When I travel this world now, three years, four months and six days into this churchy thing, I often wonder what people are thinking of me, the pastor me. Often they will confess ... I haven't been to church in so long! But I swear I'm coming back, one of these days ... it's just that we're so busy. We're so busy, all the time! As if I'm taking attendance.
Confessions of lousy past church experiences. Lapses of faith. I wonder ... sometimes, underneath it all, if there are parts of all of us who don't feel we are entitled to go to church, who are afraid that we will not be welcome. Bits of all of us who are scared of those dark and foreboding buildings. Because, well, because we are so very, very human.
The pastor thing ... sometimes it feels like I'm wearing a boutineer ... here, have a sniff, it's pretty, isn't it? I'm a pastor. A preacher. Don't worry, all of your secrets are safe with me. I am a strongbox, a keeper of everyone's fears and worries and sorrows.
Sometimes it feels like there isn't enough room for my own. My fears and my worries and my sorrows. It's funny, though, isn't it ... that five feet and six inches holding one hundred and twenty five pounds of flesh can carry all that ... fear and worry and sorrow. How does the heart expand just so? To fit it all in? Where does it go?
Another day. Someone is dying. Someone will die. Someone will be born, will come here from wherever over there is. Someone will wear a new dress. Someone will get bad news. Someone will be poisoned with chemotherapy in the hopes that the cancer army eating all their dreams will retreat. Someone will walk through their new house and get goosebumps. Someone will get drunk. Someone will read about Burt Reynolds and Sally Field and worry that they let the best one go, too. Someone will hit a home run. Someone will fail a test. Someone will eat a sandwich. Someone will wish they had enough money for a sandwich.
The roiling of our spirits here on earth is boundless and endless. And then we die and our spirits ... do they re-present in someone whose task it is to right all the wrongs we wrought? Someone who, holding the spirit of us in their new body, gets another shot at all the things we weren't brave enough to shoot for?
I wonder, sometimes, if people think, because I am a pastor, that I have access to the answers, to the secrets. I don't. That I have deeper knowledge. I might. Can I conjure storms? It takes a lot of concentration, but yes, I can. People have all kinds of funny ideas about religion. They hate religion, they love religion; they can't live without God, they are certain there is no God. How could there be in a world where someone doesn't have enough money for a sandwich while someone else, their neighbor, has enough money for ten sandwiches?
Have you ever looked off in the distance to a great mountain range? Like maybe the Rockies or the Tetons or the Talkeetnas? Have you ever looked closely at a peony before it blooms? Curled up tight with new life? Have you put your nose in really close and sniffed a baby's neck? Have you watched, really watched, like stood in one place for a while and watched people reunite in an airport? Have you seen someone take their last breath? Have you stood outside at night and looked up at the sky long enough to feel as small as you really are? Have you seen the pride on a father's face walking his daughter down the aisle to marry the person she loves? Have you seen how tired the cashier is and how he comes back to life, just a little, when you look him in the eyes and say thank you?
I will tell what it means, for me, to be a preacher. It means that all of those things are God. God is in all of us and all of us are in God. In our human hearts we hold infinite potential for good and infinite potential for harm and we choose. God does not choose for us, we choose. God is neither man nor woman; God is not over there, way far away. God is not keeping score and God doesn't care when you last went to church. God has no address, no specific religious affiliation, no bedtime, no expiration date. God is infinite, expansive, colorless, genderless. God is not mad at you when you screw up and God is not handing out trophies to the winners.
I may or may not have a stronger line to God, but that's not because I'm a pastor. It's because I try hard to keep clear this vessel and allow the loving and benevolent (and inconvenient and scary and mysterious) energy I call God to work with me and through me. I am here for a time, repping. I am, at my worst, a door-to-door encyclopedia salesperson: Here! Everything you need to know, from A all the way Z! Every house needs a complete set! BUY IT! At my best I am quiet, patiently holding the mystery and showing up where I am needed. Taking this wonderful madness and making it into art, I hope. Weaving together the strands of humanity that will help us all survive, I wish. Compelling just one heart to seek grace, I dream. A dream that I will dream and dream and dream until my life is no longer here, but simply part of the larger, infinite dream I call love I call prayer I call God. Amen.