Animal Planet has this series where they follow the “Sea Shepherds”— “an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization. Our mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.” (http://www.seashepherd.org/who-we-are/). The shows we’ve been watching lately have been focused on Japanese whalers in the Antarctic. These conservationists/activitsts/left wing anti-eco-terriorism-ists go to extreme measures to keep the whalers from doing their job—prop foulers, throw acid onto the ship decks, use of helicopters/go-fast boats, etc. They risk their lives for whales and environment. These folks are committed disciples of marine conservation. It makes for some gripping television—catch an episode and you’ll be amazed.
What’s the difference between these well-meaning, committed, and “sold out” folks and committed Christians? Can those of us who claim Jesus answer this question without political bias? The Old Erin would have used this show as an illustration of the kind of disciple we should be…and then designed a whole camp theme around it, complete with a T-shirt (Jonah=theme Bible verse, “School Shepherds”=kids who lead their schoolmates to Jesus….). Maybe we see this kind of behavior and it reminds us to be more committed to God. We get this little guilt trip/voice saying, “you need to do more for Jesus”. So we volunteer for more events at church, re-read Purpose Driven Life”, and start working our on behaviors. In short, we try to change what we do. This is not all bad but certainly only works in the short term because we hop from one mountaintop experience to another, trying to get ourselves out of this rut called life. Then our Christian life of dedication becomes one of behavior modification rather than love. Maybe a little cruise on the Christian version of a Sea Shepherd ship will snap me out of this….
I read a tweet recently that stated “ministry that costs nothing is worth nothing”. Really? Yes i know, people value things on which they spend money. But we’re not talking about a thing here—we are talking about Life. Not only are we commodifying a non-commodity (Life, Jesus) but this statement and resulting lifestyle denies the sacrifice that Jesus did once and for all on the cross. Does Jesus need my sacrifice? Sure, I’m to be a “living sacrifice” but does that include sacrificing time with my family while I sit in ministry meetings or work 60-70hr work weeks “doing ministry”? Does a certain ministry/church/youth group, in order for it to be blessed of God or “successful” (whatever that means), need to cost it’s leaders their marriages, families, and identities? How’s that working for the baby boomer lead pastor who has a successful church but a drug-addicted son, an alienated daughter and bitter teenager? How’s it working for the young youth pastor types who have to tell their spouses “This is just the way things are” or “I’ve gotta follow my calling”? Are we just telling Jesus, “Sorry dude, that whole crucifixion thing was great but this church needs my sacrifice”? If I am truly captured by Jesus—in biblical terms “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20) then the life i live in the body is actually Christ living in me!! Whatever ministry looks like from now on will be because of Jesus in me—the reality of His sacrifice equals life abundant. No longer will I do ministry but I will be ministry. I start to live in the powerful reality of this all-encompassing sacrifice: Jesus’ death and resurrection gave me life to live fully, in freedom, in order that others may live in this reality. Perhaps we need to reexamine the place Jesus has in our ministry construct/doctrine/theology. Maybe the battles we are fighting keep us from seeing that the war has already been won…
It’s been 6months to the day since I was in a church service and since I was in an official capacity as a pastor. Since i was a professional Christian. Since I had to go to business meetings that were considered “ministry”, since I had to put on the face and fake my way through a Sunday, since I had to work for the approval of people rather than God. Since I was a consumer/user of resources like time, money, people rather than an investor of time & money and an investor into people. All this, and more, has been swirling around in my head for the past year and especially in the last 6 months. It’s been the daily topic of conversation between my wife and I. If i could condense it into f-words, they would be as follows….
Just over a year ago, i was having weird chest pains—the kind that make a 37yr old dude think that all those carbs and deep-fried foods were coming back to haunt him in some sort of culinary karma setup. Heartburn—nope. Heart-attack—no. It was stress…the heaviness of the institution and the expectations that came with it. It was knowing subconsciously that I was compromising who i was for what I was doing. The moment—the very day that I told my boss that I was leaving, the heaviness lifted. Now, i feel this light-ness more and more each day that I’m out of the institution that I allowed to rob me of my joy, my personality, and my identity as a person. There are no more labels or titles. No unspoken expectations on me and my family enforced by spiritual guilt trips and people who cannot live up to the same expectations. I am simply left with the freedom to be. Being has replaced doing. No longer am i “doing ministry”—which is part of the problem. I am the ministry.
“How has your faith changed since you left?” an ex-coworker asked me. “Have you lost your faith?” a church-goer asked me outside of Starbucks on a Sunday afternoon. “Where are you attending?” numerous people have asked—then follow up with church suggestions that do not include the one they are attending. Never have I been asked why I left. I wonder why? Maybe they know the answer…or don’t want to know the answer. Or don’t care. Or “D—All of the Above”. Honestly, I am rediscovering my faith. Maybe I never really had it in the first place. Maybe I’m actually experiencing God-faith after settling for the cheap knock-off “church-faith”. Actually there’s no maybe about it. I lost my faith within the institution/system. I had to remove myself from it and go through a lot of pain to come to this point today. but that’s part of the process…part of faith…part of detoxing from my addiction.
This is why i celebrate 6months clean and sober. I was addicted to the approval of others who really didn’t care…to the thrill of being wanted (read “used/abused”)…to the fix of being a personal Jesus to those who don’t really want Jesus. Plus the constant meetings and purposeless activities/busyness wore me down to a numb mess in the fetal position in my office.
I’ve got a true friend who knows how to use the word “fuck” like a professional. Not like the dude who uses it as a comma in mundane conversation. But like an artist. It’s downright inspiring. Especially when he replaced my middle name with it. It’s shocking to most people, especially the people in our circles cuz their Jesus doesn’t cuss—especially the big cuss words! Certainly we can’t be effective ministers to people if we are a swearing lot of folk. Bono gets written off, church ladies gasp, and recovering church addicts like me feel reborn.
There’s way more i could type tonight but alas, i will save it for future posts. Thanks for reading.