Many moons ago, I was a youth pastor. (For those of you who need more precise numbers, I resigned my last full-time youth ministry position in March of 1997, so it's been eight & a half years ago.) While I never particularly liked lock-in's (the idea of staying up all night with a bunch of highly caffienated youth still sends shudders up & down my spine) or some of the other unpleasant duties that went with the territory in the traditional church I served (searching the Sunday School classrooms during evening service to make sure youth weren't hiding out), I loved assisting teenagers in growing closer to God. And playing with them - man, I loved playing crazy games. Jenn & Aaron played "Ultimate Octopus" with our crew here at NewLife a few weeks ago, and I found myself grinning ear to ear. (For the uninitiated, "Ultimate" is a high speed cross of basketball & soccer usually played with a Frisbee. Instead, they used a six pound dead octopus. Hilarity ensued.) It wasn't the best game I ever came up with, but we decided to play touch football on a retreat with a pigskin - in this case, a fluffy pink stuffed animal pig. About 1/2 way through the game, his tail was ripped off during an aborted pass attempt. We laughed and played and went on with the retreat. Well, as often happens to youth pastors after retreats, all of the leftover junk, debris, and lost & found ended up in my office, with The Pig perched on top of the pile. Sort of as a joke (and I'm not sure whose idea it was anymore), we made The Pig our youth group mascot. One of the youth sewed up the bad spot where his tail had been and he began traveling with us to youth events & concerts. His usual position was in the church van, rolled up in a window with 1/2 of his body sticking out. He even was featured prominently in our music video of Steve Taylor's "Bannerman." Enter Mark Pittman, my odd but wonderful friend who worked for interl'inc, a Christian company that connected youth ministries with Christian musicians. It was his delightfully hare-brained idea to get The Pig his own autograph book. When we'd go to a show, rather than have our youth work so hard to get autographs that they'd lose and/or idolize, we send a group up with The Pig and his autograph book... presto, instant silliness. The Pig stayed behind when I left youth ministry... I have no idea what happened to him. (He's probably in the organ loft at Dalewood Baptist... that's where literally everything else ended up when someone didn't know what to do with it.) OTOH, the autograph book came with me. Over the three years that The Pig went to concerts, he managed to collect some pretty great autographs: DC Talk, Sixpence None The Richer, DeGarmo & Key, Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, Rebecca St. James, Church of Rhythm, Joy Electric, Geoff Moore & The Distance... basically a "who's who" of mid-nineties CCM. I still have very fond memories of the very first night we took the autograph book to a show... a group of 10 of us headed out on a school night for the middle of nowhere TN (the name of the town escapes me, but it's where the Scopes Monkey Trial took place) for one of the best concerts I've ever attended. The headliner was Steve Taylor (one of my favorites), with Hokus Pick (another favorite) and Guardian opening. Which brings me (finally) to the point of all this. (Sometimes, I wonder why you people are willing to read my ramblings - but, you do. So I'll keep writing!) While I was a huge Steve Taylor fan (and still am) and saw enough Hokus Pick shows that the band knew me on sight, Guardian was just a group of guys who played loud metal-derived rock'n'roll. And then they signed The Pig Book. Pig, you'll make a great BBQ sandwich.
To The Pig, I love how pink you are!
The Pig - God bless you! Thanks for being the other white meat.
So, it was meeting them and glimpsing their sense of humor that allowed me to slow down and really listen to their music.
And that brings me to a song that's been running through my head this week: "The Lion's Den".
Once upon a time in churches of old
The velcro age had yet to unfold
Flannel was king and Sunday School knew
How to make those Bible heroes stick like glue
How to make 'em stick with you
Flannelgraph lions, mounted and mean
The prophet Daniel in between
Head toward heaven, sturdy and true
A man of God who did not fear the gods of men
He didn't fear the lions' den
Every age at every stage
Pray, stand your ground
They'll lie down
Dumb struck, I was shaken and stirred
He wouldn't kowtow, he kept God's word
Teacher said, "Son, this could be you
If you put your trust in God and not the praise of men
You won't fear the lions' den"
And if we play by lions' rules
We start lionizing fools
God wrote the book, he'll fortify
And like the eagles we will fly
We're gonna fly
Late one night in a fever dream
The prophet Daniel came to me
"Sir," I said, "I've lost my nerve
I lip serve God and put my faith in Godless men
I fear the lions' den"
Then he said, "Who says I'm not a feline-phobe?
Who says I wasn't ready to wet my robe?
Faith is tough, boy, but God gives grace
So take deep breath, head up, set your face like flint
And stop being a wimp"
words: Steve Taylor
music: Tony Palacios & Jamie Rowe
copyright 1995 - from Guardian's album "Buzz"
"Faith is tough..." Gosh, it's good to hear that this week. It's "all too easy" (props to Darth Vader for the quote) for me to buy into the lie that faith, if it was "real", should be easy. That if I was really a "good little Christian", my feelings would fall into line and I'd be relentlessly & digustly cheerful in the face of everything that comes my way. Kind of like, for those of you who got forced to read Voltaire in college, Candide, only with an iPod filled with tunes by Amy Grant & Michael W. Smith.
Instead, faith isn't about how easy my life is... or how good I am at faking a complete lack of fear & anxiety. Faith is based on the goodness of God, not the goodness of me. And that's incredibly freeing. (Even typing it makes me feel better - like saying it aloud makes it more real.)
So, a shout out to The Pig (whatever dark closet he's hiding in at Dalewood Baptist). Thanks to your fluffy pinkness, I'm reminded again of God's power and love for me in the midst of stuff that feels like it's gonna eat me alive.
Obviously, I'm not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ's servant.
Galatians 1:10 (NLT)
This post originally appeared in the 10/5/05 issue of The Grapevine, a publication of NewLife Community Church.