Thursday, February 9, 2017

A change in course that came out of a regret . . .

A past regret:  Choosing sides for the WRONG reason.

Earlier in my life, my personal self-esteem wasn't in a good place.  My personality style was one that needed lot's of affirmation.  The more I thought people liked or needed me . . . the greater my own sense of self-worth.  I craved acceptance so I could feel good about myself.  So, I started looking for a groupt that would accept me.

Perhaps that's why I was drawn to team sports and work activities.  If I could succeed at carrying my load, then affirmation would surely follow.

What ended up happening was this . . . I wasn't willing, or was too afraid, to stand up on my own two feet, or have an original thought that I was prepared to defend.  I wasn't willing, nor did I want, to deal with possible rejection.

One day I decided I couldn't live like this anymore. So, I became a police officer in a large Texas community. I quickly grew up, real quick.  Despite my attempts at self-sabotage in the process (out of fear of failure), I surprised myself and finished a 4-month police academy.  I even graduated 3rd in my class.  I was elected as one of the class leaders.  It was a time to "put-up and shut-up."  I then worked as a police officer for almost 7 years.  It was my boot camp.  I guess I needed a boot camp.

My "call" to return to the ministry was there the entire time.  I'm not sure it was God's  call as much as it was my hearing my maternal grandfather's voice in my head . . . he hoped someone in the family would follow his footsteps into ministry.   We thought, talked and prayed about it for several years.  My wife gave her support. I called the District Superintendent.  I began the District ministry candidate certification process . . . and suddenly I had a two-point charge way out in the country.

I grew up at the beach near South Padre Island in the Rio Grande Valley.  I was a surfer kid.  I didnt know a heifer from a yearling from a cow or a bull or a steer.

Suddenly . . . I felt like I was on a deserted island.  I felt alone, ill-prepared for the task, and frozen in place.  Even though my theological training was just starting, I was expected to know what to do.  I was expected to know how to deal with ranchers and cowboys and country folk. I was expected to know how to "straighten out a church."  I think I was sent to that church because I had been a cop.

In the ministry . . . we call feelings of lonliness and isolation "normal."   I didn't know that then, but I know it now.

I didn't know many of the pastors in our District. They were tight-knit, and I was the new guy from the city who had been a cop.  "Let him prove himself," they said.

The old feelings of self-doubt started to creep back into my life.  I was scared, and that feeling can help you feel lonely.  I began to yearn for contact with other people.  I began to want acceptance.  Some say that feeling this way is a sign of immaturity.  I don't believe that to be the case.   My personality style craves companionship.  I'm an extrovert.  But being an extrovert is not a good thing to be when you are the only pastor on staff.  Actually,  I was the only paid staff at my first church.  So, off I went looking for a group who would like me, accept me, and help me.

In my search for acceptance, I was approached by pastors that supported the Good News Movement.  I liked them just fine, but I didn't believe like they did.  I didn't feel their issues were anything close to the passions I had.  But I chose to be part of that group.  Why?  It felt good to belong, good to have people to talk to, good to have people who would email you.  It was good to be able to call another pastor and ask, "How would you deal with this situation?" Looking back on it now, I didn't think through the process very well.  Over time, I came to regret that.  When I became "one of them," I got labelled.  That's a risk when you associate with any group.

I would claim and defend before anyone that I am "orthodox" in my faith. People who know me and have worked with me understand that I am not conservative in my personal practice of religion or politics.  But I became labelled as a religious conservative.  Now to be fair, part of that was due to my later serving as a senior-associate pastor of a large church in central Texas, whose pastor was a known conservative leader in the Annual Conference.  I was good at helping run a church, and really good at pastoral care.  That pastor and I didn't agree on much theologically, but we could do ministry together.

I still remember the comments back then. "Oh you work with (insert name here). We don't need someone with your theological views to help us."  I can understand that, but I had never shared my theological views with them in the first place. They never asked.  They assumed.

Several times I contacted people with an offer to help with projects or ministries only to be told, "We understood that you were conservative. We thought you probably wouldn't want to help or serve."  

Several years later, thanks to life experience, maturity, and identifying good counselors where ever I was, I became much more secure in myself, in my personal identity as a child of God.  I began a plan on howto step away from what I had been labeled.  I started being who I was.  The process was hard, but it was deliberate and focused.  My message was this,  "I believe in God's love for the WHOLE world.  I do not believe in using the Bible to to label, criticize or subject people into sub-standard or sub-human classifications."  To tell you the truth, people were surprised.  "Why the change?  What happened? What caused you to change your view of things?"

Nothing changed. I honestly never changed my mind.  I just finally made a decision to openly live what I have believed all along.  I grew up.  I matured.  I became OK with being me.  Acdeptance by others was something I no longer needed.  I alone am responsible for my happiness.

I guess I haven't choosen sides in almost 20 years.  I will not choose one group over another.  My vote is for "everybody."  I know it is not often possible, but I first look for the win-win in every situation.  I look for the what I call the "Jesus Way."  

That all being said, I've been approached by groups these past years who have asked for my support for their theological causes.  "We have to defeat this threat against Christianity!  We have to defeat this attack on the church" is what they often say, in one form or another, hoping that doing so will get them my vote or support.  If the process includes attacking people without the benefit of constructive discourse between all parties involved . . . count me OUT!

The truth is . . . "causes" are often nothing more than a desire/need that everyone has to believe and think the same.  Their personal / group happiness actually depends on the actions of someone else.  My God is a lot, lot, lot bigger than that.

My feelings about this are clear . . . people who can't be happy unless other people act a certain way . . . are nothing more than cowards at heart.  That;s my humble opinion.  I would maintain that people who do this have very narrowly read the Bible looking for support of their feelings.  I would also suggest that they do not own their feelings at all, but have accepted the opinions of others as a way of gaining acceptance.

Been there.  Done that.

I think that is called . . . manipulation.  Not sure Jesus used that as a leadership technique.

My decision . . . I will not choose sides if it means I have to say someone else is wrong, or affirm that someone else is right in order to be accepted by someone.  I will not choose sides if it means that people are demeaned as human beings and as children of God as a result so that someone else can "feel" better.  Their happiness IS NOT my responsibility.

Nope, I won't do it.  I won't choose sides.  My effort instead will be focused on purposefully choosing to see everyone as a fellow child of God.  Everyone.   For God so loved the world.

I have lived with a tinge of regret about choosing sides in the past, and about why I did so.  Over time I have revisted those decisions, and I have learned from them as a result.  I've come to understand that I have grown as a person of faith and as a pastor.  Yes, I've changed, but in ways that have brought spiritual health.  I think I'm on the road now that does the most good for everyone.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>


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