Sunday, January 13, 2013

Day 7: On which I took no photos and have probably used too many parenthetical phrases

This morning at 8:45, Catherine and I attended the English-language service at Cathedral of the Epiphany. The retired bishop of the Dominican Republic (the first Dominican elected to this position, in the 1960s) was the presider. About 20 people attended, some of them Dominicans who enjoy practicing their English. We stayed to help serve at the 10:45 service, where we had 54 in attendance, including a few (but only a few) children and teenagers. Catherine co-presided with Padre Servio, and I acted as a monaguillo (acolyte) and also administered the chalice. Coffee hour followed with lunch included (though we had to pay to help cover the cost of lunch). I enjoyed chatting with the parishioners and continuing to develop my still-feeble grasp of conversational Spanish. One parishioner (whose English is even weaker than my Spanish) even asked me to teach him a few English phrases.

At the 10:45 service, we sang as our processional hymn “Pescador de Hombres,” one of the most beloved Christian songs in Latin America. I have sung it before on a number of occasions, but today it struck me very personally and very deeply. Just yesterday I had been thinking about the fishermen disciples, and Peter in particular: about how they had (irrationally?) left their former trade and everything they had known to follow Jesus.

At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Perhaps he was talking about the other disciples, or perhaps he was talking about the boats and nets and fishing rods on the shore. Yet when Jesus first called them, he said, “I will make you fishers of men.” (I know—“fishers of people” is more inclusive and more accurate, but it sounds far less poetic in my ears.) At any rate, Jesus cast the new vocation in terms of the old. Perhaps this made it easier for them to imagine their new lives. But I think the phrase does more than that. It acknowledges that there was nothing wrong with their lives as fishermen. In fact, they can expect to continue to use their fishing skills, but in new ways.

I used to work in radio consulting. The company I worked for had hundreds of radio station clients who would pay for various services: consulting, music libraries, satellite programming, and minute-by-minute music programming, which was the area I worked with the most. It was a dream job for a long time. Not only did I enjoy the subject matter of the job, but I learned a lot about myself. I learned about certain growing edges with which I still wrestle. I’ll never forget a time early on when my employment was on the rocks because of the difficulty I had adjusting to my responsibilities. My supervisor said to me, “Be proud of the job you do, not the job you have.” His words will always be with me as a guiding principle of how I should go about my job and my vocation.

Many years later, when I was laid off from my job, I was forced to seek other shores. But I didn’t go into church work blind, having been raised in the Episcopal Church with a priest for a father. Nor did I leave the tools of my trade behind. I brought with me some knowledge of promotions and marketing, and now I had the task of learning how to reapply what I had learned to a non-commercial environment. I had learned phrases like “leave ’em wanting more,” and “my market’s different,” and “super-serve the P2 listeners.” These phrases had specific meanings in radio consulting, but I was able to re-appropriate the wisdom in them. I came with a head start in understanding that it’s not helpful to oversell a special liturgy, or to impose a “one size fits all” solution on a congregation, or to become cliquish and forget about the needs of newcomers.

I imagine that most of us who come to church work from the corporate world bring special gifts, and it’s not always obvious how we are to use them. Whether or not we think about it, though, we do it. We bring the experiences of our entire lives to bear on our ministry. And it’s not just true for seminarians, clergy, or paid church staff. All of us bring our gifts to the table. We all have something to contribute.

So when I sang these words today (translated here for your benefit), they brought tears to my eyes:

1.      Lord, you have come to the lakeshore
looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones.
You only asked me to follow humbly.

Refrain: O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me,
and while smiling, have spoken my name.
Now my boat's left on the shoreline behind me;
by your side I will seek other seas.

2. You know so well my possessions;
my boat carries no gold and no weapons;
But nets and fishes -- my daily labor.

3. You need my hands, full of caring,
through my labors to give others rest,
and constant love that keeps on loving.

4. You, who have fished other oceans
ever longed-for by souls who are waiting,
my loving friend, as thus you call me.

In the same way that I once left the corporate world for work in the church, and in the same way that I left my comfortable church work for the life of a seminarian (and took my family with me!), for three weeks, I have left that comfortable life for a more exciting, short-term life here in the Dominican Republic. I miss home, and yet I know I will never get this time back again. I am doing my best to make the most of it, and every day, I feel that God is with me, smiling and saying, “Yes … that’s right.”

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