Posts Tagged With: fear

Insights into the Election of a Bishop: Part 1, “Fear Doesn’t Make Your Decisions for You.”

This blog was always intended to be a “Missional Church” blog with helpful insights and conversations about how congregations can deepen their understanding of participation in God’s mission. However, the next few posts will be more personal. I believe them to be beneficial for the broader church, but for different reasons. You decide for yourselves.

Here’s the situation: I was recently a nominee for the office of bishop in the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Granted, I was a “middle of the pack” kind of nominee, but a nominee nonetheless. I’m sharing the journey of that process with you from the inside. I hope you find it beneficial on whatever level you at which you are open. So here we go. Part One: Fear Doesn’t Make Your Decisions for You–

The Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA, elected a new bishop at its most recent assembly in April. I couldn’t be more pleased with the selection of the Rev. James Gonia as our new bishop. Jim is without a doubt qualified, competent, experienced, gracious, humble, and called by God to that position. I am elated that the RMS is in such very good hands indeed.

The process leading up to that election was new for us. It involved months of discernment, prayer, meetings, and reading. Last December, all people in the RMS were invited to consider submitting the name of any ELCA pastor they deemed likely to be nominated for the office of bishop. Bear in mind this wasn’t a nomination, it was a “pre-nomination” of those considered likely to be nominated once the assembly opened in April. Confused yet?

As it turned out, I was among the group of “pre-nominees.” No one was more surprised than me to find that I was on that list with 63 other pastors. Someone thought I was at that level of leadership, clarity, maturity, and responsibility to have submitted my name for consideration on this list. I had, apparently, fooled at least one person.

In order to remain on the list of potential nominees, the 64 “pre-nominees” were asked to submit biographical information by filling out a three-page online form. This information would then be publicized throughout the entire Rocky Mountain Synod. Since I had never seriously considered myself “bishop material,” and had never really aspired to that office, declining this offer to fill out detailed information on my views of the office of bishop, my gifts, my challenges, and more seemed an easy call to make. I intended to save myself the embarrassment and headache of this process by simply removing myself now. I didn’t necessarily feel called by God to be a bishop, knew all too well the gaps in my own leadership, and understood that I had a slim-to-none chance of being elected anyway. Withdrawing seemed an easy decision.

But in conversations with God, my family, and trusted colleagues about all this, here’s what I realized during the intervening weeks. This process for me was less about “winning” an election and more about what God may be up to. Maybe I wasn’t called to be bishop, but perhaps I was called into the process for other non-bishop reasons. If God was doing something, and I was being invited to be part of it, then maybe I should consider going along and seeing what that was about. As a strong introvert and foundational nerd whose default setting is to shy away from any situation that might open me up to ridicule, this prospect was terrifying at a core level. I desperately wanted out.

Up until now all this had been someone else’s doing. I hadn’t sought this out; someone else had given my name to the synod office. But if I submitted the requested biographical information, I was saying in a very public way that I was open to being considered for the office of bishop. I could hear the taunts and jeers now, surprisingly similar to those that haunted me through Junior High and High School. “Hey, everybody, look at Moss! He actually thinks he’s got a chance at this! Ha! Who does he think he is? What a loser.” And I could already hear the sneers and the laughter echoing from all corners of the four states and part of a fifth that make up this synod. Junior High terror again, only now swelled to a multiple state level.

“I can’t do this,” I told my family after several sleepless nights. “This whole thing simply terrifies me. I can’t sleep, I can’t think, I have knots in my stomach. This is worse than when I tried out for the Junior Varsity basketball team in 7th grade. The whole school was laughing at the skinny near-sighted geek who thought he could play basketball. It’s just not worth it.” At that point I was glad I didn’t know who had submitted my name because I was thinking somewhat less than charitable thoughts about them.

Then my 25-year-old daughter had the audacity to remind me that as they were growing up, I had always told my kids that when facing new and difficult choices, “fear doesn’t make your decisions for you.” “Doesn’t that apply to you now, dad?” she asked. Dammit. Parental sayings of wisdom are deliberately abstract and are supposed to be for the benefit of the children. They were not meant to be used as weapons to be hurled back at you when you least want to hear them. Because they are freakishly effective.

I stewed on this for a couple more weeks. I spoke with colleagues, confided with my wife, and prayed some rather unpleasant prayers. I pretended I knew just how Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane, and told God that since the salvation of the world was hardly at stake here, couldn’t I just be let off the hook?

But finally, if for no other reason than avoiding accusations of hypocrisy from my three adult children, I quickly filled out the biographical information form and, with trembling hand and churning stomach, submitted it the evening of the last day it could be accepted. Then I went and threw up.

My closest consolation at this point was that there were 63 other pre-nominees. I was certain most of them would also fill out the biographical information and that my name and photo would then be lost in the midst of them. To my horror, when the bios were published, there were only 17 of us. My name, picture, and hastily drafted biographical information were thrust out into uncontrolled internet space where I was certain the mocking and snickers would be unrestrained. My insecurities were flying brightly high atop the flag pole. Every molecule of self-doubt, nerdiness, and inadequacy had risen up and was standing at full attention. There was, from this point on, no place to hide. What was more, now that it was public, I had to tell my congregation.

Watch for Part Two: “The Presence of God is Revealed in Unlikely Ways”

Categories: faith practices, religious, rostered leaders, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Confession of The Terrified, A Sermon for Transfiguration, 2/19/12

Transfiguration of Our Lord

2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

 What terrifies you?

Peter, James, and John are invited by Jesus to come up a mountain with him. They are the only ones he asks. As they climb higher and higher, they think about how special they must be, what an honor it is to be the only ones who get to spend this time with Jesus apart, by themselves. What a privilege.

As they arrive at the top, they begin to wonder what Jesus has in store. Why did he ask them up here? What secret is he going to impart? What special insights will he share with them? Whatever it is, it must be awesome. Special insider information from Jesus himself. And they will be the only ones to hear it.

In their reverie, they look over at Jesus and see something they didn’t exactly expect. He’s changing right in front of them. His clothes are so dazzlingly white that they are glowing. His face is shining. It’s as if light itself was coming out of him. And in the brightness surrounding him, they can see two other people there with him. They weren’t there a minute ago. Wait a minute. . . those aren’t just people, that’s Moses and Elijah, the two greatest and most faithful people in their whole Bible! The three of them are carrying on a conversation as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on.

Moses and Elijah? That would be like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both showing up in an American History class. These are the two people in the Hebrew scriptures whose deaths were mysterious, and who it was believed would be sent by God when the end of the world was coming. Is that what this is about? The end of the world? And they are terrified! Moses and Elijah! And they are talking with Jesus like old friends. What do we do? This is it. The end of the world. The day of judgment! Jesus has brought us up the mountain to die.

And they find that they are so intimidated, so frightened, so confused, so terrified, that they could think of nothing to say, nothing to do. But Peter, who never lets anything get in the way of his mouth, asks Jesus if they should quickly build three dwellings, three booths, because Moses and Elijah are supposed to come—the world is supposed to end—during the Festival of Booths. This really is the end. Peter, James, and John are trembling in fear, having no idea what will happen, what’s in store for them. Mark says here that they are not just frightened, not just anxious, but terrified.

Perhaps like them, you’ve had experiences that have terrified you. A fire, an ambulance, a surgical waiting room. Terror can be paralyzing. Sometimes those things that terrify you don’t even make sense. But they don’t have to. The terror is real. In my case, terror is caused by old messages from my childhood that aren’t even relevant any more. What terrifies me is public ridicule. Not just fear, but paralyzing terror.

You see, I experienced that far too often as a kid. I was the skinny smart kid with big ears and tape on my glasses who was always the last one picked for softball in gym class. I had very poor social skills—I never even spoke to a girl until my junior year in high school. I was an easy target for bullies, and came home from school most days with new bruises—either physically or psychologically. I lived through Junior High and much of High School in a constant state of terror.

So I learned how to stay hidden. Because if anyone noticed me, it meant ridicule and humiliation—on a good day. My fear dictated how I lived my life. I ran away from any situation that would draw attention to myself. I felt I had to stay in the background, hidden. That was the only place where I could feel safe. I understood paralyzing terror as Peter, James, and John experience it. Perhaps you have too.

It took me many years before I could begin to address that childhood terror. As I matured, I recognized that people were no longer seeking me out just to beat me up. Their first response to me was no longer finding new ways to offer me up for public ridicule.

Even though I’ve overcome that terror of public abuse and humiliation, it apparently hasn’t fully left me. However, my terror does not make my decisions. One of the outcomes of that is my being here right now. Being called to proclaim the gospel as a pastor means a lot of public speaking, and that is terrifying—because any of you who’ve done public speaking know how vulnerable you are when you do it. But terror will not make my decisions for me. If God has called me to preach, then I will do so. I will attempt to follow Jesus, trusting him, even if that means walking into terror.

I emailed all of you who are on this church’s email list this week, telling you that I am now one of 17 potential candidates for nomination as this synod’s next bishop. And it terrifies me. Having my picture and biographical information posted on the RMS website opened up that childhood terror of being publicly ridiculed. Though I’m a grown up and have gained some respect in the RMS, my childhood terror has surprisingly kicked into full swing.

But the terror will not make my decision for me. I’ve allowed this process to go forward, not because I necessarily want to be bishop, but because God seems to be up to something. To be honest, the odds-makers in Las Vegas have me somewhere in the middle of the pack, but that’s not what this is about for me. It’s about seeing Jesus doing something, in the most unlikely places and unlikely ways, and being there with him. I am not running for bishop. Some unknown person tossed my name in ring. But Jesus is in this somewhere. Perhaps it’s nothing more than this demon of terror being exorcized. Perhaps it’s so I can be some kind of encouragement to those who find themselves living in terror. Maybe I’ll contribute to the bishop conversation in a helpful way. Perhaps I’ll get to see Moses and Elijah. I don’t know. But I know Jesus is there, and I know my terror will not make my decisions for me.

Mark writes further, “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.”

That’s what I want for me; that’s what I want for you. To listen to Jesus, to follow Jesus, to see Jesus for who he is. And  then to look around—whether terrified or not—and see no one but only Jesus. As baptized people of God, that’s why Jesus takes us up the mountain. Amen.

Categories: kingdom of God, Sermon, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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