I watched lumberjack chefs skim the surface of a massive frying pan on skates of butter, preparing the cast iron skillet to cook a pancake big enough for the appetite of Paul Bunyan. My elementary school mind embraced the idea of myth as the old reel to reel film introduced us to the tall tales of America. I loved the legends of a great blue ox and the original pot-head Johnny Appleseed planting all those trees and Davy Crockett killing a bear when he was only three. And don't get me started on ole John Henry, the steel-drivin' man. He was my absolute favorite, sticking it to the man by dual-wielding sledgehammers and out railroading the steam engine. Classic.
My fascination with tall tales grew and I eventually learned about the famous legend of England, a story of a King and his court woven into the fabric of their history: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table ruling with strength and chivalry from the idyllic castle city of Camelot.
Like most young boys, at first I was attracted to the myth of his sword Excalibur, spurred by the sword in the stone movie, but soon it was Merlin and his magic that grabbed me, an attraction to wizened wizards I confess I have yet to give up. Slowly the idea of genuine heroism mingled with the bravado, and I learned of Arthur's ideals and what his knights championed. At its core, the legend of King Arthur is about a perfect kingdom led by a King of character, who fights for the oppressed and maintains peace at any cost. His knights represent him, shining with the glory of righteousness, gathered at the round table of equality, and ruling from the heaven-on-earth city of Camelot.
Subconsciously I think for many years in ministry I pictured myself and my work in Arthurian terms. I'm the noble king (pastor) using Excalibur (the Word) to create Camelot (the ministry/church) with the help of my chivalrous knights (whoever likes me and my vision). Note I started this paragraph with the word "subconsciously," I never pictured myself on a white stallion (the church van) saving peasants (the lost) from the pagan hordes (the world). But I do think an idealized Arthurian concept permeated the way I functioned and can still be a factor even today.
What do I mean?
I am not King Arthur. I am not a knight. Pastors are shepherds not superheroes; we're gardeners not conquerors.
Yes we believe in ideals and we work for peace with (hopefully) a gentle sort of strength. . .but:
I'm not creating a Camelot of perfection; I'm declaring a Kingdom of grace.
And to declare a Kingdom of grace means to live with people who need grace, including myself. It means living day to day in a culture of vulnerability, where burdens are carried together and forgiveness is required to endure.
The church is not an elite force of shiny knights elevated around a round table; we are hospitable hosts of the Wedding feast of the Lamb, a table not united by ideals or utopian vision, but by the grace and spirit of Jesus Christ, the Creator King, who invited the lame and the lepers, the outcasts and the unlikely, welcoming all to the party of grace.
This is important. Our Savior and Lord unites us, not our shared hope of heavenly perfection nor the collective esteem earned from our earthly righteousness. The church that strives for "perfection" may well achieve a glory that others envy but it will be a thin veneer covering the messy realities of human community rather than redeeming them. The "knights" (the ones who fit the vision) will be exalted and the "peasants" (the ones who don't) left pining. We have to learn to worship together as a people both helplessly imperfect and wonderfully diverse, making sure the round table of our worship experience is not a polished bubble of religious escapism where only the "Lancelots" belong. If we strive first for a Camelot Church based on elitism (even if unintentional), the word known as “Excellence” may become for us the worst of idols, with the beautiful fruit of God's relational Kingdom withering from a vine-less branch.
Is the legend of Camelot a mythical stirring of the heavenly realm set in our hearts? Perhaps. We do serve a perfect King who has eternal values, who is coming again to consummate His perfect reign.
But as we wait, let us make sure our "Camelot" is full of humility, truth, grace, justice, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. . .rather than a worldly and exclusive version of sainthood.