The Long Obedience

I believe it was Eugene Peterson who coined the phrase the long obedience in reference to a pastor’s response to God’s call to ministry. Well, 17 years ago today my long obedience began: I was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA). Actually, it began many years before if you count the times in my childhood I wanted to do all I could to love God better, and the ways I grew in faith as a youth, and the day in college when I finally decided to switch to a Theology major by signing up for my first Hebrew class.

It happened on a fluke. I promised God I would go on a sports mission trip because I felt like God had stood by me through my tumultuous experience of high school. Other than God, all I really cared about in those years was basketball, volleyball, track, and trying to make sense of why my saintly grandmother was dying a slow, painful death from cancer. At the age of 19, I found myself in Jamaica seeing the extremes of poverty and wealth for the first time in my life — seeing too that race had a whole lot to do with which side of it you ended up on. In the midst of that, I experienced a call to professional ministry in the church. (If you really wanna know how that all transpired, you’ll have to read my spiritual autobiography someday — when I finally get around to writing it!) Let’s just say, I’ve learned along the way to be pretty careful about any deals you make with God. You may think you’re just giving a week in gratitude for the ways God’s sustained you in the past. The next thing you know, you too may find yourself twenty-some years later breaking the bread and pouring the cup on the anniversary of your ordination!

I still remember celebrating at the table for the first time on June 1, 1997. My first baptism when the beautiful little baby squirmed so much I thought I might drop her. My first funeral in honor of a woman who put up a fierce fight against cancer. My first battle in a congregation, and my second, and my third. This life is a challenge; too many pastors have the warrior marks to show it. I’ve seen the statistics firsthand: I know many wonderful pastors who quickly have found another way to make a living. I don’t know how I’ve made it thus far, other than I’m a little bit too stubborn to let myself become road kill on the highway of life due to anything — including the church. And while I’ve known my fair share of difficulty in this preaching life, I think today was a great way to celebrate my ordination: I sat after worship today with a saintly bunch at a local restaurant as we belly laughed together for about an hour while dreaming silly ways of how we could reach out in our community. (I think they think I’m kidding about moving our bible study to the local Hooters.) It was such a gift! The way they have opened their hearts to me — the way they want to learn — the way they accept me as I am, no matter how out there I can get — the way they inspire me with their devotion to one another and to embodying Christ’s love in this world. They give of themselves in remarkable ways, as I’ve seen of so many church folks over these years as a pastor.

Today I find inspiration in ALL of the AMAZING people I have met through my life as a pastor and in my own heart that more and more wants to live up to my vows to serve with all my energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.

Here’s to the next 17+ no matter where the journey goes!

1 thought on “The Long Obedience

  1. Carla Khan

    Congratulations! 17 Years is a long time. What may have been a struggle and/or a joy to you, has been transformed into multiple blessings to others.
    I was thrilled to read that you too had an experience of having to hold up a promise you made to God. When I was in my final year of High School, a friend of my mother’s fell seriously ill with cancer. As I liked her a lot too, I thought I’d remind God that in the past He’d struck bargains with His followers. Not that I pretended to be an Abraham or a Jonah, but if He’d just let my mother’s friend live, I’d give up my final exam. About three weeks before the finals, I fell out of the rings during gym class and incurred a serious concussion. As a result, I couldn’t study and failed my exam by 1 point. I had to re-do the entire year but my mother’s friend lived for another 35.
    Not until many decades later, I realized that we do have a merciful, loving God who that at the same time, expects us to hold up our ends of the bargain.
    And, us Dutch see ourselves as “determined”, only the rest of the world calls it “stubborn”!



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