Thursday, March 15, 2007

What is our major malfunction?

The older I have gotten the saltier I get. I type this in my pirate gear with my trusty parrot on my shoulder. I have been engaged in seminary coming up on two years. I am about to enter my senior year, the season the all of this is supposed to come together into a clear focused picture. Well...I await this prospect.

I am enjoying the process that I am bound to here in Austin. I love the conversations, the discussions, the comradely that is available here. What I am shout to get of my lawn is, the lack of resources to serve as I understand I am to serve and lead as I have been called to lead.

First of all let me say that I struggle almost daily with the idea of myself being ordained and leading in ministry. What I am convinced of is my call to be the thorn in the sides of ALL. I am that guy that is upset about almost everything. This does not mean I am not excited, passionate, or inspired by nothing at all.

It is quite the opposite. I am excited and passionate about everything. I have a vision and I am frustrated by the apparent absence of a place to serve. I do not want to do jail ministry. I do not feel called to this. Just because I am tattooed does not mean I am only to cower in the shadows of our nations prisons. I refuse to cower here and be stifled by those uncomfortable by my presence or convictions to voice the injustice I bear witness to.

I do not want to solely do youth ministry. This is because I believe in a holistic approach to congregational ministry. We need to sever as a whole and not divide. The youth have a place as missionaries and servants to this world just as valid as we do. They have a vibrant and skilled purpose. They may not have the financial stronghold to sway committees, commissions, presbyteries, synods, assemblies...they do have a blessed set of functioning organs filled with the desire to be near God just as passionate as you and I.

I do not want to massage the pockets of the powerful and lame. What is wrong with this picture? We bend to the collective whim of any one with money. If our greatest fear is the church dying then, we all need to bail and rejoin the Catholic Church. The PC(USA) is only one expression of the body. We are not essential, required, or special in service to Christ. The MISSION of God has a body. This body is the catholic church. We can proclaim it in our creeds. We cannot proclaim it in our lives. It is a blessing to be allowed to be a vessel of God mission. The BODY of Christ is not the MISSION!

What do we fear? We sanitize everything in our culture. We are fearful of folks discovering that the hamburger that clown served you is actually a cow. We are fearful of our children making mistakes and criminalize them for things that you and I did as children. We surround ourselves with a fearful wall of terror and deceit. We lie to ourselves and demand more protection, more of the pie.

We enslave our own citizens in low paying demoralizing jobs and demand that they stay over there. We the church take part in these things. Our silence speaks the loudest. We demand that the government listens and helps provide for the poor. We send our pocket change and sometimes our kids over there. Hoping that the kids come back with stories of how they contributed to the war on poverty and how grateful those poor little such and such were. This boils down to how these charitable actions make us feel.

We are fearful of new movements and ideas. In America alone over the last 50 years we have witnessed many counter cultural and progressive movements. We have seen the Peoples Temple, The Vineyard Churches, Branch Davidians, Calvary Chapels, The Purpose Driven Life, the Willow Creek Church, the Emerging Church, the Mega Churches, the Neo-Orthodoxy, the Jesus Freaks (hippies for Jesus), the Promise Keepers, and God Men.

Every generation has its reaction to the environment surrounding it. Every generation fights the previous generation to assert its voice in the ecclesial power structure. What makes these days different? NOTHING! The body ebbs and flows. Our biggest failing has been to be too proud of what we have built. Is the PC(USA) our Tower of Babel? Are we being good stewards as we grip the reigns upon the traditional structures we all matured in?

If we hold too tightly to our denominational roots we shall strangle the life out of the very denominations we seek to protect. We are called to be transformed. We are called to be in this world and not of this world. We are not called to section off the Kingdom of God at cut rate prices and commodify the very transformation we are given freely into non irritating culturally sensitive segregating ass patting sessions. Transformation does not come absent of wrestling. We are losing the tension between the divine and profane. What do we as the PC(USA) have to offer the world?

So what do you want to do Ryan? What are your grand ideas of transformation?

First I want to encourage and thank everyone that is serving and has served as a pastor. It is a tireless and often demanding way to serve.

I want to redefine the paradigm that we look to pastors to fill. This something I am still exploring and am certain it will change as I encounter the challenges of ministry. There must be ordination standards to maintain…perhaps a larger flexibility and longer program would help. Perhaps even a mentor relationship as part of this formation.

I want to run as fast as I can and trust that God is with me. I still have no prudence in this area.

I would like to see more missional activity in our local neighborhoods. We need to start of by knowing our neighbors. We can not walk with anyone if we do not know them.

We need to understand that we need to have a transforming message that has met, consequence, integrity, honesty, relevancy, and love. Exclusion does not breed any of these things.

Youth need to be taken seriously, as do seniors, families, singles, men, women, and community. The seed will not last on the rocky path.

We have to stop trying to keep up with the Joneses!!! The more we have to consume to fit into this culture the future away from the still small voice of God we go. We must search our hearts to see if we are being good stewards of what we are given.

We need to remember to laugh. God laughs.

I am convinced that God is ok with the occasional curse word. What truly matters is what is in your heart.

It is not about us! All things lead to God. It is our finitude that embarks us on a wayward journey in the other way.


Sarah Louise said...

You remind me of my brother who is also in Austin.

Good luck on the clear focused picture.

John said...

Pappy, I hear you, but I fear that you're on a ministry motorbike that's inevitably going to hit a brick wall.

It's easy to sound off against the church instead of the world. Just remember that church people are not theological fodder. They are struggling with their beliefs, but they are still making the effort to be in the Kingdom. Your call is to lead the sheep, not slay them.

Pappy McVulgar said...

I am not slaying anyone. I am pointing out that the unity as the body goes beyond denominations. Where shall our loyalty lie, with Christ or with polity? I am fully supportive if folks wrestling with belief...God knows I do. I will not pretend to know it all. I will lead with my heart an conviction to love. If my motorbike hits the wall, so be it. I will not fear. I will serve, love, and accept as I feel called to.
Thank you for your comments.

p.s. SL, your brother must be a cool guy.;)

seekinghim said...

Love what you wrote, Pappy. The thing I love most about the voices I hear "emerging" these days is the lack of arrogance. I appreciate your openness and your willingness to be open to the serendipity of God. Especially love this:

"We need to understand that we need to have a transforming message that has met, consequence, integrity, honesty, relevancy, and love. Exclusion does not breed any of these things."

God bless your ministry, brother!

Pappy McVulgar said...

thank you, seekinghim

John Shuck said...


You are fun to read! We need people with passion in the ministry regardless of the ministry. About ten years ago I attended a continuing education seminar with Walter Wink and his partner June Keener-Wink. It was probably the best I had ever attended. We had a time of study, Walter was working on his now published book, "The Human Being" and we were there to study the phrase "the son of the man." June led us in dancing. It was a wild week. At one point we shouted the Lord's Prayer at the top of our lungs, "YOUR kingdom come! YOUR will be done!"

We began the event by writing down a paragraph of characteristics that described Jesus. Not theological characteristics, but personal ones. What kind of guy did we imagine him to be?

I remember wrting (I kept what I wrote) that Jesus was passionate about the kingdom. He was obsessed with the kingdom of God. At the same time he was at peace with all that was at present. A paradox, really. Passionate and peaceful.

Walter then told us that what we wrote was really about us. But it wasn't about simply deconstruction, seeing into the mirror. It was God calling us to be who we truly were. Our description of Jesus was really God's call to us to be that--in my case both passionate and at peace.

Your post reminded me of that. Thanks for the reminder.

Blessings to you. Keep at it. Enjoy your senior year. You'll never get to be an M.Div. student again. Drink it up.

You will have an important ministry.


Jodie said...


I wonder if I can add to your confusion.

When I got out of graduate school I felt like a kid in a candy store. I wanted to do it all. (And in my field, I was trained to do it all). Now, twenty-five years later, I see that I did what I chose well and have no regrets, but I wonder what it would have been like if I had chosen differently. I did find out however that my education had only begun…

I am not a member of the clergy. So what I see so clearly is from a different perspective than yours. But here is what I see. The PC(USA) is a large (human) corporation. Large corporations provide occupational stability at the expense of the freedom to take risks. Small corporations provide maximum flexibility and room for creative risk taking at the expense of occupational security. When you fail you land on your face. You can have trouble putting food on the table. The metaphor of the PC(USA) as a Tower of Babel is true of any human enterprise in ways that you can barely imagine, but it may not be particularly useful in the decision you are trying to make.

God’s call is much like the casting call for a large Hollywood production. There are almost an infinite number of jobs and roles to play. You can answer the call almost any way you feel inclined to answer. That is the nature of the calling business. Don’t expect God to tell you “this is the particular job I am calling you to”. It happens to some, but that is the exception, not the rule.

I would humbly suggest prioritizing your choice by first selecting what you want to do (whom to serve and how), then second the context in which you want to do it (big denomination, small denomination, non-denomination, start my own denomination, pick one). Give it five years, then re-evaluate. Five years because less and you have not given it a fair shot, more and you start getting locked in. At five years you are at the peak of your versatility.

I have no clue how to sort out the theological aspects of the choice. My own experience working for amoral and atheistic corporations (as most non clergy church members will attest) is that it is entirely possible to follow Christ while devoting 40 hours a week to a corporation that doesn’t give Him the time of day. You give him the time of day, and that is what matters. But it seems most pastors I know can’t get their minds around that concept. They want the church incorporated to be something more. I think God does not. They are after all – all of them – towers of Babel.