Tuesday, May 29, 2007

House Calls and Speedways

"I'm the pastor, so you have to let me win."

It sounded like an ultimatum. But what could I do? Banish him from Sunday School? Withhold prayers and preaching? Ask that he be given no snacks during the fellowship time? Any consequence I might lay out would only sound childish. And since he was the six-year old, I figured I should probably play nicely.

"My son is a world champion at Mario Kart," the father boasted. I was pretty good myself; I owned a copy of the game and expected to hold my ground. Besides, I was the pastor here--the spiritual guide and reverend of the roadway. My job description intimated something about being the "authority on all things."

I put my racing gloves on and took a seat in front of the television.

The good news is that I was never lapped. That bad news is I was unable to scheme my way into a victory: I tried sarcasm, whining, poking his eyes and stealing his controller, but to no effect. I was never even close.

When I returned home, I poured through my ministry syllabus, looking for the section on how to respond to defeat. "Get used to it," it said. The text was bold.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Reading My Confessions

"Be careful what you write."

For the past two years in Denver I gave students this advice. With the rise of MySpace, Facebook, and other online communities, stories circulated around the nation of individuals who'd forgone their sense of anonymity and typed impeachable comments. Then they were fired, jailed, or spit on by friends.

"What happens," I warned, "is that eighty percent of companies now search for your blog to see if you incriminate yourself: slandering co-workers, selling company secrets, waving guns, using drugs, et cetera. Big Brother can read," I assured them.

In my case, Big Brother was a contingent of four elders and a moderator. They called themselves the Pastoral Search Committee. They liked to laugh, eat potlucks, and ask difficult questions about divorce, baptism, and the emergent church. They read my confessions but made no reference to them.

Until later. Two weeks into the job, it was an elder's turn to confess. I donned my robe, called him into the booth, and listened.

"I read your journal."


"The whole thing."


"We probably should have asked you more questions during the interview."

I made the sign of the cross and offered forgiveness. Then added, "Does this mean I can keep my job?"

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Laughter and Alarms

"For my first sermon, I will need volunteers."

I felt like a magician, beckoning a brave soul from the crowd. My inaugural message would be participatory to illustrate my style from the beginning. One lady reluctantly agreed, sharing a previous experience when another pastor had nailed her answer to the cross of theological scrutiny.

"My goal," I replied, "is to be the only object of public humiliation during a message." A soft laughter circled the table, easing the tension.

Perhaps I don't take myself seriously enough, but I am admittedly clumsy as a Christian. To fake a strut when I habitually limp smacks of hypocrisy. The era of impeccable leaders is fading; now is the moment for handicapped voices to lead, laugh, and encourage communities to limp along together.

God spoke this message when I opened the door to the church my first morning. I was told the lock was tricky; I was given the code to the alarm. I was expected to make myself at home. After a few minutes of manipulating the bolt, I rushed to the keypad and entered the thirteen digit number (the number of digits has been changed to protect the identify of the real password). The code was rejected. I entered it again, the beeps increasing with my blood pressure. I erred again. Thirty seconds passed and the halls of the church sounded the rapture. God laughs like a fire siren.

A minute later the security provider called. "Your alarm just went off." My ears were still ringing; I asked her to repeat. "Your alarm went off."

"Is that what that was?" I asked. "Sorry. I'm the new pastor. This is my first day. And I'll probably set it off again."

"No problem, reverend. Welcome to the ministry."