catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 13 :: 2011.07.08 — 2011.07.21


Up off the floor

A meditation on comfort

In the spring of 1990, I thought I was destined for a great, important ministry in the inner city.  Of course, that was also the spring that I spent hours in our one-room apartment sitting on the floor, staring at the carpet, and wondering how I was going to make myself go to work.  On the floor.  Not the sofa.  The floor.  I couldn’t even make myself get off the damn floor.

So, yes, it was depression I was working through.  I didn’t have the name for it then, but that’s what it was.  A deep, dark funk born of my overactive emotion centers that were coming alive in the crucible of West Dallas just as my coping mechanisms from rural Virginia were faltering dramatically.  Every day in my twin roles as a community center youth director and a bilingual associate pastor I was encountering people and situations that would stay with me the rest of my life.  And every morning I sat on the floor until I could lumber myself to the car to go out there again.  Not the sofa.  The floor.

Twenty years later I’m in a very comfortable spot.  Back in rural Virginia.  Not in a great, important ministry in the inner city.  Not a youth director or a bilingual associate pastor.  A senior pastor at a church that has a great and important presence in the community, that has a heart for missions, and that is very supportive of its pastors.  A good place to serve and one for which I am always grateful.

Now I make the journey back to Dallas at least once a year, usually to teach for a couple of summer weeks at my old seminary.  I teach students who serve in great, important ministries in cities and towns throughout the Southwest.  And I always make a visit back to West Dallas to marvel at how I got there and why I didn’t stay.

Foxes have holes and birds have nests but true followers of the man from Nazareth have no such things.  Wasn’t that Jesus’ clear implication when he spoke to those he called from their daily lives?  Paul the tentmaker apostle and medieval mendicants foreswearing property populate the great cloud of witnesses.  What would Mother Theresa think of my comfortable ministry?  What would Jesus think?

These questions register as interesting, but asking them moves me into something like self-indulgence.  The questions assume that there is some perfect model of ministry that exists out there, like the platinum-iridium kilogram that is kept in a locked French vault by which all other kilograms can be measured.   And maybe if I can just keep my superego going long enough, interrogating me into conformity, I will one day reach that level of perfection.   There’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me.  A hairshirt, too, if I’m really good.  Because, you see, in the end it’s really all about me.

Actually I do believe there’s a cross for me.  And it’s clear that Jesus came to speak a word of judgment to the comfortable of the world.  He stated a marked preference for John’s camel hair over soft robes, for instance.  But it seems that more than anything he wanted real people who were not captives to comfort.  He saw grieving mothers and loved them but he also saw the rich, young ruler and loved him.

I began the journey to authenticity in a rusty van driving teenagers to basketball games in West Dallas.  I sat in their homes where I was received as a guest and offered agua fresca.  I knew friendships so deep that I could not imagine doing ministry without them.  And then I left for other fields because that is where my gifts took me.

In the Wesleyan tradition we have a covenant prayer that is often used during the Watchnight Service on New Year’s Eve.  As we renew our covenant with God we offer some dramatic words: “Let me be full, let me be empty.  Let me have all things, let me have nothing.  I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.”  Comfort is not the point or the goal.  It is a condition we may have or may not.  The covenant is to love God and to love the world and to be who we are genuinely meant to be, whatever our condition.

Perhaps one day I will be involved in a great, important ministry in the inner city again.  Maybe I’ll have to leave this place I love.  But wherever I go I pray that I can be me so that I never have to sit on the floor again.  Not the sofa.  The floor.

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