Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Must "Pastor" = Power + Paycheck?

Sue over at Heart Soul Mind Strength went on a rant the other day about "Either/Or" dichotomies.

A few of the either/ors she pointed out: Democrat or a Republican? Liberal or a Conservative? Calvinist or Arminian? Feminist or Traditionalist? Nominalist or Realist? Old Earth or New Earth? Cessationist or Charismatic?

Why, she asks, must we be one or the other? Why, indeed.

I'm sorely tempted to talk about one or the other of those false dichotomies on Sue's list (feminist/traditionalist, for one), but that'll have to wait for another time.

Instead, I'd like to add to the list what I personally believe to be one of the most bothersome "either/ors." This one (again, my opinion) has plagued -- and if I may be so bold to say, has been a plague on -- the church for a long, long time. Not just the PWAPM2UMCE/C (predominantly white, American, Protestant, middle-to-upper-middle class evangelical/charismatic) church, but much of the Western and Eastern church in all its varieties throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

The offending either/or? Clergy/Laity

This particular dichotomy carries with it, like a plague of locusts, a host of other dichotomies:


I could go on, but you get the idea.

The divide represented by that "/" is wide, and it can be very difficult to cross. In fact, though most people would think first of the difficulty of going from right to left (seminary or other formal training, an ordination process, etc.), and I do mean to imply just that. But I want to make clear that I also believe the gap is difficult to cross from left to right. The divorce rate and burn out/drop out/moral failure rate among clergy attests to the loneliness, isolation, depression, frustration, discouragement and sometimes outright despair that can accompany those who aspire to and attain the position.

Worse yet, in most official church bodies (even the one's who don't officially admit it and some who officially have the welcome mat out), the divide is especially wide and deep if you are a woman.

If there was anything about the church that I'd like to see deconstructed, the clergy/laity dichotomy would be at the top of the list.

I know. Fat Chance.

So I've set my sights a bit lower. I'd like to try to rescue a perfectly good God word that has gotten mangled to a fare-you-well in the PWAPM2UMCE/C church clergy/laity machinery and badly needs ironing out. That word is "pastor."

"Pastor" needs saving?? Well ... yea-ah! If we're honest, we'd admit that what pops into our mind when the word is mentioned is "The guy who runs the church."

There is so much wrong with that, its hard to know where to begin. So let's begin with the easy one: "guy." It rolls so easily of the tongue of the shadow side of my mind, it's frightening. But equally difficult is the notion that pastors "run" things. For many, in fact, the position of "Pastor" is synonymous with the wielding of power and the expectation of a paycheck.

I was reading in Ephesians last night, where it says, "It was He (meaning Jesus) who gave some to be to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers ...." "Pastor" is mentioned, along with apostle, teacher, evangelist, prophet in a list that may not indicate an order of highest to lowest, making apostle better than pastor, but certainly does NOT raise pastor to the top spot. We tend, today, to view these as roles, or sometimes even offices entitling the occupant to put a capital letter in it. (He's an Apostle. She's a Prophet.) But I wonder if Paul had in mind only descriptors. Ways to picture differently gifted folks?

I certainly don't dispute that apostles, teachers, pastors, etc., were, in some sense also leaders. But in what sense? And how did they get there?

John Frye (one of the "Emerging Churchers" out there in the blogosphere) is doing a fine job of reimagining how Jesus intended the term "pastor" to be taken. I won't belabor his point except to say the Good Shepherd's image was not based on a profession to which many aspired: A shepherd, in Israel, ate with, slept with, lived with the master's sheep. Shepherds "ran" nothing. They were, in fact, among lowest of the socially low. There were not high admission standards for the position. King David was a shepherd because, as the last-born brother in a rather long familial pecking order, he got the job no one else wanted. He became king because he first loved his father's sheep. He protected them. He fed them. He nurtured them. He found them when they were lost. Doctored them when they were hurt. The only criteria for judging a shepherd "good" was, in fact, the health of the sheep.

If we're going to take "pastor" and make it a job, then the requirements need to change. Seems like they'd be simple: When the prospective pastor leads, do others follow? And when they do, do they get healthy? That's got little to do with power and money, and everything to do with a quality of heart that cannot be conferred with a graduate degree and does not automatically come with the keys to an office.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Out of the Matrix

I don't know if there are any Matrix aficionados out there in the blogosphere, but I'm a big, unashamed fan.

One reason why is that, when they take a breather from the overzealous gun play and the over-the-top CG wizardry, the characters in the Matrix series actually have conversations. And, for movies, long ones. They kick around (when they're not kicking each other around) some really intriguing stuff. Love. Faith. Fate. Choice. And, of course, the nature of reality itself.

When you meet the central character, he's Mr. Anderson, a not-so-mild-mannered, cubicled computer jock by day, and Neo, an insomniac hacker by night. He's living a double life, flying under the radar, but the authorities, in the person of cybercop Smith, are closing in.

He's consumed by a question. As a hacker in a universe that (though he doesn't know it yet) is nothing but very complex code, he has glimpse here and stumbled upon there, anomalies -- little scraps of evidence that all is not as it seems. Behind everything he knows is something he doesn't know. Past all that appears to be real is something else. Something Other. He knows one thing. A word. "Matrix." What is The Matrix? Neo doesn't know it yet, but someone's looking after him. And though he thinks he's going crazy, he's really going sane.

I think there are many people today who, when they view the thing we call "church," have that same creeping sense that this thing we're in, as real as it has seemed in the past, is not all there is. The people I know who experience this most acutely are people who, swept up by the Holy Spirit in the last two or three decades, plunged into churches wholeheartedly, worked, served, gave, prayed. It is those who most wanted to do church who now ask "What is The Church?"

Like Neo, they've gone underground, hacked into the code (that is, searched the Scriptures with fresh eyes and open ears), and found evidence to support their uneasy feelings. The church as we know it -- and let's be careful here to identify it specifically as the American church,, in fact, the Predominantly White, Middle-to-Upper-Middle-Class, Protestant Evangelical/Charismatic church ... more or less -- often bears only a passing resemblance to the ancient faith and its 1st Century practitioners. The PWM2UMCPE/C church, like the Wachowski Bros.' Matrix, is a cultural construct, or, if I may turn that around, a constructed culture.

Like Neo, these hackers been awakened from the Matrix, and suffered the profound shock of having most of their cultural props knocked out from under them. They're finding one another. And they're now involved in a conversation. Some call it the Emerging Church. Some think they're going crazy. But I think -- and here, I guess, I declare a sort of allegiance -- they're going sane.

But my allegiance is "sort of." Yes, I'm a fan, but a wary one. I worry about the Emerging Church because, for one thing, it's not unprecedented. In fact, the very cultural construct the Emerging Church deconstructionists would like to dismantle is, for the most part, the outcome of the work done by the last group of deconstructionists that blew through the PWM2UMCPE/C church. Those familiar with the movies will remember that when Neo finally finds the Door and meets the Architect, he finds out that he's not the first to have done so. Others have gone before us as well -- many, in fact, since the 1st century. And we, like it or not, are living with the results of their conversations.

One thing that concerns me is this: Some (although they may just be tired, and need a rest) have toyed with the idea that church, in any formal sense, ought to be dispensed with. The idea is that we all just unplug ourselves from the Matrix and, well ... stay unplugged.

That's a tempting idea. Who wouldn't like to sleep in Sundays?

There's some evidence from Jesus own life that that might be permissible. When he began his ministry, he did what all the rabbis did. He went to the synagogues. He became part of the church of his time. But when his message wasn't well received, he stopped doing synagogue gigs and went out into the Judean countryside. And a bunch of people followed him out there. And you could certainly make the case that he didn't so much leave as get chased out. When someone tries to through you off a cliff, it's time to go!

But it was Jesus himself who first called us the church. He led us away from the institution of the time, to be sure, but he also instituted something new. He didn't deconstruct the synagogue. He simply did His Father's will wherever and with whoever would consent to do it with him. I find it interesting how little effort he made to "rescue" the synagogue. To set the elders straight. We have to remember that, unlike us, he could have called down 12 legions of angels and set things to rights in a quick minute. He chose not to. When his followers tried to take him by force and make him King, he was outa there. But he also said that on this rock (and by that, I think he meant, himslf, not Peter) he would build his church.

That and many other things he said have lead me to the firm belief that , since I am -- we are -- the church, unplugging might be problematic. Truth is (well, I think it is) that unlike Neo, we can't unplug. We're not just jacked into the Matrix, we're hardwired. The church cannot escape itself. If you want to unplug, you gotta die to do it.

Until Jesus comes again, we -- our being together, somehow, as the church -- is the closest thing to Zion we get this side of the grave.

And that's exactly the way He -- the real Architect, not the pompous greubeard in the Matrix movie -- intended it.

Doesn't that boggle your mind? It does mine.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Editor in Me

I think I've edited and re-edited my first post about 20 times now. Every time I re-read it, I find some punctuation error or a missing word. This is too much like work.

Maybe its time to say to those who venture here that my "editor hat" will henceforth stay at the office. Mistakes there may be. I'm fond of telling people that "A mistake motivated by love is better than getting it right just to get it right." So I'll try to live in to that in future. Especially the love part.

Thanks to Sue at Heart Mind Soul Strength, who patiently talked me through the HTML mysteries, I now can place links in text. And I can not only do italics but boldface type as well. I like it!

One of the objections to blogging that I didn't mention in my first post, but struggled with quite a bit during the last two months, is that I write for a living. Like most people, when I get home from work, I want to do something else. I noticed this afternoon, after I keyed in my "Interests" in the "Profile" section this morning for this blog, that writing is conspicuously absent. Despite the fact that I've been a professional scribe for nearly 15 years, I've only rarely written anything that wasn't for hire. Almost never something that was entirely mine, sprung from my loins, as it were, and an expression of who I am or what I really think.

I've spent a good portion of my life expressing someone else's data, thoughts, opinions. So it seemed right and good to take time, finally, to write my own.

I also read for a living. So I have, in the past, often gone many evenings without checking out blogs or even the e-mails I get from time to time.

In consequence, I've missed out on much of the lengthy conversation about "church" that has occupied a number of bloggers of late. And there's "biblical feminism" and several other related issues, like "power" and "authority." There's the "emerging church" and there's the "underground." Don't know if I have much to add to what's already been said. But I'll probably plug in and spout off on it all, eventually.

For now, it's just good to finally be here.

Why Am I Doing This!?!?

I guess I could blame this on my blogging friend Sue over at Heart Mind Soul Strength.

I occasionally read her blog and others and then (because I couldn't figure out how to make the stupid "Comment" thing work) I'd e-mail her a rambling dispatch about something. She kept saying, "Dude, get a blog!"

I've spent several months reviewing all the very good reasons not to do so.

There are a bunch of them: I could easily embarrass myself, or hurt someone. Practically, I could find the whole experience addictive (I'm an addictive personality, so that's not a groundless fear) and ignore my work deadlines and other responsibilities and get entirely too wrapped up in the whole thing. ("Do I really have time for this?") Besides, I'm technologically challenged in a really big and embarrassing way. "Can't figure out how to do the "Comments" on other people's blogs, so now he thinks he's going to create his OWN blog!!????!!!" Yeah, right. (I could go on.)

One big one is that the very worst in me really, really, really, really, REALLY wants to do it. The piece of me that wanted to get into music to get girls. (I'm still into music, but outgrow the other part ... I think.) The part of me that wants to be famous, influential, admired, adored, fantasized about ... or even hated for being so darn smart. (Right now, for instance I'm working real hard at making this, my very first post on my very first blog something people will chuckle over and say, "Interesting. I'll be back tomorrow to see what this character might get up to.") The part of me that would rather be plastered all over the National Enquirer than die in obscurity. The translators who gave us the Bible in English called that part of me the "sin nature." George Lucas made jillions calling it The Dark Side. Jung called it the Shadow.

Another reason is that I wonder if I have anything really useful to say. This, in fact, is the objection that has most inhibited me, thus far. What gave this objection its stopping power, in fact, is that for some time, I have assumed it was proceeding from the Light. "In humility," this seeming Light says into my ear, "Please consider: What are you likely to accomplish? Who do you think you are? What can you hope to add to the discussion?" In fact, many of the people whose blogs keep me coming back are quite educated. Seminarians or seminary graduates. Long experienced in Christian ministry. Voracious readers of philosophy. Partakers of in stuff like Contemplative Prayer, therapeutic models. I feel like an outsider looking in.

But you know what? That particular objection, I've come to realize, is not from the Light. It is classic Shadow stuff. Subtext: You have no value. You have no right to be heard.

Who says? My friend Phyllis over at "phyllisophie" (see, I'm already name-dropping) would have jumped all over this one and exposed it as garbage in a millisecond. But ... I didn't ask her. Why? Because the Shadow doesn't ask for help or advice (or directions, which means that most men live deep in the shadows ... it's a joke, guys). It's in the nature of the The Shadow to stay hidden. The Shadow is powered by fear.

Fear has been my constant companion these 56 years. Fear is still there. But Jesus said, "Perfect Love casts out Fear."

I guess I am finally doing this because something in me broke yesterday:

I was driving home from work (yes, I worked almost a full day on a holiday -- another story) and was nearing home when I came to a corner on Wadsworth where you can occasionally see the people with the cardboard signs, asking for money.

I haven't given any to a person on a street corner for a long, long time. One reason was I read a magazine article that described the little syndicates (alms pimps) that drive professional alms gatherers around town, depositing them at high-profile street corners. Some make pretty good money, most of which goes to the alms pimp). Another was, I thought that if you're' resourceful enough to come by the cardboard and a marker and get yourself to that street corner, and spell the words right on your sign, then maybe you're employable. There are temp work places. Blah, blah, blah. And I'm sure some are shams. Some are lazy, and prefer freeloading to work. Some, sadly, are mentally ill. And some are a new brand kind of slave, working for another kind of pimp. And God only knows what kind of "arrangement" they live with. So I ask myself questions like, "What good will it do? How can you know if their needs are legit? And I tell myself, "There are better ways to help."

But sitting on that corner was a young woman. She wasn't standing, or waving, or entreating passersby. She was just sitting, her head on her knees, braced against the late afternoon chill, holding her sign. It identified her as a single mom, escaped from an abusive husband and in need.

Something in her face just got to me. When the line of cars began to move, I remembered I had a $20 bill in my wallet. I also have debt, and had been wondering on the way home how the heck I was ever going to pay my bills this month. But something in me wouldn't let go of it.

I turned the corner in tears. As I moved closer to home, I couldn't stop the waves of tears. I found myself saying, over and over, "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do." Part of me just wanted to go home. Another part wanted to go back and find her. Give her that $20. Which part is Light? Which part Shadow? I didn't know who to listen to. And I didn't even know who was saying what.

All I had was a question that has lurked in the back of my mind for several years. It's my tie breaker. It's the question I ask when sense, reason, advice and desire conflict. When you stand before Jesus to give a account, what are you willing to tell him? In a tough situation, when you have no idea what's the right thing to do, what option are you willing to live with? To answer for?

I was almost home, when I turned around, drove back and gave her the $20. I was relieved, in fact, to see that several others in the line of cars this time, also gave her money. I wiped my face clear of all the tears, of course, before I gave her the money. (Can't look vulnerable, can we?) But then I cried most of the way home.

And I still have no idea if she was really a single mom. She could be. And my $20 could feed her kids. Or not. What if she was lying? Well, desperate people sometimes lie. Maybe she thought "no one will give me anything if I tell the truth: I got fired for coming to work high. Or: My husband left because he caught me with another man, and then took the kids. (That thought occurred to me. "If you're out on this corner, who's watching the kids???") It really doesn't matter.

Something in me rose up and said, against my "better judgment," that this time, I needed to act.

I wasn't sure who was doing most of the talking (Light or Shadow) at the time ... or now, for that matter. All I can do is ask the "When I stand before Jesus ...." question. I think it was a thing I needed to do. I can't explain it, but I am willing to stand before Him and own it.

That's all I've got. But it's enough for now.

When its all said and done, maybe I just did it to make myself feel better for an hour. I can think of all kinds of reasons, in hindsight, to question my motives during the event. But "God works all things together for good, to them who love God." Even my Shadow. Even yours.

So here I am. I don't know if it's the "right thing" to blog. But ... sometimes you jsut have to go with something. So ... here goes. What if there's something of Light in me and I refuse to share it, in fear of the Shadow? Am I not that ungrateful servant who buried the coins he'd been given?