Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Letterman and Me

“It seems unlikely that now, after years and years of trying under a wide variety of circumstances and advantages and disadvantages, that suddenly I’m going to prevail,” Mr. Letterman said. “You can’t go through life fooling yourself. You have to be honest with the situation. That’s fine.”

The above quote was, and I trust the editors will forgive me, from the New York Times, summarizing an interview David Letterman gave to Rolling Stone. You have to be a big shot for the Times to do a story about an interview you gave to another publication. Anyway, he is talking about his realization that he will never catch and/or pass Jay Leno in the late-night race for viewers.

It struck me as terribly poignant, somehow. Comes a time when he, when I, when we any of us have to face the reality...and in my case, at least, the reality is that many things I once thought would happen are never going to happen. That is no slam on God's providence or God's people--just the awareness that some are blessed to succeed in ways that I am not. I am not to be a part of the greater work of the Kingdom. I serve, but not on the front lines. More like chaplain to the rear guard.

Just today I read about a young pastor, 27, who started a church two years ago and now has 4,000 per Sunday. Critics fume--but I suspect they are mostly envious. He does not do things as I do, but I had 125 in my service Sunday. He does not do weddings or baptisms or funeral, does not visit folk in the hospital. Neither did Paul, or Jesus for that matter. I do do those things, and there are good reasons to think pastors should. But I cannot do what he does. He maybe could, but does not do what I do. He has a great work. I have this little work that affords me time to stand with people in the most important and most dire and most celebratory moments of their lives. I am pleased to do that, am honored to give Holy Communion to folk and call their names as I do so.

I do not discount what I do. I choose to believe Jesus is present in the 125 as much as in the 4,000--in the Upper Room as much as on the hillside, as it were. But I had long imagined for myself something in between the one and the other. Maybe even on the high side of in between. But as Mr. Letterman has said, I have to be honest with my situation.

'Maybe you should teach," someone said. Maybe you should do this or that. Yeah, well, I am soon to be 54. No time to enter into academics. I am running out of time in other ways, too. Meaning, there are only a few days left for starting over or moving on. Either way I am kind of stuck where I am, in a rocky little garden with a mostly dull and rusted hoe. I am not saying I do not see a sprig here and there, a verdant shoot of spirit and life. But one blogger, Mark Crumpler, called me a "garden-variety" pastor. Yep. I have to be honest with my situation.

It is not what I would have expected. I think I could do a bit more for the Kingdom or, absent that, the Church. Instead, I just do what I can. And try to choose, try to work, against bitterness.

My dad died bitter, mostly because his life and marriage and kids did not turn out the way he expected, wanted or would have chosen. When I die I pray that I will die at peace--that if my life was not what I expected or would have chosen, it is what I wanted: to give it as I could for the sake of Jesus.

Wesley prayed, "Let me be employed for you, let me be put aside for you." Which is to say, Let me do a great work for you, or let me do a little work and thank God for those better able and suited to do the greater works. And let me not fool myself into thinking I know better who or what I am than God.


Anita said...

If only you truly knew how many lives you touched the power you possess is incredible for the lambs of Gob. I am a lamb - you are my Shepard - I like it that way.

Tom Steagald said...

my nose hurts because, per your instruction, Jo socked me in it!

Really, thanks. Again, and as I said, I do not discount what I do, just wish I might have done a little more or better. Some, maybe most of that, is my own sinful fault; but another piece of it is not being a part of the web. And another piece may even be God's putting me where I have been needed--I hope that more than the Cabinet keeping me in my place.