One of my less than honorable responses to my call to ministry was my obsession with my preacher swagger. I am not into whooping and flashy cars, but I am quite a clothes-horse. As I prepared for my initial sermon, what I would wear received more attention than what I would say. Every Sunday spent in the pulpit as a licentiate was a deliberate display of my eye for design. More than anything I studies more seasoned preachers to inform choices about my eventual clerical vestments and accessories.
Clerical vestments have their biblical origins with priestly attire. God provided very specific instructions in Levitical law for what the priests should wear down to their undergarments. In the same manner, I have both outer garments and intimate apparel that I consider divinely-inspired.
I planned to earn a PhD after receiving my M.Div. not primarily so I could think deeply and teach others, but so I could rock three chevrons on my sleeve legitimately. A vanity degree from a diploma mill would not do. It had to be a qualifying credential from a top-tier university.
Then God stopped me in my tracks and showed me the character of the preacher is far more important than the persona. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Who knows what I would have become had I succeeded in being approved for clerical status by the institutional church? That would have left me to my own devices for shaping my ministry according to the prevailing ethos. However, their cultural norms do not suit me. No denomination can function effectively without an unquestioning, complicit, and conforming clergy. That’s totally not me.
To their credit, neither denomination that rejected my candidacy for ordination denied my gifts or call. They just did not sanction them for their organization. Jesus said:
If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (Matthew 10:13-15).
In other words, middle fingers to the sky! I thank God for confirmation that I don’t have to prove anything to anybody and the ability to make an ever so elegant departure.
Now I find myself seventeen years later not ordained (by men) and not likely ever to be. I’ve made peace with that. Would receiving approval from a group of mere mortals validate my call even more so? Do multiple rejections make me any less anointed? [F]or God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Who in the bible had to get a second opinion after being called directly by the Almighty? Soren Kierkegaard described ordination as an “ostensible token, though not an infallible one.”
But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being (Galatians 1:15-16).
James Baldwin said “I left the pulpit so I could preach The Gospel.” The same holds true for the brand of ministry to which God has called me. I have always known this intellectually. But part of me still longs for a robe perfecting the balance between overly-done and understated so well that Coco Chanel would nod in approval from the heavens above.