permission slips

His name was Murdoch.
He was in his 90s and reminded me of a muppet whenever he spoke – his mouth opening wide and his hands moving around as if someone was crouching behind him, gesturing wildly.

We were talking about a year after his wife had died;
I had wanted to check in to see how he was doing as the anniversary approached.
We sat down in his living room on this old, frayed, plaid – yes, plaid – couch,
and we talked about his late wife and the grief and loss he was rumbling through,     when this happened:

“I know I shouldn’t feel this way, and I know I shouldn’t tell my pastor this, but now a days, Im mainly just pissed off at God.”
“Thats understandable,” I said, “Have you let it out?”
“What do you mean? Like have I said ‘fuck you’ to God?”
(You know you’re getting real when a 90 year old swears).
“Yah. Like have you told God that you’re pissed off.”
He paused, looked at me, and said:
“No. I didn’t know I was allowed to do that.”


Ministry is about giving permission.

It’s the work of handing out permission slips.
It’s opening up people’s interiors and exteriors,
their wounds, worries, and doubts,
and their worlds, questions, and experiences,
and saying ‘It’s okay. Go in and go out.
Go and explore the worlds in and around you.”

As Antoine de Saint-Exupery put it:
“If you wish to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work.
Instead, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”


A few weeks after our talk I was back on Murdoch’s old, frayed, plaid couch.
“I did it.” He said, waving his arms around, “I told God off.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“I learned how big God is. After letting it all out, I found myself in an entirely new place. I now understand why we say God is love.”


Here’s the thing about my work and any other work that’s about helping people be human and alive in the world:

If we truly believe our lives and worlds are just humming with reverence,
if we truly believe that God lives in the darkest corners, the gaping wounds, and lowliest of people,
if we truly believe in resurrection,
we need to get into the business of permission slips,
of encouraging people to go in and go out,
and like Murdoch,
discover just how big God really is.