Every morning I stand in a classroom with middle school children as a voice drones over the loudspeaker telling us to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Every morning I make a choice.
While I stand with the others, daily I resist as my arms hang limp at my sides and my mouth remains closed. Early in ministry I was gifted with this clarity: I pledge allegiance to no nation-state, my allegiance is always, only, to God.
Over the decades the names I use to describe the object of my allegiance have shifted, so too my understanding of how to be in service. What is constant is an awareness that I answer, always and ultimately, to a power that is beyond my knowing. As I stand in resistance these days, I do so with substantial privilege but without the shield of church. To serve an unseen deity behind the banner of an institution is one thing, to claim this same devotion and duty apart from institutional sanction feels at points both vulnerable and exhilarating.
To whom or what does my allegiance now lie?
Last month was fifth consecutive February spent in prayerful discernment of call outside the church. It began as fitful as every other, but ended this time with precious clarity and release. In truth, part of me never expected my leave-taking to be permanent. The public me was clear and strong and steady; this church gig has been a good and faithful road, and it is finished. This me requested (and received, kinda – but that’s another story) official retirement from the church. Yet there was a very real part of me that was storming off the metaphorical playground, wishing and hoping and praying that I would be invited back. As I prayed through the drab days of February for the fifth time, I considered potential avenues for coming back. Starting a church seemed the most compelling; but I also logged onto the denominational site and began completing my paperwork to job search. Simultaneously there was push back from the universe in ways I could not ignore. Ultimately the truth (that I’d carried all along) was again clear: it is finished. My allegiance is neither to nation-state nor institution.
But where then does my allegiance play out?
One of February’s gifts was serendipitous conversations with friends rooted in my childhood and an emotional journey back to adolescence and the moment of call. I found myself reliving the moment that I identified in evangelical circles as my “born again” experience, but it was more an experience of transcendence. I was in my car, the sun was setting, and in that moment a clarity, a certainty. I knew that I belonged to the rhythm itself, to the movement of the setting sun, to life. Yes. Yes to God and all of the trappings that came with the yes in American Christianity.
Tragically the yes came with patriarchy and white supremacy and capitalist nonsense that left me making a big salary and feeling broke, married to a man when I really longed to be with women, and drinking bottles of wine to keep all of the lies spinning in unison. Now as I peel back the years and the layers, the yes is still very clear. Ironically, or perhaps predictably, I discover that the trappings actually functioned to mute the call and hijack my allegiance. All these miles and years and necessary dramas later, the call itself is as clear and strong as it was that day nearly forty years ago. And my answer is still an unequivocal yes.
But called to whom?
The call is to community, to our neighborhood, to the earth itself. The church to which I am called is the community, cyber and embodied and work and leisure. The church is the world, our neighborhood, our circle of friends. My allegiance is to this earth and the holiness of this moment and the passion for justice that burns bright even now. Freed from budgets and buildings and committees and institutional politics, my work is clear. To see and tend and nurture and celebrate that which is holy, here, now. To offer prophetic witness to that which is just, to find and share courage in this era of latent evil unleashed. To live this ordinary life bearing witness to that which is extraordinary.
My pledge of allegiance is always, only, to life’s longing for itself. Distant as the farthest star and yet closer than my next breath. And it is very good.