I've been a little busy with the new job stuff. Perhaps my last pastoral obligation for Covenant Baptist Church is being the camp pastor for the Southwest Baptist Youth Camping Association. SWBYC is made up of a number of progressive Baptist Churches in Texas. Two of our churches have been thrown out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas because of their open attitudes toward homosexuals.
I'm proud of these churches for standing by their beliefs, even if other Baptists disagree.
Our Church has been going to youth camp with these churches for 4 years now. Pastors in the churches take turns serving as camp pastor.
I'll be preaching each night to several hundred kids. It's quite a challenge for anyone. Somehow you have to be interesting, easy to listen to, faithful to the scriptures, and culturally relevant - all at once.
No pressure or anything.
I'll be back next Friday. When I return I plan to do a series of posts with details about my new job.
see ya soon.
Having recently left a 20-year engagement as a minister at Covenant Baptist Church, I’m suddenly asking a question that is both familiar and unfamiliar.
“Where will I go to church?”
It’s a familiar question to me, because I’ve watched other people ask it over the last two decades. Church shoppers often dropped by our church for a visit. New to the area or new to the idea of going to church, they were in the market for a faith community. I tried not to feel like a salesman as I outlined our approach to church and went over our various ministries and church schedule. Some stayed and joined us; others didn’t.
And now I’m the one asking the question. How weird is that?
Consciousness is self awareness. The moment a person realizes that he or she exists is when the conscious mind is born. Before that moment, time has no meaning, nor does identity, purpose, or morality.
The origins of human consciousness are as mysterious as the time when life first appeared on the earth. Suddenly matter is deciding if it will go right or left? Mother earth awoke from a volcanic stupor and found her skin crawling. Imagine her surprise. How and when did this happen? Science doesn’t have much to offer in the way of answers. After all, no one was keeping records. The book of Genesis says that God was behind it all, which I believe, but the story is pretty stingy with the details. Somehow life developed. And somehow one form of life developed conscious thought.
The old story tells us that Adam and Eve found consciousness in a dramatic moment when a piece of forbidden fruit was eaten. In an instant, their undifferentiated world split neatly along a moral seam. Their eyes were opened, and they knew right and wrong. This first division spawned others. They found that there was naked and not naked. Other discoveries would be even more traumatic. Soon they would know that there was Eden and not Eden...
I am in such a strange place, emotionally. It’s been a little over three months since I left professional ministry. People have asked me how I’m doing with that decision. I say the same thing every time.
I don’t know.
I knew it would take some time before the fullness of this transition could take root in my life. These first few months have felt like being on vacation. My mind knows that I am no longer the pastor of a church, but my heart isn’t buying it. Some part of me thinks that any day now I’ll be back in the pulpit.
But I won’t be. I’m not going back. At least not for the foreseeable future. I’ve learned not to say more than that.
I attend Covenant Baptist Church about half the time. Sometimes I sit in silence with the Quakers. Sometimes I go elsewhere. A few Sundays I have spent with Jeanene in blissful laziness, sipping tea or eating a late brunch. It’s so strange for me to be sitting in a diner eating eggs and french toast at 11:00 am on a Sunday. I keep looking around and wondering whose life I’m living.
Like many writers I pay a lot of attention to what’s happening to me emotionally and intellectually. I listen to my mind. I pay attention to my gut. And I’m noticing some strange things are going on with me.
I have a powerful aversion to anyone needing anything from me. I don’t want anyone to need me, apart from my wife and children. I still get emails from people asking my advice. I can hardly open them. I started an online Bible study, did two studies, and then fell apart. I can’t do it. Not now. Maybe someday. I don’t want to give advice. I don’t want to preach. I don’t want to go see people in the hospital. I don’t really want to be around people that much right now, out of a fear that they might start needing me.
It’s not a healthy way to be. It’s not the way I want to be in the long run. But right now that is my reality.
I also have some very negative feelings about the Church. Not the church I was at. I love Covenant Baptist Church. But the larger Church. I don’t want to talk about the Church. I don’t want to read books about the Church. I don’t care if the Church in America is relevant or growing or cutting edge or post-modern. I have almost no interest in the Church.
I’m not sure what that’s about.
I am very interested in God. And I’m interested in my own acts of prayer and devotion. Currently the best spiritual practice I have is mowing the lawn at Covenant and tending our labyrinth. I feel happy doing those things. No one sees the work I do. No one talks to me. No one needs anything from me. It’s pure service, and I love it.
I have also been isolating myself quite a bit. I spend most of my time alone. The contact I have with other people is very limited right now. But that feels good to me. At some point I assume I’ll come back out of my shell.
And then there is this: I’m not sure what affect all of this will have on my writing. For the first time since 2002, I have found it difficult to be interested in writing. I wrote a lot in the first weeks after leaving Covenant. But now my heart and mind and soul are turned toward the difficult task of finding a job. So I’ll continue to peck out a few words here, but I really don’t know what’s going to happen to Gordon Atkinson the writer.
I have a friend named Sarah, who is a very wise person. She once told me something that I’ve never forgotten. She said that in this life there are about twelve people who will hate you, no matter what you do. It doesn’t matter how good or bad you are. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to be nice. These twelve people are going to hate you. Who knows why? Maybe you remind them of someone else. Maybe there’s something about you that rubs them the wrong way. There’s no figuring this out.
It’s good to know that these twelve people are out there, because occasionally you’re going to run into one of them and it won’t be pleasant. So it’s good to know that ahead of time. These people will assume the worst about you. They might be passively or actively aggressive. They may spread false rumors about you. They might actively work against your happiness. So when you meet someone like that you can say, “Oh, this must be one of the twelve people who hate me.”
I have a lot of things on my mind these days. Needing money will provide an amazing clarity of vision, though, so I find that mostly I’m dreaming about finding a job. I admit I’m probably building it up to be something far beyond what is realistic, but I keep imagining leaving the house in the morning, whistling, and grabbing a cup of coffee as I go out the door. A paycheck that comes regularly. Not having to worry about the next gig, or the next writing thing, or the next website.
I know this is an insanely unrealistic view of things, so you don’t have to leave comments to tell me so. I’m enjoying engaging in a little fantasy. I’m well aware that reality will - as it always does - slap me upside the head and bring me back down to earth.
Still…a job. Wow. Can you imagine?
People with jobs are like, "Yeah, we can imagine. We go to our jobs every day! I know, but I'm just saying...
After my sister helped me get my resume into some order, I realized that I actually have some marketable skills. The only issue is arranging them in such a manner that a human resources person would notice them.
• Good writer.
• Very nice set of generalized web design skills - running a server, handling light IT stuff, html, graphics, blah blah.
• Experience with Drupal CMS.
• Social media specialist with corporate experience.
I have begun to understand that the last of these may well be my most marketable skill. I developed a blog network for the Christian Century, and worked with Marcus Goodyear to develop another one for the high calling. Both of these have borne considerable fruit. And I’ve been working with a company in New Braunfels to develop the social media aspects of their website and have had amazing success in improving their rankings with Google.
And there is this: I am one of the early bloggers who managed to develop quite a nice little blog for himself. I have been immersed in social media from early on.
So with my sister’s help, I put my resume together and applied for my first job. USAA had a listing for a chief corporate blogger and social media manager.
“Who is more qualified than me?” I asked myself, as I cheerfully uploaded my resume to the USAA website. I never heard back, which is understandable. Uploading resumes to websites is a long shot. It’s something you do so that you can honestly say you’re looking for a job. It’s something you do while you work your own network and try to find opportunities that come through relationships. I’m not saying people don’t get jobs by uploading resumes, but the best opportunities usually come through personal relationships and networking.
Right after I uploaded my resume, I decided to put together a profile at Monster.com. So I did. That was on a Monday. The next day I got a call from someone who worked at Venturion, which I identified as some kind of corporate recruiting agency. I was flattered and agreed to stop by and meet with Don Huse that very week.
Don’s office was impressive. Rich carpet and dark paneled walls. I was quite intimidated, I must say. But Don’s opening words definitely put me at ease. He shook my hand and said,
I have to tell you that I’m a big fan of your blog. I’ve been reading Real Live Preacher for years now. My wife and I kept saying we should visit your church. I finally did - the week after you resigned.
Wow, the guy actually knows who I am. I know that among a certain community of blogging people, I’m sort of well known. My writing for the Christian Century has kind of gotten my name out there. But if you take 1000 people at random in my city and ask if they have heard of me, the odds are that none will know my name. So to find a corporate recruiter and job specialist who is aware of my situation and perhaps values my gifts is…well…really something.
Coming next: I meet for 3 hours with the people at Venturion and find out that my resume needs a lot more work.
AND…wait for it…my first job possibility!