Editor’s Note: This is the ninth installment of a new series called “Illuminations,” which aims to highlight stories of cooperation, unity and diversity from across the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Illuminations is a communications initiative of the Illumination Project, a project of discernment and accompaniment involving CBF congregational leaders to illuminate the qualities that have built unity in CBF, and through discernment, identify intentional processes to maintain and grow unity through cooperation. Learn more about the Illumination Project at www.cbf.net/illuminationproject.
By Griff Martin
“Oh you’re the real liberal pastor from Austin I’ve heard about,” she said as I introduced myself as the one officiating the ceremony. Her tone was not affirming of the title she had just given me. I sat stunned for a minute and then finally managed to get out the words, “Well, I just think of myself as a pastor.”
We’d been running late for a rehearsal dinner and when we arrived, there was very little seating left. Our group of four managed to find a table with three chairs and after a bit of maneuvering get another place setting added. Sitting down, we realized that we knew no one at the table, since these were all friends of the bride and we were on the groom’s side. The introductions had gone smoothly until I’d mentioned my profession. Even as she was saying those stunning words, I knew it was not the time to be reactionary. Who needs more drama at a wedding—especially from the minister?
However, after further thought, here is what I wish I had said:
“We so often give people labels that they never ask to be given. I truly believe our world would be a better place if we focused less on adjectives like that one. So, I would prefer to just be Griff, but if you need to go further than that, Pastor is fine. I may be more liberal than some, but I am also more conservative than others, so neither descriptor is a perfect fit.”
I used to live in a world where things were binary, black or white, right or wrong, true or false, liberal or conservative and then through a few events in my life, that whole world literally feel apart and I saw the great truth that very little in life falls in the “either or” category, but instead belongs to the world of “both/and.” The word and has come to mean so much to me that I have an ampersand tattoo—a constant reminder of how using this word toward inclusion gives us breathing space to just be and makes the world bigger and fights our ego and teaches us to see the world as God sees the world and brings forth grace.
Living in an “and” world is a daily challenge. I am a runner and someone who very much likes routine. The path I run most mornings is about four miles around a lake. I park my car and then head out on the trail to the right. A few months ago I was asked to join a running group and the first day I ran with them, we arrived at the same lake but they exited the lot and headed to the left.
In my mind, this was the wrong way, you start out by going to the right. Knowing I needed to just go with it, I still spent the whole run trying to find a way to explain why you start out going right. Finally back at the lot, I realized that the trail was a circle and no matter how you started, right or left, you were going to end up in the same place. Left and right were equal choices.
I really did once believe there was only one way to do things, a simple path. God over and over again has taught me that no matter where you go from the start, some people go left and others go right, but as long as you stay on the path of Jesus Christ, you will end up in the same spot.
There’s that conjunction again. And. It’s all over my life. I’m liberal (to some) and conservative (to others), but mainly I’m Griff and I am called to be a pastor.
Griff Martin serves as the pastor of First Baptist Church of Austin, Texas, and chair of the CBF Ministries Council.