Tuesday, August 24, 2004

You have to wonder....

Saturday afternoon, as we were in the busyness of my sister Sue's mega-garage-sale, my cell-phone gave the familiar ring that says "Hi! Here's a voice-mail from a call that you never heard, because your cell-phone network SUCKS in this area." One of the more irritating signs of today's information-age...

Surprisingly, the message was from a young man (OK, he's 25, but from the high-side of 47, that's young) who's a student with me at LSTC. He's transferred from the LCMS to the ELCA, and spent last year at the LCMS' flagship seminary, Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Now, he's come to the ELCA, and was in Kansas City, meeting with the same candidacy committee that indefinitely postponed granting me a decision to continue my path to ordained ministry.

When I got hold of him, and listened to the pain and outrage in his voice, for a moment I thought he'd been put "on ice," as I had been. But I soon learned that my buddy actually had received "a positive entrance decision," the first jump-through-the-hoop step in the candidacy process.

What had provoked my friend's ire, however, was the cavalier treatment he got from the church's regional candidacy committee, whose charter (at least in theory) is two-fold: to be an encourager of those who are qualified for ministry, and to be a prophylactic shield against those atheists, madmen, libertines, free-thinkers and fools who just think that they should be ministers.

Sorting out the facts from the ire, it seemed that my fellow student had not only not been welcomed with open arms, but had in fact been emotionally and theologically dissected by members of the committee. His irritation was not so much the actual content of their message (which wasn't what he wanted, but wasn't really unexpected), but the way in which the message had been delivered. It was funny, in a way, because everything that had been done to me, was done exactly backwards for him. In fact, I had come to my candidacy meeting in a suit, and several of the members of the committee were moved to laughter, saying that they hadn't expected me to dress up, and they didn't remember ever seeing me in a suit before. (Of course, that's because none of those who spoke had ever actually been in the building when I had ever preached at any of my home congregations - but I wasn't about to point that out to them, at the time. )

In contrast, one person in my buddy's meeting actually offered him some "fatherly advice" about how to dress-up for these meetings (knowing, of course, that clothes make the person, as all good Christians know!). There was a lot of other folderol - but most of it was secondary. What was central to the whole close-encounter was that my friend came out of the meeting really questioning his call to ministry, and whether he really wanted to be part of a church which gave such power to a group of people that evidently existed primarily to tear up candidates for ministry. I hate to say it, but his story was sadly familiar...and not just to me...

And that's what I have to wonder about, I guess. Why is it that people seeking to enter Christian ministry end up dealing with a group of human beings who don't seem in the least bit Christian in their outlook and attitudes toward seminarians? When one has "abandoned it all for the sake of the call" (as Steven Curtis Chapman would sing), wouldn't you think the church (and its assembled multitudes) would be uplifting and supportive? I know I sure did....as did many of my fellow seminarians.

It's funny...for those of us who are called to this life, there are times (like encountering mule-ish members of the church hierarchy) when we just wish we could go do something else. My buddy actually spoke for many of us when (in extreme exasperation) he said, "Heck, I don't want to be a pastor - but this is what God is calling me to do." And for those of us who have been told (either permanently, or indefinitely, as in my case) that we can't do what we believe God has called us to do, the question then becomes, "OK, God....now what?"

I remember the sense of betrayal - and the rage. I remember thinking, "They surely can't question my commitment - I mean, I'm here, after all!" But I also remember asking myself, "Whose side are these people on, for crying out loud?" But as I listened to my friend vent his frustration, there was a tiny voice in my head that said, "Well, at least you're not the only one who's gotten a rough ride from this group of God's kids..." It didn't help him much, but it was strangely comforting to me...

After all, I know several people with more financial debts - and more mental instability - than me - who just sailed through their entrance interviews. And I had to wonder..."Why them, God, and not me?"

But I know the answer to that....Job heard it first, and I don't need to replay his encounter with the Almighty anytime soon. So I was reminded that the question is rarely "why?", but "what" - "What can I do?" "What is the next right thing?"

I tried to remind my brother-in-arms that it ain't so bad, and that he is in fact "entranced" (yes, even the church can come up with grammatical nightmares like that) - so at rock bottom, he ought to be saying "Thank you, Jesus" that he cleared the first hurdle. (I, for one, would give up use of an organ or two to be able to say that.) But through it all, the part of me that lives in "the world as it should be" still wants to take some of the folks in "the world as it is" and kick their theological butts.

It just shouldn't be this hard.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Human F&%kery is not only present and practiced outside the church. Remeber who it is Jesus went after with scathing crticism. It's not God I have a problem with, it's his fan club. :)