When I began this ministry path by heading off to seminary in 2006, I was on fire with the possibilities of how God could use me. I knew that throughout my life I had been drawn to people who were on the fringes, people our churches often overlook. I didn’t fully know how that would shape my ministry, but I knew God had plans to use this tattooed, pierced (at the time, not anymore), Straight Edge, Billy-Joel-loving, high-liturgy-admiring, walking contradiction. But God was going to use me.
And let me tell you–God worked on me hard those three years in seminary. I began as someone who identified as a right-leaning moderate and I viewed myself as being far more conservative that my classmates at the uber-liberal Iliff School of Theology. Until I realized that we all had the same desire–to see God’s Kingdom established here on earth (“Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”–the new heaven and new earth from Revelation, you know). And suddenly we weren’t so different. That drew me into a realization that many of the people I had thought were (or should be) excluded from different aspects of our ministry for various reasons maybe belonged as much as anyone else did. I grew in an unexpected way.
On paper this moved me from the Christian Right column to the Christian Left. But in reality all it did was stoke that original fire that had been burning in my soul to be authentically who God had called me to be so that God could use me as an instrument to touch the lives of others–notably, those who (like me) had never really felt they fit in. But in God’s kingdom we all fit in.
So, you see, I didn’t really change. I just became more.
Since full-time ministry in 2008, I have seen how God has used to me to do just that. And while that should be stoking the fires of passion to burn even hotter, something else was happening.
Like all seminary graduates, I had taken classes that warned us about the statistics–how short clergy careers often are, how quickly pastor burnout can set in, the stress levels, the loneliness of ministry, the feelings of let down. I had been warned that ministry can isolate a person. That we can sometimes get so bogged down in the minutia of administration that we lose track of the purpose of ministry. That we can be so busy trying to keep the peace and keep people happy that we forget we’re supposed to be serving the Lord.
Somewhere along the line, that happened. I didn’t notice it, I just woke up one day and realized I was tired beyond all reason the that old fire was sputtering on its last embers.
Before I knew it I was in the trap of trying to make people happy whom I don’t think were ever willing to be happy with me. I found myself trying to make peace with people rather than living in the Peace of God–which sometimes is very upsetting to us. I lost track of who I was. I forgot who I was. I was more worried about making other people content and keeping the boat afloat that I forgot Jesus would save me from sinking.
And so, after several months of soul-searching, I have decided to make some big changes in my life. As the time becomes more appropriate, I’ll be making announcements–but for now, I am trying my best to remember who I am.
Over the past year I haven’t been the pastor I should be because I lost track of who I was–but that’s going to change.
I haven’t made a New Year’s Resolution in several years–largely because I never keep them. They usually involve eating healthier or going to the gym more–but who can keep those things when there is so much chocolate in the world and Netflix?
This year, though, I am making a resolution. Not the tired old clichés no one keeps for long, but one that means something.
I am going to start stoking that old fire all over again.
I’m going to read.
I’m going to be deliberate in what I read. I will read things that challenge, things that inspire, things that motivate, things that outrage. I will read about social justice. I will read about race relations. I will read feminist and womanist writers. I will read about LGBTQ+ Christian issues. I will read about authoritarianism and I will read Deitrich Bonhoeffer over and over again.
And I will listen.
I will listen to trans voices. I will hear the stories of intersex teens. I will listen to Black Lives Matter. I will listen to the spoken word poetry of under-resourced youth of color. And I will listen to the voice of the opposition with the hope of better understanding and with the purpose of never being caught off guard again.
I will get educated.
I will educate myself about the water conflicts in Flint, Michigan and Standing Rock… and in Appalachian coal country. I will learn about Syria and the refugee crisis. I will study the homeless crisis, particularly among our military veterans. I will educate myself on the prescription drug epidemic. I will study non-violent resistance and civil disobedience.
I will remember who I am.
I will warm myself by the fire of passion day in and day out. I will let my bruises mend and my sore muscles relax before taking it all on again another day. I will remind myself daily what matters, the burden God has laid on my heart, why I once found such energy and hope in my calling. I will remember what God has done in my heart and in my soul. I will remember how far God has brought me.
And I will dream.
I will dream about where God is taking me, about where God is taking the world. I will dare to see the visions I used to see, before I got so bogged down in the tumultuous sea thrashing all around me. I will dare to imagine a world in which all people dwell in God’s presence and what that will be like.
Through it all, I will write.
I will write in the journal that has been untouched in nearly a year. I will write here, on my blog. I will write letters. I will write to editors. I will write to legislators. I will write to God and to myself and to the universe… I will write about hope and change and dreams and visions.
Because this was who I once was and it is who I will be again… there is a year of change coming.
God bless you. You have been an inspiration to me ever since we met. You are always in my prayers.
Facing reality, what a novel idea. Keep on keeping on.