Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Frazzled with Bob, Babbs and Mac: Continuing Thoughts on Legacy

I graduated from seminary 30 years ago this month (I was quite young at the time, really!).  I have just completed my 30th academic year in campus ministry.  At times it is hard to believe that 30 years have gone by so quickly.  Then again, when I look back at those early days, it is very clear that it was a long, long time ago – maybe even a lifetime or two – especially when I see how much I have changed in those years.
Original glassart based on "storm at sea" quilt block pattern
I must say that the last few years I have been struggling at several levels with my life and ministry.  I wonder whether or not I am still effective in ministry.  I look at the weeks at a time when it feels like I am on a roller coaster ride and I am just looking ahead to the day when it will be done and I can get enough sleep and some time to just sit and rest.  It seems like those periods of time are more frequent and that I am frazzled more than I am not.   
There are books that I have read that seem to identify the place that I am spiritually and in ministry.  I resonate with the authors and I strive to be able to move into the place of peace and harmony in the midst of ordinary and extraordinary chaos.  There are three of these writers that I can think of off the top of my head.  We will call them Bob, Babbs and Mac.  The reason that I started reading their stuff was because they were like me, active pastors… except for the fact that they were pastors of big churches, and they were able to find time to write inspiring and insightful books, and they were famous…   But now, I look at Babbs and Mac and Bob and all three of them are no longer actively pastoring in churches.  The answer to their struggles with how ministry got in the way of their relationship with God seems to have been to leave the pastoral ministry.  Fortunately for them, they are famous and can make a living on writing and speaking – don’t get me wrong, I still find what they write and speak about very helpful.  But in the back of my mind I keep wondering if there is another answer for the pastor who is finding the ministry is getting in the way of her relationship with God, other than leaving the pastoral ministry – especially if she is not famous and hasn’t figure out how to consistently post on her blog, let alone write a book!
After 30 years of pastoring in a university setting I have times that I wonder, do I really want to keep doing this?  And then, if I make a change, how big of a change do I want to make?  Should I find another campus ministry setting, should I move into a more traditional church pastorate?  Should I see if there is an opening at Starbucks?  It is when I am wondering these things and I read the wisdom of Mac and Bob and Babbs (and find it helpful) that I feel a little bit betrayed by them.  That is also about the time that something exciting happens in the context of my ministry, often along the edges or in the unexpected places, that makes me think that maybe I can keep doing this for another day or two.  Meanwhile, I will continue to try to figure out how to keep the ministry from getting in the way of my relationship with God, and trying to do the things that I already know could help.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A St. Barnabas Day Story

As I post this it is still St. Barnabas Day in L.A. where the story took place. The names may possibly have been changed.
                There are times when I would like to think that Barnabas, when he was in Antioch, would end a summer's day by going to the roof to enjoy the last rays of sun as it set, feeling the accompanying cooler breezes.  As he sat there relaxing, maybe for the first time all day I can imagine him starting to smile, shaking his head and maybe even laughing as he thought about the impossible variety of people who were already a part of the community of Christ-followers that had come together in that place.  Not just Jews from all over the Roman world, but gentiles as well, people from all economic backgrounds – business people, farmers, government officials, people who owned big homes and people who worked in them.  Slave and free, male and female, educated and “street-smart”—all sorts of people were a part of this group that was beginning to be identified as “Christians.” 
                Every once in a while we see this variety in our churches:  people you just wouldn’t imagine even talking with one another, committed to be a family of sorts in Christ.  It makes me think of Les and 
Carlos, both a part of the motley crew (Carlos was possibly more “motley” than Les) that was Temple Baptist Church at the time I was Co-pastor. 
The Les and Vina Tamblyn Window
Les was a pillar.  He was the church Finance Officer.  He was a typical member of the Builder generation.  He came from modest roots, fought in WWII, came back and got married, worked his way up in a bank, had kids, went to church and retired to a nice home in the suburbs of Los Angeles.  He saw Temple from the days of downtown society church through the shift of white people not wanting to come to the inner city for church, to ministering to new immigrants and people from the Union Rescue Mission.  He went from being a church trustee that managed the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium (owned and operated by Temple Baptist Church) to times when it was difficult to maintain such property and finally selling out and rebuilding near downtown in the area around USC.  He was one who stayed, which meant that he caught the vision of the church in transition and didn’t go out to find a church in the suburbs (where he lived) filled with people like him.
Carlos was a teenager, he may have been born in Mexico and brought to LA as a young child, or he may have been born in the US.  His parents were definitely immigrants.  I don’t know if they were here legally.  I never knew unless I needed to.  His parents were hard-working and church-going.  They were members of the Spanish-speaking congregation of our church.  Some of the kids in that congregation ended up in our youth group.  Carlos was one.  I don’t know why, but Carlos was in a gang.  He was not in one of the really hardcore gangs, but a gang, nevertheless.  He told me about how easy it was to get a gun.  I don’t think he ever used one, but I don’t know for sure.  He definitely got into trouble.  But he came to church, because of his parents, yes, but I think also because he actually liked being a part of church.  It was like he was trying to decide which way to go, so he had a foot in each life.
One day we were in groups of three.  It was one of those meetings…or workshops…I don’t remember.  I even have a vague recollection that I may have been leading that meeting, or, at least, that exercise.  Anyway we were in groups of three and I was with Les and Carlos.  Les was in his typical dark suit, white shirt and tie.  Carlos was in his baggy dark jeans and striped polo (he dressed up for church).  The assignment was to share about a time that you felt like you heard God speaking to you. 
Les began.  He told of being on guard duty while in the army on Christmas Eve.  He was far away from family and he was lonely and homesick.  He told of looking up at the sky and seeing the stars and hearing God say that he was not alone.  God was with him and God loved him.  As Les told the story his eyes filled and a tear came down his cheek.  He seemed to have been transported back 50 years to that night.
Then it was Carlos' turn.  I can still hear his voice, with his LA –Chicano “accent.”  With every ounce of sincerity and seriousness he said, “Well, one night when I was sitting in jail and I was alone, I heard God say to me, ‘Well, Carlos, that was pretty stupid.” 
I don’t remember at all what I shared.  I do remember a connection that was made between a traditional, white, hard-working, up-standing banker and a teen-age, Hispanic, pseudo-gang-banger, who had both heard God speak to them.  To this day, I still shake my head and laugh.