It was on Good Friday 1991, in the wilderness, in Joshua Tree National Park, purportedly one of the most spiritual wildernesses there is, that God out of the blue "called" me.
I was with about 10 members of the Young Adult Group from my church. We’d driven from L.A. that morning, arrived at J.T. that afternoon, and were to camp in the park that evening.
I was 33 at the time and had recently joined the UMC in Santa Monica hoping it would give me something to talk to my parents about that wouldn’t end up in a fight. (They hated that I was dedicating my life to becoming a comedian.) I was presently obsessed with a play I was writing about magical pantsuits. If only I could get over my writer’s block and get it finished and produced and see if it indeed proved to be my ticket to stardom. (It very well should! MAGICAL PANTSUITS FOR CRY EYE!!)
After a remarkably peaceful afternoon in the wilderness (so grateful was I that there were guys in our group who knew how to set up tents, blow up air mattresses, and operate a Coleman stove; it brought me, a camping novice, a remarkably visceral experience of calm), and after a most-adeptly prepared dinner of spaghetti and pudding, it was time for our little Good Friday worship service, to take place around a small but well-built campfire (this was way before the California drought that has necessitated perpetual campfire prohibitions).
Being that we were good United Methodists from a theologically liberal yet culturally traditional congregation, there had been prepared for us a bulletin for a simple but liturgically correct Good Friday campfire worship service. As I had no other way to serve the community (I didn't know squat about camping) I offered to hand these bulletins out.
It was in the midst of my out-handing that something came over me. It felt like warm liquid was suddenly filling me as well as a dense fog overshadowing me. A voice emanating either from above or from within me said without hesitation, “You should be doing this for a living.”
Whaaaat? Even though I was absolutely shocked and should have asked to have the phrase repeated, I knew exactly what that voice meant.
I should become a pastor. My job should be leading Good Friday services anywhere or everywhere. I should become a front-line go-to person in terms of getting to know God. Most of all, I should take my passions for and gifts of theater and comedy and creativity and having kitschy fun and bring them into the church where they are so needed, where they would be so exciting to introduce, and where I could be the game-changing artist I’d always wanted to be without having to contend with “Hollywood crap” anymore.
I could see it now – congregations colorfully laughing, coming alive, finding church and God and life and love as truly zesty and celebratory and I would make it happen so easily and effectively because it’s the stuff I’m really good at as well as the stuff the world truly needs…my ”vocation” as Frederick Buechner inspiringly defines it.
But then, ugh, it hit me.
I was going to be a … pastor? A…reverend? A…CHURCH LADY? ????
“Noooooo thank you!” I silently snapped back to God. “I’ll play one on tv but I won’t be one in real life!” I could suddenly see my un-churched friends avoiding me like that crazy evangelist with the puppet outside the Hollywood Bowl. I could feel them relinquishing their respect, now that I was dedicating my life to an archaic and hypocritical institution that is always more ripe for criticizing and laughing at than anything else.
And I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I charged, “God, how dare you suggest my career should be something other than show biz? That’s what I’ve always deeply wanted, I’ve always been really good at, I’ve sacrificed everything to pursue!” It felt like the Almighty was pitilessly yanking out my justifiably-chosen dream and replacing it without my consent. (Even though, to be honest, I’d for awhile wondered if the Hollywood world was really for me. Magical pantsuits might be way over their heads. Way way over.) Still it was MY decision about what to do with my life. MINE!
And then all I could see were the roadblocks the church would put in front of me to prevent me from bringing into it my comedy and fun. In my minds eye all I could see were pew upon pew of shaking heads, furrowed brows, and looks of oncoming nausea, which of course I should expect because after all, it's....the church!
“No thank you, God, I get enough rejection already from Hollywood!”
And THEN there were the shoes.
Always being a “shoe person” I have tended to judge people based on their footwear. (This is not something I'm proud of. It just is.) Cool shoes indicate a person I want to get to know. Nerdy shoes…not so much.
I’d had wonderful pastors at the home church where I’d grown up, but, truth be told, these men were a little on the “fashionably unaware” side and besides, being that the heart of my growing-up years was the mid-70’s, everyone’s clothes…and shoes…were awful.
All I could then see in my minds eye were the 1970’s shoes one of my wonderful pastors would always wear: crinkly black patent leather loafers with square toes. Really square toes. The kind you’re pretty sure could only be made with a t-square.
“I’m not wearing those shoes! I’m not wearing those shoes!” I desperately exclaimed, raising my fist to the heavens (at least my inner fist, as I was still so stunned about it all I continued handing out Good Friday bulletins, now with some blank “Children of the Corn”-type expression, while all of this was going on in my head).
The Divine response to my demand was not lightening. I sort of remember God saying, “Okay, okay, you don’t need to wear those shoes!”
Eventually, I did come around and say yes to my crazy call, and it’s been sooo creatively, artistically, comically, and spiritually (to name a few) rich.
Plus, pretty much since then, all I’ve ever really ever wanted to wear are square-toed shoes.
When I think of my experience with God’s call – how goofy and funny were all my resistances and wranglings -- as well as how comical were God's comebacks (partly because He had to make any; isn't one supposed to just simply say "Yes!" when God calls?) -- it puts a whole new, and delightful, light upon the experience Moses had at “The Burning Bush.”
As I suggested in my previous post, the story of Moses encounter with God at "The Burning Bush," found in Exodus 3-4, is usually presented as very solemn and straightforward, leaving out a lot of the back-and-forth between God and God's Chosen when the latter (Moses), for any number of reasons, remains uninterested and unwilling to undertake the glorious task of leading the Hebrews out of slavery and into the Promised Land.
Even when all (or at least some) of the scrambling and compromise described in the biblical text is depicted, it isn’t presented as the least bit humorous or lighthearted, even though perhaps that’s how it was intended to be embraced.
That's because more often than not, all of us struggle with our calls from God, whether or not we should. We all come up with excuses and fears that in hindsight can look pretty ridiculous, and it takes awhile to come around even when God is most compassionately helping with a gentle nudge or two (which I had but which Moses, I'm afraid, did not; see my previous blog for more on that).
And even though the journey upon our "called road" is never a snap and struggles abound, as the Exodus story makes abundantly clear, we can still look back and laugh at how difficult we made the transition onto God's path, for it's so worth it regardless.
And in whatever crazy footwear we may find ourselves putting on. Or taking off.