Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Going Through

Yesterday, someone asked me - so, now that you've finished your PhD what are you doing?  I wanted to correct this person and say, no, I don't have a PhD, I have an EdD.  I knew this person thought that my degree of EdD was useless and that only a PhD will do... he is an academic elitist and quite arrogant.  I opted to ignore the PhD part of the question and just answer him.

Even though I'm not still working as a teacher I said - I've been teaching at a Technical College.  I'm sure that in his mind he was saying tsk tsk, a technical college.  If I told him that it was a proprietary school that taught welders, electricians, HVAC techs, and a variety of medical programs I am sure that he would have thought - what a waste of time.  I don't like arrogant elitist people.  I think that's why I loved teaching at the school where I've pour my heart into for the last year and a half.

By most standards, I'm considered well off.  I live in a nice house, in a nice small community.  I drive a Mercedes (used and older) but nonetheless, I have a Benz.  I get my nails done regularly now.  I won't let just anyone touch my hair - in that regard I'm almost snobby.  In the last five years we have finally reached that place that when a bill is due, it is paid.  Even my credit score has gone up.  Life is good.

I'm still the scrappy girl from Brooklyn.  I'm the girl who wore hand-me-downs and whose father was a janitor.  I'm still the poor single mother.  I remember having no food and standing in line to get it.  I remember getting my box filled with commodity butter, peanut butter, green beans, and even canned beef, chicken or pork.  I remember... I remember well.  

Food Stamp coupons
What a wonderful day when your food stamps came.  I never had an EBT card - I would receive large envelopes with monopoly type money - food stamps in the mail.  Or sometimes we'd go to a bank and the bank would give us our rations. 

Change for specific grocery stores
The grocery stores even had fake change that you had to keep track of so you could use every penny of your food stamp allotment.  Everyone knew you were poor - everyone saw you with those books of Food Stamp coupons.  Everyone saw you fumble to make change with fake money.  It was better than not eating.  I managed my money well and fed three children. Without those Food Stamps I'd never be who I am now.  I'd never have been able to get through school, alone, a single mother, with three children. 

I remember the hot August days of standing outside The Wardrobe in Columbia MO for new free school clothes for my kids and voucher for new free shoes.  Everyone knew what you were there for -- everyone knew the line was forming so children could get new clothes for school.  Tuesday was the day you could shop for free with a referral - a referral meant you were officially poor.

Not all of the students where I worked were poor, or single parents, or on welfare - but some where, most were there to better there lives just like I did when I scraped together every possible resource and went to school.  I saw myself in many of them.  Frequently when I'd share that my biggest accomplishment was a GED - they would smile and start raising their hands and say ME TOO Dr. J, ME TOO.  The single moms knew I knew what it was like to go to school as a single mom.

The conversation wasn't over with the man who asked me "Now what?"  I said I also pastor a church.  His response jarred me.  It didn't surprise, but comments like his always jar me.  He said "Oh there is better money in that."  He proceeded to tell me a story about a man who made a good salary as a president of a university but left it to pastor a church because the money was better.  I don't know if that's true - I rather doubt it - I don't know if the man who left the university was driven with a passion and a call for ministry or money.

Sadly, church and ministry have that reputation.  It's all about the money.  It's all about mega-churches and offerings.  It's about driving a big car and living well.  If you give, you'll get.  The bigger the church, the bigger the success and the bigger the salary of the pastor.  Later, we hear of sin and failings by these some public ministries.

He was wrong again.  I don't pastor for money.  I pastor because of passion.  I pastor because it is what God called me to do.    We seemed to have lost the idea of sacrifice, self-denial, and holiness.  We pour our hearts, our time, and our energy into success rather than being with the real folk - the folk like my former students or the folk who worship in a small church.  

And I guess not surprisingly my thoughts turned to an old song.  As a child I sang this song and wondered about being one of the Lord's despised few. We are no longer dying to self.  We are no longer sacrificing and giving all.  

As for me - I'm going through.

Lord, I have started to walk in the light
That shines on my pathway so clearly, so bright;
I’ve bade the world and its follies adieu,
And now with my Savior I mean to go through.
I’m going through, I’m going through,
I’ll pay the price, whatever others do;
I’ll take the way with the Lord’s despised few;
I’m going through, Jesus, I’m going through.
Many once started to run in this race,
But with our Redeemer they could not keep pace;
Others accepted because it was new,
But not very many seem bound to go through.
Let me but follow my Lord all alone,
And have for my pillow, like Jacob, a stone,
Rather than vain worldly pleasures pursue,
Than turn from this pathway and fail to go through.
Come then, my comrades, and walk in this way
That leads to the kingdom of unending day;
Turn from your idols and join with the few,
Start in with your Savior, and keep going through.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Everything I needed to know to be a Pastor I learned as a Sunbeam!

Two weeks ago I said I was going to start writing… well, didn’t do too good on that one.  At least not yet!  I suppose if you have nothing to say, you shouldn’t say it. I think I’ve heard that before.  

Now I’m a pastor.  I’ve been a pastor before but only “sort of.”  By most accounts pastoring a small group in a coffee shop doesn’t really count.  I’ve been pastoral in many ways but without a church.  Just that person people come to with their needs and concerns.  The one with a shoulder people could cry on and find support.  

Prone to self-reflections and doubts, I wonder if I am really prepared.  I have the education.  I have the desire.  I have the heart.  Most importantly, I have the “call.”  Now I have somewhat of a stamp of approval from a large denomination.  The church I pastor has a wonderful history, beautiful people, and meets in a lovely white church with a steeple that lights up at night.  It's the type of church of Norman Rockwell art. 

I drove into church last night from a different direction.  I could see the steeple in the distance.  Like a lighthouse for souls in the song The Lighthouse.  You can hear it here.

One of the congregants in the church said I glow in the pulpit.  Glow? Me?  I think what she meant was that she can tell how very happy I am to be a pastor.  Preaching is the easiest part.  Visitation is the hardest.  I’m shy by nature and much more introverted than people think when they see me preach or teach.  I’m polite to a fault, a product of my childhood where children should be seen and not heard.

I guess this makes me the glowing pastor of the church with the glowing steeple.  But isn’t that what the scripture says?  Listen to Matthew 5:14-16 from The Message:

 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

That’s it – bringing out the God colors in the world.  Not keeping God a secret - being a light-bearer.  I don’t have to worry about how prepared I am; I just have to shine.  God has put me on that hilltop with a lighted steeple with a congregation of people who love Jesus, now we need to shine.

As a kid I was a Sunbeam.  It is the Salvation Army’s girls scouting type program.  I’ve written about it before, you can read that here.   As a Sunbeam, I learned how to shine.  The words of this song seem to capture it very well. 

1.   Jesus wants me for a sunbeam,
To shine for Him each day;
In every way try to please Him,
At home, at school, at play.
o    Refrain:
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam;
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
I’ll be a sunbeam for Him.
2.    Jesus wants me to be loving,
And kind to all I see;
Showing how pleasant and happy,
His little one can be.
3.    I will ask Jesus to help me
To keep my heart from sin;
Ever reflecting His goodness,
And always shine for Him.
4.    I’ll be a sunbeam for Jesus,
I can if I but try;
Serving Him moment by moment,
Then live for Him on high.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Got the Itch

It was in a classroom on one of the lower floors at John Jay High School in Park Slope Brooklyn.  We had to write a composition about an essay, or short story we had read.  I remember picking up my pen and putting it to the three holed paper - loose leaf paper, we called it.  I wrote something about enjoying what I read because I too wanted to be a writer.

That was a very long time ago.  My attempts at writing have filled these pages as well as those of Storehouses of Snow and Kingdom Bloggers.  I can't tell you how many times I've been told to write a book or how many times I have asked - should I write a book?  My analytic mind asks endless questions and never settles on an answer.

But I've got that itch.  I've got that itch to set my fingers to the keys and share my thoughts once again.  Will I ever write that book?  I don't know.  But I need to write.  I thought about a new blog but decided this one will do just fine - I'm still listening to the Sounds of Hope.

I'm a pastor now.  I pastor a wonderful country church.  Since I last wrote I got a doctoral degree.  So yes, it's Dr. Joyce now.  I guess I have published my first book - my dissertation on social media and Christian community.

When I graduated with my doctorate, my students
gave me these balloons and the dog.
Yes, I'm bragging but notice that
I'm the best teacher in the universe.

I got to hear students call me Dr. Joyce in classrooms at a Technical College. I recently resigned feeling the pastorate needed more of time.  I loved being a teacher and pray God will open up that door again.  I've seen adult minds expand. I've seen ideas light up the face of students.  I've laughed with them and heard them share their deepest secrets.

I wonder if I should have been a teacher all along.  I don't know.  I should know.  I'm old.  But perhaps one is never old if one is still exploring and learning and changing.

Exactly what thoughts will fill these pages, I don't know yet.  Come along with me.  Share your comments and thoughts.  I'm off on another journey. Join me.