Saturday, March 8, 2014

True Names of the Church

I was thinking of how the religious landscape of the nation is changing rapidly, and the churches we’ve known as we grew up are disappearing, perhaps not fast enough. Actually, it’s amazing how long these churches have held on. I guess the same stubbornness that made them drive themselves in the ground has also kept them in existence longer than we would expect. 

I drive around the neighborhood and look at their buildings with their clever signs and I consider what their names would be if they reflected their nature.  Here are a few that came to me. Perhaps you recognize them:  

The Church of Hateful Condemnation  
Commonly referred to as “The Gay Haters Church.”
Formerly the Church of Racist Bigotry. 

First Petrified Septuagenarian (FPS)

First Errant Church of the Young and Clueless
        The grandchildren of members of the FPS but they're drastically different. They're new and fresh because they play the drums in worship, plus they have a new volleyball net.  

Baptist Bullies of Main Street 
          Sounds more like a bar, doesn’t it? Or maybe a Broadway musical?

The Church of MeTooism
  As in:  
     “We have a new volleyball net, too.”
     “We have an LED sign that looks like it should hang over a strip club, too.”
     “We stood up for Jesus and against the Gays by eating at ChicFillet, too.” 

The Self Righteous Brothers Bible Church
         A split from The Church of Hateful Condemnation because it was getting too liberal.  This is the exciting new nondenominational church that celebrates that good old time religion.     

Lackluster Saints Community Church
Celebrating the sanctity of dullness, bringing people to new heights of tedium

United Hysteria Fellowship
          Even they don’t know what they’re saying, but they’re so sincere



Sunday, January 5, 2014

Flashbacks

This is the place I go to speak the things I can't say to anyone.... 

I was having a good day today until I went to the church’s grief support group. 

This week they addressed the loss of children. Some had lost grown children. Others had lost them when they were small.  My own children are alive and healthy, for which I am so thankful. 

But I had these... flashbacks, if that's the right word.
                       
I remember being with a young single mother who stood devastated as she looked at the tiny body of her beautiful daughter lying in the casket. Less than a year later, I performed her funeral, too, and I listened to HER mother wail the words, “I can’t stand it!”

I remember tears of lots of parents as they mashed tissues into their faces in a vain attempt to squash their sobs. Other parents simply let it all out and wailed uncontrollably.  I remember them all.


The professional part of me looks at myself and thinks, “Post Traumatic Stress.” Actually, a more accurate term is "Vicarious Stress." But how does it help to know that? Say it’s true... what’s to be done? 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mirror Mirror

Something unusual happened today. 

A guy showed up at the nursing home just as I was about to begin worship time. I thought he was a street person  because of the ragged clothes and uncut hair, but he explained that he traveled from town to town singing gospel songs to nursing home residents.  And then he pulled out his beautiful Martin guitar that made me say "oooh," and "aaaah." He explained that a friend who supported him in his ministry had given it to him.  

I invited him to sing for us.  "I don't want to intrude," he said.  

I said that in fact I was tired and would be glad to let him take my place, and so he did.  

He went up and down the hallways strumming his instrument and getting people's attention and then he played for them for the better part of an hour, singing the old hymns like I do, telling amusing stories that I've told before, all with a kind smile and crinkly eyes. At the end, he went to all the persons, shaking their hands, touching their shoulders, blessing them with his words.  

He has been traveling across the country doing this for nine years and has been in all fifty states.  He has friends who send him a little support as he travels alone in an old minivan.

He held the hand of one nursing home resident and beamed into her face, and she looked over at me and said, "Pastor, he's a lot like you!" she said.  

I looked and he did resemble me in size and appearance (meaning he was big with a gray beard and long hair).  



While he played, I called my office and arranged to have a hotel room provided for him that night. When he was done singing, I took him to lunch and bought us hamburgers. 

He asked about my family. I told him we had two teenage boys. He asked gently if they gave me any problems.  I said no, that they had been free of trouble, made straight As and always made me proud.  

"I wish I could claim credit for them," I said, "But the truth is that they were born this way."  

I always say that, but this time I went on and told him the rest of the story. "The fact is I haven't done enough for them.  I've left them alone too much. I've worked too much, and been too tired to do much for them."

My throat closed and my eyes teared up. I never told anyone that part. He reached up and and put his hand on my shoulder for comfort, without saying anything--the same exact gesture I had done for countless people. 

I looked at him and really, it was amazing how much he looked like me in the face, with crinkly smile lines around sad eyes that had seen too much.  I could see the same dimples that people say I have behind the beard. He was almost the same size as me (which is substantial), and he had an easy manner which is how I appear to most people. 

It felt like I was looking in a mirror only the image of me was five or ten years older than I am now.  

And I got to wondering if he actually was me, sent from the near future to bless me enough to keep me from cracking up.  

Big Tipper

I go to this cafe occasionally. It’s about the only place in town I can go for breakfast if I want something other than a mac-biscuit.  


Anyway, I left a huge tip the other day. It had nothing to do with the wink she gave me, or the cleavage she flashed me, although those things didn’t hurt my feelings (I think she’s like this with most men). No, it was the pat on the shoulder she gave me as she walked away.*


I like to be touched.


I’ve mentioned that I touch people a lot. Shake the hand, pat the shoulder, or even hug if I have permission. I do it because people need it, but I don't force it, of course.  


It’s me giving something of myself to them. They need it, I give it. It’s all part of the service, folks.  


But a waitress who touches me, and then brings me food….


That’s worth a big tip.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

None of my Business

Most churches refer to themselves as "family."

Come to us and we'll accept  you and love you--you belong with us. 

It's rarely true. Oh, there's usually a tight knit group at the core of the church that started together and have known each other a long time. And like a family, they may be close, yet dysfunctional, with each other.  Others can come to services and told they're welcome, but they can't be part of that group, even and especially the preacher.

To survive, the preacher has to know how to respect and work with the core group, but he'll never be one of them.

I have spent most of my life entrusting myself and my real family to a people who say, "We love you. We're glad you're here. We are grateful for your care and we will take care of you." And then one day, usually sooner rather than later, they won't love me anymore and they'll want me to go away and they won't care if my family starves. It won't be simply a lack of love... they'll grow to hate me. But they won't admit it.

Oh, it has not yet happened at this church. And I'll be able to stave it off for awhile, maybe a good long time. But that has been the pattern, as it was for my father who has also been a minister, and as it is for almost all ministers.

"We hated the last guy, but we love you. One day we'll hate you too, and want someone else. And for good measure, we'll break the hearts of your wife and children, and force all of you to start again with new relationships, which will also be taken away.  All the while, we'll still claim to love you, and wonder why you're so bitter.

"What did you expect? We may call it family, but we all know it's really business."  

Okay, it's nothing personal. So I can choose my own friends, right? 

Well, no. We have to approve your friends.

If it's just a business, I can do what I like on my personal time without anyone having the right to evaluate me? I can go to the movies I want, yell at the ball games, buy condoms and beer and say curse words, as long as it's on my own time, right?

Not really. You have to be a good example and we don't want you embarrassing us.

If I had problems with my family, can I come to you for support, love and help? 

We don't even give that to each other.

If I make mistakes, you'd follow the direction of Christ, and be compassionate?

Well, no. Remember, this is a business.  

Yes, and it's apparently none of mine.


That's right. but remember, we want our pastors to love and care for us.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Connection Between Spirituality and Depression

In FreeThinker, Barry Dukes reports on a study that suggests that religion/spirituality could be the cause of depression.  There are plenty of comments on the page and here's the link if you like:

http://freethinker.co.uk/2013/09/16/depressed-it-could-be-that-religion-or-spirituality-in-particular-might-well-be-the-cause/

I didn't want to get lost in the sea of comments and I really didn't want to weigh in on the angry debating that went on in those comments, but I did want to cogitate a bit on the content of the article, as one who is steeped in religion and spirituality and has also struggled with a depression so deep that I often wonder how I'm still alive. 

I'm not trying to brag--but I have tried very hard to be a faithful Christian. I've proven my faith and pressed on when I saw nothing to confirm that faith is valid.  I've tried to pull away from those areas of religion that really are unhealthy, even evil, and tried for a benevolent spirituality.  I'm not ready to chunk it all, like some of my atheist friends have, but while it may or may not be the cause of my depression, it sure hasn't helped it.  

But there is a flaw the logic of the article.  

Depression is linked to a lot of qualities but none of them are necessarily a direct cause. A large number of creative people suffer depression.  Does creativity cause the depression or is it linked some other way? If you told the painter to stop painting would that cure his depression? Would a depressed writer feel better if she quit writing? Would you tell the musician to stay away from music? 

There is strong evidence to suggest that depression is caused by chemical imbalance in the brain, and in fact, many have been helped considerably with medication (I'm one of them). 

I think people turn to music, artistry, and faith to assuage their desperation. I know I have. It doesn't always work and yes, it can make depression much worse. Anything that has a power to do good can also be warped to do evil, including and probably especially religion.

My sense of spirituality makes me reach past what I can see for something less tangible... something that may help me make sense of things and make me feel better.  I like that quality about myself--reaching for the unknown, searching for that mysterious Presence, hoping it is benevolent.  

But does it make me happier? 

Well... no.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

So This is My Angel?

"You look like the kind of angel they'd send me...." 

Bill appeared to me in a dream last night. I saw his truck stopped in front of a railroad crossing. I was so happy to see him. He got out and I looked him over. He looked good, the same Bill I remember who smiled all the time He was still kind of stout, a little younger and stronger looking than I remembered. He didn’t speak. Just smiled that delighted smile of his. I hugged him and noted past how massive his shoulders were, just like they always had been even when he was an old man.


He used to come by my office everyday, laughing, then crying, then laughing again. He thought I was so smart. “Old School,” he called me.  


They said he was very different after his stroke. More talkative, more jovial, emotionally fragile, and not as capable. They said he was touchy, that you had to be careful not to hurt his feelings.  But the only time he ever got upset with me is when I was slow to let him help me fix my car. I was overwhelmed at the task and I wanted to put it off. He remembered that he once could work on cars. He couldn’t anymore, but he found a mechanic and pushed me to get it dealt with.  Ultimately, I was grateful for his meddling.


People thought I was a great guy for spending time with him. I did watch over him a bit when I could. I took him to the doctor and the hospital. He loved food and so did I, and I treated him to dinner as often as I could.  


He always said he was watching over me, and that he came to the office to check on me and cheer me up. Bill was alone and he was sort of a community project where everyone looked after him.  I always humored him by agreeing with him that he was taking care of me.  


However, I wonder now if that wasn’t the truth. It has been a few years since I did his funeral, but I still miss him.  And last night when I went to sleep, I felt lonely, as I often do. These days, I feel the isolation more and more.   It was so good to see him in my dream, appearing long enough to show me he was still there.   

Is he an angel? Has he been watching over me all this time?