The more we keep from changing, the more we stifle ourselves to stay the same. I feel this deep in my bones most weeks as I attempt to “run” a church.

Now, I know I don’t actually “run” it. I’m downright grateful for that.

I am glad all final decision-making jolts past me like sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson. Still, there are expectations.

These expectations include worship planning, special event coordinating, gathering questions for this month’s Pub Theology, updating the bulletin with my weekly thoughts, sharing reading recommendations to the congregation, staff questions, answering random phone calls from unknown numbers, saying yes to a funeral, and the constant apologizing for emails I never replied to. I plow through board and committee meetings at the frequency of Maverick waves hitting the shore around Half Moon Bay, California.

I do all this while sweating out sermons each week, hoping my late-night keystrokes and last-minute revisions pierce the hearts of saints and sinners alike. Three things are inevitable for ministers: death, taxes(yes, we pay them) and Sunday mornings.

This might sound like “church work,” but it’s not. It’s administrative work.

There is nothing wrong with this, mind you. But I wouldn’t call it “ministry.” 

Holy orders shouldn’t be so planned, so mechanical, and so dry. I am sure some would disagree, especially those whose skill set is attuned to functioning as CEOs of nonprofits.

So, where does ministry take place for me? In someone’s home as they offer me a glass of tea at their breakfast nook. In the emergency room, while I ignore with the skill of a savant, the always ill-fitting hospital gown they keep pulling at with little success. I thrive in such environments. 

There, I share of myself, sometimes too much, and then witness a miracle that rivals that of a young boy multiplying fish and a few loaves of bread—people allowing themselves to get to know someone else. In such vulnerable moments, in the passing back and forth of idyll banter, folks can and do become neighbors.

Of all the things I get to do as a pastor, this feels the most like “ministry.”

I’m heading to such a rendezvous on a stretch of Massachusetts highway. I check Google Maps, locate my exit number and make my way toward the rehab clinic, where a parishioner and his spouse are expecting me.

Driving past local businesses, I can’t help but blame the Gilmore Girls for my presumptions about the daily lives of New England villagers. The fictional picturesque Stars Hollow, where Lorelai and Rory Gilmore ate their way through too many take-out restaurants to count, is still my basis for gauging any town north of New York state.

Rustic general stores and bustling town halls are abundant in my neck of the woods. Still, nothing captures the quintessential Yankeeland townlet like the collection of manicured shrubbery, statues, and quaint gazebos found in village greens.

My destination today is no exception. Cruising down the main drag, I make my way to the heart of town, passing several large honey bee sculptures (remnants of last year’s Bee Fest) before the buildings drop off and a landscape of well-maintained swards comes into view.

However, to my surprise, on the village green, atop the blades of grass covered in dew, are two dozen sets of hands holding signs. My knuckles turn white as I brace for the worse.

During this tension-filled political climate, one might expect to encounter a group of Moms For Liberty demonstrating, or worse, something resembling Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally. The primarily blue-voting area of the country is not above such scenes. 

My jaw dropped once after seeing a mammoth Confederate flag billowing with air and ignorance strapped to, in all places, the back of a truck in Vermont. It would seem not everyone in the Green Mountains embraces the “Bern” of Sanders.

Inching closer, I await the inevitable sighting of heavily pomaded hair with crisp side parts paired with eyes as blue as Hitler-Jugend. But I’m wrong.

I see no “Take America Back” or “Build the Wall” signs. I can’t make out any Oath Keepers or Proud Boys propaganda.

The poster boards I see are handwritten. I can make out what I think are flowers, maybe a rainbow, surrounding imperfect lettering, which gets tighter as it bumps up near the edge of the sign. Clipping along at twenty-five miles per hour, I can read at least a couple of the messages I wasn’t prepared for,

“Smile God Loves You.”
“Honk If You Love Jesus.”

A stoplight just past the green brings me to a halt. While waiting to make my turn, I let out a sigh, thankful the group braving the cold wasn’t who I first thought they were. 

Then, I immediately feel a tiny ping of pressure and hear a small voice in my head. “You know, as a pastor, maybe you should honk.” I don’t know if this was the Holy Ghost or Jiminy Cricket, but I pause and consider the prompt.

My hands stay on the steering wheel at ten and two until the light turns green. I roll away honkless.

The reason? I don’t know which Jesus I’m being asked to honk for.

I know what you’re thinking: Does it matter? For me, it does.

Am I honking for a Jesus who has come to bring good news to the poor?
Who has come to release those in prison?
Who has come to recover sight for those who cannot see?
Who has come to liberate the oppressed?

Is this the Jesus who called the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart “blessed?”
Is it the Jesus who says, “When you take care of the least of these, you take care of me?”
Or the Jesus who tells us the kin-dom of God has come near, existing within us?
Is this the Jesus who has come for the poor and poor in spirit?
Is this the radical Jesus, God-man from Galilee?
Is this the Jesus who was tempted and turned Satan away emptied-handed?

Or is it another Jesus?

One whose 11th Commandment is the 2nd Amendment?
One who champions pro-birth legislation but does little to support the lives of the born and even less the lives of women?
One who believes the foreigner is less than human?
One who came only for the liberals?
One who came only for the conservatives?
One who would give all power to Caesar?
One that shouts, “Amen!” for the razor wire around a country’s border?
One who believes in American exceptionalism? Patriot Jesus? John Wayne Jesus? Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, Jesus?
One whose apathy allows genocide to take place in Rwanda, Darfur and now Gaza.

I think it matters. For one of these Jesuses, I’ll praise and follow.

The other, I’ll damn until my dying breath.

I keep driving, disappointed and relieved at why it has to be this way.

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