Friday, September 18, 2020

Jesus Experts

There are many rules in this internet era.  Don't read the comments.  Don't ever search for anything without Safesearch on.  Do not click on a link in an email that claims to be from your credit card company.

To those, as we all know, is added this: do not ever use the internet to diagnose yourself.  Oh, it can be great for troubleshooting an issue around the house, or for figuring out how to fix something.  But when it comes to your own body, nevereverever go online to figure out what that ache, twinge, or throb might be.

Because even if the information is there, if you're not an expert, you can go way off the reservation.  You don't know how to interpret what you're seeing, don't know how to bring in other relevant information, and don't know how to assess the likelihood of a particular outcome.  Whenever I've attempted to diagnose myself, I have a nearly 100% track record of being wrong.

I mean, yes, we all do want to be good at everything, but we aren't.  There are certain things other human beings know that we do not.  I may regularly garden, for example, but a master gardener I am not.  I am constantly learning from and being informed by folks who know seed and soil better than I.  I can do the most basic motorcycle maintenance, but when things get more technical I know...from experience...that I'm better off trusting the heavily tatted mechanics who are less likely to render my bike unrideable.  I can do some basic home rewiring, but when things get complicated, I'd rather call an electrician than burn my house down.

Similarly, I'm more likely to trust a doctor who's been to medical school, or a nurse who's gotten similar training.  They know what they're looking at, in ways that I really don't. I've learned to give my trust only to folks who genuinely have a clue.  

Is this true for our journey with Jesus?  Are there folks who are experts, in ways that we are not?  That's a little tougher to say, because the metric is a little different.  How do you know when someone's take on the faith is Spirit-filled, and when it's just them lining their pockets, padding their egos, or serving the purposes of power?

I look to the saints, honestly.  Meaning, not necessarily the saints of the ancient faith, although they're worth knowing.  I look to the saints around us, the folks who show the fruits of a deeply authentic walk with Jesus.  They're the ones showing grace, offering up forbearance, giving comfort.  They show hospitality to the stranger, and serve those in need.

They don't tend to be the loudest or most aggressive folks.  They don't seem to need you to agree with them, or pressure you to parrot everything they say.  They make no claim to perfection.  They aren't trying to sell you something.  They just do the Jesus thing, day after day.  

You might have to slow down a bit, and listen for them.  

It's worth doing, as we seek to build up our souls.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Telling it Like it Is

It wasn't the conversation I particularly wanted to be having, but I knew it was coming.

Just the year before, my little congregation...generous to a fault...had given me a modest bump in salary, along with agreeing to pick up the hefty costs of health insurance for my family.  My concern, expressed to leadership at the time, was that this would not be sustainable.  Unlike most small congregations, we have no debt and have slowly amassed an emergency reserve fund over the last nine years.  But even with that, I could see the writing on the wall.

We're a little church in a time when little churches are struggling to maintain the old model of congregational life, and as several long standing church families moved away or prepared to move for retirement, there was only a marginal possibility we'd make up the difference in giving.  Much as I love the small church, folks just don't come through the doors like they used to, and gentle-hearted, unassuming, and intimate servant communities aren't where the cultural energy lies of late.

So last year, I had to be sure we all were clear: the church was going to be facing a financial crisis.  We were burning through reserves, and unless something radical was done, we'd find ourselves with our backs against the wall within a year.  It wasn't what anyone wanted to hear, and it wasn't what I wanted to tell folks, but it was the truth.  Leadership had those hard conversations.  We made sure we told the rest of the church, because hiding or ignoring problems only makes them worse.

We'd have to make some major cuts, and those cuts would have to involve my salary.  Again, this was just the reality.  In small churches like ours with total budgets that barely reach six figures, pastoral salaries are the farthest thing from Osteen levels, but they're still the largest chunk of expenditure.

The financial bleeding stopped.  We stabilized, and made the difficult but necessary adjustments.  Which meant, as it so happened, that when the pandemic hit, we still had emergency reserves to carry us through this new time of crisis.

If you're in a position of leadership, you have to be honest with your community.  This isn't the easy thing.  It's hard, particularly if you don't like conflict.  And Lord knows, I'm as conflict averse as anyone.  But I've had to learn to overcome that, because leveling with folks is absolutely essential for the survival of a community.  If there's a crisis, there is always the temptation to sweep it under the rug, or to minimize it, or to come up with rosy fantasy scenarios that keep folks from getting all upset.  "Oh, it'll be fine."  "It's not a big deal."  "I'm sure God will send us a miracle!"

There is also the temptation to cast blame, to find someone else who's fault it is.  Anything to avoid having to say the hard thing, and to make the hard choice, and to take the harder path.  Those things set heavy on the ego.  We'd rather dwell in the reality in which nothing is demanded of us, and where everything always goes our way, where we are bright and shiny and always, always right.

Telling people what they want to hear is the realm of the pitchman and the promoter, not the leader.  To lead wisely and well, you need to tell it like it is, to be a straight shooter, to speak even those truths that don't benefit you personally.  You have to trust your people and your community.

Leaders who can't present their people with the truth, who choose the comfortable fantasy over speaking the hard challenge?  They have no business leading.  They are why churches...and

Saturday, September 5, 2020


In the room of my childhood

A dream of wasps growing

Thick as my thumb

Tight wet in their cells

Fat and glistening

Pressing outwards

Row upon row

Tens and hundreds

More upon more

To burst and rise and take angry wing