Voices of doubt: Tiny church edition

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I struggle with doubt. Not just faith doubt, but self doubt, vocational doubt, doubt of other people, and future doubt. I want to believe, and so am always on the lookout for hope – searching for the evidence that proves me wrong. Because I have found that you tend to find the things you look for in this world.

One way I handle my doubts is to give voice to them. When I am most down, I will journal about the things in my head to give them voice and structure. This not only gets them out of my head, but also helps me articulate the issue, and once you are clear what the issue is, you can do something about it. (See, there I am looking for hope again! It’s pervasive.)

I said once on these pages that most of the stuff I write never sees the light of day – this is an example of why. Writing teaches me what I am thinking. The piece below is an excerpt of something from a journal entry from 2014 when we had a particularly crap-tastic Sunday service that played to all the voices in my head that told me I should maybe apply for a job at the auto body shop instead.

* * *

I’m a pastor. That is a title that doesn’t mean much anymore. As they say, that and $2.25 will buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

But I am one, still the same. I have tried to explain to my secular friends how that came about, but am left resorting to language about being called, and their eyes glaze over, and someone changes the subject, because Hugh is a pretty good guy to have around if he can stay away from the Jesus talk.

Called, huh. Called, indeed.

Like today. Today was Sunday, which means it is a work day. It means I am expected to stand at the front of the room, and deliver an edifying word, a bit of wisdom or glimmer of hope, to stand firm and bear witness to the goodness of God to a people that have legitimate reason to doubt that goodness.

So I am up early this morning, pouring over the scriptures because I just can’t seem to get my words to say what I want them to say, hoping they say something more intelligible this morning then they have said the last six mornings I have endured this exercise. But today is different. Today is game day. Today, “good enough” has to be good enough. Because today I have to be done.

So, I put some words on paper and hope they are more meaningful to the congregation than they are to me, because honestly, today I am just not “on it”. But whatever. All you can do is all you can do.

Today was also different for another reason – I spoke at a local church about our work, and I answered questions and allayed fears and was so damned awesome and winsome my head nearly exploded. And after that, which was good for the organization and good for the congregation and yet exhausting all the same, it was time for me to go preach our weekly chapel service.

So I go to the chapel, and of course the chairs aren’t set up, and of course we are out of grape juice and bread, and it is 15 minutes before we are supposed to start. I slip Danny $20 and send him traipsing off to the local convenience store, in search of grape juice. Meanwhile I cut some whole grain sandwich bread I found into strips and set them on the communion paten, and notice the cloth napkin that covers it is a bit dingy.

Maybe no one will notice. Speaking of no one, where is everybody?  Two people were at the chapel waiting on me when I got here, and now it is 5 till and no one else has shown up. Maybe I worried too much over that homily if no one is going to show up today.

People begin to trickle in now, and Danny shows up with a bottle of fruit punch he bought at the store because it was all they had. It has come to this – juice punch and sandwich bread and dingy napkins and a half-assed make-do homily that doesn’t make any sense to me. And did I mention the headache that has came on because I was standing at the front of a church being winsome instead of eating lunch today.

And of course this would be the Sunday a new guy comes, who looks around and sees us and, I am convinced, is scoping out the dirty napkin and Snapple juice punch in the chalice and totally judging us.

So I go over and meet new guy and introduce myself. We are now up to a whopping seven people, and it is already 10 minutes after the hour, and we are way late. It is obvious no one is coming, so we might as well start.

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