FLASHIt's Sunday morning again, and I'm traipsing into church late again, rapscallions in tow. Kerri and Rich wave at me when I come in, and gesture to their row, a good place for us as our kids are happier next to their kids. As always, the music is interesting on some level, and this time it is Gene ripping it on guitar on stage as another woman and man play backup instruments and vocals. After the music ends, Bryan begins his sermon, and I'm hoping that the bribes hold up as enough incentive for my children to remain quiet so I can concentrate on the words.
This sermon was the first part of a series on "ReThink Church", three parts I suppose to go along with the three times Jesus mentions church in the Bible. The scripture chosen has in regards to a conversation Jesus has with Peter, and I am thinking about this, and how it is somewhat connected to another conversation Jesus has with Peter that Gene was talking about last week in his sermon. In Gene's sermon, he mentions Peter's desire for importance, to be the favored disciple, with Jesus rebuking him with "Get behind me, Satan!" Yet Bryan's sermon focused on Matthew 16: 13-20 in which Jesus tells Peter "That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
So on one hand, Jesus tells Peter to stop trying to put himself first, that the desire he has to be more important than anyone else is akin to the devil, and yet in here he is telling him he IS important, so important that he is going to base the whole church upon him and in doing that, the devil won't win. It seems almost like a contradiction on the surface, yet when I turn it over in my mind, I think that what Jesus was doing was something that makes leaders great - using people's natural talents and desires to work towards the collective whole. Peter had a need to feel self-important and valued, and what Jesus was doing here was taking that desire and turning it to serve his purpose - to empower him through it, charge him through this need by directing it into the area that would both satisfy the desires of the Self but give it a more noble purpose.
In a way, I think, this is connected to the whole idea of ministers or church groups as a whole guiding people to search themselves, though prayer, spiritual insight, reflection, or education, to discover what their unique talents are and how then to use them to serve God's purpose on this earth. We are all created in his image, but yet each possessing different levels of expertise, experience, or natural gifts that can be used in different ways to serve the world. I am thinking along those lines, the same lines that parallel some of what Bryan is talking about, in regards to ministry, but I am also thinking about this concept of how Jesus is relating to Peter, about how even those things that seem to work against us sometimes, like Peter's self aggrandization, are all part of the Big Picture of how God wants us to work for his Glory. I am also thinking about
how God sometimes illuminates what it is he wants us to see, or reveals his plan to us in little flashes, how he finds a way to help us see how our strengths or experiences are part of the purpose he has in mind for us.
So it happens that Bryan is talking, much like Gene's sermon last week, how being of the faith is not simply about passive listening or presence, but active seeking and participating. It's not enough to sit there on the pew, or to say you are a Christian, but to live it breath it be it. So on that level, I am thinking about how much of my time has been spent making excuses for not serving my God on a ministry level. I have lots of excuses, so I am going through them one by one here as he mentions the specific types of ministry the church is involved in. Money is always so scarce that I pray for God to understand why there's so little leftover for Him. Evangelism is not my style, and never will be. In a way it's probably a shame, because I know I have strengths as a persuasive salesperson (just ask my old boss) but it's my conviction to personal freedom that will prevent me from trying to change anyone's mind except through example of faith. I have issues with the homeless, which are too great to get into within the scope of this entry. Putting a hammer in my hand a'la Habitat to Humanity would be dangerous not only to myself but to others around me. Or maybe it's just being on my own with these two rapscallions that has made me feel like I can't, I don't have the means or the way to give back in that way. But maybe it's not that way I am supposed to be giving, anyways. I don't have a passion for those types of ministry, and it is only through our passions that we can serve the best.
I am contemplating a subject I should know backwards and forwards by now, the question of what are my strengths and my passion that I could use to fulfill God's intentions for me in terms of service to the world, and maybe it's as simple as what Michelle said last week, "start writing"...but of what? What is the intended message that can serve both my God and my self's passion, the world and the individual need to communicate in this medium? But it's not that simple, because I don't believe that God only possessed me with the desire to write, but also with the passion for animals. I used to joke that I was serving God by serving Dog, but I was only half-kidding. Indeed I used to think that I was serving his Purpose for me through my work, and I am sure in a way he still is, but there's something missing from it, something not complete.
In the recent past by way of explaining my background or vision to someone else, I've been thinking about something long forgotten, but it is something that comes to mind every time they start talking about ministry in church. My mind flashes to the image of the vision that drove me all the way through school, my "ten year plan for saving the world", and when I feel that call to ministry, I think, "Not yet", and imagine this vision. It's a dream decades long, of childish drawings of the same thing over and over that took a more distinct shape over thousands of repetitions from the eighties to the nineties, but something I haven't though about much in the past ten years. That makes me really sad, and at the same time, my mind starts planning it over again : a place of animal refuge, where animals come to be rescued, to be cared for, rehabilitated mentally and physically, then re-homed with certain criteria, to make sure what befell them never happens again. In addition, the animal rescue would support human rehabilitation as well, with specific types of people in emotional need in focused work with the animals, to give them back what they were missing or needed work on - empathy towards others, a connection to the physical world, a way to re-program them for caring for another besides themselves.
But as this dream has laid dormant in me these past ten years, so other things have become dormant as well. Even though my daily dedication to animals hasn't changed on some levels, there are changes over time and with exposure that have deadened my heart in ways I wish it hadn't. Over this past week, there were two incidents with J that showed me this. During the week, he sent me a link to a video about a man losing his dog, a video that should have made me cry but somehow couldn't touch me, which is disturbing in some levels to me. I tried to rationalize it with truth - the video was breaking up for one, which certainly detracted from its emotional message, but also the overexposure I've had to these types of situations. The other was watching him interact with a dog at a party. He was examining the dog, noticing the little ways the inferior care she was getting was affecting her. The next day, he was still thinking about her, thinking about the things he noticed and how he wished he could have changed that for it. Seeing him with that dog, or thinking about what he said about her, reminded me of the way I used to be, and how I've changed over time. In some ways it is ironic that in my single-minded dedication to learning and absorbing everything about providing quality of life to animals, I end up becoming desensitized to the little details that really all make up the Big Picture I was working towards - making the world a better place for animals. I felt inspired by those events to re-open this part of my mind and heart again, in order to serve the animals better, by which I can serve my God. I do believe that at least part of the purpose He has in mind for me is in the role of animal advocate, to be the one who gives the voice to those who don't have one, like Emma Lazarus's poem "The New Colossus', immortalized in a plaque on the second floor of the Statue of Liberty, speaks of:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
During Bryan's sermon, he makes a point about Christian service by turning on a flashlight with low battery. The dulled light flickers on for a minute, then goes out. He says this is what most people's faith is like, without the recharge given to us by commitment to presence. This brief flicker reminds me of my own heart's brief lurches in those two dog related incidents above, but it's the flicker itself that matters, in a matter of renewing the flame. He replaces the battery in the flashlight, showing us now how we are to live, how we are meant to be the Light of the World, and his sermon, and those other influences, serve to fill my heart back up to find ways to be that light, in the ways that drive and move me to lift my lamp up beside that golden door.