Friday, October 3, 2014

Gone Fishing

"As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him." Matthew 4:18-20

Growing up on the Mississippi River, I absolutely love fishing; especially river fishing.  Rarely does river fishing prove unfruitful; you almost always catch something.  However, what I really love about river fishing is that if you are fishing with a nightcrawler (everything eats nightcrawlers), you never know what you're going to pull from the muddy waters.  I've caught all manner of catfish, carp, perch, hackleback , bass, walleye, bluegill, crappie, gar, turtles, and even eels.  Sometimes you catch all or most of the above on an active afternoon.  A big chunk of the excitement of this kind of fishing is finally seeing what's at the other end of the line.

*****

Grace/Heathen Church provides such an array of experiences, challenges, and characters.  We truly never know what the next phone call, knock at the door, or conversation on the street will hold...and we certainly never know where these adventures will lead.  We have started to refer to this simply as "river fishing".

*****

I've had a very interesting past couple of weeks in my ministry.  Dealing with drug dealers, addicts, alcoholics, the occasional prostitute, and the depths of the human condition are nothing new in my ministry.  However, there are occasionally events that break from my norm, which is hardly normal to begin with.  Two weeks ago I witnessed a mugging while in the course of doing ministry.  A woman was shoved down and into a busy street while her assailant took off with her belongings.  As she started to rise from the street, screaming, the assailant doubled-back and shoved her down again.  This was in an especially bad part of the city and the assailant rather than running off, just kept walking down the street as if this was the most normal thing in the world.

I followed him in my vehicle while guiding the police via 911 to our location.  It took over twenty minutes for the police to arrive and to apprehend the man.  In that twenty minutes, the man charged my vehicle twice and made some very imaginative, impressive threats.  The 911 operator asked me at one point, "Are you actually talking to him!?"  My response, "Well, he came up to the window."  Each time I spoke to him, I gave him the opportunity to return what he had stolen and I would quit following him.  Needless to say, he didn't take advantage of my offer.

*****

Last week in the darkened basement of the church I encountered a large man attempting to rob us.  Here are the excerpts from Facebook describing the encounter...

"We were robbed at Grace tonight and I came face to face with the robber in a darkened basement; he got way more than he bargained for. He got a heaping, helping of grace, the stuff that he robbed us of, and prayer time with the pastor."

 When asked what he was trying to steal...

"Two large packages of hot dogs from Sam's. He could have taken a whole lot more and this is what he chose. I thought grace was in order."

And finally a little more detail...

"He had quite the story. He started by trying to tell me he went to church there and I played along. He said he came every Sunday and attended church at 1pm in the basement and that he and the pastor were good friends. I asked what the pastor looked like and he said, "A big, fat white guy." And I was all like, "Drats!" And I asked, "Does he look kinda like me?" He replied, "No, much older." When I identified myself, he began to cry (this guy was bigger than me; big dude). I made him clear out the back pack and he pulled out a package of pictures; it was of his home that burned down and of his wife in a nursing home on life support (badly burned). The house is actually on the same block as Grace and burned down in the Spring."

*****
When my wife and I were first married we lived way out in the country and had access to a handful of farm ponds to fish from.  Three of the ponds were out in the open, easy to get to, and heavily fished.  The fish rarely, if ever, bit in those ponds.  However, there was one that was a good distance into a cornfield.  It was hard to get to and if you've ever ventured deeply into a Iowa or Illinois cornfield, you know that it can be very disorienting and dangerous.  This is the pond that we liked to fish.  As quickly as you could cast and reel in, you'd have a nice sized channel catfish, the perfect size for eating.  These fish weren't used to seeing fisherman and they acted as if they were half starving, or perhaps they were just a little more aggressive.  (On an aside, if you threw bucket of dog food on the surface, the whole pond would boil with catfish attacking the surface...very cool to watch.)

*****

I have been accused of being an adrenaline junkie and I can certainly understand why people might think that.  However, I don't think that is accurate.  I don't get a "rush" from from these events and I certainly don't go looking for trouble for the sake of trouble.  In those situations, I'm very calm, which is probably why they haven't gone "bad" yet; and hopefully never do.  I will admit though that part of why I love this appointment so much is that it is never boring and I never have to wonder what to do next even if I rarely ever know how things are going to play out.

*****

A real part of the beauty of this place is that on a daily basis I get to do ministry in contexts that most pastors/churches will never have (or will take) an opportunity to minister in.  We spend so much wondering how to get people to our church without ever, you know, actually stepping outside of our walls to see what is out there.  We keep trying to do ministry in the same old, tired, and consumer driven models; and then we wonder why it doesn't work.  We refuse to go, to walk where the ministry is needed; we don't take the Gospel where it was intended to go.  To take the Gospel where it was intended to go is to invite a lifetime of "river fishing".

*****

I woke up this morning thinking about "river fishing" and the idea of both going where the fish are and where the fish are hungry.  Or in other words, daring to traverse the road less traveled, the places where the Church has little or no real presence in our own backyards. 

My mind then drifted to a picture of fishing in a pristine swimming pool.  Fish cannot survive in the pristine, chemically treated waters of a swimming pool; but swimming pools are safe, clean, comfortable and appealing.  Here's the thing about fishing in swimming pools; you can cast a line with the biggest, fattest, juicest nightcrawler you can find into a pool and all you're going to do is to expedite the death of your bait, as well as bleaching it out.  But goodness, do we ever love fishing in swimming pools in the hopes that a fish will simply appear because of our bait.  We're also really fond of fishing those heavily trafficked ponds with an ever changing array of baits that rarely result in a bite.

The flip side of course is that if you dare to take that same worm through a cornfield to a pond that no one bothers with...
*****

To take the Gospel, to take Jesus; or rather, to follow Jesus where Jesus wants to go, it is an invitation to the stories like the two I shared above.  Doing ministry where ministry needs to be done, in the places that Jesus would have been hanging out, is messy, it is dirty, and yes, at times dangerous.  But above all that, it is wonderful.  
I love river fishing.

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