Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Square peg (iii) - I HATE this job!

We used to have cadets at secondary school. For a few weeks each year we donned military uniforms (rough "sandpaper suits") and played at soldiers. The good thing was that we got to shoot rifles (22's, 303's) and even Bren guns. The bad thing was that it often meant marching. I got to be a low ranking NCO. My dad dropped by one day to see the parade, being an old soldier he was interested. When I got home from school he jokingly said, "Well done Mick (his nickname for me) you were the only one in step!" .... some times in church circles I certainly feel out of step.
Let me share some frustrations.
  • The Psalms in the Old Testament often have promises that God does not keep. They come from a religious development time when people thought that Yahweh protected good people from all harm and prospered them. Now I am often thankful for the dangers and hell holes life with God has kept me out of, but I have lived long enough to know that there are no guarantees for good people in life. Often when Psalms are read in Church I cringe. There can be people battling potentially terminal cancer and the Psalm is promising them the world! I know lots of faithful Christian people who end up with alzheimer's disease, slowly losing their mind... what does the Psalm say to them? Hymns, following the Psalms can be the same way. "Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies, but his smile quickly drives it away; not a doubt nor a fear, not a sigh nor a tear, can abide while we trust and obey." - Yeah right! A lot of faithful, honest people singing this could feel unnecessarily guilty!
  • Some of the readings, especially in the Old Testament have some very bloodthirsty, weird and "low" views on life and God. Studied in context with proper exegesis and understanding of the culture and literature, they have a message, but as a bland reading in Church they are hard to take. (I often think of this when Christians talk of bloodthirsty Muslim beliefs... "Have you read the Bible! Good grief... some ghastly stuff there!")
  • I struggle with hymn selection. As mentioned above many of the hymns have old and misleading concepts in them. They often reflect a substitutionary view of atonement. (e.g. "washed in the blood") So many of them, including the modern choruses reflect a very self centred, "bless me Jesus" type of faith. They do not reflect the giving generous way of Jesus that I believe is central to the faith.
  • I recall watching a UTube of Bishop John Spong speaking. He told how he sat in a service and counted how many times in the liturgy the worshippers groveled before God, pleading for mercy and admitting their guilt and shame. I forget the number, I think it was something like 18 times! He suggested that maybe once was enough! I feel out of step when hymns and prayers suggest this sort of stance. We have lay leaders lead prayer around communion and often there is a concentration on the "blood (always said with a bloodthirsty sounding flare) of Jesus which was the price paid for our salvation" because "without the blood there can be no forgiveness". That is NOT where I am at... when this happens I cringe and feel deeply out of step. If that is what I have to believe then count me out!
What is Church?
We have a Drop-in centre on Friday evenings. Apart from private prayer sometimes and sometimes private conversation, we do very little that is religious... but I believe it is "spiritual". We listen to people. We feed hungry people. We advise and guide people. We encourage people. We love people. They are a motley lot, virtually all of them unemployed, many with mental health problems, some with addictions and some with behavioral problems. They will say, "I won't be at Church next week!" and they mean drop-in centre. I call it my Friday night congregation. We have Space2B operating and people come in and converse and share a relaxed space in the back of the church. I think "Church" is operating, people are loving others and being loved. I visit workplaces as a chaplain. I sometimes talk religion, but not that often. I listen and I care. I often talk values. I sometimes act as a Christian celebrant for funerals, naming ceremonies and weddings. I often sit in when they go to fires or accidents. I will sit and appreciate the work of an engineer, a brewer or a beer filtering technician. I see it as something spiritual. .... but often church people do not see the worth of these things. They will ask, "Do you get to pray with them?" "When are we going to see any in church?" (on Sunday they mean) "Do you get to share the gospel?" - My concept of "Church" is out of step with the people who pay me to be a minister! I am a square peg in a round hole!

I HATE this job! In the last three posts I have listed off some of the reasons I am like a square peg in a round hole in Church ministry. Often on a Thursday night (when I am choosing hymns) or a Saturday (when I am crafting the sermon and service) or driving into Church on a Sunday morning with a knot in my stomach, I will emphatically almost shout at my wife, "I HATE this job!" - Choosing hymns I don't really like, but they are the best of a bad bunch. - Shaping my words so that I am trying to be true to myself, yet not offend some dear faithful saint. -Getting up to speak and knowing that most will let what I say blissfully go over them, "nice entertainment, but take it seriously... you have to be joking!". ...... Added to this is that there is a big part of me as a person that would gladly be a hermit. I really don't get a big kick out of standing up in front of people sharing my heart and soul. Going out and meeting new people, asking people to do things, socialising with people is not something that has come easily for me. (When as a young man I first mentioned that I was interested in ministry I had people saying incredulously, "Really? ... but you are the shy one!") Mixing with people is to some extent stressful for me, though feedback suggests I am good at it - One man says; "There is a special 'Daveness' that you have!" So for all sorts of reasons I am often heard to say "I hate this job!" ... sometimes with a very un-minister-like expletive added! Out of ministry I can think, believe and do what I like, but in ministry my life and faith is always being exposed.

But... there are seven things that tie me into it.
  1. I believe intensely that Jesus makes sense and that following him can make people more whole and make for a better community.
  2. The Church, though it has grossly distorted the way of Jesus, is the only place in the community that the "Jesus story" is kept alive!
  3. I believe that the questions I am asking, the thinking I am doing and gropings I make for a way ahead are valid, important and relevant.
  4. I believe I have an ability to communicate well with people, and have a task to try to take the progressive thinking of theologians and try to in some small way move people an inch or two toward a more "real" but intensely relevant faith.
  5. I believe I am a good bridge between the Church and people, able to show a relevant servant way of life that has credibility with secular people who have otherwise given up on the Church.
  6. I believe that in spite of the difficulties I have, God, the sacred movement or spirit uses my fumbling efforts and in ministry seems to be the only place I can do the things I feel called to do!
  7. There are some people within the Church, on the fringe of the Church and outside the Church asking similar questions, making similar noises and discoveries. They too are not static but on a journey... I love journeying people, they are exciting to be around.
There is a real sense that this "square peg" in a round hole, who often screams from his aching heart "I hate this job!" cannot and would not be anywhere else. ... It's a bugger!

I finish these three posts with the sentence I had early in the first one; "We write not only to tell others what we are thinking, but to tell ourselves what we are thinking." Sorry to bore you with my meanderings... but it does me good.

1. Jesus makes sense!
2. The Church... where the "Jesus story" is kept alive.
3. A square peg in a round hole.

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