Pastoring Because It’s Fun

Today at church, a grandfather related a recent suppertime conversation with his grandkids. A granddaughter said she wanted to be a geologist when she grows up. When it came his turn, the youngish grandson declared, “I want to be a pastor when I grow up!” “Why?” his grandfather asked. “Because they look like they have fun!”

The best compliment I think I’ve ever received.

I gotta say, this pastoring business IS fun. In what other profession does one have the privilege of accompanying families through every phase of life, of helping them get to know their sacred text, of facilitating the creation of community? Oh, man! AND we get to sing and dance and laugh while we do it!

Yes, indeed. This pastoring business is very fun.

Thanks be to God!

Anything Worth Doing…

Each of the last three days I haven’t blogged, I’ve convinced myself that I was just too busy. I have had a LOT of writing projects for church; there’s been no time to gather my thoughts into a blog.

That’s what I thought with my self-important self…until I read today’s blurb in “The Artist’s Way Every Day” devotional book. The first line of January 29’s entry? “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” Gulp. It wasn’t out of some sense of more important things to do that I kept from writing…it was an old personal ogre rearing it’s ugly head: perfectionism.

Does anything kill life or creativity more than perfectionism, this idea that if you can’t do something brilliantly, you mustn’t do it at all? Sigh.

So much that is good and, yes, brilliant in the world came to be as the result of play, of trial and error, of–gasp!–mistakes.

As a young preacher, I labored over every word of every sermon. Preaching only thee or four times a year, I had that luxury. When I began pastoring, though, I quicky realized there simply wasn’t time to write the perfect sermon every week. For a while I tried, oh how I tried! But, as you might imagine, I got very exhausted very quickly.

So, I set myself a challenge: one week I gave myself only 2 hours–for the whole week–to complete my sermon. At first, it was nerve-wracking…but then I set my pen to the task at hand–just get it finished–and the nerves disappeared.

That cured me of my perfectionism with preaching. Oh, goodness. Why do I lie like that? It HELPED with my perfectionism with preaching. While I usually spend more (sometimes much more) than 2 hours with any sermon, I have learned that it’s better to get something down on paper than to try to write perfectly from the beginning. So, when I feel the Perfectionist Ogre–let’s call him Erskine–when I feel Erskine creeping up on me, I type out a flurry of words until he retreats. That done, I relax into the writing/editing process and have some fun. much for today’s flurry of words. Erskine has gone back to bed…good thing. Tomorrow’s sermon isn’t quite finished yet!

Peace for the journey…

Why I read fiction…

I started reading fiction because one of my doctoral professors said it was okay. Here’s how it happened.

I attended The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In many ways, seminary was a great experience. While there I discovered my love for biblical languages, my love for preaching, and–at last–my call to pastor.

As good as it was, seminary was just that painful. The fundamentalists took over while I was a student there–in the dead center of my tenure. Among the many life-squelching tenets of the fundamentalism that took hold at Southern was the prohibition against women ministers. The refrain I heard nearly every day by the time time left Southern was: “Women can’t preach; women can’t pastor.”

What was a woman who had just gotten in touch with her call to pastor to do? My professors–to a one–discouraged me from seeking a pastorate. (Wise advice.) They all encouraged me to pursue doctoral studies. And since I was pretty good at translating biblical Hebrew, they suggested Old Testament studies. So…I went to Emory University in Atlanta to pursue a PhD in Hebrew Bible.

By the second semester of my work at Emory…well, let’s just say I had not distinguished myself as a scholar of the Hebrew Bible. One professor told me gently, “Kim, there are lots of people in the world who are happy without a PhD.” Okay.

Another professor in the department could tell I was struggling. She invited me to stop by her office one day. I did. “What’s up?” she asked. By that point, I was so unhappy in the program I had no words to describe my despair.

After a few failed attempts on my part, my professor told me a story. She had gone to a prestigious school to earn a law degree. During her coursework, she often came home in tears. Finally, her husband one day said, “You know, you don’t have to get a degree in law.” When she recognized that law school wasn’t doing it for her, she changed programs and was much happier.

The other thing she did, she told me, was to begin reading fiction every day. “Fiction?” I asked, just to be sure I’d heard correctly. “Yes, fiction,” she said. “I just need a break from everything else once a day….just a little escape.” At that point, I asked her what she was reading currently. She mentioned the Church of England series by Susan Howatch. A fun series. As soon as I left her office, I drove to the bookstore and bought the first book in that series.

Now, I, too, read fiction nearly every day. I can’t say that most of it is intellectually edifying–I tend to stick close to the “cozy mystery” genre. But that little escape? It really feels like a gift I give myself every day.

When I finally graduated with my PhD ten years later (yes, ten) from a different doctoral program, I sent my Hebrew Bible prof a thank you note….not only for giving me permission to change doctoral programs, but also for encouraging me to read fiction. What a gift!

Okay…you want to know what I’m reading right now? Two books–“Casting Off,” by Nicole R. Dickson (for the church’s book club) and “Bluest Blood,” by Gillian Roberts (a “cozy mystery”).

I enjoy reading lots of genres…more about those another day.

Do you read fiction? What kind? And why?

Chief Seattle: Our God is the Same God

Today’s quote from “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals”:

“One thing we know, which the White Man may one day discover–our God is the same God. You may think that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of humanity, and his compassion is equal for the red man and the white. The earth is precious to him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator. Even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see.” Chief Seattle


What makes a sermon good?

I got a notice this week about a preaching award. It’s called the “Brave Preacher Award,” and will go to the “best” sermon addressing the recent shooting in Tucson and doing so in light of the Sermon on the Mount. The prize: $500.

Something about awarding a monetary prize for a sermon…I don’t know. It feels weird….maybe even antithetical to the intent of preaching. Would the Sermon on the Mount have won Jesus a prize? I mean, it’s a little on the long side, right? The focus and function statements? Difficult to determine.

And yet, that sermon is still around 2,000 years later. That sermon has changed perhaps millions of lives…and not just Christian lives. Did you know that Mohandas Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount every day?

What criteria will the sponsors of the preaching contest use to determine which sermon is best? If sermons are preached to particular people in particular contexts, how can a determination be made that one is better than another?

I guess I need to let you know that I did doctoral work in preaching. I spent a lot of graduate work grading sermons. Yes, grading sermons.

It’s true. There are some things that can be rated–the proper use of the biblical text (the USE of the biblical text!), the appropriateness of illustrations, the cohesiveness of the sermon’s theme…

While working on my doctorate and in the midst of grading many sermons, my grandfather died. Two ministers preached at his funeral.

The first minister’s sermon–the church’s new pastor–preached a sermon that I would have given an A- in class. His focus and function statements were clear, the stories well-told. It was a good sermon. But he didn’t know my grandfather.

The second sermon was preached by the church’s previous pastor, the one who knew my Pa Joe. His sermon was a mess. I’m not sure he knew what he was going to say before he stepped into the pulpit. He wandered around the whole countryside in his remarks.

At the end of his wanderings, though, he told a story about him and his young son leaving church one day. Just as they had reached the door to go out, the little boy turned around and shouted, “Good-bye, Joe Buck!”

That image, those words…they helped me do what a funeral sermon is supposed to help grieving loved ones do–let the beloved go. “Good-bye, Joe Buck!” Good-bye, Pa Joe.

In class, the sermon would have netted a C. At the funeral, it did exactly what it was supposed to do; it helped me say Good-bye to Pa Joe.

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to let you know that I did win a preaching award in seminary. At that point, though, my preaching, for me, was still about me. As a new preacher in a denomination that didn’t encourage women preachers, I needed the affirmation of winning an award for my preaching.

But now? I don’t know. It just seems like there’s more to it than, as one of my colleagues used to say, “hitting it out of the park” every week.

Now, I’m beginning to appreciate the wisdom of Frederick Buechner’s reflections on sermons. Sermons, he says, “are like dirty jokes; even the best ones are hard to remember. In both cases that may be just as well. Ideally, the thing to remember is not the preacher’s eloquence but the lump in your throat or the heart in your mouth or the thorn in your flesh that appeared as much in spite of what he [sic] said as because of it.” (Wishful Thinking, 86-7)

I got another notice soliciting sermons this week. This one came from an organization that wanted to collect as many sermons as they could on a single topic.

That felt a bit more helpful to me. That organization isn’t rating one sermon better than all others; by doing a broad call for sermons, they are acknowledging the importance of hearing many voices on a particular subject. That email makes me want to look through my old sermon files to see if one or two might be appropriate.

…hmmm…where is that disk of old sermons?

Peace for your journey.

Congregational Colonoscopy

Like most folks, pastors often dream about work. Most of the church/congregation references in my dreams are pretty obscure. If I think about them long enough, sometimes, I’m able to make sense of them.

The one I had the other night, though….If sense can be made of it, I don’t want to know what it is!

It happened the same night I watched the season finale of “Men of a Certain Age,” the one where Scott Bakula talked Ray Romano and Andre Braugher into having their colonoscopies done at the same time. They went to a resort hotel, played some golf, then had the colonoscopies.

That night I dreamed that our entire congregation had colonoscopies done at the same time. Kind of weird, huh?
Not sure what to make of it.

I don’t think I’ll recommend to the Parish Life committee at church that we have a “colonoscopy day”….but I would encourage everyone over 50 to have one. If you have a family history of colon cancer (which I do), have it done even sooner. Once you get past the Ewwww! factor and the disgusting prep, it’s really not so bad!

Peace for your journey.

The end. :)

Brother Lawrence

Responding to the “findiing my way to prayer” post the other day, my cousin Jamie (Hi, Jamie!) mentioned Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence is one of my favorite mentors on prayer. Anybody who can find God while washing dishes…that’s a faithful guy!

Here’s a paragraph on Brother Lawrence from the prayer book I’m using this year, “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.”

“Brother Lawrence (1611-1691). Born Nicholas Herman in Lorraine, France, Brother Lawrence received little formal education and, as a young man, served briefly in the army. One day, he had an experience that set the course of his life in a new direction. Gazing at a barren tree in winter, Lawrence saw for the first time the majesty of God’s grace and the constancy of God’s providence. He imagined himself like the tree, waiting for the life that God would inevitably bring in season. Shortly after this experience, he became a lay brother in the Carmelite monastery in Paris. There he worked in the kitchen and, in the repetition of his daily chores, found a way to integrate spirituality and work, which he called the ‘practice of the presence of God.’ By learning to perform his daily, mundane tasks for the sake of God, Brother Lawrence turned every moment into an opportunity for prayer.” (101)

Here’s the thing about the “practice of the presence of God”…it takes prayer from church or private devotional time to every single moment of our lives. I don’t have to formulate any fancy words or sit, stand, or kneel in any particular way. All I have to do is open my eyes, mind, heart to God’s presence in the midst of whatever–whatever–I’m doing…

…even blogging! (Hi, God!)

Peace for your journey.

Waking Up to (Your) Life

The most exciting thing as a pastor–THE most exciting thing–is accompanying someone as he or she wakes up to his or her life…

That happened last night. Someone had had an experience that lit a flame in his core; he shared it with me. As he spoke, his eyes brightened, he became more animated, he opened himself to possibilities he’d never before considered. Though I’ve never seen one, it felt like witnessing a birth.

Maybe that’s why Jesus used birth imagery with Nicodemus… Awaking to one’s life–to the one life God intends us to live–is like experiencing new birth. It is, in a word, miraculous.

I think I might have witnessed a miracle last night. A miracle! Can you believe this is the work to which I have been called? HOW GREAT IS THAT? Thanks be to God!

Peace for your journey…

Finding My Way to Prayer

A friend of mine serves as chaplain at a maximum security prison for men. I once asked her how she has the strength to go to work every day. Her response: I pray. There’s no way I could face what each day holds if I didn’t reconnect with God.

That was the first time I’d heard someone speak of prayer as a means of spiritual survival. My friend HAS to pray to maintain her soul in a place where the spiritual life is not nurtured.

As I continue trying to find my way with my prayer life, that’s what’s becoming clear to me: prayer is a means of spiritual survival. The method, time, words, silence of prayer…all that is peripheral. The most important part of prayer is connecting with the source of all life, the source of all spiritual strength, the one, as we say at church every week, the one who has loved us, loves us now, and will always love us. Connected to the source of all love and life, I feel as though I can face whatever the day might hold…

…most days.

Peace for your journey.

Real Life Pastor

I’ve avoided the blogosphere a long time. What to write? Aren’t sermons enough? And newsletter articles? And weekly musings to the congregation? What else is there to say? And who could possibly want to read it?

But the urge to blog has intensified recently…so I thought I’d give it a try. And following the old saying that one must “write what she knows,” I’ve decided to write about the thing I know best–living life as a pastor.

I’ve titled the blog, “Real Life Pastor.” ONE Real Life Pastor would be more accurate…because reallife looks different for every pastor, every person. What is real in my life isn’t necessarily what’s real for your life… so take what I say here as Gospel–Gospel for me. If it helps you live your life real-ly, cool. If not…well, I’ll at least try to make it funny on occasion.

Okay. This real life pastor’s real life husband has just arrived home. Time to debrief the day.