Despite being a huge Harry Potter fan I rarely read interviews with JK Rowling about so-and-so’s sexual preferences, how these two shouldn’t have ended up together, who should’ve died, what this or that person’s life might be like now, and so on. I don’t want to hear any of that garbage. I like books because books allow me to know all there is to know about a person and the world they live in. I don’t want to acknowledge information that comes from outside of the text, the source. I want to read the books again and again and learn more and more about these people and this world each time. I like holding within my hands all there is to know about the world of witches and wizards.
I thought for a long time (like until a couple of hours ago, I think) that the Bible was the same way. I thought that when I held the Bible in my hands I was holding all there is to know about Jesus.
For a long time I thought, Well if I know what the Bible says about this, that, and the other thing, then I’ll be fine. If I can just remember all the stuff good Christians can and can’t do, then I’ll be good. And for a while I thought I did have it figured out. Christians can’t recite prayers because that’s vain repetition. Christians can have tattoos because there’s nothing in the Bible against it. Christians can’t smoke because our bodies are our temples. Christians can listen to music with drums because people praise Him in different ways. Christians can’t cuss because that’s unwholesome talk. Christians can’t… Christians can…
And the list goes on and on. Each item backed up by a verse, probably pulled out of context and only half-understood.
But then I got older and life got a little more complicated and the lines weren’t so clear.
But can Christians drink? Because some of my friends really love Jesus and also really love beer.
But are recited prayers really vain repetitions? Because this doesn’t feel pointless.
But is cussing what Jesus was really talking about when he said unwholesome talk? Because I hear a lot of unwholesome talk coming out of the mouths of Jesus-people who don’t cuss.
Can women really not be pastors? Because this woman is a pastor and she’s really a lot like Jesus.
Can Christians? Can’t Christians? But what about?
The thing about life is that it so often is not black and white. Sure, sometimes the answers are easy. Should I punch this person? No, you should not. Should I tell this person they’re ugly and stupid and horrible so that they will cry? No, you should not. But more often than not the answers are complicated and long and situation and person specific. And more often than not there isn’t a Bible verse specifically tailored to your exact situation. (Actually there never is because none of us are living in First Century Jerusalem or 1500 BC Assyria.)
A few months ago some friends of mine asked me to officiate their wedding. I was so honored. I might have even cried a bit. (Obviously I’m not a pastor but I’m pretty sure you can get ordained online to do things like weddings.) My immediate response was, “Heck yes! I can do that! That’d be awesome!” But out loud (or via the keyboard) I told my wonderful friends that I’d have to think and pray about it*. Even though my initial reaction was to go for it, my reaction that followed very quickly was, “Is this okay? Can I do this? Should I do this? Do I believe it’s good and right for women to officiate weddings?”
(*Interesting side note: I’ve always thought the “I’ll have to pray about it” line was a pretty lame one. This feeling is due in part to my quick-decision-making-personality and the belief that if you are in tune with the Holy Spirit and in constant prayer, you know what Jesus would do and the decision should be pretty easy. This is still how I feel about the phrase. Usually.)
So I did what I always do when I need a good answer to a problem – I asked my mom. She’s pretty wise about you know, life and stuff. She said something that has stuck with me and has been ruminating around in my head and heart for the past few months. It was something like, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, because I know you’re going to do what you think is right. But I will tell you what I think. Officiating a wedding is a pastor’s job. God has called you to be many things, but He has not called you to be a pastor.”
She didn’t say that women can’t be pastors or officiate weddings. She didn’t make a blanket statement about women or marriage everywhere. She looked at the situation at hand, which was a friend asking me personally to officiate their wedding, not someone asking me to endorse non-pastor-women-wedding-officiators everywhere as Biblical. And I realized that what I was looking for was a blanket statement. A right or wrong for everyone everywhere that would tell me what to do in this particular situation.
But here’s the thing. I am not in charge of everyone everywhere. I’m not even in charge of non-pastor-women-wedding-officiators everywhere. I am only in charge of me. And all I can know for sure is what God has asked me to do, what God has revealed to me through His Word and His people, and how He is working in my life. The rest isn’t my stuff to figure out.
Which is so freeing!! Because now I can love and admire that woman pastor and that Christian who drinks and that church body who repeats prayers and passages of Scripture and even better I can see it all as Beautiful and Live Giving and Part of the Bride. And even learn from that woman pastor and be discipled by that Jesus lover who drinks and repeat prayers and passages of Scripture and know Jesus better through all of it. Because I’m not in charge of figuring out how Jesus should show up in everyone else’s lives. I’m not in charge of universally applying Scripture. I’m in charge of me. And I’m in charge of trusting God to do His thing whether I think it’s the right thing to do or not.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9