For five years I was pastor of a congregation of mostly 20- and 30-somethings, a group some would call postmodern or “emergent.” Spirit Garage was born in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, an area populated by thousands of young people. In those days people would ask me about our model or formula for this ministry. I always found it hard to describe. But after taking up a new sport, I found an apt comparison: ministry in the postmodern era is like racing mountain bikes.
Schmidt and Felch, both of whom teach literature at Calvin College, have produced anthologies of writings—including both prose and poetry—about each of the seasons of the year. Summer includes writers as disparate as Anne Lamott, Walt Whitman, N. Scott Momaday and Madeleine L’Engle.
One night over burgers and some libation, a seminary classmate declared, “Theology and exegesis won’t matter once you’re in the parish. All that will matter is whether you work hard, and whether they like you or not.” The rest of us scoffed, but now that I’ve been doing parish work for 25 years, I sometimes suspect that he’s right.
In 1980, Marilynne Robinson published her first novel, Housekeeping, which won a PEN/Hemingway Award and was made into a movie. She published nonfiction works during the next 24 years, including The Death of Adam and Mother Country, but kept her fans waiting until 2004 for a second novel.
Elijah, the great prophet who has traveled the length of Israel and spoken the word of the Lord directly to Israel’s king, is now about to take the longest journey of all. Somehow he knows that his time has come. His disciple Elisha knows too, but they do not speak of it. Instead, Elijah turns to Elisha and says, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.”
It was time to sit down with my church’s personnel committee and plan a new year, and I was ready. I knew just how to make the case for a salary increase: I asked for a raise to a level equal to 100 times our secretary’s salary. I explained that the standard metric for executives is a salary equal to 400 times that of the company’s lowest-paid employee.
Several decades ago, when I was filling out my application for seminary admission, I came to a question that asked me to provide biblical justification for my calling. I knew I wanted to attend seminary, but found it difficult to state why. Then I remembered my Wesley Foundation pastor preaching on 1 Corinthians 9:16b, and I wrote, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” The text expressed the urgency I felt and even a tinge of divine necessity—although I think I knew even then that I was going a bit too far.