Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Colossians 3:18-25) transports me to the kitchen of the parsonage at Providence Baptist in Stoneville, where Kim and were hosting the first Cubans I had ever met, Xiomara Diaz and Lazaro Cuesta, a married couple and co-pastors of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Yaguajay. At that time, I spoke virtually nada español, and Lazaro and Xiomara spoke virtually no English. I was there in the kitchen learning how to prepare a Cuban meal, while Kim, the Spanish speaker of the house, was out running errands. It was a real adventure, and it helped that Lazaro was a real clown, reminding me of a Latino Bill Cosby, and Xiomara had a great sense of humor as well. In addition to teaching me how to cook chicharitas and aroz con gris, they tried teaching me some Spanish. The first thing they taught me was something they wanted me to say to Kim when she arrived back at the parsonage: Kim, tú eres mi mujer buena. That is to say, Kim, you are my good woman. And then, Lazaro kept asking me if I was el jefe, or if Kim was la jefa, of the house. (I didn’t know then that El Jefe is one of the nicknames for Fidel in Cuba). It took me a long time that afternoon to figure out, through a version of charades and piecing together a word here and there of their explanation, what Lazaro’s question meant. Who’s the boss? Who’s the chief in your family, el jefe, or la jefa? We had a good time laughing when Kim came home and answered the question without missing a beat, complete with a pious straight face – por supuesto, !es el cristo! ¡Jesús es el Señor! Of course, it’s Christ, Jesus is Lord!
Paul’s words of advice concerning household management and family leadership has become something of a laughing matter in our culture. Many a man may have had dreams of a Major Nelson – Jeannie relationship, with a Yes, Master, your wish is my command response to every desire. But wives, submit to your husbands, and the accompanying traditional wedding vow for brides to love, cherish, and obey their grooms, often morphs from the genie dream into the Honeymooners and honeydo lists. Never was there a clearer case of Paul seeing through a glass darkly, or a mirror dimly, as when he tried to set up a family system based on the cultural mores and folkways of his time. A well-ordered family, for Paul, was akin to a well-ordered slave economy. Perfect submission, perfect delight, under the benevolent care of a wise ruler, a just jefe, a charitable chief of staff. A full reading of Paul’s statements about hierarchy and authority becomes more complicated, though, as he wades through the quicksand of cultural norms trying to find some solid footing. His words of obedience and authority end with more of a solid rock phrase, for God is no respecter of persons; God shows no favoritism, hearkening back to Paul’s other lofty words of equality – in Christ there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one.
Trying to set up a hierarchy of authority overlaid with an egalitarian assurance of equality is an awkward dance that never meshes with the rhythms of life, but oftentimes we still try to force those steps to work. I remember when Kim and I went to interview with the pastor search committee at Providence, to become co-pastors, the main question a couple of the folks had was around authority and decision making. Where would the buck stop? What if we disagreed on a matter concerning the church? Who would make the decision? Who’s the boss? I remember Kim giving a similar answer that she gave Lazaro and Xiomara – the buck ultimately stops with Christ, the Lord, and in a Baptist church, we believe in the priesthood of all believers, so we’ll work together to make collective and collaborative decisions. It may get messy at times (and it did at times), but it acknowledges a different kind of system, one where we are all part of the Body of Christ, who is the head. And to use a different metaphor from Jesus’ teaching, whether we are in a marriage or in a church family, we are to be equally yoked together with Christ’s light and easy burden of love and grace upon our necks. It may not be as clear cut or orderly, but for people immersed in the teachings of Jesus and the values of collaborative work, something just doesn’t gee and haw with the notion of submitting to an earthly master, be it a caring husband or a benevolent slave-owner.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.