What I Know Three Weeks Later

November 19, 2009

So the last time I posted, I was engaged in a process of trying to figure out whether to pursue ordination and/or ministry. I ended with a warning about "serious concerns" that were keeping me from going forward enthusiastically into it. But my navel-gazing got interrupted for three weeks by the need to actually, you know, do stuff.

Specifically, I had to finish the libretto for my Christmas musical and get rehearsals going in earnest. The church publicity for the musical describes it thusly:

Join us each Sunday in Advent for a staged reading of "Wise Up!" a musical fairy tale loosely based on story of the Three Magi.

In this retelling, written by Wayne Self, accompanied by Walt Topper, and performed by our own Choir, the Three Magi are a trio of drag performers who are "following their star" from one nightclub gig to the next, hoping to hit the big-time by performing for royalty!

Advent worship will continue as usual, but every Sunday will begin with a 5-10 minute act from "Wise Up!" with the finale taking place at our service on Christmas Eve! Show up each Sunday to see the whole thing, or see an encore presentation of the entire play on Tuesday, January 5, at 7:00pm.

I'm proud of it. It's exactly the sort of thing I like to do. I'm looking forward to it.

But, in the middle of this work, tragedy struck. My friend Mikie died suddenly, probably of a heart attack. He was an active member of my church, a choir member, and was to be in the play. He was a wonderful human being, a musician, and a music-lover. He is survived by his partner, Wiley, who is also a friend and a member of my church.

As minister of music at our church, I had a role to play in honoring our fallen friend, caring for his partner, consoling his family, and helping our community to mourn. I was honored to be able to serve in this way. It's something I know how to do, something I take seriously, and something that I find great meaning in.

So it feels kind of weird to return, after a few weeks worth of actually doing work that I find meaningful and am competent to do, to the process of beating my head against the wall and asking "what should I do?".

After the past few weeks, the answer seems plain.

Like most people, I am occasionally called upon to provide what love and care I can to another person using what resources I have. And, like most people, I try to rise to the occasion and do what is needed. Some of us, especially those of us who hang about in churches, use the word "ministry" to describe this. Others of us might use the word "care" or "helping." But, to the extent that we are human and caring, we all minister to one another.

Some of us--teachers, nurses, therapists, masseurs--are in a position to minister every day, and even get compensated for it. Others of us simply minister where and when our time, gifts, or resources make it possible.

Some people twist the idea of ministry, turning ministry into a means of enrichment or a way to wield power. It's easily done. Here are a few methods often employed by people who minister:

- Make the ministry you provide contingent upon the person in need complying with your demands. In this model, the missionary's food requires conversion. The doctor's help requires an insurance card. Etc.

- Create a demand for your ministerial assistance by inventing a problem that doesn't actually exist. In this model, the priest makes a decent living administering Last Rites designed to keep your soul out of a non-existent Hell.

- Make it appear as though the ministry you provide actually helps, even though it doesn't. People who truly need help are eager to believe that help is available, so much so that your ministry can provide temporary relief based entirely on the person's hope. This works, to varying (and arguable) degrees, for all manner of new age healers, TV preachers, and the like.

- Pretend to wield extra-wordly power so that your ministry is just as likely to harm as it is to heal. In this way, you can pray for Obama to die, pray for people to get sick, pray for the destruction of nations, and people will fear you.

All ministry is susceptible to these things, no matter who's doing it or why, because people who need to be ministered to are easily taken advantage of, and because people who are doing the ministering sometimes feel entitled, by virtue of their service, to more compensation, recognition, or gratitude than they actually get.

Professional ministry in any field is perhaps more susceptible, because peoples' livelihoods are involved.

Professional ministry in a field based on faith--any faith--is perhaps the most susceptible of all.

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