One of the striking aspects of shifting from pastoral ministry to landscaping last spring was the change in how I was perceived. When I would be mowing, planting, or some other work for a home owner I would regularly go unnoticed. Sometimes it was just letting me do my work, while at other points it was more like actively being overlooked. In my pastoral work and personal life I interacted with people from a variety of backgrounds and there was generally a sense of relating as equals. But all of sudden, because the outward form had changed and I had the title of landscaper, I was in a very different position. There was nothing different about me, but people related to me completely differently.
Then outside of work when I’d be hanging out with Hillary or the kids and look less like a landscaper and more like your average young professional the tables would turn again. Because of how I looked along with certain cues about my education and our lifestyle, it would be assumed that I belonged among the successful and upwardly mobile.
Even among my landscaping coworkers, I saw this big change in my “status.” Though they knew I was a pastor just weeks ago, they would talk about their lives openly speaking of the things people don’t tell “clergy.” Whatever filters existed would quickly come off, because we were in a work setting and I quickly got to know people as they were. If as I pastor I had sat down with them and tried to get a feel for who they were and what life was like, it would be a pretty different experience.
All of this has made me more aware of how I depend on outward appearance in relating to people and made me wonder about the self hidden under the uniform. Under a successful veneer I know there are many just getting by or not even making it. The guy plowing the snow from the driveway or shoveling the sidewalk has more happening than I realize.
The bible teaches us that every human is full of glory and ruin because we are made in the image of God but twisted by sin. When I think about all the uniforms we wear and the matching or contrasting realities underneath it points me back to the essentials. I need to relate to every person as a reflection of God himself. Through all the layers we put on and despite the distortion of sin there is a human behind each face, under each uniform. I need to be wise because appearances are often deceiving, but my primary calling is to love. And God knows the heart. He sees through it all and will make the truth plain in time.
On Monday evenings Hillary is usually in Rhode Island, spending the night so that Wesley can go to preschool the next morning. As I ate my dinner in a quiet house I thought I’d read for a little bit. The Road, which I recently downloaded from our library, pulled me in and I had an incredibly hard time walking away. I’m a little over half-way through the book and have been struck by the desperate vulnerability of the father and son, the primary characters. I’m not speaking of the “vulnerability” associated with airing my feelings or opening my life to a friend, but powerlessness. The father and son grapple with a world without hope that where death seems the only conclusion. Through understated, almost staccato, dialogue the father tries to reassure the son, and himself that it will be okay. Yet the reader is left wondering if there is such a thing as “okay.” The sense of exposure, risk, and vanishing hope build as the plot unfolds.
Also on my mind is an upcoming opportunity to speak at the chapel service of a local Christian school. One of the key verses I’m drawing on says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law…” (Galatians 4:4). I’ve been thinking how Jesus did not come into this world and take a privileged place. He was part of a despised minority, he was poor, he was not understood by his family or closes friends and in the most fundamental way, he died alone. So, I think of vulnerability, exposure, and powerlessness when I think of Jesus entereing this world. I think of the conversations from the book where the father wants to make it okay and cannot. Why would God want to put himself in such a position? Why would the father step back and let such injustice flow to his son.
Wow, I love to read good books and am thankful for all the ways that Jesus pops up. I can see myself in the Father and Son relationship not wanting my child ever to fear or experience anything beyond what he or she should handle. It is amazing that God does this for our salvation
There are three major side effects that I see as I’m involved in raising money for the church planting fellowship (though I know there are others).
The first thing I’ve noticed is that I wear my heart much more on my sleeve than usual. I’m a fairly stable guy, especially when it comes to all the “emotional stuff.” So it was with some consternation that I realized my increasing fragility. There has been this trend where in a sad set of circumstances, not only, would I think “this is sad,” not only would I feel weighed down, or gloomy, but I would begin to get choked up. At one point, I was preaching on Jesus’ words “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” and there was this emotion spilling out. Another Sunday I was in church singing a beautiful song based on the 23rd Psalm and as I thought about the love of God I could barely hold it together. There’s also the darker side where my anger seems right under the surface, ready to jump up at the slightest provocation. At some point I was talking with Hillary and reflecting on such episodes and the pieces began to align.
We’re a little worn down so everything underneath is closer to the surface. Furthermore, we are in a position of need and feeling vulnerable, so everything is felt a little more intensely. Our highs, lows, temptations, and strengths all seem to have increased in intensity. I guess we are like rivers swollen in spring time or nearly dry in drought and there is little in between.
The second unintended effect of fundraising is an increased sense of providence. Christians regularly say that God rules this world both in the large events and the mundane, ordering all things for his purposes. Each day I believe this to varying degrees, but as of late I’m tapping into this reality more because I have to believe in providence. There is this goal ahead of us, initially to raise money and eventually to help start a new church. Both of these, from a human perspective are beyond us, so it pushes us more and more towards relying on God’s providence. On the financial side of things, we know that God has the resources and we’re looking for the time and place in which he will make the connections happen. We don’t know when or where, so it helps us to be even more vigilant to live in the light of God’s providence day by day.
Finally, we see more clearly the things we run towards instead of Jesus. When we’re vulnerable, or feeling thin, or unsure of God’s providential hand we all tend to cope someway. All these mechanisms of attempting to function apart from God become clearer, as does their insufficency. We have ice cream in the freezer right now and it is very tasty, but a spoonful, or bowlful, or gallon does not bring peace.
It’s been a while since I’ve specifically talked about our progress on raising money, so click the file below for the latest update.
Fundraising Goals and Progress – November
Bittersweet is one of the first plants for which I leanred the botanical name. Celastrus orbiculatus is an invasive species that we come across regularly when weeding and maintaining gardens. You can identify it by the spindly vines, roundish leaves, and orange roots. Thinking about this plant brings to mind much from this season of landscaping.
“Bittersweet” is also the word my landscaping manager, and closest friend at work, used to describe the ending of the season. The end of the landscape season is sweet because we’re worn down physically, the work grows a little dull,the daylight fades, and cold breezes chill you through the day. The coming winter means time at home – resting, working or something in between. The end of the season is sweet.
The end is also bitter because there are aspects of the work that we love. There are mornings so fresh that I laugh, afternoons that gently sweep into evening, and the satisfaction of working with my hands. I will miss the people, which is really the sweetest part of work. Through this year and a half of landscaping I’d often spend more time at work in a given week than I would with my family. These friendships are significant and I do not know what will happen down the road when we do not have all this time together. Without the hours stacked, day against day, what will last? So many of our conversations take the hours to develop, even though they may only last minutes. The daily chatter is the subtext from which the points of deeper connection spring.
It is both bitter and sweet that I will not be back next year. While I long to move onto the work of church planting which God has ahead of us, I will miss my friends and my role in the company. I will miss my coworkers who do not see me primarily through a title (pastor) but in many ways relate to me as one of them. This will probably be the last time I have this shared experience. I feel the chapter closing and deeply anticipate the next, but cannot look upon this ending without sadness. I am glad that God, who “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…” is the one who assigns times and places. There is a lot behind this portion of scripture from Acts 17, but I resonate with God’s overarching rule in where we go and when.
In preparation for moving to RI, we are about to put our home in West Hartford on the rental market. So I’ve been learning from the IRS about the tax law for rental properties. Surprisingly it has been interesting. I understand why people rent and see some of the significant tax advantages. So we’ll have it on craig’s list shortly…