Thursday, November 01, 2007

Nightmare Before Christmas - PART 2: My Call to Ministry

This is all going to tie into my previous post, I hope. So you may want to read it first.

I was made aware of my calling into ministry while I was working as a choir director in Galesburg, Illinois, at First Presbyterian Church. If Jack is the King of Halloween, I was the king of choral music – 5 choirs, 4 bell choirs, thriving music ministry, singing in a professional chamber choir called the Nova Singers, directing the Galesburg Community Chorus, performing in two different Community Theater groups, and directing shows for one of them. If it was musical in Galesburg, I was involved with it somehow, it seemed.

My calling featured no burning bush moment, just a slowly growing awareness that blossomed when two girls, Melissa and Melissa (who we called Bucky and Missy B in order to distinguish), asked me one week what my favorite hymn was. “Here I Am, Lord,” I replied. The next week, they stopped me just outside my office and said they had something for me, then proceeded to sing for me the entire hymn, which they had been practicing all week. Then I knew that there was more to ministry for me than just music. I loved (still love) music, but knew the longing that Jack sings about.

So I wandered the wilderness for a while, like Jack, and came not to Christmas Town but to the sacraments. It was during a baptism, in fact, when God spoke most clearly to me. Kim and Dave had tried so hard to have a baby, and after months of treatments and pills, they finally were able to give birth. As I was watching the baptism from my choir director perch, I thought, “Wow, this child is so precious, so wanted. It would be so cool to be a part of this baptism.” And a voice said, as clearly as anything, “You can be.” Just like that, I knew the way for me. I found the hidden door to my own “Christmas Town.”

For the next four years, I pretty much lived in Christmas Town. As I dug into seminary, I gradually uncovered and assembled bits and pieces of the Gospel that started to put together a picture that filled me with energy, hope, and wonder. I explored the Bible and the tradition asking, “What’s this?” every time something new was illuminated. A picture of God’s reign on earth was forming in my mind that was grounded in grace, love, liberation, justice, and peace, and I couldn’t wait to get “back out there” and start sharing that vision with the world.

Jack tried to bring Christmas to Halloween Town; I tried to bring God’s reign to the world. And like Jack was frustrated when he found he could not explain Christmas Town so that everyone would see it as clearly as he did, so do I at times despair because I cannot find the words or the whatever to communicate the reign of God effectively so that everyone sees it like I do. Please understand that I am not claiming to have exclusive rights to the full truth of the reign of God, but rather that I have my perception of it, the particular little glimpse God has given me. My little glimpse shows that God loves everybody without condition and desires a deep, abiding, honest relationship with us so much that it actually hurts.

And so, thanks to my bumbling inarticulations, sometimes I find I must compromise my vision. Sometimes I give in a little bit here and there, because frankly sometimes it simply exhausts me and I have no more strength to give to it. Sometimes the standards, norms, and expectations of the world creep into my articulation of the reign of God, and the end result is something odd, unsettling, not the world and not heaven, but something altogether different and somehow just wrong. The wreaths seem to come to life and attack people, somehow.

When that happened to Jack, he let go. He repented, “What have I done?” And he set about to make things right, not by any action of his own, but by setting Santa Claus free so that Santa could make it all better again. AHA! Jack’s repentance led him to the point of release; he deeply understood that it wasn’t up to him to bring Christmas to the people of Halloween Town. But he knew who it was up to – Santa!

I am so thankful for my covenant group, where I often hear my dear friends tell me that it is simply not up to me to bring the reign of God to life for the world. It is not up to me to right every social wrong, single-handedly reinvigorate the mainline church, and care for every child in the foster care system. Sometimes they have to cuss at me so that I’ll hear it. It is not up to me to save the world; it is up to me to remember who it is up to, and refer to that one. (p.s. - It's God.)

After Santa does his thing, all is back to normal. Christmas is being handled by the residents of Christmas Town again, and the folks in Halloween Town are up to their old tricks. But something has changed, something so small as to almost be insignificant – it is snowing in Halloween Town. “What’s this?” they ask. “Must be a Christmas thing,”comes the reply. I don’t know if it would have snowed if it were not for Jack. He did something; he changed something – small, negligible perhaps – but something changed.

I guess that’s what I hope for, too. Not that I’ll save the world, but that what I do will make at least a little tiny bit of difference for someone, somewhere. That I might be a part of changing something, making things better than they are.

I realize how narcissistic this post has been; sorry. I’ve been very internal lately, spending a lot of time with myself and trying to figure things out. I wonder, though if any of this resonates with any of you reading this. Have you ever been grasped by a vision so wonderful that you couldn’t wait to share it with the world, only to find the world has other ideas? Have you ever compromised your ideals because you were just too exhausted? Have you ever caught yourself taking it all on yourself, forgetting that saving the world is simply not up to you?

I’m thinking this has some real resonance, and if you have bothered to read this far, I’d love to hear from you. I hope you’ll comment!


DogBlogger said...

To answer your questions, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Thanks for writing these two posts.

Matt said...

I love these two posts.

I really resonated with being captivated by God's Kingdom, yet being unable to communicate that as clearly as I would like.

Thank God for the snowflakes.

Stresspenguin said...

Don't worry about being narcissistic.

This is a blog, after all.

But I know what you're talking about, and I feel similarly.

Jenn said...

I know what you mean by being narcissistic, but still I can't help but think that it is about as least narcissistic as you can be-after all, you are still trying to save the world. :)

CARYL said...

I, too, appreciate your covenant group because they are keeping you from self-destructing. For if you continue to think that all of these things are up to you to set right, you will surely collapse and be of no use to yourself or anyone else. I like what Matt said - thank God for the snowflakes. cb

Anonymous said...

I would assume that in seminary or in the seminars that the church has on Pastor Care that they have told you that you or any minister of any church are not responsible for everything and that you must take time for yourself, your family, etc.

However, I know that lots of ministers say this and say it is important but when it comes to them they do not do it.

Adam Caldwell said...

"Here I am Lord"...can't do it...sounds too much like a Disney Tune...I can hear the birds chirping in the backgrounds now...

EyeRytStuf said...

Yes, I have these things I can't articulate all the times. They're called my thoughts. Even the coherent ones. Or one. Whichever applies.

Loved the posts. If you need perspective to figure out how narcissistic you AREN'T, go read my blog a while.

And then comment. Nobody comments. I need to say more interesting things.

Me me me!

mandyc said...

I love these two posts - and agree with others here that many ministers (ordained or not) struggle with wanting to save the world. I think it's because as ministers we're somehow more in touch with God's desires and the reailty that we have a part to play in bringing the Kin_dom to earth. But we forget that we aren't able to do it ourselves - that there's so much more than we can fathom and only God really understands the big picture. That's why we have coveant groups and seminary friends and other gifts in ou lives that remind us of our humanity and help us to enjoy the ride now and then. :)