Thursday, March 26, 2015

Being Paid to Love Jesus

It was an interesting conversation, as a recent post was shared around with others.  I'd kvetched a little bit about the idea that the sacred--music, in this case--could be copyrighted.  Copyright is about preserving profit, and fusing commerce and faith is dangerous, dangerous thing for the soul and for the integrity of the message of Jesus.

One of the commenters slyly suggested that this wasn't all too different from the whole "getting paid to be a pastor" thing, and man, do I feel that.

On the one hand, I've certainly got the makings of a pro.  I've got an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and a graduate degree in divinity and am about to get my Doctorate In Churchly Churchiness.  I've got more than a decade of minist'rin' under my belt, and professional certifications of various and sundry sorts.  That's taken time and energy and resources to accomplish, and it's been worth it.  If you're going to teach about the Way of Jesus of Nazareth, it helps to have a deep clue what you're talking about.  This has been an investment, one that has taken much of my now-half-over lifetime.

Neither could I do all of what I do and hold down a separate, full time job.  Well, I could, but then I'd be completely frazzled, unable to think or act or reflect in a creative and non-anxious way.

I've been paid to teach people about Jesus for the last decade.  I am a professional.  It's what I do.

As such, I am of course quite famil-yah with the skript-chah that most justifies my getting Pee Ay Aye Dee for Jesus.  I'm that ox, treading out the grain, although hopefully without quite the same stench.  Thanks, Paul!  Have any advice on how to set up a 409 plan or how to maximize my housing allowance without triggering an IRS audit?

The problem, of course, comes when you actually think and reflect about it.  Dagflabbit, brains are such pesky things.  Because money is a socioeconomic proxy for power, and power does strange things to our souls.  Jesus was always on about that, and he knew how the seductive power of mammon can burrow deep.

Not just into the strange souls of pastors like Prosperity Preacher Creflo A. Dollar, who if you encountered him in a novel would be utterly unbelievable.  A pastor named Dollar, for God's sake, who fleeces his congregation for Learjets and Rolls Royces and multi-million-dollar mansions, all in the name of Bright Shiny Golden Jeezus?  What a lazy, poorly crafted, and transparent caricature!   Totally stereotypical character development!  Who's writing this [poopy] soap opera, anyway?

The painful truth, for those of us who do this for a living, is that the dynamics of wealth can fold insidiously into the heart of our vocation no matter what the scope and scale of our ministry.

Our anxieties about family and material expectations natter and whisper and take control of what had once been a deep commitment to the Way.  They can govern our decisions about how to care for our communities, turning us away from taking wild Gospel risks.  We become managers and chief executive officers, interested primarily in organizational dynamics and branding and institutional structures.  We become development professionals.  We fret about giving, not because it's the common purse and part of our shared stewardship over our lives together, but because we've personally come to rely on the contents therein.  We attend to donors and assiduously court those who are wealthier, because, well, gosh.  We *need* them.  They are more important.  They are where the power lies.

Sure, that's how you run organizations.  That's good business practice.  When you're dealing with large and complex things, that's how you make 'em hum along.  It's the way you do Big Church, if you're going to do Big Church.  But as with all human endeavor, the strength that can be found in that approach is also its hubris.

Because the more we embrace and live those values out, the more the values of the worldly oikonomia suffuse themselves into the divine economy we're meant to be spreading, and into us.

The truth of what Jesus taught comes when all of the trappings of that other economy are torn away, when the lies of the sword and the whispers of mammon are gone and we are left only with the dangerous truth of grace.  That's the radical love that we see proven on the cross, unbroken and unbreakable.

The other kind of love, the kind that can be marketed and commodified, the kind of love that stops the moment you run out of Benjamins to slide into my ill-fitting garter?  I fight it, whenever I feel it rising in my soul, because that's not who we are called to be.