Maybe you aren’t disgusted enough just yet

road-mountains-street-countrysideSojourner. Exile. Pilgrim. Alien. Foreigner. Immigrant.

These are words that most uniquely describe God followers throughout Scripture and history. You might say such designations find their ultimate expression in Jesus’ words from John 17.16 “They [my disciples] are not of this world, as I am not of this world.”

But most Christians–in America, at least–are indistinguishable from the world.

Why?

Jesus is so clear. The prophets are clear. The apostles Paul and Peter and John are clear. James, the brother of Jesus is clear–friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God.

So why the willingness to get in bed with the world, to lay there, strewn about in an adulterous sprawl?

Maybe we aren’t disgusted enough. That’s Eugene Peterson’s answer in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. More accurately,

A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way.”

There’s Eugene. Whispering wonder into world-weary souls that have been consumed by consuming everything and having nothing to show for it.

Until you’re really disgusted with the pattern of wanting, getting, and regretting, nothing will change. Until the tastes of momentary indulgence and fleeting happiness are no longer appetizing, nothing will change. Let alone choosing the way of Christ. The Way that says the more of yourself you give away, the more you find.

How much more will you have to get, consume, envy, or lease before you are disgusted enough to change? And when that disgust reaches a tipping point, to what or whom will you turn as an alternative?

This turn, biblically speaking, is called repentance.

 

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Here’s what may be sabotaging your satisfaction

Don’t worry, I’m a pastor.

That’s my new line for ensuring anyone and everyone that I’m trustworthy, and also poorer than them.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about your dissatisfaction with life!

  • Your job isn’t fulfilling.
  • Getting that degree was supposed to make all the difference.
  • This relationship should’ve been the one.
  • The new car smell wore off, but the payment continues on.

I can speak to this phenomenon of dissatisfaction from any number of angles, both anecdotally and personally. I’m an expert.

I’m especially qualified to speak as a pastor and parent, and a little less so as an educator. But when have qualifications ever stopped anyone? Look at the presidential race. (Too soon?)

Here’s a little nugget from a pastor for pastors by a guy who’s no stranger to the blog, pastor Eugene Peterson:

“Unrealistic expectations about what church is like will kill you…”

I imagine when Eugene typed that one out for his memoir (required reading for pastors) he did so with a curled upper lip…veiled ever so slightly by his bearded awesomeness.

Here is my shot at boiling this whole thing down to a single phrase: Expectations affect the way we evaluate our experiences.

For instance, if I expect parenting to allow the same time and energy to do everything I did prior to having children, then I would be frustrated with my situation constantly, not to mention bitter towards my children upon realizing how misguided my expectations were.

  • When they interrupt Downtown Abbey or New Girl for the umpteenth time or 
  • color in my books or
  • dip their fingers in their milk or
  • “help” wash the side of the car with tire cleaner that I’m pretty sure is also used to clean oil vats        

What right do I have to be frustrated towards toddlers acting like toddlers? Every right if I expect them to act otherwise.

In a similar way, If I expect pastoring to be what I think it’s going to be based on minimal experience and an ill-informed 24 or 25-year-old mind, then my conflicting experiences will inevitably leave me bitter, cynical, critical, and looking for the greener grass. And would you guess what happened? No really, guess………Yep. I became bitter, cynical, critical, and looked for greener grass.

Turns out my unrealistic expectations are akin to Round Up. I can kill whatever grass I find, no matter what kind of grass it is or what season it is.

My expectations have been the problem, regardless of the job. Changing expectations is one of the quickest and most effective means for enjoying experiences.

I’m not great at it yet, but I’m better than I was.

Busy but Bored

I’ve read two authors whose books end up having more underlined than not, leading me at times to…dare I say…dog-ear pages (gasp). But I can’t help it. They’re both priceless. Their words are salve for the soul, especially the soul of a Christian leader. I am speaking of Eugene Peterson (whom I’ve blogged about before and before) and Henri Nouwen.

I have just begun The Dance of Life by Nouwen and already applied multiple sticky notes to mark sections, underlined, written lines to write about later, and so forth. The following is what made me go daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang, Henri. Tell me this doesn’t get into the nooks and crannies of your soul:

“It is remarkable how much of our life is lived without reflection on its meaning. It is not surprising that so many people are busy but bored! They have many things to do and are always running to get them done, but beneath the hectic activity they often wonder if anything is truly happening. A life that is not reflected upon eventually loses its meaning and becomes boring” (p.46). 

Remember that old Rascal Flatts song “I Melt”? Yeah, me neither. But I did.

Especially upon reading the phrase busy but bored. What an apt description of my life, so often due to a lack of reflection, a failure to frame experiences and responsibilities with purpose or intentionality.

If you’re busy but bored, perhaps it’s time to create some space to sit in silence, to stop the chatter–both internally and digitally, and to ask What’s the point of what I’m doing? How does this fit into God’s design? And then sit with it. It’s sometimes terrifying what we hear.

Grace be with you.

Dear Leader, Become Irrelevant

I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. ~ Henri Nouwen

These words were penned by one who made himself irrelevant by serving in an out of the way community for the last years of his life. Though highly capable and aptly credentialed, Henri Nouwen died caring for men and women with developmental disabilities.

His words reminded me of Eugene Peterson’s counsel for pastors to avoid wanting to be “where the action is.” In layman’s terms, be wary of the spotlight. Above all, don’t seek it out. Seeking such things opens the door to a monstrous world of soul-deep evils.

How do you keep from seeking center stage? Or have your eyes opened if those grotesque evils start seeping through?

It takes being known. The moment you begin closing yourself off to being truly known and WANTING to be known, be certain that your desire for relevance and subsequent invulnerability will distance you from good leaders and potential co-laborers.

Before long you will have a ‘yes’ team around you that doesn’t bother challenging or prodding. Or, if they do, you’ll ignore their counsel and do what you want regardless. And you’ll be weaker for it. The body will be weaker for it.

But Christ will not be stalled. His work will endure.

Sincerely,

A recovering spotlight seeker

What does being a Pastor have to do with the Disabled?

I’ve thrown the names of Stanley Hauerwas and Eugene Peterson around quite a bit of late, but now I bring them together into one post. It’s lengthy, so I understand if you abandon ship now. But if you take the time to stick with it, contribute to the conversation when finished.

I attended a lecture by theologian and professor Stanley Hauerwas a couple of nights ago in which he spoke on the topic of disability. His paper was entitled, “Disability: An Attempt to Think With.” The with of the title is the key word because it stands up against the notion to think about the disabled. In the former, the disabled are no different than those who are not, whereas in the latter the disabled are something other than those not disabled.

Is it a minor detail, simple word play, insignificant minutiae? I don’t believe it is minor or insignificant. Theologians can, at times, delve into a world of intricacies and details that have no apparent value, or better, contribution to ‘everyday life.’ This distinction, however, is critical in understanding ourselves, disabled or not, as no better than another. Talking with the disabled requires an interconnectedness of love and union. There were plenty of things Hauerwas said that flew well above my comprehension, but his point was made nonetheless.

His conclusion was that the disabled do not have a ‘problem,’ which is the category of which we prefer to speak because problems have solutions. To speak ‘about’ the disabled means to speak of a solution. To speak ‘with’ the disabled means admitting and acknowledging our commonalities and, more specifically, naming them as persons rather than problems.

So in a sense, being with the disabled seems somewhat hopeless because there’s not a problem to be fixed. As I listened to Stanley speak I couldn’t help but notice the striking similarity between what he was saying about our disabled brothers and sisters and what Eugene Peterson says about the body of Christ.

Part of what has been a staple of Hauerwas’ writings is the theme of story. We’re a part of a story, THE story of God. Being named and loved draws us into the story together. This is the same point Peterson makes in his memoir in regards to the congregation. Peterson writes of helping people understand the story into which they’ve been written and are participating, but to do so requires talking with people, rather than about or at them.

As Peterson matured in his pastorate, he recognized his tendency towards treating people as problems to be fixed. After all, if there’s a solution, there is something measurable. “I did it. I fixed it. I fixed him/her/them.” To have no solution is a helpless, sometimes hopeless feeling. Such is being a pastor. Such is being with the disabled.

Peterson confesses that by “reducing them to problems to be fixed, I omitted the biggest thing of all in their lives, God and their souls, and the biggest thing in my life, my vocation as pastor” (The Pastor, 140). The congregation is not a gathering of people over whom the pastor is charged with helping fix their problems (You may want to read as follows: MY pastor is not charged by God to fix my problems). That is a market-driven way to see this messy, unkempt vocation into which many are called.

Problems have solutions. People have souls. Solutions are tidy. People are not.  According to Peterson and Hauerwas, then, what’s frustrating about being a pastor is the same thing that’s frustrating about being with the disabled, namely, there are no solutions but souls. Will we, as pastors and as people of God, commit to being with and speaking with one another for the long haul?

1 Corinthians 12:21-25 “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable pars do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division (no speaking about) in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”

Stanley closed by pointing out that to give greater honor to those parts we think less honorable will mean we don’t get as much stuff done in the process. It takes time to be with, rather than to talk about and figure out solutions. Will you join me in committing to get less done for the sake of being with?  

 

What if Pastoring Looked Like This?

The following are quotes from page 278 in Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. It is everything I’ve thought but never said, including much that I didn’t know how to put in words. After 50 years in ministry I guess one finds the words. This is Eugene responding to his elders’ question, “So what do you want to do?” Eugene had walked into the elders’ meeting that night to resign after 3 years in ministry. He felt it necessary because he had been in meeting upon meeting and didn’t feel like he had time to read a story to his daughter. “So what do you want to do?”

“I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so that I can be reflective and responsive and relaxed in your [the elders and congregation’s] presence…I can’t do that on the run…I feel too crowded.”

“I want to be a pastor who reads and studies. This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us. I want to be observant and informed enough to help this congregation understand what we are up against, the temptations of the devil to get us thinking we can all be our own gods…It demands some detachment and perspective.”

“I want to be a pastor who has the time to be with you in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with you as you grow in Christ—your doubts and your difficulties, your desires and your delights. I can’t do that when I am running scared.”

“I want to be a pastor who leads you in worship, a pastor who brings you before God in receptive obedience, a pastor who preaches sermons that make scripture accessible and present and alive, a pastor who is able to give you a language and imagination that restores in you a sense of dignity as a Christian in your homes and workplaces and gets rid of these debilitating images of being a ‘mere’ layperson.”

“I want to have the time to read a story to Karen [daughter].”

“I want to be an unbusy pastor.”

That’s what I want.

Eugene Peterson is Ruining my Life

I have been reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor for a couple of weeks now and am approaching the end. Previously I had read a couple of his pastoral/spiritual books and knew he penned The Message, but I didn’t know much about him as a person. My plan is to write several posts on what I’ve gleaned from the pastor and his experiences. But suffice it to say for now, he’s ruining my life.

That is to say, he is further ruining the tidy picture of pastor I had framed and sitting on my desk. The work of pastor is not tidy. It’s not clean. It’s not boxable (new word). For years I have been growing weary of the American church and the consumerism that has so pervasively overtaken the bride of Christ. If I were an Old Testament prophet, I would say that many in the church have prostituted themselves out rather than being faithful to Christ, but I’m not a prophet so I won’t say it.

Peterson does not have much validation in terms of having grown a megachurch or headlining innovative conferences. I resonate with Eugene there; for I’ve yet to receive my speaking invitation at any conference, and I’m not the pastor of a megachurch. Peterson’s words have been like kindling on a fire of re-imagining the call of pastors and the community that is the church. Perhaps I am alone, but I have a hard time reading this book and being satisfied with the status quo of how we ‘do church’ in the states and the way pastors see their roles. I look forward to sharing more in the coming days and weeks.

Until then, if you’re a pastor please read it. If you don’t like pastors, you too should read this and see if it’s pastors you don’t like or the kinds of pastors you’ve experienced. If you aren’t a pastor but you like pastors, I would also encourage you to read it. I wonder if it would help you understand what your pastor probably feels week in and week out. Peterson is a pastor for pastors–that is, for pastors who will bravely disassociate with the status quo of pastoring a successful church, whatever successful is.