You And I Aren’t So Different

Here is my latest article for the Orange County Record.


It’s a common question.  It’s is a question that comes up in the most general and basic of conversations.  You could be at a party for a friend, meeting someone for the first or in the chair getting your haircut.  The question arises: “What do you do for a living?”  For most people when they answer question the response is one that is met with probing or clarifying questions, not when I answer.

You see when I tell people what I do it strikes fear in their heart, I tell them: “I am a minister.”  All at once a wave comes over their face as if they are shocked that a minister would come out from behind the pulpit and Bible commentaries to venture out into the world of sinners and commoners.  Eye contact lessens as if people don’t want me to peer into their soul and see them for who they truly are.

Generally people immediately begin to tell me about their religious preferences and experiences.  If the person I am speaking had not interjected what I call “God talk” yet, they promptly add it to the conversation.  They will tell me about their minister’s sermons from the previous Sunday to prove to me that they were listening and that his/her teaching was effective.  Someone actually turned on the Bible on CD while I was receiving a haircut.

Once someone inquired about my job and told them that I was a minister.  They told me about their lack luster church attendance.  This person in particular had stopped going to church because the service in the church she was attending was not connecting with her on a deep, spiritual level.  If she had just told me that part of the story I would have been fine and we might have continued our conversation about her religious experiences or maybe abandoned that track and began a completely new conversation.  Rather she began her conversation by informing me “I really don’t go to church that much, I mean I am not a devil worshiper or anything like that but I just don’t care for the service at my church right now.”   Since when did not going to church for Christians become devil worshipping in a minister’s mind? Is that the dichotomy that exist– Worship God or you are a devil worshiper?  Is this is perception that people have of ministers?   Do people really think that I am a perfect, pious, self-righteous, judgmental person who goes from place to place condemning people for their lack of faith and church attendance?

Sadly that is an accurate description of about one percent of the ministerial population, but not me.

Ministers are human beings; we are people just like you.  We go to the store, we shop online, and we try to make ends meet month to month.  Ministers have taken on as their call or duty to ensure that the message of Jesus Christ is promoted and propagated in the world.  Yes many ministers are educated in theology, divinity and pastoral care, but knowledge of the Bible and having good skills in the pulpit does not make one perfect.  Yes ministers are seen as the spiritual leaders of their congregations but to place the label of perfection places a great weight on minister’s shoulders.

Ministers don’t walk around singing “The Old Rugged Cross” and quoting scripture, rather ministers have to find a way to get the kids to soccer practice, homework completed, dinner on the table and make that two hour evangelism committee meeting on top of writing a sermon, making visits and calls.

Am I perfect? No, far from it and I don’t claim to be.

I listen to music other than gospel (gasp!)

I make mistakes just like everyone else. (double gasp!)

I sometimes don’t pray as often as I should. (heretical gasp!)

Does this make me a less effective minister?  I don’t think so, but it does make me human.  Christ came to the Earth to restore people to wholeness and mend people in their brokenness.  Nowhere in the Bibles does Christ command his followers to be perfect, rather he understands that humans are flawed individuals seeking completeness.

So the next time you see a minister tell him/her that you hope they are well and not too stressed, especially during the holy times (Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter).  Don’t try to impress them with your knowledge of Bible verses or church history.  Don’t treat them any differently than you would treat anyone else.

So as you can see, you and I aren’t that different after all.

Markings

In my office I have a small, blue Bible with my name imprinted on the front of it in silver letters.  It was given to me by my now wife in 1999; we were 16 years old. Its falling a part, from about James to the end is in about 3 different sections.

This Bible has been on trips in this country and around the world.  Over the years I have read along with ministers during the scripture readings, I have read portions of the Bible myself and have marked important and meaningful passages along the way.

These particular passages spoke to me in a variety of different ways, so much so that I had to remember it so I could return to the familiar passages to find that sense of connection and God’s presence in my life.   Companies have created special pens, pencils and hi-lighters made specifically for those wafer thin pages of the Bible.  Sometimes when I pick up that blue Bible I find passages marked that make me stop and think “what was going on in my life that would make me want to mark that?”

Throughout our lives there are specific and certain ‘markers.’  These points on our time line of life are highlights (and sometimes low lights) in our life: Times when God drew close or when God seemed absent, times of joy and times of sorrow, times of transition and times of stability.  All of these experiences culminate into a conglomerate that is our faith.  It is the markers of our lives that make the picture of God, the picture of faith, the picture of community.

I sometimes get asked if writing or marking in the Bible is appropriate.  Sometimes people point to the verse in Revelation that reminds the reader not to add or subtract from the book as a commandment from God not to tarnish the sacred pages.   I do not believe that was John’s intent; for starters the Bible as we know it today was not complied until many, many years later, so if anything John was referring to book known as Revelation itself.  God’s word is something that is holy but also tangible.  God’s presence with us has to be lived out; it has to be in our ‘markers’ of life.

If you hi-light or underline in your Bible, go back through and see what you marked.  Maybe those verses will trigger a memory (good or bad) or maybe it will be comfort for you.  Either way the fact of the matter still remains that the Bible is a way that the faithful of years past has been able to share the stories of God to the next generation.  The Bible speaks to us and continues to speak to us, day after day, month after month, year after year.

So go ahead, mark away… mark the times when you encountered God through the sacred pages.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan