Pilgrims

Consider pilgrims, nomads, and clergypeople.

A pilgrim journeys with a destination in mind.

A nomad wanders from place to place, somewhat seasonally and/or according to the need for food.

A clergyperson is a fixture in a church institution’s office.

It seems to me that the first guy walks with some underlying purpose beyond himself, the second moves rationally for his own survival’s sake, and the third is beset by fiduciary, institutional concerns (along with whatever authentic pastoral and theological ones might be in mind).

Just as there is a difference between playing on a barnstorming baseball team and working in, say, accounting in the MLB commissioner’s office, there is a difference between a pilgrim or nomad on one hand and a clergyperson on the other.  I prefer to avoid the clergy mindset altogether, minimize the nomadic life, and try to focus on a relatively purposeful pilgrimage.  I trust that the ultimate “destination,” whatever its nature, will be amazing and so much more than anyone—biblical author or otherwise—could describe.

B. Casey, 7/31/17

Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears.  ‑ Peter (1Peter 2, NET Bible)

These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth.  For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland….    ­‑ Heb 11 (NET Bible)

Centering

I have very little interest in the Buddhist notion of “centering”—which, incidentally, caused me to close my mind during conducting study with one Eastern-aware professor years ago.  This post will have nothing to do with that.  Neither will it have to do with a common English usage mistake:  the expression “centering around _______” is redundant. “Centering on_______” is quite sufficient.

Rather, I’d like to comment on a few hubs—things or people that have been centered on—in my life experience.  For instance, after my first, ill-fated, brief teaching “career,” which featured centering on students in some ways I consider inappropriate, I noted that in my first banking job at Delaware Trust Company, my job function was the hub of the operation.  There were about twelve of us, and three supervisor/managers, and two secretarial support people.  Everything that went on seemed to take first into consideration what we “loan adjustors” did.  It wasn’t that we were seen as worthy individuals, necessarily; it was that our job functions were clearly central to what the department was about.  So, the secretaries and even the supervisors centered on us.

Then I moved into a different bank job and became a technology support person.  My job was to prepare monthly reports, write code in a COBOL-derivative language, and generally to support the functions of the commercial lending analysts.  Those folks were the ones that the three managers and I centered on. Still later, I became Coordinator of Internal Technology Consulting, thanks to a really nice “big boss” who could see I was getting frustrated with lack of responsibility and opportunity.  (This may make a few current friends laugh, because I can often be found resisting technology’s grip today.  I have no interest in getting an iPod or watching movies on a so-called “smart phone,” and the idea of texting just annoys me.  Computer gaming is not on the list of ways I would ever choose to spend much time.  I still exploit electronic technologies, but I want to use them, not the other way around.  At any rate. . . )  I managed all technology-related projects, provided support for Windows functions, other desktop applications, and printer support, was chief liaison with the higher-end techies, and was the designee to become well-versed in Cognos software, a business database-mining tool.  All these things gave me more than plenty to do, but I was not the hub.  I was doing all these things in support of the real lines of business in my department.  Five or six managers/AVPs, six or eight secretaries, one Senior VP, and I centered our every activity on the job functions and needs of the other forty-or-so people in the department.

These days, in my small-college environment, one can make a good survivalist (if not philosophical) case for the need to center on students. If we don’t center on students, our institution dies.  Truly, I enjoy thinking and saying that I need to keep my focus on two things:  music (i.e., central subject matter) and students.  I also happen to think that the notion of student as “paying client” is as ill-advised as having VPs instead of Deans in academia, but it is possible to focus on students without erroneously moving to a tail-wagging-dog paradigm.

What about in church situations and structures?  What do churches typically center on?  What are the pros and cons of some of these?

  1. What if a church centers on seekers/outsiders?
  2. What if a church centers on its preacher/pastor?
  3. On Jesus?
  4. On the young people?  The old?
  5. On the Spirit?
  6. On liturgy?  On habits or on structural conventions?
  7. What if a church focuses most on time concerns and schedules?
  8. On the people who gripe if you do something nontraditional?
  9. On newness?
  10. On the church’s “vision” or values or mission or goals (whichever … I can’t always tell the difference)?

In some of the above scenarios, there’s an obvious problem.  In others, I don’t intend to suggest anything inherently positive or negative.  It does us good to think about the consequences, though.

God, help us not to center on things that are not at the center.  What are we to be about in church?  “During church”?  As church?