What do you say I am?

Recently I have been asked if I was a minister or a teacher. This was in two different settings, but it was close enough together that I decided to start thinking about it.

In both situations I kind of hedged. I didn’t really say no, and I didn’t really say yes. I am both, in a way. I’m both at the same time, but not officially.

But what makes one official? The paperwork? A ceremony? Does training count? What kind? Or is it simply if you do the work, you are the worker?

For three years, I’ve tutored kindergartners who have learning disabilities or have English as a second language. Before that, I did the same in college for years. I’ve taught classes on various subjects in the medieval reenactment group I was in. I’ve taught classes at my old church. In all these situations, what qualifies me is that I do the work. I just know how, and I do it.

I’ve taken classes in Pastoral care, in the Circle process, and been in the discernment process to be a deacon. I’ve read many books on how to be a minister and how to bridge cultures and styles. I’ve gotten certified as a minister online so I can legally perform weddings for people who are not affiliated with a religious community. In this, what qualifies me is the training.

To me, part of being a minister or a teacher is not that I think I’m better than those that I minister to or teach. It is that I feel it is my blessing to help them remember their own power. It isn’t about “lording” over people. It is about leading them back to themselves.

My goal in both being a minister or a teacher is to help build bridges. I’m a facilitator, a translator. I find out what is preventing them from being able to fully be themselves, and I find a workaround. Perhaps there is some prayer form that they don’t know about. Perhaps they would enjoy painting more than beading. I try to find the best fit for the person.

When people ask me if I’m a minister or a teacher, perhaps I should ask them “What do you say I am?” like Jesus did. Jesus didn’t tell anybody what he was. He just did the work – with no training and no certification. He was all about just getting in there and doing it. He wasn’t ordained, and he didn’t ordain anybody. He was actually against the idea of giving over your power to authority figures.

Perhaps if people on their own are asking me if I’m a minister or a teacher, I am. If they see me that way, then I must be that way, right?

But I’m not a minister or a teacher in the way they think I am. I don’t want them to then think that I have some authority or power over them. It is the exact opposite. I’m here to help them find themselves. I’m here to help remove stumbling blocks. I’m more of a facilitator – I make it easier. In a way, I’m more like a cheerleader than a coach.

Training, pension plans, government jobs – musings from the library.

I’ve realized that I can’t stand training new people at work anymore. There have been so many of them it is hard to care. It is hard to form an attachment. How long will they stay? Are they going to be gone in a year, having found a job that pays more? Are they just a temp and will work at another branch?

It is hard, having new people there. They are in my way. They are underfoot. I’ve been there since the beginning. That is thirteen years of being in the same place. We have a certain routine, a lot of which I formed. There are certain ways that things get done. There are certain places where things go. I get a little bent out of shape when I can’t find something, or something isn’t restocked, or something isn’t completed.

I’m thinking I have a bit of Aspergers’. Or maybe this is just being old and being set in my ways.

I’ve tried to really invest a lot of energy into new people for all these years. I want them to do well. I want them to learn all the tricks. But then I remember that nobody told me all these tricks. I had to learn them the hard way. I had to figure it out and struggle through and then mess up and get yelled at by either the patron or the branch manager or both. I wonder why I’m trying to save these new people from all this when nobody tried to save me from it.

Maybe this is selfish of me. Maybe I should want to save them from a lot of trouble, even though nobody saved me. Maybe I’m really trying to make myself feel better by thinking I’m useful to them, or I’m trying to establish myself as an authority figure they can go to when they need help.

Or maybe I am a curmudgeon.

Or maybe I’ve spent just enough time working for a government agency that I realize that even if I give my job my all, that I won’t get paid more and I won’t get promoted and I won’t get noticed. There is something about working for the government that promotes mediocrity. The worst employee, who is just doing the minimum, and the best employee who is really inventive and creative and enthusiastic are the same in the eyes of the job. They both get paid the same. They both get the same benefits. It is kind of disheartening.

And then I think that part of my issue isn’t new employees at all. It is the fact that I dislike spending all my waking time at work. All of my healthy, productive years are given to a job. I’ll be 60 before I’ll be allowed to retire with a pension. While I’m grateful for a job that uses my skills and has a pension plan, I also resent the fact that the job gets more of my useful years than I do.

This is why I shoehorn in my writing time. I write before work, at lunch, and any other time I have a spare moment. I write in doctor’s waiting rooms. I write while waiting for my car to be serviced. I write while my husband is driving us on vacation or to go out to eat. I write all the time.

This is also why I exercise. I want to be healthy enough to enjoy my retirement when I finally get it. My parents died before they could retire. I’m very aware of how short life is.

Ideally, I’d work part time, or at most 30 hours a week, but the pension plan won’t cover either of those options. So I’m trying to fold time a little to get some living in there in the meantime. Because you never know if you will make it to retirement. You might get cancer. You might get hit by a bus. You might get stuck in a tornado. Things happen.

In the meantime, I keep having to train new people. Why have I stayed here this long? So many others have left. It doesn’t pay much. There is no real path for promotion. But if you are a people watcher, this is the best job ever. People come right up to you – you don’t have to make up stories about them. Every part of the drama of human existence happens at the library. Sometimes it is explained in books. Sometimes it is lived out in patrons or coworkers. There is a lot to learn in a library.

Honestly, I’m not sure I could do much else. I have a degree in English, but my training is in retail. Working in the library is a lot like retail. It has a better image than retail, sure, but the process is the same. And I feel really tied to the idea of health insurance and a pension and vacation and sick time. I’ve built up quite a bit of time. If I started at somewhere else, I’d start at the bottom.

And I’d be the new person, in the way, having to be trained.

Reformation

A reason for the protestant reformation is that people wanted to have a say in the church. They wanted to participate. The priests were doing all the stuff in the church. So now we are here today. How much of what we have now is lip service? How much can the people really do? How much are we taught, and how much are we kept at arm’s length?

I feel that today’s church does not empower. It does not teach us how to hear the voice of God. It does not teach us how to be awake or how to serve. It teaches us to be good docile sheep.

I’m starting to have an empathy with Mary, with Peter, with Martin Luther, and with John Wesley. What was it like to be them? They all started something new, but they didn’t mean to. They had no template and no map. They all knew a change was needed, or was happening and were swept up in it. Some of them thought that they were part of the past, just bringing it up to fruition. They didn’t realize they were bringing change.

How come I am able to have conversations about God at the Y, but I can’t at church? These are deep conversations about how God has talked with us, right here, right now. I would mention something God had told me, and my conversation partner would then tell me something that God had told her. We would both be uplifted by sharing our experiences. We now seek each other out to have these conversations. There are three of us now who meet to exercise in the pool on Sunday afternoons and we have our own little version of church.

I told my priest from the very beginning of my re-joining church about my conversations with God, but when I started telling others at church about them I was chastised. I was told it was a conversation stopper. I was told that it made them uncomfortable. Of all the places in the world, it isn’t OK to talk in church about how God talks to you? I was told it made them uncomfortable because they weren’t having such experiences. Church would seem like the very place to find like-minded people. I would figure that would be a reason to go to church – because you want to share your experiences.

One reason to go to church is to share your faith. To share means to grow in it together. I like hearing about how other people hear from God. It strengthens my faith. It lets me know I’m not “hearing things.” All too often the stories from the Old Testament are just dry stories, dry as bones. They aren’t alive. When we awaken to God, when we listen to His call, we are connected. We become alive. Those stories serve as a template of sorts. They let us know we are on the right path. They let us know when it is God talking and when we are just stuck in our own heads.

Our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. Our God is alive, and real, and loves us. Our God is constantly trying to reach out to us, to connect with us. All our lives is a returning to God. We are born into this world of division and noise, and all our souls seek unity and peace. We long for communion – for union with. To be one with.

If we go to electronics school, we expect to learn about electronics. We expect to learn about resistors and diodes and LEDs. If we go to craft school, we expect to learn how to make things. We expect to learn about pottery and glassblowing and embroidery. We expect in both instances to be given enough knowledge to be able to do it ourselves.

But church right now isn’t a school. It is a museum. The rituals have stayed the same for over 2000 years. We are told stories about past people who heard from God and acted upon His word, but we aren’t empowered to do this ourselves. We aren’t taught how to hear from God.

Is this because the ministers are afraid we’ll not need them anymore? Is this because the ministers themselves don’t hear from God? Or is there something else going on?

I’m just going to be brave here and say this. God talks to me. I have heard from God since I was 12. It isn’t all the time. I have wrestled with this reality for many years because I didn’t know if it was real or not, because I’m also bipolar. I don’t hide this. This isn’t a secret. I have twice checked myself into a hospital. Twice I have realized that something was wrong and I sought out help. I have had spiritual directors and counselors tell me that is very unusual. Most people who are way out there don’t know how close they are to the edge and they just fall off. I knew. I got help. But I’ve had way too many verifiable experiences to just think that this is all in my head.

But I’m terrified of misleading people. It is absolutely critical that I don’t lead people astray. There are way too many people who say they “hear from God” and it is obvious by their actions that the god they are talking to isn’t a very nice one, or isn’t a very healthy one. When I mention this to spiritual directors and counselors they say that my desire to not mislead people is a good sign. They say that it means that I’m on the right path. But it still concerns me, and I still hold back.

In church I asked my priest for training and for oversight. I want to know how to best help people, and I want to be watched. I don’t want to stray from the path and lead people astray. Instead of training and oversight, I got responsibility and micromanagement.

The church is like this. Say I want to go over there to help those people who are hurting. They are lost and broken and need help, but I don’t know what to do to help them. The church says that is great, so here’s a diagram to build a car to get to them. It took two years to get into the deacon discernment process. Meanwhile those people are still hurting and lost. Then once in the process, I’m asked about my spiritual history and my work history and my current financial status and there is a physical exam and a mental exam….and on and on and on. There is absolutely nothing about how to help people. It is all examining me and my motives.

Something feels very deeply wrong about all this.