The purple umbrella
I made it to church this morning for the first time in a few weeks. The opening hymn was Our Great Denominational Fight Song: “The Church’s One Foundation”. (That’s the Episcopalian fight song. If you’re Lutheran, it is, of course, “Ein’ Feste Burg”; if you’re Roman Catholic, I believe it is “Tantum Ergo”.) The closing hymn was its close cousin, “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation,” sung to the great tune by Henry Purcell known as “Westminster Abbey”.
In between, the interim rector preached well on the readings, touching on the shooting at the Pulse nightclub and the responses to it that she saw online. The Old Testament reading, which struck me most, was the mystical and almost spooky story of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, accompanied by horses and chariots made of flame. Elisha picks up his mentor’s fallen mantle and lashes the water of the Jordan, saying, “Where is the God of Elijah?” The water parts for him and he crosses the river dry-shod.
However, when the rector, who happens to be a woman, began talking about living in such a way that we put others first instead of ourselves, I stopped thinking about the mysticism of the Chariot or the determination of Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel, “setting his face toward Jerusalem” and letting nothing stop on his journey to confront the powers that be and started thinking, “No.” Because honestly, calls to put others before myself are *not* what I need. Calls to prioritize God, our neighbor, our family, our spouses, our children, the telemarketer, the boss–everyone and anyone before ourselves are not what many women need. As far as I can see, putting others first is something men in our culture may need to practice, but not women.
After communion, we sang a hymn of unknown provenance that had a tune somewhat like a Broadway ballad and a text that was, shall we say, a little too on the nose. ” Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name?” Will you do all these self-sacrificing things for other people, in my name, if I call on you to do so? The truth is that my answer is No. I honor Jesus as a wisdom teacher, a healer, a deified mortal, and a savior who provides a place in the afterlife for those who follow him, but I realized at some point that I could not be his disciple. I could not live by the values he proposed, nor did I want to. If I use up my energies putting others first by service or volunteering or political action or whatever, in Christ’s name, by all the good works the Church has proposed over the centuries, I won’t have any energy left to do what I have always believed to be my actual work, my calling: Writing, singing, creating liturgy.
That said, I will continue to attend this Episcopal church, because I feel a real sense of community with the people there. I am probably going to train as a chalicist once again, authorized to administer the cup of wine at the Eucharist, and I’d like very much to have a full-time position with the choir come fall. I’m a good singer; the repertoire that I sing best happens to be church music, go figure. I also had a strong sense this morning that Antinous had come to church with me; that it was not inappropriate for a god, especially one who is also a hero and a daimon, to worship another god. I don’t have to leave Antinous behind in order to participate in this community.
On my way out of church, I snagged a couple of cookies and looked over the bins that had been set out with items from the church’s lost and found. To my amazement, I spotted a purple folding umbrella that I recognized. It’s been missing for two or three years. Now I have my purple umbrella again.