I watched the last five innings of my Royals’ unlikely run through the playoffs while at a church session meeting. We debated the merits of an urban garden project while Madison Bumgarner laid waste to my teams’ hopes and dreams. When it ended, I quietly closed my laptop and turned my attention (my full attention now) to the agenda.
The heartbreak of losing is for the sports fan more wrenching than the thrill of winning. Many of us are trapped in unhealthy relationships with our sports teams and leagues, because our loyalty to them produces far more negative emotions in us than positive ones. Every team but one finishes their season a loser. Even the Royals, who seemed destined to win it all. In the end: the loser. I’m crushed. Me–who leapt up and down in my neighbors’ living room as they won the Wild Card; who cheered them on to playoff wins in Anaheim AND Kansas City with some of my favorite people in the world; who enjoyed countless texts from far-flung friends and acquaintances expressing support for my team–crushed.
Rooting for something is good for the soul, and so being a baseball fan is a holy exercise in thinking and hoping and celebrating and, finally, grieving. Losing is good for the soul. The sports media industry is ripping all of us off with its slow motion montages and canned narratives about the “will to win” (brought to you by Chevy), no doubt. But it is channeling a drama that we need to be fully human. It’s a proxy for the fundamental drama of humanity, with its failing and adjusting, redeeming and overcoming. And as a proxy you could do a lot worse.
It’s over. I’m sad. I’m restless. I want some reprieve. Tonight will be a long night, and it will be good for me.
Maryann doesn’t believe in soul mates. She says, “Marriage is a crap shoot. You hope you have some enduring compatibility and you work at it and you let a lot of stuff go, and still there’s all this stuff that acts upon you that you don’t have a lot of control over.”
Isn’t the same thing true about our work?
A canon of mythology has grown up around pursuing work we love, including the ubiquitous charge to “find your passion” and the well-meaning question that was posed to me almost daily in college: “what is God calling you to do with your life?” That mythology puts a ton of unnecessary pressure on people to pick the right work or else miss their God-given calling. And it obscures both the gift and the responsibility we have to work with our lives.
My dad never loved his work. It was a job that paid the bills and enabled some family and leisure pursuits. But he never felt “called” to it. He felt lucky to have it, and, for the last decade of his career, he counted the days to retirement. I’m proud of that. Just last night I was boasting to someone about the work my dad did. But God knows he was never “passionate” about it.
We are called and suited to particular kinds of work, I believe, and God cares a great deal about how we steward the talents we’ve been given. But we should not expect passion to persist at all times in our work, and we certainly should not conclude that when energy fades so has our calling.
I suspect a great deal of clergy burnout (to take one example) results from unrealistic expectations about how new pastors will feel about their work forever and ever amen. When energy wanes for the umpteenth confrontation with a difficult congregant and when earnestness is worn thin, it’s easy to conclude that you were wrong, that you’re not actually called and suited to this work, that real pastors feel differently than you do. They’re called, you’re not. That’s a mistake.
As in romance, so in work. A great, great deal of what makes both romantic relationships and work valuable is the stuff you do when you don’t really feel like it. The moonlit walk on the beach required budgeting for the trip together and arranging childcare and enduring a headache. “I want the truth!” required hours of joyless drudgery and reams upon reams of paper.This is the stuff that doesn’t make the movie montage, but it’s the stuff that really matters.
When we identify our suitability for a given work with our passion for doing it, we are bound to be disappointed, at least some of the time. Disappointment in healthy, both in relationships and in work. Disappointment leads to growth and maturity.
So much of our vocation as leaders and learners, parents and pediatricians, teachers and tellers, comes down to persistence, enduring routine exercises without much energy (much less passion) for the sake of the bigger picture. Or even, in Maryann’s poetic phrase, “The heaven in ordinary things.”
Let’s work for those.
The community craft faire this past weekend was what it is every year: a very pleasant coming together of artists and craftsmen and craftswomen on a beautiful autumn day in a beautiful place, attended by thousands. Wife, Daughter, and I strolled the booths and sampled the food for a couple of hours before we came to the row of displays in the back corner of the faire. That’s where they stick all of the churches.
Suddenly I felt guilty not to be working.
My church didn’t have a booth. We never have. We have one at the community Fourth of July festival, but not this. Should we?
The church booths do a variety of things consistent with what you’d expect from their traditions and affiliations (or not). The evangelical churches hand out tracts and tie balloons splayed with Bible verses on kids’ wrists. The Episcopal church blesses peoples’ pets. It seems that churches treat the faire as one of two kinds of opportunities–either to put their name and their message in peoples’ hands, or to do something for them (some, like the church offering passersby a drink of cold water in exchange for a chance to pitch them on the Living Water, attempt both).
My state shifted from guilt to smug self-satisfaction. I was glad to be participating in the event as a citizen and not as a carnival barker. I found myself doubting the value of the faire for a church. Why allow ourselves to be lined up alongside scads of other churches to compete for shoppers’ attention? What’s the point of that? Could absence from the faire be a better form of presence in our community?
I have zero confidence in either my smug or my guilty reaction to the faire’s church booths.
I wonder: what’s the real opportunity for churches in community events like this?
Stuff I learned on Sunday.
Spending the morning before worship away from the church makes for a less stressful Sunday overall. Coffee and the New York Times at the farmers’ market > fretting in my office (on a related note, this cover piece from Sunday’s paper is devastating).
Parents and their small children at the farmers’ market work together. Kids are easily engaged in the task. What does this suggest for worship?
My acolyte rules the school. Candle out? Re-light. Out again? Give it more wick. Gently . . . gently . . . masterful.
The worship leader is having a little too much fun with the Passing of the Peace: “Let’s share with each other the peace we deserve!” This kid’s trying to steal my job.
The organist is reading my mind. Before I can finish telling the children that Jesus said when we give in church we shouldn’t “blow a trumpet,” he plays an extended trumpet blast on the organ. How else do you explain that if not telepathy?
The phonetic spelling of the NRSV pew edition is a game changer if you must read Deuteronomy 34 out loud.
I can drive a college student home after worship and still make it back to the church in time for the annual congregational meeting.
In addition to a knockout sermon, my colleague also produced a parody of “My Favorite Things” for the congregational meeting this week. Um, I, um . . . played scatterball?
A blender is a far inferior tool for making hummus than a food processor. Pitching the latter during our recent move was a hasty mistake.
Finger cookies are a thing. Wife and Daughter are a little too good at them for my comfort.
You could do much worse for Sunday dinner than a first grader’s crock pot experiment. Lentils? Check. Carrots? Check. Black beans? Check. Potatoes? Check. Water? Check. 9 different seasonings? Check.
Wife has mad holiday decorating skills. Seriously, if it were up to me, our house’s walls would be bare year-round.
Twitter is a terrible World Series companion, especially when you’re losing. Mass high intensity criticism of minute managerial decisions in real time is not a complement to the experience but a menace.
Game 6 of the World Series will conflict with Beer and Hymns. A potential game 7 will conflict with a session meeting. Fretting, fretting, fretting.
Michael Che told The Perfect Joke on Weekend Update (0:36).
If we are working for transformation in the church, then we leaders must subject ourselves to transformation. We must continually die to those things in ourselves and our leadership roles that we cherish as God raises up something new in their place, first in us and then in the church we seek to lead.
This is impossible for us, but with God all things are possible.
The alternative is to recline into titles and programs and maxims in the vain hope of gradual improvement or a lucky break.
I’m increasingly aware that my competencies and knowledge sets don’t merely need expanded but torn down and rebuilt. I need to be born again.
A person whose family worshiped at our church for a few years came by this morning to inform us that the family has been attending a different church for awhile and that we won’t be seeing them anymore. It didn’t come as a total surprise, since they have been absent most of the fall and since two members of the family actually peeled off for that other church a year ago. And I respect the heck out of the move to come and tell us face-to-face, as well as the move toward church participation as a shared family experience and not one that is divided.
Something this person said about the difference between our church and the new one really hit me, though. After describing worship as “Christian Rock” and the sermons as “a little more literal,” she added, “Here it’s more of an intellectual experience. There you’re all in.”
I know exactly what she’s saying. Without resorting to broad generalities, the cultures of mainline Protestantism and Evangelicalism differ markedly in this respect: evangelicalism wants all your heart and some of your head; the mainline wants all your head and some of your heart.
The mainline wants you “all in” but in a different way. It wants you all in for the demands of living the gospel in the world today and engaging the cultural, political, and systemic injustices for which the gospel is the antibody. It wants you all in for critically engaging the Bible as a transformative resource for public and private life. It wants you all in for worship that is as mentally rigorous as it is emotionally appealing.
I’ve written here before that church needs to be the thing that backs down. But is backing down the opposite of being “all in?”
I was trying to buy a sandwich and soda on a recent flight, but the flight attendant wouldn’t let me. He gave me the food, but he refused to let me pay.
“Can I have a receipt?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “because there isn’t going to be a charge.”
“Because it’s too expensive. Have you seen these prices?”
My excitement about getting something for nothing evaporated into shame in an instant, as he clearly thought that no responsible person would pay $9 for a buffalo chicken wrap.
Then he added, “Besides, we used to give you this stuff for free.”
He did something generous, even dangerous to his livelyhood for me. And his generosity left me embarrassed and furtively typing a blog post about it on my phone.