S is for . . .

SEVEN LAST WORDS

You’ve probably heard the joke before about the “seven last words of” . . . no, not from Jesus, but of the church: We’ve never done it that way before. Often pastors cringe when laity balk at trying something new. And vice-versa! Few are willing to see the new, try the unfamiliar, risk the unknown. Alas, all of those notions—the new, the unfamiliar, the unknown—describe Jesus’ way and ministry. In the path of the Nazarene, there are no last words. Instead, there is seeing with open eyes; helping to heal others, even as we struggle with our own wounded hearts; and risking self for others.

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Question #18

I’d hoisted my 30-pound bag of overpriced kibble onto the counter as the pet store’s owner—let’s call him Tom—stopped clicking the cash register’s keys and gazed at me.

He asked, “You’re the minister, right?”

The 2nd Sunday of Easter – for May 1, 2011

“Do not doubt, but believe…” (from John 20:27)

I’m a regular at Tom’s store. With three cats and an aging dog, my wife and I try to be responsible pet owners. I’m also a minister and rarely hesitate to share that information with folks. Selflessly, telling another you’re an ordained United Methodist pastor is one way to open doors to conversations about faith. Selfishly, I recall a Disneyland vacation (early 1960s) and being fascinated by a sign on the entrance kiosk. It listed ticket prices. Adults cost the most. Children were cheaper. Clergy received a 50-cents-off discount! I don’t think Mickey Mouse and his bottom-line buddies offer that deal any more, but it made an impression on me. Who knows what experiences will contribute to your future calling?

“Yes,” I replied to Tom, “I am a minister.”

His fingers hovered above the keyboard. He still hadn’t added the low-fat salmon & chicken feline food we always buy. Madison, in age our middle kitty and in size a cat with an ever-expanding middle, requires this special (overpriced) grub. So says our vet.

“What do you think are some of the obstacles to becoming a minister?” Tom asked.

If I’d been a stockbroker, maybe he would’ve asked when Bank of America might finally climb over $20/share again. Or if a doctor, he’d jab at an elbow or earlobe and ask why it throbbed in the heat.

I reminded Tom I was on leave-of-absence because of wanting to spend more time with my wife (a Top 10 obstacle: ministry’s impact on a family). I quickly added a second Top 10 no-brainer: life in a fish bowl. In most parishes, “everybody” knows what you’re doing.

Tom interrupted. He had an agenda. He wanted to talk about how much ministers were paid. Tom shared about feeling a call to preach, but he’d gone into his family business. When that business took a nasty financial nose-dive, he careened into debt. Now he and his wife were balancing several jobs, the pet store being one of them, battling their way back to financial solvency.

“Ministers don’t earn very much, do they?” Bob asked.

What would you say to someone about obstacles?
Would the “low” annual income be on your list?

In my United Methodist tradition, we ask a series of questions before ordination. These are “historic” queries, developed by John Wesley over two hundred years ago. There are about twenty of them . . .

#18 is: Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work?

And your answer is? Graduates from seminary leave with diplomas and five-figure debts: maybe $20,000, maybe $70,000. More? Ministers serve churches where a salary is dangerously near whatever the federal government currently designates as the poverty level. Continue reading →

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O is for . . .

OOHH!

Sometimes, there are no words. Once I gave a “pitch”–a brief description like you’d find on a jacket flap–about my novel and the listener reacted with wide eyes and a loud, “Oohh!?” She was intrigued, obviously wanted to know more. It truly warmed my heart.

In the realm of faith, we search for the best word for how we believe, trust, and hope. But often no word is adequate.

In Biblical scholarship, zillions of words are written about single verses, comparisons between Gospels, and what the original Greek really, really, really meant. And we end up either adding to the confusion or, worse, far too confident that we have KNOWLEDGE. TRUTH. INFALLIBILITY. Blah-blah-blah . . .

I’m happy with “Oohh!?” Or a smile. Or shared laughter. Or an embrace.

Faith is frequently best understood when our words are tucked away.

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