Monday, January 24, 2005

Broomstick Cowboys

1 Corinthians 3:11-14 (New International Version)

“11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.”

After writing about my experiences in Louisville I’m now giving thought to the days that preceded those experiences. In retrospect I see that the wanderlust I developed then was one of the roots of the dissatisfaction that led me to the decision to leave Kansas City.

As I have before, I want to be careful to explain that while I can see the mistakes that I made in those days, I want to resoundingly affirm that God was not distant. In fact I’ve come to see that God has an incredible way of taking our flaws, weaknesses and mistakes and redeeming them. With that said, I’d like now to briefly reminisce about those times and draw what I believe are some important lessons I’ve learned in looking back.

While I was attending seminary I also was receiving an education of sorts at Evangelistic Center Church in downtown Kansas City. At that time it was one of the best known and attended Charismatic churches in the area. If anything important was happening in the “movement” E.C .C. was going to be on the leading edge.

I was living in two worlds, the academic world which I really loved and the “rubber met the road” world of Evangelistic Center which I loved just as much. In one world I was learning about the “how to’s,” the history, the sacred text. In the other it was “nuts and bolts,” doing the work of a “minister.”

While by and large things were working well, there were problems coming to the surface. I was anxious to serve. I had taken a battery of tests prior to entering seminary that revealed that I had a very strong sense of mission. In fact, according to the faculty I had the highest sense of purpose in the student body. While this should have been a great positive I turned out to be the melting pot where problems simmered within me.

How could a deep sense of purpose create a problem? In a word, it was time.

About half way through my first semester I started getting wanderlust. The daily tasks at school became important to me only in that they were going to be the foundation for my being a “minister.” That thinking, in turn, created a daydreamer’s mentality in me. I spent inordinate amounts of time focusing on the future, giving little thought to the day at hand, to the “here and now.”

Things at E.C.C. paralleled what was going on in the classroom. I would observe the “ministers” doing the work. As with seminary I spent a good deal of my time daydreaming about a “ministry” in the future that would rival David Wilkerson’s or Billy Graham’s.

I was not alone in either world. While students I knew had to do the daily work in the classrooms, their heads were just as much in the future as mine. And my fellow “ministers in waiting” at E.C.C. daydreamed at least as much as I did. I came to see that in both worlds we were all broomstick cowboys, waiting for the future, for our day, to come. We were like Miniver Cheevy, Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “child of scorn,” who had grown “lean while he assailed the seasons.” You remember Miniver from your literature classes, don’t you? He was the man who spent his time daydreaming about the past, lamenting the fact that he had been born when he was:

Miniver Cheevy
Edwin Arlington Robinson

"MINIVER CHEEVY, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the mediaeval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking."

In dark, sobering verse I believe Robinson was describing many of us who dreamed of one day becoming “ministers.” The only difference between us and Miniver was that while he focused on the past we focused on the future.

How could we not see what we were doing? I believe it was a mix of our dreams, flawed as they were, and the institutional divide that says that “ministry” is for a special, set apart class of people. In one setting, the academic, I was preparing to be a man clad in vestments. In the other I was being groomed to wear a rumpled suit. In one I was being polished, refined. In the other I was learning how to “play in the traffic.”

There was a class of people that I wanted to be a part of – the “clergy,” the “body of people ordained for religious service.” I did not want to be part of the “laity,” those people defined as “everyone except the clergy.”

The distinction between the two classes of people was stark. One seemed to me to be elevated; the other seemed to me to unimportant, something more worthy of a pejorative than praise. From there it didn’t take me long to believe (incorrectly) that one class was the true working class and the other was a class of observers.

That definition and the societal view of what constituted “ministry” and “ministers” had powerful impacts on me. I think it did on others I knew as well.

That’s why I used the term “broomstick cowboys” to describe us. By way of confession I’ll use myself as my own sermon illustration here. I developed a refined disdain for the common, ordinary life and began to see that “ministry” might be a way out. It was all as simple as that.

Now to my points. I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t any “broomstick cowboys” reading this post today, lamenting the “fact” that service and the work of the “ministry” for you are in the future. And I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t others now reading who lament the “fact” that they were never “called to the ministry,” that you’re lot in life is to be an observer rather than a doer.

I’ll put it to both groups plainly. “Ministry” is here and “ministry” is now. “Ministry” is not just for a distinct group of professionals. “Ministry” is the role for the true laity, the people of God. The role is, or should be, all-inclusive, and the work should also be all-inclusive as well. It’s a “ministry” that engineers can be involved in. It’s a “ministry” well suited to the butcher and baker and candlestick maker.

“Ministry” is not for the broomstick cowboy; it’s for the person whose feet are firmly planted on the ground, the person who sees his or her work as work that needs to be accomplished today. Holy Writ describes that person this way:

1 Corinthians 15:58 (New International Version)

“58Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

I’ll close with this. If you’re serious about “ministry” you need to begin your work by throwing out the broomstick. Once you do you’ll see the window of “ministry” opened wide. Your focus will change from tomorrow to today. You will be, in the truest sense of the word, a “minister.”


Anonymous said...

Ministry is a Calling to serve People in behalf of GOD.However, too often our defintion of 'People' is collectivised by some form of plural unit. Consider: clergy, laity, past, future, present, the poor, the rich, the sinners, the saints, blacks, women, youths, visitors, regulars, etc. etc. etc. We miss the target when so oriented since the only kinds of People on earth are Individuals. (Groups are convenient verbalizations about Individuals...not Reality.) Jesus never dealt with people 'by the group' except to work through select Individuals in His chosen observance of sequential purpose. (The Jew(s) first...the Apostles...) Unless and until ministers are called to serve Individuals (People), they may allow time, and other categories of value, to rule their decisions and choices. Marketing strategies, controlled paradigm-shifts, and other secular devices produce confusion as the predictable outcome of such unreal 'premises.' Add: Jesus made every hour of His life count with individuals - not just the crucifixion period. We dare not be blind to abounding opportunities in the name of some speculated Hollywood scenario. Hopefully, our learning and growth goes on and on...

Anonymous said...

PLEASE change the title of this blog, unless you intentionally mean for it to be so gay.

Another Man's Meat! Come on! That is just too much!

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...


The title of the blog is an homage to E.B. White who authored a New Yorker series titled "One man's Meat." I know of no one in the literary world who made the types of connotations about his writing than you are making about mine. White authored children's books (Charlotte's Web), grammar aids, and the essays he compiled under the title I mentioned earlier. He was happily married, as am I.

If someone cannot read my posts and determine what this blog is about then I'd have to say that the person has a problem. I suppose folks can try to twist the title into whatever shape they will, but I'm not going to change it it to suit minds that seem a bit shallow to me. There is nothing wrong with the word meat. If someone is attempting to make it vulgar, I'd say the person would need to re-examine his or her way of viewing the world.

This blog is, as I've said, "my world and my times viewed through the prism of the Kansas Flint Hills."

I've hesitated commenting on any posts because I feel it's important to get feedback. But in this case I felt it was necessary to set the record straight.

By the way "anonymous" what is the title of your blog?