Sunday, June 28, 2009

No Devotional Literature Here

Nobody understands us. Most don't really want to.

O, some think they know. Some are compassionate--they assume that funerals are emotionally difficult (they're not always) and that we agonize all week on our twenty-minute sermons (we don't). Others think ministers are lazy (some are, but most of us can outwork you any day of the week, and twice on Sunday). Others think we're so sensitive that we'll faint if you mention sex or use scatological humor.

This ain't no devotional literature. There must be millions of blogs full of nauseating, preachy stuff that you can gag on.

This blog is mainly for me. I need a place where I can sit comfortably, take this damn collar off, and speak unguardedly. Normally, one goes to his friends for this, but I don't have any nearby--I've had to move too often. I can't afford to pay a counselor. So I'll let it loose here.

If it shocks you, then go back to your Sunday School literature and wait for the rapture.

If you're interested, leave a comment. We don't have to agree in order to be friends. If I trust you enough, maybe one day I'll tell you my name.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I'm Still Here

I just looked at another book about a pastor who crumbled under the burden of his fabulous success. It looked good and the thought was important—“leading on empty.” But it was just another fluffy rendition of “Look how good I am, and I’m humble, too.”

I couldn’t get past the part of how successful he was, how big his church was, how noble and selfless he was.

Like most ministers, I don’t lead a mega church. No one has heard of me outside of the small communities I’ve served. I’m never going to write a book to showcase my humility.

But I understand the concept of leading on empty. In fact, I'm beyond burnout.

I began the burnout stage of ministry about fifteen years ago. Over a period of five years, I experienced almost the whole package: breakdown in health, crippling depression, loss of my job, disillusionment with the church, and a crisis of faith.

But there are a couple of things that I did not lose.

One was my integrity, although I was tempted. I did not have an affair with the organist, the secretary, or any of the altar boys. Neither did I steal from the church treasury. And I didn’t just walk away and disappear like other ministers I’ve read about. I understand why these things happen, though. Loneliness, a sense of inadequacy, and an overwhelming urge to escape can lead us to sabotage ourselves.

I also have not lost my family, as has happened to many ministers dating back to the Old Testament. My family certainly has their issues, but we still have each other. In fact, the reason I am still alive--the only reason I chose not to kill myself—is that I love my children, and I refused to leave them such a devastating legacy.

So I’m still here, and I count myself more fortunate than most. I’ve gained ground on my health. The depression is under control—in fact, I’ll never go back to where I was.

But my religious views have changed drastically. I have more questions than answers about God, and I’m okay with that. I have a certain measure of faith, but it’s not the fearful, superstitious faith of the fundamentalist (more about that later).

I’m still disillusioned and confused about the church. Why do we exist? What is our purpose? How can we stand for love, when we’re so mean? I don’t know, and I submit that the reason the American churches are declining is because no one knows.

I’d like to be the prophet who stands on a hill shouting that the Lord’s people need to change their ways, but I don’t really know what needs changing.

I haven’t left the church, and I don’t plan to. It has some terrible flaws. I don't know what to do for it. But God help me, I still love it.

So I’m still here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

What Does a Preacher Say to a Naked Lady?

I remember the first time I saw a picture of a naked woman. I was eight years old standing in front of a neighbor’s house on a summer morning when my friend showed it to me.

He had a high pitched giggle as he carefully unfolded the paper and revealed the image. I was shocked and then I thought, “So that’s how they look!”

I turned my head about to see if anyone was watching. My friend quickly folded it up again and hid it away in his shirt pocket. I made him take it out and I took another longer look.

I took in the curves and the private areas of a body that she revealed with a smile. Utterly amazing.

Back then, access to stuff like this was pretty limited. I remember perusing the women’s section of the Sears catalogue on many occasions. Of course in the years since, I’ve seen lots of those kinds of pictures. They’re not difficult to find on the internet, dvds, even network TV. Heck, it’s hard not to see women in various states of undress.

So let’s talk about pastors and pornography. There’s supposed to be a lot of this—an epidemic, I’m told. I’m assuming we’re talking about the male pastors, and I’m also assuming we’re not talking about some of the kinkier stuff that’s out there.

First, I have say that I KNOW it’s not just pastors who look at pictures of naked women. Every man I know has an interest in the appearance of the female body. ClergyMEN are no different, and if that shocks you, get over it.

Perhaps for pastors there is some difference, particularly since it’s in the area of sexuality. Our lives are on display, and evaluated constantly, so we guard our secrets to the point where we can’t examine them carefully for ourselves, which sets us up for pathological tendancies.

Every time we notice any pretty woman, a ferocious fundamentalist shame lashes into our souls and infects us with fear of condemnation—like Jimmy Carter, we’ve committed lust in our hearts. But since the sex drive is incredibly strong, and most people cannot deny it, we hide our urges even while we try to find means for satisfaction.

That makes us crazy with the compulsion. It doesn’t surprise me that so many clergymen collect and hide pornography, then feel ashamed. However, the shame makes the compulsion worse, not better.

I think this issue is small compared to the massive confusion our American culture has about sex in general. After years of ministering to couples, I’ve come to realize how na├»ve Americans truly are about sexuality. We joke about it constantly. We say shocking things that make each other giggle like little children looking at naughty pictures. But we’re still ashamed, embarrassed and frustrated with each other in the bedroom.

A preacher’s secret stash of pictures just doesn’t outrage me. However, it tells me that he’s probably lonely and frustrated, and I wish healing for him.

As for me, I’ve enjoyed looking at women since I was eight years old, and I still enjoy seeing them. They’re pretty in their summer shorts or their nice Sunday clothes. I like seeing them in the movies. And if you show me a picture of a naked woman, I’ll look.

You can be outraged if you want. But if you want my advice, you probably need to get laid.