Falling out

Yesterday morning, Mark sent me the following tweet: “You and I are gonna fall out ;)” in response to me upping the ante in a playful argument: “John and Charles Wesley – heretics or no?”

First, I had to look up “fall out” to make sure that it meant the same thing in the UK that it does here in the US, and it does.  Falling out, for those of you who are lucky enough never to have had use for the expression, means no longer being on speaking terms with someone after a particularly serious disagreement.  For those of you unfamiliar with emoticons, ” ;)” indicated that he was teasing.

Too often, falling out of step with one another leads us to fall out altogether – but there are other possibilities.  It is especially exciting for me when I discover the places where I am out of step with new friends – it is a sign that the connections we have made are becoming strong enough to risk essential differences.

Later in the day, I found myself in a more serious conversation with Mark about the purpose of legal marriage, which led to me considering the purpose of the nation state, and also to realizing how many conversations of late were drawing my attention to my increasing lack of political ideology (mistrust of political ideology?), in favor of an ad hoc questioning of particular policies from the perspective of who gets hurt and who benefits.  Throughout the exchange of tweets, I noticed that we were falling in and out of step with one another.  In the process, I was being stretched to look at the issue of marriage from a different perspective than I had in a long time – I was paying attention to my feet, and the way they were moving.

Soldiers, when they march, move in lockstep – artificially changing their gait so that they move in perfect concert with one another.  It is good for discipline, and for traveling as a group over long distances – but when they get to a bridge, they have to fall out of step.  The artificial consistency of their steps, vehemently beating out a perfect rhythm, can create a dangerous wave motion, destroying the bridge as they cross it.

I won’t deny that there is such a thing as real consensus – that consensus is not always imposed through tyranny or feigned by the non-confrontational.  However, in my own life experience, building bridges that last requires that those who cross those bridges be comfortable falling out of step with one another.  Else they may find themselves falling off the bridge altogether.

So to Mark – and to Will and to Peach and to Scott and to Maddy and to the many others with whom I have found myself comfortably out of step from time to time – I thank God for you!  May we continue to fall out – and back in – as we run with patience the race that is set before us!

What gives you joy?

It was a week before my first semester of seminary, and I was walking with Brent (a second year student) to the parking lot.  I had started on one of my favorite topics – the differences between the different gospels.  I was deep into the immediacy of the language of Mark’s gospel when Brent asked, “Are you taking Greek this semester?”

I was not.  I felt like I should only be taking things that obviously would contribute to my vocation as a pastor, not messing around with “fun” and “frivolous” topics like Biblical languages.  Brent generously passed over my having pronounced a class that he and more than half of my classmates would take as “frivolous,” not to mention the implication that the seminary itself would offer any classes that they did not believe would have bearing on our later ministries.  Instead, he focused on my confession that Greek would likely be fun for me.

You have a passion for learning, and a passion for language.  That is God’s gift to you.  It is part of who you are.  God didn’t call part of you, he calls all of you – and he gave you your passions to show you the way.  You don’t have to know now what the value will be of having learned Greek – surrender to God’s leadership – God will put the experience of learning Greek to use for his glory, if you surrender this time at seminary to him.

I took Greek.  There have been times when it made a real difference to my preaching.  But the friends I made in that class have made an even greater difference to me.  And most importantly, I learned to enjoy myself in God’s service.  This was the greatest gift of all – a gift that I have continually drawn from, and needed continually to be reminded of – it is God’s desire that I find joy in serving God.

Finding joy in ministry is what keeps pastors going, which is the theme of my latest article at Ministry Matters.

Expanded from an article published in the Virginia Advocate, March 2009.

Not my best work

In the past week, I have been finishing a mixed media painting for a friend.  I had started work on it more than two and a half years ago, and then set it aside after working on it for some months.  I had long claimed that I was “too busy,” but I think the truth is that I was too scared.  I didn’t want to give my friend something that was less than “my best work,” and I was not in love with the painting.

But the reality is, this is the first time I have ever attempted something on this scale.  So of course I hope that it is not my best work in the scope of my lifetime.  I hope that as I learn and experiment, my later work will be better.  But this is something better than my best work – it is my first work – the first time I was moved to attempt such a piece.  It is inspired by my friend and her life, and every brushstroke and every found scrap of paper and other bits of collage are links in a chain of prayer for her, starting when she and her husband first separated and continuing through her return to work, her daughter entering kindergarten, the continued unraveling of the marriage and the certainty of divorce.

She has found her feet – she does not perhaps need the affirmation of change and new life that the painting represents.  And perhaps this is why I have been able to pick it up again – because it can now be a celebration of arriving at the other side of all she has endured.  Or perhaps I just ran out of excuses to leave it on the shelf.  Or perhaps I finally understood that my perfectionism was holding me back, and remembered that my friend loves me too much to desire perfection from me – and that she has known me too long to expect it.  Only those who the law would recognize as kin to me have seen me as bad off as she has seen me.

Am I giving her a canvas that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will be interested in acquiring from her?  No, I am giving her my prayers for her – my prayers of September 2009-February 2010, and my prayers of this summer.  I am concretizing my love for her to the best of my ability at the moment.  Maybe that is the best work any of us can do for one another after all.