In seminary we are taught that with a church assignment comes distinct expectations: prophetic, priestly, pastoral. professorial. Prophetic: we must speak on what we believe God is doing in the congregation and the direction ministry should go. Priestly: to perform the rites and rituals of life (marriage, confirmation), administer the sacraments, bury the dead. Pastoral: providing care, prayer, confidentiality. Professorial: teaching the Word, history, theology, or any other relevant subjects. We’re taught, but not really prepared. Not that such is the failure of a seminary; rather, it is the purview of experience.
Here’s where things get sticky. I’m writing about my work, and everyone knows where I work, and I have to be careful not to write anything that reflects poorly on the congregation or in any way violates confidentiality or the Book of Order. I speak for myself. I am writing about myself as a pastor of a church that exists in space and time and a very simple Google search will reveal very clearly where I work.
But I remain a human person who has thoughts and ideas, goals and aspirations. My job is one in which I literally cannot clock out. I cannot put on my “at home” personality. My faith is my life, my life is my faith. I think about God and justice and love and Jesus pretty much nonstop.
I have been gobsmacked by some of the things that are said to me in the course of my job; being a pastor for 18 hours a week does not give anyone control over how I spend my other hours, as long as I am not living an unchristian life. And you can call me many things, but unchristian is not one of them. Love me or hate me, I’m a pretty transparent person. Some people claim too transparent, but it’s my hot spirituality I’ll do what I want.
I know that I can be a bit much. I’m big. I’m loud. I get really excited quickly. I hug a lot. I’ll just call you up and tell you I love you because I believe God put it on my heart. I get how for some people it can seem like I’m really self-involved or that I want to be the center of attention. I get that because at different times those were truths. If I’m not careful, they’ll be truths again. Believe me, whatever bad thing you might have thought about me, I have thought much, much worse about myself. And I’m trying to stop that kind of living.
Six months ago, I stopped drinking.
I don’t know if I will write about this again, as this is one area where I am kind of guarded because, to be honest, there are some people who really don’t like me. I think there are some who would be happy if I weren’t where I am. That’s fine. I can’t control them. But I can be careful about what I let out there. Believe it or not, I don’t write about everything that comes into my head. Well, I do write about most stuff but I write more than I post, which is hard to believe I know because, seriously, I post a lot.
I don’t say I got sober. I don’t say that I quit drinking (sometimes I slip and say it, but I try to correct myself). I stopped. I finally accepted God’s free gift of grace. I look now at why and how I got to the point where stopping was necessary and I realize I never want to go back. I can’t go back. Some of this–most of this?–is a result of being on good meds, therapy, prayer, and living a live filled with purpose. And it is only six months. If I let it happen, alcohol could be a problem again. I’m not calling myself an alcoholic, I’m calling myself someone living with bipolar who has mental and emotional pain; that is a heavy cross to bear. I have fallen down before. I fell. I will fall again.
What I do for a living is what I do in order to be able to live. I don’t mean that in just a financial sense. I mean it literally. If I don’t follow Christ, if I don’t do everything I can for justice, community, love, and compassion, I will not know how to live. I don’t know who I am outside of Christ, and God has made it clear to me that I am to be a servant. Here. In this place where I grew up and continue to grow.
I have fears that the prophetic nature of the call is already resulting in strife. I pray each and every day to make sure that I am not trying to promote myself, that I am not attempting to use God as an excuse to advance my own agenda. But I think I have done the work to such an extent that God’s agenda is my agenda: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream.” Justice is providing a place where all who want to come are welcomed. Righteousness is adhering to continued calls for justice, even when others call you divisive. Confrontational. Controversial.
Getting drunk on God is just as dangerous, if not more so, than being blasted on alcohol. I mean, there’s a reason they’re called spirits. Hey-oh!
I’ve stopped drinking. I’m living more. I don’t assume that I’m always going to feel this strong, this called, this blessed, this in touch with God. And that’s part of the reason why I write as I do, friends. I imagine that many of you have similar stories. You’re just not as stupid or needy as I am to write everything and hit publish. Heh.
I do it for you. For me. To check in. To inspire. To be certain that if people dislike me, at least let them dislike me for being myself. If I’m going to run people away, at least I can do it as authentically or genuinely as I can.
The prophetic part of my call means that I’m not going to stop talking about racism. I will not be deliberately hurtful, but I also will not pretend that certain positions are legitimate. Because many of the arguments used to sidetrack real discussions on race have been refuted and answered so many times, I no longer have patience for people who willfully refuse to see but continue to call me names.
If I stop talking about race, I might as well quit being a pastor. I might as well hang up the collar and do something else. Because the gospel requires of me a total and complete dedication to doing what I can when I can for as long as I can with whomever I can.