by Carole Reardon
Her voice was firm and direct, one might even say strident. What she was, was determined, if anonymously so, and fortunately years of customer-facing jobs had well-prepared me for her. I listened, promised action, and thanked her for her call.
Although she was technically correct about the issue, my first thought was, geez, lady, what does it cost you? Actually no, that was my second thought; my first thought was the far less charitable, too much time on your hands?
I promised her I would tell the Rector and so I did, curious about his reaction to what the Caller described as an unforgivable breach of The Rules: on two separate occasions, the Caller witnessed another woman receiving Eucharist but not actually consuming the Bread. She fumed “she is spitting it out, wrapping it in a Kleenex and stuffing in her purse! I know she’s taking it to her drug-addict son in prison – and he has a prison chaplain for that and she is desecrating the sacrament!”
Our Rector listened, rolled his eyes and sighed. If I know anything about him, he forgave both women on the exhale.
Running tattletale on another parishioner, wrapped in a virtuous banner of technical correctness, felt wrong, like it does when I catch myself indulging the judge-y crew of Pharisees in my own head. The Rules Keepers. The ones who do “it” right, whatever “it” might be. They know the letter of the law, by God! And they will ensure we all comply.
Remember the plastic bracelets stamped WWJD for What Would Jesus Do? I felt I already knew the answer. If I were able to ask Jesus, “Do you mind being wrapped up in a Kleenex, stuffed into a big, old-lady purse and schlepped into a prison, only to be given to someone who has screwed up his life and may or may not actually believe in you?” My gut tells me Jesus would likely ask questions by way of answering, in the maddening way he does, and if I were lucky they would be direct questions like, “Does the mother do this out of Love? Does it bring her son comfort? Does it bring her comfort? Does it occur to you that the son might be specifically the sort of person I hope to be brought to, even wadded in a Kleenex and transported via old lady purse?” If I can answer “Yes” to any one of those I imagine Jesus concluding, “It’s done in Love so no worries, but maybe you might want to find a hobby involving less time spent being a giant busy-body.”
All Episcopal churches have signs saying, ‘The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,’ and we mean it, we do. But I also wonder what the Caller’s face looks like while she’s carefully observing the misdeeds of The Eucharist Smuggler.
Once in a sales training I was advised to put up a mirror in my cubicle because “… the customer can hear the smile in your voice”. It sounds ridiculous, but try it and see if you can be obnoxious while smiling at yourself in a mirror. It makes me wonder when visitors come into our churches, are we saying “Welcome” with our tongues, but “You’re doing it wrong” with our eyes? Are our attempts at “helping” the Newcomer “fit in” genuinely done for their comfort, or our own?
There was some grumbling, once upon a time, about how the Youth came to services in jeans, t-shirts, flip-flops, like they’d “just rolled out of bed.” So disrespectful! When she was little I loved dressing my daughter up for church but, by middle- and especially high-school, I just wanted her there. As long as her teeth and hair were brushed and she didn’t smell, jeans and flip-flops were A-OK by me.
Recently, after a particularly snarky edition of The Pharisees in My Head, I wondered if we should adopt a new rule in the “Jesus Movement”, as Bishop Curry calls it: question every rule, especially the unwritten ones. Jesus did. He flipped tables and ate with tax collectors, talked to women unrelated to him and made them his disciples. When (hugely paraphrasing) the real Pharisees came to tell him “You’re doing it wrong,” Jesus calls out the hypocrisy of adherence to rules which had long ceased to be of any meaning to their souls.
“Love” Jesus said.
Every community of faith has rules, both known and unknown and that is fine, as long as they come from a place of love, rather than as an excuse to avoid those who make us uncomfortable, or don’t conform to our human notions of ideal.
Perhaps what drew those first disciples to Jesus is that he loved them, like Bridget Jones’ Mr. Darcy, just as they were and regardless of the rules.
Jesus gave us only one rule: “Love,” he said, “as I have loved you,” and so I will be managing my little crew of snarky Pharisees next time they start clucking over a pair of ripped jeans, a loud baby, or a newcomer clearly not doing it “right”.
Carole Reardon is a corporate refugee, enthusiastic if amateur photographer, writer, and lay Episcopalian from Little Elm, Texas. She is a member of the new Diocese of Dallas plant, Resurrection Episcopal Church, Plano, Texas.