A couple random, non-cohesive thoughts on books, Jesus, Nazis, and emergent worship

books

I continue in my diabolical effort to catch up on what feels like an entire mountain range of books– those that I was assigned in seminary but only skimmed, or skipped entirely; those that came out or were recommended to me while in seminary which I purchased or noted on my Amazon wishlist for later; and those which have come out or been recommended to me in the past year of trying [only sporadicly successfully] to be a fully functioning adult. It adds up to … well, let’s just say I can’t even bring myself to put them all up on my goodreads “to-read” shelf because you’ll judge me and/or think I’m insane.

Anyhow, I’m actively working on about 10 books right now. Anne Lamott said in an interview once,

“Reading various books at once is sort of like doing an enjoyable Stations of the Cross.”

This struck me as stupidly brilliant and also indelibly true. You put one down and pick another up, entering a different stage, a different scene, in an ostensibly different journey, and after a while of reading all of them together you realize it’s all one big journey, after all… we’re all on our way, together, to Golgatha. To Resurrection. To Christ.

Hmm… what was this post supposed to be about?

Jesus and quarters and collars and priorities

Yesterday I was sitting in a line of cars waiting to be released from a hospital parking garage by an attendant who had her mind firmly set on getting her $3 from each and every person coming through that line. From far ahead, I heard her: “No credit cards. Cash or check only.” As a person with no checks (they’re in the mail, okay?) and no cash (there were some quarters in my cupholder, if push came to shove, but that was it), I was nervous.

Then this thought occurred to me: I’m wearing my clerical collar. She’ll for sure let me off. I was visiting congregants. Win for the clerical collar!

And then that sneaky Jesus sneaked in and sneakily said the sad, sneaking truth: If ever I’m in a position where I am tempted to use my clerical collar to earn me something– a free pass, respect, attention– then that is the time to instantly, without passing go or collecting so much as two quarters from my cupholders, take the collar off.

Conversely, whenever I’m tempted to take my collar off in order to earn me something– protection from mockery or questions, cool factor around friends, gratification of my laziness– then that is the time to instantly put the collar on.

It seems to me that this is the meaning behind the “go into your closet and pray” but also “if you’re embarrassed of Me then I’ma be embarrassed of you” dichotomy I’ve always noticed in the teachings of Jesus. I think if you’re tempted to pray in public (or whatever that metaphorically relates to in your life) to make a big deal out of it, get thyself into a closet. But if you’re tempted to pray in your closet because you’re embarrassed of your faith or otherwise don’t want to be seen engaging with Christ, then get thyself out into the street on your knees. It’s not a one-size-fits-all commandment regarding closets. It’s a one-truth-fits-all commandment about intentions and priorities.

Anyway. Yeah, so that was one thing I wanted to say.

and finally, nazis

Speaking of catch-up books and the “one size fits all” theory (look, I’m making connections a little bit), I’m reading a book on Naziism that was assigned to me in not one but two classes I took, one on Barth and the other on Bonhoeffer. Did I read it in either? Nope. Though I read the introduction at some point, because I underlined something. #modelstudent #IgotanAinboththoseclassesthough #mystery

The book seeks to explain how on earth an entire country could get caught up so utterly (and so rapidly) in the rampant, raging, horrific racism and violence of a party which, less than 5 years before Hitler’s rise, comprised only 6% of the voting public.

There is a quote that strikes me: an intellectual Nazi Party member, Carl Schmitt, spoke early in the Nazi rule of “what Nazi society would look like” when it came to fruition. Here’s the author’s succinct analysis of Schmitt’s vision:

“[Nazi society’s] two constituent qualities were ‘homogeneity’ and ‘authenticity.'”

The reason this struck me is that “authenticity” is a big word for emergent worship. Our service, The Hub, claims an unbelievably clever (friendly sarcasm) acronym within our own name, where the H in “hub” stands for “Honest.” Honesty, authenticity, self-knowledge and self-expression within the presence and the grace of a God who created you unique and expressive– these are central tenets to the emergence, millennial style of church. 

So Schmitt and the rest of the Nazis got it utterly and completely wrong. (This is not news to you, I hope.)

Homogeneity and authenticity are mutually exclusive concepts. Homogeneity is where authenticity goes to die. One cannot be authentic to one’s individual and unique self if one is forced into a box with everyone else.  One size fits all is a cultural illusion, whether in the ethnicity of a nation or in our worship styles or the ways we seek and find God.  Though our essence– having been made in the imago Dei– is identical, and our calling– to resemble as perfectly as possible Jesus Christ– is identical, nevertheless in all of our particulars and aesthetics and likes and dislikes and personality types this statement must be true: We were not created by factory molds. Homogeneity is nowhere in the creation plan as we have received it.
At the Hub, we seek a community wherein your truest self is welcome– even if that truest self is weird, or a bad singer, or mentally ill, or terribly broken. We seek a worship space wherein you can lift your hands if you want or you can sit quietly and journal; you can sing or you can pray; you can participate or you can let us participate for you. Whatever you need, whatever is authentic to you– because we know you’re not like us, and that’s why we love you.

so, in conclusion:

Screw the Nazis.

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So You Want to Date A Pastor?

By far my most popular post is my Top 10 Dating Tips for Pastors. And just look at the search engine terms that brought people to my blog in the past 7 days:

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7 out of 12 googlers are interested in their pastor.                                                   Just to creep you out: Are YOU the pastor they’re interested in?

Over half of the people who found me were looking for pastor-dating advice.

And what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t pander to what the people want?

Answer: The kind of blogger that gets no hits. And I am prideful and terrible, so here I am, PANDERING!

Thus, I present to you: So You Want to Date a Pastor?

Early Days

Look at you, you’ve spotted a single pastor and you’re enamored. He or she is so cute with her or his reading glasses, nevermind that you can’t even pronounce the name of the author she’s reading (for your information, here’s a helpful guide from my friends over at Profligate Grace:)

Some helpful suggestions for these early days:

Don’t show up at Church unannounced. This may seem romantic in your brain, but if you show up out of the blue, a number of things could happen:

  1. S/he notices you while s/he’s preaching and it totally throws him/her off. Now s/he hates you and is embarrassed. Relationship over.
  2. In the case of a small congregation, you have now prematurely announced your presence and the rumors will never end. NEVER END, I tell you.
  3. In the case of nearly any congregation, you (especially if you are young and fresh-faced) will be bombarded with questions about who you are… and you don’t want to have to look a bunch of little old ladies in the eye and say, “I’m trying to impress and woo your pastor.”

Don’t swing by the parsonage or leave flowers or love notes at the door. That house belongs to the church, wo/man. The chances of your pastor-crush finding those things or being home when you stop by are probably a lot lower than a member of the Property Committee being there.  You don’t want that, trust me.

Do plan for all G-rated dates. Oh, now I’m sure you’re a very upstanding gentleman/lady, but just don’t plan on heading down to the local bar and grinding the night away. If your pastor friend is interested in this, be alarmed. S/he may not be a pastor for much longer. A pastor lives pretty centrally in the plot from Footloose. Go to the next town over, or better yet, just have a picnic and ice cream and call it a night (she said unrealistically).

Source: reactiongifs

Once You’re “Official”

Hey gal/fella, you’re officially in a relationship with a pastor! Congrats.

Welcome to the Fishbowl. Everything that you do now is closely monitored by your beloved’s congregation. Getting a lot of Facebook friend requests from people older than you? That’s the Church for you. Getting a lot of winks and awkward conversations in the grocery store? You guessed it: Church folk.

Ah, Church folk. They love you! They wish you didn’t have that photo of yourself holding a Bud Light on your Facebook… and they surely think your plans for full tattoo sleeves that you tweeted about aren’t great…. but if their pastor likes you, you must be okay!

You now have a lot of future in-laws. Depending on the size of your sweetie’s congregation, you have acquired at least a few dozen new grandmothers and overprotective dads looking over your shoulder.  Also teenage children, if the church has a youth group.  Expect a lot of advice.  Expect a lot of probing questions.  Expect a lot of pressure to pop the question– I don’t care if you’ve only been dating for a month. (I should pause to note here that with the exception of someone leaving a love note and a Property Committee member finding it, all of these examples are true life things that have happened to pastor friends of mine.)

And, oh, the desserts. Hallelujah, the desserts roll in like manna! You find yourself blessing the names of Saints Ethel and Marna for their coconut cakes and fat peanut butter brownies. Ah, Church folk, indeed. You may find yourself wanting to become a pastor yourself, because life with the old ladies is the best life.  They’re even keeping you on the straight and narrow with your Bible study! I’m telling you, #bestlife.

Source: reactiongifs

As Time Goes On

You’re such a good sport. You’ve gotten used to being up at 6 am on Sundays to calm your honey’s nerves before s/he preaches. You’re even used to Saturday nights being school nights. I bet you’ve even checked out Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Disicpleship from the library and got to page 2 before closing it and googling the major points (just remember: cheap grace, bad; costly grace, good). Good for you, bro/sis!

If you just want to keep dating, that’s cool. The cake and brownies will slow down, though, most likely in an effort to lure you into getting engaged. But at least this way you can postpone that inevitable awkward conversation of,  “Is the whole congregation coming to the wedding?”

If you pop the question, the entire town will freak. out.  There may be a parade.  Finally, that poor young pastor no longer has to live in that drafty old huge parsonage alone. Glory! Glory! Wedding planning will begin instantly. All of your ideas are immediately thrown out. Just kidding. But really, it’s happening here in this church not taking no for an answer, k?

If you break up, you must move. Simple as that.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Get out of there. There’s nothing left for you here. Suddenly the kind ladies who gave you free haircuts are all booked up. The gentlemen who loved having you as a fourth for golf all have suspicious back injuries and won’t need you to play with them anymore. As for your former love, hopefully s/he won’t deny you Eucharist if you come back to church there, but it’s in our blood as Methodists to do so (search: Hopkey).

Source: reactiongifs

So there you have it, ladies and gents out there who have your eye on a special clergy. I hope this has been helpful, and that you take it for what it is: joking. Seriously, there’s nothing scary about us men and women of the cloth. We just come with a few extra guardians. Nothing great is ever easy, right? That’s how I’m choosing to look at it (she said, single-ly).

Source: reactiongifs

New Pastor Bingo

When you first become a pastor, you can’t help but keep track of all the firsts you’ve had, and the firsts you’ve yet to have. There are, of course, many things that are missing from this card, but we can jump off those bridges when we come to them. For now, I present to you, New Pastor Bingo!

(Without revealing too much about myself… suffice it to say that, on this card, I have Bingo multiple ways.)

bingo card 2What about you? Do you have bingo? What would you include on my next card?

 

That’ll Preach! …Except It Probably Won’t.

In seminary and in pastor’s circles, a lot of people will judge books, conversations, days, even whole friendships based on how many sermon illustrations they get out of it. If you’re very careful, or if you’ve just been at this racket for a while, you start to look for (and find) sermon illustrations in EVERYTHING. My friends and I will exclaim, about something that seems promising sermon-wise, “That’ll preach!”

The following is a list of some of the things that I’ve said or thought “That’ll preach!” about, but they will not ever ever ever preach in real life. Just, not ever. Ever.

Thing: I offered my dog food and she opted to go outside and eat sticks and poop instead.
Why That’ll Preach: Grace is offered, but we choose the filthy, gross world.
Why That Will Never Preach: You’re talking about poop.

Thing: A friend of mine said that instead of giving up something for Lent, she’s just giving up.
Why That’ll Preach: We should just give up; we can’t do this on our own. We need God’s help.
Why That Will Never Preach: You don’t want to make people suicidal!

Thing: The kindle version of a book I’m reading accidentally transposed the sentence “He was God” (talking about Jesus) to “Fie was God.”
Why That’ll Preach: Sometimes it takes a theologically and editorially sensitive eye to make sure you’re not accidentally making a hilarious heretical assertion.
Why That Will Never Preach: In what sermon would that possibly fit?

Thing: My cat will look out the window for hours on end and pretend to fight the squirrels and birds by clenching her little paws and raising her hackles.
Why That’ll Preach: Are we window-gazers or are we active participants in the in-breaking of the Kingdom?
Why That Will Never Preach: A) All cats do this, and B) You probably shouldn’t admit that you sit around with your cat for hours on end.

Thing: When that child asked if I was the daughter of the preacher.
Why That’ll Preach: Technically, God was the first preacher, right?
Why That Will Never Preach: Take authority, Erin! YOU are a preacher!

Thing: Child in a neighboring vehicle points and stares when he sees me rocking out to Taylor Swift’s “Trouble” in my clerical collar.
Why That’ll Preach: Preachers are people, too! The Gospel doesn’t discriminate against Taylor Swift (I hope).
Why That Will Never Preach: Wow, that’s too embarrassing even for this blog, much less a sermon. Oops.

 

So there you have it, folks. Things that have crossed my mind as “things that’ll preach” but definitely won’t, or shouldn’t, ever. Has this ever happened to you?

A Day in the Life of a Pastor

Source: memebase

Source: memebase

Wake up at 4am, vaguely worried about something I can’t remember. Attribute it to the fact that the Board of Ordained Ministry is coming up…….. in two and a half years BUT STILL.

Call my father, ask him to talk me off my anxiety ledge.  He jokes with me about how all my problems will be solved when they elect me the new pope. We laugh. I feel better, am able to get out of bed, even take a shower! Plus 10 points!

Head to work! Pull out in front of another car and duck my head hoping my extra chins will hide my clerical collar, while holding up a hand in apology.

Stop in Panera, where a man waits respectfully for me to fully vacate the coffee bar area before he approaches it, as though I am one of those nuns who are so cloistered that if a man touches them, they get defrocked, or melt, or something.

Hear a snippet of a story on NPR about “home funerals” in which the speaker bemoans funeral homes as being clinical, sterile, and unwelcoming; thus, she says, the best option is to have a funeral at home.

Source: reactiongifs

Source: reactiongifs

Think for a while about the fact that church is no longer an option for many people, or even a category in their brains.
Consider crying.
Consider quitting ministry before the Church doesn’t even exist anymore.
Laugh at my silliness and lack of trust.
Get out of the car.

Joke with coworkers and realize I work with the best people in the world.

Read a long comment on a progressive blog which begins with a quote from a Casting Crowns song. Laugh, then nearly cry.

Source: reactiongifs

Source: reactiongifs

Begin a response to a friend on facebook RE: the “messianic secret” motif in Mark. Delete everything. Begin it again. Delete everything again. Give up. (Sorry, Brad!)

Source: reactiongifs

Have lunch with parishioners; struggle against revealing too much.  I just want to be best friends with everyone, but it turns out people don’t exactly want to know that their pastors break and bleed and suffer and sometimes lie on the sofa in sweatpants and wail. Or, conversely but still in the TMI realm, that we sometimes sing silly songs to our puppies about how they are a little bear dressed up in a puppy costume. Come on, that’s adorable.

Put on an additional cardigan because the world is freezing. Come and get me, boys; I look so irresistible in this clerical collar and multiple cardigans.  Ow ow, am I right?

Source: reactiongifs

Accidentally click a link to a terrible, terrible blog while googling translations of Ezekiel 16. (Seriously, don’t try this at home, kids. And especially not at work, like I was). Flush with embarrassment, and consider curling up and dying. Have to email our IT guy to apologize and explain. NEVER LIVE THIS DOWN INSIDE MY OWN HEAD.

Run into parishioners in the hallways and realize I love them more than I ever thought possible.

Source: reactiongifs

Call a friend. Spend a long time talking about the theological merit of a Christological view that really only takes into consideration the Passion.  Do we have to suffer to be like Christ? we ask. We (as liberal feminists who dislike pain) want to say no, but deep down we both think “maybe-probably-I dunno.”

Do my Disciple work. Realize I’ve forgotten everything I learned in seminary about the synoptic Gospels. Briefly consider just throwing the idea of “Q” at my Disciple ladies (that’s right, I have an all-girl group. YOU JEALOUS? You should be.) so they’ll spend all our time talking about that and think I’m smart. Realize this is the opposite of good Disciple-teaching.  And good person-being.

Source: reactiongifs

Source: reactiongifs

Walk the dog and call my mother. She says, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” We nearly cry together. I tell her she is one of the great lights of my life. We do cry together. So, you know, the usual.

Go to Disciple. Feel pastoral, pastorly, pastorish, and LIKE A PASTOR. Laugh to the point of crying.  Don’t even worry about being off topic, because if Jesus was present anywhere in my day, it’s here. Pray.

Watch some trashy reality television on the couch with the dog and cat. Consider reading my Bible. Fall asleep.

Source: reactiongifs

Source: reactiongifs

Lather, rinse, repeat.
Thank God.

So You Think You Want to Go to Seminary

Oh! Hello! I didn’t see you there.

Occasionally on this blog I’ve offered advice to current seminarians, advice to new pastors, and the odd Open Letter to a Seminarian, which may or may not have opened with the words, “I hate your stinking guts.”

But you… you are a bird I’d not tweeted at in the past.  You, the Prospective Minister. The Prospective Seminarian. The Thinking About It But Not 100% Sure But Feels Called gal/fella.  You, my dear, are about to get an earful.

So you think you want to go to seminary?

Let me guess, my little Popsicle:
You knew more Bible verses than your Sunday School teachers growing up.
You taught your mom things about theology at lunch after a particularly bad sermon from your senior pastor.  
You grew up in one denomination (Baptist? Methodist? Presbyterian?) but are now pretty convinced you want to be Anglican.

(It’s cool.  No judgment here.  We’ve all been there.  The Anglican urge is a part of most of our calls to ministry.)

You wanted to be a doctor but you failed college biology.
Your favorite book is Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, well, the first chapter because that’s all you read.
You really like Rob Bell but are willing to burn a copy of Love Wins in front of the admissions committee at your seminary of choice if that’s what it takes to get in.

 

Well, let me just say:

I am so proud of you! Discerning a call to ministry or at least seminary is the bomb! Do a little dance. Call your grandmother (she’ll be thrilled).  Now, buckle up.

 

Some things seminary is not:

1. Filled with perfect people.
I’d say that I knew more party animals, was invited to more ragers, and heard more swearing in seminary than in high school and college combined.  Sometimes I think people take seminary as their last opportunity to party hearty, before they get out in the world and have to be Perfect Pastors.  Also, there were people who ditched class, put Bailey’s in their morning coffee, and gave themselves (ourselves) a “B” on the self-graded assignments that they (we) knew deserved Fs. (Confession is good for the soul.)

2. Easy.
Just because your teachers mostly love Jesus doesn’t mean they’re going to give you an A for ending every paper, “So, that’s why Jesus is pretty sweet.”  Also, don’t ever write that in a paper. Take my word for it.

3. Horrible.
Just because it’s grad school and it’s harder than undergrad and there’s a lot of pressure and people freak out a little bit, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.  I can’t tell you how many night I laughed uncontrollably and was almost kicked out of the library while studying. “Studying,” I should say. And I can’t tell you how many biscuits and gravy I consumed with great girlfriends and bottomless cups of coffee.  And I can’t tell you how much I miss it.  I miss it like a death in the family.  I miss it like my heart got cut in half when I graduated.  I miss it like missing that thing you forgot that you were going to say for your third example on a list of things you miss seminary like.  Gah.

 

Some things seminary is:

1. Breeding grounds for like-minded conservatives. And liberals.  Everyone, really, except probably you.
By the end of your first year, roughly 5 weddings will have occurred between people you know. Roughly 46 more couples will be engaged. 2 couples will be preggers.  You will want to defriend them on facebook in protest, but, you know… that loving Jesus stuff.

2. Interesting!
Did you know that Karl Barth cheated on his wife for the majority of their marriage? I didn’t, until I took a class on him.  Did you know that John Wesley was never an ordained Methodist minister? SEMANTICS ARE FUN! Did you know that if you drink 8 cups of coffee before noon, your heart will flutter for a full two days? These are the things you learn in seminary. GOOD STUFF!

3. Filled with the Spirit of the Living God.
Sometimes you’ve got to search for Her. Sometimes She’s disguised as professors who are adamant religious pluralists, or preceptors who give you a B for not having a “clear thesis” when your first paragraph clearly ends with the words “IN THIS PAPER I WILL ARGUE.”  [Breathe, Erin… Breathe…]  Sometimes She’s front and center, at chapel and in the library and in the book you’re reading for your spirituality class. Sometimes She’s in the tears of a friend who has discerned the call to leave seminary.  Sometimes She’s in the criticism that will make you a better pastor.  Sometimes She’s in the bed, snuggling up with you and keeping your heart strangely warmed when all that Church History reading just makes you want to go cold.  The Spirit of the Living God is there, present and active.

 

So, with that being said, here is some random advice for you, Prospective Seminarian:

1. Always assume a noontime guest speaker, panel, or lecture will include lunch.
2. Do not ever eat pizza three days in a row at these free lunches. Trust me.
3. Study in bars, restaurants, museums, and parks, not just in the library.
4. Think about prayer and devotion as a tithe of your time: Spend at least 10% of your day with God.
5. Go to chapel.
6. Don’t dress like an undergrad.
7. Hydrate– just always do this.
8. Don’t develop a competition among your friends to see who can wait the longest to start a paper and then make the best grade. This will backfire on both your friendships and your GPA.
9. You know what? Just don’t talk about grades ever.  Don’t compare.  Seminary is not a competition.  It’s a collaboration.  Cheerlead, don’t compete.
10. Seek out mentors. I know this is easier said than done, but find a professor who seems relatively approachable or compatible with your personality and pop into their office. You’d be surprised how much most of them LOVE this.  And if they don’t have time for you, they’ll reschedule.  The worst that can happen is they ask you to leave.
11. Journal.  Talk about how your views are changing, or not changing; what you’re struggling with and what you’re learning a lot from; what you love and what you hate; what makes you weep and what makes you laugh.
12. Write down all the ministry advice your professors give out. They are endless wells of valuable information.  These notes, four years down the road, will save your little life in a ministerial crisis.
13. Keep in touch with your old pastor.  But, well, don’t tell him what a liberal you’re becoming and how you’re starting to think he’s crazypants and how Barth would disagree with everything about his theology and how he should switch roles with his female associate to make a point.  Just keep that to yourself and tell him you enjoyed the sermon he posted online Sunday.
14. Do as much reading as you can.
15. Do not berate yourself for not doing all the reading. Unless you’re a wunderkind, you’re not going to be able to do it all. But you have the rest of your life to catch up on that reading. Do not feel bad about it.
16. Take advantage of the counseling and psychiatric services available through your institution.  Go cry on their couches about how overwhelmed you feel and how you’re doubting your call and how you’re afraid you’re never going to pass your Board of Ordained Ministry because they’re going to find your dog-eared copy of The Purpose-Driven Life that you read with your parents in high school and then you’ll be shunned forever.  They are the voices who can reasonably say, “You are being ridiculous.”
17. Don’t play the Most Likely to Be a Future Bishop/Get the Best Appointment game with your friends about people in your class. Leave it up to Jesus. And the Cabinet.
18. Go to all the optional seminars about weddings, funerals, and other practical stuff. You will thank yourself later.
19. Over all the vacations, read as many personal, non-religious, funny, soul-soothing books you can. Also, watch all the reality television you can.
20. Make time to go swimming in lakes, road-trip to the beach, have a movie marathon, sleep over on a friend’s floor, and go dancing.  

21. Don’t take it too seriously. If you felt called, you were probably called.  God will bring you through the tough times and will put plenty of wonderful things along the way to keep you going.  Believe me.

 

Godspeed, and buy decaf.

Pray, Cry, or Drink: A Sermon-Preparation Post!

Dear readers,

I’m preaching this Sunday!!!!

If you recall, I once wrote a post entitled “The 12 Steps to Preaching a Sermon (A VERY Informative Guide).” Maybe you should read that post before you read this one, because this post will be something like a follow-up to, or an elaboration of, that one.
Maybe. I always write thesis statements and introductions before the actual paper/blog post so there’s really no telling if that’s going to be true or not. But if you go read that other post then my statistics go up because you’re clicking my links and viewing other pages, and then I’ll feel really good about myself. So, it’s your choice. Make my day, or be selfish.  (I really hope you all get it when I’m joking.  Love you….)

***

I solicited some advice from friends on how they prepare to preach in the day(s) and/or week(s) leading up to Sunday. Here are some of the answers I received:

“Pray. A lot.”
“Cry?”
“Go on a bender.  I’ll come over and help; I’ve got liquor.”

**Author’s note: The above were intentionally listed from best advice to worst.

I solicited advice from these same beautiful, hilarious, broken, Godly people on what to preach when you’re afraid of/distressed by/unsure about your Scripture.  Here are some of the answers, from the same respective people, and again listed from best to worst:

“Consult God, and then Barth.”
“Just go up there and preach universalism, who cares?”
“Just read Anne Lamott’s twitter feed from the pulpit. #that’llpreach”

***

As you can tell, all my non-preaching readers, preaching is hard. Writing a sermon is hard.

But it is also wonderful. You know all those things you think about saying to people– good things, smart things, funny things, helpful things, sweet things? Most people don’t ever in their lives get a public place to say them. The preacher gets that, most every week! The possibilities are endless; you can help people and bring joy to people and celebrate life and improve the world with your words.  That is the joy of preaching.

The terror of preaching is that your mind doesn’t only operate on the plane of good, smart, funny, helpful, and sweet things. You also think mean things, snarky things, ugly things, things that tear people down while masquerading as helpfulness.
One of my favorite lines on the new Taylor Swift album (stop judging me. That’s an ugly thought you’re having right now.) accuses an ex of being “so casually cruel in the name of being honest.”

***

Preachers have great power to be incredibly cruel under the guise of honesty and helpfulness.

So I get why my friends suggested I pray, cry, and drink copious amounts of, erm, unpastorly liquids.  But no matter what you do, Sunday will still come, and you will still have to open your mouth and give your people something.  It’s up to you to make sure that you’re not cruel, or dippy, or insincere, or flippant.  But the good news, I reckon, is that God can make living water flow even from a rock.  And can turn bitter water potable.

….Well. I guess this post is over on that note. Do I really have to go write my sermon now? #pastorproblems

EPILOGUE:

I’m going to take my first person’s advice: gonna go talk to Jesus and Barth, in that order.

You Know You’re a Pastor When…

Welcome to the first installment of “You Know You’re a Pastor When…”

Please comment and leave me your hilarious additions and maybe you’ll see yours included in the next installment!

You know you’re a pastor when… you’ve eaten your body weight in leftover Hawaiian bread.

…your phone’s autocorrect knows words like “salvific” and “Hauerwas.”

…you treat Saturday as a “school night.”

…you’ve refrained from cutting someone off in traffic because you know your hospital clergy tag is in your back window.

…you caught yourself singing “The Summons” when you woke up this morning.

…you get excited to the point of making weird high-pitched noises when you find a volume of Barth’s Dogmatics you don’t already have in a used bookstore.

…you have felt genuine remorse for throwing away a tissue with consecrated grape juice on it.

…you open your Hymnal to page 881 when reciting the Apostles’ Creed before the congregation JUST IN CASE.

…(similarly) you write out the whole Lord’s prayer in your prayers of the people JUST IN CASE.

…you know what I’m talking about when I say this: BWGRKL.

…light, fun reading means cracking open Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.

…you have to close your blinds to watch any movie over a PG rating for fear a church member will see.

…you put on sunglasses and a hat to buy beer.

…you write “Non-profit” when your online dating site of choice asks where you work.

…you have surreptitiously put a ring on your left ring finger when entering a room full of young, cute conservatives/fundamentalists/evangelicals. JUST IN CASE.

What about YOU? When do YOU know YOU’RE a pastor?

Reply and let me know!

Things I Learned from Les Miserables

Top 6 things I gleaned (from a theological/pastoral care perspective) from Les Miserables:

ALL THE SPOILER ALERTS. Also, you should know that I had 0.00 concept of the plot of this movie/play/book before I saw it in theaters with my mother last week. I knew two things: 1. Anne Hathaway plays a prostitute (this turned out to be not necessarily the truest fact in the world, in my humble little opinion) and 2. It’s set after the French Revolution.  So I went in with about zero in knowledge RE: the plot, characters, music, or ending.

6. There’s a lot to be learned about being a pastor from the Bishop. If someone stole from, desecrated, or otherwise negatively affected your church (or the institution as a whole….), would you offer them yet more? Our M.O. lately suggests not, organized mainline religion. Just saying.

…That being said, don’t ever say to anyone, “I have saved your soul for God.” Did you do the saving, Bish, or did God? GET IT TOGETHER.

5. I recently read an article on how the average person hates Anne Hathaway’s guts. I loved her unconditionally from the moment she did the robot in The Princess Diaries, but I will admit to being frustrated with her lately.  Too much nudity, girlfriend. Cover those things up (insert other things a grandmother would say). But anyone who could watch the raw emotion and unabashed passion of her “I Dreamed a Dream” and the song she sang before she died…… There’s nothing about pastoral care or theology in this one. Just stop hating on her. Because that performance was pure truth and beauty. (Also, pixie cuts unite!)

4. I was so terribly disappointed with the death of Javert. That was the only thing about the movie that I didn’t like. He had terribly flawed theology, but then so do most (yes, I said most) Americans today. Is there no redemption for those who can’t grasp the full concept of redemption? No grace for those who misunderstand grace…?

Could we as clergy do more for the spiritual and mental health of those wounded by fallacious theology? The rehabilitative power in the United Methodist’s doctrine of grace has saved more than one life I know of…

3. Jean Valjean– why have I never known this character?  What a vision of a saint. And also, how did they make Hugh Jackman look SO BAD? In SO many different ways?!

2. Anybody else think young Cosette’s song about her “Castle on a Cloud” was a beautiful vision of the already-but-not-yet Kingdom?

How could we make little girls’ dreams like that one come true? When was the last time you told that (those) lonely or sad person (people) in your life that you love them very much?

1. Speaking of that, the best line in the whole thing is clearly: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Truth. Gospel truth.

It’s so easy to see ministry as a job.  It’s hard to not think of it in terms of conventional scheduling– i.e, when you think about doing hospital visitations, you hate it but you start thinking, “Alright, 4 people in 3 different hospitals. If I can get Ms. So-and-So to not be so chatty, I can be in and out in 15 minutes each…….”

But I don’t think that Jesus went to Lazarus’ tomb with the thought, “Ughhhhhh how long is this going to take?”

Nope.

He wept, out of love.

Lessonsssssssssssssssss.

The 12 Steps to Preparing a Sermon (A VERY Informative Guide)

When you get the word that you’re preaching on an upcoming Sunday, here’s what you do.  Note: I didn’t say this is what you SHOULD do.  Just that this is what you do.

1. Get excited! This is your chance, girl. You’re gonna change the world.  This sermon is going to go in the preaching books right next to Anna Carter Florence’s! Feel that you have already succeeded. Consequently, eat a lot of celebratory foods like ice cream and waffles.

2. Realize, with a start, that you have not yet actually succeeded.  Put down the waffles slowly and begin to panic.  Remember, at this point you probably haven’t even looked at the Scripture yet. Consider vomiting.

3. It’s pep talk time.  Stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and say all kinds of kicky things to yourself.  “You are a lion, take what’s yours. You’ve been preparing your whole life for this day, and you’re going to kill it!  You’re Jack Donaghy! Is it in you?! I’m loving it!” Note: This is a fun but socially unacceptable step. Make sure this is happening in your home… or in the bathroom in the church basement that everyone forgot exists and so it’s your own personal bathroom now.

4. Read the Scripture.  Gird yourself with Diet Coke, kick off your shoes, and just open the book.  Subconsciously, and with your physical body tensed appropriately, approach it as though it’s a snake ready to bite you.  Cringe as you wildly guess at what parable or section of Paul or prophecy you’ve been assigned. …You just know it’s that one Psalm about babies getting dashed against the rocks.  You just know it.  And that’s pretty impressive, because your assigned text is in Mark!  That’s the power of the Holy Spirit, though. You never can tell where those imprecatory psalms are going to pop up. (Yeah, that’s right, I said imprecatory psalms. I read that Brueggeman book on the psalms and didn’t just skim it. WHAT THEN.)

5. Having read the Scripture, enter a state of semi-paralysis. This will last roughly 20 minutes… but can extend to up to a week.  The whole area behind your face, where your seminary-educated brain is rumored to live, will suddenly become vacuously, alarmingly empty.  You will vaguely wonder if this is what being lobotomized feels like.  You will vaguely wonder if you’ve slipped into a coma.  It’s okay, breathe.  This is all normal. You have indeed entered a coma-like state.  The official term for it is Lectionary Narcolepsy (coined by me, just now).  You’ll snap out of it soon. Before Sunday, at least …we hope.

6. Emerge from your introspective hibernation. Examine whatever panicky, wild thoughts you were having during your fever dreams.  Realize you haven’t actually been thinking about the text, but about all the things that could go wrong when preaching on this text.  Perhaps it is too well-known, and you are worried that people will have read the Anna Carter Florence sermon on the same Scripture, and then you’ll never make it into the anthology because hers was way too good.  Or perhaps this text is too unfamiliar– your seminary professors didn’t give you the cheat-sheet on this one (Note to all non-seminarians reading this blog: This is an exaggeration and wishful thinking. No cheat-sheets for any Scripture were given out at Duke, or at least they didn’t have enough hand-outs to make it to the back row where I sat).

7. Settle down to actually think about the text, not about your/the congregation’s/the editors of all those great sermon anthology’s expectations. Realize you’re not entirely Biblically-illiterate, but have read this before, sometime.  Read it silently, and then out loud. Get a pen and paper and write the text out, perhaps writing interesting words in a different color or in bold.  Begin to actually get excited.  Have dreams of preaching a Good sermon– it doesn’t have to be Great; but at this point you do believe it can be Good.

8. Write the sermon.  Whether it’s the Tuesday before, or the night before, get it down on paper.  This will involve a lot of diligent eschewing of that The Closer marathon that’s on TNT right now, as well as whatever pastoral non-emergencies are blowing up your email and voicemail.  But because you are a preacher in your heart, you will get something down on paper, I promise.  Memorize it as you go, practicing transitions and gestures.  Feel mildly, vaguely, potentially successful, and that this sermon might actually be Okay (you’ve downgraded from Good to Okay, but that’s fine).

9. The night before or the morning of, take one last look at your sermon.  Decide it is the worst thing you’ve ever written, read, or heard of.  Downgrade your sermon from Okay to Disaster Area. Daydream about calling Chris Christie because he seems to be doing a good job with the Hurricane Sandy stuff.  Daydream about running away.  The lay speaker or another pastor can step in.  The choir director can make the whole service one big hymn-sing and the congregation will LOVE it. Have an existential crisis about your role in the church at all. Pack a bag.  Unpack the bag.  Pack it again.

10. Just do it.  Preach.  Throw caution to the wind– the wind, you’ll realize, is probably the Holy Spirit, so that’ll probably work out. Get nauseous and stumble over your words.  Feel so obviously nervous and underprepared that you’re sure people are ready to drag you out of the pulpit and stone you– or worse, call your bishop.

11. Go to lunch afterward with friends.  If no friends are available, go with a good book (which is just the same as a good friend, in many ways).  Overeat many salty things.  Take a very long nap. Remember that you have some leftover ice cream and waffle batter.  Feel too tired even to go get it, much less get out the waffle maker– ugh, life is hard.

12. Fall asleep that night (“night” here meaning about 5:30 pm) with your phone next to your bed, waiting for the sermon anthology editors to call.  They won’t, but your mom will. Or your best friend from seminary. Or a congregation member with a death in the family.  And it will be exactly what you need. And you will go on with your bad self, and the Kingdom of God will be about .02% closer as a result.