As boy I had a sunny disposition. For the most part, people around me reflected back to me warm affirmation. Our home was largely free from conflict; I cannot remember a single instance when someone in my family raised a voice in anger. I always had a close circle of friends, and although we would often tease each other, we all knew that it was done with affection. I approached the world with an openness as wide and trusting as the outstretched arms of someone anticipating an embrace. In other words, I was completely unprepared to deal with the criticism that comes with being a pastor.
At the annual banquet of the University of Chicago Divinity School, first-year student Rebecca Anderson knocks ’em dead with a stand-up comedy routine. But then she should: she was previously a stand-up comic. “When I tell people here I grew up in a fundamentalist family, they treat me like I just got out of a POW camp. 'Oh my God,' they say, 'Are you OK?'"
In a time when people are profoundly confused about fundamental identity issues and desperately trying to construct life as best they can, it is critical that pastors recover the poetic dimension of their ministries. What the congregation needs is not a strategist to help them form another plan for achieving a desired image of life, but a poet who looks beneath the desperation to recover the mystery of what it means to be made in God’s image.
Pastor Maria Edmonds is doing gang ministry in the mountains of North Carolina. As she puts it, "They’re not accepted anywhere else. So I figure Jesus would have me spend time with them.”Millions of dollars are spent each year at the federal level to combat gang activity and reduce gang-related violence in our big cities. And, as Edmonds has discovered, gangs are also a feature of life in many small towns.