The rubber is hitting the road. My back is against the wall. I am between a rock and a hard place. This is the last train to Clarksville. In the immortal words of Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto and as Billy Joel sang in the 80's, "PRESSURE!"
Two weeks away from two chapters of the dissertation needing to be completed, and in the meantime I need write (and give) a sermon (including an exegesis) and write two more papers for my homiletics class, visit a church in LA, and another in Tucson. I also need to work out the basic methodology for my research.... but hey, let's not get ahead of ourselves. There's just way too much work, and not enough brain to around right now.
Between thinking about following a sixteen year ministry vet with an impeccable track record, how a preacher has to tie together logos/ethos/pathos all in the name of what's just, what it means for the meek to inherit the earth, and the generalizability of my dissertation study...
it occurs to me that I have a life. Wife. Kids. Family. Friends. God to Serve. All that, and more.
In many ways my life has put almost entirely on hold this year while we live out this gift of a year to do nothing but think about what churches should look like and how they run. But life can't be put on hold. It just keeps passing you by, so I can't think about what I've missed while my head was stuck in a book. There are just too many moments that were lost.
Well, that and probably watching a few Cavs games on TV.
And, of course, there have been moments I would have never had if we hadn't done this. Sandy Millar asking me to pray in tongues. Kirby Jon Caldwell calling me his "homeboy". Watching Brian McLaren get a tear in his eye when he realized in our conversation that it had been one year, to the day, he had left his pulpit at the church he founded to be a post-modern troubadour. Touching a wall that had been laid by Roman stone masons more than 1600 years ago. Getting corrected on-line by Chris Seay. It's been a long, strange, amazing trip.
And in the end, what will it all mean?
We joke around here in the Beeson Carrels that if the verse "to much is given, much is expected" is really true then God is going to want his $56,000 investment back in spades. We hear horror stories of Beeson Pastors who go back filled with dreams, only to see them get crushed and we hear all about success stories too. One of my fellow BP's here is heading to a large American city to interview with a former Beeson Pastor and the lay-leadership of his church (which he founded, and now worships thousands) about planting a daughter church. Busts where we become so stressed and overloaded we almost die of a stroke, or planting daughter churches... it could go either way.
For all the pressure I feel (scholastic work, professional expectations, personal obligations), the life I'm missing, and the life I'm unexpectedly getting to experience, I am in the midst of this whirlwind, at peace. A man who is finding clarity. I feel like someone who was cast into a lion's den about five years ago, who is now about to get out at the same time he realizes that the Lord isn't going to let the lions devour him. Oh, they might get up, stretch, sniff him over occasion, see how he tastes, and bare their teeth every so often, but on the other side of door separating captivity and freedom, the king whispering,
"OK. I don't think too much can scare him any more. I think he knows He's real now. Let him out."
And I don't mean that in the sense of my professional life, either. I mean, I love being a pastor and I'm blessed that it's the way I pay my bills, but I have stared in the face of hungry lions and realized that they don't scare me nearly as much as my not living out this life God has called me to. A life of a loud-mouthed but teachable servant who would be looking to fulfill what he was to do in the Kingdom if he managed a Dairy Queen, asked people to stick out their tongue and say "ah", or drained jumpers in the corner so LeBron could win his ring this year. A life spent trying to get people to do the right thing, the right way, whether that be send flowers to a grieving co-worker or send a child to school in the Sudan. I mean, if meaning in life comes truly out of a person sacrificing himself for the good of his brothers and sisters, well, I'm ready to give myself away.
If it means someday going to Haiti to go serve poor people, I'll go.
If it means sitting with a man who's made stupid choices in the throws of a midlife crisis, I'll sit.
If it means finding out what it means to raise a family and love your neighbor on minimum wage, then I'll go looking.
If it means praying for the lady at the cash register who just lost her dog that day... then I'll pray.
If it means street preaching in an orange vest when I am old and somewhat deranged.... well, I always did look good in orange.
I just want to feel like when God looks at me, he thinks "Oh yeah... I can send that guy. That crazy nutbucket... he'll go. Just wait til you see the look on his face next time he prays. Watch this...."
Run an orphanage in Zimbabwe for children with AIDS... Lord are you nuts?
Honey, you'll never believe what he have to do next...
I want to raise my hands in praise if he asks. I want to keep them down by my side if it will make the new anesthesiologist in the back of the room, who was dragged to church by his wife that day, feel better. I want to pray when the Spirit says pray, and I want sing when the Spirit says
I just want to be used. I wanna be a tool. A handy little rubber mallet in the Lord's toolbox.
For it's not my life I've missed, or experienced. It's not mine. It is a gift. A gift we are invited to give back.
Here you go Lord.... whaddya want to do?