I Was Me but Now He’s Gone

These are lyrics from Metallica’s Fade to Black, a 1984 rock ballad about James Hetfield’s struggle with suicidal inclinations (Hetfield was the singer and lyric guitarist of the band).  I have these lyrics and I have a three-day late post because last week a friend of mine killed himself, and Reader, that really fucks up your schedule.

This is not my first loved one to die.  It isn’t even my first suicide.  But that doesn’t matter; if you’ve lost someone by any means, you know that this never gets easier.  Each new death is a suckerpunch, a chalk outline of that person in your life.  I have no real problem with death, but suicides are hard.  Suicides carry not only grief and sorrow but anger, doubt, guilt, frustration—that whole cocktail of “what did we miss” and “how dare he” and the sheer suddenness of it.  It’s a mess, a stupid, painful mess.

I suppose the one good thing about suicides is that no one tries to comfort you with the usual empty platitudes like “it was his time” or “God needed him” or whatnot.  Hint, from someone who has worked as a pastor and a hospital chaplain:  that sort of nonsense is unhelpful.  I get that we who are not part of the grieving circle want very much to help our grieving friends, and I get that grief makes everybody uncomfortable because we humans so desperately want to fix hurt even if that’s not really the best thing to do, but don’t do that.  God doesn’t yank folks out of the realm of the living because some hourglass ran out of sand or because He needed someone with the specific skill set to hang a new wall rug or something.  Even if either of these were true, they are awful to say to someone who is in grief because it downplays that grief, makes it seem selfish to feel that loss.  I mean, there’s a reason our English language calls it “loss”—it’s not because we’ve misplaced someone but because there is that hole in our lives that is no longer filled, that sense of missing a piece of ourselves.  I have lost my friend.

He lost himself.

And it’s funny, in a sad sort of way, that I’m at a divinity school and I reached out to several of my friends here and back home in the Land of Pilgrims, and it took about five conversations with people before anyone was willing to go theological with me about this.  Thankfully my friend Prudence gave me space to say hey, I’m absolutely on board with what The United Methodist Church says about how suicides aren’t automatically damned but my friend was of no faith before that, what does that look like?  How do I mourn someone who turned his back on not just the Church but the God Who started it?  How do I square the many, many conversations he and I had because my friend was tickled pink to have a religious leader like me around to ask questions of when he found the courage to do so?

Telling me that it isn’t my place to judge where people go after death and that God is much bigger than my imagination misses the point completely, so please don’t do that.  What Prudence understood was that I am an exclusivist in my theology, which means that I do believe in a Heaven and a Hell and I do believe that dying isn’t an automatic ticket to Heaven, although I also don’t believe in the laundry list that’s usually trotted out of reasons people go to Hell and I also don’t believe that Hell is a fiery mess of torture or that it’s even limited to the time after death.  I think we can create Hell just fine right here while we’re alive, and I think my friend may have been in it for suicide to seem like a good plan.  But I don’t know, and I never will, and that’s as much grief and pain in itself, and Prudence let me work through that without trying to answer it for me or let me get to a place where it felt answered.  That was good.

But my friend is still dead.

grief-straight-line-and-jumbled-circleAnd will remain dead, and in my estimation will die a hundred thousand more times over the coming years when I reach moments where we usually did something together and he isn’t there, or when I think to text him something funny and remember he won’t answer, or when I want to invite him to things and know he can’t come.  Mr. Honest suggested I think of moments like this as ways to say hello to the memory and the spirit of my friend, to invite him in.  Mr. Honest is far more compassionate and optimistic than I am.

Amidst this is the fact that I went to a birthday party this weekend, and a cookout for a friend who’s about to be married, and last week before this news I went to a wedding, and it is good to have a plethora of friends who are living to help me constructively grieve this one who is not.  Because the grief comes in waves, and is not a linear process that tapers at one end.  Now he’s gone.  I am a different me.

 

 

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,

But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones,
Not one of them is broken.  (Psalm 34:18-20, NASB)

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Grace Isn’t Free

Right, so one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith is the idea that grace is free, in that you don’t earn it and you can’t make yourself more grace-filled by cashing in extra chips or something.  Grace isn’t about what we give at all, ergo, free.

That part is true:  we can’t earn grace.  We can’t earn God’s love, or forgiveness, or presence.  In that we can’t pay for grace, it’s free.  But what I’ve been ruminating on for a bit now is that grace isn’t free in the sense of having no cost.  I don’t know why this has never occurred to me before, given the idea that we’re supposed to carry crosses and that ain’t cheap labor, but grace is actually the most costly thing in existence.  Grace is not something for nothing, and I’m not in the least the first person to figure that out.  There are plenty of sermons and blogs and all sorts of things that talk about the price of grace.   No less than Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about the idea of “cheap grace” as a disgraceful thing.  Grace is something for the entirety of who you are and who you wanted to be and how you understand your own life.  Grace costs everything.

I head back to the Wicket Gate on Sunday for my last year of this degree and Reader, I could not be more thrilled to have the end in sight.  This experience has cost me dear:  I’ve spent money, I’ve lost innocence, I’ve had property and physical safety and emotional integrity taken from me.  I have paid a high price for this experience, one that isn’t done collecting yet, and I will be very glad to move toward closing this particular chapter of my life.  Looking at how much this has cost me over the past couple of years has led me, again and again, to the awful realization that I didn’t get it wrong.  I feel quite strongly that this is where I needed to go to do this, even with all the shit it’s brought.

I don’t say that to say that God in any way wanted me to suffer, because I don’t go in for the manipulative and sadistic god concept.  It is to say that there are amazing things that have come out of this experience.  I have friends I never would have met otherwise who are teaching me all sorts of things and learning from me things I didn’t know I had to offer.  I’ve grown deeply, anchoring myself in a whole new kind of faith that I still don’t fully understand and that still needs a lot of work.  And I’ve been plunged headfirst into the recognition that grace is what sustains me through all the shit and all the sunshine; that it is grace that binds me together and attaches me to the God Who continues to call me.

But it isn’t free.

ba1dcdd7ebb6dc59cd80c7e00f1cddb9In both the Midwest and the South I often see bumper stickers proclaiming “freedom isn’t free,” which is a sentiment with which I agree in principle if not in application.  The concept of freedom, of being able to choose one’s own path, requires payment—whether that payment comes in terms of labor and time on the part of those who came before to guide a system into freedom, or in terms of lives laid down to protect human rights, or in terms of actual money and services paid to unhinge the injustices that perpetuate various kinds of slavery depends on the context in which we discuss freedom.  But there is always a cost of some format, and grace is like that.  Grace comes at cost, not in a substitutionary atonement kind of way where a vindictive god had to kill his son because we’re all evil but in a kind of way that acknowledges we killed a Man because He rocked our world too far and God took that death and made it redemptive, made it holy, makes us holy a little piece at a time when we realize that God extends grace and then asks for everything that we have ever been and ever will be in return.

The thing about grace is that, once you receive it, you’re totally fine paying that highest of costs.  It is worth everything; it is that pearl of great price, that marvelous wonder, that gift that keeps on giving.  I’m willing to pay everything because I am given everything, not in return but alongside, in, through, despite, around, on top of.  This grace thing is astounding and fair knocks me over when I consider what a lifeline it truly is.  But it isn’t free.  Nothing is.

And I won’t lie, I’m a bit grumpy about that bait-and-switch there.  But then, I’m grumpy about most things.  It’s a character trait.

 

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  (2 Corinthians 12:8-9, ESV)

Plant Parenthood

I have not been shy on this blog about naming my complete lack of desire to have biological children of my own.  I don’t believe that I have any intrinsically maternal set of feelings that manifests despite my lack of children like pressurized air or something.  But I do grant that humans are generally built with the capability and need to love and care for other things, and my ability to express love tends to come out for the strangest things.  I care for inanimate objects a lot:  I’ve named my laptop, printer, and car; I have a tendency to say hello to my apartment when I’ve been gone for a really long day; I apologize to furniture when I bonk into it (this, I’ve discovered, is simply a side of effect of having grown up in the Midwest).  Part of learning to love and care for animate things has developed with owning plants.

I have five plants:  Medusa is an aloe vera, Cinnamon is a mother-in-law’s tongue, and Gwen Smills, Ralph, and Triton are all spider plants.  Yes, these are the actual names of my plants.  There are stories behind every one, naturally.  I blame my ownership of these plants entirely on my friend Discretion, who is a natural gardener who knows the names of all the green things and refused to believe my dislike of them.  She gave me Ralph for my birthday several years back and it just spiraled from there.

It’s funny; I’ve truly become emotionally attached to these blasted things.  One year there was an intense cold snap in the Land of Pilgrims and Ralph was in my car for a moment while I was de-icing it and he got so pale and droopy I thought he was going to die, and Reader I can’t even handle how distraught I was at the prospect.  But that’s the weird thing about us humans:  we can love so fiercely it hurts us, which is kind of how the whole thing works because if we loved any less fiercely we would never be able to withstand the sorrow this life can bring.

10-29-16I bring up my plants, which my mother has adopted in the recognition that she’ll never get human grandchildren from me, because a while back Ralph and Gwen got flowers and I freaked out.  I called Discretion to essentially have her explain to me what was happening (no, not in a “birds and bees” kind of way, but in a “do I need to re-pot them or give them different kinds of sunlight or whatever” way).  After laughing at me for a solid 15 seconds, she said this is how plants work and no, I didn’t have to do anything differently.  They would be fine doing their merry little thing, and if the extra shoots became too difficult to sustain I could break them off or they would fall off as the plant cared for itself.  In fact, Discretion told me, I would do more harm than good if I tried to micromanage these new growths—or if I tried to stunt them altogether, refusing to let my plants “grow up,” in a way.

The thing about plants, or pets, or friends, or children, or spouses, or anyone for whom you learn to care deeply is that you learn to think outside of yourself.  You learn to talk to the plants because they benefit from the carbon dioxide; you learn to set your laptop aside because the cat wants to hang out with you for once; you learn to stop thinking through your to-do list when your friend is telling you a story.  And you learn to think within yourself and set the boundaries you need:  that the plants will not automatically die if you can’t water them at the same time every week, or that setting aside the laptop tonight simply isn’t feasible and the cat will have to deal with it, or that you don’t have the time to properly invest in this story right now and can we please set a time when you can.

We learn to love ourselves and our neighbors, of all kinds.

We also learn that we can’t control everything, which is the worst lesson ever because I absolutely want to—or, at least, I think I want to.  It would actually be zero fun and very stressful to control everything, which is why it’s good that God is God and I am not.  But I can’t tell my plants to bud on my terms, and I can’t tell the cat when he should play, and I can’t tell my friends who they should be.  I can try—and I do, trust me—but I can’t control any of that.  I have to learn to love alongside, to allow, to share in without taking possession of.

We learn to love our neighbors, of all stages.

People have told me before that I won’t ever understand God if I don’t have children, which I think is complete bullshit both because I will never fully understand God no matter what I do and because I can experience God and God’s relationship with me through a thousand and five other perfectly legitimate avenues.  But I get the idea behind it, that learning to love and let go, and the recognition that God works through the same thing.  God has the benefit of knowing everything and being in all times simultaneously, so He does have it quite the same, but that kind of love that lets someone else go at their own pace is a real, shared frustration.  Free will is a maddening invention, and I give mad props to God for letting it go this long.

Or, with my plants, let grow.  I cannot make them flower or stop flowering.  But I can appreciate that God created things that flower, in their season, and is caring for them when I have no idea how.  God is also caring for me, even when I decide to suddenly have flowers or not have flowers, or sprout new shoots of my life, or whatever other new idiocy I dream up because it would seem I have an endless store of ways to wander from God’s good plans for me.  Fortunately, God doesn’t have to phone a friend to deal with it.

I still do, though.  It’s a human thing.

 

“Look at the flowers in the field. See how they grow. They don’t work or make clothes for themselves.  But I tell you that even Solomon with his riches was not dressed as beautifully as one of these flowers.”  (Matthew 6:28b-29, ICB)

For King and Country

With the American holiday of Independence Day smack in the middle of this week, I’m all kinds of discombobulated, so sorry for the even-later-than-usual post.  Happy belated 4th, if you’re in the states or an ex-pat—I mean, happy as a relative term.

Patriotic holidays have always been…squelchy for me, even before I was a person of faith.  I’m a historian and a writer, and both of those lenses make it hard for me to pledge allegiance to stuff—much funnier in light of my also being an Enneagram Six, which means that my personality desperately wants to pledge allegiance to stuff and be loyal forever but can’t because we’re super skeptical about how that’s going to go.  But certainly this year I was not feeling all that proud of the red, white, and blue.

Before we get into a discussion, Internet, about the respect for the soldiers and the need to recognize sacrifice and all that, let me tell you a couple of things.  I sit in the middle, as with nearly everything:  my maternal grandfather served in the Navy in WWII and stood with pride at every possible parade or service he could up to his death; my paternal grandfather was a Conscientious Objector, a pacifist who had to write the American president to get permission to be a CO because his mayor and governor both dismissed his claim as unpatriotic.  My stepbrother served in Afghanistan and watched his best friend’s head get blown off by a sniper.  I have watched classmates and family go to war and I have watched classmates and family stay here.  I have friends who have served and friends who have not.  I myself nearly signed up for the Army before I realized that I am temperamentally unsuited for it in every way, shape, and form.

But for this particular holiday, none of that matters.  One of the unfortunate things about American patriotism (nationalism) is that we bleed our holidays together.  Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day become a hazily similar mix of troop support and fireworks, flags snapping smartly along street lanes in small towns and everyone settling into the heat for a good American barbeque.  And I have nothing against fireworks and barbeque, but the Fourth of July is a historical thing.  We are celebrating, as a nation, the time when our ancestors told an empire that enough was enough, that freedom was a right.

indexFunny how the right of freedom was terribly limited even as the words were written, which we’re getting better at acknowledging.  But Independence Day is, as I said, squelchy to me because I ascribe to a faith system that believes in freedom up to and including from global systems and human-made power structures.  I am free in Jesus Christ, not because I’m American.  I’m also free as an American, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Several years ago I was doing pulpit supply (basically substitute preaching) for a small church near the Land of Pilgrims and it was Independence Day weekend—it may actually have been July 4 that Sunday, actually.  At the children’s moment, an older gentlemen stood up  and told the kids it was the holiday weekend and had them recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag that he brought out of the corner so they could see it.

I was so floored I couldn’t have said anything even if it were my place to do so, which it decidedly was not.  In this “nation under God” (a phrase that is very modern and not original to the Founders, who very much understood there to be a separation of Church and State; God is in the Declaration of Independence as the Supreme God, Providence, and a Judge because the Founders were appealing to the divine right of revolution, not because God was the overseer of this new nation) we get really mixed up about who’s in charge.  Here’s the thing:  our earthly citizenship is fine and dandy, but it is not and cannot be our ultimate allegiance.  “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” says Psalm 24; when we take our American pride into God’s house or when we elevate it to a civic religion of our identity as Americans being a cornerstone of who we are, that’s a problem.

That’s idolatry.

So I hope everyone had a good Independence Day, I really do.  I had sloppy Joe’s and watched part of a cornhole tournament (yes, there really is such a thing) and saw some fireworks from the back porch; I get the delight of celebration.  But when we cheer on the fact that we as a country separated from another country because they were trampling on what we perceived to be our rights, we should cheer only after taking a really hard look at whether we’ve become what this nation fought against in the first place.  And whether we’re celebrating a national identity that idolizes the eagle, the flag, or the soldier.

We can be Christians and Americans.  But our being Christian had better shape how we’re being Americans, or there are some things we need to figure out.

 

 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.  This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.”  (Daniel 2:44-45, NIV)

I Am Too Poor to Die

It’s been a strange few weeks here in the Land of Pilgrims; there have been several graduations, a sermon, lots of unexpected conversations, and a few deaths.  It’s the deaths paired with the graduations that have me pondering because it’s such a be2a37bhginning/end moment.  In working on a funeral for one of the deaths (things they definitely don’t teach you in divinity school, in case you were curious) I had the opportunity to be part of several conversations about the way one dies, and realized anew an important thing.

It is fucking expense to die in the United States of America.

I mean to die as in the fading of a long life, not necessarily to die of a quick and unplanned tragedy like a car accident.  And I mean to die, not to be buried; after all, that’s what we have life insurance for, which is its own bizarre horror that we have to ensure our loved ones can afford to do something with the bodies we leave behind because our society can’t bear not to profit off of such a simple thing as returning us to the earth in some way.  I mean to die; to grow old and infirm, to have a body that shuts down system by system, to be mortal.  I mean to have the cost of medication, and nursing homes, and people to help you close out your earthly affairs, and people to ensure your stuff goes to the right people when you aren’t there to oversee it.  I cannot afford that.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to afford that.

Tied up in this is the awareness that I do not have children or a spouse, and it is highly improbable I’ll ever have the former and uncertain about the latter.  Despite our American individualism, our society is in no way built to accommodate that.  Where once it may have been the community to take in those without biological family, now it is often the State—because what friend can afford the cost of a nursing home?  Of medical care so that dying doesn’t hurt the whole way down?  I can’t afford to die by measure of people, either, not just money.

This is a sobering thing, not because I’m scheduled to die anytime soon (to my knowledge, at least, though human knowledge of such things is essentially non-existent) but because I am old enough now to see these possibilities.  My body is beginning its falling apart, as mortal things do, and I can feel that in a way I couldn’t in my 20s.  I don’t bounce back as easily as I once did.  And my friends (most of whom are 20 or 30 years older than I) are teaching me about the quiet shift from the autumn to the winter of one’s life.  It is the worst to think I will outlast them, although they would be outraged and furious if I did not.

I’m preaching in a couple of weeks on Psalm 130, a psalm of hope for the ending of spiritual dark times, and it’s just been interesting to have that in my mind while saying goodbye to these acquaintances whose bodies simply stopped, these people who could not stop dying in order to afford it.  Scripture has no language I know of to deal with the modern cost of dying; it focuses on the spiritual cost, the emotional cost, but the idea of working a lifetime to be able to afford death at its own pace frankly sickens me.  I don’t know what to do with that feeling other than entrust you with it, Reader, you who may have watched someone dance awkwardly through the system with a fistful of precious dollars and a body that no longer obeyed, you who may still think you’ll live forever, you who might also have no one guaranteed to sit with you at the end.

What a society we have built that the natural aspect of our bodies ceasing to be should ever be counted an encumbrance, an annoyance, a cost of which to be afraid.  Death itself is the simplest thing, but how much there is before it!  How can we say we are not a fallen race when we profit from pain and make wretched the process none of us can outrun?

God, in Your mercy, be with the poor who never lived comfortably and now cannot afford to die comfortably, either.  Be with the lonely who have no one to walk with them until they see You.  God, in Your mercy, help us learn to let each other die in dignity, as fully human as You envision us to be.

 

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
   Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.  (Psalm 130:1-2, NIV)

The People We Are

There’s a worship song that’s stuck in my head at the moment but in that frustrating way where it’s only one phrase, one part of the song running over and over again without letting me get to the rest of the song so I even know what it is.  The phrase is “this is the people we are,” and it’s a sucker punch to me today because I am having a really, really hard time with the people we are.

umc502I just finished my United Methodist Church Annual Conference, which is four days of 1,800 people bickering and worshiping and chatting and judging and connecting with each other.  It’s a very weird space, to be honest, that is both outrageously holy and maddeningly horrible.  It was less painful than last year and we passed a lot of pretty toothless legislation of how the conference would encourage churches to think about taking stands on some things.  I don’t mind so much that that we aren’t forcing churches into action because I love that the UMC is trying to hold a lot of different opinions together; what I mind is this appearance of engaging things without being anything other than lukewarm.

Is this the people we are?  Are we folks who value unity more than decisiveness?  Because #TrueConfession:  I am that person.  If I decide that I like someone or some organization, I will fight like hell to keep it together even if I know that that isn’t the best course of action.  (It takes an awful lot for me to like someone or something, so part of it is the invested time.  I’m also hella allergic to change, which is hilarious considering my life pattern and my profession.)  So will I avoid the conflict of saying we need to take a stand on this?  Yep.  For as long as I can.

To some degree, I think that’s a good trait.  My being less inclined to force a decision means I get invited to a lot of different kinds of spaces that I might not otherwise be.  It means people feel that I don’t judge when I listen (which is sort of true; some of that is that I have a better poker face than people think).  It means that I will stay in a conversation or relationship for a while because it matters to me to preserve that even when I’m mad about it.

But for sure there’s a downside.  My being less inclined to force a decision means I stay silent when I absolutely should not.  It means I allow myself to be a bit of a doormat sometimes.  It means I don’t call people on bullshit that is harmful and cruel.

One of the things that is hard to talk about in a post-modernist world (which is a fancy term that just means we are beyond the mindset that somebody termed “modernist” that characterized the last half of the 20th century) is the idea of Truth.  One of the tenets of the post-modernist school of thought is that situation determines concept; if I’m from, say, Texas, I’m going to think about things like spacial relation and a relationship with Mexico differently than if I’m from Vermont.  Or if I’m a white woman (which I am), I’m going to approach a text or event differently than if I’m a black man.  And I can’t ever not be affected by that; if I’m a white woman from Texas, I can’t ever sidestep the way that shapes my thinking.

Unfortunately, this really easily becomes a conversation about whether or not there can be any idea or concept that is true across contexts.  If my viewpoint can be changed by my outlook/situation/background, it will always be different than anyone else’s since no one else has the same combination of events and personality and such that I do.  So can anything be capital T True?  Some post-modernists would say no, all is relative.

I think that’s crap, and I think that’s how we get into spaces like this Annual Conference’s wishy-washy legislation and my general distaste for asking people (myself included) to declare where we stand on Hard Issues.  It is not relative that children should not be starved or separated from their loved ones and traumatized.  That’s bad.  It just is.  Why it’s bad can be relative; how it happens can be relative.  But the idea of whether or not you should be able to harm children carries across every aspect of healthy humanity.  Likewise, we shouldn’t be afraid of people simply because they look different than us.  How that fear manifests is relative.  Who that fear is about is relative.  But simply looking at a person and fearing him/her without any other information at all is not a mark of healthy humanity.

So when we have legislation in the Church that talks about how the Church deals with sexuality, I get that it’s a firestorm because the how is murky depending on ideology and position.  When we have legislation that deals with U.S. wars and the Church’s position in supporting or speaking against them, I get that people get heated.  But when we have stuff that’s about whether we should speak against kids being put in cages and left alone, or whether it’s a bad idea to treat women as subhuman, and there’s debate on that?  That’s crap.  Those are absolutes.  The value of a human being a human and not being harmed for simply being a human is a Truth.

Unless that is not the people we are.  In which case, we need to really look at what kind of people we have actually become.

 

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  (1 Peter 2:9-10, NIV)

Pastors Work More than Sundays

Greetings from the Land of Pilgrims, reader!  I’ve safely made it back up to my homeland for the summer to serve as “seminarian in residence” (the staff voted on it, I did not come up with that) at my home church.  This is the end of the first week and hoo boyo, I did not actually know what pastors do for a living.

image3d

There’s supposed to a thing of 3D balloons in this.  If you can see it, bully.  It does not exist in my world.

So this week has been weird because I’m at a church I know well but at which I’m functioning in a totally new capacity.  Previously, I’ve been a congregant, a teacher, a leader of sorts, but I’ve never been on staff.  I’ve also never really had to see the whole picture of this church, noting the connections across the wide web and paying attention to the full administrative layout.  It’s a whole new way of thinking, which makes this feel like a new church, which is terrifically jarring in its way.  It’s sort of like those godawful drawings from the 90s that seem to be just geometric patterns until you cock your head just so and all of a sudden there’s a ship.  (I was never, ever good at those.  I couldn’t see the damn ship even after friends outlined it to me.  I don’t know what that means about my brain processes.)

But anyway, I’m learning to see the ship now and it takes some doing.  This first week was just shadowing Interpreter, the lead pastor, to as many meetings as possible (and oof is that a whole other weirdness, to add that role to the complex mess of Interpreter and I).  I worked about 35 hours from Sunday morning to Thursday night and I swear to you at least 80% of that was meetings.  Not that I’m complaining—when they’re run well, I actually like meetings (I know, it’s an illness) because they’re concrete ways to get specific kinds of information from people in a set amount of time.  But holy crow, the vastness of the information this particular pastor has to oversee is daunting.  I can’t do this for a living.

The thing that I’m trying to tell myself (since this is only the first week and all and panicking now is a bad idea) is that I probably won’t have to; each church is unique to itself and has its own way of doing administration and business, for better and for worse.  Even if I were assigned to this particular church at some point down the line (and that would top the weirdness meter), it won’t work like it does under Interpreter because churches change just like any family/organization.  This is a fantastic learning opportunity, to see this scale and be able to add or lose bits as I need them in moving forward.  And Interpreter is really good at making sure to toss me at whatever he can so I can see that, too, and then ask questions about it and compare it to what I already know so that I actually understand rather than just observe.

I’m not in the camp of folks who say “oh, Jesus didn’t have to go to meetings like this and it’s a perversion of the priesthood that we have to” because Jesus and I have very different kinds of ministry due to our time and cultural differences.  I go to meetings but He got crucified, so I think I’m okay with my lot.  Even Paul was nearly stoned to death a few times and was then executed, so I’m not going to say that going to two meetings about the facilities in the same day is a cross to bear.  But it does mean that I have to be super mindful of what my own spiritual life looks like while I’m doing this.  One of the meetings this week was basically a clergy support group where some area pastors can get together and remind each other why they felt called to this on the days when there is just one email too many, and that was fascinating.  We ended up talking about how necessary it is to have some kind of life outside the pastorate, some hobby or whatever that is not this kind of service to remind ourselves of who we are outside the metaphorical collar.  Nobody is going to give us that because there is always something to be done.  But we have to give that to ourselves; no one can serve water from an empty well.

It’s funny, this being my second internship in a church setting, to think that I could actually learn how to pastor.  You can’t.  It’s a monstrosity of a job with 1,000 arms and it’s a different color every day and sometimes it eats you; yes, the pastorate is, in fact, the kraken.  But there is ministry, and service, and love, and hope, and the good work to which we all are called, professionally or not, in most of it.  (Not all.  Poorly run meetings are Hell.)

But damn is this whole thing hard for an introvert.  Reader, I have peopled so much this week.  Pray for my people skills.  I’ll keep you updated on the meetings.

 

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. (2 Corinthians 9:12-13, NIV)