Thursday’s Random Thoughts

I’m starting to see much of the failure in my faith in Jesus and who he is for me is about tomorrow. What will happen tomorrow? And usually the answer to that question reverts to a negative. There is no sense…or little sense of Jesus being there for tomorrow. Even though the Bible is rife with him telling me he would be.

Knox: Do I have to just be kind to just Dylan (little brother)?
Me: No buddy, you need to be kind to everyone.
Knox: Aww man.

I’ve been asked by a few people why I like the band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club so much. The answer probably requires a full blog post but I’ll tell you two things for the present. They sound like every dream and failure and joy I’ve ever had and all the blood and sweat and tears in between. Back on Oct. 12th after seeing them live I wrote “it was like every raw nerve being plucked by the holy God who flung it all into being.” It still feels that way.

I feel like I’m seeing a trend among Progressives in the church. They want conservatives to stop being conservative and are willing to support legislation to that end. And then they chastise conservatives for feeling persecuted.

Over one 11-season span Lou Gehrig averaged 153 RBIs. That’s averaging one RBI a game for 11 seasons.

I find it hilarious and yet not very funny that Jonathan Merritt among others thinks Jesus would be the photographer of a gay wedding. I cannot think of a
time in church history when any of our theologians thought this, until now. It is absurd journalism. And it’s the very thing liberals always accuse evangelicals of, infusing faith with politics.

A week from today, Bethany and I will celebrate 15 years of two things. First, 15 years of joy in marriage. Second, 15 years of being confused with Matt and Beth Redman.

Most blogging and in fact Christian writing is polemics. Even social media belies this. But it’s rarely polemics of the self. It rarely admits that “I am the problem that needs fixing.” We, Calvinists, should be the first to do this. For the “5 Points” are just that, a polemic of self.

I preached again last Sunday and was glad to do so. But it remains hard to do so and then go back to the bank which is the opposite.

This is a wonderful world to be afraid in.

On Hope and Shame


…hope does not put us to shame.” — the Apostle Paul

One of the lingering questions I have about my faith is the place of hope. Not that I have conquered all other foes whose forces wield wild arms against my trust in God, but this one will not let me go.

It’s the balance I cannot get right. The hope of things here and the hope of all things to come.

I keep hoping for a new job. I keep applying for a new job. Inevitably I will hear about a job either because I saw it posted on a website or someone told me about it. I will work on my résumé and labor on a cover letter. Then I’ll spend a good chunk of time filling out an online application with all the information that is on my résumé already. Then I’ll tell my wife, a few friends and maybe my mom. And then I wait and nothing happens.

I used to tell a lot of friends and family. “I just applied for a job!” But now, I really don’t even want to tell my wife. It’s now just embarrassing.

Hope is all about tomorrow and the desire for some change to make it all better. Even if nothing is demonstrably wrong in your life, you will hope for something. You will hope a meal is good. A game is won. A good weekend is had.

But mostly hope is about things getting better. A crooked path made straight. A right being wronged. Pain ending. A reason for joy beginning. Fears alleviated.

I know I’m supposed to hope. I seemed to be wired for it. You probably feel it too. There’s the push and pull of contentment, but hope, as the old saying goes, springs eternal and like spring blooms big and bright.

Back when I was a youth pastor I taught Paul’s letter to the Romans everywhere I served. And we creeped through that thing. Slow. But I never knew what Paul meant when he said, “…hope does not put us to shame.” Because hope that is disappointed can do that. You hope and you hope and hope and hope and then nothing. And shame slithers in. Because you were so hopeful but nothing happened. Again. And then people wonder.

You hoped that *this* time he really would change and be faithful to you. You hoped that finally the doctors would be able to help your child. You hoped for the Christmas bonus. You hoped the prodigal would come home. You hoped that after years of trying, you were pregnant.

I don’t know all that Paul means when he says “…hope does not put us to shame.” But I do know this — he is pointing to hope higher than those of the here and now. A gospel hope that has the cross as its surety, the Holy Spirit as its strength, and an eternity of no disappointment waiting.

And it will not put us to shame. For it will be all we have hoped for and more.

Random Thoughts for Thursday

I continue to think about Greene’s masterpiece, The Power and the Glory almost everyday.

The great problem with Christian music today is it does not sound like reality. It’s the musical equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting. Technically fine but profuse with sentimentality that ignores the dark night of the soul and the grey times of life’s many dawns.

Even before I saw Mike Trout play in his first season, his numbers made me think of Joe DiMaggio. I wasn’t the only one, either. Even now the comparison is being made. Some want to compare Trout to Teddy Ballgame, but that’s ridiculous. Trout has speed and mad defensive skills, whereas The Kid had neither. Plus Ted’s first two seasons of hitting are much better. DiMaggio only struck out 369 times in his whole MLB career. Mike Trout has already struck out 307 times in just over two seasons.

Our children’s bedtime is 8ish. It’s like the start of a vacation every night.

The United Cerebral Palsy is down the street from where I work and they bring in participants regularly to cash paltry checks. Everything is topsy turvy with these people. The amount of the checks are small and they smile with every dollar. The rich impatiently waiting behind them in line have few smiles in their worries. The older ones are prone to laugh like children and the young shuffle their feet like the aged who have seen too much of this world and are ready for the one beyond.

On Monday I was at a bookstore and one of my blog readers introduced herself to me. It was a highlight of my seven plus years of blogging.

Most of the talk about Christians in the workplace is flat. Most of what is said is by those who work as pastors and professors and those working in non-profit ministries. They mean well and they say a lot of true things. But they do not have the same scars. Their talk lacks the contours. It’s the difference between hearing a historian talk about being in the trenches in war and one who has the very dirt under his nails.

I think Paul was very serious about eating whatever is served to you. He was worried Christians would offend in their desire to eat clean foods and not eat food that was deemed unclean. We are willing to offend because of ingredients.

I talk to a lot of new married couples and they almost always tell me how many people warn them of the difficulties of marriage and rarely the joys. Christians seem to be the worst about it. One couple, both of them believers, said I was the first (outside of premarital counseling) to tell them that marriage can be wonderful and still get better. Maybe we should stop filming proposals and stop with the creativity in announcements and such. We’re celebrating engagement and trudging through marriage.

“There is no frigate like a book.”

Unless you’re prepared for a pastor to enter your workplace and critique your job, be slow to critique his.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

The argument that we shouldn’t take the creation narrative as literal because the Bible is not a science book argues too much. “Lazarus and Jesus were dead.” “Wellll, maybe not literally, the Bible, after all, is not a science book.” I respect many men who do not believe in 7 literal days. But that argument I do not.

My daughter’s recorder did not come with a silencer.

Baseball season brings with it the hope of Spring.

I try to come up with a loophole and a condition for Matthew 21:22 every time I read it. Which means I undercut the belief necessary as part of my hermeneutic.

I miss not going to work because of ice and snow.

The desire to be seen as thoughtful, intelligent, or sophisticated is just my own adult version of “cool.”

Libraries are wonderful things. Full of wonder. Providing wonder. Feeding wonder.

It is a strange business to advise people on financial matters while having so little.

When I look at my wife I realize the genius of including “in sickness and in health” and “for richer and for poorer” in marriage vows.

Progressive Christianity is strange. It complains about the culture wars and then goes on to see every problem on the outside, never looking in.

The Hollow Feeling of Doing Well

“What is that like?”

This question is a common one. When I tell someone I was once a pastor but now I work in a bank I get this question. Not always wanting to answer I respond with a “fine” or “different” or something general. Sometimes the question is asked at parties, and even at work. My discomfort with revealing what I do now and what I used to do is acute and has probably caused me to avoid some social situations when I know the question might be asked.

Every now and again, I’ll answer by telling people I have the worst job imaginable for a person like me but I cannot escape no matter how hard I try. But when I do that I can feel the awkwardness creep in the room. I used to tell people I’m the worst banker in the world, but I cannot tell people that anymore.

Today I found out I have the highest sales score in the branch and I’m on pace to get a bonus. It’s unexpected because I’ve been doing so poorly over the past few quarters. And it’s unexpected because I’m not very good at what I do.

I have a hollow memory from back when I was young enough to be riding my bike everywhere instead of driving. We lived on the side of Ruffner Mountain and the street in front of our house ran like a short stubby asphalt river down into a small valley and met the bottom of another hill. That hill was called Thrill Hill because of the thrill derived from going over with a little speed. Actually it required no speed whatsoever to feel your stomach in your throat. It was a pretty dangerous hill and when I was much younger I can remember some teenagers losing control and their car ending in the living room of the house most at risk because it sat at the corner of my street and Thrill Hill. By the time I was a teenager most homes in its path had set up large stones and other impediments at the edge of their yard. Thrill Hill was dangerous and I was not allowed on it at all. But one day I did go up, riding as far as my legs and Huffy would take me and then I pushed it the rest of the way. Somehow my parents knew this and I was in serious trouble. I can remember the empty hollow feeling inside of so needlessly upsetting them.

That’s kinda how I feel now about doing so well at work. Empty, like a plundered tomb.

Yesterday I started reading Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. Buechner keeps referencing it. I’m only a few chapters in but the whiskey priest has already revealed why I feel so hollow. He is on the run. They have shot all the other priests. His clothes are as tattered as his own soul is drowning in drink. But he still performs his duties as a priest when asked and does so without pay. At one point a man asks him why he doesn’t just renounce the priesthood like another priest who took a wife. And he says he cannot do it. Though poor, hunted, and always needing a drink, he is a priest. He has no home. He has no income. He does not even have an assigned parish. No boss to report to. But a priest still.

At one point, he is in a man’s home and all he wants is sleep. But the man wants to confess his sins and the whiskey priest hears them and then the man goes and wakes up his neighbors so they can do the same. And the whiskey priest is sitting there with tears in his eyes. Tears of exhaustion and anger. And the man is telling his neighbors the tears are for them and their need of forgiveness.

If I could, when people ask me what it is like to work in a bank after working as a pastor, I would describe that scene. They might not understand it. After all they are just making conversation and being polite. But that would be my preferred response. But I wouldn’t just tell those people. I’d also like to tell other men who have decided they don’t wanna be a pastor anymore.

I could also tell them the story of Thrill Hill which really has nothing in common with my present circumstances except for the emptiness. I felt empty then because I did something I was not supposed to do. Now, it’s success in work that more and more seems at odds with my calling as a pastor.

When I wrote The God of the Mundane, I was hoping to get people to see the inherit dignity and importance of what we typically call secular jobs. Every job is inherently spiritual and kingdom work. There is no job more spiritual than another. I still believe that to the core of my being. My experience in the business world has confirmed it. But you do not get ordained into the business world.

A man may leave one area of business and do something wholly different and the soul remains at ease. But it is not the same for a man who has been called by God and man to be a pastor. When that man does, the fabric of things is stretched and torn. At least for me this has been the case.

For a while now, people have told me again and again that I am still a pastor. A pastor to them specifically. I’ve appreciated the sentiment as compliment. But I did not believe them. I was too miserable. Just like that whiskey priest, I didn’t feel like I should be thought of like that.

I’d like to tell that to all those who are thinking of walking away from the pastorate.

There are “how did I get here moments?” galore. You’ll be sitting across from a very sad person whose life is shambles and you will find your soul revolting against the responsible you have to the person in front of you as a banker.

I know this sounds sad. And on one level it still is. But on another level, I’m glad to know now. I’m glad my wife and I see this together. I still hesitate to say it was a mistake to leave vocational ministry. But I’ve been reading this story of the whiskey priest. And his conviction of his calling fits far too well with the hollow place I’ve tried to fill. What he holds onto at the risk of his life, I let go of.

I could probably do a good job of justifying myself. And even be right in doing it. But I’m not really all that interested in doing that anymore. And so now when people would ask me what it’s like to be banker after being a pastor at my best moments I look them full in the face and tell them I’d like to return.