Monday, September 24, 2012

You're a pastor?

I'm learning a new scenario....

I meet someone in San Francisco and one of the very first questions I'm asked is what I do. "I'm a pastor," I say, "I work at a church." The second response I've added recently when I realized that "I'm a pastor" didn't answer their question enough. I needed to provide further clarification.

Now, I've seen the shocked responses to my answer from folks who are surprised that I am female and clergy. Or that I am a clergyperson and so YOUNG. But, here in San Francisco, I'm learning that the shocked response comes simply because that phrase "I'm a pastor," doesn't communicate to them. One of the next questions is "so... what do you do everyday?"

I stammer to reply with the hundreds of hats I wear... "I organize and lead worship every Sunday, I meet people in coffee shops and bars to get to know them, I visit people when they're in the hospital, I run a small I pay taxes, process payroll, bookkeeping, other admin work... I fix printers when they break.. I participate in community groups and work with the church community to do service in the community and world." I don't even go into the polity part... I participate in presbytery and moderate session meetings... that really won't communicate.

It has been interesting time and time again to articulate what I do. It reminds me how much of what I do has become "insider language" and that I need to find ways to communicate what I as pastor and we as church do in the community.

If this new acquaintance is still talking to me at this point...this is the question that usually follows: "Why did you become a pastor?" Ah, yes, because God called me. Hmmm...does that translate in the vernacular? Lemme try this: "I'm interested in public service. I thought about social work, public health,  and immigrant law in college. When I did a short internship in Guatemala in social work, I realized that I have a tendency to try to be "superwoman" and got frustrated at the end of the day when I couldn't do enough. People still went to bed with empty stomachs. I needed to work through the church because then at the end of the day I can rest fully in the hope that I don't have to be enough. God is enough. God is working through others and through this community for good. In the church, I get to share that message of hope all the time.

These recent conversations have been meaningful for me because they have brought to my attention the need for us rethink our "insider" language to be able to communicate with the rest of the world who is full of people that have never stepped foot in a church, much less a PC(USA) church. These conversations have reminded me to focus on the most basic, important questions of call: What do you do and why? I strongly believe that if we (church and pastors) do a better job of communicating who we are and what we do to the world around us, we might actually meet some of the spiritual hunger in this world. People are here, asking the same questions, "What do you do? What does that mean? Why in the world did you choose that?"

I'm doing my very best to see these new conversations as a gift to share God's glory, hope, and love with the hungry and broken world around me instead of this bizarre barrier that sets me apart from those around me. Feeling more and more like the Early Church in Acts that has to continually explain themselves to the world around them than the institutionalized power "the church" that was known by all.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Take time to let God love you

During my installation service (or "my festival" as some members of Mission Bay Community Church call it), Rev. Abby King-Kaiser charged me to take time to love God and for God to love me. She reminded me (as all pastors need reminders) that our jobs, our roles in this community, are not to be confused with the time it takes for us to connect with God. To love God and to be loved by God.

There is a tendency for those of us in ministry to confuse our "pastor work" of shepherding God's people with our own "disciple work" of daily connecting with God, worshipping God, diving into a deeper relationship with God. We think they're one in the same, when really cultivating our own relationship with God is work set apart. I'm finding this to be true for me even after two and a half months of full time ministry. I catch myself not leaving enough time in the day to spend with God, just me - all of me. I'm too focused on other's need for God to see my own.

E Peterson said, "Contemporary pastors have become a quivering mass of availability to everyone but God." ...This feels about right. And backwards. And lonely.

With this reality in mind, I set off this weekend to spend time with God. Tim and I went backpacking on a trail in Los Padres National Park. We turned our cell phones off and turned our attention to the path, to the sounds and the views, to each other, and to God. It was only when I was fully away from the demands of the world around me that I could focus inward on my own thirsty demands for God.
I kept reminding myself I didn't need to feel guilty for getting away. Jesus spent time alone on the mountain to pray.

I didn't have to talk much. I just had to keep walking and I felt heard, understood, comforted. A friend of mine, Kate Buckley, mentioned in her sermon this week what Mother Theresa has said about prayer and it felt just right. In an interview, Mother Theresa was asked what she says when she prays to God. She replied, "I don't talk, I simply listen." The reporter, thinking he understood her asked, "And what does God say to you?" Mother Theresa replied, "God doesn't talk either, God simply listens, too."

I'm realizing that what I need most is time set apart for me to be quiet, for me to listen. And it's during this time that I am convinced more than ever that God is listening to me, too. Hearing my inner struggle, my demand for attention, my unique and thirsty need for God's love.