Chocolate Covered Turds

In the fall, Rob Bell’s workshop “Death by 1,000 Paper Cuts” struck home.  He spoke laughingly of how in the preaching professional it is often not the big stuff that gets to us but the relentless little stuff – the 1,000 paper cuts – that if left unattended accrue to the point of actually being life threatening.  He went on to speak of the frequency of comments sent his way in which the glossy coating of language appeared kind and supporting but on the inside – well – on  the inside was something less than positive.  His phrase -”A chocolate covered turd.”

We no doubt all receive those kinds of comments.  In the preaching profession they are couched in language often starting with the salutation “I loved your sermon but I was wondering …..”  From there the blank gets filled.  ”I was wondering …. why you wore jeans, why you wore those shoes, why you said “God” instead of “Lord”, why you prayed standing, why you were so ‘over the top.’   A friend deeply committed to equal voices in church for men and women wrote of a similar experience to the above when she was told by an individual concerned with the possibility of female pastorships that women’s gifts are far more “subtle” than a males.

The point here is not those comments are “wrong” per se.  They aren’t and hopefully by being spoken they lead to valuable conversations as assumptions are surfaced and challenged.  That being said, they do take their toll over time.

The worse toll may be a loss of focus – a lack of focus all around.

See Church is the best of all human inventions and the worse.  What other group calls us to put down our differences and celebrate a oneness, a connectedness, a centeredness and to do so with love and service in the forefront?  What other group calls us as well to picayune and petty critique?  Faith is God’s purview and yet when held in human hands it takes on human characteristics both blessed and broken.

The liberal heresy in the face of this fact is to often “pack up and go home” – to reject institutional religion out of hand.  In so doing, there is an assumption among some that while connection to God may well be positive, human institutions are fatally broken and best discarded and therefor undeserving of one’s time, talent, or treasure.  It is best then to only do “my own thing.”  On the other hand, the conservative herasy is the belief that the institutions are the be-all-and-end-all.  Therefore one owes an outsized commitment to their health and wellbeing as carriers of the Divine.  It is best then to only do “our own thing.”

The above frankly is one of the reasons why Jesus’ message is so disturbing.  It confronts both the liberal and conservative heresies.

No institution  - the liberal heresy?  That doesn’t appear to hold.  Christ’s call was clear in terms of gathering, preaching, teaching, and healing – of drawing communities together in the belief that in the gathering of community, of a church as it were, we find the best reflection of the Divine.

All institution – the conservative heresy?  That doesn’t appear to hold either.  Christ’s call was clear – especially to the Pharisees – make it all about the “law” and the institution and you will loose the spirit of God’s Word.

I loved the words one pastor offered on faith and the institutions that endeavor to promote it.  He said they represent a holiness that lies “just beyond our reach but that we feel we must remain inside” – making us “alien wanderers yet at home” who stand thrilled by the ideal and dismayed at the silliness.

So the closing thought is this – there is a better way and it ours to discover, together.  As a Pastor, I can field plenty of “chocolate covered turds” without gagging!  But what saddens is the observation of a wide spread inability to get off the dime, roll up our sleeves, and get at it.  Into that void pastors are called to offer disquieting speech.  There is something bigger, more important than our own opinionated hurts – mine or yours.  See there is a hard core – a heart – that we will never penetrate fully which is the heart of the Divine – something always just out of reach.  But that does not excuse us from the work.

Martin Luther King: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”  That is MLK’s way of reminding us of Jesus’ call to, as best we can, to be all in, each individually a church and each forming with others a church that is far more about the substance than the form.  Both liberals and conservatives – and myself – are at times apparently well practiced at “lukewarm acceptance” of that deepest call.

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