Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Things I took for granted

I was thinking today of things that I took for granted before I became a pastor. You know, those things that just seemed normal, until I became ordained, that now seem kind of special.

Here's what I've come up with so far:

Anonymity. Being a pastor in a small town, it seems like lots of people know who I am, and not just people from my church. I will go some place and be greeted by someone with, "Hi Pastor Mark!" and I will look and them and be pretty sure that I have never met them before in my life. Or I'll go somewhere, and not recognize anybody, but then later when I do see people I know they'll say, "Hey Pastor Mark I heard you were ________ [fill in the blank]!"

Bars. Sometimes it's fun to go have a drink and a good time and maybe sing some karaoke. But let me refer you to the previous entry.

Clothing. Ok, get your mind out of the gutter! Allow me to explain. Since becoming a pastor I have seen a lot of clothing, particularly t-shirts, and I'll look at them and read the funny little saying or look at the witty picture and think, "That shirt is hilariously irreverent!" and then I'll think, "When could I actually wear it?" and then I'll go look at the polo shirts, instead.

Daylight Saving Time. Specifically when it begins and we have to spring forward. On a Saturday night. When I already have to get up at an ungodly hour the next morning (see also, Weekends).

Evenings. In college and seminary, if I didn't have an evening class, most of the time my evenings were free to do with what I chose. A lot of the time that should have been studying, but it was my choice. If I wanted to go out to a movie with friends, or sit around and watch television, or play video games, or go somewhere else fun, I could. Because my evening was free to do with as I chose. In my current reality, that is not always the case. What's that, you want to get together on Wednesday evening? I'm sorry, I have Confirmation and choir rehearsal. Thursday? Well, shoot. That's committee and council meeting night. Monday night? We have a mission trip meeting that night. Sunday night? Sorry, we have a worship service then. Friday? Well, it's my day off, but I have a wedding rehearsal...

Friends. I have never really been at a shortage of friends. I've always had people nearby who I could hang out with and visit, who would ask me to go places or do something with them. Especially in seminary, when all I needed to do was open my door and step out into the hallway and chances were good I'd see or run into someone who I considered a friend. But now, since I've moved to a far away state to be a pastor in a small town, I've come to see how lucky I was to have so many friends so close by.

Greetings. One morning I walked into the office at church, in my own little world, thinking about what I needed to do when I got back to my office. Obliviously, I walked right by the room where some of the ladies were volunteering to fold the newsletter, and I didn't say hello. Well, I hadn't gone too far when I heard one of them say my name with a hint of disgust. Then a few others chimed in about how I had walked right by without saying hello! So, I quickly ran back, poked my head in and said hello. Greeting people is important. Especially the church ladies.

Holidays. In high school and college and seminary, holidays were times when school was on break and I was able to go and visit family and relax for a few days. Now, it's kind of the opposite. Christmas dinner? Sure, as soon as I'm done with the four extra church services...

Lunch. While health professionals might argue that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, I would contest that it's lunch with the quilters/church ladies. One day, after they had finished quilting for the morning, they called down to the office to let us know that they were having their lunch and we were invited to come up. Well, I was in the middle of doing something and didn't want to stop, so I kept going. A little later on that day, I was running over to my house for some reason when one of the ladies was getting into her car. "You didn't come up and join us!" she said. "Yeah," I said. "I was in the middle of something and didn't want to stop." I then received a very stern glare punctuated by a "Hmmph!" That was it. But now I drop everything when it's time to eat lunch with the ladies.

Money. Or talking about it, really. Talking about money (specifically the giving of this money) is a touchy subject in church and I do NOT take for granted that my senior pastor deals with this more than I do.

Volunteers. In college and seminary, since I didn't have a youth group of my own, I would volunteer at other churches to help with their youth program. It was easy to assume that there were people like me who would step forward and express interest in being involved in various areas. Now, that way of thinking makes me chuckle. Sure, there might be a few volunteers like that, but the vast majority of volunteers I get are a result of me asking and calling and e-mailing and begging and bribing. I have also learned how important volunteers are, which is why I've learned I need to do a lot of those things previously listed.

Weekends. Yeah, I know, I know. When you take a job where the Big Day is Sunday morning, it kind of goes without saying that you will not have a "regular" weekend. But I didn't realize, back when I could, how much I enjoyed going places for the weekend. Or, on Sunday mornings, laying in bed and thinking, "I don't feel like going to church today." I can't really do that now. If I try, they show up at my door.

So this is just a short list of things I've come to view much differently, or appreciate much more, since I've become a pastor. Please know that there is much humor included and intended in these words. But there is also some truth, too. Sometimes all at the same time.

What about you? What are some of the things that you'd include on your list?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

operation: faster pastor

So, most of the year I am able to get around and I think that I am in fairly good shape. I walk most everywhere in town, I can go upstairs without getting winded, I'm pretty active and play lots of games with the kids at church. But there is one week out of the year that shows me how far I am from the kind of shape I'd really like to be in. That is Confirmation Camp.

They play this game every summer, one of my absolute favorites, that involves a lot of running. Well, most of their games involve running, but this one is almost constant running. It goes by many names. When I was a counselor at camp we called it "Biffer and Medic." But I've heard it called "Bonkers" and "Boof" and a few other things. The gist of the game is this: Campers are trying to be the first camper to visit various stations throughout the camp. At these stations they have to do certain tasks and then they receive a mark for having done them. Now, while they are trying to find these stations and do these tasks, there are people called Biffers. These people are running around with socks filled with flour and they are trying to "biff" the kids. If a camper gets biffed, they must stop in that location and call for help. The only person that can help them is called a Medic. A medic will follow the calls for help and then they let the person resume the game.

Two summers ago I ended up filling in part way through the game for a Biffer who was needed elsewhere. I ran all over the place, chasing the kids, having a great time. Until I thought I might die. Like my heart might beat out of my chest or my lungs might force their way up through my nose. At that point, I was a pretty worthless biffer and I mainly laid around and moaned and foamed a bit at the mouth. Ok, so it wasn't that bad. But it definitely showed me how out of shape I was.

Last year, I managed to play an entire game as a biffer. By the end I wasn't the fastest biffer, and I had to stop for short rests, but I played the entire game. I was proud. Of course, many of these junior high campers were in far better shape and they had no trouble eluding me. Toward the end of the game, a group of three or four junior high boys saw me and a couple started to run away, but one of them said, "Oh, he's not a big deal. We can outrun him."

Ouch. True, but ouch.

So I kind of had this idea that I would get in shape for next summer. I thought I'd come back to camp and maybe not be a huge threat to the kids, but I'd be a bigger one than I have been.

I'm sad to say it, but camp is about 4 weeks away and I have just started trying to do something about this. I'm not sure that in 4 weeks I will be able to get into the kind of shape I'd like to be in. Especially after months of sedentary living and greasy food eating. But I figure every little bit helps. If I stay active and do something resembling exercise every day between now and then, who knows? I might strike a little more fear into the hearts of these campers then, say, a rampaging three toed sloth.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Little things

Sometimes, I think we can let little things affect us too much. Let me give you an example from my real life.

This happened my senior year of high school. We had a foreign exchange student from the Netherlands come and live with us. He and I both used the same bathroom in our house. Alongside the mirror/medicine chest there were fluorescent lights that would come on along with the ceiling light when you turned on the light switch. But these fluorescent lights could be turned off with a separate switch on the side of the medicine chest, so that they would stay off when the ceiling light was turned on.

I preferred having these lights on. Our foreign exchange student liked them off. I would get annoyed when I would turn the light on and the fluorescent lights would not come on, as well. I expressed my dismay by putting a note on the wall by the light switch asking that the lights be left on, or at least turned back on when he was done (passive aggressive much?). That didn't work. In fact, I found the note crumpled in the trash can in the bathroom and the lights were turned off. So I resorted to my next course of action which was to put an ungodly amount of scotch tape on the switch so that it was immobilized in the "on" position. That worked nicely until the next time I came into the bathroom and the tape had been removed and thrown away, and the lights were off.

I was sure that he was doing this just to make me angry. And maybe he was. Or maybe he was sure that I was doing what I was doing just to make him angry. Either way, we both thought that the way that we wanted the lights to be was the way they should be. And neither of us was willing to budge.

When I think back to it now, I think that's extremely silly. How hard was it to turn the little knob to get the lights to be the way that I wanted them to be? So what if they were off when I came into the bathroom? It was not that much effort to turn them on. Unfortunately, because we both let this little thing mean so much to us, it only made things worse. We ended up arguing about just about everything. We were seldom in the same room of the house at the same time. I remember one afternoon my parents had had enough. They sat us both down at the dining room table and we were going to talk about what was going on and figure out how to solve it. They had good intentions, but both of us maintained that it was the other who was unwilling to make the effort. Ultimately, my parents decided that what was best for both of us was for him to go and live with the family of one of his friends from school. They didn't think it was fair for either of us to live in that situation, and so for both of our sakes he went to live elsewhere.

I have deleted and rewritten parts of this post several times. I've debated whether to post it at all. I think it portrays me in a fairly negative light, as the kind of person that I don't want people to think that I am. The me in this story seems intolerant, unforgiving, obstinate, self-centered, and fairly obnoxious. And to top it all off, this side of me was brought out by a light switch! There's a part of me that doesn't want the story portraying me in that way to be posted for anyone to read.

It's definitely not something I'm proud of, but I've decided to post it because I think it might describe more people than just me. We get so caught up in the way that we think things should be and the way that we want people to do them, that we often forget that those are people are just that - people.

I started this blog post and I was thinking about things like toothpaste and toilet seats. A friend of mine on facebook posted a status about how she was having to have the toothpaste tube conversation with her partner, meaning one of them was squeezing the tube in the middle while the other preferred it to be squeezed out from the bottom. Now, I don't believe at all that my friend was posting this as a life or death, take it or leave it situation. But it got me thinking of the people I have seen get upset about stuff like that. Or by someone leaving the toilet seat up, rather than putting it back down. Now, I might be seeing this from a different viewpoint because I am a male and, therefore, often the culprit for leaving toilet seats up. But, really, in all honesty, how hard is it to take a tube of toothpaste that has been squeezed in the middle and squeeze the toothpaste up from the bottom? Or how hard is it to look at the toilet and see the seat is up and then put it down (for either side of the issue, really). But these things get blown out of proportion and we see that our way is, obviously, the right way.

But the more I thought about it, and as I started writing this post, I began to see that this not only affects little things in our lives, but it also affects big things, too. Like who's allowed to be in our country, or who's allowed to be legally married or to be a pastor. Or who's allowed to have access to healthcare.

We get so caught up with what we want, and how we like things, and we decide that those are the right and correct ways to do them. We can begin to vilify or demonize those who do them differently. We think that because they are not like us and they don't do things the way we do them that they are evil or bad or ignorant or whatever comes next on our list of bad things. We fail to look at that person who squeezed the toothpaste from the middle of the tube and think that we really have more in common than we have differences. So what if I want the toilet seat down and they left it up. That doesn't mean that they are a bad person or that they have nothing good to offer.

I think I missed out on a great opportunity. I had a person in my house who was from another country, who spoke a different language, who had grown up with different customs and traditions, who saw things differently and heard things differently and understood things differently than I did. It was someone who I could have learned from and shared things with. He could have helped me see things from a different perspective. But because I got so caught up and angry about that stupid light switch, I stopped seeing him for who he was and what he could offer, and I only saw him for what he did that I didn't like.

And that is not what we are called to do. That is definitely not seeing Christ in our neighbor, or loving our enemy, or any of those things that Jesus said were so important.

What would I have said if it were Jesus who was turning off the lights in the bathroom? Who am I to say it wasn't?