Differing Orders: Galatians 4 – 6

What Is a Slave? Hagar and Sarah. How Do We Minister to Others?

Christians do not have a great reputation.

I think I have started half a dozen blog entries that way, but it is true. Christians may not care at the statement, claiming that God has warned them of persecution. Others might take offense… that liberals have vilified them through no fault of their own. I know a ton of Christ-like Christians who do a wonderful job living out God’s biblical hope for us. And they do it in a way without alienating others. Some are not quite so successful. To me, it always comes to down to judgment. Most everyone will accept a Christian as long as they do “force” their beliefs on others. What exactly constitutes “forcing?” Well, that is a difficult question.

We have seen Jesus and his contemporaries warn Christians against any form of judgment. This has been paired with both outright condemnations as well as commendations for us to take a hard look in the mirror at our own faults. Why then do so many Christians get on pedestals about the popular culture of America and how unbearably non-Christian it is?

The answer begins one place and ends another. First, Christians believe that they are chosen by God. I don’t need to look any further than today’s reading for proof of that. In an eye-brow raising section about Hagar and Sarah – the slave and beloved wives of Abraham, respectively. Paul says:

“These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.”
2 Corinthians 4:24-26 (NIV)

He said “figuratively” before you get in a fuss.

Paul thinks that humanity can be divided into two categories, the chosen and the slave; he demonstrates this with a metaphoric reading of Hagar and Sarah. Now, is he saying slaves are meant to be slaves, because they weren’t chosen by him? I don’t think so, but that’s not the point. Regardless of the status of the “non-chosen,” there is a prevailing belief that God picks His followers out of the lot, and they are special in His eyes.

So. Imagine that your boss picks you out of your crowd of co-workers and says that you are special. I’m sure that would feel pretty spectacular. And it might come with an ego boost worthy of the title.

Secondly, Paul lays this little number on us:

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (6:1)

To His chosen people, God tells us to lead people out of sin “gently.” How can you lead someone out of sin without committing the sin of judgment yourself? I would say that is a delicate balance, and may not even be possible. In order for me to identify a sin in someone, I must first make a value judgment of his or her behavior, right?

But maybe the judgment is small and internal, and it doesn’t involve changing laws and getting up on soapboxes screaming at people.

God’s people are commanded to live by faith and spread the Gospel. To refuse that service would be to deny the chosen status. It would be living down to a God with expectations and an omnipresent eye.

So I remember that in the moments that I feel particularly judged by a Christian, and I don’t take offense to it anymore. Because I do know that it is down with the best of intentions.

Supersede: Galatians 1 – 3

A Fiction Story. An Allegory.

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.”
Galatians 3:16-17 (NIV)

Mr. Fulmer found Vanessa through a temping agency and puffed his chest at the notion. Giving work to those that need it, he thought and felt as if he had earned several weeks’ time without doing another good deed. She arrived eagerly, early, and way over-dressed – I mean, she was wearing pantyhose for Christ’s sake, and let’s be honest, Fulmer’s business was just a shopping mall law firm. He admired her tenacity and energy. She wanted to work. She wanted to do a good job.

He had written the list on the back of an affidavit – the bathrooms are gross – the copy machine keeps jamming – I hear a humming noise in the bathroom but only when I pee, like I stop peeing and it goes away, so I think someone is messing with me – we haven’t had sodas for a month – the lock on the front door only locks when you lift up the handle, and we need to be taken seriously, so it should just lock regularly.

Mr. Fulmer showed her to her desk, a basic metal contraption with a return that held all her filing cabinets. He motioned her to her seat, and so she coyly slid down in the creaking bentwood. He poised himself on the edge of the desk.

We have a way of doing things here. Coffee at 8, refilled every hour, even if no one drinks it. If you can’t find anything to do then just clean, clean, clean. When picking up the phone – you make a little conversation, make them feel welcome. Really dig into the pleasantries. And then when you’re off the phone, take a look around, and just clean, clean, clean. Lights out at 6 no exceptions, no late cases. If the phone rings at 5 til 6, well fuck them, cause nothing has ever been accomplished in 5 minutes. You got it?

Vanessa nodded. She stuck to his methodology for quite some time.

Mr. Fulmer was right about the office – she wouldn’t have been surprised to find a family of weasels underneath the piles – piles of files on top of old spoons on top of Christmas decorations. In any down moment, she cleaned. Cleaned, cleaned, cleaned. And within a mere day and a half, things looked normal. Not great, but certainly moving in the right direction.

But some issues became immediately apparent. Like, the coffee maker. Hours would go by without anyone taking a sip. The “refill every hour” rule made no sense – it was an obvious waste. So Vanessa surreptiously changed the schedule to every other hour without telling anyone.

Oh, and the phone calls. Politeness was important, of course, but she had managed in a few short days to get berated by incoming callers about her colloquial nature. Like once, the phone rang while Vanessa was eating lunch. She placed down her cilantro-gouda sandwich and answered:

Why hello there, this is Fulmer and Associates. How may I help you?
  Yes, I need to speak to Mr. Fulmer right away.
That will be no problem. What is this concerning?
  A sports injury.
Oh, what sport?
My son places little league! He’s a third baseman working his way up to first. How did the accident occur?
  He was on first base, and then –
Ohh…. Lucky son of yours, my son has just been dying to get to first. I would love to hear how you managed that –
  You know, I don’t really have time for that. My son’s Achilles tendon has snapped and shot up his leg creating a bulge that looks like Mount Vesuvius ready to explode, so maybe you could just put me through to MR. FULMER PLEASE THANK YOU.

One moment.

Yes, lots of that.

Mr. Fulmer caught on quick to the changes and pulled Vanessa into his office for a little chat. The mood was downright bleak. He knew he needed to break the tension, so he went in on this story about an expedition he had done while younger – lost in the Adirondacks for days, search crews made some sweeps, he ate fauna and a killed a lame squirrel. He laughed and said it all turned out “alright,” and now it was just such a crazy, funny story. He sighed, smiling still, looking away… and then he turned, dropping his smile and said, Listen.

He had noticed the less frequent coffee.
She explained her reasoning and the waste.
He nodded and understood, but said we need to go back to the old way.
She said it was a waste.
He said that waste wasn’t the issue. It was about consistency. What worked before will continue to work.
She fell silent.
He patted her on the leg, to signal her to leave, but she stood up and said:

I think there’s an issue with the way we pick up calls.
  What could that possibly be? His patience waned.
It seems like most people want you to just… answer the phone. They don’t want any small talk.
  Small talk makes them feel welcomed.
I think it makes others feel disrespected, especially when something urgent is happening.
  You seem to want to shake up just about everything.
Only the things that could use a change.

Mr. Fulmer paused for a moment and turned towards the window. He hated insubordination, and much less liked some newcomer telling him how to run his business, but something about her proposal made sense. Maybe it was the fact that Mrs. Fulmer no longer wanted to sleep with him, or that the doctor had noticed his pancreas looked “questionable.” Maybe he was just bored.

Alright, he said, go ahead and do what you like.

And the matter was settled.

Vanessa used every drop of coffee from then on, only swapping it out when empty or skunked. Her conversations with the clients were short and to the point – everything was given and gotten at an efficient warp speed. She even began turning the lights on at 8:30. No one except her ever arrived until then, so it saved electricity, and she didn’t mind the darkness. Actually, she quite liked it – the soothing, quiet moments before every else arrived. She cherished those minutes.

A few months later, Mrs. Caldwell entered the door to the sound of the cling-clangy bell that hung above it. She hobbled over, and Vanessa, sensing her trouble, leapt up to offer her a hand. It appeared that she had Cerebral Palsy of some sort, or maybe a stroke. Whatever, Vanessa ticked a box in her head that said, “Special care needed.” Mrs. Caldwell needed an appointment with Mr. Fulmer immediately.

And what is this concerning, Vanessa asked.
Closing my business with your company, the old woman said (Vanessa had already forgotten her name).
One moment.

Yeah, that old lady did it all right. She stumbled her way into Mr. Fulmer’s office and fired him ‘round the corner. He asked what the problem was. And she said that things had changed a little too much around here. The receptionist was cold on the phone. There was never enough fresh coffee. She was done.

And while Mr. Fulmer tried to get her to stay, she just bumbled her way to the exit, out the door, and into her Uber.

You take Uber, Vanessa asked.
Oh yes, it’s just so convenient.

Mr. Fulmer yelled for the first time; he needed Vanessa in his office “A.S.A.Now.”

Everything needed to go back to the way it was, immediately. They were losing valuable costumers.
Vanessa took the criticism and apologized, and then asked if she could be blunt.
Mr. Fulmer waved his hands – it could have meant yes or no, really.
She went on talking anyway. Yes, they lost 1 customer, but gained 8 new cases in the past week. In fact, their growth has been exponential since the changes. 1 new case the first week. 5 the second, and now 8 this week.
Mr. Fulmer huffed. He didn’t care, because… that old woman (no one knew her name, apparently) was a very important client. She had been with them for decades. She mattered more than the rest.
Vanessa had nothing to say. She just made little huffy noises.
He asked if she wanted this job.
She mumbled that she needed it.
He commanded her then to put everything back the way it was.
She agreed to it.

And off she went back to her desk, head held surprisingly high after receiving such a demoralizing defeat. She logged into her computer, brought up Google, and searched, “post-grad requirements of Law School.”

But before she could hit “send,” the phone rang. She picked it up.

Why hello there, this is Fulmer and Associates. I would love to hear everything about your day.