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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Did You Know I was Ordained?

Most of the images you can find of me on Google show me with my hair pulled back. You can't see it, but I have long hair. I used to have really long hair. (There is a sermon I delivered in March 2012 at Countryside Church Omaha, NE, where you can see it goes all the way to my waist. Nowadays I wear it just past my shoulder.) As a child of the 70s, I've pretty much always had long hair once my mom stopped caring. When I went to seminary to train to be a pastor, I cut it short right before I entered, but then I met my wife. She likes long hair. I've haven't cut it much since. Here's a recent picture.  The only thing I find weird about the picture is that I am drinking coffee at a party...that is not my usual beverage of choice.

What happens is that I do not spend a lot of time these days hanging out with people who go to church much, if at all. (The woman in the picture is an exception, she is a church organist.) Because of that, along with my longish hair, people are often surprised to find that I am a Christian, even more so to discover that I am a Christian leader, and downright in denial when I tell them one of my primary calls is to teach Christian leadership. As one new friend said when he discovered this, "the thought that you're teaching pastors is kind of strange." Oh well.

I admit I do not fit the usual stereotype of pastors, especially if the image comes from 1955 or something. Today, however, there are male pastors who have much more hair than me, and much less, pastors of both sexes who sport tattoos, and we all seem to ride Harleys these days. The stereotype of a pastor fades more and more into the background of Americana, an ardent revivalist who stamps out the devil in a tent is still about the only decent bias we pastors can find these days. When you think of the word "pastor", what image comes to your mind?

I say this because according to a recent poll reported in the Huffington Post clergy con't always contribute much to society. There is something you need to know about clergy to make sense of that survey: many clergy don't care if they contribute to the well-being of society. Not all clergy are called to make the world a "better" place. Some are called to provide comfort: think of all the clergy who sit by people's bedsides in the last moments of life, do they make society "better?" I don't think so, what they do is make us a better society because they are sitting there with the dying while we are out gallivanting around thinking we can evade death. Society doesn't get "better" because of their vigil, but humanity is shown a better way in it.

The process in my tradition is to call a leader "ordained," if the whole church is behind it. This does not mean you cannot be a leader if you are not ordained, but it does mean that you haven't gone through a process where the "whole church" can vet your leadership. For example, as an ordained person I can enact a Christian ritual such a baptism or the Eucharist because the '"whole church" has said I can do that. If I were not ordained, I wouldn't be able to do that (and since I don't do those things anymore, not much would change in my day-to-day existence.) But this blog is not in the same category as those Christian rituals. I could still write this blog even if I wasn't ordained. The main reason, of course, is that the "whole church" doesn't care whether I blog or not. They care if I try to do rituals.

But I ask you as a reader, do you care whether I am ordained or not? Do these words make more sense or carry more power because I can perform Christian rituals? I wonder...(this is a real question for me, and I'd welcome your thoughts in the comment below)

When the Christian Church was the only "universal" thing going, we had quite a monopoly on what made a Christian or not, and even more of a stronghold on who qualified to speak and write for us or not. Today, there are a ton of universal institutions (think McDonald's as one obvious one) that show how fragile the connections are among us humans in the universe. Google, the sponsor of this blogsite, doesn't seem to care if I'm ordained or not. My bishop might. Would God?

You see, for me that's the big question. Does God care if I'm ordained or not? Does God care if I write about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, about God's own self because I am ordained or  IN SPITE OF  my ordination? Those of you who have been reading my stuff over the past 6 years know I try to end every blog by writing about Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God. Let me tell you why.

He's the only one I'm trying to impress. This guy means everything to me.  I can't explain why. I do know that as a human being, his story more than any other person's story has impressed me as to what humanity is capable of doing. We don't have a lot of details about his life, and the traditions based on his life can sometimes be quite baffling; but from what I know, he was the only true human who ever lived. Whatever it means to be human he figured it out, and even God was impressed with that. So I write these blogs wondering if anything I wrote would make sense to Jesus (at least what we know of Jesus.)

I don't know what Jesus would think about what makes a Christian leader, whether one needs ordination to speak for the "whole church," (although we know THE CHURCH thinks it does), but I do know this: if Jesus was ordained, it was never recorded. That is, the person that I believe most speaks the truth about our relationship with God, most speaks the truth about our humanity, was not ordained, and if he was, no one thought to write it down. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

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