Dicey

Sometimes I imagine someone like Paul, a great visionary figure of the early church, basically mythological at this point, sitting quietly in a bustling agora of some Greek city early in his career, working at tent-making, or making backdrops for the theater, or whatever it is that he did with that verb in Greek that the lexicons disagree on.

I picture him taking pleasure in the work, quietly enjoying himself, forgetting the weight of his calling. He seems like an outgoing guy, so he probably knows his neighbors in the nearby stalls where crafts people set up camp and sell their wares. Maybe he talks with other canvas-workers who share the stall with him, telling stories, sharing advice about technique.

I imagine this not because I really think Paul necessarily did any such thing, but because I have similar feelings a lot of the time, and I tend to project them on others in imaginative little sequences. (I honestly live about 60% in my imagination)

When someone tells me something like “If you can see yourself doing anything but ministry, you should do that instead” (believe me, I’ve probably been told this two dozen times) I have to hide a smirk. Like ministry is some sort of especially excruciating profession that only the toughest amongst us can engage in. Behind my belief that the above is a sort of foolish statement is a little sliver of fear.

I can imagine myself doing a lot of other things, some of which I might even be good. Obviously, I can imagine myself being an astronaut or a rockstar or a dog-whisperer, but that’s just me imagining things I couldn’t really do. On the other hand, I can easily imagine myself being a professional writer, or a teacher, or a counselor. I’ve often said that if I can find a way to earn a living doing game design, I’d do that in a flash. I’d love to be a marine biologist or a chiropractor or a physical therapist. Or a standup comedian. Or have a radio show.

I get the impression that I’m supposed to feel guilty about this, and sometimes I guess I do. I mean, you’re supposed to give up everything to follow Christ. You’re supposed to take up the cross, to sell all you have, to relinquish violence – lots of absolutes.

And I think as pastors or pastors-to-be, especially early on, we get this kind of arrogance, this frustrated self-righteousness about how the laity don’t get it, the laity won’t change, the church has all these problems, the church is backward, no one really understands the Gospel.

But really, pardon my french, but if the Gospel isn’t good news for fuckups, it isn’t good news for anyone, certainly not me.

And, you know, if God has in fact called me, then to some degree God gets what God asked for.

I just love my hobby – that is, roleplaying games. It is probably illustrative that, of the three blogs I maintain, the other two besides this one are completely gaming-related. And it isn’t like I see rpgs as a method for ministry. Quite the opposite. I see them as disassociated from ministry, and that is part of why I love them. They are a double escape – from the usual reality, and from my specific reality of the all-ecompassing thing that is professional ministry.

Sometimes I enjoy brief lofty thoughts about my hobby – that it is tapping into the primordial power of narrative, that it is shared dramatic expression, that it is a way of building new myths in community, that it is the best form of a game because it is active and engaging of the mind and imagination…

But the real truth is that I just like it. I’d like it if it was demonstrably degenerate, if scientific studies proved that it literally killed brain cells, or caused cancer. I’d become a vegetable, or die, with some dice in my hands.

7 thoughts on “Dicey

  1. I commiserate my friend. I also think the twinge of guilt you acknowledge (which I also feel) is one more reason why the tactic of “if you can do anything else don’t do ministry” is wrong. It inflicts feelings of inadequacy on those headed into ministry with a zest for life and diverse talents, the very people we should want in ministry. It is counterproductive on all fronts.Really, I think it is about ministers themselves feeling inadequate and wanting to garner sympathy for their profession being so “very hard”. A cheap ploy, a cliche phrase and a damaging attitude.

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  2. I agree with both you guys about this saying being about ministers’ feelings of inadequacy.I also think it’s true to say “don’t go into ministry if you feel like you’re settling for it–if there’s something else you’d *rather* be doing.”Because there are too many ministers who really don’t love what they do–and congregations pick up the attitude of boredom, sadness and resentment faster than kids catch pinkeye.Certain things in life you can’t just settle for. Like choice of marriage partner, or certain challenging professions–like ministry. I think grad school’s the same way–if you’re not passionate (even obsessive) about the subject you want to study, you’re going to be miserable in grad school. Pick another profession that lets you go home at 5pm and not have to do any work till 8 the next morning.–Heather(coveting the award for “most sentence fragments per capita”)

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  3. the problem there is that, in my experience, 8-5 jobs are either sort of imaginary or unrewarding. i had some 8-5 shifts at starbucks, for example, but even working at a car dealership in the bottom position, i worked 6:30am to 6pm and wasn’t the last one to go home. any rewarding job is going to challenge you timewise, i think. and, really, so will unrewarding ones.in ministry, i feel like it is my best shot at a rewarding job, at a calling that i can actually live out in a meaningful way. maybe i’m also called to do the other things i love, who knows? but here, i’m happy with my choice. i’m just not happy with how that choice is viewed, from the inside or the outside, a lot of the time.

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  4. I appreciate and applaud your blog. The church will most certainly benefit by having you in ministry. I think the phrase “if you can do anything else don’t do ministry” is over-the-top. To be charitable, the phrase may refer to the notion that ministry can be very difficult at times, lonely, and yes, boring. It is a job, so you don’t want to go into it either lightly or with delusions of grandeur. I have been at it for fifteen years now and I find it very rewarding. One of the keys to keeping it rewarding for me is to continue to be a student and to share what I have learned with the folks. What I run into are people who think you have to have some mystical experience that they refer to as a call from God, as if we can’t make decisions on our own. As I said at the top, the church can use creative, diverse, thinking , passionate people. I am pleased you are preparing for it!John

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  5. thanks john! that’s more how i approach preparation for ministry. i see it as this incredible privilige to be here and to be able to do ministry professionally. i also approach it like a job. i don’t expect mystical ecstacy every other day at all. (being a PK disabused me of that notion pretty thoroughly)i’m glad you found my blog and are enjoying it. i’ll add you to my link list if you don’t mind…

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  6. that he is, though we’re intereviewing new profs for the old and new testament posts. i had both ot classes from bob coote as well as hebrew exegesis (cootestravaganza) and i had nt exegesis from polly

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