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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Going Freestyle

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So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” Exodus 15:24

Let me tell you. Olive Garden will refill your iced tea quicker than you can drink it.  Carlos O’Kelly’s has gigantic 32oz tumblers that they’re more than happy to fill with Diet Mountain Dew.  A Route 44 Arnold Palmer from Sonic never fails to hit the spot.

Good stuff, one and all, but these can’t compare to Freestyle.  It’s been around for about a decade, I’d guess, so there’s a good chance you’ve seen it.

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It is, as I like to call it, an amusement park for thirsty people.   And I am a thirsty person.

Freestyle boasts 100+ drink options, and I’ve likely tried them all. The possibilities are only limited by the room my internal organs can set aside for liquid.  Let’s see…

I’ll start with something fruity and exotic, maybe Dasani sparkling cherry&Minute Maid lemonade&Fuze unsweet tea.  Ahhh.  Then something a little more traditional:  Coke Zero&Barq’s crème soda.  Nice. And then, something in the flavored ginger ale oeuvre.  Freestyle is a marvel of the modern world.

I should mention, however, that there is no Living Water button on the Freestyle.  So if you’re looking to meet a spiritual thirst, you may be out of luck.

Where today can somebody get their hands on Living Water?  The Hebrews complained about it enough so Moses gushed some out of a rock.  Jesus offered some to the woman at the well.  And whoever wrote the 23rd Psalm sounds like they got good and quenched.

What about us?  It’s funny, but when I think about Living Water, a spiritual experience of the Holy Spirit, Freestyle seems just too….Freestyle to me.  Too much flexibility, and sugar and aspartame and caffeine and weird stuff I can’t pronounce.

When I think about whetting my whistle with Living Water, interesting places spring up in my mind:  1)  Drinking from a Garden Hose, as a kid.  2) That 1-in-a-thousand drinking fountain with the perfect combination of temperature, pressure, and arc.  3) Cool water from a mountain stream, drunk right from my cupped hands. None of those places were labeled “Living Water”…but I just knew.

What about you?  Where have you found Living Water?  I suppose it doesn’t have to be water, we’re really talking about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but my thirstiness ties the two notions together for me much like the scriptures do.  So where you do you drink of the Spirit?

I realize that what my life needs is to be Structured, more than Freestyled.  That doesn’t mean I’ll give up the occasional Lemonade&Raspberry PowerAde&Mello Yellow concoction.  It just means that, deep down, I’ll pay attention to my thirst for the singular, elemental, spiritual guidance of God most of all.

It comes in just one flavor:

Holy.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Intervention.

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Create in me a clean heart, O God –Psalm 51:10

This is an intervention.

We’re worried about you.  You’ve been distant lately.  Whenever we try to talk to you you seem so distracted, unfocussed.  Like your mind is caught up in other things.

Have you gotten yourself in some sort of trouble?  Are you making bad decisions?  Have you forsaken us for something unhealthy?  Maybe it’s your actions that have been problematic, or maybe it’s your thoughts.  You know, unhealthy patterns of thinking are just as dangerous as their corresponding actions.

Okay, we’ll just come out and ask it:  Are you cheating on us?  Of course, we already know the answer.  We’re your parent, your brother, your spirit.  We know you best.  We know every thought before you think it, every move before you make it.

We’re your heavenly family, with bonds stronger than even those of your earthly family.  When you pull away like this, it hurts us.  It hurts the whole Kingdom.

So what can we do to mend your cheating heart?  How can we guide you back into the fullness of relationship—not just with us, but with your earthly brothers and sisters?  How can we help you be healthier?  Holier?

This is an intervention.  It doesn’t work unless you admit you have a problem.  We love you so much, and we want to give you room to ponder who you are, and who you want to be.

Why don’t you take some time to think about it, and pray about it.

How about, say, 40 days?

Have a good Lent,

Mitch

Holytrinity

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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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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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Some new Church Words

I’ve coined a few new Church Words.

(Who knows, some of them may already exist…)

Use them freely!

Catholic church in New York“PEWNY”:  The state or condition of having
fewer people than usual in the pews on Sunday morning.

.

.

corneliaumc_1_1“TRADIGITAL WORSHIP”: Old-time hymns
projected on new-fangled screens.

.

.

159235441_eccumenical-desk-wax-seal-stamp-of-william-temple-“ECCUMANIACAL”:  A community worship service
planned by severely dysfunctional churches/pastors.

.

.

simpsons-in-church_thumb[10]“MARGE”:  Designation for a church too big
to be medium-sized and too small to be large.

.

.

tithe“LITHE”: 1/3 less giving than a regular Tithe.

.

.

Evangelism-oh-no-300x233“EVANGERATISM”:  Spreading the Good News, but only to people you like.

.

.

A free flying white dove isolated on a black background

“LENTECOST”:  When you feel the Holy Spirit before Easter.

.

.

Pasteurized-Milk-Processing-Line-From-Jouyu-Group“PASTORIZED”: When the preacher’s sermon is
good enough to last you a whole week.

.

.

Adam Hamilton Photo and Book 03062014“HAMILTONNE”: The collected weight of all of a church’s
Adam Hamilton books and video series.

.

.

eggs benedict“EGGS BENEDICTION”:  When you want the pastor to hurry up
so you can go get brunch.

.

It took a while to come up with ten!   Vote for your favorites in the comments.

And if you’ve created some of your own church words, add those too!

In the meantime…Have a great week,

(and a non-pewny Sunday)

Mitch