It is a Monday morning and I am sitting at my “office” in a local bookstore. I have been in my new job for four months, and I am reflecting on questions and issues that I have been dealing with since July.
Flexibility of schedule– for most of the past 6 years I have worked in jobs, most of them with designated 8 to 5 hours, and some who expected work beyond 40 hours per week that included evenings and weekends. But there was a definite pattern, and there was an office space where I showed up most mornings between Monday and Friday. I realize that this kind of structure was good for me. It was good for my prayer life and helped me live a more disciplined life. Now that I have quite a bit of flexibility, I am more prone to waste time and I am not as consistent with my prayer life. It is one reason that I report to a corner booth at the bookstore whenever I can.
Preaching and worship– For the first half of 2012, I was preaching and leading worship every week at two churches along with my 8 to 5 job. Now, my preaching and worship leading averages about twice per month, and I have been in nearly a dozen different churches since July. It is important for me to continue use those gifts, but it is quite different to be in different churches each time with little knowledge of the congregation and their particular needs and growing edges. I am convinced that sermons and leadership in a congregation is meant to be specific and particular and cannot be done generally. I am also convinced that some of the most effective preaching and leadership that I have given to a congregation was after I learned how the rest of the world lived. A pastor who has never paid a mortgage or has known what it is like to work an 8 to 5 job, will never reach a congregation where the majority of folks have that experience.
The peculiarity of the Christian life– I have known this a long time, and I have been able to verbalize it on occasion, but I am not sure that I have written about it with any clarity. I will try today.
We, who are linked to Jesus by our baptisms and professions of faith are a peculiar bunch. We keep an odd calendar that includes sabbaths and celebrations that much of the world ignores. In my work I’ve encountered a statistic over and over again that says that about 75% of a populations claims that their faith is important to them, but only about 20% or less believe that it is important to attend worship. We know that in most communities, 25% or less of the population attends worship on a Sunday morning. So, those of us who gather for worship on a regular basis are peculiar.
We are also peculiar because most fo the things that Jesus preached and taught about fly in the face of our contemporary world. He spoke of caring for the needy; reaching out to the least, the last and the lost; welcoming strangers and those different from us; and a whole bunch of Gospel imperatives that just don’t match up with how the rest of the world seems to work. Jesus’ kingdom and values have always been upside down when compared to what our society deems as proper and powerful. The needy are called lazy among many of my friends, not a sign of Christ in the world. The least and last are not folks to associate with, and certainly not to be welcomed. Those who are strangers and different from us are often feared and segregated from the rest of society. Jesus tells us that if we are going to be his followers, we need to change our attitudes and behaviors, especially towards others. We don’t deal well with change.
Flannery O’Connor, a Southern, Roman Catholic author from the 20th century knew this about herself. After all, being a Catholic in the Bible Belt will make you different. She writes:
“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”
I’m convinced that those who will follow Jesus will be peculiar. And that’s not a bad thing.