Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

On Ministry, The Story I Find Myself In

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

“You’re good with words,” Kellie said. “So learn to use them with more precision.”

Ministry. One of those words that I have read and pondered for so long, but still struggle to define or pronounce.  I’m confident Brandon Bayne, my favorite seminary roommate, could give you a list of other words that I’ve failed to convert from conception to speech, but I can’t remember any of the others at the moment.

Three months ago I made a public commitment to put pastoral ministry on hold for the next four years. I was forced to make a commitment prior to my LeadBoston graduation and that seemed like the logical play.

Over the past four years, the practice of bi-vocational ministry has become more fiction than reality. As our family has grown from 2 to 4 – due mainly to the Pixie’s efficient production – evening hours that were once surrounded by text are now shaped by baths, dishes, and Lydian’s imperative to “brush teeth!”

Moreover, as my Facebook and Twitter streams suggest, my work responsibilities have increased as we’ve been blessed and burdened with a national grant and related focus on reducing the violence visited upon people with disabilities. As with many other nonprofits over the past few years demand for such services has spiked while the supply of providers has dwindled. We love what we do, so we reflexively bear the burdens, but that doesn’t make the work easier.

Thus, life is full, family is beautiful, and I’m fortunate to have work I love.

Yet, every time I hear a sermon – thankfully often skillful ones delivered by Father Patrick or Mother Beth – I wish I could sit with them and discuss homiletical design and function with them the following week. Later, when I lift my eyes above the altar, the host is snapped, and I feel something break inside, I am flooded with longing. Longing for bread in my mouth and chalice on my lips? Surely. Longing to celebrate the sacrament once again? Definitely.

Ministry is the word Kellie wants me to use with more precision. She wants me to recognize that working to reduce the violence that threatens to mar the image of God and accompanying people who are navigating impediments to opportunity is ministerial work well aligned with my calling – if only I have eyes to see it.

I have little doubt she is correct and am trying to cultivate sufficient gratitude for my current work and eyes that are open to intersection. Yet, in this moment, my eyes fill with longing for the revelation that sometimes happens during preparation and eagerly await for the Christ who has been taken, blessed, and broken to be given from my hands once again.

Lord, fill me with your Spirit that I might be faithfully aware during this season and well prepared for the seasons to come.

While wrapping this up, as if on cue, the door slammed open and I was visited by one of the curly-headed reasons for my commitment. Bandy legged and arms outstretched, she offered what appeared to be an invocation for the years ahead.


Looking at the Flannelgraphs & Awaiting 3D

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2011 at 3:02 am

Submitted By: Gentry

Lately I’ve been praying the hours less often than I’d like but more often than I used to. One thing I have noticed as I’ve prayed through the Psalms is that the authors’ cries for salvation are often visceral and particular. The authors plead with God to vindicate them in the presence of their accusers, visit justice upon their oppressors, and hide them from their pursuers.

Although my reading is admittedly cursory (and likely will remain so until repetition soaks these songs down into the marrow) the Psalmists* seem focused on redemption, rescue, and protection in the present, because of the confidence they developed on account of God’s saving acts – especially the Exodus – in the past.

In my past, I think that my understanding of God’s reconciliation grace has been limited to a rather distant appreciation of Jesus’ radical obedience, death, burial, and resurrection. For that reason, when I hear the word salvation, it is as awkward in my mouth as a metal mold at the dentist. Salvation has been a word for sacrament starved armies, D.C. Talk songs, and a few vaguely remembered preachers in polyester suits that populated my youth.

Salvation, Jesus saves, sozo.** There, I said it. And I feel…nothing.

But last week my friend Joe was simply doing his job by clearing another affordable housing toilet and punching his list.*** The first chemical wasn’t getting the job done so he dumped in another and bam: the damn toilet blew up in his face. Joe was left with first degree burns and the fear, for several hours, that he would not see his kids, be able to read, look across the room and delight in his amazing wife.

Although I didn’t hear about the incident until a day later when Joe was in the relative clear, if I had heard in the heat of the moment, I would have known damn well what salvation was. I would have prayed for God to save his sight and Jesus to hold together the cornea, the retina and whatever else needed to be sustained for my friend to see again. Tonight when we gathered for community dinner and Joe was there, only a little worse for the wear, I prayed a prayer of gratitude for God and rejoiced in story of God’s salvation. For once, I got it.

Likewise, a couple of weeks ago when I was talking to my colleagues about the importance of raising money for our IMPACT:Ability abuse prevention program, I was blindsided by tears. I take no pride in saying I don’t cry often. I’ve never wept through a sermon or desperately pleaded the blood of Jesus with Ralph, the creepy ass Daystar puppet. However, I have accompanied and been accompanied by people with disabilities for long enough to know that sometimes lonely uncles rape, teenage boys desperate for identity beat, and impoverished mothers steal. I’ve been kept awake at night by the fact that people with disabilities are four to ten times as likely to be physically or sexually abused than the general population, because that means that dozens of my friends who I pass in the hallways every day are processing through past trauma or thinking about how they are going to have to navigate a family member or caregiver that very night.

Surely these friends need a strong tower and are desperate to find refuge under God’s wing. They are desperate for rescue and I am passionate about getting the tools they need to help rescue themselves. When I think, or on occasion hear, about their predicament I pray, I plead, I long to see them healed from past abuse and saved from one more incident.

In the midst of these experiences or in the many moments after that I reflect on them, I find myself looking back to the Exodus on Sinai or Calvary and feeling my lungs expand as those stories are revitalized before my very eyes. I thank God and the gracious family, preachers, friends, and teachers who have taught me about God’s historical acts of redemption, reconciliation, rescue and, yes, even salvation, over the years.

I realize those stories give breath to my cries during my moments of (admittedly middle class bourgeoise****) desperation and the redemption songs direct my prayers when truly terrified for those I love and/or serve. Yet, for an unknown reason, when not compelled by fear or trauma, I feel disconnected from the cross, disinterested in the Exodus, and halfheartedly stare at them as though they were flannegraphs that may or may not become 3D.

Maybe I’ve developed a backwards appreciation of salvation, but I’ll take it.


* There, I said it. Tried to avoid that term. Don’t like it.

** For the Koine inclined.

*** Is that what people mean when they use the term “punch list?” My whole life, I don’t know that this term means.

**** A term I absolutely cannot spell, but unfortunately embody.

%d bloggers like this: