Camino Diary 5

On Camino Wednesdays I’m sharing day to day recollections from the journal i kept as my friends and I walked the Camino de Santiago, September/October 2019, from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago. Part ONE. Part TWO. Part THREE. And part FOUR.

On September 6, 2019, I walked from Zubiri to Pamplona, Spain with my friends Bill and Derrick.

Walk this way…

The night before had been a restless sleep. Our room was hot and every time I moved on my top bunk it creaked and squeaked. Negotiating room temperature would become a skill to develop as we shared large and small rooms with fellow peregrinos across Spain on our way to Santiago.

On our way.

The entry in my journal says, “We were only about 15 minutes late getting out. I had been promised an easy day with little hills. But there were some hills and I did not take it well.” The Camino Bible” tricked me like this more than a few times. We started a day’s walk with a commentary that assured us that it was “mostly flat” only to find that meant it was “sometimes up hill and up hill again and one more hill after that.” At that point in the journey, despite all the walking I had done in preparation, alone and with my friends, I was realizing how desperately out of shape I was.

Early in the morning walk we came to a village with a small, ruined church that was being excavated and restored by volunteers. We stopped and listened to one of the volunteers describe the work. It was interesting. It was sad. It was impossible not to see the contrast between the amazing vistas, the natural views across valleys and along mountainsides with the small mission churches that were often neglected and in poor condition.

The city cathedrals ahead of us would tell another story.

As we walked into Pamplona we chose a more scenic route than the traditional Camino road. We followed Bill’s MapMe app to our accommodations for the night and it took us down along a scenic river route. Locals, recognizing us as pilgrims, kept stopping us and trying to re-direct us to the Camino path. We tried to communicate that we knew what we were doing and they would switch over to English for us but when we persisted they would smile, and walk away, shaking their heads over these three confused peregrinos.

The bulls do run.

As we walked through downtown Pamplona we met up once again with the lady who purred. She invited us to stop and eat with her and share a bottle of wine with us. When a lady who purrs in her sleep invites you to join her for a bottle of the local wine on the Camino de Santiago, you stop. Derrick translated, she shared some of her story and we all laughed and drank at a sidewalk table in Pamplona and watched other pilgrims walk by as we enjoyed the beautiful Spanish day.

After our wine, we stopped in a Pamplona church building. I wrote, “It was beautiful. People faithfully worshiping Jesus, day in and day out. Loving, having babies, getting married or not, living, dying…it made me realize how small and silly all our ‘church growth’ stuff really is.”

We splurged that night and stayed in a more hotelish accommodation. It was 15€ each and my wife wouldn’t have stayed there to save her life. We shared a common bathroom with the rest of the floor (and maybe the one above us) but we had our own bedroom and our own beds. We rested, showered and then went out to explore Pamplona. We walked through the streets full of people, beautiful buildings, a cathedral and bocadillo shops.

New friends.
The fair.

I stopped in one shop for a bocadillo y jamon and just outside we ran into another new friend, Antony. In a city jam-packed with tourists and pilgrims and locals it was a moment that would become common on the Camino, you suddenly and unexpectedly and joyfully run into another pilgrim you’ve met on the way. A medieval fair was underway and we were treated to costumes, music and local culture.

It was amazing. It felt like a gift.

That night we went to bed but didn’t stay asleep for very long. Outside the city came alive as we tried to sleep. The volume went up. And then went up some more. At one point, around two or three a.m., it sounded like a fight broke out on the street below our window. An angry mob. Maybe a riot. While I lay in bed listening I thought through the ways to bar the door, make our escape out the window turning sheets into a rope, I thought about sending my wife one last text message – and then – silence. It didn’t die out slowly, it just seemed like it was turned off. And finally, we went to sleep with the strong smell of cigarette smoke oozing through our adjoining wall.

My back ached. My butt had a cramp in it. My feet hurt. I was afraid of the mob on the street. But on that night my greatest pain was in my heart, I missed my wife and my family and I felt so very far away from them.

O the people that we’ll meet…

How long is too long for you to be away from those you love? How far is too far to go from them? What happens when absence makes the heart grow sick instead of fonder?

Scoreboard

On Pastoral Ministry Tuesdays I like to share a reflection on life as a pastor, a little glimpse behind the wizard’s curtain.

How do you measure success?

We’re obsessed with it. And in our part of the world we’re determined, it seems to me, not only to figure out if we’re “living it right” but to also figure out if we’re “living it right” as measured against how others are living it.

I’m getting it “more right” than you are. Therefore, I’m winning.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m a believer in metrics. I just don’t believe we’re supposed to be keeping score.

Earnestness isn’t enough in pastoral ministry. I don’t think “doing my best” is even enough to know that I’m fulfilling my vocation. But after more than 35 years of this life, I’m very sure that the status of my vocation is not dependent on how it measures up to how you fulfill your vocation (whatever that vocation might be).

Gene Getz wrote a book in 1975 called, The Measure of a Church. He proposed 3 metrics for determining the health of a church and a ministry: Faith, Hope and Love. From here in 2020 I think we’d call his idea…quaint…or…out of touch. Today my shelves are full of books offering a number of metrics but none of them are faith, hope or love.

For the pragmatists, the metric is simple: butts in seats and bills in the offering basket. What are your attendance numbers? What’s your weekly offering? What’s your annual budget? And we roll ours out and measure them against each other. If my numbers are bigger, I’m a winner. For Jesus, of course.

Sometimes it revolves around things like staves and sometimes it’s about a simple vision that leads your church to do one thing really well. I have some friends who want to create brand loyalty. For my fundie friends it’s even more simple – is the Word of God preached? There’s an expectation when this is the metric that you might be very small and it even justifies our smallness because, after all, if you’re really preaching the Word of God people won’t be able to stand it. But no matter what metric a group uses – here in America – it seems like it always comes back to the scoreboard.

Who’s winning and who’s losing?

A lot of pastors struggle with this question. A lot of pastors are worried they’re not “living it right” because we have come to believe a simple equation: do the right thing, get the intended results. After 35 years at this I can tell you that doing the right thing never guarantees you will get the desired result. Turning the other cheek often just leads to another punch. Doing to others as you’d have them do unto you often just leads to misunderstanding and people doing to you what they damn well feel like doing out of their fear, pain or brokenness.

Pastor friends, there is no certainty. There are no guarantees. You can do everything “right” and still find people get angry, disappointed, going elsewhere for church, lying about you to others or just going back to their own vomit. That’s because we’re all humans. It’s what we do. People’s choices and reactions tell you more about themselves than they do you.

But don’t take my word for it. Take a look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the first three chapters. The Corinthians may have invented the scoreboard. And Paul was losing. And in the midst of Paul’s defense of his ministry and trying to set things right…PAUSE.

…Can we just note that Paul spends time in several of his letters defending himself and his ministry? Where in the hell (literally) did we get the idea that we’re supposed to be silent when people are trash talking us and our ministries? Where did the idea come from that that’s the way for pastors to respond? Paul did not apply the Gospel that way. I don’t think there’s anything noble about you and me doing it either…UNPAUSE

Paul drops this little metric destabilizer in to the Corinthian’s way of measuring: “only God gives the increase.” God makes faith grow. Paul hadn’t even kept a clear count on how many people he’d baptized but he was estimating for lower and not higher.

As a pastor, with Easter approaching, I get a growing number of emails and messages that invite me to invest some money in another pastor’s program that guarantees results – theoretically, not money back. Send in some money, use the success plan they send you and your numbers for Easter service could double and your retention of those first time visitors could be over 75 – no! – 80%!!!

Brotheren and Sisteren, relax. You’re doing fine. If you got up today, managed to smile at someone, remembered to pray at least once and were kind to someone else, you’re winning. I’m not saying don’t work hard – that’s not the problem most pastors I know have – what I’m saying is, stop competing. Quit looking at the scoreboard. When others point to the scoreboard ask them to pray with you for God to get to growing this garden.

Honestly, you’re amazing and what you do matters. Don’t quit just because someone else tells you you’re behind and you can’t possibly win. You and I are just migrant workers in the fields of God. We do what we do but if God doesn’t give the increase it’s not God’s building that’s going up.

Hang in there, seriously, I’m rooting for you.

TELOS pt 2

Credo Friday resumes with the second part of my post about our TELOS. I used to believe in “all this and heaven when we’re done.” I don’t think that’s what all this is about anymore… (pare ONE is HERE.)

There comes a point in our lives when we realize the clock is ticking and we don’t know how much longer it’s going to run. We start to ask the angsty questions John Mayer sang about in Why Georgia? “Am I living it right?”. What am I here for? What am I supposed to be doing? What is the purpose of my life? Questions about what all this is about.

My wife, Donna and I were in a church conference meeting with several hundred Christians and a couple big name pastor/speaker types. During one afternoon session the big name pastor speaker was talking about finding your purpose, living out the dream God gave you. He went around the crowd and asked people what they dreamt of being when they were kids: Firemen, Astronaut, Doctor, Pop singer…

It was all going along nicely until he came to the next woman who stood up and said that her dream was to become a secretary.

“A secretary? You must have had a bigger dream than that?” Uncomfortable silence. Suddenly we were in the awkward moment the big name guest speaker was arguing with the nice lady about the quality and importance of her dream.

There’s a want inside of us to feel like our time in this life has had meaning, purpose, and significance. We can do a lot of stuff and try a lot of things and still find that itch inside of us…that fear we’ve missed something…that nagging anxiety that we never really discovered our purpose on the planet.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” He described our experience of being hungry for something we can’t quite name as an example of this inner longing for something we can’t quite put our proverbial fingers on. There are so many ultimate meaning things we can turn to, do turn to, and pursue to our ultimate dissatisfaction. At each new age and stage we find ourselves once again back to the same question – what are we here for? What is all – this – about?

I’m about to tell you the answer to that question. Having the answer will NOT satisfy that itch. The only way you can discover if what I am about to tell you is true or not, fact or fiction, is to actually do it. The only meaning the answer has is whether or not you give it a try. Here it is – ready? To become like Jesus in your way and in your day and live like him for as long or as little as you have.

There are a couple versions of this story. One version has us making the world a better and better place until it finally becomes heaven on earth. We “take the 7 hills” (or at least one of them) for Jesus and we bring his rule into the world by “being the head and not the tail.” Or something like that. The second version, and I’ll tip my hand and let you know I think this is the right version, is that we live as a community of kindness, an outpost of heaven on hostile soil, demonstrating the rule of God to an unruly world. Those who have ears to hear, groove to the music we’re playing and decide to join the band and play along. But a bunch of people will just shake their head because they don’t get it. Eventually, in this version, God keeps turning up the volume until his song of love is all we can hear.

Or something like that.

But our part in the story, what we’re about, where we are headed – is to look like Jesus in our way and in our day.

Let me take you back to the beginning of our story…let’s start at the Beginning beginning…back to Genesis and our story of Creation.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

 So God created human beings in his own image.

    In the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

The image of God – all of us together, not just each person. It’s not so much a cookie cutter or duplicator, it’s about the collective us being a mosaic manifestation – a window and a reflection – of what God is really like. God’s visible representatives on the earth. Agents acting on God’s behalf to do the works of God in the way of God with the words of God.

We’re here to be a billion imitations of Jesus so people can look at us and say, “O, that’s what God is like.”

And what is God like?

“Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command…” Heb 1:1-3 

God says: “Let me take the guess work out of this for you…JESUS…JESUS is what God looks like. Done. Period. The quest is over.” Jesus is the perfect image of God AND Man. And you and I are here to be a billion little imitations of Jesus. Not KNOCK-OFFS- not variations or “inspired bys” but injected with the Spirit DNA of the original at our new birth, and shaped by the Spirit of God working in our lives from the inside out.

This was a huge turning point in my own story – reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John one after the other one summer after I graduated from high school – I came face to face with this – If THAT’S what God is like, I have not been following him. If THAT’S what God is like, I have not known him. If THAT’S who Jesus is, I have been worshiping a version of Jesus, but not the one the Gospel reveals. And we tend to become like that which we worship.

Here is what our common Story tells us about the TELOS

“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as .we are changed into his glorious image.” 2 Co 3:18

“And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” 1 Co 11:1

“For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Ro 8:29

“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” Eph 4:15

It’s all right there in the text. Become more like Jesus, not “get to heaven,” not “build a mega-anything,” not “behave yourself.”

Are you more like Jesus today than you were a year ago?  Ask your spouse, best friend, kids – better yet, ask someone who can’t stand you. This is what God’s perfect plan for your life looks like – to form you and me to be more and more like Jesus so that when people experience us they will say, “That’s what God looks like.”

People, looking at the Church (us): “That’s what God looks like?”

God (to the Church): “You don’t look like me and the world thinks I look like you.”

The Old Testament prophets – the major leaguers and the minor leaguers: “this is – why God’s judgement is coming on you people of God – I have chosen you to reveal to people what I am like and you are misleading people. I have to put a stop to that because I want everyone to know what I am really like.”

Currently we’re experiencing this in our day as conservative politics and the Church have become tied together…and we’re once again in danger of a whole generation saying, “THAT’S what God is like? I’m out…”

I’ve come to believe that – my credo has become – the purpose of all this, our raison d’etre, our TELOS, is to be transformed by the Spirit to bear the image of God, which always looks like Jesus, in our way and in our day. This is the orientation to our “purpose compass.” Anything else we pursue, anything else we seek to build or do as the Church will end up hopelessly off course if we ignore or neglect this critical understanding of our Story.

Camino Diary 4

We woke up early in Roncevalles earlier than we planned to.

Sometime around 5:30 a.m. someone’s alarm went off and off and off and off. They were either sleeping through it, something everyone in my cubicle couldn’t do, or they had gone to get a shower and forgot to turn it off before they walked down the hall to the bathroom.

Just before 6 a.m. they woke up or came back and the irritating noise of the alarm stopped.

Which was perfect timing for the official wake up call to begin. Suddenly the whole hall was filled with the sound of Gregorian chants, a surprisingly lovely way to wake up. Lights came up a little and everyone started to stir.

Roncevalles Monastery

I’d been lulled to sleep the night before by the delightful sound of the “cat lady” on the bunk directly below me. We dubbed her that because when she fell asleep, she did not snore, she purred like a cat. It was strange and funny at first but eventually it was very soothing as I tried to drift of into sleep after the excitement of our first day on the Camino.

We packed quickly and were on our way by 7 a.m., walking outside to wet weather, the pilgrim crowd was leaving Roncevalles in a slow trickle as some tried to sleep a little more, some moved but slowly and others were long gone by the time we walked out the monastery door.

The wisdom of the Camino for day 2, “Start out like an old man so that you can finish like a young one.” A new friend on the Camino had given us this sage advice and I embraced it.

On our way…

During the constant passing or being passed along the way on day 2, the greeting, “Buen Camino” became entrenched in our vocabulary and slowly developed into an automatic response. In my diary I wrote:

“Buen Camino is the ‘greeting’ passed between pilgrims or given to pilgrims. It sometimes lands as a curse instead of a blessing. As you overtake someone going slowly, ‘Buen Camino!’ As you pass someone who is struggling up a hill, ‘Buen Camino!’ As you go by someone taking a break, ‘Buen Camino!’ But it’s never really a curse – in those hard moments it is a reminder for the giver and the receiver that it is a good journey – even in difficult times – especially in hard times, a reminder – the way is good and beautiful.

It was like prophetic encouragement, “There are better days ahead!”

Entering into Zubiri, we saw a group of pilgrims sitting outside an albergue just after we crossed the old bridge. “No beds left in the whole town!” one young guy told us. I smiled and said, “we have 3 beds reserved.” “Tourist!” he responded grumpily and turned back to his other bedless friends.

3 Pilgrims walked into Zubiri from North Carolina…

When we arrived in Zubiri, my feet were aching and blisters were forming. I’d spent a lot of money on great shoes and excellent socks so I would avoid blisters and foot problems. I was discouraged and confused why both investments seemed to be failing me. My friends Bill and Derrick walked down to a cold, slow river stream at the edge of town and I waded into the cold water, wearing sandals, hoping to soothe my hurting feet. It was at this moment, this time and this place, where we made another new friend on the Camino.

Lolee. My spelling is probably off but you get the idea. She became one of our Camino miracles and became a beautiful part of our entire journey. As I soaked, eventually joined by Bill, Derrick stood on the shore and engaged Lolee in conversation as she walked up to see what these three strange fellow Peregrinos were up to. Looking back now, knowing how central Lolee would become to our whole Camino experience, I realize there was more appointment than coincidence to our first meeting.

Our Albergue

That night, at our albergue, we had a gourmet meal. The conversation around our two tables was entertaining, enlightening and as delicious as the food. Fellow pilgrims from all over the world shared some of their stories and some of their ‘whys’ for being on the Camino. In between courses and over glasses of wine, we shared life, shared hopes for the way and once again made connections with other pilgrims we would continue to see now and then along the way.

My desolation for that day was receiving a picture of my granddaughter via wifi – worrying she might not remember me by the time I got back home.

May blisters never find your feet.

I took my sorry feet to bed, hoping they would be happy when I woke up in the morning and I prayed the Our Father as I fell asleep.

Manipulation, pt 2

This is Pastoral Ministry Tuesday. Every week I try to contribute a post about a pastor’s life. This is the second of two parts and you can read Part One by clicking the link. And now, on with today’s post…

Manipulating people isn’t unique to the Church or to church leaders. I’d call it a learned behavior that we seem to bend towards, especially when we find ourselves in a leadership or management role. Like any dysfunctional family system, the participants tend to repeat what they’ve learned. When we repeat it often enough it becomes normative behavior.

We don’t think of it as unhealthy, unethical, anti-Christ or even inappropriate. It’s how we get things done.

And let’s be honest, you can’t find a Bible verse against it. Ergo, nothing wrong with a little manipulation or even a lot of manipulation if it gets us where I want us to go.

Some of the classic ways we do this…

1) The church bully. An aggressive personality type who intimidates others with veiled and not so veiled threats. I’ve known pastors and parishioners who’ve even gone so far as to “lay hands on one another” that was more choke-hold than prayer posture. However it manifests, it’s about the power of intimidation to manipulate others to get our way (for the Lord).

2) The customer. This person may threaten to take their business elsewhere or they may suggest to the pastor they’d be interested in coming their way if things were more to their liking than in their present situation. Either way, this consumer wants to leverage their presence – a butt in a seat, a dollar in the offering basket – for their own ends.

3) The job creator. Sometimes a pastor will offer a person a potential staff position to a person to get them to stay, to quell complaints, to engender a favor or just recruit people for their new church plant. “Hey, I’ve been looking for a Children’s ministry director…I can’t pay you right now, but if you come to our new plant and help with our children’s ministry, it could turn into a full-time staff position…” They key word: “could.” It’s “carrot on a stick” stuff.

4) The biggest fan. A lot of people are motivated by what you think of them. And a lot of people can be manipulated by what you say you think of them. Early on in ministry I was deeply encouraged by people who told me how awesome I was, even more awesome than the last pastor they had…blah, blah, blah. I learned to distrust and then run away from my biggest fans. They praise you and then let you know when you let them down. You’d think encouragement was always a good thing but we often say positive things to people to manipulate them and get them on our team, get them dependent on our compliments and approval, create a fear of disapproval. It works both ways, pastors and members of the church.

5) The spokesperson. It’s a special moment for a pastor when someone asks to meet with you and the conversation begins with, “Pastor, a number of people have been talking to me about the way you…” or “Pastor, I don’t want to use any names but several people have told me their not happy with…” It’s all about creating authority by claiming representation of a constituency. Generally it turns out to be the person speaking and their spouse but it’s a gambit that often works on pastors who like their job.

6) The liar. This is the person who pretends to be onside but isn’t. They present as a friend but really they’re undermining you, wearing a mask, setting people against one another in order to achieve their intended goal. Pastors do it. Church members do it. This is overt manipulation coupled with covert manipulation – usually gas lighting and innuendo. But if our cause is sanctified, surely our actions are justified?

7) The spirit-led soothsayer. In my charismatic world, but I don’t think exclusively so, we have that person who intimates that they have a super secure connection with God, a hotline to Jesus. God tells them stuff. A big part of this person’s game is to tell you how happy God is wth you. They will “prophesy’ about your sonship, your anointing, your calling, your spiritual ‘leveling up’ which is all just talk meant to butter you up. Eventually they come with a warning that is usually about someone they’re jealous of or perceive as competition for your ear. Or they have a dream that you should/shouldn’t do something. Or they were just praying for you and felt the Spirit say you shouldn’t read any more of my blog posts.

8. The anointed. Leaders, pastors in particular, can work staff, including pastoral staff, admin staff and volunteers over with the magical thinking that somehow God has made them special and if you challenge them, disagree with them, confront them, you are opposing God. “Touch not the Lord’s anointed!” is the fun phrase we like to utter…or mutter. The idea has become popular in recent US politics – if the Pastor does it, it can’t be illegal – or in our case, a sin. And even pastors who don’t play the ‘touch not’ card still play on the persona and mythology that they are somehow on a “level” wherein only their perceived equals or angels can challenge them. And boy can we make you feel bad, and either ashamed or embarrassed or both for calling out God’s man or woman of the hour. (Often tied to this is the appeal to God’s authority being synonymous with their own and the use of a phrase like “if you can’t submit to me you can’t submit to God…”)

It’s not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.

The tricky thing about manipulation is that we can be doing it without even meaning to do it. We can try to sway people without consciously being aware that that was what we were doing. It becomes such an ingrained way of life, such an easy ‘go to’ form of communication that we can sometimes only see it through hindsight as we look back on a relationship or situation that went spectacularly wrong.

For people involved in pastoral ministry, I think avoiding manipulation – in the giving or the receiving – is one of our greatest challenges. It works. It seems natural. And that’s what makes avoiding it so hard. I believe that for pastors, we’re supposed to be about helping people grow up in Christ and a big part of that is, I think, personal autonomy. Yours. Theirs.

In I and Thou, my man, Martin Buber writes, “Mundus vult decipi: the world wants to be deceived.” I don’t know the Latin for it but I’d add, the world wants to be manipulated and the world wants to manipulate. As pastors, our job is to not give in to the temptation, not fall back on old ways just because they work, not to let ourselves be swayed by the manipulations of others – perpetuating these unhealthy ways of relating to each other.

Warning: not being swayed by manipulation sounds good, but not going along with the system, no matter how dysfunctional and destructive it might be, will get you in trouble, will make you the bad person, will make others want to dispose of you for making a mess of their old familiar ways.

The first step, is to acknowledge we have a problem and it’s out of control.
The fourth step is to make a list, a fearless, searching list, of the ways we tend to manipulate and the ways others have manipulated us.
The fifth step is to share that list with another human being. Get it all out there.
The sixth step is to disavow those ways and be willing for God to extract them from your psyche and your way of living.
The ninth step is to make amends with people, where possible, that you have manipulated.

One last thought, for those who need a Bible verse for it, the Old Testament word for manipulation is witchcraft.

So help me out, what classic manipulations would you add to the list? What has been “normal” in your circles and experiences?

TELOS pt 1

(On Credo Fridays I try to post something that reflects the current state of my beliefs. Today begins a multi-part entry about the TELOS.)

When I first started following Jesus it seemed to me that the point of all of this – this following, this life – was a close relationship with God.

By the time I had been at Bible College for a few weeks I was convinced my initial belief was childish and the real point of all of this – this following, this life – was to learn about God right (not just the right things about God but learning about him rightly – in a right manner – that focused on logic and inductive reasoning) and to keep the rules he’d given us and convince people to get immersed in water for the forgiveness of their sins (Ac 2:38) and secure their spot in heaven – or at that time, Heaven. The Bible was “the Original Makers Maintenance Manual” and if I could get people to follow it, life would be beautiful and perfect and predictable. It would be certain.

Years after Bible College I found my conviction wavering. I was experiencing bad fruit, negative consequences, unfavorable outcomes. I was definitely ready to compete with Paul for the Best Pharisee award but there was a big, empty hole in my life where my relationship with God had been when I first started following Jesus. All my rightness had made me an unpleasant person to be around.

So I had a change of mind.

And then I found myself in a very long season – maybe even an epoch – of deconstruction.

I was once told we all have 3 piles inside of ourselves. One pile is, “What I know to be true.” The next pile is, “What I doubt.” And the third pile is, “What I know to be false.” My first pile was huge. My third pile was also huge. There wasn’t much in that middle pile. But as my epoch of deconstruction, of unlearning, wore on, that middle pile grew and grew and grew and the other piles both became much smaller.

Here’s how I came to my uncertainty.

First, I have continued to read and study my Bible. But as time went on, I tried to recognize when I was reading it through the lens of what I already knew and instead I try to work hard at reading it for what it is. I find I love the Scriptures more today than I ever have in my life of following Jesus. I take them more seriously than I ever have before – and by that I mean I try to come to them with an awareness of my own agenda, my own bias and I accept them as I read them. I have discovered that they are not a manual. They are not textbook for higher education. They are far more art than science, more personal reflection than divine edict. The deeper I dig into the Scriptures, the more I study the Text and what we have learned about the ANE and the historical and cultural background of the New Testament, the more I read from those who have given their whole lives to research, study and interpretation of the Text, the more I am passionate about the Bible, the more Orthodox I feel and the less Evangelical I appear. And the TELOS – the real point of all of this – this following, this life that they point to looks more and more different from my Bible college days.

Second, I have read across the spectrum of time and orientation of belief about the TELOS – the real point of all of this – this following, this life. And I have found something beautiful and amazing and so full of love in the works of people who have followed Jesus with very different beliefs from my own about the Church, morality and good theology. I have become measurably more like Jesus from the things I found in these works by authors I would have previously called, “the pious un-immersed.” Ultimately, I found myself in the place of Peter explaining the outpouring on the Gentiles at Cornelius’ place – ‘the Holy Spirit was on them the same way the Spirit came on us…” And I’ve found the person and the power of the Holy Spirit to be a better measure of belonging than adherence to a particular set of rules that I felt most comfortable with.

Third, I have been in relationship with people from across this same spectrum of belief. In fact, it was relationship that first started the erosion of my certainty. I attended Bible college when I first became a follower of Jesus. I graduated with a very clear sense of the TELOS – the real point of all of this – this following, this life. I knew that people who spoke in tongues were either mistaken or, more likely demon possessed. Then I fell in with a bunch of Youth Pastors who met regularly to pray together, work on events and outreaches and play basketball. And two guys I came to know prayed for me one day and both prayed in tongues. But before I slipped into exorcist mode I had to deal with their lives. They were two of the most Jesus-like people I knew. And I knew one of them well enough to know he had a relationship with God that I envied. It was too difficult to maintain my belief system in the obvious presence of God’s Holy Spirit working in and through these two guys who everything I had believed told me weren’t real followers.

So that middle pile grew, the other two shrank.

Fourth, and I’ll stop here for now, I had my own experience with God that didn’t fit inside my box. It was an Emmaus Road moment. One night, I started reading Keith Green’s biography. He’d been very influential in my early days of following and his death coincided with the end of my first year of Bible College. When I read his biography, I had graduated Bible college and already served as a youth pastor in 2 churches. I sat on the couch and started reading and kept reading, even when my wife and new baby had gone to bed, I kept reading. It was the next day when I finished the book. Day had broken on the world and a new day had started for me. My wife will tell you still today that she went to bed married to one man and woke up married to a different man. The Holy Spirit, the Rushing Wind, came blowing into my temple that night, quite unexpectedly, and blew out the dust of death and breathed in new life.

I experienced a transformation – an ongoing transformation that continues to this day – and a new understanding of the TELOS – the real point of all of this – this following, this life. And it was quite independent of rules and right thinking and right believing. In Recovery we might say this was my “white light experience.” And the experience of life has been, for me, a process of unlearning and deconstruction, of renovation and recovery, of shifting the content of my three piles and embracing allegiance over certainty, ever since.

Now I want to tell you about the TELOS but I couldn’t go there with you until I first described the shift in me, the story of my epistemology, the way knowing has developed in my own narrative.

Part TWO is HERE.

Camino Diary pt 3

(These entries are a series based on my journal and recollections from walking the Camino de Santiago with my friends Bill and Derrick, Sept/Oct 2019.)

My journal entry for this day is brief. Its brevity is a reflection of how overwhelmed I felt by the experience of my first day on the Camino from St. Jean to Roncesvalles.

My entry includes a line drawing I did of one view from the courtyard of the monastery we stayed at that night. My intention had been to slow down enough to do a line drawing every so often as a creative memory from the trip. I did only two more line drawings after that. Ultimately, my camera became the creative capture of memorable moments on my Camino.

The morning started early in St. Jean at the Beilari albergue. We paid for a breakfast sandwich – I was expecting an egg McMuffin and what I was given was an omelet in a baguette – a substantial amount of food – that would be first AND second lunch as we crossed over the Pyrenees. We had previously decided the day before to send our backpacks on ahead and take only daypacks and water as we hiked up into the mountains.

It begins here…

The best way I can describe the feeling I had starting that first day on the Camino is to say that it was just like I felt on my last day on the Camino. A wild mixture of emotions, expectations and absolutely no idea what was about to happen next. Bill, Derrick and I started out just as first light was breaking. The street outside the Beilari was already buzzing with pilgrims when we stepped onto it. We didn’t know it but walking downhill from our albergue toward the bridge and the gateway to the Camino was the only downhill for the day until our descent at the end of the day into Roncesvalles.

The day before I had resisted taking the picture everyone takes on the bridge that leads out of town. Crossing the bridge in the early morning light I stopped, I wrestled with my thoughts and values, I took the picture.

It’s my desktop now.

As we walked west from the village, the road almost immediately started climbing up at a very steep angle. Within minutes I was thinking, “So this is where I die.” It was a recurring thought in the first week of my Camino. The sharp angle of the roads and paths upwards was intimidating. Just before we left home I was loaned two walking sticks by a friend. I took them, sure I would never use them. 15 minutes into our first hour of the many to come I was relying heavily on those sticks as we made our ascent. I developed a very serious relationship with those walking sticks over the next 5 weeks.

At Orisson we stopped briefly to que for the toilet. We bumped into familiar faces, shared quick conversations about the walk so far and when it came my turn to use the toilet, I was given a glimpse of the shape of things to come. We refilled water bottles and kept going, further up and further on, leaving behind the café con leche pilgrims, some done for the day, some breaking for longer than I dared at that point. I was breathing hard and sweating profusely but I knew I needed to keep moving or it would be much harder to start again.

Up and up we went and every time I thought we must be at the peak, another rise appeared around a bend in the path. Along one stretch of the road we saw an older woman, a pilgrim, clutching her leg in pain and sobbing. We stopped beside her. Derrick tried to engage her in Spanish but she spoke something close to German. Bill wanted to help her with his medical knowledge and nursing skills. Suddenly a young, Mexican woman, another pilgrim, stops beside us. She happened to speak German and could communicate enough to tells us what was wrong with our new friend, Anna. It was her thigh, she was having terrible muscle cramps. Bill immediately started massage the muscle therapeutically. I was struck by how intimate an action this appeared to be and started declaring, “He’s a medical professional, everything’s ok, nothing to see here…” I offered Anna some of my extra-strength ibuprofen but it was Bill’s therapeutic touch and the encouragement from our new friend from Mexico City that had Anna feeling better and ready to continue her pilgrimage up and up.

This moment became one of the threads that God would weave in and out of our Camino journey as he brought not just one but both of these amazing women back into our story before it was over.

We walked in beauty. We were surrounded in beauty the way the village below was surrounded by morning fog. Everywhere I looked was something worth taking a picture of, moment after moment to capture in the amber of my memory.

The road went ever up and up…

Still ascending, we finally decided to stop for first lunch. (Later, Bill worked out an official liturgy for our daily bread: first breakfast – at the albergue; second breakfast – on the way and before noon; first lunch – on the way, somewhere close to noon; second lunch – on the way or just when we arrived at our stop for the night but not later than 2pm; Siesta – 2-4pm sometimes accompanied by drinks; Dinner – depending where we were 6-8pm; and in especially hospitable locations – evening ice cream.) Our first lunch of the bocadillo – our omlet/baguette sandwich – gave us the energy we needed to carry on over the mountain.

I felt elated when we finally reached the crest and were officially on the “other side.” Then we started our downhill. At the fork in the road the guide seemed to indicate the right path was easy the left was hard and even possibly dangerous. I voted for the right path. If it was the easier of the two I definitely would have died on the other. By the time we finished the descent down this path my feet were wrecked and I was exhausted.

And suddenly, there was the monastery and we had arrived at Roncesvalles. As we approached the monastery where our bags had been forwarded and we were expecting a bed, the mass of pilgrims outside told us, “there are no beds left for tonight, many of us are walking on to the next village…” My heart sank. But all was not lost…

From my diary that night…“Such a rich and painful day. It is so beautiful here. The walk, with more time, could be easier and more fun. So much to see but you have to run by to keep moving.”

Next week, I sleep above the woman who purred, we meet a new friend who becomes a permanent part of our journey and we meet the gourmet of Zubiri…

Arriving at Roncesvalles for the night…

Manipulation

It’s Pastoral Ministry Tuesday.

Here’s an important question that comes up in pastoral ministry, “How do you get people to do what you want/need them to do?”

Most of the time we’re a little more nuanced in the way we ask it. We save the blunt questions until we’re alone in a “senior pastors only” meeting. But at some point, in our pastoral ministry, out of frustration, desperation or exasperation, we contemplate this question – alone or with others.

A friend of mine in ministry likes to compare being a pastor to herding cats. Jesus just called us sheep. In my experience, I can lead a sheep to water (or good grass) but I can’t make them drink (or eat). An old professor used to add, “but you can give them a salt block to lick and make them thirsty!”

I’d like to write to you a bit about salt blocks.

A little while ago I was visiting a church elsewhere and our experience there started like this…

My wife and I walked from the expansive parking lot to the front door. At the door we were greeted by a group of people wearing matching T-shirts that assured us they were “official.” One nice lady offered us a fruit tray as we walked in – not for us to take the whole tray but we could grab a piece of fruit with our fingers as we walked in. Then we came to the coffee and tea table. We navigated by one more layer of welcomers (with official Tshirts) and sat down.

We were early. Which to me meant we were on time. Suddenly on the screens at the front, images started to play – words were printed over the video images. Some of the images were local some were not. The words were all positive statements like, “You are a shaper of destiny.” And “You are the answer someone is praying for.” And “You have been created with a purpose.” It was like reading key lines from a motivational speech.

It was also some very skillful manipulation.

Please don’t freak out. We manipulate people every Sunday morning when we ask them to stand and sing. Unless we thought everyone was just about to spontaneously do that on their own. The songs we sing, their chord progressions, the key, the rhythm, all of these things manipulate people – they create an effect.

I’m not using manipulation as necessarily a negative thing.

But I think it’s important that grown-ups know when we’re being manipulated and that we’re participating by choice and not unaware of what is being done to us.

The person next to me loved the pre-service video pep talk. And that’s important to note. I was irritated by it because I found myself resenting their efforts to adjust my attitude for me. It was not unlike the feelings I have when a commercial selling greeting cards makes me feel like crying because I haven’t given my grandma a hug in a while so I better go buy a card and mail it off to her as a virtual hug.

Manipulation.

I understand the use of manipulation in getting kids to eat, doing their homework, not sticking the crayon up their sister’s nose. But grownups using manipulation on other grownups to get them to conform or perform to someone else’s expectations seems…well…dirty to me. Especially in the church.

Sometimes we use guilt. Because it works.

Sometimes we use shame. Because it works.

Sometimes we use anger. Because it works.

Sometimes we dangle a carrot on a stick. Because it works.

Most of us can agree those are all messed up. Most of us. But when you’re trying to move some people out of Egypt and up to the Promised Land, sometimes you just can’t keep yourself from hitting the rock with your stick.

But in the church world, in particular, the Charismatic church world, there’s a more subtle manipulation that can take place.

I’m referring to the Jesus Juke. The “the Lord told me.” The “felt lead”ness. That moment when I tell you as a leader or the leader that my way is God’s way. I’m not sure there’s anything dirtier than a leader telling others that “God told me” about a decision that involves them – and more importantly – affects them. It’s hard for me to exercise any autonomy when you’ve just made it clear that to disagree with you is to go against the Spirit’s leading.

It’s like asking a room full of people, “Who wants to go to hell and burn in eternal conscious torment forever?” And when people fail to raise their hands you say, “Great, I’ll put you all down as decisions for Jesus.” It just don’t do.

Another great manipulation among my brethren is the spontaneous healing on a plane, train or workplace setting. A couple things that happen here. The first involves having a “word” for one of your servers. Think this through. You are going to stop a server and ask them if they have any pains. Have you ever been a server? Every server I’ve ever worked with worked in pain because of the constant time spent on their feet, carrying heavy things, twisting in odd ways to lift and set down plates and trays, and so on. So chances are really good, like 99%, that you’re going to get “confirmation” on your “word.”

Compounding this is the presence of a type A or assertive personality. There are a whole herd of us non-A types who are wired to go along to get along. If you’re a strong personality and we’re sitting next to each other on the plane, chances are pretty good I’m going to agree with whatever you say if it means I can eventually go back to my book. It also means if an assertive type is beside a suggestive type, the suggestive type will have whatever disease they’ve been told they have and healed of that disease they just now found out they had all before the plane lands. Glory and Hallelujah.

Step 2, “Can I pray for you right now, a 10 second prayer, for you to be healed?” I’m a server. I’m serving you. If you want me to spin around 3 times while I touch my nose I will. Can we all agree that a person in the SERVICE INDUSTRY is likely to be agreeable when YOU have the power to complain about them and cause them to lose their job? Can we acknowledge that when tips make up the majority of my income, I will do my best to please you? So sure, you can pray for me.

Step 3, “When I pray for you, you will experience warm hands, itchy tongue, electric shocks, etc.” And now that I’ve prayed for you, did you have an experience “person over whom I have tremendous power right now?” “Person in the service industry whose income is based on my happiness,” are you feeling anything? Oh, yes, for sure, my hands are warm, my tongue is itchy and I felt an electric shock…” Glory and hallelujah.

Ug. There’s a power imbalance at work in this situation that is fundamentally a work of manipulation.

Don’t get me started on people who get other people’s legs to grow.

And sometimes, my well-meaning charismatic brothers and sisters will pull these stunts, knowing there is at least some % of manipulation going on to get “faith to rise in the room.”

I believe God heals. I believe God heals other people in response to our prayers and theirs. I believe that God can heal heads and backs and livers and cancers. I believe God can still make the blind see and the lame walk and the deaf hear. But I’m wildly suspicious of people who use obvious techniques of control and manipulation to create questionable results in order to make dubious claims.

And I have tremendous respect for everyone who just goes about quietly ministering healing to people without taking it on the road to score an honorarium.

Manipulation isn’t always a bad thing. But usually it is. And when people realize they’ve been manipulated, they either have to choose to lie about their experience or they quietly slip away, neither is good fruit.

Next week I’ll be writing some more about manipulation, the more common type we use in the church in order to get people to do what we want. Check back if you’re interested. Or don’t. It’s up to you.

Or is it?

Part TWO is HERE.

A Case of the Nopes

I made a commitment post something on Fridays as part of my Credo series where I unpack what I believe.

This week, between a nasty cold (I’m a terrible sick person) and a jaw problem that is intruding on my plans, I’ve decided the most important thing I can post is that I’m not posting for Credo Friday this week.

One of the big invitations God had for me on the Camino was to let go of my ability to live up to my own expectations of me, to drop the heavy weight of control (which is only an illusion anyway) and rest.

I’m choosing rest tonight. I’ll be back on Monday with a Pastoral Ministry post for the week.

Camino Diaries pt 2

Tuesday, September 3. I made the first notes of the day sitting at a café table outside a train station in Biarritz, waiting for our first train of the day. Nearby, six French women huddled around another table, sipping coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking so fast to each other I couldn’t recognize a single word of their conversation.

I smiled and savored the morning in France. An occasional breeze would blow, carrying from their table to ours the alternating scent of too sweet perfume – grandma perfume – and smoke. These will be the aromas of France that I store in my memories.

Derrick and I boarded our train to Bayonne. There we wandered around outside the train station to take in some sites while we wait for our final train to St. Jean. We walked along a bridge, wander beside a carousel, across busy streets and alongside old and important looking buildings. The whole time I was a tense mixture of excitement about being in France and anxiety about catching our next train. Eventually we amble back to the station and discover that the number of pilgrims waiting there had quadrupled.

At that moment I realized my vision of an lonely walk with friends was not realistic.

This was confirmed when they had to add two train cars to the original pair in order to accommodate the number of pilgrims ready to leave for St. Jean. Derrick struck up a conversation with another pilgrim, an Australian woman, who understood French well enough to help us sort out what was going on as they made everyone already on board get off the train while they add two more cars.

Finally, we were onboard and on our way to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port. Bill, we assumed, was there and we would reconnect with him soon. The ride through the French countryside, passing along mountain streams and through deep valleys as we rolled south, was beautiful. I sat and stared out the window, soaking it in. This was France.

And then, just like that, we were there. St. Jean. The train doors opened, and pilgrims poured out onto the sidewalk. Bill had come down to meet us and show us around. Later, I wrote in my diary:

When we arrived in St. Jean it was like a swarm of locusts disembarking the train. So many pictures under the St. Jean-Pied-de-Port sign.

Later, in the afternoon, after a meal, Bill introduced us to the beautiful little town and I wrote:

We registered at the Camino pilgrim’s office. A nice, older lady tried to help me in French. She was very generous with my lack of French. Derrick made conversation with people in line and those passing by. Got my credentials and 1st stamp. My bag weighed 17lbs. We are looking to have our bags transported to Roncevalles.

Just before they locked the doors of our Albergue, someone discovered you could get a wifi signal just outside of the “closed for the night” pilgrims office (where some late arriving pilgrims were stretching out in their sleeping bags). I was able to get on for a moment to send and receive messages to Donna at home. I was more grateful for that connection than I can possibly put into words. I had no idea what the next day would hold for us as we crossed the Pyrenees.

That night as I prepared for bed, hoping to be able to settle down enough to sleep, I reflected on the consolations from the day.

I felt God especially close in so many ways. Breeze up on the terrace where we hang clothes to dry. The expansive view across the valley. Lighting a candle for us. Interactions with other pilgrims. God is in all these moments.

My final entry that night: Morning starts @ 6:15 a.m. Walk begins @ 7 a.m.

Arriving in St. Jean with a few of my closest friends.