I could hear the chug of the church bus rounding the corner at my Mom’s house. It was a rare occasion that I got to spend Saturday night with her and go to the fancy big church in town as my Granny called it. No country church for me, where the wooden pews and people smelled of must and old age and the “facilities” were still outside. Not this weekend.
They were having a contest and my younger sister asked if I could please come with her so she could earn her hat for bringing a guest. The special bonus, if there were X amount of kids that Sunday, the pastor, John Maxwell, would eat a live goldfish. We were all in.
The kids were singing, as kids do, at the tops of their lungs We’re Whirly Birds for Jesus, we live for him each day… I soon caught on and wanted to be a Whirly Bird too. I wasn’t sure about this Jesus but I really wanted the cap these kids were wearing, a red beanie with a little helicopter on top. You could earn pins for it too (!), which filled my people-pleasing-award-winning-accomplishment-doing-soul right up.
I soon learned that being a Christ follower was more than donning a Whirly Bird beanie heavy laden with bling from winning contests. Souls were at stake after all. Mine included.
I discovered a classmate of mine also went to the fancy big church in town and happened to be at movie night. (Movie night? At church! Fancy big church’s meter pegged to the right of cool.) We settled in with some popcorn and candy and sat beside each other ready to watch the 1970’s film called A Thief in the Night.
Our popcorn grew cold, candy uneaten as Micky and I watched the confusion and mayhem of this woman who had been left behind. At the end of the movie the youth pastor got up and explained how Jesus was coming back and how we needed to be ready or else be left here to suffer. He read Matthew 24:36-51 to us.
That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. (Matthew 24:39-40NIV)
I wasn’t exactly sure what all that meant. We didn’t own a hand mill nor did we have fields but we did have a garden and canned a lot so maybe that counted. What I did know was that I did not want to be without my Granny and left in a place where the people were weeping and gnashing their teeth. (Matthew 24:51NIV) Obviously there were no Whirly Birds there.
So Micky and I went forward to accept Jesus as our Savior whatever all that actually meant. This movie scared the hell out of me but didn’t drive me to a place where I would come to really know Jesus.
For two more decades I would wax and wane between singing with my beanie on and running to escape the fiery flames. Always working to be good enough, missing the mark horribly, feeling the shame of things I’d done and things done to me, asking forgiveness for things that were already tossed as far as east is from west. It was a vicious cycle of rinse and repeat, rededicate, renew, return to old ways.
Until life spun me in a different direction and landed me in a place I’d never been.
Tucked in the Gospel of Luke are five little verses that introduce us to two sisters from Bethany, Mary and Martha who find themselves with a dinner guest by the name of Jesus. While Martha is busy in the kitchen, we find Mary had managed to make her way to where Jesus was and took the posture of a student, a disciple, a learner at his feet.
Whether by invitation or an act of bravery, Mary knew she wanted to understand more than the bits and pieces she put together as she went about her duties or heard secondhand from her brother and those that knew him personally. She wanted and needed to know Jesus herself.
So she sat at his feet, listened and learned.
This first female New Testament theologian will glean much from this meeting. While we don’t know what Jesus was saying, I wonder if she was beginning to understand that this Man brought a different message than the culture of her day.
Jesus tells those who are listening, Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:42 NIV) In a culture where women are not invited to sit at the table and learn this changes everything.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were going to church every time the doors were open. We served. We sang. We served some more. If a spot needed filled we were there. And yet my marriage was falling apart. My adult version of being a Whirly Bird was crashing fast. Those gnashing teeth were hot on my heels.
I soon discovered a foundation of theology built on service alone and the things I “do” is like shifting sand that soon crumbles when hard times come. All of my do’s are paltry compared to what has already been done. I needed to know the doer of done. Not just those bits and pieces I heard from the pulpit or Sunday school teacher.
Sound theology starts with sitting and soaking at the feet of the Teacher Himself. Not just on Sunday mornings or even Wednesday nights. But every chance I get.
Knowledge of his character, recognition of his voice, learning about his heart and compassion doesn’t keep us from walking through seasons of difficulty. Life happens and happens hard sometimes. But we weather storms differently when we know who is taking us through them. When we know the One who holds the compass.
Learning is the first step to being a sheologian. We wrestle with texts. We ask questions. We wonder. We wait. And then we are given opportunities to practice. To put feet on our faith. To live out what we’ve soaked up.
There’s more to Mary’s story. And mine. As you’ll soon see.