I have a very aged, possibly demented cat. During her whole life, she has taken a cautious approach to thresholds. It’s got worse as she’s aged and now it can take minutes for her to decide whether it’s safe to venture across a threshold, to come in or go out.
It’s not just doors that bother her – the front gate is also an issue (even though it’s only a gap in the fence; there isn’t actually a gate). To sit on a lap or not to sit on a lap takes ages to decide and there’s always a noisy drama when the lights go out or come on. I’ve been known to be impatient with the interminable reflective process that goes on before decisions are made and sometimes, I confess, I’ve been inclined to get physical and carry her across.
Lately, as I’ve waited for her to make a decision, I’ve been pondering thresholds – what is it that prompts someone to take a risky step from the known to the unknown?
In the discipleship journey (which is also the vocational journey), it’s often expressed in terms of ‘call’ much like the scriptural stories of God calling out of a known and settled life and sending into an unknown, frequently unsettled, unfamiliar life. (Think of Abraham, Hagar, Moses, all the prophets, the disciples). From the original encounter — Oh, wow! God loves me! How amazingly fantastic! — a cautious question arises: What might this ‘call’ actually mean?
In the early days, there is an enjoyable getting-to-know-you process exploring prayer, scripture, worship, fellowship. In time, the ‘call’ becomes clearer and much more disruptive of any settled plans you might have made for your life, especially those that involve comfort, security and the freedom to mind your own business.
This often brings on an attempt at negotiation with God (Terribly sorry, I’m really not qualified. Perhaps you mean someone else?). At this point, we discover God’s world is not a democracy — it really is God’s way or the highway. You can spend what seems like an eternity shilly-shallying around on the threshold but, sooner or later, you will have to choose.
Go in … or stay out?
The people of God have always struggled with thresholds. A classic example is those 40 years in the wilderness, because they couldn’t make up their minds to do one thing or the other.
Then we come to today. Across the globe, the landscape is changing. The power, privilege, wealth and status of church is questioned and challenged. The accumulated baggage of millenia of Christianity is under review. What will be needed for the next part of the church’s journey? And what is the next part of its journey? A threshold moment if ever there was one.
It’s not noticeably different in the Uniting Church. It’s clear that God continues to bother our Church and, from the amount of negotiation going on, it’s also clear that the Church continues to wrestle with ‘call’. The challenging thing, for individual disciples and pilgrim people, is there’s no ‘call’ story along the lines of stay here, be comfortable and secure and I’ll take care of everything for you.
While I might pick up an aging cat and carry her across a threshold, collectively we don’t have that option. We have to listen for God’s call (and it’s usually a version of ‘Come, follow me’).
We have to choose and we have to take the next step.
The acting General Secretary, Rev. Jane Fry