The Liability of Mobility

Happy New Year, Reader!  I hope your holiday went well, or at least was tolerable.  I didn’t get into any fistfights with family this year, so I’m counting that as a win.

The bar is low in my life.

But while I’m sitting at my desk waiting until a concert tonight (the centerpiece of which is Holst’s Planets suite, which is one of my favorites), I keep looking over my shoulder at the parking lot behind my building and worrying.  The thing is that I live in a city and, in cities, parking is an incredibly tricky concept:  there are lots of cars, but not lots of spaces.  And they’re currently resurfacing my parking lot, which means I had to find somewhere else to put my car.

First world problems, I know; you may even be wondering why I have a car, living in the city.  I don’t use it much here—I walk to anywhere within about a mile and a half radius, which is the vast majority of the pieces of my life.  But I have it so that I can leave here.  My friends are several states away and I can’t afford to buy a plane ticket when I want to go home to see them; I sometimes have people or places I need to visit that are definitely not within walking distance and aren’t on any of the bus lines, either.  (Sadly, my city doesn’t have a subway or el system.)  I also have it so that I, as an up-and-coming pastor, don’t have to rely on the vagaries of public transit (rather less reliable and far-reaching here than in, say, NYC) to be able to get to my church or the hospital or one of my parishioners’ houses.

I also, to be perfectly honest, still have my car because of the freedom in it.  When my grandfather finally had to give up his driver’s license because he simply couldn’t see anymore to drive safely, he didn’t give it up voluntarily.  His sons had to wrest it from him because it was his last link to not having to depend on the rest of the family to get him around; it was his way of telling himself he wasn’t being a burden.  I get that, at a visceral level.  As a hella independent woman, I love that my car affords me the opportunity to leave if I must and go wherever I want (provided, of course, she holds together; she is almost 15 now, but I can’t even handle the idea of her demise and so refuse to acknowledge it).

In America, a car is a ticket to anywhere you have enough gas to go.  A car is a home—literally, for some, and I admit to having spent some nights in my car when I was travelling and couldn’t afford another option.  And my car is currently sitting in a lot where it might be towed.

Before you lecture me on taking risks with the possibility of towing, dear concerned Reader, let me say a) I know; there’s a story about a van in Chicago and a middle school youth group that has made me painfully aware of city towing consequences, and b) I did play by the rules for part of this.  One of the frustrating things about this parking lot makeover is that we weren’t given any avenues about what to do with our cars by the folks who own the building, simply the command last night to move them (I’m bitter about this mostly because they were supposed to do this repair over the holiday break when most of us weren’t here anyway, but nooo, now we’re all in the way…damn right I’m being petty about it).  So this morning I actually put my car in a lot, which wasn’t cheap.  But I could only leave it there so long, and besides, I had to get to work.  For the remaining hours, it’s not so much that I couldn’t afford the cost of meters or garages or whatever (I could definitely jostle other things in the budget to make it work, because even in being poor I’m pretty fortunate about the financial burdens I have; trust me, I’m aware that I could be a lot worse off and this is a tiny expense); it’s that it’s frustrating to me that I should have to simply because a company couldn’t be bothered to honor its commitments and my building super couldn’t be bothered to help a bunch of graduate students re-house their cars for a day.

sesser-pd-012Why am I complaining about so small a thing, you may well ask?  And what on earth does this have to do with God, especially as the first post of a new year?  Part of it is the simple amount of mental energy I’m putting into this.  My car has been tucked into the back of a lot that is usually half-empty for about three and a half hours now hoping against hope that the school that owns the lot won’t do a random sweep, and I tell you I have been nervous the entire time.  It’s exhausting, quite frankly, and of a far higher cost than the stupid garage would have been.  The principle of the thing is super ridiculous beside my concern that I might have to go rescue my car from the impound.

But what if I were even half as aware of God as I am currently of my car?  I don’t mean that someone could take God away from me, but how often have I considered the freedom God gives with the dedication I have to the freedom of this vehicle?  In this new year, how do I understand God’s place in my life—in relation to the car or not?  How can I live with the passion of appreciating God even more than that with which I appreciate my car?

UPDATE:  The lot is finished, my car was not towed, and she’s safely back in her spot.  I’m almost ashamed of how much my body unwound, Reader, when I saw her sitting right where I left her.  When have I ever had that intense of a reaction to realizing God is still, and always, with me, right where I walked away from Him?

 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:21, LEB)

People of the Books: Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger

I read this as part of a year-long look at how we do church and I must admit, it wasn’t my favorite of the nine or so books I had to read.  The concept of this book—take a good hard look at your church in the light of Clarity, Movement, Alignment (to mission), and Focus—is solid. This would have been a really great blog post or even a short series. It would make a wonderful diagram to hang in places of meeting, colorful yet stark. The message of getting rid of things that clutter your organization is useful for things that aren’t church; this encourages you to really be aware of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’re using the resources you have to do that thing.

Here, let me help you understand this book:

…the healthiest churches in America tended to have a simple process for making disciples.  They had clarity about the process.  They moved Christians intentionally through the process.  They were focused on the elements of the process.  And they aligned their entire congregations to this process.  (ix)

There.  Ignore that this completely focuses on the American church and doesn’t give any thought process to the global Church.  Ta-dah!  You literally now know the entire book; the rest of it is just data and stories to flesh out these four ideas.


But then it tries to be more than that diagram and kind of shoots itself in the foot. For starters, it’s hilarious that a book about being simple is 276 pages long (although part of that is because the font is hella big; seriously, it’s not even the large print version and yet has to be 16 point, which is just unnecessary). What’s worse is that this is trying to be an almost scientific study; much of the text length is taken up with bar graphs of their research to come up with this model. Bully for them for doing a survey and tabulating the results, but once you look at their data versus their conclusions, it’s not all that scientific. Take, for example, their graph for respondents’ level of agreement with the idea that their church limits special events (p. 217). Ignore for a second the fact that they bias their data immediately by comparing “vibrant” and “comparison” churches, which is one step short of “good” and “crap” churches and those are absolutely qualified terms with inherent connotations. Then look at the accompanying textual breakdown where they laud the “vibrant” churches for their 25% agreeing strongly compared to 6% of the “comparison.”

I’m not terribly much a scientist, but in terms of social constructs 1/4 isn’t usually overwhelming support. Also, the very next step down (“agree”) is equal between the two respondent types. What? Okay, that’s a way to say that yes, the “vibrant” churches lean more toward saying yes to this concept, but it’s not overwhelming and it’s not undeniable evidence.  This presents results with way more strength than they actually have and discusses this theory as though it’s obvious and entirely correct. It’s a model for how to consider the structure of one’s church (even though it says on page 3 that “[t]his book is not about another church model”), and I’m a little too much of an academic to accept their celebration over mostly average data (especially when they present it with simplified explanations to support their theory rather than acknowledging the complexity of their own responses).

It also gets really repetitive, as in “okay, now that you understand movement, here’s alignment.  Alignment comes after movement.  Movement was this, and alignment continues that with…” and on and on.  I promise, guys, I can keep themes and ideas in my head for several chapters at a time.  Although perhaps their target audience couldn’t—I was never entirely sure who their target audience, was, actually, since they were talking about being vibrant and aware and using very savvy churches as the good examples but then using completely outdated technological references.  (In two separate places [pp. 11, 173] Rainer and Geiger explain that a blog is a web log or online journal; this book was published in 2011, so hopefully someone bothering to read a how-to-be-relevant church book is at least aware of blogs and also by that time blogs were so much more than the diaries of the MySpace days anyway.)  And there were some bizarrely sexist moments that popped up, like this disclaimer about what Mary and Martha must have been like:  “At least, that is what our wives tell us.  We don’t claim to know about Martha firsthand.”  (p. 12)  And your wives do?  Do all women have an ESP link that I’ve missed?

There was a jarring mix of self-righteousness and apology from the authors; they laud themselves for this hilarious prank they pulled (during the freaking recession, mind you, when folks would have done an awful lot for a job) posting a fake church job that asked for people to hold conflicting theological styles of leadership.  The authors mock the people who applied for it, saying that they were obviously not committed to being true leaders for Christ.  What?  A) That’s a dick move, which I realize is scandalously strong language but I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hate pranks and there were certainly better ways these guys could have proved their point without lambasting unsuspecting people.  B)  Turning around and putting that in their book, making money off of the idea that they somehow have a better understanding of what it is to be a focused Christian, is just annoying.  You don’t get the Jesus prize for holding to your ideological tenets, sorry.

But up against that is an almost constant apology for being academic in the way they do their research.  Christians aren’t stupid, guys, and if you’re going to make sweeping assumptions about what church should look like, then I want all the data you can give me.  Own your work.  I’ll skim what I need to.

I appreciate the examination of a lot of business models to stress the efficacy of simplicity (Apple, Gap, and Google are all mentioned) but that’s a double-edged sword—the Church isn’t actually a business, and if you’re saying it should be then we have an entirely different conversation we need to have.  And even in the comparisons there was a lot of vagueness (who is “we?” what is “growth” for you?  How do you understand that particular anecdote in relation to your main point? When you talk about “this word translates,” from which language do you mean?).

Good to skim.  Definitely good to take with a large grain of salt.  Stick with the opening infographic.

 

Rating:  2.5/5 stars     

The Unanswered Ugliness

Happy new year, Reader!  I hope your holidays were life-giving (and if they weren’t, that your post-holidays have brought some life back to you).  Also, happy Epiphany; may we all find in this season whatever it is that that elusive star is hovering over for us.

I drove to visit friends and family on Christmas.  I usually drive on Christmas Day, reserving Christmas Eve for participating in the services at my home church before striking out to do the rounds of people on the holiday proper.  So I was driving, an audiobook in my CD player and the gifts (poorly) wrapped for my family knocking about on the passenger seat beside me.  I was nearing the end of the several-hour trip, anxious to get out of the car and eat something, to stretch and zone out for a while.  I came down the off-ramp of the interstate and there at the intersection was a woman holding a cardboard sign reading, “Please help.”

Here in the Land of Pilgrims there are a couple of folks who stake out the off-ramps as places to stand with their signs proclaiming homelessness, “God bless.”  I see them in the summer, standing in the sun like chipped statues of perseverance and despair.  But this past Christmas was outrageously warm for the season, warm enough that there on Christmas Day itself was this woman in a scarf and coat with her sign.

poverty-4I confess, Reader, that my first reaction was anger, not at her being there but at her sign—“Please help.”  Help how?  Help what?  If you’re going to ask me to help you, you should at least give me the courtesy of outlining what you need.  I find that I usually react with this wave of impatience at the Twitter-esque signs of the forsaken, their limited characters never telling me anything about what help looks like.  Do you want money?  A coat?  A roof for the night?  Prayer?  What do I have that you want?  What do I have that you need?

My second reaction was one of chagrin; I was driving in my own car to a house filled with food and people and heat and presents for me, even as I had a chair full of presents for others and my own backpack full of clothes and books for the visit in the backseat.  I hated that I had enough and this woman did not, and I hated it even more because it wasn’t transferable.  My clothes have been themselves gifts and hand-me-downs; the gifts for my family were mostly handmade because I’m terrible at buying gifts and I’m also not overwhelmingly wealthy myself.  I hated that I was—and am now, in retelling this—justifying my having as a shield against my assumption that she was lacking.

Because it was an assumption; again, I had no idea what help she needed.  I did not know, will never know what drove her to stand at this intersection with her cardboard sign on a warm Christmas Day.  I never know what to do about this, Reader, about these living signposts of the forgotten in our culture.  They are most often (at least here, at the edges of the city rather than downtown) at these crossroads, these places where I am on my way to something and couldn’t stop even if I had the nerve to do so, where my fellow impatient travelers are coming down the interstate behind me with their own homes to get to and their own places to be.  There is no time to stop and ask what help looks like, what is actually needed; there is no space to ask what these people’s names are and whether I truly have something they could use.

It makes me think of an episode of NCIS, a procedural drama I’ve watched since it first aired when I was in high school.  Abby Sciuto, the resident forensic scientist with a flair for Goth attire and an innocent heart of gold, reveals that she regularly visits with and helps out the homeless who camp out under an overpass in Washington, D.C.  The rest of her team applaud her reaching out and show that they do not engage this part of town, that they don’t even see it.  I am very much like them…and I wish I knew how to be like her.

Christianity makes this even more difficult, I think, because this Jesus dude was aware of His own intersection signposts.  He went to the poor, to the forgotten, to the broken and He asked their names, healed their wounds, ate at their houses.  He challenged those of us who follow after Him to do the same, and that’s hard because we are also told that the poor will always be with us and it is quite true that usually I have somewhere else to be.  I cannot stop and create a relationship with every woman holding a sign, every man standing next to a tattered old backpack.  There are other relationships that are equally as important that need attention and love and help.

But doing nothing feels so wrong.  And just giving money feels so wrong.  I’m not overly fond of simply giving things to people without spending some time with them, of handing them something and walking away, content in my own generosity.  But how to balance these, Reader?  How to be help without being patronizing, without draining myself and my other commitments?

How do I serve the poor without having to justify the life that I live that they do not?

I realize this is a bit much to be starting 2016 with, Reader, but I have the feeling it’s going to be that kind of year.  I got a phone call earlier this week telling me I’ve been accepted to seminary and that is huge and frightening and amazing and humbling and real.  So I’m going to be asking myself to see the hard questions, if not answer them.  If you have any answers, Reader, I would love to hear.

 

 

And he came to Nazareth, where he was brought up; and he entered, according to his custom, into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And [the] book of the prophet Esaias was given to him; and having unrolled the book he found the place where it was written, “[The] Spirit of [the] Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach glad tidings to [the] poor; he has sent me to preach to captives deliverance, and to [the] blind sight, to send forth [the] crushed delivered, to preach [the] acceptable year of [the] Lord.”  (Luke 4:16-19, DBY)

On My Own Four Wheels

The wind today in the Land of Pilgrims is ferocious, Reader.  The remnants of a storm that woke me with insisting fingernails of rain tapping my window at 5 this morning sweep through the valleys between buildings on this campus, whirling up the tower past my office window.  It whistles through the top notch I can never close because I can’t quite reach it.

It is a day in which I’m very glad I’ll be getting in my car and driving home for a little while before a concert.

This has not been the week I planned, not at all.  For the first time in a while I had several evenings in a row without meetings or obligations, evenings I planned to spend blissfully curled up with my laptop while I cursed my characters in this first week of NaNoWriMo.  I did end up getting to do some of that, but I also got to spend several days carless and worrying about repairs.

I live in a small city, Reader, where there is public transportation but it’s not the most efficient or user-friendly.  It is not an automatic assumption here like it is in New York or Chicago or London.  This is still very much car country, and as a single person who lives alone and has a pretty crazy schedule I rely very heavily on my car.  No bus gets to all the places I go, so when I don’t have a car, I lose a lot of freedom.

By freedom, I mean independence.

How American a statement!  I remember my father’s father adamantly insisting he could drive in his later years even though he was going blind and deaf and had a heart that never decided on a regular rhythm.  He knew that losing his license would make him, culturally speaking, baggage; an old leftover ferried around by his family, a burden, an afterthought.  He was an incredibly independent and stubborn man and he fought that loss until the doctors themselves said no more, we cannot allow you on the roads.  It was a point of some soreness for the rest of his life—which was a little less than a decade.

No one plans for their car to fall apart.  Mine is old (but don’t tell her) and has certainly been ill-used.  This summer alone we travelled together some 9,000 miles in about 4 1/2 months; she has been put through her paces, as have I, and it’s showing in some of the repairs I have to do.  But when they crowd together, demanding to be heard in clanking rumbles of discontent; when the repairman say we will have to do this, and this, and this, and this…Reader, I get so frustrated.

Part of it is that I am frustrated I can’t fix this myself.  I pride myself on being able to do little fix-its and delight in around-the-house type jobs.  I like knowing how things are put together; when I was a kid, I would exasperate my mother by pulling apart her pens to see if they all had the same pieces and then putting them back together with mixed success, depending on whether or not I’d lost the spring in the deconstruction process.  She started using a lot more pencils until I was old enough to be able to handle the concept of keeping all the parts.

But I don’t understand cars, and specifically I don’t understand my car.  I haven’t had the chance to pull up in a driveway and pop the hood to just explore the engine; I haven’t taken the time to crawl underneath with a book or a friend and memorize the chassis layout.  It irks me, Reader, that I fit the stereotype of the clueless female who walks into a mechanic’s shop and has no idea why there’s an upper and lower engine mount.

It’s also frustrating because, for the several days that I didn’t have my car, I had to rely on other people.  The horror!  The outrage!  The humility of it!  Oh, Reader, how amazing it is to see all the places in my life that I still stay, “No, I’ve got this, I’m okay” even when asking for help is the most logical thing to do.  One of my coworkers lives literally across the street from me; she was more than okay with ferrying me around for a few days, especially since the only places I went were work, home, and the shop.  I’ve no doubt that it would have been a bit different if I had had several meetings I needed to attend, but even that could have worked.  After all, have I not done the same for her in the many times she’s had car trouble?  I didn’t think anything of it because I understood that this was something she needed and I was in a position to help her out; no worries.

Yet when the positions are flipped, ALL THE WORRIES.

Oh, how much I want to know everything and be able to do it all by myself, to walk around on my own two feet and drive on my own four wheels and need nothing and no one.

Until the wry voice of God whispers, Even Me?  I was not created to know everything; I was not made to do all things by myself.  Even Jesus wasn’t master of all trades; He was a carpenter’s Son Who wasn’t as good at fishing as Peter or at accounting as Matthew.  And that was fine, because He was good at His thing—He was very good at His thing, thankfully.  But His thing wasn’t every thing, and if freaking Jesus didn’t do everything, what makes me think I can or should?

No, little one, it is grace to be in relationship with others.  (Even though it’s really great to have my car back.)

 

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  (Luke 10:33-34, ESV)

Quid est veritas?

“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate says in John’s account of his trial of Jesus.  It is a rallying cry of the relativist who speaks of nothing objective.  It is a query of the philosophical who seek to understand whether something can be “true” in any measurable sense among the nuances of speech and thought.

And it is, I found at the church conference, a very difficult question for this person of the Book.

Let me state that the conference itself was great.  I love going to conference even though it’s exhausting and weird and often frustrating as all get-out.  It’s the glory and mess of several hundred people representing several thousand people who are all trying to faithfully (at least, I hope so) follow this God Who gives mystery rather than fact as a general rule.  It’s the madness and the joy of listening to the people we are so convinced just Don’t Get It—and then being oh-so-convicted when we hear the folks gently show us a new way.  But that’s the thing, Reader—it’s a time, every year, for me to grow.  And growth is rough.

Talkative told me at one point that faith must have doubt or it isn’t faith, since faith that is absolutely certain is by nature certainty instead.  And one of the speakers at the conference mentioned that Martin Luther King, Jr. (whom everyone loves to have an excuse to quote) said that anyone who doesn’t doubt is a madman.  Doubt is a strong and constant tradition in the history of the Christian faith.  It’s never fun to encounter, though.

Much was discussed this year at the conference; my denomination is like every other in dealing with the concerns of the “relevance” of the Church in the 21st century and the change of congregations, talking about numbers and money and purpose.  And my denomination is like every other in pulling its heart out over the ways we work through things like rascism, homosexuality, sexism, generational gaps, wage gaps, poverty, and so much else in our earnest attempt to live like that weird sandaled prophet who wandered around a long-ago desert telling people there should be a different way.

But where I’m getting…tripped, I guess, because I’m delighted that I’m not getting stuck, is that we have this Book.  Good Methodist that I am, I get that the Book isn’t all that we have, but it is the foundation of all that we have, and that’s a big deal.  I know how my conservative friends feel when folks say, “Well, no, that Scripture is outdated and useless, we shouldn’t pay attention to it.”  Who gets to decide that?  Who sets the lines of which verses are “timeless” and which are culturally and chronologically bounded?  Some of them might seem obvious, but then how about the ones like “living by the sword”?  We no longer use swords.  Well, take the spirit of it, it could be said—but then what about the “spirit” of many of the other verses commonly thrown out as “clobber verses” for various taboos?

On the other hand, I will be first to stand up and say that I regularly ignore whole swathes of the Bible.  I was asked to sing for the opening worship service of the conference (a very weird and surprisingly moving experience) and I remember thinking about the absurdity of it as I sat on the stage-acting-as-chancel just before I took communion—me, a tattooed, short-haired, twice-pierced daughter of divorced parents on her period.  I had about as much Scriptural leeway to be part of that service—and to participate in the sacrament birthed out of the Passover memory—as Lucifer’s pet pig.  And notice, please, that this isn’t just throwing out all of those “boring” rulebooks of the Torah; this is also Paul and Jesus Himself weighing in on who and how we should be.  I know damn well that I cherry-pick.

So this, Reader, is my quandary—has been my quandary for a long time now, but it’s getting sharpened as I get deeper into this and begin having folks ask me these questions as though I have any idea how to answer them.  Where is the balance?  How do we understand that we have human and fallible writings (and yes, I’ll out myself in not thinking that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God from start to finish; I’ve worked with translation and language nuances and manuscript transmission far too much to believe that) to guide and instruct us on following an inhuman and infallible God?  How am I to say “no, the Bible says this is wrong, we can’t do that” when I am doing and living so much else that the Bible says is wrong?

And yet how can we not say these things?  We want so much for Jesus and this faith He sparked to be warm and fuzzy and filled with enough love to make even John happy, but love isn’t fuzzy.  Love pushes and remakes and refuses to settle; one of the hardest and most wonderful things Interpreter has ever said to me is that he loves me too much to let me stay the way I am.  We are called to demand more of ourselves and each other, stumbling toward perfection even if we have the sneaking suspicion we’ll never make it there in this lifetime.

So what is truth?  What is it to say that “God says” anything at all?  I don’t think that God has checked out into radio silence for two thousand years, not at all.   But I know right well that the Bible can be made to bolster nearly any argument you wish to make if you frame it right, which is both incredibly amazing in the sense of its breadth and incredibly disheartening because, well, I want to know.

Don’t we all, right?

 

As the Scriptures say: “There is no one who always does what is right, not even one.  There is no one who understands. There is no one who looks to God for help.  All have turned away. Together, everyone has become useless. There is no one who does anything good; there is not even one.”  (Romans 3:10-12, NCV)

The Paperwork of the Children of God

One of the cornerstones of what I do, Reader, is finance.  Trust me, never in a million years would I have thought I’d end up with a finance job, but I’m in charge of keeping track of and dishing out the money for my department.

Some days, this is the worst flipping job around.

Money is the one thing no one ever wants to talk about until you have it and they need it, at which point they still don’t want to talk about it but need to do some sort of transaction involving you and it and them.  I get that, but the past couple of weeks have been really trying as I learn to juggle a lot of new information and a lot of unexpected extra work surrounding some departmental things.  I’ve dropped the ball because I’ve never done this before, other people have dropped the ball because communication is awful, and frustration has been building for a couple of weeks now until yesterday, when I just had it.

I’m not saying I threw a temper tantrum in the office or anything, but after the third time of having to re-do a project because of various…miscommunications, I was done with the whole thing.  I had to hand deliver something to a different office and my boss advised me to just keep walking afterward for a bit.  So I did.  I actually also bumped into the College dean, who is my boss’s boss, which was fantastically unfortunate because I had zero filter at that moment.  He was rather sympathetic to my shortness of temper and let me be, because he’s a pretty awesome guy and he also knows the days when you are that close to ripping someone’s head off.  He bid me have a good walk and left.

So I walked.  I walked around the buildings I don’t go anywhere near usually, and I actually looked at some of the statues on campus, and I tried to find all of the colors in flowerbeds.  Luckily, it was a beautifully sunny day, and I just walked, and looked, and breathed.

Eventually I found myself next to the campus chapel (I don’t even know why I’m surprised anymore).  I went in, and I ranted.  I ranted about how mad I was with various people who were expecting me to have the answers to questions they hadn’t even asked yet, and how I hate that the language barrier really is a barrier sometimes, and how I totally make up most of my job because no one ever trained me and no one ever will—this is a learn-on-the-job environment, for sure.  I ranted about having to re-do work, and about how much it sucks to have other people be mad at you because they are themselves frustrated.

And I ranted about how scared I am that this will not change.

Here’s the thing, Reader—having accepted that God isn’t going to let me be about this ministry thing, I’ve latched on to that developing identity with the fierceness of a giant squid.  It’s not that I’m styling myself as a preacher (perish the thought!) but that understanding what is expected of a person in that profession is starting to shape me in my current one.  In the pursuit of ministry elsewhere, I’m finally starting to learn ministry where I am, which is great.  But one of the many things that terrifies me about that elsewhere is the possibility that I will get as bogged down in paperwork and finance and everything else as I am here and begin to hate that, too.  I’m under no illusion that ministry is somehow holier than any other profession—probably it’s less holy, in its own way.  But I am soundly under the illusion that I can bear that because I actually care about it.  I like my job, I do, but I don’t care much about it, and the idea that I would slip into that kind of nonchalance in the next career is discomforting in all manner of ways.

Does that make sense?  I have always heard that you should do what you love and love what you do; standing in that chapel yesterday, I knew I was doing neither and it broke my heart to think that I could reach that point in this new possibility.  I hated everyone, at that moment, for all of the stupidity of that day, week, month.  And I hated hating them.

One of the many things I love about God is that He has the infinite patience to sit through rants like that.  He won’t always—He’s cut me off before when I’ve been way off the mark and just deaf to what’s what.  But most of the time, He’ll let me spark and fizzle out before responding.  After I had spent myself about how people are crap, He said perhaps—but they are also My children.

With the rise of appreciation for yoga here in the West, people have become pretty familiar with the word “namaste.”  It means approximately “I bow to you,” but it carries the idea that “the divine in me honors the divine in you.”  While I don’t agree with the idea that we are each of us divine, I do definitely believe that each of us carries the God-spark of our Creator, our Parent.  I realized that I had forgotten my own humanity and compassion for my brothers and sisters, forgotten that even when they (and I) are stupid and bullheaded and uncommunicative, we are God’s.  He has claimed us.  This doesn’t mean that I can’t get angry or that I should allow people to disrespect me, but it does mean that I am not allowed to strip their humanity in my response.  The God-spark in me asks for treatment that recognizes I am a person, I am a beloved creation, and I deny that Presence of God if I do not do the same for the other.

So I walked back to my office, slowly, and ran my hand through the ornamental grasses, and breathed.  I do not know whether the next career will be filled with soulless paperwork that bleeds me dry.  I do know that that job, and this, are filled with souls, and they should not be forgotten by me.

 

 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  (Luke 10:36-37, NIV)

Advent, Week One: Little Drummer Boy

I can’t believe it’s that time of year already, Reader; in my mind, it’s barely the beginning of November.  But the turkey has been eaten here in the States, the snow has fallen (although we are currently snow-less here in the Land of Pilgrims), and I’ve seen the ringing Hershey’s Kisses commercial.  Ergo, it must be Christmas season—or, to those of us more liturgically minded, Advent.  With Advent comes a whole soundtrack, and I’m glad to welcome you back to it with me.

Little Drummer Boy has never been one of my favorite Christmas songs, but it’s one of those staples you kind of like in spite of yourself.  (Although I would never be this dedicated to the song.)  The lyrics are, well, not terribly imaginative, but can be cool when the rhythm of a drum actually makes its way through the song.  The thing about simple lyrics, though, is that sometimes they’re quite right to have nothing fancier overlaying them.

Come, they told me—for sure, I have been told that it is Advent, that I am to wait but also that I need to be at my two upcoming concerts and a few services and several work parties and family get-togethers piling on top of each other amidst friends’ invites that really only come at this time of year.  And it seems everyone else is bringing their fine gifts of the best bargain shopping and the knowledge of what people actually want—a talent I’ve never seemed able to master, as I don’t know the first thing about shopping for someone unless they give it to me in an itemized list.

So we come to honor Him (pa rum, pa pum, pum).  Yeah…I’m not doing so well on that this year.  I am poor this year, but grateful that for the first time in a while it’s not financially based.  I’m actually well situated as someone with no dependents or mortgages or anything other than medical bills and student loans.  I don’t worry about money like I used to, and that is fantastic.  But I am not wealthy.  I bring a poverty of spirit to this King just born, an apathy born of exhaustion in this season of ever-merry more.  I bring all sorts of talents I’m not using on instruments aplenty, including my bodhran drum, two guitars, a harp, several recorders, a pan pipe, and a nose flute.  I bring this so-much that I have and I bury it under the nothing that is in my heart.  I am not playing my best for Him.  Some days I’m not even sure I’m playing at all.

The thing about this song is that it pushes us to use what we have instead of wishing we could offer something else.  God doesn’t want our incredibly well-thought-out gifts from the doorbuster sale at Macy’s, He wants us.  He wants us to see the talents He’s given us, the incredible amount of sheer being that we have.  He wants us to offer that back in recognition of what an amazing gift that is, of what we have been asked to steward within ourselves for Him.

I ask for your prayers, Reader, that I can come to a place in this season of waiting where I can do that.  I ask for your prayers that I recognize that my spirit is not poor because it draws from the unquenchable well of the Spirit, the King Who smiles and tells me that even if all I have is the trust of sharing my lack of riches with Him, that is enough because it is freely given.  You are also in my prayers, Reader, that you may have the courage to give what you have, even if it is only the thump of your drum, in recognition of the coming of this King.

 

 

Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.  (2 Cor. 9:7-8, HCSB)