Monday, September 24, 2012

Pain

This was briefly touched on over on the facebooks, but to bring everybody else into the story. . .

One of my greatest joys over the last few years was playing in the Signature Brass Quintet, of which I am one of two original members. We've played some wonderful music, some fun venues, and I was enjoying the chance to hang out with the guys on a regular basis. It was a nice break from the normal routine of life in ministry, and it gave voice to a part of my that had disappeared after college. All in all, it was, and was still becoming, an important piece of my life.

Not any more.

Last week I got a phone call from one of the other players. Essentially, his message was:

a) we think this group can be great
b)but not with you, so
c) you're out, and we're looking for a new trumpet player.

I give Manny credit - he did his best to break the news with grace and dignity, but let's be honest - there's no way to say "we're all better than you so you're out" without it stinging just a bit.

I'm not naturally an angry person. But I admit it. This one hurt quite a bit.

And not just because they took away something so important to me, and not just because it was all a bit unfair, the way they all made this decision without even consulting me.

It's more because the musicality isn't the issue. That's the smokescreen that covers a much deeper problem. Namely, that one of the other players (who shall remain nameless) is a ninny.

Yep, I just said that. A ninny.

It really came down to this: that particular player pulled a stunt that was unethical and unfair, and then criticized the rest of us when we didn't respond like he thought we should. So I pointed out his unethical behavior. At which point he threw a hissy fit and emotionally blackmailed the other guys into kicking me out.

It's all so junior-high-playgroundesque.

So there's the grief piece, in losing something that was a huge part of my life, an activity that brought me great joy and satisfaction. And then there's the outrage piece, at the injustice of it all, of essentially being bullied by a grown man unable to deal with his own issues.*

Like I said, I'm not naturally an angry person. But it's been an angry week for me. It doesn't help that pastors aren't really supposed to get angry, and that we're all expected to be examples of peace and forgiveness. That we're not supposed to maintain vengeful thoughts in the deep recesses of our brains. But there they are. Yes, I know forgiveness will come with time, and no, I'm not going to act on those vengeful thoughts. But if it helps you to know that pastors sometimes get angry and dream about punching other people in the face, there you go.

That's my story.

But last week I also sat with a friend who told me they had just signed the papers to officially end their marriage, and it was freeing but it was also the most painful day of their life. And then I sat with another friend whose marriage has gone frigid and dark and is probably over. And then another friend erupted in a message to me, sharing the pain of all the ways Christians have betrayed and hurt them over the decades. And I'm hurting for our church, as we've lost six more families over the last few weeks.

And this morning I learned that Heidi slipped away into eternity in the night, and I can only imagine Joe's grief. They fought for so long, and even a week ago thought they might defeat this ugly thing called cancer, but then it hit with a vengeance and there was nothing to be done. We rejoice, knowing that Heidi is now in the arms of God, that her life was redeemed long ago by Jesus, and that at the resurrection she and Joe will see each other once again. But today, it seems, is a day of grief.

I asked Karina this morning, "when does all this pain stop?" and she replied (much too quickly, I think) "it never does." And that's the truth. There are many wonderful, glorious, delightful moments in life. But the pain is always there, just the same.

Which is why I'm thankful to know and be known by a God who promises justice for wrongs done, who promises healing for broken hearts, who promises love to those cast aside, who promises resurrection from the power of death. The knowledge that all is well, and that all manner of things shall be well, is life-giving power, and not just a pithy proverb. The promise that all shall be brought under his rule, a rule marked by love, justice, and righteousness, is just the news we need to hang onto. We can grieve our losses, we can speak out the wounds we receive, and we can lay it all in the hands of One who has known injustice and loss. And there, we can rest.

Not that I'm there yet, mind you. I still feel like punching that guy in the teeth. But God's working on me there.

But this has been running around in my head today, especially once we got the news about Heidi. Listen prayerfully, and let God speak to you through it.


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*One of my patented maxims is "The number one thing that gets me into trouble is expecting adults to behave like adults." Feel free to quote me on that one.


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Turn down the volume - I'm getting feedback

Long ago, on a warm summer morning, I was in the midst of preparing for our Sunday worship gathering. This was fairly early into my time at this particular church, so I was still getting to know everybody and coming to understand the particular culture of the church.

A few minutes before the service began, I was cornered by one of the church matriarchs. This is what she told me: "Every Sunday I get up and pray that God won't let you destroy my worship by playing those bongo drums. They're horrible, and they distract us all from worship. You need to stop."

The back story: a month or two prior, we'd been working on a new song, but the rhythm wouldn't gel. The church didn't have a drummer, so it was difficult to lay down a rhythm and get everybody to feel it. To solve the problem, I went down to the local music store and bought a small pair of bongo drums, and used them to help the worship team finally get the beat of this song. And just about everybody seemed to like it.

Except this one particular person. And she didn't just 'not like' those bongos, she detested them and everything they stood for. (as a side note, here's a helpful suggestion: don't criticize people 10 minutes before the worship service starts. That's a guaranteed way to ruin the day for everybody). Later that afternoon I was telling this story to a friend, and in one of my few truly prophetic insights, said "I think she's going to try to get me fired." (She did try. She didn't succeed, but she made my life miserable.)

It's well established that any time you put yourself in the public eye, you invite feedback. Pastors, authors, musicians, celebrities all know - the moment you take on a public persona, you open the door for people to decide they don't like you, and to decide they need to let you know how much they don't like you.

Throw in the fact that pastors deal with such intensely personal issues - religion, belief, soul-work, music preferences, family histories ("we've always sat in that pew!") and it quickly becomes obvious: criticism and flack just go with the territory.

I mean, Jesus had his critics and detractors, right? So why should it be any different for those who attempt/claim to speak for Jesus?

Many of you know I write a bi-monthly column in our local monthly paper. Which puts me even more into the public arena. And I get a lot of positive feedback. I meet people around town who say "Do you write those columns? I really like them!" I've had some wonderful conversations with people who were taken by an article and wanted to talk about it further. Writing that column has been a blessing and a positive experience.

But. . .the first ever article I wrote for the KP News resulted in at least one irate phone call the morning after it was published. I wrote another article calling for civility in political discussion; one woman misunderstood my point and emailed the paper a missive declaring her anger at the way I slandered our president (I hadn't; I was quoting somebody else who had). A recent article musing on the lack of ethnic diversity in our community led to two response letters taking me to task (although, to be honest, one was from a friend of mine who was just having some fun with me).

But now I think we've reached the pinnacle. My article in the August edition has resulted in an angry, dismissive letter to the editor, declaring me a heretic, a neo-gnostic, and unfit for the pulpit in any Christian church. Apparently I'm out of step with orthodox Christianity, and guilty of challenging every doctrine from salvation to sin to creation. And the author of said letter wants the world to know about it.

It's always fun to see your name in print in that context.

I've had quite a few friends jump to my defense via facebook, but truthfully, I'm okay with it. For one, I think feedback is good for both me and the newspaper - it proves people are paying attention, and it probably drives more people to read more closely. Controversy sells, right?

For another, I'm following that classic advice, "consider the source." This particular gentleman wrote a different letter to the editor two years ago after Lakebay Community Church hosted a seminar discussing how Christians ought to relate to Muslims. Since our guest speaker wouldn't say the magic words, "all Muslims are going to hell for all of eternity because they are evil," we were denounced as teaching a false gospel of tolerance, of watering down the Bible, of being false teachers, and, if I remember correctly, I was labelled as unfit for pastoral ministry.

He's done it to many of my friends out here, he's done it to other churches, so I can't take it personally.

Years ago, I heard Jack Hayford give some advice that's always stuck with me. He said, "If you throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the one who barks the loudest is probably the one you hit." If I speak of the grace of God showing up in unexpected ways, and somebody reacts so negatively to that, I can only feel sadness for all the ways they must miss out on experiencing the love of God.

But this isn't so much about this gentleman; if I were to judge him here, I'd be doing the same thing he did. This is really more about responding to criticism. Maybe I'm getting wiser, or maybe I'm becoming more jaded, but it just doesn't bother me all that much any more. Sometimes I listen to the criticism, wondering if maybe there is some truth in there, if there's a lesson to be learned for the next time around. But mostly I realize that there is only One whose feedback is necessary; at the end of it all, I stand before God and answer only to him. At times he's let me know when I've crossed a line, when I've been in the wrong. At other times, I've felt God's affirmation that I'm okay, even if people don't like my bongo playing, or my political opinion, or my distaste for bikini espresso stands. I try each day to please my God, and stand in his grace when I fail.

Still, should there be anybody here still confused about this most recent article and the response, let me state once and for all:

I believe salvation is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and nowhere else.

And I also believe God doesn't really mind the bongos.

And that's all I'm going to say about that.