Thursday, December 17, 2009

A pastor’s dirty little secret

There is a dirty little secret we pastors want you to know, but are reticent to share because we’re afraid. We’re afraid the flock will hysterically charge the fences if we’re honest. We know how woolly a sheep stampede can be. Mutton hits the fan, usually ours. So we keep quiet.

Enough fear already! You need to know this dirty little secret, so here it is: We need to be reminded what it is we’re supposed to be doing.

Let me explain. We like you and love you, and we want you to like and love us. We know you do, we think. Actually, to be truthful, we’re not always sure you do. And since we’re so skittish, and because we’re very human sheep, we are prone to hedge on what we’re supposed to be doing.

Now don’t start thinking we’re a gaggle of hyper-active, insecure tweens desperately searching for acceptance! It’s just that as much as we serve because of God’s call, we can be easily seduced by the call to please God’s people—and there’s a fine but distinct line between the two. See, you pay our way, or at least some of it. You can vote us out if you don’t approve and we know that what we’re really supposed to be doing will not always receive your approval.

This is the minister’s great conundrum. And so to fan into flame what burns—or should burn—in us requires a few of you courageously calling us back to our primary call. It’s what we really know we must do, yet we need you, our sisters and brothers, to lead us to lead you to follow our Leader. You must ask and expect us to stay on task despite well-reasoned arguments and cultural pressure to focus elsewhere. If you don’t, many of us will cave in and then we’ll contribute to the caving in of the very church we all love.

Careful, though! You’re as sheepish as we are, don’t forget. Tempted as we are to please you, you are equally tempted to want us to please you. You’d like us to be therapists, bureaucrats, CEOs, social workers, social conveners, politicians of the left or right, and religious managers, while spouting theology that tickles ears and won’t put you to sleep, but won’t wake you up either!

So the secret is, we need you to remind us of what we’re supposed to be doing, but are you really willing to do it? See, if we reorient, it’s going to require your reorientation too.

Here’s what we need to be called back to, loud, clear and often: “[D]o not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord . . . but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel . . .” (II Timothy 1:8-10).

We must be unashamed lead witnesses among you of the person and power of Jesus. You must be unashamed in expecting us to focus on this task for your sake and for the world’s sake. It really is what we’re supposed to do.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

On the Origin of the Torch

In three months my country will host the Winter Olympic Games. Vancouver and Whistler are incredibly beautiful places and that, like everywhere else on the planet, has its dark side. (See here and here and here.) The beauty and problems of a city are magnified the moment it is awarded the right to go into debt to schmooze the world.

There are plenty of opinions out there about whether the Olympic Games are worth all the effort and cost. National pride, big business, human solidarity and human depravity all mix together in these global gatherings that some love and others hate.

The Olympic torch is currently making its way across Canada. The relay will, of course, end up with a cauldron being lit during the opening ceremonies on February 12. That torch is creating a lot of warm fuzzies for the Great White North as it jogs its way across our wide-open spaces.

All this leads to the interesting question of origins and whether they matter. You see, the original idea for a great national torch relay, which has become the prelude to every Olympics since the end of World War II, belonged to none other than Adolph Hitler. It was part of Hitler’s desire to unite and redefine the German nation that led him to create the first torch relay for the 1936 Berlin Games.

Hitler loved the image of fire and found in the ancient Greek Olympic tradition justification for making it central to his moment in the sun. The torch relay was the tyrant’s way of linking the Nazi movement with the best of Greek history – or so he hoped. Ironically, the modern Olympics were intended to move humanity beyond our warring madness and into kinship and unity. Well, we know how that went and how it goes. We’re still not over our fighting and the torch is now just another commercial opportunity for soda pop and banks.

So, does the origin of the torch matter?

Perhaps the origins reveal more than we’re willing to admit. Hitler wanted to unite his dark dreams with a great ancient civilization. And, truth be told, he did that. Ancient Greece was equally built on warring and conquering, not just tubby philosophers in togas.The light that shines at the heart of the Olympics may unintentionally remind us of just how united we really are in our madness that no fun and games will ever coerce us out of.

The only hope for the Lower East Side or Afghanistan, or anywhere else for that matter, will not be torch relays or two weeks of fun and corporate games. The hope is the light of the world, Jesus Christ, and we who know him must continue to hold him high, resist the madness, engage our world counter-culturally, and not allow our light to be put under a bushel.