Thursday, October 23, 2008

Joe Six Pack the Plumber

As part of my vocational practice discipline I am reading Eugene Peterson's reflection on the pastoral call Under the Unpredictable Plant. Eugene Peterson is the guy who translated The Message version of the Bible. I have long been amazed by the keenness of his insights into scripture. Under the Unpredictable Plant has proved that he has the read on my soul also.

Peterson says that as pastors we shouldn't buy into the veneer our parishioners often present. An example comes to mind. I'll call him - because its fun - Joe Six Pack the Plumber. On the surface Joe's life doesn't exactly ooze spirituality. He's pretty irregular on Sundays. His wife was his live-in girlfriend for a couple of years before they got married. He knows everything about Nascar, but next to nothing about the Bible.

We see in parishioners like Joe a soulless world where, as Peterson says, all "spirit [seems] to have leaked out . . . and been replaced by a garage-sale clutter of cliches and stereotypes, securities and fashions." In short, we pastors see that we are surrounded by shallow lives.

The problem, Peterson says, is that this is all most pastors see. We allow ourselves to get tricked by the visible and end up missing the remarkably disturbing truth that God is infinitely interested in each and every one of these folks.

I suppose that is the radically upsetting meaning of this idea of a Jesus who was born in a barn and raised in a little town no bigger than Muleshoe, Texas. Joe Six Pack the Plumber has a soul afterall. The task of the pastor is to pay close and long enough attention to notice it and help it grow.

John Claypool liked to tell a story about a child who watched as a crane delivered a giant granite block to the downtown square of his hometown. For months the boy passed by that granite block and wondered at what the craftsman was doing behind the curtain. Finally the work was complete and the curtain was pulled back. Incredulou the child asked the artist, "How did you know that Mr. Lincoln was trapped inside that block?"

The task of the pastor in this "art of arts" is to see what God sees buried inside of the people we encounter and then call it out.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Art of Arts

I have committed to start practicing being a pastor more faithfully. And as any good piano player will tell you, with practice comes - not perfection - but sacrifice. Numerous "outside" engagements and opportunities - all good - are always knocking on a pastor's door. So and so needs this. This organization would like help with that. The list is never ending; and toxic

A couple of thing things in recent months have suggested that it is vital to my spiritual life and the spiritual life of my church that I take Jesus' words as my own - "Get away from me Satan."

So in practicing the pastoral role I'm working on some spiritual exercises. I'm going to visit more. I know, its quaint, but its the purest form of ministry I of. Besides, I can't turn water into wine.

Secondly, I'm going to blog more. And I am going to blog about pastoring more. Writing helps me preach and pastor better. And it brings me joy.

Third, I'm going to read less and more. I'm going to read less junk. Less fly by night blogs and more spiritual classics. You have permission to do the same, which I recognize means you might never read another thing I write. I'm okay with that if you are.

The first spiritual classic I am reading is Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care - appropriate enough for a person trying to practice being a better pastor.

In the first chapter Gregory brings gravity to the office of pastoring by calling it the "art of arts." In fact, the whole quote exhorts even more powerfully:

With what rashness, then, would the pastoral office be undertaken by the unfit, seeing that the government of souls is the art of arts!

I've been thinking about what that means. Pastoring - the art of arts. Here's what I've come up with. The ancient philosophers called wisdom the "virtue of virtues." Wisdom was what enabled one to recognize all the other virtues. It was what enabled one to discern courage, not only from cowardice, but - more expertly - from bravado.

I am thinking then that pastoring is the art of arts because it is the art of being able to discern the artist in others. Good pastoring is the artful ability of cultivating and calling forth the artist from within the soul of others. In essence, it is the ability to see what and who God has created these persons around us to be and then to help them see it too.

You can't do that with only one hand on the wheel.

A final story that is scaring the devil out of me - literally. I read it in Leviticus with Irie the other day. (Yeah, we're reading Old Testament to each other at night. Some read love poems, we read Leviticus.)

The LORD went to great lengths to make clear all the mandates that a priest should follow in making atonement for the people. Cut the lamb this way. Fling the blood on the altar that way. Strike the fire like this. You get the point. Well, it seems that Aaron's two sons didn't pay strict enough attention. They offered up a fire to the LORD in the wrong way. They were killed for it. Harsh. Way harsh, but the penalty for offering an "unholy fire" to the LORD.

LORD, give me the diligence to serve you well. Give me the strength to discern. The courage to say no. Give me the eyes to see and cultivate what you have created in these people you have charged me with. And, most of all, may the fire I offer up to you always be holy as I practice this art of arts. Amen.