Tuesday, October 25, 2005

When telemarketer's hang up on you

Ever since I graduated from seminary and started working as a bank teller, I've begun to see how little people understand or think about the Church. Actually, I don't quite know how to describe what I'm experiencing. All I know is that I'm leaving people speechless when I tell them I'm going into ministry.

Today, I had a quintessential (and quite humorous) example. I was at home on my day off, and shortly after noon the phone rang. Thinking it was a friend, I picked it up. Brief silence. But before I could hang up the phone, the telemarketer clicked on ...

"Is Mr. Kendall available?"
"Yes, this is him."
"Sir, I'm calling on behalf of SBC, and I wanted to let you know a couple of new deals we are offering for you in your area."
"SBC is now offering an even lower priced high speed internet service; is that something you'd be interested in?"
"Well, it says here that you have dial-up service. Is that correct?"
"Yes, it is."
"I don't want to be reading your mail, Mr. Kendall, but I bet that gets pretty frustrating waiting for your pages to download and such."
"How would you like to have SBC cable or DSL for as little as $14.95 a month? What are you paying right now?"
"Over $20."
"Yeah, so you could be listening to streaming audio and downloading pages in seconds with DSL. How does that sound?"
"It sounds pretty good, but I've already looked into this. My question is how long is the contract?"
"The contract is for 12 months."
"Well, that's just the problem. I can't gaurantee I'll be here for 12 months."
"Why is that Mr. Kendall?"
"I'm currently looking for a job, which could take me anywhere in the country."
"So you don't really know where you could be. What kind of job are you looking for?"
"Well, I'm going into ministry, and I really don't know where that will take me."
"Oh, ... [silence] Well, it's good talking to you Mr. Kendall, and thank you for using SBC."

That was it. Bam. For the first time in my life, I felt like the telemarketer was more anxious to get off the phone than I was. So bizarre, and yet so telling. What other job could I be pursuing that would create that reaction? Drug dealer, gang lord, circus performer? No, there would probably be a little more interest.

I don't think the telemarketer was offended or upset by my answer - simply stunned. I can almost see his mind turning when I told him I was going into ministry: "Is he celebate ... Does he believe the world is going to end in the next five years ... Is he going to preach to me ... Is he going to tell me to go to church?" Cause when you tell someone your going to be a minister, well, that changes things. They start acting like you knew what they were doing on Friday night. The start telling you how much they like church and why they haven't been able to make it for the last five weeks. They start ending phone conversations in the blink of an eye.

So, anyhow, if you really need to get off the phone with a telemarketer, tell him you're starting a church.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

California Dreamin'

"It's a long way home; I've been searching for a long time. I still have hope. I'm gonna find my way home. I can see a little house on top of the hill, and I can smell the ocean, the salt in the air. And I can see you standing there; you're washing your car. And I can see California, the sun in your hair." - Bonnie Somerville, Winding Road

"But my heart cried out for you ... California, oh California, I'm comin' home. Gonna make me feel good, rock-n-roll band; I'm your biggest fan. California, I'm comin' home." - Joni Mitchell, California

"Out on the edge of the Western world, we're together again. Your faces feel like home, though we're far from my native land. It's good to be with you, friends. We sing songs just like old times. Music washes over us, like the waters of baptism, immersion in the moment, as long as we can make it last ... as long as we can make it last." - Zoubek and Bryant, Shifting Sand

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Wedding Banquets and Surprise Guests

"Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests." - Matthew 22:8-10

Anna and I have recently been attending a Lutheran congregation in Pasadena, and like all good Lutheran churches the main thrust of the service comes during the Gospel reading. Today was no different, and we all rose to hear the reading of Jesus' parable about the wedding banquet in Matthew 22. It is a curious text, but the pastor handedly it deftly today - allowing the joy of grace and the complexity of human nature to remain equally stated and equally true. But what the pastor pointed out today that REALLY got my attention was in verse 10 where it plainly states that "both good and bad" filll the wedding hall after the official guests (i.e. - the privileged priests) violently refuse the King's invitation. As the pastor said, this is just one of the many illustrations of Jesus' willingness to go out of his way to invite the outcasts and sinners into his fellowship.

However, there were other elements of the service that reinforced this message time and again. For instance, the church has two large banners in the front of the sanctuary with one of them reading, "Everyone is welcome." Likewise, the opening hymn of the liturgical service always begins with the refrain, "All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place." Or again, the Apostle's Creed is read after the sermon, which boldly proclaims that Jesus descended into hell (a definite act of triumph but perhaps also reconciliation).

The attitude of the whole service is very clearly about new life, grace, unity and love - even if these words are never said directly. It is quite enriching and encouraging to be saturated by such good things. But, this morning, I was particularly struck by the communion meal, which is celebrated every Sunday in the Lutheran tradition. It is but ONE more example of new life, grace and love, and today it captured my attention. For one, it struck me because of the unity it symbolizes (or actualizes depending on your views) between God and God's people as well as with the unity of believers. I took great comfort this morning knowing that friends and family share this meal with me on a monthly basis. It helped eliminate a disconcerted feeling of unconnectedness. It is one element of life that I genuinely feel can transcend distance.

And secondly, the communion meal struck me because of how radically different it is - how much it reveals about God's character. Here I must back up to Matthew 22 and Jesus' parable about the wedding feast. It is indeed a parable about grace, but unfortunately it is also a parable about human stubborness, and how often humanity feels it can do without God (ala the Grand Inquisitor). Indeed, the religious people God had originally intended to celebrate the upcoming wedding are the very ones who are seeking to ruin the party. This is where the pastor's words jumped out at me. He said this parable illustrates two trends: human beings who get so wrapped up in deciding right and wrong that they dismiss and vilify God's servants OR a God whose power and mystery is so great that He is able to overcome evil and injustice and still create a celebration. One could easily view the whole Bible in this light. I do.

When the communion meal is taken in accordance with the second trend, than it becomes a meal of God's victory. It is meal which celebrates redemption and reconciliation. It is also fundamentally different than many other ideas of how God is pleased. Instead of the need to satiate or feed God with our obedience, enemy blood, or moral living, it is about the desire to satiate or feed us with God's grace and love; the humble King wins out.

These were good things for me to remember today. I hope they are for you too.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

You are what you purchase

So one of the "major issues" I said is confronting the church and culture is consumerism. Nothing too novel there, but thinking about consumerism has also got me thinking about my new job as a bank teller. No, I'm not going to launch into a diatribe about the ills of money or anything like that, just an observation.

More and more, people seem to be characterized by numbers and statistical information about how they behave. The best example I can think of are the financial statements people receive from their banks or credit cards. And as much as I would like to deny the value of these statements, I cannot help but feel they speak volumes about people. Take for instance the following:

Date Transaction Description Amount
09/01 POS Target T0776 Pasadena CA -42.32
09/02 ATM withdrawal Pasadena CA -40.00
09/02 Trader Joe's #179 Pasadena CA -33.48
09/03 Deposit 200.00
09/04 Check #789: Rent -750.00

From these five meager transactions, anyone can gauge something about our life in Pasadena. You would know at least one or more specific places where we were on specific dates, as well as general shopping trends. Over time, such records would also indicate larger patterns of behavior. So much so that it would not be impossible to figure out - say after six months - what are the general patterns of our lifestyle: grocery shopping on Saturdays, rent payment at the first of the month, favorite stores, impulse buys or weakness areas, etc.

Again, I have nothing important to say on this. I just wanted everyone to know (most importantly family) that from now on I will not be emailing, writing or calling. I will simply make a copy of my bank statements and mail them to you at the end of the month. I'll leave the deducing and generalizing up to you, but feel free to call when you see transactions occurring in Thailand or purchases from Babies 'R Us.


354763 (aka Wes Kendall's bank number)

p.s. - just kidding about the bank number, I'm not that out of it.

A Little Help From My Friends

Alas, after completing seminary, I have dreams of an endless future complete with no more written assignments. But just when I begin to taste this freedom, along comes another assignment. The latest task is to write a series of essays to be included in my resume for the Presbyterian Church (USA). They're not big, mind you, but to lighten the severity of the blow I am hoping to get a little feedback on one of the questions, which is: What are the key theological issues currently facing the church and society, and how do they shape your ministry?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject, so please feel free to post a comment. Feel free to also deride my own answers as ridiculous, philosophical or so much blah, blah, blah (see below).

I believe recent history in America has shown a blurring between church and culture, especially regarding political and social issues. And while I do believe it is important for the church to work for the transformation of society, I also believe this cannot be done without maintaining Christian distinctives. Maintaining these particulars is done, I believe, by keeping the modern church linked to the historical Church. This belief shapes my own ministry in that I support older practices in worship. I do not believe these are the sole source of worship, but I do believe they are not to be omitted. Thus, my ministry will be intent on preserving the Reformed tradition even as I seek to address 21st Century issues.

Another significant issue facing the church and society is consumerism. It is becoming ever more convenient to view the world as a place of exchange and personal welfare. And in such a world, the idea of covenant and the life of discipleship are being challenged by the idea of contract and the life of buyer/seller. Thus, it is extremely important that the church maintain Christian worship as a life of devotion, not an experience to be consumed. Therefore, my ministry will be intent on uplifting Christianity as a new life and faith as an act of discipleship. I will also encourage or challenge people to be consumed by Christ rather than “consuming church” as a moral or social action.

yada yada ...