For God’s Sake, Yes It Is Our Job

I was reading an otherwise very intelligent and poignant article in which the priest said, “I do want to help people, but I have always felt chiefly called to help them by offering the grace of the sacraments and getting out of the way. Someone else can hold hands and sing Kum Bah Yah.”
 
It reminded me of another time I read, in a book I otherwise enjoyed greatly and still constantly recommend, a pastor saying something like, “I didn’t go to seven years of college and seminary to run a pizza party in the church basement.”
 
And these sorts of comments make me cranky and very defensive. Because holding hands and singing at a campfire, or hosting a pizza party in the church basement is frankly *exactly* why I went to seminary and why I got ordained and got ordained and got ordained. Not all of why. But very much why, and not as a peripheral after thought.
 
And given the human impulse to be defensive and see oneself in the best light, these sorts of comments hurt those of us whose call come through or is centred on pastoral care and youth ministry and community building. They implicitly rank sacraments and scholarship as superior. I believe in sacraments and scholarship, and would argue if you don’t know how to bring them into conversation with holding hands or serving pizza, you’ve got a theological problem, because you are not in fact ever too smart of a liturgist or Bible scholar for them.
 
But given a bit more honest reflection, I am not above this genre of sin. I just have different targets. I am prone to think or say things like, “I want to hold hands and sing kum bah yah, darn it, and not waste my time looking up the proper preface for the Eucharistic prayer of this feast day and practicing chanting according to the pointing in our parish binder* or sorting through a dozen receipts categorising them by budget**.”
 
A minimum of two theological problems come up with these sorts of complaints.
 
1. Rather than saying, “I am particularly called to this thing, not this thing,” we risk–sometimes implicitly, often quite explicitly–ranking the validity or worth of gifts and callings, which helps nobody in the body of Christ. The fact we all have different strengths and passions is Good News, capitalisation intentional. If you are a liturgical priest with great organisational skills who doesn’t feel comfortable with kids, for example, you and I need to resist having smug feelings about who the real priest is and realise that “Oh thank God you work in the kingdom of God, too!” is the proper response.
 
2. We did in fact all sign up for everything. We signed up to follow Jesus. There may have been certain parts of what we saw following Jesus entailing that made saying yes appealing, but ultimately in our Christian lives–and this is about all Christians, not just clergy whining on the blogosphere, all Christians–we signed up to follow Jesus, and only He gets to pick where He’s asking us to go. Yea though I walk through the valley of youth group lock-ins or parish budget meetings (see how spoiled we are?), I will fear no evil…
 
* actual gripe today
** actual gripe yesterday.

A Black Clergy Shirt in a Rainbow Sea, a reflection on Montréal Pride Community Day

Walking around in a black clergy shirt and cross necklace in the midst of the rainbows flags of Montréal’s gay village raised a lot of questions today. Some people who apparently came to gawk at and condemn the deviants, unaware of the hypocrisy inherent in the very question, asking what a real Christian would be doing in such a place. Some people who have been hurt by religion, or who assume religion can only hurt, wondering how dare I be there.

Continue reading »

How Not to Waste Time: An Incomplete List

Let me know my end, Lord. How many days do I have left? I want to know how brief my time is. (Psalm 39:4 CEB

Stop wasting time. Your earthly life is finite, its end both inevitable and unpredictable. Don’t use your limited time poorly.

I get it.

You’re productive. You don’t waste your time. You’re important and always do important things. Continue reading »

Thorns in the flesh and Pastoring with CFIDS

“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.”

Saint Paul, who cannot be accused of overabundant elation, in 2 Corinthians 12:7

I love him, but Saint Paul has always come across to me as a bit of a grump. I admit I could be biased. Or maybe I just have read Galatians a few times. I firmly believe he is a saint, but he hardly strikes me as a ray of sunshine walking into each room he entered. While contemporary pop culture idealises, and a bit idolises, the cheery disposition (c.f. Joel Osteen’s permasmile).

Saint Paul was a Holy crank. And for good reason. God, Saint Paul tells us, either gave or allowed Satan to give him a “thorn” “in the flesh.”  Continue reading »

In defence of sorrow, sin, and death

 

You return unto the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you are, and unto dust shall you return.

Genesis 3:19b KJV

AshWednesdayCross

On Wednesday the bishop dipped her hand in the ashes of charred palm fronds, sketched an ancient instrument of execution on my forehead, and told me, gently but firmly, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.” The middle of the work week and my boss tells me I’m going to die. In any other line of work, I suppose, that would be ethically troubling. But our deaths are not a threat, they’re a promise: an inevitability, a poignant and inescapable equality we all face.

For many people, this is just the problem with Christianity. Our tradition can seem, and can be, violent and regressive and sombre. Continue reading »