You Are First Chosen: Old First E-pistle 05.01.14

You Are First Chosen: Old First E-pistle 05.01.14

You know the dream. Or nightmare. It is, I believe, one of those Jungian archetypes. Like someone chasing you who you can’t shake. Or ending up somehow naked in public. Or sitting for an exam after you’ve forgotten to attend class all semester.

This is the “not getting chosen” dream. I suspect we all have some version of it because most everyone has a story, a memory, an experience of having wanted to be picked for something, but having been let down. Usually from childhood, but not always.

Not chosen for a group of friends you wanted to join. Not chosen for a sports team. Or for a part in a play. Not chosen for admission by the school you really wanted to attend. Or for some award you expected. Not chosen for a job. Not chosen as a spouse.

My recurrent “not chosen” dream is literal– it almost mirrors the memory of a real life experience. It’s second grade. On the playground. Gym class. I’m the smallest boy in the class. And not athletic. Or competitive in sports. In fact, I detest games like this.

We’re going to play kickball with one of those red rubber balls. But first we need to divide the class into two teams. The most athletic boys are chosen first as the two captains who pick the players they want on their team. They then take turns choosing, picking off people one by one.

For me, it’s excruciating before it even begins. Because I know already. And I don’t blame them. In fact, one of the captains is my friend, but he knows as well as I do that I can’t be counted on to kick well when it’s my turn at the plate. My whole dislike of the game shows all over my face and in my behavior. Even after the last, least coordinated girl, I will be last ‘chosen,’ if “yeah, I guess he has to be on our team” qualifies as chosen.

Your experience of not being chosen might have been similar. Or not. But I bet each of us can connect to it somehow and somewhere.

I haven’t had the dream lately. But I do every so often. When I wake up and remember it, I wonder why over the years, it hasn’t changed, as I have changed so much? So far it hasn’t.

But I the dream came to me during our Earth Day service.

Trying experimental worship because we were outdoors (mostly as a remedy to the sound issues when we don’t have amplification), some parts worked really well:
~ I enjoyed the four people from the points of the compass reading in unison, surrounding us with longer passages of Scripture. And I thought centering ourselves by bringing to mind what we’d left behind or wish we’d left behind to gather for worship… and then sharing it with one other person was a nice beginning.

Some parts of worship we tried, I didn’t think they worked so well:
~ For example, the meditation in the form of call and response for the sermon felt too long and not meditative enough! But if we don’t try, if we aren’t willing to have somethings fail, we’ll never learn.

But it was in the sermon, after the part where the congregation was repeating after me, where the dream popped into my mind. I said something, not quite expecting it, half ad-libbed, that caused me to suddenly remember being “not chosen.” I was talking about וזה היה טוב / “and it was good” in Hebrew, and I said something like:

Seven times in this week of work, God paused,
looked of the produce of Divine days
and pronounced it good.

The final ‘good,’ as Julie already remembered, was amplified
— perhaps for the work finished and now seen as a whole and as holy–
to ‘very good.'”

Here’s the more off the cuff part…

“Can you imagine? —
God looking over us, each of you right now,
this humble company in a church courtyard (shivering)
and appreciating the work of holy hands,
and saying to Godself,
and to you,
and before all the world:
“Good work, indeed.”

Those weren’t the words I’d prepared to end with. But they (or something close to them!) came out.

And I connected suddenly of my dream and its antecedent memories. (God help us when the preacher moves himself! Soon I’ll be asking for a moment to gather myself together, because I’m all verklempt…) But I also know that many of you must have similar stories. And that for some people life itself sometimes feels like a long litany of not getting chosen.

And yet, our faith begins with, continues and completes God choosing us, calling us by name. It’s one of the holy mysteries, in God’s love we are each chosen first.

Now there are other ways we deal with life’s experiences of not being chosen. And most of us, unless we’re beaten down to defeat, are pretty good at accessing and exploiting them. When we start feeling a bit overlooked, we fight back, insist on — at the least — being noticed.

We associate ourselves with someone else or some group we feel has a preferable identity. That can be hanging out with the popular folks. Or getting involved in a winning cause. Sometimes I think that’s a lot of what sports teams are about.

Or we try to excel, become such the paragon of intelligence, virtue, prowess, wealth, success… so that no one can doubt that we are among the chosen.

Or we jut become more directly demanding of attention, the class clown and the smart alec, or even in some cases a bully, breaking decorum and rules, because even negative notice is notice.

And there’s the personal statements. Stand out clothes. Tatoos in very visible places can make it hard to be invisible. (Did you see the story of the man accused of murder whose trying to have the word “MURDER” that’s tatooed on his neck removed because he fears it might prejudice a jury?). And unusual hair cuts or colors.

These and other various compensatory strategies all have their effect. And except when they are very negative, I often think they are a celebration of our diversity and individuality. And if they truly make us feel a bit less like the last one picked, amen.

But I’m wondering if, as people of faith, we wouldn’t do well to meditate more often on the simple promise that “God chose us.” It’s not really about the exclusion of others, so much as our acceptability, even attractiveness in God’s eyes.

Can you imagine that alongside all that you say and do (or fail to say or do) that causes God to sigh, wince and want to look the other way, still God doesn’t. God just keeps watching you in a fascinated adoration, if you will. If we could cultivate that self-understanding and spiritual experience, how much less anxious and hierarchical and quick to put down others we might become?

Beloved, God chose you. It wasn’t a “last minute” or “there was no one else left” anti-choice sort of choosing. God didn’t feel sorry for you because no one else would have you — like the most pathetic pet at the pound or a troubled foster kid too old to expect to place in a permanent adoptive home. God chose you first — before the foundation of the world. And God’s going to stay with you through this whole life. And even unto eternity… No matter what.

In other words, you are in the center of things, in on the action, long before you even were! It’s in this sense, that faith assures that each of us is cosmically important.

See you in church,

Michael