If for this life only we have hoped, we are most of all to be pitied.
So in my post yesterday, I think I didn’t know just how deep the “pride” of “changing the world” ran, and it has been interesting to see and hear responses to related conversations on Facebook and elsewhere today. Unfortunately, I also had the um, displeasure, of coming across the following article from The Lutheran: “Business as Usual is Off the Table". Two quotes:
“The pastor's work will be more community organizing and startup entrepreneurship, and less presiding at the table. That will require new skills, a new self-understanding, and a new tolerance for ambiguity, conflict and collaboration.”
“Needs outside the door will matter more than customer satisfaction inside the door. The pushback on this basic change of focus will make battles over gender, sex and language seem incidental. Privileged cohorts will protest; established leaders will protest; people accustomed to being served and flattered will protest.”
I'll take the second one first: Is the only thing we currently do "inside the door" "customer satisfaction"? What of the "needs" "inside the door"? The need to hear the Word preached, to need to have sins forgiven, the need to receive the Sacraments? All of that is simply "customer satisfaction"? And anyone who protests is only doing so because they are currently "privileged" and "accustomed to being served and flattered"? Are you fucking kidding me?
Second, the first. Let me be clear: I have been a “community organizer” and a “startup entrepreneur.” My “past life” was staffing political campaigns. I have worked everything from state legislative races to Presidential caucuses. I have worked issue campaigns. I have worked 80-hours-per-week one full year prior to a primary election, for the love of Pete.
All of my time on campaigns was in the “political” division (as opposed to finance, communications, or policy). “Political staff” is in charge of “building the organization.” My job, on each of these campaigns, was to do the following: recruit general precinct and county chairs, recruit county coalition chairs (think pro-life, farmers, veterans, hunters, etc), organize and drive turnout for “events” with the candidate (the rallies you see on CSPAN with the perfectly smiling veterans and perfectly hairsprayed-and-coat-hangered-into-submission American flags behind an enthusiastic candidate), find volunteers to doorknock and call and doorknock and call again every registered Republican in county after county after county, coordinate entries/walk in/find more volunteers for every last “Corn Daze” and Fourth of July and Memorial Day and Veterans Day parade I could find, secure locations for hundreds and hundreds of yard signs and barn signs and drive all over the state to drop them off and get them erected, coordinate with other campaigns on the ticket, as well as the state party, to make sure that we’re all on the same page and not accidentally duplicating each other’s work (which generally happened anyway), attend county party meetings and conventions on behalf of the candidate or the issue, be the ground-level public face of the campaign which more often than not means letting people complain at you about things like “if he was really a Christian he wouldn’t have said ‘damn’ in reference to mosquitos”, and in general, handle anything and everything that doesn’t involve fundraising or media.
Bonus tasks: go toe-to-toe with (er… “tolerate”) the true wingnuts – and believe me, they are out there, have my integrity personally questioned by opposing candidates (“Do you really believe in him, or are you just doing it for the paycheck?”), carve out enough time to attend the earliest worship service on Sunday morning but be back in the office by 10 am, routinely stay at the office until 10 pm or later, rack up numerous speeding tickets, get yelled at by my boss when I can’t convince enough people to leave work at 2 pm on a Tuesday to attend a meet-and-greet with the candidate at Pizza Hut, watch totally unqualified people be promoted to tasks they are utter failures at only because they are sleeping with the campaign manager who is abusing campaign funds to pay for hotel rooms to be with her, collect name/birthdate/ssn of all 500 people who want to see the President at a rally, lie to farmers about gas mileage and engine damage caused by ethanol, never ever take anything remotely resembling a vacation, man the phones reminding people to attend a caucus 2 weeks away until noon on Christmas Eve, shall I go on?????
Some people can do this. And I want to tread somewhat lightly, because there are people reading this, including some very dear friends, who have made careers of staffing campaigns. They do it, and they do it well. And being involved in our semi-democratic-sorta-republic is a good thing; our approximate political freedom is a gift from God, and so too, is the government in general (Romans 13). Working hard for the advancement of worthy causes in the Left-Hand Kingdom is not inherently evil. If God has called you to serve your county/state/country in this way, do it, and do it well, with honesty and integrity.
But for me, it was death. It was death. My mother used to call and ask if I had eaten lunch, and most days, I honestly couldn’t remember. Yes, I worked 14 hour days, 6 days a week, and another 8 hours on Sundays, but who needs Sabbath or sleep when you’re jacked up on caffeine and adrenaline and paranoia? I yelled at elderly men to “walk faster” and would drive 2 hours at 11 pm to find extra cell phones for a phone bank the next day. I accused my own mother of "giving up" when she refused to make GOTV calls after 8:45 pm on Election Night (polls close at 9:00). I did conference calls at 6 am and 11 pm every day. Once, a very cute boy tried to start up a “campaign fling” with me, and I turned him down not on moral grounds but because it would have distracted me from getting a whole city doorknocked for the third time through.
This life turned me quite literally into a depressed, paranoid, lunatic. One year I was convinced the campaign manager had tapped my cell phone and was secretly listening to me share sob stories with my colleagues, testing my loyalty in advance of firing me “any minute now” for not being sufficiently “on board.” On the day I decided to get help, I lied about doing event prep in a county near the border, and I crossed state lines to find a pastor who would listen because I firmly and absolutely believed that if I confessed how awful everything was to a pastor at my own congregation, he or she would tell everyone else in the whole church not to vote for my candidate, and we would lose the election, and it would all be my fault. I don’t know what I said to that dear, sweet, godly man, but whatever it was, it was enough to get me the “suicide interview.”
That life was death for me. Politics – campaigns, elections, community organizing – is death, because it hopes for this life only. It sees nothing but the next event, the next caucus, the next election, the next cycle, the wins, the losses, the reelects. It cannot acknowledge or hope for the age to come, because to do so would be to admit that all the work, all the hours, all the energy, all the money, all the yard signs, all the convoluted policies are ultimately futile.
And it took me a while, but eventually I got out. I know, deep in my soul, what is to say that God lifted me out of the miry pit and set my feet firmly on the Rock. I landed in seminary, where through a series of fits and starts, I ended up in the MDiv program, training to be a pastor. Yes, sometimes I “work” more than I would like, or have to deal with stupid things or ridiculous people. Sometimes I’m frustrated or sad or depressed or overwhelmed or overworked, but “on the first day of the week,” every week, I get to preach life. Life, and life abundant. I get to preach that every power which tries to speak death to the world has been defeated, that it cannot and will not win, because God has decided that even in the midst of the darkness – and oh, but it’s dark sometimes – even in the midst of the darkness, His light will shine, and it will never, ever be overcome.
And if politics is a whore, then Jesus Christ was the powerfully gentle leader of the SWAT team, breaking down the door, cutting the handcuffs off the bedposts, wrapping me in swaddling clothes, and taking me home to a hot shower in a safe house.
So when someone – anyone – but most especially a leader of “this church” tells me that I need to do more community organizing and less presiding at the table, I feel as though they are literally taking my salvation away from me. That person – those people – are attempting to re-enslave me, and to separate me from the only thing that ever freed me. Yes, I react strongly. But only because tonight I’m sitting on my couch, feeling like I’m not allowed to have Jesus, or preach Jesus, but only that I must go back to the place, to the life, that very nearly did me in.
Is that what “this church” really wants me to do? If so, then I was sold a bill of goods in candidacy, and at my ordination, and in my Letter of Call. The prospect of returning to my old life brings me to tears, and yet the “leaders” in “this so-called church” seem hell-bent on pushing me back to Egypt. Did my Lord deliver me only for me to die in the desert?
“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” ~ I Kings 19:10, 14