Thinking about a calling...

Interesting: as I reflected a little bit tonight on sensing my call to ministry at 16 - in the midst of the cultural upheaval of 1968 at the Potter's House in DC - a few interconnected feelings and thoughts came to life again. First, it is fascinating for me to realize that I have been wrestling with ways of integrating art, music, poetry and spiritual renewal for 40 years. I remember sitting in the Potter's House while worship was taking place - it was a Wednesday night in July 1968 - and I knew something was going on all around me, but all I could "hear" was the invitation: "you could be doing this!"

It was trance-like, to be sure. But when worship was over and my youth group got up to leave, I was as certain as I was alive that I had been invited/called/encouraged to explore a new way of doing ministry. And this calling had NOTHING to do with maintaining the status quo: it was all about learning from those on the fringes of life both how they discovered beauty and hope, and, how that might be shared with more. And as we drove back to Connecticut and Aretha was singing, "Freedom, freedom... you better think about what you're trying to do for me!?!" - I knew everything had changed.

The second thing that bubbled-up tonight (while watching "Remains of the Day" of all things) is that this ministry has always been more about both/and than either/or. I was a white, suburban kid who sensed a calling to the black city. I was totally ignorant of art but found myself fascinated with both high and popular culture.

My journey to the fringe took me into the damnedest places with the wildest people - Latino farm workers in the Central Valley of California, marginalized gay dancers in LA, African American politicians and clergy in urban Cleveland, radical priests in St. Louis, screwed-up rock'n'rollers all over the place, lesbian clergy in Tucson, woodcutters in Mississippi, 12 step meetings, Episcopal cathedrals, Black baptist store front churches, bars, picket lines and seminaries -but always with a sense of how people like me - straight, white and middle class - could be part of the party of freedom with the excluded rather than the traditional gate-keepers.

One of my seminary advisers, Dorothee Soelle, called it "class suicide," but it never felt like death to me (maybe because she was such a dramatic German and I am waaaay too Celtic.) Rather, it felt like a dance that I needed to earn the right to attend, to be sure, but a dance nevertheless.

And third, whenever I find myself at wits end - and that happens all the time doing this both/and ministry of inward/outward transformation - it is the people at the margins who not only encourage me and get it first, but also show me how to keep on keeping on. No wonder I have come to cherish the words of Jesus in Matthew 11 that Peterson reforms as: ARE YOU TIRED? WORN OUT? BURNED OUT ON RELIGION? COME TO ME... GET AWAY WITH ME AND YOU'LL RECOVER YOUR LIFE... LEARN THE UNFORCED RHYTHMS OF GRACE BECAUSE I WON'T LAY ANYTHING HEAVY OR ILL-FITTING ON YOU.

So here I am - called back in 1968 and it is now 2008 - and I am still trying to figure out how to do this damn thing I was invited into 40 freaking years ago! So, after thinking and remembering and praying... this song/prayer came back to me, too. It's my favorite version of Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," and strangely (or not) it comes from that sad moment after September 11th when we sang together with Paul all across America as a corporate prayer - it was not a performance but a sung prayer - that brought us all a little peace and hope as we rested in the unforced rhythm of grace.

It also brought me back to the one place I still miss about Tucson - the Chicago Bar - a noisy little dive with the best live music in town, the greatest bartenders in America and a real sense of being Christ's community. For almost 10 years, we used to go there at least once a week to dance and visit - and hoist a few, too - with a GREAT crowd of wildass friends. No judgement, no hassle, no attitude: just rock and roll, funk and blues with tons of grace-filled acceptance.

Makes me think of another video that speaks more of church to me than most of what I've seen in these 40 years - it comes from Montgomery Gentry called, "Hell Yeah" and used to touch me very tenderly back in the day.


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