The closest neighbor
Posted on June 7, 2012
This post is part of the Week of Mutuality Series going on over at Rachel Held Evan’s blog. She describes it as “dedicated to discussing an egalitarian view of gender—including relevant biblical texts and practical applications. The goal is to show how scripture, tradition, reason, and experience all support a posture of equality toward women, one that favors mutuality rather than hierarchy, in the home, Church, and society.” Check out all the wonderful discussion here.
I am an associate pastor in a large, multi-site congregation. I am the first and only ordained female on a staff of 5 pastors. My husband is the pastoral intern.
For some in our congregation this has been a difficult scenario to wrap their minds around.
I introduce myself as Pastor Megan, (everyone on staff goes by their title and first name), and yet I have been called “little girl” and “young lady” more times than I can count.
One day, I was working in the office and a congregation member stopped in to chat with our volunteer office worker. As their conversation progressed, the visitor realized that someone was in the Pastor’s office and asked the office worker who it was. Her response? “Mrs. Eric”.
Another afternoon, I had an unexpected conversation that included advice like, “you should show more emotion (i.e. cry a little when sharing a difficult story) in your preaching, like your husband does” (that’s a whole other post!) and ended with, “a lot of people around here view you as a good support to Eric. “
We moved to this congregation because my husband was interested in their internship program. I was going to take another job as a hospital chaplain, a grocery store clerk or barista at Starbucks. Eric had moved from Berekeley, CA to Minneapolis, MN to finish school with me the year before so it was my turn to make good on our compromise. God had other plans for us and we both were hired at this congregation.
What does this have to do with mutuality? Everything.
From the beginning, our relationship has been a series of decisions, compromise and give and take between the two of us. In discussing our future together there were a few times where I had to put my foot down and say, “that’s not going to work for me.” There was another time when I called Eric in tears because I was anxious about how my decision was going to affect his future and dreams for ministry.
It wasn’t about who between us held the power or the authority, it was about discerning where God was calling us together. That’s the thing about mutuality – for me, it’s ultimately about God and where God is leading us, us as a couple and us as the Church.
If we’re relying on our own power and authority without seeking God’s will and leading in our lives together, we’re bound to get it wrong. It’s like this in our marriage and in our ministry. Submitting our will to God’s will changes everything. our vision changes and we become more about the body of Christ, working together for the good of all people, empowering the powerless, caring for the lonely and the broken-hearted, lending our voices to the voiceless, instead of worrying about the power and authority that we hold as individuals.
It’s easy, in theory to love your neighbor, especially if you like your neighbor too. But I am always struck by Martin Luther’s reminder that our closest neighbors are the ones we share our homes with. Our husbands, our wives, our partners, our friends, our children, our grandchildren, our families and friends, those people that we know so intimately are the ones we need to practice serving as the body of Christ.
And it’s freakin’ hard. Only you know all the annoying little quirks and habits of those that share your home and some days, those quirks drive you up the wall! And yet, we are reminded that to start there, with our spouse, partner and family, to serve and love them is to begin the practice of loving the neighbor. As we love and serve our neighbors we find that we too are being loved and served by them as well. It’s mutual and it flows from the love and grace that have been given to us by God.
Because we are human, because we are broken, we will not get it right all of the time. But when we stumble into that place where our will falls in line with God’s will, the mutuality that we practice with each other, spouse, neighbor, congregation member, or outsider, can foreshadow the mutuality of the Kingdom of God.
Yes, I am a female pastor who oversees some of the work of my husband the intern. Yes, people will still say stupid things to me and Eric. People will still bully and discriminate and hurt us. But what good would it do our congregation and our marriage for me to claim that place of power and demand respect and insist that my way was the only way? Without relationship and mutuality I would fail. I’d rather work together, husband and wife, Pastor and Intern, leader and congregation, to bring about glimpses of the Kingdom together. Won’t you join me?