Sans Collar

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Good afternoon from my office,

I am between advising, grading, prepping, and trying to manage a bite to eat at my desk. Leftovers and hard-boiled eggs. At least there is protein in that. On this day in 1988, twenty-six years ago, I was ordained as a Lutheran pastor. It is what I expected I would do in some manner the rest of my life. However, as fate, and some of my own choices in speaking with/to/at a bishop and the struggle in a second marriage, would happen, my ordination was taken away from me. I realize my part in that incident and I have learned a lot since then, but while I no longer wear that “turned-around-shirt” as I call it, the ministry I do in many and various ways is no less valid. I am reminded of the letter sent to me by the Reverend Fred Peters, the pastor I most admire in my entire life and the one person who can get away with calling me “Mikey”, in which he encouraged me to see ministry in a number of ways and to realize that even ordained ministry might be reasonable. I think I was a junior in college when I got that letter and I kept it for many years. I remember when I resigned the clergy roster and I cried that day as I gave my Alb and stoles to one of my colleagues.

Well . . . off to my Bible as Literature class, rather ironic in light of the topic that I am discussing. Back in my office and after meeting with one of the my groups in the Writing in the Professions class, I will meet with a second one. I am still working on my grading of the Bible as Literature midterms. I so enjoy that class and the students who have remained in the class. They are thoughtful, inquisitive, and willing to work. They are the diaspora. I told them that today in class and they laughed. What I am realizing about myself more and more is that I see my life as ministry. I am not sure that I have really considered it in that manner before. However, ministry, when it is actually effective is always mutual. And mutuality in an interesting concept. It is reciprocal in that it is both directed and received. It requires a similar progression (not that one must be in the same space or place), a trust and belief that there is a commitment to both persons be built up or lifted up in the interaction. In some important ways I believe that mutual ministry occurs more easily for me now because I am “sans collar”. I am reminded again as I think about this of some of the important prayers that used to be said. On my ordination day I was asked the following question: “Will you love, serve, and pray for God’s people?  . . . leading by your own example in the use of the means of grace, in faithful service, and holy living (OCB 225)? My answer was, “I will and I ask ” (OCB 225). I remember at the end of my ordination service so overwhelmed that I was literally sick to my stomach. I am also reminded of the song I had sung at that service.

This song by John Michael Talbot is one of the most influential songs I know. Even as I read what I wrote above, I know that at times I feel so woefully inadequate. The example I set all too often is a bit more selfish and self-centered than I wish. That is something I am working really intentionally on at the moment. It is that selfishness and neediness that has created some of my difficulties and it is my willingness to help that gets tangled with my neediness that creates some of the problems. It is not ministry and it is not mutual when one of the parties (or both) suffers some sense of hurt or damage. It is with a sense of sadness that I realize how much damage my human frailty brings to bear on situations at times. On the other hand, I was reminded that I am usually more than willing to take more of the blame than I should. I guess that is a life-long problem, but again, knowing from where it comes and managing it is what I need to do and what I am trying to be attentive to at this time. It is interesting that I have been told twice lately that I am selfless . . .  I hope to be such, but I feel I fail or fall short so often. It is interesting (and I have noted this before) that the Greek word for sin is hamartia. It literally means to fall short of the mark . . .  much like shooting an arrow at a target. The intention is always to hit the target, but sometimes we fail. That is the importance of forgiveness, but then again our forgiveness is so conditional. Our ability to move on seems so sketchy.

It is now about 7:00 p.m. and I am still in my office, having met with two more student groups. I love working with them and helping them see possibilities they did not see nor maybe did not even have any idea that such a possibility existed. I am always surprised by some of this, particularly when I am working with technology and they are supposedly a lot more technologically savvy than I am supposed to be. There are certainly times that I am not very savvy. Lately as I tried to work with Windows 8 again, I know so little and my tutor is not really available. I wish I would have had more than a 5 minute lesson one day in an airport. There is so much I wish I knew better, or more importantly, the time in which to do it. I was hoping that some of my books would show up today, but no such luck. Perhaps tomorrow. I would like to take them to Wisconsin with me next week. At least the two about friendship and maybe one on family. Because of my lack of paying attention they ended up shipped somewhere else and now I am at the mercy of the delivery service. I think my exhaustion has cost me once again. Last night I spoke with the first host family I had when I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter Team in 1978-79. They are from Newton, IA and I have been blessed to have them in my life since that summer. They informed me that they are coming to visit me the week of Thanksgiving. I am so excited. Judy and Lee are two of the most amazing people I have ever met and to have them in my house pleases me beyond words. I still remember the first time I walked into their house and I was memorized by the decorating and how everything was so homey, thoughtful, and inviting. It is their example I have tried to emulate in  my own house and while the styles are certainly different, the hope for those who might enter the house. It is my dream that others might feel here what I felt there. If I remember correctly Judy’s Masters degree is in interior design, so I am a little nervous to be honest. However, more importantly, I am so pleased they are coming. We have talked about this possibility for decades. To provide a bit of perspective on this, Their daughter, Anne, was four years old. She is now a professor at Eastern Carolina University. I think that makes me feel really old, but more than feel old, I guess I am. Viejo is a truthful word for me. As Melissa admitted, she referred to me as old man. Oh well.

Well, much like the day of my ordination, I am tired. It has been a long, but helpful day. The ministry I did today had mostly to do with advising. I spend hours working with student schedules, transcripts, and ISIS to make sure they are on track. It is so important to be organized and realize where things are headed for a couple of semesters (or years). I think some students are feeling much more organized and clear about where they are headed and why. You might ask why it is mutual, but I believe it is because I realized that I make a difference in their process and their experience here at Bloomsburg. Some are also realizing that being a bit more proactive is a good thing. I have a couple of more things to get managed before the morning, but my first meeting tomorrow is again at 6:45. Oh well . . . keeps me busy and focused. That is not all bad.

As always, thank you for reading and for those who have commented, I always appreciate your thoughts.

Dr. Martin

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