I didn’t mention it on a Sunday morning or even much in conversations with anyone until this past weekend, but this month marks our seventh anniversary at Church in Bethesda. Before moving to Bethesda I was a youth pastor, a worship AV tech, and a church planter, but this position has been my first and only position as a lead senior pastor.
There’s so much I still don’t know, and many mistakes are littered along the path of what God has done with us and through us. There have been joys and pains, disappointments and celebrations. I’ve been thinking this week about lessons I might have learned along the way in the last seven years, and I made some notes as my thoughts distilled. Here are a few things I think I’ve learned or at least begun to attempt to incorporate into my life along the way…
1) I’ve stopped ever making that dumb old joke about “working with people would be awesome, if it weren’t for the people.” In ministry circles you might here, “Well, church work is great, except for the people” or something along those lines… and invariably the person making the joke does love the people, they just have really had a hard time with relationships and interpersonal dynamics of late. Working with people is undeniably tough. Minsters get to not only see people at their best and worst, but also hear from people at their best and worst. As trying as the job can be, I’ve decided that such a joke about people has no appropriate place in my thoughts or words. I mean what does that line really mean? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone agreed with me? Or if they thought like me? Or would just do what there were told to do? Yuck. Where’s the Spirit, the creativity, the joy and growth in that?
2) I rarely say things like “the Bible says” or even use the word “Bible.” I tend these days to speak far more about “our scriptures” or even the “biblical narrative” in such and such place in scripture. If I want to mention or quote a passage, I’ll reference it’s author instead of referencing that name we print on the cover as if God approved that draft cover personally before it went into printing. The phrase “the Bible says” is misleading and is used far too hurtfully far too many times. The word Bible itself simply means paper or book, from the Greek ta biblia. It seems in Medieval times we coined the phrase Biblia Sacra, and now our English scriptures all come emblazoned with Holy Bible. God’s greatest work is in us, not on paper.
3) I can trust people. I could blame it on being Gen-X, or to listening to The Wall too many times growing up (or last week), but the bottom line is that I tend toward having “Introverted Cynic” stamped on my forehead. I often expect the worst, and like most other self-fulfilling prophecies, I can get the worst or incite the worst. But seven years of pastoring has shattered my cynical delusions. Dang it, people are so good and so beautiful, even when the hard days roll around. I can give myself to them, and it’s ok. I can give myself to you.
4) I can trust God. I have known some pain in the last seven years, and I’ve known some good times. Sort of a scriptural story, huh? Sort of a life story. There’s rarely a plot line in anyone’s personal or professional life that takes an arc of joy through only good times… instead there are challenges, obstacles and dark valleys of shadow to traverse, and through them all God is a constant of goodness.
5) If I have a blessing to give, I need to give it freely and with love. I remember singing it as a child in church classes, “He said freely freely, you have received, freely freely give / Go in my name and because you believe, other will know that I live.” The freely give part is from the semi-famous statement of Jesus in Matthew 10:8 when Jesus sends the Twelve on a very specific mission to preach in the villages of Israel. “Freely you have received, freely give.” Jesus will later expand their mission from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria and the ends of the earth, and I think the reciprocity of giving as we have received remains in effect. I need to be giving, freely sharing, reaching out.
There’s nothing earth shattering here. I wish that in seven years I might have discovered the magical way to eternally balance a church budget (or my own), or a hidden verse that could be prayed thirty times a day to cure male pattern baldness. No such luck. I think I would characterize the last seven years as a deepening as much as growth.
I know I’m different today than I was seven years ago, and I’m lead more and more to my knees with the Jesuit prayer I began using a while back to sign off on my blogs and had tattooed on my arm, “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.” To the greater (multiplying) glory of God. And in that glory of God exists the blessing of the earth and all it’s people, animals and beautiful matter. Amen.
On a lighter note, Teresa started rereading one of our favorite series of novels, and I followed suit. We’ve been fans of David & Leigh Eddings for a long time enjoying The Belgariad books and the same host of characters into The Mallorean books. We’ve often read his two related trilogies, The Ellinium and The Tamuli. He’s a masterful story teller, so much that we even read Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress, both retellings of each other and much the previous books. Can’t get enough! One scene in The Ellinium caused me to shout in surprise and almost throw the book the first time I read it. Good stuff.
Digging into the first book of The Belgariad I was struck by a re-introduction to one of the main characters, Durnik the Smith. I would have thought, being the tenth time I’ve read this series over the years, that I couldn’t be surprised by anything. But I had not thought of Durnik in so long, it was like reconnecting with an old friend. Sound silly? We are big re-readers at our house, Teresa and I both. Rereading beloved books series is a comfort. This time is was also a welcome reunion.
Have you reread anything lately? Do you operate with the kind of imagination that relates to the most beloved characters on a level close to friendship and deep affection? Jumping into these novels again has reaffirmed for me the gifting with which some novelists have blessed my life. Of course, the characters are fictional, but the blessing of sharing imagination and fantasy with the likes David & Leigh Eddings, R.A. Salvatore and Frank Herbert over the years has been a tangible, palpable joy.
It’s hard to say goodbye to someone who has been an integral part of the American experience for so many years, and yet someone the vast majority of us did not really know. Robin Williams was a comedic genius who gave us so many voices to enjoy. He could make us laugh with only a facial expression, but when he opened his mouth, and who knew what was going to come out, we would all be giddy and goofy with anticipation. What a soul! He will be missed in this life, and cherished and loved for his gifts.
He was also a human being, and had all the flawed brokenness that is so endemic to our daily struggle. Like many others, he was not immune to depression because of money, fame or success. Probably the money, fame and success were some of the things that could exacerbate his depression. I’m not doctor, so I don’t speak from medical training. I’m just someone who has grappled with depression my entire life, and I can relate to the reality of the best times bringing on the worst. If you have asked, “How could he be depressed with all the money and fame?” then you’re probably not someone who has struggled with chronic depression. For you this could an opportunity to realize how difficult it has been for that friend or family member to deal with their depression. It defies logic. It is very real. It is not chosen.
So while we mourn and look around and listen to one another, there were a few things I’m not always hearing and I wanted to make sure got clearly said…
1) Depression doesn’t separate you from God’s love. No one should assume that struggling with chronic depression is in any way necessarily an indicator that someone has rejected God, lost God’s love or is trying to live life without God. There is no scriptural basis for that kind of judgment or condemnation.
2) Depression is never bigger than God’s grace and love. That goes for anyone who attempts suicide, succeeds at suicide or is a survivor left by a loved one who commits suicide. To be reminded that God’s grace is bigger than suicide is not to say that suicide is ok. Suicide is painful, hurtful and devastating for the survivors. And yet, suicide also flows from some of the deepest pain and anguish that we carry as humans. As our hearts are moved and made raw by the anguish of suicide, can we believe that the heart of God is any less moved? There’s no scriptural basis for saying that suicide is an instant separation from God… that’s a traditional teaching that needs to be corrected.
3) Beware the isolation. I’m not speaking here specifically to Robin Williams’ experience, but in a broader sense… don’t go it alone. Chronic depression and the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and shame that it engenders will move you to separate yourself from others. Please don’t. Seek people. Start with a doctor who can help you determine if there’s a medical need that requires treatment, and get with a healing community… your friends, family, church, synagogue, temple, mosque, etc.
4) Don’t help isolate people who are depressed! Please, don’t turn away from someone who is struggling with a depression that you don’t understand. Help create a community of hope and healing where you live. Read, study and pray to be prepared to be a healing presence for someone in need. Be prepared to love and to help as much as someone will let you.
5) For my fellow followers of Christ, if a “Christian” blogger or group speaks of suicide in a judgmental, accusatory fashion, lacking the grace and love we expect from Jesus, then for the love of Jesus DO NOT SHARE THAT BLOGGER! Why is it that the worst opinions and perspectives I have seen on the death of Robin Williams have been from “Christian” groups? This is not as it should be, and the solution is ours to enact. I refuse to link to them and expand their influence by sharing their hate and/or ignorance, even to refute and disown their words. Please, please, please be discerning.
If you’re up against that wall, when depression and it’s crippling grip have a hold, I’m yours. Email me, ok? We’ll chat. I’ll give ya my email, in code so the spammers can’t get in the way… it’s reserve7 @ gmail. com. Squish that together without the spaces and you got me. We’ll walk some road together. If you don’t like me, find someone else! We’re in this together.
“But no matter what comes, we will always taste victory through Him who loved us. For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord.”
For some, there are days that are hard earned, when holding on takes every bit of faith and hope… celebrate the victory! Luka Bloom celebrates that in his song, You Survive.
Here are a few other resources…
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 24/7: (800) 273-8255
The Trevor Project for our LGBTQ youth,
and for our veterans… Veterans Crisis Line.
I am totally addicted to our scriptures. I have this wicked old King James Bible that I bought at a thrift store last year for a quarter, some of you know it and have seen it, and well… sometimes I just smell it. It smells so good, the old leather and old paper. I also have to confess that I have most of the English translations on my shelf. I’m sure there’s a few I don’t have, but I have the biggies.
Just yesterday I bought a paperback copy of The Voice, which was introduced a couple years ago, but I don’t claim to spend a lot of time watching what is hitting the scene year to year. I was just snooping the shelves at Barnes and Noble and saw it, picked it up and decided to give it a good home.
This really is a new thing. The goals and diversity of the translators, scholars and artists all come together to create a rendering of our scriptures that is both informative and engaging. In a time when many of us are becoming increasingly conscious of the deficits in some of our traditional readings and interpretations (due often to our favorite English translations), The Voice is helpful for re-hearing the message.
I dig the screenplay aspect. I like that the The Voice will break dialogue into a screenplay format instead of just trying to maintain columns with quotes and paragraph breaks. It does take a little getting used to, since other notes and summaries are included in the text of a passage. My only angst is that pages can almost become cluttered with everything going on.
I’m excited about the way it lends itself to the public reading and presentation of scripture with creativity and life. Wow, that was a long thought. I was so blessed in July to spend a couple of days with Dr. Nancy Gross up at Princeton Theological Seminary to study and practice the public reading of scripture, along with four days refining presentation skills with Dr. Michael Brothers. (You’d think I would be a decent preacher by now, right?) What a great summer to stumble onto The Voice! I’m beginning to tie lots of cool ends together in my head as I read through the translation.
Here’s a review of The Voice that I thought was a balanced approach to weighing it’s strengths and weakness, a review by Dr. Ben Witherington. But of course, the best way to experience a new translation project like this is to, well, experience it. I recommend The Voice if you are finding your engagement with scripture to be a little dry these days. It might be a fresh wind of joy to help rediscover the depth and grace of our sacred writings.
It’s a long one, but I’ve been thinking about this lately and recently had a good conversation about unbranding truths!
Originally posted on toddthomas.net:
I wrote the bulk of this blog a couple of weeks ago and promptly forgot to finish and post it. I wrote it just after the Mother’s Day parade gunfire in New Orleans, as we reeled as a nation from the Boston Marathon attack and the women rescued in Cleveland after a decade of imprisonment. But honestly, I started forming this post in my heart a little earlier than that after reading of the young woman in Canada, Rhetaeh Parsons, who ended her life after being raped and bullied by her classmates. You’ll have to excuse me if it offends anyone that I don’t refer to it as an “alleged” rape. It offends me that when a young woman is oppressed to the point of ending her life that someone might still doubt the veracity of the crime done to her.
I am inured at heart by the violence…
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