Wednesday, August 30, 2006

New name, same old stuff? Does this website seem a little off to anyone else but me? I find it odd to see a website dedicated to the bashing of a practice while itself unashamedly utilizing the very same techniques it holds in contempt. I'm as much for change as anyone. I think the church as a culture is in need of awakening. But a lot of what I see that comes along in the name of change is not necessarily a fundamentally different approach. One of my favorites over the years are the great claims in worship music, boasting that it is "fresh" or "cutting edge, when you find out its only just another way to rhyme "king" with "sing" and "adore" with "forevemore." New churches that spring up can say they are doing church differently, but the only thing that might be different is aesthetics. They still meet on Sundays (or maybe Saturday in a warehouse) and listen to one guy speak after singing a few songs. The only real distinction is that they lit a bunch of candles and dimmed the lights a bit. Real change has got to come from an authentic core. Being an approval junkie, I worried a bit about yesterday's post, fearing that my honesty may come back to bite me, but therein lies much of the problem with the church, of which I have been a contributor. These posts are an attempt to get the log out of my own eye first. I wish these guys well at their effort of initiating change. I just think I'll go about it a different way.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

the [e-word]

The one thing that caused me the most guilt in ministry was the [e-word]. I have probably felt more shame over the [e-word] than anything in my life. And like most shameful experiences, you feel led to hide (remember Adam and Eve?) My attempt to be a good Baptist Evangelical led me to try and try and try, but I always seemed to come up short. I was never confident enough, certainly not pushy. I can't argue a point very well. Most of the time I found myself listening to a person instead of getting a Summary of the Story across. I had good conversations many times, but there was no place on the report form for those. Reports were a big deal in my circle, and it seemed the most important thing anyone ever wanted to know was how many times did I share a Summary of the Story, and how many made a positive decision based on that presentation. So you know what I did? I lied. Yes, I lied many times over. I took credit for stuff I shouldn't have. I fudged the numbers so I would look good and hopefully keep my job. All this because of the shame I felt for my ineffectiveness at the [e-word]. To this day I don't know what to do with that shame. At least I am out of a vocation that requires that kind of reporting, which led me to feel like I had to be deceptive. I envy people who are effective at the [e-word]. It's why I don't feel I could never be a missionary or even a paid pastor again. The freedom from feeling the need to lie is better than the pressure of having to perform a task I am not gifted to do.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Washing Dishes

It dawned on the this morning around 5:18am, while I was sitting on my patio in the dark getting ready to go to what I call my 8 1/2 hr prison, that part of my current struggle of life is over the issue of my identity, or simply put, what do I think of myself? For several years my faith was directly attached to what I did as a minister. There was a built-in motivation to pray or study the Scripture because it was my job and if I didn't then I wouldn't be doing what I was paid to do. This behavior became normal. I was what I did and what I did became my identity. Then came the tearing away of that identity. 11 months ago I started my current job, one that I took out of desperation of needing some kind of income. My first day on the job I found myself in the dishroom of a college dorm cafeteria washing dishes. While this was not what I was hired to do, its all there was for me to do that day. So there I was, elbow deep in institutional strength Dawn dishsoap, scrubbing pans with deaf mute woman and a severely autistic young man. All I could think of was, "What have I gotten myself into?" It was a plunge into the icy deep. I felt like the newest member of the Polar Bear Club. My identity was stripped. I am no longer Worship Leader that writes cool songs. I am now Dishwasher. My reference points were all lost. What would it mean to become a person of faith without a guitar, without an audience, with out a pulpit, without a congregation? I would guess a similar transition shock occurs for anyone who has done something they love for an extended period of time, only to find themselves unable to express that passion any longer. I hope I can change gracefully. It's always a little awkward to watch athletes come out of retirement because they can't face the fact that there is no more place for them in the spotlight. Quoting Alanis Morrisette, "the only way out is through." Healing requires asking the right question. That starting day, mine was, "What does faith act like while holding a stainless steel scrubbie?" This is what I am beginning to find out.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Why I don't feel like a good Anything

My posts this week have come from reflecting on my need to belong. I often wonder how much of who I really am (the first face) did I deny or silence in order to gain acceptance among those whose opinion seemed to matter. I tried to be bold and confident as a witness because everyone who taught on the subject seemed as overbearing as a bullmoose. I tried to display absolute cetainty in all my views because those who led me did so. I sold all my vinyl in the 80's so I could be pure (felt guilty for not burning them). I memorized a zillion verses on little cards so I could have a new one to impress people with. I did a lot of things like that over the years. I'm not down on any of those things as wrong. I'm just trying to take a look in the mirror and sort out motive. Did I do some of that stuff out of wrong motive? Absolutely, but I can't change that part of the story. What I find myself interested in is the future. What of those things will I take with me. I'd really like to take who I really am on the boat and leave as much of the poser as possible on the shore . It seems to me that our yearning for community involves to things; finding people who are LIKE me and also who are FOR me. I saw this a lot in collegiate ministry. Students enter the university looking for a place to belong. They look to clubs, organizations, athletics, etc. to find people who are LIKE them. LIKE gravitates to LIKE. Legacies usually find the sorority of their family member. Christians usually find a ministry. Trekkies usually find the Sci-Fi club. Then if the search turns up empty, sometimes the student will adopt a value of the group in order to gain entrance. Alcohol abuse is sadly a big one that lots of kids embrace. But it doesn't have to be a negative value like that. The biggest value shift comes when a person finds a group that is FOR them. The feeling of acceptance is so rare that instead of risking losing that place, the person will unconsciously change behavior. I think this is something of what happened to me in my early years of faith. I don't fault anyone but myself. I'm a big boy now. Time to put away childish things, become the man I really am. And I just might like who I'm becoming.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Why I don't make a good Evangelical

One plus about my otherwise cruddy, boring job is that I get to listen to The Herd on sports-talk radio. The host's schtick is the same each day. Every morning he opens the program with a take on some sports related issue, sheds a little light on the subject and usually creates a little controversy that becomes fodder for the listeners, callers and emailers to chew on. One day he opens with a bit on "Faith Nights" that are starting to show up at ballparks across the country. He described these Faith Nights as an evening dedicated to Christians who could come to see a game, sit in their own section in the stadium, have their group name flashed on the scoreboard, and following the game, a Christian artists would do a little concert. Now again, there was a time when that would have made perfect sense to me. How cool to get to go to a game and enjoy a show afterward. That would be fine if that's all it was. I guess the reason I don't make a good evangelical is that I don't get as easily offended by certain stuff like I used to. Maybe I should, but the talk show host was explaining more about the marketing of Faith Night. It didn't fit my categories. Faith Night supporters go on and on about how Christians don't have to worry about hearing foul language or setting next to a guy drinking beer, since the have their own section away from everyone else. This is where I don't get it. Am I off here? Have I lost all my convictions? Are my morals compromised? To me it makes about as much sense to yell at the blind guy for walking into my car. Wouldn't it make more sense for me to accomodate him than vice versa?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Why I don't make a good Baptist

Every group has them. They are the boundary markers that get set up to tell whether a person is "in" or "out." These markers could be written or unwritten, spoken or unspoken, yet either way, after a time, you know what they are, because they will make their way to the forefront of conversation, and judgements will be passed down accordingly. Really, these boundary markers are nothing more than values commonly held by that group. Values help define identity and create community. Values are a good thing, but problems arise when they start to contradict one another. My problem is that I've been told I make really good beer. Our ales even won first and second place this past Sunday at our local brewpub's homebrewer contest. It was a very exciting experience to watch people try your craft and comment glowingly on it. One person said, "You've got a gift here." (of course to some that's like saying you have a gift for making good porn films) When we won, there was the need to call people to let them know, but none of my Baptist friends were on the list. I know they would not be able to share the joy. That's what makes this mid-life shift a hard one for me to reconcile. I wish I could just set the fence posts and run the wire that says alcohol is of the devil. It would be tons easier on me, but I can't seem to view the world that way anymore. To create such tight boundaries would limit the places I could go, not just for my sake, but for other people who live in outside territory. My world was safer before, but in comparison to what I am finding, it was more black and white also. I see more color today, more beauty, more danger and more risk. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Why I don't feel like a good Christian

I remember very early in my faith experience the amount of guilt that I encountered. Usually the guilt revolved around some aspect that I was not giving enough attention to, like not praying enough, not giving enough, not witnessing enough. And since I tend to be a maximizer, always wanting to do better, always improve on something, this guilt seemed to make sense. How else would I be a better person of faith if I didn't have something nagging me? Likely I would turn soft without it, maybe even abandon the faith altogether. I don't know if its just me, but I seemed to encounter this guilt everywhere I went. It could be the lenses I viewed life through, but something caused me to finally notice it and start to ask, "Is this right?" I remember once hearing a new pastor talk about the importance of having a daily time of bible reading and prayer. He took his audience through how he did this, and I was struck by the shame of his responses. Things like: "God, show me where I've been wrong." "God, show me what I need to do better." "God, I'm sorry I don't do a better job at ......." (fill in the blank. He had several) There was a time when that would have made perfect sense to me, but something, maybe this mid-life thing, caused me to question and reflect on that incident. I'm a dad. I love my two kids dearly. They bring me lots of joy. They both make me laugh in their unique ways. My relationship with them, though, is not centered around all the things they didn't do during the day. I've not trained them to ask me to tell them how they've constantly screwed up or let me down. I try and make sure they know that they are loved and that life does not center around them. This is how I'm trying to change my view of interacting with God; less guilty, more free. It would seem like a preferable and, therefore, relatively easy change to make, but you'd be surprised how several years of guilt thinking become hard to break.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Graduating into Mid-Life

Why am I writing things in a forum that perfect strangers can read anytime of day or night? One reason is to try and work through this mid-life transition I am in. I figure if I can put it in a form that someone who doesn't even know me can understand, then maybe it will make sense to me too. Seems like so much in my life is up for grabs, especially as it pertains to the future. I really liked college life because for 5 years I was pretty set in what I was going to do. CHEM101, PHYS304, MGT433. there was an order and progression to the events of each year. The ebb and flow was even predictable; breaks at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, summers off. I remember not worrying about too much. Then came graduation. The future and the present were juxtaposed. What to do? Decisions to make? Where to go? Where to live? How to make money? Will I get married? All these questions came down like an avalanche. It's ironic that now at 43, I am asking the same questions (except getting married) about the future. Leaving vocational ministry feels alot like graduation. I knew my job, did it as best as I knew how, enjoyed the ebb and flow. It felt good and secure. It felt good. But then came the change. I knew I needed to "graduate" and move on. The best way to describe it is as a compulsion. I was compelled with new ideas that I could never escape. I would dream about them at night, wake up thinking these thoughts, doodle about it, journal about it. The prophet Jeremiah referred to something like it as "fire shut up in his bones." I can relate to that word picture. So with all that, I blog. I am writing for me, to try and sift through the changes that seem myriad. I need to question everything right now. I'm putting it all to the test. I want to shed the unneeded cargo as I sail into my uncharted waters. Thanks for reading and your encouragement.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Checking Box #3

In the tradition I grew up in, church people really liked keeping track of certain stuff. At the end of a church service, or revival meeting or youth camp, someone would get up at the end with a handful of cards and read the "results." The Big 3 were always the same. They were: 1. # saved. 2. # of rededications of faith. 3. # of surrenduring to the call of the ministry. I just realized that in my 43 years, I never checked box #3. I checked box #1 when I was 17, and checked box #2 countless times before that, thinking I had checked box #1, but the elusive box #3 never got a mark by my golf pencil. When I decided to go to seminary after college, it just made good sense. It was something I wanted to do. I wanted to work with university students. I didn't go kicking and screaming. Surrender never entered my mind. No need to check box #3. I could not relate to my friends who said God was calling them to surrender to the ministry. "Surrender? It sounds like you're going to spend the rest of your life doing something you hate." "Yes, isn't it great?" I just never got it. Some dude asked me if I've ever read Desiring God. I would say that the ideas in that book have shaped my thinking as much as any. That's why surrender never made sense to me, until I realized we are surrendering in order gain joy. Here's the surrender part of box #3 that I never expected to have to deal with 1. Believing you have been gifted to create something new, but your leaders don't understand it. 2. Having to choose between what you think has been God's leading or continuing in a path that your leaders understand. 3. Facing the rejection of your leaders, despite your plea for their blessing. 4. Being told, "We don't know what to do with you." 5. Cutting yourself off from the community you loved and served in order to try and do the right thing. 6. Wondering if anyone else believes in what you're doing. 7. Feeling desperately alone. Who knew checking box # 3 would be so complicated?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ministry and the "Second Face"

Here's something I encountered along the way in my "ministry as profession" career. Somewhere I realized that I had developed a "second face" as a result of my position. This second face was the professional side of ministry. To be professional is to not let personal issues prevent one from carrying out the duties of the office. (This was Bill Clinton's defense). I wore the second face up front often, but when I would try and revert to the original face, I found some people wanted to relate to the other. Now the second face doesn't have to mean one lives a drastic double life, where a sinister darkenss is being masked from everyone. It can be very subtle, which is what I felt mine was. Bottom line, it felt like I had to hide something out of fear of getting caught and losing my job. One "second face" issue was alcohol. I really enjoy beer and wine and I've even taking to brewing my own, simply because I love the process of creating something beautiful from a raw product. Cooperating with the natural process of fermentation (which I assume God created), I am fascinated at turning grapes or grain into a completely different result. This is my first face. But the tradition that I grew and worked in had a completely different view, so I was not free to explore this unless I was to hide it. This meant that I would have a beer with dinner only when I knew I wouldn't get caught, like when I was out of state or country. I started feeling like a phony. Now I understand the exhortation to not let freedom be a stumbling block for someone weaker, and fully try and apply that, but what I did not like was this "second face" that I felt I had no choice but to wear. I hope this does not sound like defense of alcohol, because the "second face" could be a requirement of anything that does not fit into the norms or mores of a community of faith. Jesus calls us to be free, not to have to hide out of fear. That freedom needs to have a positive direction to it. (I am free, therefore I........) Often, freedom is followed by a condition (I am free, but....). It is this condition that usually demands a "second face."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Confessions of a Church Addict

In some ways I feel like an addict. I like to define addiction as this: Exchanging control for the promise of reward. I feel like I did that with a situation called church. I think I gave it control over me in exchange for a reward, which came in the form of place, recognition, and a sense of power. I think this is why I like reading about gambling. [see luckiestone] Gambling is not my addiction, but because I know myself well enough, I know that it could be. I'm in the process of detoxing from my addiction to church. [Please note: this is NOT an attack against what we call church] I looked to it to provide me something it was never capable of giving. Just like the gambler looking to the dice to deliver, I wanted something back, but came up seven-out. I loved being in front of people, playing music, hearing my songs sung, getting feedback from folks about my teaching or leadership, but it became my reward. I had no other place to stand. I became a nobody. This is a hard one for people to get. It took my wife a couple of years to figure out why attending church on Sunday mornings would send me into a tailspin for the rest of the day. The addict needed his fix, and it was nowhere to be found. Many of my friends are well-meaning, trying to encourage me by saying that it was not in vain, that the LORD uses us in spite our motives, but it still doesn't change the fact that I gave something away to get something illegitimate, that I feel like a poser, like an addict.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Seven Steps to Being an Effective Ex-Minister

I'm not sure if I'm normal in my experience of being an ex-minister, since there are no books out there outlining 7 steps to becoming a successful ex-minister. I can only hope that I am on the right path, as I feel like I am sailing uncharted waters. Others have likely passed this way, but I can't seem to find their travel logs. So I guess this is my attempt to leave a message in a bottle for those who come behind. When you're a minister, you have to take a position of authority, especially if you teach or preach on a regular basis. I was not in a weekly teaching role, like many of my old collegues. I spoke maybe on the average once per month. The pressure of coming up with something to say can be pretty high. (I still can't see how people do it week in and week out.) I don't know about others, but for me there came the temptation to say things that were sound and orthodox, yet had never passed the test of it in my own life. Prayer being one such subject. If someone asked me today to give a talk on prayer, it might go something like this: "I have no idea how it works, or even if it works, but I find myself talking to God alot." Compare that to all the countless things I've taught about prayer over the years and there in lies my dilemma. What have I offered people? What have I led people to believe about prayer that I'm not even sure about? This may sound like a dying man's confession and maybe it is, but I have to say that I like the freedom of being at this place of honesty. I've not given up on prayer. I'm just trying to sift through all the baggage that has come with it. I might want to go back to being a minister if I could pray these kinds of prayer. "God, help." "God, I don't get it." "God, where else am I going to go?" I found a new blog I like called MissionsMisunderstood. The thing I like about it, in addition to the content, is that the brother is annonymous. Sounds like its really disrupting some of his readers. The reason I appreciate the anonymity is that it reminds me of God right now. I really believe He's there, speaking, working, and acting for my good, but I have not idea who He is. I thought I knew, but that knowledge has been blown out of the water. So in the mean time, I simply try and listen and receive. Can't wait to see what comes next.

Monday, August 07, 2006

One Year Later

It was a year ago we buried my dad under a shade tree in the Oglesby cemetary outside Bartlesville, OK. Sometimes I wonder where the time has gone, other times it feels like yesterday. Either way, there has been a lot of water pass under the bridge. A year ago, life was very dark. Having left my career, being unemployed, the uncertainty of the future, combined with my wife being unemployed and my father dying, the weight on my shoulders was pretty heavy. Granted, things could have been worse, but your circumstances are your reality and you have to live with them. Despair was the rule of the day. Hope seemed a long way off, kind of like the BN train that passes through the north side of town. Once in a while you can hear the horn blowing as it approaches an intersection. I knew hope had to exist, but it wasn't very close or obvious. But today, I see a little different picture. Death always gives way to life. Seeds die, but soon germinate. Plant material decays, but that decompostition allows other living plants to flourish. The body dies, but its legacy of story is passed on to the next generation. I can't tell you how many times I have caught myself saying, "like my dad would say..." or "my dad taught me this..." True, he is gone and will never see the things I will accomplish because of his influence on me. I somehow think what he saw while he was alive was enough for him, though its not enough for me. I have in my possession a letter of intent from a property owner. We are another big step toward Bread&Cup. Today I take it to the bank to see if they will loan me the money we need. Somehow the events of this past year have prepared me for today. I am more hopeful, more at ease, more willing to stare despair in the face and say, "you will not win."