...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Clergy Gateway Commandment

In the regionalism that is U.S. United Methodism, my cluelessness betrayed my rust belt roots when I first heard the phrase, "I covet your prayers." What?!? As a student pastor of a North Carolina textile mill town parish, I was a second language learner. Whenever I hear that phrase now, I realize that it's mostly southern pastor-speak for "I need and appreciate your prayers."

Still, it seems that, generally, the biblical prohibition on coveting is dangerously underrated. "You shall not covet," commandment #10, is deceptively listed last. Like so-called gateway drugs leading to deeper addictions, in our American "I want therefore I am" culture, #10 is THE gateway commandment. Or sin. As pastoral leaders, could it be that "you shall not covet" is the hinge upon which the commandments turn-- for our behavior as well as our spirituality?

Remember when Jesus talked about the Decalogue, he noted that adultery was first a spiritual state of wanting and lusting for what's not yours (coveting) before it was really a physical act. And Jesus called this heart- state adultery in fact. (Matthew 5:27-28)

King David's story? His pattern in I Samuel 21 and 25 of wanting what's not his, and devising plans to take it, is illustrated best in the Bathsheba narrative, beginning in II Samuel 11. Here, the sin of coveting leads to adultery, stealing, and murder.

Wanting what's not theirs becomes the downfall of both the Ahab and the Queen in I Kings 21. Here, coveting is a gateway leading to false witness, murder, and finally, the stealing or seizure of the vacated property. We like David's story because of the soap-opera dimension, however, coveting is the beginning of the end for both David and Ahab/Jezebel.

It could also be that this spiritual state of coveting makes it impossible to be grateful for our blessings or to discover our true gifts. Especially for those who work professionally on church staffs, it's too easy to want what others have. Or for pastors to crave an appointment to Trinity Cathedral instead of Chitlin' Switch.

So--- admire others' spirituality, gifts, and ministry. Above all, appreciate your God- given gifts and the life God has given you! In love and holy purpose, own the one and only ministry to which the Spirit is inviting you- YOURS!

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Having been in ordained ministry in the UMC for 34 years, I've experienced the truth that although, clergy are frequently present for others, no one can offer what they don't have.That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the random next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. I hope the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement. Scott Endress

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If you want a formula for making the best of the less-than-perfect and making the most of what you have been given, then begin to compare your lot to what you were before you were born, and it will empower you with wonder every time. John Claypool

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