"Hope is a choice." I was reminded of that recently. Hard work has its place, believe me I know, but if our ultimate trust is absolute productivity, then Christ's leadership becomes suggestive not authoritative. Without rootedness in another, better way (The Way), we easily become fools thinking that we can have our cake and eat it too, overlooking that God calls us to renounce everything in order to follow him. To experience the "things hoped for" and "evidence of things not seen" of Hebrews, according to the biblical writer James we must take action. But the faucet from which it pours is to be built on faith, hope, and love. Based in Macon, Georgia, Smyth & Helwys Press has helped me realize this in a more public and grander scale than usual for me by publishing a project that I have labored on for over three years. Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil: Stories about the Challenges of Young Pastors is no longer a figment of my imagination or a wild aspiration. It is here, available in tactile, tangible terms for your reading pleasure. They even made a Pinterest board for it.
The book, which I both edited and contributed to, is a collection of first-person essays from pastors, mostly under the age of thirty-five, candidly sharing some tough experiences in ministry that they have endured. Thankfully, the contributors represent a variety of theological traditions: United Methodist and Assemblies of God to Episcopalian, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, and more. I was further fortunate to have professors from the following institutions also contribute: Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Phillips Theological Seminary, Moravian Theological Seminary, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of California Lutheran University, George Fox Evangelical Seminary, Memphis Theological Seminary, and Trinity Lutheran Seminary.
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil
may not change the landscape of pastoral preparation at the seminary or church level. I understand that, but I can still hope. It isn't good when Christians and pastors particularly become so preoccupied with the world's happy hour that they can no longer speak the truth because, well, the ability to identify it left them long ago when fear became their drinking buddy. Too many people to count, some rather adamantly, have told me that dreams don't come true, or at least the kind of dreams that involve real risk. It is draining to navigate a Church sometimes devoted to only risking that which they view as nonessential. We need to get away from injecting a gambler's mindset into our lives. "Little risk, big reward" shouldn't be the unspoken motto of Christianity.
It is no safe, easy feat to compile essays that directly address pastors' experiences with ageism and racism, or divorce or the death of a spouse, or corrupt supervisors and search committees, or how hero worship can be so toxic not to mention the stigmas associated with being a pastor who has been prescribed antidepressants. Unbeknownst to the broader society and also many laypersons, there are a plethora of untold dangers, toils, and snares that pastors too often deal with alone in shamed silence. Unfortunately, some pastors look at these happenings as unchangeable norms, a sort of hazing as a precondition to join the fraternity [and sorority] of shepherds. Oh, the tangled webs we weave.
Before sharing what would be a sobering statement, Jesus often said, "I tell you the truth." The truth is that the complexities of the pastoral vocation are exceptionally challenging. Instead of safely dancing around this, I hope that this book will help all of us to recapture our ability to speak the truth in love. There we find freedom. Hewn from an Adamite mess of bones and blood, and dust, we must remember how valuable we are to God. As Trisha Manarin Miller tells us in the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, "We are better together than we are apart."
Respectfully, please don't tell me what God cannot do. I know that God can do a lot through us if we are willing to hunker down and live for more than what we can see with human eyes. As a child, I thought that by now I might be a superhero. Who knows, maybe Mr. Incredible or a sidekick to Wonder Woman? But let's just call that a dream deferred. Despite the fact that I can baptize, catechize, and sermonize with the best of them, I yet am also a writer, doggone it, and I have the Lord Almighty to thank.
Don't let anyone cause you to lose hope. Hope is free, but as "an expectation of a favorable future with God," it is also a choice. This spring I am participating in my first BattleFrog obstacle race, which is a formidable undertaking. I hope that I do well. Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil was a labor of love and I hope that it likewise does well, helping to change the Church and the pastoral vocation from the inside-out.