Whenever I’m asked to describe my job as a professional Christian, I usually stammer something along the lines of:
“I talk about God for a living.”
Or, if I’m feeling especially cynical:
“It’s mostly marketing, some plagiarism, and a bit of light custodial work. Honestly, all you really need to be a pastor is the ability to lift 40 lbs., internet access, and a pair of loose-fitting dress pants.”
Often, when questions about the vocational realities of my work bubble up, I find I’m soon reminded of the first time I ever “rocked the mic” as a respected (read: “paid for”) Christian speaker in front of a large group of people with whom I had no previous relationship.
As a way of setting the scene, let me introduce you to 2 key players for opening night of Eric Minton, professional Christian-Camp speaker:
Headset Microphone: ill-fitting, poorly wired, and consistently sending odd popping and hissing noises throughout the auditorium as the flesh-colored arm of the microphone scrapes itself repeatedly against my beard.
Auditorium: To even use the term “auditorium” is a bit of a misnomer, as the area wasn’t so much a salon-style gathering space for the exhibition of music, art, and the free-exchange of ideas, as it was a converted gymnasium/cafeteria/kitchen/craft-center/bathroom, which the camp staff almost immediately began referring to as either the worshipteria or the cafetorium, depending of course upon mood, weather, and who was asking.
Now that you’re familiar with the context for what can only (thanks to the harsh light of history) be described as a no-win situation, it’s important to address the only question left standing:
“How is it that people choose to voluntarily read this over, say, a HuffPo article on the science behind one’s ability to keep up with the Kardashians?”
The human heart is a limitless well of mystery, and by “human heart” I definitely mean “browser history.”
However, I was prepared to answer this question:
“So, how’d it go?”
Mostly because I read magazines and the backs of bestsellers for free at Barnes & Noble, I’ve discovered a common practice for people in the book hyping biz is to display powerful testimonials from those who’ve been impacted by the product or experience being sold.
In that vein, I’ve included several noteworthy comments below:
“I never knew God was so big?”
-Student, age 13
“You’re funny, and also very weird.”
-Student, age 16
“Did you study Hebrew in seminary?”
-College student, age 21
“Where’s the bathroom?”
-Student, age 12
-Feral cat roaming the campground, age unknown
Luckily, those were just the exit polls, I’d have to wait until the next morning for the truly good stuff:
“I’ve never heard a camp sermon where the speaker didn’t give an altar call. You should be ashamed of yourself. Kids are ready to make decisions and you didn’t give them a chance to do it, and not only that, I’m not even sure you mentioned Jesus one time! What are you trying to pull here?”
-Confused Adult, age 45
“I don’t know where you go to school or what you want to be, but it can’t be a Christian seminary, because no self respecting pastor would ever talk about God like that.”
-Red-Faced Adult, age 60
“We’ve been taking our students up here for 15 years, and you’re easily the worst speaker we’ve ever heard. If this weren’t the last year for our camp, we definitely wouldn’t be back.”
-Exasperated Adult, age 35
The Big Finish:
“I need to be honest with you and tell you the truth, because as Christians we’re always supposed to speak the truth, so, uhhh…what’s your name? (I’m not comedically embellishing, this part is 100% true) you’re a heretic, a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and a tool of Satan. You’re leading kids astray with your liberalism, and I can’t believe that any Christian organization would allow you to present yourself as a pastor. I know for a fact, you’ll never be invited back to this camp or even to this state, and if I had my druthers (also, this is a real word) you would have been removed from here the moment you stopped speaking last night.”
-Goateed Adult, age 40
Good News: The adults in charge of the camp met together before verbally disemboweling me, and luckily decided not to bind me hand and foot, in order to throw me into the river as a way of discerning whether or not I was a witch. If you’re keeping score: Eric: 1, Death: 0
Bad News: I still had 2 more evenings as the headlining heretic in the worshipteria, which at this point took on the distinct feel of a Roman colosseum filled with angry audience members turning their thumbs down in murderous unison.
So the next night, as my mic popped, hissed, and limped its way through yet another sermon, I had the distinct pleasure of watching several grown adults scoff, answer their phones, and even turn their backs to me (a shunning technique I would later repurpose to discipline my dog) throughout the evening. Afterwards, a couple even went so far as to inform me that they would be spending the rest of the summer correcting all of the poisonous half-truths I had been discussing with their students over our week together.
Which brought a few things to the front of my then 24 year old mind:
-I should have been a lawyer, they’re more well-liked and get to carry briefcases.
-This must be what it feels like to be an AC/DC record played backwards. Also, it’s weird and surprisingly less-than-lucrative being the mouthpiece of Satan (in the movies people get cars, and suits, and incredible apartments: so far I’ve gotten a plane ticket to the middle of nowhere, a Frankenstein pitchfork + torch welcome party, and a $20 food per diem.)
-In the future, whenever I find myself in the throws of a heated argument involving the cosmic destruction and character assassination of people I barely know, I should always finish with: “Now remember, I say all of this because I love you and so does God.” It really does help to know that God agrees with and happily condones the verbal pantsing you’ve just received in a furrowed brow “this hurts me more than it does you” sort of way.
THANKS BE TO GOD!
-I’ve never been kicked out of an entire state before: how long do I have until my picture is posted in the surrounding airports and bus terminals? Should I dye my hair and shave my beard? Should my full name or just my last name be changed? I don’t have any usable skills to start a new life on the run because I DECIDED TO GET A LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE!
Writing this down almost 4 years later still stirs up all sorts of things in my now 28 year old mind:
-I should have been a traffic cop, they’re more well liked and have better pensions.
-I’m still waiting on the Satanic royalties from that week to come rolling in.
-I haven’t been back to that state, but I desperately want to because the skiing is quite good
-The fact that I (or any of us for that matter) still believe in God these days is a truly miraculous thing.
I mention this last point not as a way of rallying my progressive brothers and sisters to pick up arms and join me in the fight against televangelical big hair and even bigger polemics, but to remind all of us that the only thing we have to point towards when discussing the reality of the divine are our own broken, dusty, and sometimes barely-there stories of redemption, pain, loss, and joy.
Put another way: All we have is each other, so for God’s sake, go easy.
In light of this truth, if the only response to criticism and slander I can muster is to utilize more of the same, I’m destined to endlessly perpetuate a (somewhat) hipper, more sarcastic, self-deprecating, and ironic version of what I experienced 4 years ago at the hands of some severely non-ironic mustachioed youth ministers.
(Serious mustaches = Serious people)
Instead, thanks to good books, better friends and family, the rise of indie folk, and lots of coffee, I’ve discovered that the only way to maintain the few shreds of faith that manage to cling to me like pug hair on my work pants after lunch, is surprisingly not through the destruction, ridicule, and articulate evisceration of those who wish ill on me for things I think about stuff none of us know for sure…
but in the radical embrace of the very things they use to condemn and malign me.
I might be wrong.
I might be leading folks astray.
I might be misguided.
I might be misrepresenting God.
I might not have the market cornered on truth.
I might even have unresolved baggage that soaks the very things I say and think to the bone with cynicism.
You might be right about me…BE AFRAID!!!
And, not only that, but if you need something to cast-out, something to reject, something that can represent all of the pent-up anger, frustration, unknowing, pain, and doubt you have within you but are unable (or unwilling) to verbalize about god, your life, your family, and the world…
you can use me.
you can condemn me.
you can “pray” for me.
you can sacrifice me.
My friends outside your faith have been beaten and shamed enough, leave ‘em alone,
I can take it.
However, a warning: you better do your worst, because when you go down to the tomb where they’ve laid the bodies of so many of us sacrificed in the name of God to ensure that the job is done, you may discover it empty. Revealing finally both to you and to me, that the stuff humming inside of us, the stuff holding this world (despite our best efforts to the contrary) together, the stuff that calls us time and again back to the mystery and beauty of human existence,
what the first Christian pastor Paul termed, “love,”
refuses to die no matter how many times you try to put it down.
Because, like a witch, that stuff floats.
And in the wake of our surprisingly buoyant discovery, may we all come to the same quiet conclusions as those women who happened upon the empty tomb of Jesus in Mark’s version of the resurrection story: silence and amazement.
Realizing, despite prevailing opinion to the contrary, that no matter how inadequately we’ve described, treated, believed, or understood God, we haven’t been able to silence the divine voice, even when we nail it to a tree.
Oh, and a final word about more words yet to come:
If you think my silence or fidelity to your beliefs can be wrought through scaring, intimidating, shaming, or embarrassing me I’ve got one more resurrection-level surprise for you:
I’m just getting warmed up friends.