Monday, December 03, 2007

Killing me softly...

I felt all flushed with fever, embarrassed by the crowd,
I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud.
I prayed that he would finish but he just kept right on...
Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song...
(Roberta Flack, "Killing Me Softly With His Song")

"No wonder, when I peruse the titles of a Christian bookstore, I feel like I am the only klutz in the kingdom of God, a spiritual nincompoop lost in a shipful of spiritual giants. When I compare my life with 'the experts,' I feel sloppy, unkempt, and messy in the midst of immaculately dressed saints...and I'M A MINISTER. Maybe that's why God allowed me to pastor a church 'for people who don't like to go to church.' When your 'pastor' has been kicked out of two Bible colleges, maybe it's easier for people not to be intimidated by some ideal of spirituality."
(Michael Yaconelli, from his book "Messy Spirituality")

There are days when I feel like a spiritual Concorde - mighty and powerful, designed by God to be of immense service to God's kids. And then there are days when I feel like an old spiritual bi-plane - revving and then spluttering, climbing and then losing altitude, just barely hanging in the sky.

And when I heard people quoting verses like "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), I felt that I would never, ever be able to be one of "those Christians," because I'd never, ever be able to measure up. The people who I met in church seemed so "good," and I kept comparing my insides (which seemed dirty, damaged and broken) to their outsides (which sure looked on their way to "perfection"). Those were definitely "losing altitude" days...

And then, occasionally, I would hear a saint - like my late mentor, Pastor Tom Housholder, or like Michael Yaconelli - speak of being both "broken and beautiful," of being "a spiritual nincompoop" - and I would sit back down in the pew and say, "Maybe I'm eligible after all..."

There is a reason Jesus was born in a manger. There is a reason the first person he revealed his true nature to was a Samaritan woman, by a well. There is a reason Jesus hung around with disciples who were more "misfits" than "good fits." There is a reason that we are all eligible to be waiting for the Christ child to arrive, this season.

We qualify as Christians precisely BECAUSE we are broken. It's just that simple. It seems impossible, but it is absolutely true. Read the Gospels carefully, and you'll find that the folks who think they are righteous don't get much mileage in Jesus' presence...

And for that reason, my spiritual heroes and mentors have been the ones who spoke of struggle, not inspiration or perfection - because they knew I'd never identify with anything but feeling "apart from."

Michael Yaconelli is just the latest in a long string of saints who have kept me in the corral every time I think of jumping the fence.

To all those who, by their testimony, have made me understand that I have a place in God's mercy and love, I give thanks in this season of preparation called Advent. They are the people who, by their words and their actions, gently welcomed me and said, "Come in and sit a spell - you're welcome." They were the ones who wrapped ME in swaddling clothes at my Christian birth - and I will always be grateful for them.

Thank you, God, for saints like Mike Yaconelli, who were capable of "killing me softly" with their words and the stories of their lives. Help me to be a bridge like them, that I might reach those who might otherwise not hear the words of Christ. Help me help them hear the message of welcome and acceptance. Amen.


Poor Mad Peter said...

"We are worth more broken,"

--from Broken for You, by Stephanie Kallos.

A novel well worth reading by anyone who has a faith stance.

Blessings, Steve man.

Michael said...

I still remember being on retreat in Gloucester, MA back in 1982. It was a beautiful spot, and I was sitting looking at all the pine trees growing on the rocks leaning out over the ocean. Suddenly I realized that they were all beautiful, all perfect trees. Whether twisted by the wind and weather or straight as an arrow, each one was still a tree, fully a tree, gloriously and perfectly a tree. It wasn't that some were trees and others weren't quite. Each was perfectly a tree in its unique way. It changed forever my notion of what perfection is.

Because even broken is perfect. Else what would the eucharistic bread be all about?

Heidi Renee said...

I think that mistranslation was the best work the enemy of God has ever done - that word "perfect" should never have entered into the canon - it should read "complete" or "whole" - not perfect. The quest for perfection has caused so much shit in the body of Christ.

If I get a chance to talk in front of people it's usually the first thing on my list. Perfectionism is slavery. We are free, we need to be whole.

Luvs me the Yac too. Did you ever get to meet him? He was just as crazy (maybe crazier) in life than he was in writing. He was the only person in my life I could have ever called a "mentor". Miss him big time.