Santa Barbarian Way: Institutionalized

lionYou either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. — Harvey Dent

On January 19th, we started a sermon series called #SantaBarbarianWay based on the book Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus.

The premise of the sermon series is that we’ve become a bit too domesticated and civilized when it comes to our faith. Jesus was wild; raw; untamed — and it made the already religious nervous. He threatened the job security of the religious elite.
Today, instead of taking risks and tackling challenges, we’ve settled for security; for familiarity; for safeness. We’ve embraced tradition. Instead of accepting God’s call and invitation to go!, we’ve stayed in our buildings and invited God to dwell with us.

As I have prepared for the sermons, there has been a lot of inner turmoil within me. Perhaps the one being affected most by these sermons is me.

Years ago, I remember sitting in a room full of board members (of the Board of Ordained Ministry or BOOM) asking us about our thoughts of the ordination process. I remember telling them that I felt that they were domesticating me. They were training me into becoming a “suit”; that they were more concerned with me being a “good Methodist” over a good person; that all their leading questions were requiring me to give them an answer they wanted to hear. And anything that was different from their thinking, I felt, was viewed as a threat or danger and required me seeing a spiritual guide or a psychologist (a common “suggestion” given by the BOOM).

I hate the feeling of being confined and am a bit claustrophobic.
I hate to be labeled or stereotyped. And yes, it has a lot to do growing up being the only Asian person in my class and the things people thought about me. (No, Chinese is not the same as Korean. No, I don’t know Bruce Lee. No, we don’t eat dog. Oh wait, never mind. That is us.) It has a lot to do with being a PK (pastor’s kid) at a Korean church and the unrealistic expectations that people had of me.
It’s why I go out of my way to be horrible at math (okay, that’s just an excuse. I’m just naturally bad at math.)
I mean, the hatred of being confined is so in my head, I get nervous when I have to preach behind a pulpit. I feel like I’m trapped; being confined. I hate the way the robe makes me feel claustrophobic. I know it’s all in my head. I know I’m neurotic. I’ll never wear a clerical collar because I don’t want people to label me as pastor and treat me differently (well, never say never, right?). It’s not like we get free stuff these days for being a clergy…

During those Ordination years, I also hated meeting with other clergy because I would always be the youngest one present, by decades. And they would go out of their way, it felt like (though in retrospect, I’m sure they weren’t) to belittle me and be condescending. They would tell me that I need to learn how the real world and real ministry works; that I was being naive; that I was being too unreal and too simplistic; that I had passion, but it was everywhere and that was not good.

It’s funny — no, it’s sad and scary — how things change when you climb over that wall and be part of the “civilization.”

Somewhere along the my path, I’ve become institutionalized. I’ve lived long enough to see myself become the “villain,” if you will. (I am aware that this may just be all in my head)

My wife and other folks would come share with me ideas about ministry and I’d be quick to remind her and others — resources are scarce (even though I’ve preached that vision always comes before provision). It’s logistically impossible. I have too much on my plate to tackle that. That’s not how it works. You’ll see things differently if (or when) you become a pastor.

I remember a phone call with someone who was in his first year of youth ministry and saying, “Give yourself a little time and you’ll see that things work a little differently. Things aren’t that simple and easy.”

Once we’re “in” we forget all about being “out.”
We forget the struggles; the heart aches; the loneliness; the anger; the hurt as a member of the “out” group. All we may see now is that not everyone can be part of this group.

Once a certain “banned” group forces their way into the door to become members of an exclusive country club, those same folks will work even harder to keep the next group out.
Some Christians forget we were (are) sinners and put on the shoulders of others heavy packs that are impossible to carry in order to receive grace.
In our history, we Christians, as soon as we became the official religion of the empire, forgot how we feared for our lives; how we were hunted and persecuted; and with a flip of a switch went on persecuting all who didn’t think like us.

Today, I see myself on the side that I fought not to be on.

I feel a lot of unrest rising within me.
My eyes are open and I realize that I’m too comfortable in living in a civilized and domesticated faith. I’d rather be comfortable than take risks.
At 20-something, I had nothing to lose. So it was easy to risk everything. Say anything. Do anything.
Perhaps now, I think I have more to lose, therefore risking everything comes at a greater cost. Perhaps now, I think that I have a reputation to be mindful of. What rubbish! At what cost? I’d rather challenge everything than have a good reputation because I stayed silent and hidden.
Perhaps, there was shift within me that was more concerned of being a good Methodist than a good person. Perhaps I was more interested in being a person of the book — in this case the Book of Discipline. But the biggest sin of being a person of the book — whether it be the Bible or the denominational laws — is that one will always value the book over a real person. Which we see happening all around us, all the time.

This rising restlessness within me is telling me to question everything.
My calling. My ministry. My profession. My employer — the United Methodist Church. And not in a bad way, at all. In a necessary way. Why am I doing what I am doing? Who am I? Who am I, really, in Christ? Why am I the kind of pastor I am today? And so forth.

This restlessness is causing me to be awake and see everything with eyes wide open instead of blindly accepting everything because that’s what the powers to be tells us so (and not that the powers to be tell folks to accept things blindly).

Consider this a wakeup call.
And I’m… finally waking up.

3 thoughts on “Santa Barbarian Way: Institutionalized

  1. “Some Christians forget we were (are) sinners and put on the shoulders of others heavy packs that are impossible to carry in order to receive grace.” (quote from you)

    What if, instead of this kind of “Christian thinking,” we all were told from birth that we are made in the image of God and because of this we will naturally act like God? We would then recognize God in us and God in others. It’s a simple thing, but the idea of being a sinner from birth is negative. I’d much rather believe I was/am a child of God, not a sinner. If I believe I am a child of God, my life will reflect this truth. If I believe I am a sinner…….

    1. I used to say things like “we’re all sinners” but more and more have been using the image of God thing.
      That we are all made in the image of God… and the image has been distorted by what we do to others; to ourselves; what others do to us — and God longs to restore God’s image within us and for us to restore and affirm the image of God in others…

      Btw that quote you quoted — it’s the Common English Bible’s translation of Jesus’ words to the pharisees. Perhaps, I should’ve put quotation marks.

  2. Oh no, you mean Jesus got it wrong? …I mean the translators of the CEB got it wrong? I prefer to think of myself as a child of God, a child who wants to imitate the Father, not a sinner who needs to do good things so the Father will look on me with favor. I wonder how Christians/the church/the world would be different if we all could believe and act as if we were children of God and because of that would recognize the God in others?

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