On Monday, I got another “thanks, but no thanks” letter. It was from a church in another state, in regards to a position that I was interested in, but not particularly passionate about. So when I opened the letter (yes, it was actually mailed on letterhead!), I wasn’t too disappointed to see it was not an invitation to go further in the call process with them. The wording struck me as a funny blend of encouragement and rejection:
“Your information reflects significant gifts for ministry. After reviewing your vitae, the committee feels that your strengths, though impressive, are not compatible with the needs and focus of our position.”
In other words, “We think you’re pretty awesome, just the wrong flavor of awesome.”
It actually echoes what I’ve heard from several committees. They see that I am both gifted for and called to ministry, just not theirs. It honestly is both encouraging and, well, rejection.
I told a coworker recently about how sometimes you stand in a pulpit as a visiting pastor and you just know “these are not my people” but other places are the opposite. I’ve felt comfortable in some of the area congregations – the ones that are made up of folks with lots of college degrees, are widely read and are culturally astute – because they get my jokes and literary references. They are my people, and it’s really easy to imagine preaching, worshiping, serving with them.
Yesterday, I met with a friend about a ministry opportunity she’s been dreaming and scheming about. The pastor would be working with people who had been trafficked, people who have been rejected by and suspicious of the church, most of whom have not earned degrees and spent time in academia. It would be a start-up, which is way outside my gift set. And it would probably mean being a bi-vocational minister for a while, which I have resisted. But what nerd can resist being in on the strategic planning and ideating stage?
This morning, as I was riding Ruby to work, I was thinking about these conversations. Or I should say, they were all tumbling around in my mind, like stones in the little rock polisher we used to have. You know, the ones that you’d put a handful of rough rocks in with some water and sand and let run for hours. Then after much grinding and thumping, you’d open the cover to pull out smooth, shiny stones like the ones they sell in rock shops.
Anyway, these thoughts are tumbling and grinding and suddenly this small, smooth stone appeared. These people are my people. Not the ones in the fancy sanctuary, but the ones in the little building near the transitional housing. The ones whose lives are not the ones they dreamed. The ones who are living at the ragged edges of the margin we are so fond of describing. These people are my people, too.
These people are my people because they are God’s children. Of course they are. But as I turned over that stone, a small, smooth tear rolled down my cheek. Riding down the road, sniffling, I got the message. God doesn’t just want to use the intellectual gifts – my being clever and well-educated. The gifts that come from my varied professional experiences. The gifts that come from years of watching, apprenticing, interning in church and ministry circles.
My particular flavor of awesome includes plenty of weaknesses, brokenness and messiness… enough to be impressive in their own way. And some of the gifts that make up my particular flavor of awesome are born out of the shitty parts of my life, out of the painful memories that make me cry when I think no-one’s looking. Others are born out of the friendships that God has provided over the years – people who opened my eyes and heart to experiences my privilege keeps me from seeing. People to whom I owe more than they will ever know.
Wherever God calls me, God calls all of me. The parts that show up on a vitae and the lagniappe of my lived education.