Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Trouble With Pastors

There’s an amazing passage in 2 Corinthians, chapter 11. I've mentioned it before.

Paul is defending himself and his ministry with and to the Corinthians. 

The apostle Paul. 

Let that sink in for a few minutes. 

Seriously, take a few minutes to reflect on Paul, church planter, apostle, pastoral voice, epistle writer, theologian, disciple maker, missionary - you know his c.v. – justifying his existence and his vocation, to that dysfunctional fellowship in Corinth.

As it reads in our New Testament, Paul is writing the church at Corinth, and he is once again responding to their criticism of him.  They’ve previously criticized his preaching, his overall leadership and they have resisted his efforts to give them pastoral direction. It’s easy to see in 1&2 Corinthians that the church wasn’t fond of Paul or how Paul did things. In chapter 11, Paul seems to finally snap emotionally and just vomits out a frustrated rant, listing what he’s been through in his vocation…

To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant? NRSV

It’s not insignificant that Paul comes to the end of his rant and says, “And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.” Paul highlights what most people in pastoral vocation already know, being a pastor is a pressurized, anxiety producing work. Paul puts this daily pressure right up there with being stoned, whipped, beaten and living in danger from enemies and circumstances.  A study from Duke reported that the rate of anxiety/depression among clergy was twice the national average.

Right here is usually where someone interjects that if these clergy were really following Jesus they wouldn’t have problems with anxiety or depression.  Four words: Tell it to Paul. Actually don’t, that’s exactly what the Corinthians Christians were doing and it didn’t help. They called Paul, “weak.” And his “weakness,” they felt, disqualified him from leadership or at least made him a lesser leader than some of the cooler people they knew.

Don’t get me wrong, there are pastors who suck hard. Paul tells the elders at Ephesus to be on guard for these sorts, “Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them.” Paul doesn’t warn against men and women who can’t break the 100 or 200 or 300 barrier, he warns against wolves that will come to lead people off after themselves. (Thankfully we don’t see these personality cults in our day but apparently it was a problem back then.) There are some “bad hombres” who bite the sheep, chew them up, fleece them and take them for a ride to the abattoir.

But most pastors I’ve met are hardworking, sacrificial, loving, Jesus focused, Kingdom minded, authentic women and men who follow Jesus and get anxious about the well-being of the church they pastor. And just like Paul, they get grief.  Check out this verse from Hebrews 13, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.”  I know we like to get hung up on “obey” and “submit” but for right now can we just take a few minutes and meditate on the phrase, “Let them do this with joy and not with sighing…”?  Ever heard a pastor sigh? I have.  

In July, I attended a National Leaders gathering and on the first night the host pastor had a “word” that there would be pastors attending who were “at the end of their rope.” Can I just tell you that the prophetic discernment on a word like that is a little like saying, “I sense someone here is breathing.” Or “The Lord’s just told me that some of you in this room were born at one time.” In a room of 500 pastors and spouses, I can guarantee you that there will be people who will identify with “some who are at the end of their rope.” But it wasn’t 5 or even 50 who responded. My guess would be a couple hundred responded and walked to the front to receive prayer from their brothers and sisters gathered around them.

I’m telling you this because I believe there are a lot of ‘sighing’ pastors out there. Some amazing men and women who, among all the crap they have to wade through in the world every day, also come home with sheep bites from other sheep, every night. This isn’t my rant about my local church and my local experience, though I am among all the other pastors who “sigh.” This is about the story we are in and how common and ‘normal’ it is for people in pastoral ministry to add their vocation to the list of ways in which they sometimes or daily suffer. And when we’re talking to and about pastors, and when pastors are talking with or about other pastors, we acknowledge that pastoring is not easy.

I love pastors. I admire them. I think they are extraordinary people who daily face pressures, keep secrets, deny themselves, prefer others and carry burdens…and yes, I know you do to. Acknowledging the unique troubles pastors face is not a negation of your very own trials and tribulations. I just think sometimes we don’t acknowledge the troubles of pastors unless they are troubling us or the pastor – like the unseen sound person – has made us turn around and look because something has gone horribly wrong.

So, let me just say to all my pastor friends out there, vocational, bi-vocational, unpaid, titled, untitled – I thank God for you every day. Your hard work matters. What you give, week in and week out, noticed and largely unnoticed, praised, ignored and critiqued, is a beautiful gift to God, a ministry to Jesus and an expression of the Holy Spirit. Please keep doing what Love does, no matter what. Gather, share stories, pray for each other, find safe people to share your weakness with and let others share their weakness with you.

There's bound to come some trouble to your life / But that ain't nothing to be afraid of 
There's bound to come some trouble to your life / But that ain't no reason to fear 
I know there's bound to come some trouble to your life 
But reach out to Jesus, hold on tight / He's been there before and He knows what it's like 
You'll find He's there  - Rich Mullins

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Pastor's Story

A Pastor's Story is my new weekly podcast that’s about the men and women who pastor churches all over north America.

Each week I will interview at least one pastor to learn about the story they are in and to celebrate who they are, the work they do and the journey that has brought them to this moment in time.

We’ll be talking with re-tired pastors, new pastors, experienced pastors and pastors who are trying to figure out what their role is all about. 

Here’s the perspective we’ll be coming from each week: we love pastors, we admire the incredibly difficult work they do and we are grateful for their journey and their commitment to following Jesus.

But here’s where reality will also break in. Being a pastor can be mean a story full of pain – emotional, psychological, social and spiritual pain – even some physical pain. And, as Eugene Peterson has said, it’s one of the easiest professions to fake and we’ll acknowledge along the way that there are some fakers out there and they have made being a pastor even harder than it already is.

This will be a personal look at the men and women behind the “clergy curtain” to discover the amazing hearts and minds that are engaged 24/7, 365 days a year in pastoring churches across North America.  These won’t be “celebrity pastors,” these will be the everyday men and women who serve in over half the churches in the U.S. and Canada. We’re having real conversations with the men and women who are engaged with God in shepherding and shaping the church as it is into the church as it’s becoming – conversations few people have with people most people think they already know.

So grab some coffee, put on the cruise control, turn up the volume and join us as we share a pastor’s story…



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pastors Don't Just Happen (or "How Did This Happen to Me?" a Pastor's story)

Every superhero has an origin story. As a kid those were my favorite comics to collect. As I grew up I kept reading comics but as my reading material expanded into novels, history and even into things like theology and philosophy, I have always been intrigued by “the hero’s journey.” Over the years, I’ve also gotten to know a lot of pastors. A lot. I’ve come to discover that many of their lives have followed “the hero’s journey” and that these men and women, somewhere in the midst of their journey, have had to become pastors the same way that Frodo had to go to bear the ring to Mordor or Joe Banks had to jump into the Volcano.

In his memoir, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson reveals not only did he have a lack of
interest in being a pastor, but it was a lack that seminary – if anything – reinforced:  “And pastor as a vocation for me seemed like being put in charge of one of those old-fashioned elevators, spending all day with people in their ups and downs but with no view.” Peterson wanted to learn, to teach and to write. His relationship with Jan, his future wife, was transformational. “Those years of graduate study could have marked the beginning of a slow withdrawal from a relational life into a world of books.  She rescued me from that.”

Looking back on the story of his early relationship with Jan, Peterson observes, “What I didn’t know was that when we did marry, something had already been going on in me at some deep level, as yet undetected, that would soon disqualify me from the life of learning that I anticipated.” Unbeknownst to him, maybe even against his will, Peterson was becoming a pastor, shaped by his story and by Jan’s story as their stories converged into one narrative: “In not quite three years, she was what she had always hoped to be – a pastor’s wife.”

Formation by story had been happening for a long time before Peterson recognized where that formation would eventually lead him.

I’m incredibly interested in the story of every pastor that I meet.  I want to collect origin stories from pastors the way I used to collect Spider-man, Batman and Green Lantern stories.

Have you ever engaged your sacred imagination to try to picture how your pastor came to be who, what and where she is right now? Have you ever wondered what events have shaped her, some knowing, some unknowingly, to choose the life she is living as a pastor?

No doubt there are some shady origin stories.

At a conference for youth pastors that I attended years ago, a psychologist spoke, the author of a book on “Why Teenagers Act the Way They Do.” But he turned the tables on us and instead of talking about teens and the way they behave and the whys behind them, he explored by we became youth pastors. He talked about the origin story of the youth pastor who had few friends in high school and he became a youth pastor so teens, the popular ones and otherwise, would have to be his friend. Later I came to call this the “Michael Scott.” As he went on to describe other origin stories the auditorium had more and more empty seats. Heroes don’t always care to share their true identities.

But the truth is that there are men and women who have become pastors, in the past and in the present, who were dragged kicking and screaming, or at least reluctantly, to the pulpit. There are men and women who are as surprised as anyone else on earth to find themselves, pastors. There are beautiful, amazing, wise, sacrificial, patient, long-suffering, generous, faithful women and men called “pastor” who wonder every Sunday morning around 8 a.m., “How did this happen to me?”

I want to invest the second half of my life in collecting the origin stories of these heroes. I want to encourage them and be encouraged by them. I want to honor those people who have honored God with a life well-lived pastoring congregations that have been well-loved by listening to and sharing their stories.

Listen, if you’re a pastor, know this – there are no ordinary men and women who engage in this vocation – Paul the apostle was under the impression you have been given as a gift by God to the church. Being a gift, hand-picked and hand-crafted by God is something extra-ordinary.  Some of you feel like that Christmas sweater that got stuck in the back of the closet, some of you feel like you’ve been re-gifted so many times that you don’t know where you’d call home and some of you feel like every church that’s unwrapped you has thought you were a piƱata. But you are a gift that God has given and that’s never for nothing. You are changing the world by living your story and sharing who you are and loving the people God has dropped you into the midst of.


If you’re a pastor and wouldn’t mind sharing your origin story with me sometime, I’d love to hear it. I think you’re amazing.



I'm going to be launching a podcast soon where I'll be exploring my admiration for pastors and their stories more in depth.  If you've got a question you've always wanted to ask a pastor, leave it in the comments and I'll pass it along.  Stay tuned.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Pastors (and other endangered species)

Among Paul’s list of the ways he had suffered on behalf of the church he drops this little line, “my daily concern for all the churches…”

The vocation of a pastor, when practiced by someone actually committed to that vocation, is a weighty thing.

Often, people remark about the appearance of a man who has been the President of the United States and how he has visibly aged, more noticeably than others his age, over the span of his time in office. I’ve seen the same kind of “road wear” on men and women who serve as pastors and I’ve seen it accumulate in far less time than it takes to become evident on those politicians.

I realize there are some “bad hombres” out there who have managed to get a gig or are serial gigging as pastors. Clear back in the book of Acts, Paul warns about “wolves” that will appear from among the leadership of a local church, dress up like sheep and turn the church into a mutton buffet. It’s not a recent development.  I have a friend who invests a lot of time gathering, illustrating and telling the stories of these carnivores to a receptive, appreciative audience of people who have themselves been cooked, carved and served up by some of these lupine in lamb’s drag.

But I love pastors.

I’m not oblivious to the wolves, I’m just in awe of the men and women who willingly choose to serve the flock of God of which they are a part. I’m in awe of their devotion to a vocation that is a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year vocation. As highlighted in Paul’s list of sufferings, even when they’re not right beside someone from the church, they’re still caring the church inside their hearts and heads.

These men and women don’t set the thermostat for themselves, they constantly juggle the needs, desires and expectations of a community of people, all at various stages of faith and spiritual, emotional and personal maturity. These men and women have been at the deathbed of more people than is normal. They have grieved and mourned with more families of saints and ornery buggers, seeking to comfort both, (sometimes at the same time) than is normal. They make every vow that they invite yet another couple to make sound as fresh and as hopeful as they did the first couple they married; despite the countless couples with whom they’ve suffered through divorce.

These men and women, most of whom serve in churches with fewer than 200 people in attendance, have often graduated with a degree that cost them more than they will be able to earn enough to repay on the salaries they will make.

They listen to horrific confessions and confer forgiveness and grace to  fallen saints without a hint of judgment or condemnation.

Their children live under microscopes and have to deal with spoken and unspoken pressures unique to them.

Pastors are often accused of things they would never dream of and they dream of things this life will never afford them. They anguish over decisions and work hard for things that will ultimately benefit others and not themselves. And regularly they get to entertain the wisdom of the “arm chair pastors” in their churches who tell them how it could, should, ought and would be if someone else was doing the pastoring.

These brave souls regularly get in trouble with those who want a human master to tell them what to do. Instead these pastors choose the harder but better work of walking beside people to help them make their own choices and their own decisions and take their own steps to grow up to be more like Jesus.

Week after week these pastors come up with one or two or three new messages to share with the church. Can you imagine being a pastor of a church of 75 people, counting everyone including the unborn, and preaching a new message every week to a YouTube and TEDtalk generation?

Imagine having people who compare you, generally unkindly, to the TEDtalk their friend just sent them a link to or the megachurch pastor they watched on the 'net. Usually they don't consider that mega-pastor has a team of writers working for him or that it was still his third service they broadcast because it always goes much better than the first two and by that time he hardly had to look at his notes at all. And they can always edit in a joke from the second service if it got more laughs.

Imagine having to answer more than once the query of a well-meaning church goer, “Why can’t your talks be as engaging as a TEDtalk?” Imagine having to answer them with a kind tone in your voice after having been out the night before at the hospital beside a family whose oldest teenage daughter tried to OD herself into eternity.  Imagine having someone critique the energy you brought (or lack thereof) to the morning service and responding to them gently while you are still thinking about the couple you sat with the night before and tried to help them navigate the meltdown of their marriage and guide them into a healthy conversation.

Imagine the restraint it takes not to suggest they call Brene Brown the next time they are in crisis so you have time to polish up your talk.

Proverbs says that if you find a good wife you’ve managed to do something extraordinary.  Can I suggest that it’s also true that if you’ve found yourself a good pastor – someone who cares more about your soul than you do, who listens to you, who seeks your best and wants to see you discover and fulfill your vocation, who wants to help you grow up and not stay a perpetual baby in Christ – that you’ve found yourself something miraculous.

I love pastors for who they are, for what they do and for all the crap they put up with to do it.  Shepherds get dirty, there’s no way around that. True shepherds don’t grind on about the smell, the mess, the poo, they just embrace the vocation and get on with it. To those men and women pastoring day in and day out, I say, thank you. You are a gift from God to all of us, whether we ever meet or not, you have made the world a brighter and tastier and more creative space for being in it. Thank you for the gift of life you bring, however perfectly imperfect that you do it. You are a gift, a treasure, a little wind of heaven into the souls of the men and women, boys and girls that you pastor.

I have a pastor friend who was senior pastor of a very large church in a very large city. One Sunday morning, between one of their three morning services, while my friend was running down a hallway from visiting with people in the lobby as they left and re-entering the sanctuary for worship, he was stopped in the hall by a woman he recognized as an occasional attender at their church. "I'm so glad I caught you," she said, "my mother and I were wondering if you could do something about the volume of the music and get  someone to turn it down?" I know my friend well enough to know a million appropriate responses ran through his mind but what he chose to do was answer firmly but kindly this inappropriately timed request. Now imagine this happening to every pastor, every Sunday times infinity.

Cheers to you, pastors. I admire each one of you.



I'm going to be launching a podcast soon where I'll be exploring my admiration for pastors and their stories more in depth.  If you've got a question you've always wanted to ask a pastor, leave it in the comments and I'll pass it along.  Stay tuned.



Thursday, February 9, 2017

Identity

One of the primary gifts of the story is that of identity.  Knowing our story confers upon us that sense of identity that is critical to both formation and purpose.

The story-less life produces a vacuum that demands filling and by God or by another source it will be filled. Typically, in the absence of the internal pressure created by a storied life, we will adopt the dominant narrative of the world immediately around us. This is more unconscious than conscious though we will become actively committed to the promotion and preservation of the narrative we assume.

Even when that narrative is “they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story.” (Hauerwas)

In 1984 a book by Thomas Oden was published called, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition. In this brief but important book, Oden voices his concern about the shift in pastoral care from the Classic tradition, wholesale, to a modern psycho-therapeutic version. Oden laments the lack of familiarity with our story, illustrated by the neglect in the system of formation for pastors for reading and familiarity with the Classic work on pastoral care by Gregory the Great. In place of our story, Oden demonstrates, we adopted the dominant story of the day that focused on the works of Jung, Freud and other psycho-therapies, to provide pastoral care to help people sort out their issues.

Oden wrote, “So pastoral theology has become in many cases little more than a thoughtless mimic of the most current psychological trends.  Often these trends, as psychologist Paul Vitz has astutely shown, have been bad psychology to begin with.” (Oden, p33)

In 2011, Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor, as published.  Among the many insights about the storied-life or the importance of the narrative, The Pastor, illustrates over and over again our tendency to assume the dominant narrative of our times when we’ve become disconnected from our story.  This is not a problem exclusive to pastors, this is a human problem. But when those who are charged with the care of souls have become disconnected from our story, what hope can souls have to do anything but the same? When pastors have lost the plot, how do those we shepherd not become “twice the child of hell” we ourselves have become?

In The Pastor, Peterson tells the story of a young pastor who had been part of their “Company of Pastors” that were seeking to recover the plot of our narrative that education and church experience has driven out of them or perhaps had simply failed to transmit to them. A young pastor who had been part of the group for seven years was moving on to “multiply his effectiveness.” Peterson tells about the lunch they shared before this young pastor, Phillip, left.

The more he talked that day over our plate of breadsticks and bowls of vichyssoise, I realized that he had, despite the Company of Pastors, absorbed a concept of pastor that had far more to do with American values – competitive, impersonal, functional – than with what I had articulated as the consensus of our Company in Five Smooth Stones. That bothered me. It didn’t bother me that he was changing congregations – there are many valid, urgent, and, yes, biblical reasons to change congregations.  But Phillip’s reasons seemed to be fueled by something more like adrenaline and ego and size. (Peterson, p156)

In Oden’s experience, our story-less experience found us taking on the dominant narrative of pop-psychology as pastoral care. In Peterson’s experience, this same lack of conviction or coherence about the story we are in, led us to adopt the story that good pastoral care is about growing bigger churches.  Peterson writes, “…the momentum of what was being termed church growth was gathering.  All of us in the Company agreed that it was misnamed.  It was more like church cancer – growth that was a deadly illness, the explosion of runaway cells that attack the health and equilibrium of the body.” (Peterson, p158) The work of the Company, to reinforce the nature of the story we find ourselves in, for one another, gave them a perspective on the dominant narrative of church growth, that many will not share.  Knowing what story you are does that.

It often moves you to the fringe. It makes you a threat to the dominant narrative. And the keepers of the dominant narrative will first try to get you back and then failing that, they will mock you and if you persist, will exile or eliminate you.

It happens for to men and women at work who live in a way consistent with their story but contrary to the dominant narrative. When your story is love and the dominant narrative is fear or resentment, love becomes the violence that threatens the system. And you will be stopped. The workplace can be hostile unless you adopt the dominant narrative.

It happens to pastors who invite people to live a story that is different from the dominant narrative that they have adopted when they did not know the story they were in. We have in our minds a story about what a pastor is, does and should be and should do. When our pastors don’t conform to that story, we do not question our story, we question the pastor – their knowledge, their character, their aptitude and their proficiency.

It happens to millennials when they won’t dance to the same tune we love.

A friend who trains people in a particular field related some training day stories to me. One of those stories was about the amount of work my friend has to do to bridge the understanding gap between older members of the workforce with the newer. The younger members worked their shift but when their shift was scheduled to be over, they went home. The older members were living a story that saw this as a lack of commitment, a poor work ethic, an unwillingness to be team players. The younger members story was that they worked to live, they didn’t live to work and they would not give up family time or play time to conform to the story their older counterparts were living. Both had the same job description, both were doing the job they were asked to do but both were living in stories that made them critical of the other. And both felt an internal pressure for the other to adopt their story as the common narrative.

In the U.S. right now we’re experiencing an incredible clash of narratives. I am both fascinated and appalled by what I see. It’s the classic experience of the bigger brother grabbing the little brother’s arm (sorry, Brad, I did you wrong) and using it to smack his little brother in the face while he keeps repeating, “stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself…” You will accept my dominant narrative even while you know that it is not the story we are in.

This is the ongoing challenge for us all. What story are we in? What makes us believe that is our story? What Company are we a part of that supports or challenges (or does both) the story we think we are in? How have you determined the narrative by which you are living your life, making your choices, evaluating reality?  Will you accept the dominant narrative or will you speak and live prophetically, declaring a different story through which others will find hope? Can you clearly articulate for others the story in which you find yourself?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Withdrawals and Deposits

I’m a few days in to my withdrawal from reading and commenting on anything beyond pictures of cats and the personal posts of a few friends on Facebook.  I’m not even indulging much in the passively supportive blue thumbs up. And I have to tell you, I am feeling lighter, happier, more optimistic and positive about the future and life in general.  Churchill’s black dog has moved outside to the porch again and it feels good.

But I’m feeling weak this morning. I may or may not have the withdrawal shakes (possibly coffee induced). There is a strong temptation to start commenting on current events and the lies and “misstatements” that keep popping up in the news. The thing is, these statements are almost instantly verifiable now and the general lack of interest in the veracity of a statement made by high ranking government officials in this post-truth era is overwhelming. What keeps me clean and sober is the knowledge that pointing out one falsehood will be – almost – immediately met by a comment like, “Oh, and you don’t think ____________ told/tells lies…?” fill in the blank with Obama, Clinton (either Mr. or Mrs.) or CNN. So I’ll keep my nose clean for now and pour myself another glass of cat videos and sniff a few clever memes about TGIF.

The deposits I’m finding of peace and lightness – yes, maybe the byproduct of denial – don’t bring me down, man! – are worth it.  Clean and sober. One day at a time. One day at a time.

My modified prayer for today:

God grant me the serenity 
To accept the things I cannot change; 
Courage to change the things I can; 
And wisdom to know the difference
And the sanity not post about it. 

Living one day at a time; 
Without reading political posts today;
Enjoying one moment at a time; 
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
Taking, as He did, this sinful world 
As it is, not as I would have it; 
Trusting that He will make all things right 
If I surrender to His Will; 
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life 
And supremely happy with Him 
Forever and ever in the Kingdom coming. 

Amen.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

When the Prophetic Community Speaks to Power

Stanley Hauerwas describes our current generation: “America is the exemplification of what I call the project of modernity. That project is the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story. That is what Americans mean by “freedom.””

Becoming detached from our story has serious consequences. We forget who we are and how to live as people of the story. This “no story” life results in us making up our own story as we go along which creates terrific anxiety or terrific apathy. Another outcome of a “no story” life is that we tend toward acquiescence, we let others tell us what our story is.  The Orwell novel, 1984, is an extreme example of this outcome.

As a pastor in the United States, what I’ve observed is that this “no story” existence has resulted in followers of Jesus who’ve adopted the story of America as our story.  At worst, this comes out as Nationalism and at its least worst it comes out as what C.S. Lewis described as, “Christian – and.” (Screwtape, letter 25) Wherever we land on this spectrum, the “no story” existence means we are not living in our true vocation as the prophetic community of God.

Here’s Hauerwas again, “The story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you had no story obviously has implications for how faith is understood. The story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you had no story produces people who say things such as, “I believe Jesus is Lord – but that’s just my personal opinion.” The grammar of this kind of avowal obviously reveals a superficial person. But such people are the kind many think crucial to sustain democracy. For such a people are necessary in order to avoid the conflicts that otherwise might undermine the order, which is confused with peace, necessary to sustain a society that shares no goods in common other than the belief that there are no goods in common.”

The outcome is that instead of the prophetic community of God speaking to Power, we tend to ingratiate ourselves in the hope that we might get some of that sweet, sweet power. That would be the Sadducees for those keeping track of where the Bible is in all this.  The other side of this same coin are the Pharisees who are still after power but attempt to achieve it through corporate righteousness that requires God to transfer the power to us. (Almost every charismatic gathering I’ve been to in the last 20 years.)  In either case, we do not speak to Power as the prophetic community of God.  The Sadducees sought compromise, “Where can we find our place in Rome’s story?” and the Pharisees sought dominance, “We will rule our own people to righteousness by fear and intimidation and that will lead us to power.” 

But our story, the story Jesus is telling, is neither of these two or any other besides the His own. Our vocation, our destiny, our “it’s written on the wall” story, is that we are called to speak to Power as the prophetic community of God.

So if it’s not option Sadducee or option Pharisee, what are we to be? (Edited: I am not meaning to imply by this question that those who voted in the recent election are either Sadducees or Pharisees. I mean for these and other groups of their time, Essenes and Zealots for example, to stand in for various stories we adopt as people with "no story." - thanks for calling me on this Daniel.) First and foremost, we live the story of Jesus and by living that story faithfully (which is not the same as perfectly), we prove it over and over and over.  And second, like the first, we see that our allegiance is never (and by never I mean never ever) given to any Power other than the King and His Kingdom. We support, with our lives, no human policy that conflicts with the King’s Way.

The problem, of course, is that we have preachers and pastors and theologians like Niebuhr, who assure us that God has, in fact, called us to make America great again. That being the very best kind of citizens is what following Jesus is all about.

Imagine the dilemma of those first century Jews when they have been told the story in their day was either the Sadducee story of go along to get along, the Pharisee story of control to get control and the Zealot story of kill and take control. And then along comes this nobody carpenter’s son from, of all places, Nazareth and Galilee telling them, “You have heard that it was said, but I tell you…” calling them to the story as He told it and no one else.

And he spoke to Power. And just to prove he had authority to speak to the Power, He spoke to the Powers and disarmed and defeated them. Everything we have to fear that keeps us bound to having no story, Jesus disarmed and demonstrated His authority over.

Jesus spoke to Power.

In Luke 22, when they come to arrest Him, Jesus confronts their hypocrisy and indicates they are working on behalf of evil. At the end of this chapter, His words seem less than respectful to these God appointed authorities, so disrespectful that they want to see Jesus killed and they turn to the Power to which they are beholden.  When Jesus came before Pilate, He has little regard for the Roman government official and Pilate sends Jesus off to Herod. Before Herod Antipas, Jesus speaks by remaining silent, a silent protest, the Word of God becomes silent to speak to the Power. This was a defiant silence, make no mistake, an aggressive silence, a deafening silence.

When the prophetic community of God speaks to the Power, we do so like Jesus did. The authority to do so comes from our faithfulness to living the story that Jesus is telling. It looks far less like Facebook posts and blog posts and marching placards and far more like people who invited refugees to come live in their home, even when the Power says, “you will not.” It looks far more like people who live integrated and not segregated lives, even when the Principality says, “we will burn you down!” It looks much more like people who turn church buildings from empty halls during the week into hostels for those without shelter from the cold, even when the Powers say, “you’re not zoned for that!” It is the confident declaration of truth and righteousness in the way that we live, birthed from a story of love and mercy, that finds a way to feed hungry people in Moore Square, even when the Power says, “we will arrest you.”

But please understand this story is predicated on understanding a hard reality of that story: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” As dear St. Francis asked, “how many rights does a dead man have?”


May we live each day and each moment of each day as the prophetic community of God and live as people who know our story.