Bruce McIver wrote, Stories I Couldn’t Tell While I Was a Pastor. Humorous. True to life. Easily recognizable in the life of nearly any minister and his or her family.
When Words Fail You
Bruce tells of the Palm Sunday sermon that was landing with a thud. Pastors, self-aware types, know when the sermon stinks. No matter how he elevated the pitch to demonstrate his conviction, he knew he was laying a proverbial egg.
His text for the day was a traditional recounting of what we refer to as Palm Sunday. He reiterated the details of Jesus riding into Jerusalem. The King James Version of the Scriptures helped him work toward his point, “And Jesus got off his ass.” No gasps. No snickers. It was in the Text.
His final appeal, driven by his desire to end on a positive note and demonstrate his stalwart convictions, thundered, “And that’s what we need to do, get off our ass!” The Benediction could not come fast enough. Quickly he’s slinked from the sanctuary, hoping no one noticed. Embarrassed.
Bruce tells more like this.
Many Ways to Subvert the Way Things Are
Often I have wondered about writing a similar book. Maybe I would include humor. More likely I would tell stories of the struggle(s). My interest would not be to tell stories of budget issues, infrastructure nightmares, or denominational squabbles. But I just might want to use McIver’s final point in a different way.
If Jesus entered Jerusalem moving toward the climactic way he had been working to subvert the way things were in the world, then I would want to tell stories where we struggle to put that into practice. Yesterday when I was having conversation with my friend Alan about a story breaking in Alabama, a story of my own came to mind. It happened years ago. It haunts me still.
What Did You Say?
Standing in the back of the church in the small foyer I detected dissatisfaction in one of our greeters. Several young people had entered the building. I asked what was bothering the fellow. “Those d— n——!” Startled I pressed further. The reply, “They have their own church.” Some of the young people who came that Sunday, and other Sundays, were black.
Over my short time there I cultivated friendships with young people regardless of their color. Sunday afternoons I could be found playing for several hours on the playground court not a block from the church steps. Most who played were young black men and high school students. I could be found in the gym during off season playing with young people in the community, most were black.
Our small church could not afford to hire a youth minister so I worked to build friendships at the local school. I served as a substitute teacher. I announced football games. And, I attended basketball games, home and away.
The year this particular incident occurred I had been asked by the Superintendent to fill in for the season as the girls high school basketball coach. I did not have any experience. We were not given much of a chance to do very well. Our roster included mostly freshmen and sophomores. I think I was selected because no one would cuss the preacher. They hoped. I hoped.
Eventually we won our district after a rough start. We made the playoffs only to be revealed as pretenders. We got killed. Our consolation? We made it further than anyone thought. Over that season I kept telling the girls I believed in them. They began believing in themselves. By the end of the season, they believed in me.
It is important to note two things. First, the small town evidenced an obvious racial divide in housing demographics. Second, I graduated from high school with more black students than the entire black population of this rural town. I played basketball for a couple of years and was in the minority of all the players.
One Sunday several of the girls decided to come to our church. I viewed it as some of my friends were coming to church. They sat together. Several of our white players seated with several of our black players. Little did I know this would begin to stir some in the congregation.
That Bible There on the Desk
Not long after the event in the foyer we had one of our regular Deacons’ Meetings. Several of the men wanted to know what we were going to do about the blacks that were coming to church. This group of men did not use slurs. Some of them did have the mindset, “They have their own church.” I was asked what I was going to do about it.
I stiffened a bit. I then suggested that I would be welcoming anyone who came to church. I pointed to my Bible on the desk and said, “If you can find a place where we should not welcome all people into our church, I will gladly tell my friends they should go elsewhere.” I went on, “But, I have read that Book cover to cover and do not find it anywhere. I will not be telling anyone they are not welcome.”
The conversation ended.
My friends eventually stopped coming. I suspect they came as a gesture to support the coach who supported them and not much more. Maybe they detected they were not welcome. I do not know.
Every time I am faced with an issue that is rooted in something other than Gospel hospitality and humility, I recall that story.
Get Off Our . . .
When I read another story about Jonathan Greer I remembered my story. I wonder how close I was to a vote of no confidence, a vote to be fired. I will never know. All of my friends who wondered what I would do are gone from this world.
The issue of race, the ugly racism that lay behind the way this young pastor was treated, is one of the very things Jesus undermines. The Apostle Paul writes insisting the Good News makes us into One New Humanity in Jesus.
When I think of this story, Jonathan’s or mine and others, I think of the final point Bruce McIver makes and wonder when will we get off our . . . and follow Jesus.
**If you would like to donate to Jonathan for his support, you can give to Community Development Initiatives and my friend Alan Cross will make sure that he gets 100% of the funds. Just note that you are giving to Jonathan Greer.