Sorry Not Sorry

Not everybody is, but if you’re like me, you apologize a lot. If you apologize a lot, you have probably had people point out to you that you apologize a lot. (As if that were news to you.) And chances are that in that case, you have apologized for apologizing at least once or twice, too.

Apologizers like us evidently feel responsible for everything. Responsible for our own comfort level. Responsible for the comfort level of the other people in the room. Responsible for our personal backstory that triggered us into crying in the spiritual direction or therapy session or Stepping Into the Story class. (You will probably cry at least once in Stepping Into the Story. But I’m not apologizing for that, and you shouldn’t either.) Responsible for someone else’s grief even when we weren’t directly connected to the person or situation they’re grieving.

When I was training as a chaplain, one of my supervisors challenged me and my cohort never to say, “I’m sorry,” as an expression of sympathy to patients or the bereaved. Why not? Because the diagnoses and the deaths were not our faults! Nor was the grief. How, we all wondered, were we supposed to effectively minister to people with such hard-heartedness? We didn’t go into this caring type of ministry to be so cold! What kind of CPE supervisor had we landed ourselves with?

A really excellent one, in turned out. He insisted that we find other, more precise, expressions of sympathy. Doing this was–and still is–much harder than offering an apology, because saying “I’m so sad about your cancer diagnosis!” is not a default and feels weird. It’s also hard because at least in this part of the world, we’re conditioned to expect people to say, “I’m sorry for your loss” when someone dies, like we say “Bless you,” when someone sneezes without even thinking about it. It’s just polite. People notice if you don’t say it even if they know it’s meaningless. On the other hand, when the grief is particularly deep, sometimes “I’m sorry for your loss” feels gapingly hollow and perfunctory. It’s more effort–but ultimately also more honest and truthful and sympathetic to do the work of calling up, engaging, and naming the real emotions on the other person’s behalf, than defaulting to the expected phrase.

I don’t have default phrases anymore, and so sometimes if I myself am feeling emotionally depleted, an “I’m so sorry” will escape me and that might be all I have to offer. But on better days, I will put in the work to push through the feeling of unnaturalness that arises when searching for words of comfort to offer that are distinct to the person. I might say, “I’m so sad to hear that,” or “That’s heartbreaking” (if it is–obviously overstating something isn’t helpful either), or “That sounds so overwhelming.” This week a friend was wrestling with the effects of some insecurities that rose up in a situation and I said, “I’m really angry on your behalf that your insecurities are giving you such a hard time right now.” The unnatural phrase might be a little more awkward–for me and the recipient. But their situation isn’t natural either. They deserve more in their struggle than a set phrase or a pat answer, and usually they receive it like a handcrafted gift and find that it feels better, after all, that I engaged their own emotion instead of acknowledging but deflecting it with an apology.

The Listening Post

Some of you have been on Pilgrimage here from the beginning, and so you remember the days of the Online Spiritual Formation Groups (OSFGroups). Back in those days (five whole years ago), we experimented with group platforms while simultaneously exploring focused spiritual themes and their intersection with the Bible, each of us on our own time in writing in a private space. These groups served their purpose relatively well, but the problem with “on our own time” is that eventually all of us (including me) ran out of time, or thought we did, and so regardless of how many weeks and exploration lasted, we usually all petered out about halfway through.

Now that, thanks to a global pandemic, video-conferencing has become both indispensable and also not so weird and intimidating for most people, it seems time to revive–and revise–the groups. Enter The Listening Post, the Pilgrimage’s latest informal Bible study. Unlike the previous OSFGroups, this group meets live over zoom twice a month, and there is no set start or end date–which means you can join anytime and there’s no formal commitment.

“Listening Post” has military, spy-craft connotations, which is not what we’re going for here. We’re trying to support each other, not take each other down. But also, let’s be honest. We do live in polarized times, and not much real listening of any kind goes on in our current cultural climate. Lots of talking. Lots of yelling. And any silence comes from canceling and blocking. True listening can be scary: We might hear things we don’t want to hear. We might feel like our silence implies we are agreeing with things we strongly oppose. We might even find, possibly to our own discomfort, that the other human being we thought was the devil is actually human…and maybe even likable. When it comes to “listening” to the Bible, we might discover we’re similarly disconcerted. What if it doesn’t say what we thought it said? What if it says what we don’t want it to say? What if our ideas about God change?

A small Listening group has already started meeting once a month. At the moment, we’re listening imaginatively to short readings of the story of Moses in Exodus via lectio divina. We’ve been talking about identity and calling and will continue to follow this storyline for a while until we collectively discern together that it’s time for a break or time to explore something else. Anyone 18 and up is welcome to join this group at any time, and, while it isn’t a traditional Bible study (there are many other organizations who offer excellent ones), since it isn’t a structured course either, it doesn’t cost anything to join. You don’t need to be a Christian or have prior knowledge of the Bible–but it’s also great if you are or you do.

Yes, the Pilgrimage is a Jesus-focused, Bible-engaging ministry, but as long as you get that (and also that the primary language here is English, due to my own limitations at present–although translators would be amazing!), literally the only other prerequisites to being part of this group are a willingness (including on the part of me, the facilitator) to practice radical listening and respect, to ask curious questions of each other and the passages we’re reading, and to be open to the idea that God might just show up among us and have something special to say…to you.

The Listening Post meets on Zoom on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month, from 10:30 a.m. to noon. (This means the next one’s tomorrow, if you’re reading this day-of-posting.) If you want to learn to listen and be listened to, send us a message. Let’s hear about what you’re looking for and see if this group is the right fit for you.

Where Your Treasure Is

Once (a very long, seven-year “once”) I worked at a church as a Christian Education Director. My primary (but certainly not only) responsibility being to oversee the Youth Group, teaching them and providing them with educational and ideally also socially beneficial activities throughout the year. These events have mostly kind of blurred together in my memory at this point, but I do have a recollection of one lock-in (sleepover at the church) where all the teens were more expressively bored than usual. The occasion of the lock-in was a fundraising, bread-baking venture for the youth group mission trip later in the year. While the bread was baking, the adult volunteers and I had planned an assortment of other, smaller activities for the teens, from Bible study to silly games. But the kids that night were having none of it. “Miss Jenn,” they moaned (I was neither a spiritual director nor a pastor at the time), “We’re so bored.

Finally I had had enough. “Look, you guys,” I said. “If you’re bored, that’s your own fault. Miss Jean and Dave and I have all given up our weekend for you, we’re here, and we’ve set up these activities. You have been to this event before. You know what it is–you didn’t have to come to it. At some point, whether you’re having fun or not is up to you and what you put into this.” Poor kids. The current culture had not informed them of such realities. But they took it to heart and the evening got much more fun for everyone after that.

I was reminded of this some years later, when teaching Stepping into the Story. During one particular season of that course, the majority of the group were participating on scholarship. Even though these courses have a tuition associated with them, at the Pilgrimage we recognize (because we have experienced it ourselves) that sometimes God invites us into a deeper relationship with Him through our courses which cost money–in a season when we have no money. It’s important to us that if people are genuinely sensing that call, that they be enabled to accept the invitation. It’s also important that our instructors be paid. Sometimes the gap is covered by kind donations from others. This is one reason we have Pilgrimage Outfitters.

I had reached out to the Outfitters for donations to cover the students’ course costs, and people had joyfully come through. About a third of the way through the course, though, I realized that the level of engagement of each member of the class was directly proportionate to the amount of money they had invested in it. The person who had paid the entire cost of the course was fully engaged. Those who had had most or all of the cost covered by someone else appeared, I suddenly realized, to be waiting–just like those teens years ago–for me to make it “fun” for them. We had a conversation about it (it may or may not have been as forthright as the one with the teens–I did remind them that other people had provided out of their own pockets for them to be here), and the remainder of the course was fully participatory and simply beautiful.

Neither Stepping into the Story nor the other two Pilgrimage spiritual development classes are simply Bible studies. (There is a Pilgrimage Bible study, too, that meets twice a month at no charge, about which I will tell you in a week or two, but you can message me with questions if you get impatient.) The classes are full-fledged, college-level courses taught by people trained in the fields of Bible and/or spiritual formation and direction. As such, the associated tuition is very reasonable compared to what it might be to take something similar at a Bible college, seminary, or even some other personal development organizations. Compensating trained professionals should ensure that the instructors bring their best to the course…and also, it turns out, ensures that participants bring their best to the course.

Jesus famously said not to store up treasure on earth but to store it up in heaven, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I think this is frequently interpreted and taught to mean, at its most simplistic, Be more spiritual and less material. Or, Stop treasuring money and possessions and just care about your Immortal Soul! I suppose there is something of that in what Jesus was saying, although frequently those interpretations slide off either side of the fundamentalist/progressive wedge into something weird, unhelpful and maybe even harmful. Plus, if you think about it, the fact that Jesus was God-as-matter and didn’t usually seem to divide things up into “spiritual/physical” categories seems like plausible grounds to reassess that interpretation.

I’m utterly convinced that Jesus Himself longs to be our treasure in the way we are His. But I also have lately been wondering if in context and intent, His teaching about treasure in heaven was more about how and in what we invest our earthly treasure–our physical resources–including our money. He knew that people value money–and what’s more, that we demonstrate what we value by where we put our money. And where we don’t put our money. This is why there are, for example, such things as boycotts.

In our current economic system in particular, while we may lament that sports figures make more money that teachers, there are still enough people who are willing to buy high priced season tickets, or even just one ticket to a game as a treat, that sports figures still make more money than teachers. This isn’t really intended to be a critique of professional sports. My point is, people show where their hearts are by where they put their monetary treasure.

There is a long and sordid history of professional religious people who have swindled their devout flock, been financially unethical, greedy, stingy, and immoral. It’s not something that can or should be ignored or swept away. But in my experience, unless a person has actually been financially defrauded in that way and lived to see the situation more clearly, if they bring up religious charlatans as a reason that no clergy person or Bible teacher or spiritual director should be paid for what they do, it is because that person’s heart is somewhere else, and that is where their money is going instead. It’s okay. It can go there. I don’t think Jesus was actually stating anything that unusual there. He was making a statement of fact–and urging us to put our hearts and our treasure in a place that’s eternally sustainable.

Because when your heart is for the Kingdom of God and He points you to a ministry or a program where the Kingdom of God appears to be growing (this one or another one!), your treasure will follow–whether you pay for a course for yourself, or become a sponsor of the ministry to help someone else. And when you invest your treasure in the Kingdom, your heart will follow, too.

If You Can’t Serve God and Money, Why Do You Ask for Money to Serve God?

Some time around the beginning of COVID, a new person started following this blog. I checked out the person’s own website and found that he seemed to be an intelligent man who loves the Bible, yet who also has had some struggles with The Church. This is typically the type of person that the Pilgrimage serves best, and so I reached out with a welcome email, thanking him for the follow and inviting him to check out some of what we offer here, including the spiritual development courses.

Approximately three months later, no longer expecting any sort of reply, I got one. It said,

I checked out your suggested page. Noticed you wanted some funds for the study. Thanks but no thanks. You should consider doing ministry as a ministry, instead of as a profession.

This begs a question regarding “professions”–shouldn’t all professions be ministry, for a Christian? Also, what does “ministry as ministry” mean? The Bible doesn’t talk in those terms. The original followers of Jesus and the earliest Christians immediately after them didn’t seem to have a concept of a secular/sacred divide. You simply did whatever your work was, as a Christian. As for being paid for it–well, the economy of the day wasn’t structured in quite the same way as ours is, and the earliest church was somewhat communal, so it seems a little tricky to make definitive statements about what was and wasn’t worth compensation at the time, and what specifically one was to do with such compensation in any given situation.

The Bible does tell us about the apostle Paul making tents as a source of income during (at least some) of his missionary sojourns, which might indicate that people engaging in more full-time expressions of what people today would call “ministry” should have an additional work as the source of income enabling to do said ministry. But then again, it also tells us about the apostle Peter and others receiving financial support from the churches they served. (Paul, who actually advocates for the compensation of “clergy” in multiple places, is the one who mentions this; though he contrasts his approach with it, he indicates that the way these other Christian leaders were supported was a perfectly legitimate expectation because “a worker is worthy of his [or her] wages.” Jesus Himself lived (and therefore ministered) off of donations (and a coin found in a fish), for crying out loud.

All Christians are called to minister, whatever we are doing. It’s just that some of us have been given a skill set which is really only suitable for preaching, teaching, and/or “shepherding,” and we’re not that great at anything else. Or maybe that’s just me. All I can tell you is that if I couldn’t “do ministry as a profession,” I’d be living on a park bench right now, and to be honest, most ministry isn’t even that lucrative–so that if I were still single, I might still be living on that bench at this point.

Frankly, though, it has taken me all five years of the Pilgrimage’s existence so far to accept the fact that it takes money to run this thing, and that it’s okay. At the end of 2019, I got a job as a part-time TSA agent–partly because of employee benefits and partly because I was feeling embarrassed that I wasn’t yet a “bivocational” pastor, and this seemed like a good way to become one. But the TSA wouldn’t allow me Sundays (kind of important for a pastor), so I quit after five weeks, and now the airport I would have worked at is not even operational because of COVID.

I wonder about that five-week blip sometimes. I can see a few reasons why I may have been directed down that path, only so far and no farther. One of the reasons, I’ve recently begun to suspect, is that, while some pastors and others in ministry genuinely are called to bivocational work, and while others (although I don’t know any of these and feel like maybe they only exist on TV) abuse the generosity of their “flock” and are really only in “ministry” for the fame and fortune, some of us would get sucked into a pride vortex if we could say that we could support our own selves and not “burden” anybody else that way–and I needed to try it for myself and discover that’s not how I’m called to do it. Jesus and I have been having it out about money for a long time now, and while I still hate asking for money and even talking about it, and I’d rather not need it at all and I know I need to be both wise and generous with it myself, I’m beginning to believe Him when He says that in my case, at least, the way to keep it from becoming my master is to humble myself, get uncomfortable, accept it–and talk about it.

Which is why there’s going to be another money post after this one.

In Spirit and in Truth: Union

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-uc9fe-f876ac

John 4:16-26

“A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth…” Finally we get to talk about what our theme verse means!
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Pastor Jenn
 
Thank you for joining us in “remote worship” today. You may continue to worship and learn with us throughout the week as well, through
 
Morning Quiet (Tuesdays at 9AM on zoom)
 
Prayer on the Spot (Thursdays at 2PM on Facebook),
 
Tithes and offerings, which may be offered by sending a check to Central Baptist Church, PO Box 886, Southbridge, MA 01550, or online at cbcsouthbridge.org

In Spirit & In Truth: It IS About You

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-fcb42-f80882

John 4:10-18

God is the only one worthy of our worship… Worship benefits us because it is in our nature to worship. It is why we exist. The most true-to-ourselves, human thing we can do is worship. But, because that’s true, we are liable to worship anything

True worship? False worship? What difference does it make?

———————-

Pastor Jenn

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