Friday, December 09, 2011

Man We Was Lonely

In Nashville, that is. Glad to be gone and moved away. It seems like the kind of place I should be. And if we'd had some friends there, some people to play with....you know....community, it may have been different. In a year, we found very little.

Let me tell ya.....I don't need a bunch of people in my life. A few good friends that I feel comfortable around. A couple of musical foils. That's what I need. When we left the ministry over a year ago, I just figured that it would kind of happen. Like it always did. It didn't. And it reminded me of something.

After my junior year of college, I took a year off to collect my head. I was down. Angry. Bitter. And broke. Don't forget broke. I went back home, worked two jobs for year, interned at a church. After reading over 100 books of all manner and matter, I got a little slice of peace and headed back to college. I had two years ahead of me (I was trying for two degrees) and was ready to get into it again. All of my friends had left my college, though. And for the first couple of months, I ate in the cafeteria alone. I came back to school a far better person than I was when I left. Nobody was interested in what I had to offer. For a while, anyway.

And that's what Nashville felt like. Nobody was interested. I was told that people were jaded regarding music there. Turns out, what they are interested is their own scene. And we didn't fit. Too old. Maybe too young for some. Too conservative or liberal. Who knows? We met some great acquaintances there, but no real friends. I still really don't know what to make of it.

So, we went in the opposite direction and are sharing a house with another family. Some day I'll tell you all about it. We're still finding our bearings in a two family household. But we're making our own friends in this new area, slowly. I'm also closer to family. This is better. But still.....

Something is missing. Our old ministry life was all-encompassing. I've had a much harder time adjusting than I thought. There was nothing to replace the instant relationships when we left. Trying to get back into it has been a bust, until recently. There is some hope, but it's slow. Hope is, by it's very nature, slow.

My wife and I, the lovely Summar, have gone through some serious ideological changes. We've fought with God. We've discarded political labels. We've realigned our theology. We love music and food and knowledge. We talk for hours, and our son joins in sometimes, too. He's so smart. He wants to take everything apart to see how it works. Or to just destroy it. He is a boy, after all.

The point is our change, our upheaval, our loneliness has changed us. We're resilient. It made us face our convictions, and discard the ones that don't work for us. I'm glad it did all that. We're different people. Stronger.

It may seem a little hyperbolic. You're thinking, "Hey, people move all the time. What's he whining about this time?" I get it. I just can't emphasize how hard it was personally, or how glad we are to have some sense of community again.

God, through Paul, talks about being refined in a fire. He talks about discipline for those He loves. He speaks of beating his body daily to, basically, keep it in line. All that talk about trials and tribulation and what it does. On the tribulation-o-meter, we would hardly register, I suppose. But the process of transformation isn't pleasant, which I suppose is the point. A pleasant transformation wouldn't stick. It would be like a trendy diet, and then six months later you've gained all the weight back. This change is sticky. This change is like Laffy Taffy in your teeth. Or super glue on your fingers. At least I hope it is.






P.S. This is the last Nashville post. Next up....rock stars who became preachers. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Life on Pause

I was sick. Really sick. The kind of flu-sick where you babble.

I still am a bit. I'm waiting for all the garbage to leave my system and self-medicating with Oreos. Having called off of work last night, I have actually had this Sunday off, and I spent it on the couch watching broadcast television. I can't remember the last time I just watched one channel for any length of time. It reminds me of being a kid watching channel 36 in Toledo, when they played movie after movie on the weekends. This small break in life is making me realize how much I needed it, and that my work schedule just isn't, well, working.

But it's what I've got for now, and with our impending move it will get a little better. No more night shift. It's taken a toll that I didn't foresee. I feel like I work all the time, because staying up every night blurs the line between days. This lazy Sunday, acquired only via illness, has been a blessing in disguise.

I've been so involved in our next step, our frustration and our concern that I really haven't been enjoying anything. Especially this year, I felt like I had to keep moving, like I was a target, and often times felt like one. Today, I'm thinking a lot about what I've liked: treasuring memories, recalling the past. I don't do this. Ever. But today...

I'm enjoying the memories of the beautiful landscapes of Kentucky and Pennsylvania. In college, I explored them. I hiked. Spent a lot of time outside, sometimes in meditation. What happened to that?

I'm remembering spending time with people in our church families: playing board games, watching fireworks, grilling out, watching "Family Guy" (of all things) after our college-age Bible study.

I'm thinking of being a kid growing up in our old, creaky, half-painted house. It was a Jaycees haunted house before my dad fixed it up, and so the unpainted upstairs rooms were all black. There were raspberry and elderberry bushes outside, an apple tree and a chicken coop, sometimes with chickens and fresh brown eggs, with an inordinate amount of double yolks.

I'm daydreaming of our first house as a married couple, and how my wife's car got stuck in the backyard when she went to look at it. Before we got married, she had a car accident in that car. I got there right before the ambulance did, and I helped pull her out of the car.

Looking back today, I can't believe all that happened. Do you ever feel that way? Here today, sick in our apartment in this lonely city, all of that seems like a different life, like a bunch of movies I watched on a Sunday afternoon. Memories have their way of making you feel like that.

This year....man. You're getting tired of me writing about it, I'm sure. It's been a total contrast. We went from a decade filled with activity, movement and social interaction to a less interesting construct of work, eat, sleep. I feel like that's all we've done. The good news is that graduate school is on the horizon. Being among friends is coming soon. It's coming just in time.

So, in a few weeks, we set out to fix what is broken, to right our wrong. And thank God. I don't feel like we've made any memories here. We're trying again to crank up the machine, and the gears are creaking and wincing. But they are moving.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Just Begin Again

As our ministry search winds down with no prospects forthcoming for the foreseeable future, I thought I'd take a little stock of our thirteen years in ministry, specifically the beginning of my ministry and my experiences therein. This will be the first in a series of posts about the Church, and my experiences in ministry.

I had been a Christian for a year and a half when I decided to go into the ministry. It was a reaction to a heartfelt sermon by someone who would eventually be one of my professors in College. Based around Romans 8:1 ("Therefore now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus"), it culminated with an invitation (as all of the sermons for this conference did) with three choices: to become a Christian, to recommit your life and to give your life to full-time Christian service. I chose the third one, being at the height of my young faith at the time. I wanted to take it further, and even though I knew instinctively that I was deficient in some areas that I thought would be important in ministry, I felt the spirit move.

Maybe a socially awkward, moody introvert shouldn't go into the ministry. But my gifts (ease with public speaking, musicianship, compassion for the lost) seemed to calm my reservation. I've changed quite a bit since my commitment to ministry on that day, but I'm still moody. And I can be introverted with the best of the introverts. And, of course, the biggest difference is that I'm not in the ministry any more.

Can a 37 year old man be expected to make a promise he made at 18? Youthful idealism has been responsible for all kinds of good and bad decisions. It's a big deal to make your career choice, and ministry is different from any other career. It's all-encompassing. Your friends, your social life, your job, your home (if you live in a parsonage) and your connections all come from the same place. There aren't many jobs like that. Couple that with the fact that you are hired by people to help them get closer to God (an esoteric job description if there ever was one), and you have to be a certain kind of person to stick with it. And I don't mean a special, awesome person. I'm not saying that ministers are better than anyone else, because we're all flawed humans. But I think there is a specific kind of tenacity it takes to keep pursuing this kind of work, and somehow I had (have?) that.

I went into ministry wanting to make a difference. Most ministers won't admit it, but I will, that I also probably went into ministry to feel special or important. That kind of dissipated after a while, but it was true for a time. Good can come out of even bad or selfish motives, I suppose. But when those motives are stripped away by frustration and confusion, and all you have left is love for others, that's when you really make a difference.

We've had a spate of church interviews, and all except one have ended with rejection. It makes you wonder. God does things for a season, I know, but I feel like I want a clear response if that season is over for me. Me being an analytical person, I also want several reasons why. I'll never get them on this side of glory. If you have been searching for a job in your chosen field, so that you can use your God-given gifts, you know what I'm talking about. And, I really feel for you.

You can't maintain the initial excitement of starting a journey all through that journey. And, like a school project, a painting or recording an album, sometimes it's hard to know when it's done. I think ministry is winding down for me, and maybe a new adventure looms. I've got some ideas about what that adventure might be. But I'm not 18 any more. And the adventure I choose will be a lot different, and for better or worse, less idealistic and more practical. Our Nashville move has kind of purged any last drop of that career idealism out of me. Maybe that's alright. I don't know. But I do have the drive to do it, to do something. And that literally is better than nothing.

Check out "Just Begin Again" by Spinal Tap in the video below. It starts at the two minute mark.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Something Good Coming

I've been working on a Gospel record. It will be a collection of hymns, old blues tunes and a few songs I've written that fit the style of our band, The Double Downbeats. I'm setting out to assemble a collection of songs that are true to the condition of contradiction that a life in Christ represents. That, as Paul states, is the rub: "I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." (Philippians 1:23-24) We believe in the power of an unseen God. But sometimes, it feels as though we don't even see the power. We do, truly, see only as a reflection in a mirror (1 Cor. 13:12).

As chronicled elsewhere on this blog, it's been a rough year. Multiple vehicle issues, various kinds of illness, schedule conflicts, general loneliness and other problems that I can't really categorize. Most people don't care to hear someone else complain about their life, so I won't delve into it any more except to say that it's been a faith shaker. And me and God, well, we've had some words...

Some people may take issue with that last statement. I think I'm in good company, to be honest. Although doubt is thought to be THE cardinal sin in some circles, the wrestling that comes with doubt is all over the Bible. I think a lot of people that have doubts never express them because the culture of their church is such that it just doesn't allow for that. It's uncomfortable. Someone else's doubt might reflect yours. But that's a mistake, and denies the overreaching history of God's people, and Scripture as well (Habakkuk 1, Job 19, etc.) When Jesus tells his disciples to not doubt, he's reminding them that God is all-powerful. He is not denying the situational wrestling that comes with faith, in which he himself engaged (Matthew 26:39).

We moved last year to take a break from full-time, paid church ministry, and to pursue music. To be honest, we needed the break. The pursuit of music didn't pan out (I probably should have saw that coming), but the break has been good: we have reevaluated our thinking on a variety of issues; we have appreciated the past blessings that we received; we figured out the puzzle of our next step. So, maybe we were "refined in fire" (1 Peter 1:7) for the last year. But, fire burns, you know. The writer of Hebrews tells us that "no discipline is pleasant at the time." No, it is not. But it does make you, well, refined. Better than you were. An extraction of your impurities and mistakes.

To that end, we have felt strongly about going back into full-time ministry. A little wiser, we're looking for the right place where we can work, in community, with other believers who are passionate and flawed. It's been a tough go, as I've written on an earlier post, but we're not giving up. A good portion of that process has been discouraging, to be honest. But I think God is teaching me, hard headed as I am, to find the right place, to be patient, to worry over nothing.

I have to say that I just don't understand everything that has happened in the last year. I also have to say that I'm not, at this point, okay with some of it. I've always had a hard time just letting trials go. But I can't shake this feeling that something is happening, that God is doing something here. After all, it's not all been bad: our adoption was finalized after a two year wait. So, I'm doing my best to remember that it is sometimes just about showing up instead of staying in bed; folding your hands in prayer instead of wringing them in agony; looking up instead of looking in the mirror. Something good is coming...there has to be.

Something Good Coming - Tom Petty

Friday, June 03, 2011

Death and Other Miscreants

For the last month and a half, I've been working an overnight shift, stocking shelves at America's Largest Organic Retailer. I like the work, but not the schedule. I have learned that staying up all night is not as easy as it was when I was 22 (the last time I worked an overnight shift), and that as the night progresses, I become a little more free. When the sun starts to come up, I become a bit more uninhibited. I sing along to the muzak. I say things I wouldn't normally say. I clapped my hands when a song with clapping in it played on my mp3 player. Fatigue will make you become a slightly different person. Up all night, sleep all day.

I opened up Facebook today and saw death. A dear friend of ours from one of our churches where we served passed away on Monday. His funeral was today. There was a lot of discussion about that, of course. Two other friends mentioned the passing of their fathers: one three years ago, one sixteen years ago. Dr. Jack Kevorkian also died today, apparently. I then found a link from the AV Club with a picture of the tombstone of Leslie Nielsen. O, death. Won't you spare me over to another year.

There is also a lot of rebirth in the air, I suppose. I've been interviewing with churches, and making trips to visit them. I've got a couple of friends who are doing the same. I know some people who are moving, making life changes. We had some unpleasant, private news on the same day we had some great news. Heck, it's the end of spring, after all. It is the season for that sort of thing. Get up, get out, spring is everywhere.

My wife said something I thought was profound, and I immediately agreed. She felt like our break from church ministry has been a vacation from our life. I feel the same way. You know those vacations when you go visit family because you haven't seen them in a while, and you basically just stay around their house for a week because you don't have any money to do anything else? Yeah...it feels exactly like that. A year of that. While working a job. Vacation, gotta get away.

Remember the fatigue I mentioned earlier? And the death? And the change? It's all happening at the same time. In real time, even for us personally. We're hoping to go on to a next chapter in life. It looks a lot like an earlier chapter, except that we are very different people: more confident, less worried, more appreciative, less upset, more at peace. We know, from our earlier discussion on death, that a next chapter is not promised, not guaranteed. But, we also know that change is a constant, if indeed another chapter is given. Change is hard.

At the same time, we question more. We speak out more. We know what we want. We also know what we can't have. That's part of being a grown up, you know. Not as many Twix bars, a few more carrot sticks. Easy on the impulse buying, and slowly building up the savings. You have to think more when you get older. You can't rely on youth and time to carry you through. You have to plan, prepare and discuss. Get me ready for it.

"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps." (Proverbs 16:9) We often take comfort in the idea that someone else is in control. But it can be frustrating, too. The concept of the "unknown" has kept humans writing books and songs, making outrageous claims and generally running scared for as long as there has been people. Paul tells us this: "The Lord is near. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:5a-7) He never says that god will grant those prayers and petitions. He never promises that He will tell us what we want to know. He says God will guard your hears and minds with His peace. That's God's reaction to our asking: not giving us what we wanted, but giving us what we needed: peace of mind.

I'm not going to pretend like I'm totally happy with that all the time. I get it, though. It is very much like eating carrots instead of Twix, or dropping a hundred bucks in a savings account instead of on a new record player (yes, that's right, a RECORD PLAYER!). It's grownup time in the Kingdom. When I have to eat my vegetables, when I have to work the overnight shift, when I have to go through the death of people I love, I don't need more stuff, or a better situation or money: I need peace. The peace that surpasses all understanding. I need it all to be okay in me. Give me love, give me...peace.


Monday, April 25, 2011

He's Alright, But He's No David...or Goliath

As a former (and maybe eventually again) minister, I have taught a ton of lessons: Sunday school, home groups, sermons, etc. A liberal estimate might be 1,000. I've taught on Romans, the history of the Church, how the Bible came to be in its current state, "The Gospel According to the Simpsons", and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember. One thing in particular that people who teach the Bible like to do is use "heroes of faith" as object lessons. We love to apply these heroes to our situations. For example, David killed a giant with a slingshot, so you can beat the football team. Or...something like that.

We use Scripture like this all the time. For example, God tells Jeremiah that he has plans for him; plans for good-you know the verse (Jeremiah 29:11). People quote it when things are good, when things are bad, in their sleep, and possibly before eating a Big Mac. Christians love, love, love this verse. And, while it's a perfectly cromulent verse, none of us Jesus lovers ever notice that it's...wait for it...NOT ABOUT US!!! For realz, kidz. Not about us. In context, God is speaking to Jeremiah, specifically about Jeremiah's current situation, and really specifically about something that's going to happen in the future, and really, really specifically about Israel ending their captivity. He's not talking about us. Not even a little.

Oh sure, there's some great encouragement in this passage. In verse 13, there is something that's totally applicable to everyone, ever: that we will find God when we seek Him with all of our heart. And, sure, He may have some great blessings for us. But He may also take them away (Job),  tell you to do something you absolutely don't want to do (Jonah) or allow you to die for Him (Jesus, for starters). So, while God may be wanting to "prosper" you in some way, He also may not. And you need to be alright with that.

It's good for us to know that we are not Jeremiah. We're also not Joseph, David, Jacob, John (or John the Baptist, thank goodness!). We like to use Bible stories as life application, and insert ourselves into the situations of those great followers of the God of Israel. And while we can, in a general way, be encouraged by how God was faithful, and take comfort in that faithfulness, we must understand who we really are. And who we really are, are the multitudes.

Let me start by saying you may not be a card-carrying member of "the multitudes". You might be a big deal: you might be a dream interpreter, or a king of some ilk. You could be a guy sent to kill a king (especially a fat one), or blow some killer horn while an army falls. You may end up being "a great nation", through whom all of God's people emanate. But, you're probably not. And, chances are, if you're reading my blog, you really aren't.

God may have some big thing for you to do, but remember this: we read (and subsequently talk about) all the big wigs of Scripture. We rarely hear about, and even more rarely talk about, "the multitudes", the people on the sidelines who believed in God, lived Godly lives, but never lived out any headlines that made the Israel Evening Gazette, otherwise known as the Old Testament. You are probably not a prophet; you are probably one of the unmentioned people who gave the prophet water when he was thirsty and disheveled. You are probably not an apostle, but, if you're lucky, you might be a Joseph of Arimathea. And you need to be okay with that.

There's a scene in "A Christmas Story" where Ralphie, the main character, narrates the pecking order in grade school: you're either a bully, a "toady" or one of the nameless rabble. And that is my point: not everyone can be Jeremiah or Joseph. In fact, most people, considering the odds alone, simply can't. Consider for a moment that you might be one of the nameless rabble, a member of the multitude, and let that sink in. And then understand that even though you most likely are one, that God will still do something with you. But it probably won't end up in the Bible.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rejected

You can't help but feel a little rejected...

Applying for nearly 100 churches, and getting a rejection from 99 of them. It sounds like a parable:
"And it will be like that in the last days: there was a man who applied for one hundred jobs, and was not rejected by only one. Will he not take the one, and forget about the others?" 

Church is a funny thing. And I don't mean it like Chonda Pierce or Father Ted mean it. I mean "funny" as in "strange" or "confusing". It's "funny" to me because, even though I have more experience than I've ever had for any job, and more qualifications than I've ever had, I'm apparently virtually unemployable. I recounted my experience of being rejected for a part-time prayer counselor for CBN in an earlier post, and to sit along side that experience on my mantle filled with badges of indistinction are the following:

1. I've been making a point to sometimes ask why a church takes me out of the running for a position. One such correspondence was two sentences:  "We have a highly developed program. From your (video) clips I didn't feel like your guitar playing or singing are sufficient for you to come in and lead our program." I suppose you could say a lot of negative things about me, but this? Dude. I mean...DUDE! I respectfully disagree, sir.

2. A month after receiving a rejection e-mail from a church, I received another correspondence: news of who they did hire! So, after being told I wasn't good enough, I got to see who was. I don't think I've ever had any job I've applied for tell me who they hired, unless it was me. They always tell you if it's you, at least in my experience. :)

3. The litany of phrases that all say the same thing: you are not good enough for us, like the following:

"We are in the final stages of conversation with our top candidate."
And yet, through the miracle of the interwebs, your ad is still posted EVERYWHERE!

"Our needs are different from your gifts and abilities — and this is much more a statement about us than about you."
Yes, but what is that statement?

"We will no longer be considering you for this position."
But you were for a while, right? So that means I'm not a total loser. Right? RIGHT?

"The Lord is not leading us to consider you for the position that we are trying to fill."
Fair enough. Can't argue with God, I suppose.

So...yeah. Sometimes a guy needs to take a hint. I spent a lot of time in ministry being called "young", now I'm pretty sure I'm too old, at least for worship ministry. If I had just applied during that six week window when I was neither, I'd have the job of my dreams right now. That being, of course, fry cook...on the moon.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Working the Dream, Deferred

"And the doubts crept in, as they do at night, mostly. When life is still, and there is nothing to drown them out. You hear them. And you embrace them as you would any reality."

I've wrestled with this whole music thing a long time. And my wrestling for the last decade or so has been over the will of God in my life. Sure, that's a whole contrived concept. For the atheist and humanist, it's naive. For the casual observer of faith, it's a wash. For the Christian, it could mean any variety of things.

Ministry has placed me many times having a conversation with someone about how they might discern what they should do with their life. You know, the classic career/passion/giftedness discussion that most people have with God, themselves, their families and close friends. Me, I've never totally settled that.

Ministry should have settled it. I love to speak, teach, lead worship, and organize ministries. I felt "called" into ministry, as much as a skeptical person like me can be said to be "called". I like to help people figure out little pieces of God, even as they help me. The problem is that writing and playing music is like a fire I can't put out. But I've never gotten any traction with it, at least not on my terms. Bands I was in split up; songs I recorded never got any traction at labels; connections never materialized. Even in Nashville, that stuff just isn't happening for me. Meanwhile, I've had three worship ministries, where I get to play music. For a living. And get paid. Shouldn't that have been enough?

Do you have something like that? Do you have a gift coupled with a dream that has been deferred?

Many people have something they'd like to do, but aren't good at, haven't worked at, etc. But do you have a talent that you'd like to use, but have been prevented from doing so? Do you have a passion backed up with a skill that has never been utilized? If so, how have you handled it? Our move to Nashville was me trying to "undefer" it, trying to make it happen. I'm not so sure that it's going to work out.

I'm a fan of music, but I'm also a fan of the history of music, the narrative. So, I like to hear stories about how people got into making music. Last year, I went to a songwriting conference where one of the speakers shared that he "just fell into" the music business. His band was decent, and had played some shows when they were approached by an A&R person to sign a contract. This eventually led him to being a producer and owning a studio. I'll be honest: it's hard to hear these stories for me. This person was a Christian, and as he's telling this story, I'm thinking two things: that God moved him where he wanted him, and that God has chosen not to move me into something I'd love.

Don't misunderstand: ministry has been good to our family. And I love it. I really do. So much so that I'm going to do it again, probably soon. So, if there's a prospective church that is reading this blog, understand that I would love to work at your church :)

But, I've met some people who have dreams and talents that have been deferred, and it was probably because God deferred them. So, here's my struggle: why does God give dreams and talents only to have people not use them, or use them in different ways than we desire? A friend of mine, a tremendous musician, preached for quite a while at a non-instrumental church. I couldn't quite understand that. I guess I still don't. How could something that is so important to you never be realized, never even be utilized?

I'm thinking that the deferred dream has actually been good for the work I've done in ministry, that what I learned in writing and recording songs has aided me in training up and leading musicians and singers in the church. Even the move to pursue it has made me appreciate the church work I've done a little more. After all, almost anybody can write a song, I suppose. But helping people in their walk with God, well...that's probably more important.