only difference is how you choose to spend your time.

Video games? Facebook? Reading fiction? Getting drunk? Watching TV?

Time is time is time.

Notice how fast it goes by. It is already August. It is 2013. Every day, every minute counts.

You can’t get out of that 40 hour a week job. But you can write and exercise at lunch. Even 10 minutes of each is better than nothing. You can use your phone and write a “note” while you walk at lunch and be even more efficient.

You can get up an hour earlier and do 30 minutes of each.

Time is limited. Our lives are limited. Choose wisely.

Take all the “I can’t” excuses and look at what you can do, and do it. Start small. Don’t say you will exercise and write every day. You’ll get overwhelmed. This is like going from juggling three balls to six. Aim for once a week. Commit to that. . Then you will eventually work up to every day.

Everything worth doing has to start somewhere. Good habits are like bad habits. You just have to remember to choose wisely. Don’t let the bad habits win.

Meditation on snake charming – the eye of the storm.

There are several people who complain, gossip, whine, kvetch, etc. at work. This is every day, all day. All day long, if they are saying anything to anyone who is not a patron, they are complaining. It is very tedious, because I can’t escape it.

One was in the habit of gossiping, all the time. I’ve told her repeatedly to not do this because I don’t like listening to it. Gossip is displaced communication. When you don’t feel safe talking to person A about your issues with them, you talk to person B. Meanwhile, the problem still exists with person A and you, and now person B looks at person A differently. Also, you have just spread your negativity around. It is very hard to carry around someone else’s burdens, especially when they keep pushing them off on to you.

If this was any other environment, I could leave. I could walk away. But I’m stuck with these people for 40 hours a week, every week, for what feels like forever. I’ve told them that their negativity is bringing me down, and one of them agrees. She said she’d try to do better. It hasn’t happened yet.

One, years ago, when one of them asked if I minded her complaints about another coworker (simply a prelude to a complaint, not really asking permission), I said, “Yes, I do mind” and she got really huffy. You have to establish boundaries – what you will and will not accept. This is the same coworker who thought it was OK to come up behind me and hit me (lightly) on the head every day. When I stood up to her then, she was indignant, and my boss laughed at me. She has a lot of issues too.

This environment is a little messed up. But it isn’t a hard job, and it pays OK, and there is health insurance and a pension. And I’ve realized that it provides raw material for this blog, so I’m using this as a transformative experience.

Somewhere in the middle of a rant last night, I had an epiphany. I remember the story where Jesus says that if you are in alignment with God, if you are doing God’s will, then snakes and poison cannot harm you. I also remember in Pastoral Care class that you can’t fix another person’s problems. Your goal is to just let them vent. Let them talk it out.

I’m a little torn at times about this, because I feel that I’m enabling the problem. If they continue to vent to me, then they aren’t facing their problems head on. But, then, it took me years to get strong enough to look at them head on. But their rants and complaints are like poison to me. I’ve told them I can’t handle it, and yet it goes on. It is a bad habit for them, and I can’t escape.

So in my meditation last night, I thought, perhaps this is part of the plan. I need to be able to endure this. I need to learn how to stand in the middle of the storm. I need to learn how to be Daniel in the lion’s den. I need to be calm and with God in the middle of this, and not let their poison affect me. Their poison isn’t directed at me. I’m just a captive audience.

Maybe it is healing for them to vent. Maybe they’d be better off going to a counselor or a therapist. Maybe they already do, and it isn’t helping.

But I can use this as a pathway to healing for myself. I can learn to pray and meditate during their rants. I can learn to stand there and not really be there, because they don’t really care what I think about their complaints. They just want to complain. I can see every time they complain as a reminder to ask Jesus into the situation, to be there, with me and with them, in that moment, in that painful time.

Why do I call this snake charming? Because their rants, their complaints, their gossip is poison to me. It is like sitting down at a park bench to enjoy your lunch, only to find out that stick next to you is a snake. When they come up to me, I actually wince, because I expect another tirade.

But using this time as an opportunity to pray transforms that snake back into a stick. It is yet another reminder to seek God in all situations, and to try to see God in all people. I’m now going to try to look differently at these times. It won’t be easy. But I’ll do it, with God’s help.