Quitting my calling for a job.

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CALLING: a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence

JOB: a regular remunerative position

(Miriam Webster’s Dictionary)

I don’t think I could tell you the difference between a crescent wrench and a tree saw, but for some reason, I have this recurring fantasy that plays in my head:

I want to manage a hardware store.

I don’t want to own it.  And I’m not talking a monstrosity like a Lowe’s or a Home Depot.  Just a nice family hardware store, decked out with handy tools and old wood floors.

There wouldn’t be that much to manage.  Mostly, I’d be the one behind the counter, making duplicate keys for people, and pointing them to aisle 5 where the duct tape is.

And a couple times a month, I’d take my medium-sized paycheck to the bank, and say hi to the woman behind the counter, Jan.  We’d smile and wave knowingly–just two hard working folks, doing their jobs.

I think the only credible job I ever held was my first one.  At the age of 15 I ran the tractor at my parent’s church in Rochester, Michigan, pushing snow out of the way.  It was good, honest work, and I was lousy at it, but I put in my time, and got my paycheck.

After that, I worked at a movie theater (free movies and popcorn), and at a library (nothing ever happened there).  Oh, there were a couple other ones, like a 4 month stint at a dysfunctional computer store, but really, I was just coasting by, until…

I found my calling.  To be a pastor.  Honestly, I had a sense of my calling since I was 5 years old and drew a picture of myself standing behind the pulpit.  My parents were both pastors, so really, the language of “call” was more common in my home than the language of “job”.

So once I was old enough, that’s where I went.  Into the ministry.  A life’s work built around serving the Kingdom of God the best that I could.  I went to lots of school (and accumulated lots of debt) and jumped into a complicated system where I didn’t even get to pick where I would serve.  Folks higher up in the denomination knew of my gifts, and (hopefully) respected my calling, and put me where I could best serve.

I’ve loved having a calling.  It’s meant a life of meaning and purpose, at least most of the time.  It’s meant being part of something bigger than myself, and guiding parishioners to discover their calling, too.

Yeah, I learned long ago that you don’t have to be a pastor to respond to a call.  Just as God spoke to Samuel out of the Ark of the Covenant, that dark night in the church, God can speak to anyone, and anyone who commits themselves to a life of discipleship is, indeed, answering the call.

And still, some weeks I’d love to give it all up, for something simpler, easier.  When church conferences loom and funerals start to stack up, and attendance is dropping despite my best efforts, I hear that siren song:

It’s the sound of chicks, penned up in the back of the store.  The sound of the bell over the front door as Jan from the bank comes in.  They need a couple keys made next door.  Simple.  Easy.

Then she asks me what I’m doing Sunday, and invites me to church. And, wouldn’t you know it, I feel that old sense of calling, leading me back to this office, and this desk, and my list of church-y things to do.  And I realize I’m right where I need to be.

Not in the church, although I’m happy here, but in God’s hands.  That’s a choice of holy, focused living that calls to us whether we’re a pastor, or a hardware store manager, or anything else.  Calling is different from a job–you can even have both at the same time.

Have you paid attention to your calling, of late?  It is Holy Spirit-given companionship and guidance,

steering you back into God’s Kingdom

in spite of all life’s Highs…

and Lowes.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

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BAREFOOT!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon!

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback

 

Please Turn In Your Hymnals

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If everything falls apart in the United Methodist Church, and one side claims one of the flames, and the other side claims the other, I was wondering:

What do we do with the hymnal?  The United Methodist Hymnal that has been our guide in worship, at least for English speakers, since, what, 1989?  That’s 30 years of worship — is it now up in the air, too?

A lot’s changed in those 30 years.  Lots of American Methodists don’t even pull their hymnals out any more, grudgingly accepting the ease of words on the screen.  Many others have traded in the old standards for almost-as-old “contemporary” hymns.  There are new songs for new generations, and strangely enough, new music based on old standards.

Time has passed, but the hymnal has endured for a good long while, along with two other United Methodist hymnals, Mil Voces Para Celebrar: Himnario Metodista (published in 1996) and Come, Let Us Worship: The Korean-English United Methodist Hymnal (published in 2000). (Wikipedia)

If the denomination splits, do we have to split up our hymnals, too?  How would that even work?

“You guys can have ‘O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,’ but we get ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”

or

“You can take Word and Table II, but we get to keep Baptismal Covenant I.”

Or maybe the Holy Spirit appears, with a list of hymns neither side gets to sing anymore, including:

“Oh Church of God, United” (547)
“Let Us Break Bread Together” (618)
“Help Us Accept Each Other” (560)
“In Christ There Is No East or West” (548)

I vote for none of the above options, of course.  I pray instead that the Holy Spirit guides us out of these treacherous waters with truth and justice.

As we struggle along, maybe we can find some common ground in the common songs of our tradition. Music has the power to amplify voices of hope and peace.

Who knows? If we’re loud enough, and bold enough, maybe God will hear

The Faith We Sing.

Have a great week,

Mitch
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1001 Way Forward Jokes (for Methodists)

Q:  Why were the moderate delegates in danger when a fire broke out?
A:  They hadn’t considered the Exit Plans.

Q:  How many General Conference 2019 delegates does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  It depends on if a majority can turn the same direction.

Q:  Is such an important, crucial moment in the life of our church a joking matter?
A:  You bet your modified connectional one church simple backside it is!

Let me explain.

On September 11, 2002, one year after the terrible attacks in New York and the Pentagon, I sat in the sanctuary at Manhattan, KS FUMC.  We hosted a community worship service, and there was a full sanctuary of people of different backgrounds and religions.

Right at one of the most solemn moments, I heard something from across the room.  Laughter.  A woman was laughing.  It took me a few moments to realize it, but it was something I’d studied in seminary:  Holy Laughter.  Folks from some more Pentecostal churches believe that, much like speaking in tongues, the Holy Spirit could lead people to laugh.

Well, the folks around me were not impressed, nor was I.  It seemed crass and out of place, especially on such a dark occasion.

But since then, the idea has stuck with me.  Holy Laughter.   Is such a Spirit-led thing possible?  I kind of hope so.

I may not believe in glossolalia (speaking in tongues) or spirit-fueled utterances, but I believe in the holy power of laughing.   I would consider it high up in my list of spiritual gifts.   Every sermon, every wedding, ever funeral — I aim to include some laughter, because I’ve seen what it can do.

Now, there’s good laughter and bad laughter.   I try not to be crude, or divisive.  I’ve made my share of jokes that cut another person down — I’m ashamed of those.  But I find that laughter can open up lines of communication that once were closed.  Laughter can heal anxiety like nobody’s business.  Laughter, if truly used according to the Spirit, can awaken hope, relief, and yes…a Way Forward.

Hard as I try, I’m not much of a prophet.  I have strong beliefs but I prefer to be a shepherd to my flock, guiding them as they grow in faith.   I struggle with anxiety and uncertainty as much as anyone, but I’ve learned that nobody is served by an excess of fear and panic.

And so, as our delegates head to Saint Louis for this momentous occasion, what I have to offer is a counter-intuitive suggestion:  Laugh a lot next week.   Find the humor in moments big and small.  Laugh with people from different places and different positions.  Not divisive or crass humor, and maybe not when it’s clearly uncalled for — but embrace the kind of Spirit led humor that can lighten a room and clear a way.

Even if you’re only laughing on the inside, if you feel the nudge, let er rip.

Grace, Peace, and Blessings!

Have a great week,

Mitch Todd

My style of humor is more spontaneous, so these riddles fall more into the Laffy Taffy realm of bad.  Enjoy.

Q:  What do you get when your denomination is reduced to a single location?
A:  The One Church Plant

Q: Why does the Connectional Plan have trouble meeting people?
A:  It’s Complicated.

Q: If Jesus showed up in St Louis, where would he sit?
A: Enterprise Center.  Bruins vs. Blues.

Q:  How many Bishops does it take to change a denomination?
A: That’s not their job.  (But if you get desperate you could ask)

Q: If there’s a schism, who gets the cross and flame?
A.  Jesus gets the cross.  The Spirit gets the flame.  And God gets a headache.

(That’s 8 down, and 993 to go.  You write the rest.)

 

 

The Last Straw

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It totally sucks.

A straw, I mean.  That’s what it does.

How many do you think you’ve used in your life?  How many have a waiter or waitress dropped onto your table, only to throw them out twenty minutes later?

I’ve never much thought about straws, until a couple weeks ago when I read an article about straw pollution.  Straw pollution? Yep. Blew my mind.

 

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In the U.S., we use 500 million straws a day! That is enough straw waste to wrap the circumference of the earth 2.5 times or to fill Yankee Stadium over 9 times in a year! Now imagine that magnified by global consumption!

That quote and graphic are from a site called Thelastplasticstraw.org.  How could something so little ever amount to so much pollution?  It’s hard for me to even picture, but just because I don’t see it doesn’t mean the problem goes away.

In fact, it never goes away.  Plastics like straws don’t biodegrade.  They just break down into littler and littler pieces.  They end up inside animals, and in us! Straws seem like such a handy, innocuous invention.  But they literally suck the life right out of our ecosystem.

It makes me wonder what other environmental catastrophes I contribute to and just don’t pay attention to them.  Relying on too many fossil fuels.  Forgetting to recycle.  Throwing used batteries into the trash.  Consuming way more than the rest of the world does.  I wonder if, when I’m not paying attention, one of those behaviors will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for our planet.

In Genesis, God puts us in charge, giving us dominion over all creatures.  That’s quite a responsibility.  And here is what God says to the Israelites in Numbers:

‘Do not pollute the land where you are… Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.’  Numbers 35:33-34

We made this mess.  Can we clean it up?  Making even a dent in our accumulated mistreatment of Mother Earth seems impossible to achieve.  I don’t have any perfect solutions either, although thelastplastricstraw.org has some good suggestions.

Remember, God doesn’t want a messy planet any more than you or I do.  The Holy Spirit is here to guide us as we learn to be better stewards.  We just need to get started.

Here’s my new motto for tackling pollution:

“Start with the things that totally suck.”

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Seeing, and Nazi-ing.

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Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness.  –Luke 11:34

I have sympathy for Nazis. But by no means does that make me a Nazi sympathizer!  In fact, there are few groups in the world that disgust me as much as they do.

With their marching, and swastika waving, and saluting, not to mention their racist, fascist words and actions, I might be persuaded to punch one in the face, and I’m a man of peace!

Remember that scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the Nazis open up the Ark of the Covenant, and the Spirit comes out and basically smites all the Nazis?  Well, I don’t really think that’s something the Holy Spirit would do, but I can’t help but cheer. 

I try not to hate, and it makes especially little sense when that hate is directed towards a “hate group”, but groups like the Nazis, and the KKK, and ISIS make me want to scream in rage.

Oh, you too?  Alright, let’s leave a little space here for some primal screaming.  Ready?  Go!

(scream)

Okay.  I feel a little better.  I, for one, angry as these hate groups may make me, have to be sure not to just stuff down my emotions and ignore them. I think it’s okay to let it out, but as a controlled burn, not a wildfire.  I think we have a right to be angry, but not give in to hate.

So how is it that I can feel sorry for these jerks?  These walking, talking time bombs of intolerance?  Isn’t that like having sympathy for the devil?  (Rolling Stones reference, by the way).

No, it’s having sympathy for people who don’t see the light.  Who don’t see light at all.  As Jesus mentions in the passage above, people whose eyes are unhealthy, and all they can see is darkness.

What damaged their eyes?  What caused these folks to see such hate?

Maybe it was their parents.  Racism is often a passed-down trait.  They were raised to hate and fear types of people, and so they do.

Maybe it was their situation.  Maybe they need somebody to blame for their social status, or their poverty, or their unemployment.  Or course, that makes it sound like Nazis and other racists come from the lower class alone.  Racism, so to say, does not discriminate.  It can be found in all levels of society.

Maybe they never heard of God.  Or never learned to see the good in others.  Maybe they willfully stared at the wrong things, dark things.  Or saw hatred as a way to get ahead.

I don’t know why Nazi’s choose Nazi-ing (“Not Seeing”) the light of God in all God’s people, but I can attest, that light is there.  Even a Nazi is not immune from the power and love of God’s light.  There is hope.

So, although I find myself tensing up in frustration at the sight of a swastika, I just keep praying for a little of God’s light to break through.

Maybe, instead of a full-on smite, the Spirit can give those Nazis

a painful, yet eye-opening sunburn.

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Homesick for the Holidays

christmas-is-a-time-when-you-get-homesickI’m homesick.

I know I’m in good company.

I picture countless college students, soldiers, business travelers and others, pining for home.

This is the time of year when it hits hardest.  A time for togetherness, a time of tradition.

But here’s my thing:

I counted it up, and in my life I’ve had exactly 15 places that I have called home.

That’s a lot, although you may have had even more.

Which one am I longing for?

I have wonderful memories that come from many of those places.

Families, fun, meals, gifts given and received.

But this year, it’s not for any of those places that I am homesick.

I am longing for what I might call a heavenly home.

 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  –John 14:23

The earthly world seems especially slippery this year.  I find it hard to cling to some of those “home” traditions with the same joy I do most years.

This year I long for something eternal.  Something true.  Something I can hold on to.

I long for a Love I can call home.

This home is not necessarily a place, nor is it only accessible after one’s death.  It is the Father, Son, and Spirit setting up a spiritual home with you.

A home base.  A safe place.  A launching pad.  HOME.

What triggers this kind of homecoming?

Jesus says it:  Clinging to him.  Living with faith.

This is the kind of home I’m sick for.

The very kind that will make me well.

Merry Christmas!  Cling to Christ!

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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After Labor Day

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Here’s what I’m facing:

I sat down at my desk today and took a good long look at the fall ahead of me.  Yikes!  There’s a lot going on.  Do I have the energy?…
I checked the news and see one of the most contentious political races turning nastier by the day…
I fear that this broken world may yet get the best of me…

Thus begins a long, hard fall.

But I’m a rebel.  A maverick.

Let me tell you why.

Today it is officially post-Labor Day.

And when I got dressed this morning, I deliberately picked out something white to wear.

I’ve been wearing this white shirt everywhere I’ve gone today, and nobody has had the courage to tell me of my fashion faux pas to my face, but I know they’re thinking it.

That pastor is wearing white after labor day!

What can I tell you? I was born to break the rules.

Okay, okay, that’s not much of a “rule” to break.  That fashion advice went by the wayside years ago.

Which is good.  Because I think you and I should wear white all autumn long.

Why?

White is known as the color of innocence and purity.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. –Psalm 51:7

The Bible also points to white as symbolic of holiness:

 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. –Mark 16:5

Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.  –Ecclesiastes 9:8

 

And so I pray:

Instill in me, Jesus, a renewed innocence, that I may view the world through the eyes of a child, and the eyes of faith.
Grant me, Oh God, forgiveness and protection, that I may live in the purity of your Word.
Fill me, Spirit, with your holiness, that every step I take is a step closer to you.

 

Thus begins a long, hard fall.

And every day will be a labor day.

And I will endeavor

to wear white.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

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