I’m a gagger! And my dentist of a number of decades knows that. Nevertheless he persists in caringly giving me the dental service I need. This morning, needing work done because of a broken tooth, while waiting for the gums to numb up after his injections, I told him I appreciated his care and that I trusted him, particularly because I gag. “I imagine there are some people who are afraid to come to you.” “Yes,” he said. We talked a bit about trust. And I commented that it’s that way in ministry, too. People need to trust you so that they can open up and tell you what’s really on their hearts so that you can serve them. “Yes, open up,” he said. We both caught the phrase that crossed over our diverse ministries in daily life. We need people to “open up” for us to do our work.
It was time for me to close (my mouth)again so he could proceed. But not before I had noted that pastors need to be careful not to make assumptions about what they will find “inside." People who may seem to “have it all together” may have deep wounds and those who come looking quite disturbed may not be so deeply distressed after all. He continued, both with his work with hands in my mouth, and with a continuing comment of his own: “I find, that, too. I may make pre-judgements about which people really care about taking care of their own health and which ones are too busy. And often I'm surprised.”
We carried on our conversations, across disciplines, his denstistry, mine theology, and found not only new meaning, new ways of conversing, but also new insights about each of our ministries.
My conversation with Jennaya took place across generations. For her 7th birthday, I for the first time put actual dollar bills in her birthday card...seven of them. The morning after the party we had a conversation about money. I don't think she's had much experience with "carrying-around" bills. She has been learning in first grade how to count, particularly dimes and quarters.
I asked her what she might do with her seven dollar? "I'm going to save it," she replied. "Good," I said. Then I went on to ask her what she knew about the things we use money for. To get started I said, "Such as for buying food...." She and I came up with quite a list, including "Paying for the house, their car," and yes, "giving to church." She knew that her offerings went to help people who needed help. And she had experienced her family giving her baby bed to a family that needed it.
But I was a bit surprised when she added to our list, "For work." I said, "For work? But, people pay us for the work we do." She quickly corrected me, "My teacher uses some of her money to buy things her students." She was right, of course. And then I began to think of how often people, including myself actually, do use money to spend on our work." Her own parents, also teachers do, and she has witnessed that. And, given the economy, we pay our own expenses that our institutions used to be able to pay for us.
What is money afterall? And what a privilege to be able to work, to serve, to minister in God's public world, as a seven-year-old and all of us, no matter what our generation. We learned together that morning, Jennaya and I, as we often do.