You Can’t Make This Shit Up;Advice for Young Ministers

There is secret prayer that nobody else knows, that wells up inside me on most days. There are some secret words that I have longed to preach from a pulpit from the deepest recesses of my heart. And on the last Sunday, on the last day, of my whole ministry career, when a new minister asks me to sum up all my many years in ministry with great theological insight, I will lean in close, and with great reverence, I will whisper in their ear, “You can’t make this shit up.”

I once heard about a woman in Nebraska who responded to the growing acceptance of same sex marriage by filing a legal suit against all homosexuals for breaking religious and moral laws.  She named God & Jesus Christ as plaintiffs in her court documents.  And I will sigh and say, “You can’t make this shit up.”

I have seen the resilience of queer people who even after being violently kicked out of family homes and church homes still couldn’t violently shut the door to their own faith. They’ve learned to make beautiful music outside of a choir. They’ve learned to preach with out pulpits. They’ve taken their same storied sermons and blessed other venues. Like a delicate flower (or perhaps more like a determined raspberry bush) they refuse to stop growing, and they will grow wherever they are planted, even in the harshest and poorest of soil conditions. Then with a gleam of stubborn hope in my eye, I will say, “My faith that has died has been resurrected a thousand times,” and I will sigh and say, “You can’t make this shit up.”

I have seen narcissists and addicts and legalists, use Jesus as a catalyst for avarice, to grow their empires, to feed that insatiable monster called  pride, to grow their own egos. They speak from a false humble posture about how indeed all of us have fallen short, but they have fallen not quite so far. And so they preach from above with puffed up chests to remind you of the many ways in which they deserve to be decorated/celebrated. They will gladly kick a queer kid to the curb, while speaking with false contrition about how this is for the child’s own good.  Then they will mumble some theological bullshit about loving the sinner and hating the sin. And then I will sigh and say, “You can’t make this shit up.”

I will see the down and out rise from the depths, and use their own psychic/emotional/physical wounds as a catalyst for other people’s healing. They will start ministries. They will begin non-profits. They will sing. They will dance. They will write. They will paint the world a million times over with God’s beauty. And when asked to recite their source of inspiration, the very thing, the only thing that truly keeps them going—they will humbly say Jesus. Just Jesus. That’s all. Foolish in the eyes of an intellectual world. Faith in a world that demands 3 point presentations of fact. With a humble tear in my eye, I will sigh and say, “You can’t make this shit up.”

I have seen addicts find Jesus after years of broken promises, and failed attempts, and strained family relations. They will realize that grace really does win in the end. They will be kind to themselves about their own suffering. They will take responsibility for suffering they caused by that deadly cocktail of low self-esteem and grandiosity. Like good medicine or a shock to the heart, community re-calibrates them, heals them, gives them courage to say honest words and face hard truths. They are born again, born anew. And while holding my hand, they will tell me about how faith sustained them. And I will smile and say, “You can’t make this shit up.”

I have seen 22 year olds show up at a church and desire to get married for only one reason, and one reason alone—they want to have sex.  They tell me smugly that they belong to a tradition which condemns bodily pleasures before marriage, and they have fought the good fight.  They want to purchase a 747 to eat the free peanuts. They neither respect the power, scope, nor trajectory of the social ritual that some of their peers have died to earn.  They only want to take a quick ride. Unbeknownst to them, they are making a mockery of marriage. Ironically in following the law to the letter, they make a sacred institution profane. And I will sigh and shake my head and say, “You can’t make this shit up.”

The greatest secret that nobody knows is that I am agnostic about doctrine because it’s too often wielded like a wall and crafted like a barbed wire fence. Good fences do not make good neighbors. There isn’t much by way of propositional truth left for me to believe, but I belove so many things. So I suppose somewhere in all that belovedness there is still a vestige of belief too.  I take the Bible too seriously to believe in it literally, I reverence it too much for that.  Yet I’m lost in its pages, as I excavate treasures, dive deep and listen for the wisdom of ages,  and I still find myself there too. I hold space for it, and I am held by it too.

“I was blind and now I see.”  This is what all this means to me. As physical sight gives way to spiritual metaphor, spiritual metaphor gives way to my physical sight. And this is what I see. I see a world where if you have mind to be present, if you have a mind to awaken, and the will to walk through your life awake, with both eyes open wide, you are bound to come face to face, with mystery, with the sacred, with a heartbreaking world, punctuated by moments of take-your-breath away beauty. And this is what I know to be true. You can’t make this shit up, but you can fall to your knees in reverence.  You can bow down and kiss the ground, you can reach your arms heavenward toward the sky, and you can unearth beauty in the landscape between.

And then I will draw back from the newly minted Rev’s ear, and I will whisper, “there’s no class for this in seminary. You are so in over your head, and you are not prepared for any of this. None of us were.  Let go. Let go. And give yourself permission to lean into grace, mystery, communion, community. And if you are open to the limitless expanse of possibility, you’re gonna see and celebrate some Holy Shit too.”







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