Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thoughts On The End Of An Interim

Maybe it's because I'm getting older, maybe it's because two of my last pastoral acts at FBCG were a funeral and 6 baptisms, but finishing an Interim feels a lot like the old spiritual discipline of meditating on your own death.
 
Early Christian monks were taught to meditate on their own deaths as a means of putting things in perspective.  An Interim does a lot of the same things.  Because it's usually short (6 months to 36 months) you don't get to pretend that things stay the same.  The boundaries of time are right there in your face all the time.  If you're going to accomplish something, change something, help someone...you'd better do it now; you might not get another chance.
 
When you're an Interim, you have had all these experiences: some wonderful, some not so much. Some incredibly joyous, others heartrending. And it always feels like the time is too short...much like I imagine it is to know you're dying. There's so much you still want to do and say; but time is running out-and it will run out-before you've done and said it all.
When you're an Interim, you don't always know what's coming next. When it's over, you haven't resigned to take a new call or to retire, you've just finished your task. Now what? Often you don't know. You trust that God has a plan, that there is something "after," but you sure wish God would show his/her hand just a little more....kind of like dying.

So where does Baptism fit in?  The first thing that can be said is that in our Baptist tradition Baptism is a kind of dying: "buried with Christ in baptism, raised to walk in newness of life."  But it's also a beginning.  The fact that the last 6 people I baptized were members of the First Baptist youth group is a reminder that life goes on.  These young people are beginning their Christian pilgrimage.  It is a life long journey.  During it they would do well to remember the same things that an Interim does: if you're going to accomplish something in your faith, change something in your life, help someone in Jesus name....do it now.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Though you don't always know what is coming next, trust that God does, and God will not forsake you.
My kids would say that "Maudlin Man" is about to make an appearance. But this isn't my intention. My time at FBCG is ending. It fills me with sadness and joy. I love this congregation and I will carry it with me in heart and memory forever (literally, I believe I will carry the love from this experience into eternity). I have few regrets, but I have some. Mostly though, I have gratitude. I will thank God every time I remember this congregation.
My goals moving forward are these: remember in joy; own my sadness; ask forgiveness for my failures; forgive any who have hurt me; bless God's future for them; trust God's future for me; bless God's name in it all; and let go.
 
Life as an Interim; pretty good practice for dying....and living.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When The Priesthood Of All Believers Makes Me Uncomfortable

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I am very, very attached to the Baptist doctrine of The Priesthood of All Believers.  This means that we have "soul freedom" in how we interpret scripture and that we are called to respect one another's right to do so.  I have vigorously defended this on multiple occasions both here and elsewhere.

Recently, however, I ran into one of those situations where it made me cringe a little (okay a lot).  I was present where an individual whom I like and respect was teaching about a passage of scripture.  His interpretation was so far afield of what I believe the passage was saying, that hearing the two of us describe it, you would be hard put to believe that we worship at the same church.  When I had the opportunity to respond, all I could do (without being totally disrespectful to the situation) was to say, "this is a great example of the Priesthood of All Believers, we don't have to agree with one another, and we each have to be responsible for reading scripture for ourselves."

We Baptists, at our best, believe that the Table of the Lord is a huge table.  I have had the privilege in my ministry of being the Interim Pastor at three congregations whom I came to love greatly. In each of these there was a wide variety of theological belief.  Some folks in each congregation opposed gay marriage and the ordination of gay persons; I support both.  Some believe in 'substitutionary penal atonement' as the primary way of interpreting Jesus' work on the cross; I find it a viewpoint with very little scriptural support when we look at the broad range of scriptures and how they have been interpreted through the history of the church from Paul on.  Some believe that church membership and being 'real Christians' is dependent on a rigid set of beliefs; I....well.....you can guess this one pretty easy.  And yet, we all managed to worship and serve God together.  I once described a friend of mine, whose opposition to gay marriage was very vocal, as someone who, if a gay couple came through the door, would be the first to hand them a bulletin and a hymnal.  He was/is someone who does not let his feelings interfere with expressing God's Hospitality or sharing God's Love.

Being a Baptist is hard work.  Not as hard as being Christian, but hard none the less.  Sometimes it means saying, "I can't agree with you.  I think you're dead wrong, but you are my sister/brother in Christ and we are on this journey together."  My friend the other day did me two great favors:
1) He forced me to look at a theological issue and claim my position about that issue very, very clearly; and 2) he forced me to re-examine my feelings about the Priesthood of All Believers and come away still affirming it as a big part of what I believe about the Christian journey.  So I would say to him, "Thank you."

But I would also say that this journey we're on is one of Grace.  And as long as Grace is what allows us to be here, none of us is left out.  When, on that final Day, Jesus separates the wheat from tares, that will be soon enough for any of us to be saying who is in and who is out....and even then, Thank God.....the decision won't belong to us.