Okay, something a little personal here. I intend to comment on the coming Sunday’s (4 October / Lectionary 27 in Year B under the Revised Common Lectionary) because I think Jesus has some important things to say about marriage — and the authority of the church. But that can wait.
It shouldn’t be any news to readers of this blog that Jennifer and I have been in a bad way for much of the last two years. I have been completely unable to find work, and for part of this time, I was in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s call process — until they tossed me out because of I wrote about myself in my book, The Love That Matters: Meeting Jesus in the Midst of Terror and Death. Too much of sinner, and because of that, too great a liability, apparently.
Because of my inability to find work (Jennifer hasn’t found work either, mostly because her dyslexia limits what she can do), we’ve been utterly dependent on the goodwill of family, friends, and complete strangers (you know who you are). Otherwise, we’d be destitute and homeless.
What I know is this. No one will hire me to write or edit. Even though I can write — I think my book and this blog prove that — my clips are all nearly a decade old, and that puts me out of the running for even the most entry-level reporting and editing work (according to the few editors who bothered to respond to my journalism job hunt earlier this year). And no church will call me either. In addition to whatever theological issues the more conservative churches might have with me, I am too public — and apparently too honest — in what I write. About myself.
This would be a problem I could live with if the book were selling and I had speaking engagements and could preach and sing. But the book has just sat there, an ugly rock almost no one seems interested in. It was released in January, and so far, it has no reviews outside of two or three personal blog entries. I had hoped something material, more substantial, would have come of the book, but nope.
It’s the worst of all possible worlds. A very public life, with all my mistakes out there for all to see, and yet, my story has generated very little interest, and so I have absolutely no leverage with institutions.
I have a few admirers. And thank you. But you know, I think my life is more a cautionary tale — DON’T DO THIS. DON’T LIVE LIKE THIS. BECAUSE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING GOOD CAN COME OF IT. AND YOU WILL BE JUDGED HARSHLY AND WITHOUT MERCY.
But it’s done. I’ve done it. I was called to do it. And all the wishing and hoping in the world cannot stuff it back into the bottle from whence it poured fourth. So, here I stand, I can do no other.
Where to from here? I’m looking for work. Monday, I begin the H&R Block tax preparer course, and who knows, maybe some kind of living can eked out of that. At least part of a living. I’m going to try to find some part of the administrative work of civilization — work I’ve long avoided because I could not live the violence needed to order the world — that I can live with. That will pay me something. That will feed ministry.
Because no one wants to pay me to write. Or preach. Or sing. That’s clear.
So, Jennifer and I will start our own worshiping community. Probably not here in upstate New York, where we are currently staying with a pastor friend. This place speaks to our souls — it is lovely — but there’s nothing really keeping us here.
Of late, Jennifer and I have “acquired” some kids in the Spokane area, thanks largely to the online ministry I’ve been doing. Spokane is also where my mother’s family is from. Not that I’m close to any of them. (I’m not sure they’d know what to do with me any better than anyone else does.) One of these kids, a young woman who just aged out of foster care (I won’t give her name right now), wants to be an evangelist. Her faith impresses me no end. She’d be a good partner in ministry.
It’s going to be called By The Waters of Babylon, from the first line of Psalm 137, a song of lament over exile, and a reminder that we, the people of God, are not really at home in this world:
1 By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion
(Psalms 137:1-3 ESV)
(I wouldn’t mind it so much if my captors and tormentors demanded songs of me, but alas, they don’t care even THAT much. They don’t so much torment as simply cast me away.)
I’m going to begin with a Bible study, and if there’s enough interest, some kind of supplemental worship service. We’ll start by meeting in a public place — a coffee shop, a park, or someplace like that. Worship will be liturgical, and our basic statements of faith will be the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and Martin Luther’s Small and Large catechisms.
I don’t like the idea of starting a church. I want very much to be part of the church catholic and apostolic, and if someone would have me, well, I’d do that. But I cannot be faithful to who I am, and what I have been called to do — preach and teach and sing the gospel, minister to those in need, listen to the sorrow and suffering of the world and live and proclaim something of the love, hope, and promise of God in Jesus Christ — and remain in that church, which clearly doesn’t know what to do with me and won’t let do those things.
I take some comfort in the fact that I’m not doing a very Protestant thing — starting another church because I think I’m right and everyone else is wrong. I’ve long thought Protestantism has reached something of a dead end. Peter Leithart puts it best in this essay in First Things:
Protestantism has had a good run. It remade Europe and made America. It inspired global missions, soup kitchens, church plants, and colleges in the four corners of the earth. But the world and the Church have changed, and Protestantism isn’t what the Church, including Protestants themselves, needs today. It’s time to turn the protest against Protestantism and to envision a new way of being heirs of the Reformation, a new way that happens to conform to the original Catholic vision of the Reformers.
I like the term Evangelical Catholic, but that term comes with some very specific Lutheran baggage (at least it does for me). Leithart’s phrase Reformed Catholic also strikes a chord. Both will sow some interesting confusion, and maybe that would provoke some interest. At any rate, it hardly matters. This is where we’re going. I have no timetable, no plan, no funding, nothing more than a vision and another person excited to be part of this. (Well, okay, maybe until she sees the “Evangelical Catholic” part…) Anyone else out there is welcome to join. I’m not quite sure when any of this is going to happen. I could start a Bible study group tomorrow, and I just might.
Regardless, I am going to do this. And see what happens.