ministry is a dirty job

It’s been a while since I last had a favorite television show. I watch television, and I think there are good things to be found among the bad things to avoid but I haven’t really seen anything recently that grabbed me. Part of the problem is the shows I get to liking tend to be cancelled fairly quickly. I’m not sure why this is, however, I chalk it up to being another sign I’m not entirely in tune with American popular culture.

I’ve never liked any so-called reality television, for instance.

I do, it seems, like actual reality television as I’ve discovered a new favorite show these last couple of weeks. It’s called Dirty Jobs. And that’s pretty much the description of what it is about. The host solicits suggestions for jobs that get a person dirty, then goes out and works at that job, revealing the mysteries of what might otherwise be often considered mundane labor. Last night, for instance, he worked at a coal factory and dismantled Rose Parade floats. In other episodes he did roofing, exterminating, waste treatment, various types of farming, and just about any other kind of job that involves getting, well, dirty.

He has a sense of humor about it all, and an honest approach to the reality that dirty jobs can also be frustrating jobs.

I find the show utterly fascinating and entertaining. I have no idea why.

Well, maybe I have a little idea why. I’m utterly fascinated with seeing the curiosities in what would otherwise seem mundane. The host does this well. He walks through worlds entirely outside my own, interacting with people who I have very little in common with, doing things I likely may never even see up close let alone ever do.

There’s a mystery in all of this for me, and I love being put into these various, peculiar to me, worlds.

I have absolutely no interest in Hollywood gossip, and find the whole world of glamour and celebrity entirely vacuous and boring. But put on a show about crab fishing in the Chesapeake, cleaning a gutter in Los Angeles, making sugar in Louisiana, or potato farming in Colorado and I’m glued to the television.

It is the exact same feeling I have when I step outside and look at the same old trees, the same old squirrels, the same old jays and ravens and chickadees. They are endlessly fascinating to me, even if they are not particularly all that grand. They are beautiful and interesting but only if I take the time to see those aspects. I can easily miss noticing, as many people do.

I wonder about why I like this show then I realize it is sort of the problem I had when I was working in a church. I’m entirely unimpressed with those sorts of people who think themselves important and utterly fascinated with those sorts of people who aren’t very involved or are deprecated or are out of the loop of popularity. This is a problem, mostly because people who think themselves impressive like others to think them impressive also, and often people who think themselves impressive have worked themselves into positions where it is important to impress them for the sake of one’s own increasing importance.

In other words, finding approval often means kissing up to the right people, and I’m utterly incapable of doing that. Not because I’m rebellious, but because I easily get bored of that game and those sorts of people who love that game.

Instead I find what is considered by many to be uninteresting to be the most interesting of all. I think there is mystery to be found. In a show like Dirty Jobs there are hidden secrets to every work, and it’s fascinating to see how important, yet often maligned, dirty jobs are done. With people I think it’s something more.

I am utterly fascinated with seeing the Spirit in people, and the most fascinated with seeing the Spirit in people who don’t suspect they bear much of the Spirit. Only they do, and oftentimes significantly more than those who think highly of themselves.

I genuinely think nature speaks loudly of the Creator. That’s why I like to notice what it is saying through the trees, or the birds, or the beasts, or the weather. It’s the artistry of the Triune God in living splendor all around. With this I genuinely think people too speak of the Creator, not so much in their words as in many other ways, and it is in discovering the secrets of who they are as a person that I see a new glimmer of God in whose image they have been created.

Maybe this is at the heart of why I went to seminary. I see those qualities in people, and I want to burnish this splendor, bring out the bright imagery, and help myself and others rediscover the likeness of God in our present lives. It is not the up front preaching, or the nicely tailored suits, or the societal esteem, or the community authority, or the methods of leadership which attracts me to ministry. It’s the same sort of thing that makes me like that show so much. One has to get in the muck and the mire, helping to wash away filth and discover something worthwhile. It can be tedious, and frustrating, and overwhelming, and exhausting, but there’s an immensely practical purpose which can be seen at the end of the day’s labor.

I think a lot of ministry on television and in seminary is portrayed like a glamorous entertainment show. Only that’s exactly what has bored me about church life in the past. That’s what repels me, and those sorts of people are entirely boring to me. They may be in leadership of churches but they are altogether outside my interest.

Ministry is a dirty job. Or at least is should be, if it is done as Jesus called us to do it. That is the aspect I find utterly fascinating about it all. Which, I guess, makes my interest in the Dirty Jobs show a bit more understandable.

This was written June 24, 2006

A few years ago, Barclay Press invited me to do a two week daily journal for their website. They’ve since changed their online presence so those writings are gone. I was sorting out different files on my computer this evening and happened to run across them. So, I thought, I might as well repost them here. Both to have a record of them, and maybe more so, because these were written in 2006 and 2007. A fair bit of changes have happened in my life since then, so these are records of a time in my life when all I had was faith. I was writing a lot during these journaling times, and it’s curious what came out when I sat down to write. So, mostly for me, but also for anyone whose interested, I’m going to post one of these a day for the next 20 days or so.

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