Friday, April 4, 2014 – Week of 4 Lent, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 102 (morning) // 107:1-32 (evening)

Exodus 2:1-22

1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3

Mark 9:2-13

At some point early in high school, a guidance counselor spoke to my class about the college application process. She gave us a worksheet that, like most college applications at the time, asked us to list our activities and accomplishments under a broad range of categories. These categories included Service, Leadership, Arts, Athletics, and a few others that I can’t remember. The counselor said that we should aim to have a few items in each category, because colleges were looking for students who were “well-rounded.”

Thus we see the vast discrepancy between manufacturing people to satisfy institutions and forming people to strengthen the body of Christ. I spent much of high school as a mediocre swimmer on the Junior Varsity swim team (which had no try-outs), as a probably burdensome volunteer shelving a few books at the public library, and as a safety hazard in my Auto-Shop class (which I took to balance out my academic course load). All in the name of some ideal of well-roundedness.

I did love and excel in my cathedral choir, but I remember being so vexed about whether to list choir under “arts” or “leadership,” since I was the Head Girl. Where would it be more impressive? Where did I need more balance? Fortunately, I could save my choir experience as a desperately-needed example of leadership, since I landed a role as an extra in our school musical, “Pippin,” in my senior year. That took care of the arts!

Imagine if, instead of pressuring people to be well-rounded, we offered people of all ages a model of formation along the lines of today’s second reading. Instead of striving to be well-rounded, we would discern our special gifts and how to use them with a clearly loving purpose. Paul asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” Of course not. We don’t all need to do everything.

I also love Paul’s ideal of what it means to excel. He writes, “But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a more excellent way.” This more excellent way is to value love above any other gifts—gifts of speaking and interpreting, prophetic and deep understanding, tenacious faith, and extravagant generosity. Without love, Paul writes, “I am nothing” and “I gain nothing.” To love is to excel.

Since high school, I’ve learned two important things:

(1) Institutional fads come and go. College admissions offices now trend away from the “well-rounded kid” ideal and instead want kids who are “unique.” By contrast, the gifts that Paul speaks of bind us into a body that transcends time and the various trends in what it means to be a good person.

(2) Very few students have the privilege of anyone giving them guidance on planning ahead for what their college applications will look like. I was incredibly lucky. By contrast, the gifts that Paul speaks of

do not discriminate: The body of Christ organizes itself around gifts wherever they appear, and not around categories like race, class, or gender.

Throughout our lives, including today, we have to contend with pressures that try to mold and form us to fit into the world around us. We have to recognize the gifts that are different in kind but distributed throughout a range of people. Our purpose is to attend to the gifts that God has given all of us and to grow into the body of Christ. After all, a jagged-edged soul probably slides into place and sticks with the kingdom better than something well-rounded.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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